Monday, April 19, 2010

Shenzhen Ping Pong: Doha!

Last November I spent a month in Doha, Qatar and couldn't find anyone to practice with. So when I returned I decided to make a blog entry (see here) lamenting the lack of ping pong there: the purpose being to garner Google hits for keywords "table tennis" and "Doha".

Well, the power of the internet should not be underestimated!

(For the record, Ashish, a fellow table tennis enthusiast currently working at Hamad Medical, and I played at the Qatar Bowling Center for an hour and half. The table fee there is 20 rials/hour.)

I wonder what the Olympic rings are doing there at the bowling center?

Update: Ping Pong paddle considered dangerous!

Leaving from Doha airport, my hand luggage was searched at the gate by Qatar Police. This was an additional security check since I was traveling to the United States.

I was most surprised to find that my ping pong paddle was singled out and removed. I was told it couldn't be carried aboard. A dangerous weapon perhaps? Go figure: my loop isn't good enough yet... Anyway, it had to be checked in separately as another piece of luggage.

So strange! Not even in the paranoid USA did the TSA cared even about my paddle...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Run video: University of Arizona Mall Loop

(picture, courtesy of Luise Betterton)

Some runs are just flat out gorgeous with spectacular scenery, exotic locations or weather. Running outdoors becomes a little easier. Time passes a little faster than on most daily runs, not to mention treadmill workouts.

I've been searching for some way to retain those moments, so I've been interested in capturing video footage of my favorite runs.

The main problem is that it's rather difficult to run and carry a video camera at the same time. Running requires coordination, and the counterbalanced swinging of arms. With a video camera, attention is diverted from the mechanics of running, and additional unsecured weight is likely throw a runner off his/her stride. And even if I could pull off pointing a video camera while running, the footage is likely to be unusably jerky.

Solutions include driving the course or mounting the camera on a bicycle, since vehicles have air-filled tires and in some cases, suspension, that would mitigate against bumps. But it's not always possible to drive the same course, and especially when one is traveling, limited time and opportunity may preclude revisiting the same location.

(I've attempted to film a course while holding the camera in one hand while riding a bicycle. But I wasn't so happy with the results, see my youtube video Along the Corniche in Doha, Qatar here.)

With another trip to exotic Doha on the horizon, I decided to pick up a GoPro HD Hero video camera (pictured above). It is designed for the action video market and thus is available with a large variety of mounting options. The chest harness is what got me thinking it might just work for running. It's waterproof (well, at least sweat resistant) and very small and lightweight. Also it comes equipped with a wide angle lens, another essential feature. It doesn't have image stabilization, but iMovie 9 can import and apply post-hoc stabilization at the cost of a slightly narrower angle of view.

I decided to test it back home in Arizona first. Here is a one minute (accelerated) video of my first test run around the Mall at the University of Arizona's main campus. (The loop is 1.3 miles long, so it actually took me 9'55" to run.)

(Direct link here.)

As you can see, despite the HD (High Definition) label, the quality is definitely not as good as my HD cameras. And the glare from the sun on the return part of the loop is a big problem with the wide angle lens. Another unanticipated problem is that chest-mounting means that the arms intrude into the video frame. I will test head mounting next.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Shenzhen Ping Pong: adding serve to the drills

This is a follow-up to the previous blog entry (here) about the two to the backhand, one to the forehand drill - aka the Falkenburg drill.

Most drills are just that: simply drills. In other words, doing a drill isn't like playing a point.

Performing a drill competently doesn't necessarily translate well into game play. Sometimes this can be rather frustrating: especially when what we practice doesn't work when we encounter the same situation during point play. For amateurs like myself, this can seem very discouraging and make the drills seem rather pointless.

To counteract this situation, one can simply integrate elements of point play into a drill. Here what follows is a two stage approach.

It looks rather complicated but stage 2 is just the same footwork drill as before: 2 to the backhand (to be taken with the backhand followed by the forehand, respectively), followed by 1 to the forehand.

Stage 1 will segue into Stage 2 but begins by
(1) you serving underspin.
(2) Your partner pushes the ball back to your backhand.
(3) you forehand loop it into his backhand.
(4) He blocks down the line into your forehand.
(5) You forehand loop down the line.
And (6) he blocks back to your backhand. And then Stage 2 ensues.

In stage 2:
(7) you backhand drive cross-court to his backhand.
(8) He blocks it straight back to you.
(9) You forehand loop from the backhand side.
(10) He blocks down the line.
(11) You forehand loop down the line. And repeat from step (7).

(Note it's not so complicated for the partner. All he has to do is simply repeatedly block two to the backhand, one to the forehand except for that initial push return of serve to the backhand.)

I think it's considerably easier to watch than to describe. Let's go to the video:

(Direct link here.)

This complication (stage 1) gives the footwork drill the flavor of playing points.