Archive for December, 2009

How to Fail at Internet Trolling

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

By Jane

I pose a question to you, dear Internet. How stupid would you have to be to write a hand-written anonymous letter to a party to whom you’d already sent hand-written mail?

I’m going with “fairly dense”. Here are two images of a letter received today by one of our swim team’s sponsors, Oyer, Macoviak and Associates, with whom East Coast Swimming has a referral programme. The letter is a print-out of Swimwatch’s last entry. The entire entry was printed out and included in the envelope; here, I’ve replicated only the pages which were written on. Note, the “sender’s address” is that of a public swimming pool and is, of course, fake. The pool had nothing to do with the note.

We immediately had our suspicions as to who was responsible for the note, and luckily, we had an older correspondence from the person with which we could cross-check the penmanship. When placing certain letters next to each other, it became even more apparent that our guess was correct. Forgive the photographed images of the older letter: someone else scanned today’s letter, and our scanner is broken.

I’m not a handwriting analysis expert, but I’m also not legally blind.

First, let’s look at “A”.

There are three tell-tale signs here. The straight line, extending slightly above the curve of the letter to the left is one; however, far more telling are the small flick backwards at the end of the stroke downwards, and the extended cross-stroke.

Let’s now look at an instance of a double “e”.

Again, a distinctive flick to the left, along with an identical overall shape, most certainly suggest that these were written by the same person.

On to the capital “D”.

Because I don’t doubt the eyesight of any of you, it’s unlikely I need to point out the similarities between these characters. However, it’s worth mentioning the defining point about each D: the bottom-heavy nature of the characters appears somewhat like the letter was filled with something–bullshit comes to mind–which was then left to settle.

There were two varieties of “r” in both letters. The second looks quite a lot like a “v”:

It appears even more convincing that the writer is the same person when two different ways of writing the “r” are included in both letter.

Finally, the writer’s rendition of “Seacrest” is remarkably similar in both instances.

Notice the follow-through from the “e” to the “a” in both words, as well as the similar “r”s. Finally, the fact that the stroke through the final “t” extends far further to the right seems like the perfect seal on the fact that today’s weird attempt to interfere with a local swim team’s sponsor and an earlier letter, written to the same team, were penned by the same person. Only the “t” was not the last shred of evidence: both letters were postmarked West Palm Beach, which is not the town in which the team is based.

I wonder if you also licked the envelope when you sealed it, and the stamp when you attached it? Anonymous trolling: you’re doing it wrong.

It’s obviously tempting to “out” the writer. If we were to print the full image of the older letter, the person’s identity would certainly be clear. But is it really worth it? The second rule of the Internet is not to feed the trolls, after all, and I think this applies, even though the correspondence was largely offline. Since it’s apparent that the person responsible reads this website with some regularity, I’m sure she’ll see this. And she’ll know that she failed.

A Christmas Story

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

By David

It’s Christmas morning and for some reason NBC is showing a program about the formation of the Home Depot chain of stores. It’s actually quite interesting. Three guys had the idea, moved to Atlanta and opened one store with money they’d borrowed from friends. Money was so short they also borrowed empty boxes and paint tins from suppliers and stocked the shelves with the fake stock. The impression of service, of being busy worked and after some early losses the retailer was on its way to becoming the 2,200 store giant it is today.

I love the fake paint tins story. I’ve formed two swim clubs in my coaching career: one in New Zealand in 1990 and the other in Florida in 2009. The New Zealand club was the most difficult. Alison came up with the name “The Local Swim Team”. At first Swimming New Zealand didn’t like the name as it did not suggest a geographical location. We pointed out that the Aquahawks Club name said nothing about Napier, Comet Club said nothing about Gisborne and while our old club Gale Force, was an accurate indication of Wellington’s weather, it certainly did not mention the town. Swimming New Zealand relented and The Local was formed – well, almost formed.

In those days to be a club in New Zealand meant having a minimum of 25 members. We had two, Toni Jeffs and Jane Copland. There was nothing wrong with the quality of the team, Toni was already representing the country and Jane would one day do the same. However we were a huge 23 members short of Swimming New Zealand’s minimum. Alison and I joined. Alison’s sister, brother, brother in law and mother became members – only eighteen to go. One of Toni’s friends who couldn’t swim but worked with her in the Body Shop became a founding member. Gradually we reduced the deficit. We even found another swimmer, Nichola Chellingworth who also went on to represent New Zealand with distinction in World Championships and Pan Pacific Games. The Local Swim Team must be the only Club ever formed whose entire founding swimming membership went on to swim for their country.

Finally, we had 24 members; just one to go. I think it was Alison’s idea; what about Sammy, our cat? The forms were completed and sent to Swimming New Zealand and there, as a proud founding member, was number 25 Sammy Wright, aged three, status: beginner. Our application was accepted and for one year Sammy was just as important to our cause as his more heralded team mates. In year two Sammy retired, his work well done. By that time we had real swimmers ready to take his place. For several years Alison’s mother and brother stayed on as members, proud of the role they had played in founding The Local.

One of Sammy’s many ploys to avoid swim practice

Forming the new team in Florida was not as difficult. There were a few idiots who went out of their way to perform a late term abortion; but failed. There was no need here for feline memberships, which is good since we no longer have a cat. We operate out of two pools and work hard to attract swimmers from families whose parents cannot afford the training fees. We rely on donations to cover the training fees of our swimmers. So far it’s worked. We have had fantastic support and today about half our members receive some form of financial assistance from the swim team Board. I like it. Talent is not restricted to the rich.

Each evening outside our pool young children receive instruction in football, basketball, cheerleading, tennis and now swimming. A couple of nights ago I noticed a huge man get out of a new Cadillac Escalade and wander over to join in a pick-up game of basketball. Soon he was absorbed in the game of feints and dunks, lay ups and three pointers. His size and skill prompted me to ask the Pool Manager, did she know who he was? Turns out he’s a defensive guard for the Cincinnati Bengals football team. It also turns out that twenty years ago he began his career out on the field behind our pool. Now, he’s not too big to come back at Christmas and share a game with his old mates. As I said, talent is not restricted to the rich. I’ve always thought the purpose of what we do is not to be an afternoon babysitting service. The purpose of what we do is to provide an opportunity to excel. I’ve known many call that elitism and demand more numbers and less quality. Elitism is not a sin. Elitism gives those who want the chance to excel; the opportunity to one day come back in an Escalade to play pick-up ball with their mates.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of politicians. Washington DC changes a person’s ideals. Or does it? This week a member of Congress heard about our new team and its work. On Thursday, a check for $1000 arrived with a simple hand written note. It said, “Hope this helps.” It does – it helps because we need the funds but mostly it helps because a national representative understands our cause, understands the importance of offering the highest quality tuition to the least of us. Thank you Congressman.

From Sammy to Washington DC that’s quite a leap. Although I guess they share the distinction of getting something good up and running.

Donations to the East Coast Swim Team adopt a swimmer program can be made by using the DONATION button at the bottom of this page.

Email News Today

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

By David

I got three emails today, one from Singapore, another from Monte Carlo and the third from a local hospital here in Delray Beach. The one from Singapore was from Clive Rushton. He has just resigned as New Zealand’s High Performance Director or some similar title. He’s taken up the position of Head Coach at the exclusive and successful Singapore Sports School. When I was leaving New Zealand to coach in the US Virgin Islands Clive called to wish me well. He concluded our conversation with a never to be forgotten quote, “Coaching” he said, “is always best done under a palm tree.” He has, at last, followed his own advice. New Zealand swimming is a vastly better place for the years Clive spent there. I can’t remember the exact details, but at one Junior World Championships while he was in charge, New Zealand actually lead the boy’s point’s competition.

I coached three swimmers who represented New Zealand during Clive’s years there – Toni Jeffs, Nichola Chellingworth and Jane Copland. His contribution to their careers was always positive and fair. You can usually tell more about a person’s character when things go wrong. When Jane swam in the Pan Pacific Games in Yokohama one or two New Zealand swimmers took their last night celebrations a little too far. Nothing on a Tiger Woods scale; just a few not so delicate moments over various Japanese toilets. I know of many an official who would make a mountain out of such indiscretions. Clive chose to write to all the team and simply said, “I know what went on. I will not put up with it. Don’t do it again or the wrath of God will be inadequate to explain the consequences”. I thought it was brilliant. Any swimmer who did not understand the fairness of this last warning deserved more than the wrath of God.

On the same trip Jane was not coming back to New Zealand. After the meet she was heading off to the USA to begin her University education. Many a coach would have required her to return to New Zealand with the team before flying to the USA. Clive recognized it was much cheaper to fly from Japan to America and that’s what he arranged. It’s that sort of common sense that makes for good coaching and good administration.

I’m not at all sure that Swimming New Zealand always appreciated the value of their High Performance Director. Achieving anything in an environment sated with regional politics must have required the skills of a Clinton or Blair. The fact Clive got so much done is exceptional. He once came to dinner at our place. It was a most enjoyable evening, good wine, good food and good debate over things swimming. I’ve had similar evenings with Arthur Lydiard, Lincoln Hurring, Ross Anderson, Arch Jelley, Duncan Lang and a few others. In all cases I’ve left knowing more and feeling better for the contact. Good luck in Singapore Clive and thank you for what you did for swimming in New Zealand. An endorsement from Swimwatch may be the last thing you want. Bad luck, on this occasion you’ve got it anyway.

The second email was from the Mare Nostrum organizer in Monte Carlo. The subject was just to let everyone know they have changed their email address. Last year our Club had four swimmers in the competition. Since then some pretty negative changes have resulted in the team only having one swimmer qualified for the 2010 series and she wasn’t even there in 2009. Her name is Nicole and she joined the team to swim in the masters program. She has a doctorate in physical therapy and doesn’t have all that much time to practice. She can swim though. After two weeks training and in her first competition she swam 50 meters in 28 and 100 meters in 1.04. It never ceases to amaze me how a good swimmer leaves and is always replaced by another. Certainly that’s what’s happened on this occasion. I’m going to try and talk Jane into swimming at Mare Nostrum with Nicole. We will go to Font Romeau for a week’s training again and then drive to Monte Carlo, Barceloma and Canet. It will be good to be back. It is a good series and with these two sane and sensible athletes should be a heap of fun.

The third email was from a swim team parent. You may remember the story we wrote about him. He’s the parent who used to be a leading Fords model. He is in hospital with a collapsed lung and one or two other complications that fortunately seem to be coming right. He’s been in an isolation ward and the ICU for two weeks now but appears to be on the mend. He is hoping to be on his way home in a couple of days.

I’ve called in to see him three times. I was interested to visit an American hospital; the pride of capitalist medicine. From all I could see the facilities were good but no better than New Zealand’s socialist Hawkes Bay hospital where I spent three weeks once while they got my blood pressure under control. The capitalist $5000 a day hospital was clean but no cleaner than the Hastings free version. I am not qualified to comment on the standard of care but the profit motive version here appears to have done a good job of fixing Martin’s problems but no better than Hawkes Bay hospital did fixing my blood pressure problem.

But today I found a difference. Martins “dinner” arrived while I was there tonight. For $5000 a day he got a pathetic, limp hamburger, a small salad that had seen better days and a couple of very small cookies. It was awful. A very small portion of the hospital’s capitalist income had been spent preparing this culinary masterpiece. The worst hamburger joint in the country can do better than this. A potato top pie bought in a New Zealand gas station is a delight in comparison. The food I got in Hastings hospital was a million times better – no contest. The socialist’s food is not only edible, but when I was there I looked forward to its arrival. So if you are thinking of getting sick anytime soon head to the socialist system in New Zealand; at least the foods worth eating. If President Obama’s public option results in a better hospital food service, I’m all for it.