Month: June 2018


I’m writing this not for anyone’s benefit but my own. Certain recurring thoughts and emotions have stuck in my mind for weeks now. Whenever this happens, I’ve found catharsis through writing, and I’m hoping to achieve a similar result with whatever this ends up being.

I wouldn’t say I expect to feel any better or even necessarily different, but I hope that the way I’m processing and coping with this might change for the better.

I was broken up with back in May. We had celebrated our fifth anniversary together roughly two weeks prior.

It caught me almost completely by surprise. Not entirely, thanks mainly to lingering paranoia lurking perpetually somewhere in my head. But still, it was a shock.

I’m still reeling.

After a few days of the initial shock and numbness wearing off somewhat, I started feeling more normal. Normal isn’t really the best word, but I felt something akin to my typical baseline. Almost fine. Functional, if a bit detached.

I don’t know what exactly has happened, but the past week it’s hit me, hard. Wednesday morning in particular was bad. And now I don’t feel anywhere near normal.

Maybe it’s guilt, maybe it’s depression, maybe it’s shock.

The only word that comes to mind to adequately describe my current mental state is “broken”. I’m not functioning correctly. My sleeping patterns are even worse than normal. My usual aches and pains have intensified in all the wrong ways.

I still haven’t contacted her in any means since that day. I’ve wanted to, but I don’t know if I’m emotionally capable right now. And these past few days have only increased the desire to re-establish contact amidst my declining emotional state.


I’ve barely been able to make myself productive this week. I’m in my head confronting these negative emotions to such an extent that simply writing a purely factual article has been borderline impossible. I only worked two days the past week for a total of 16 hours across all different jobs.

I’ve had to shelve several active projects that up until recently had been progressing at an acceptable pace. I’ve simply lost the will to continue that work. A few of them, I’m not sure when I’ll start up again. That’s partially why I started the YouTube channel, to give me something different to think about. It’s much easier to narrate a process I’ve done for years than to actually be creative and original.

I’ve made jokes about not knowing what to do with myself, but they’re not really jokes. I sincerely don’t know what the hell to do now. What used to be normal for me has abruptly ended, and I’m struggling to fill that void.

I want to be angry, because I’m good at angry. Angry has a direction and a cause. But it’s not happening. I’m not angry, I’m broken.

I’ve alternated between blaming myself and feeling empty. It’s the slightest things that have set me off. A particular song, a momento on my desk, a thought of a past vacation.

I’ve had friends willing to accept the cascade of nonsense I’ve thrust on them and the socialization has been nice. Yet, it’s not helped my emotional state. I don’t know how I’m supposed to reassemble my reality nor what this refurbished reality might be.

I’ve made some incredibly stupid decisions this week, which have done absolutely nothing positive for me and have likely caused further stress. I’ll regret them eventually. Probably.

For now, it seems the best I can do is to force myself to do something productive, and hope that my periodic bursts of sanity and stability last long enough for a tangible outcome.

Even as I’ve felt stable enough to accomplish something, i’m struggling to keep my thoughts organized. Simple tasks are suddenly a lot less simple. This post alone has taken the better part of an hour to write.

I really, really don’t want to be “that guy” on the internet. I’m not looking for attention or even reassurance. This, to me, is more about aggressively typing my problems into the void on the off chance it flicks some sort of chemical switch in my brain. The possibility of it helping in the slightest is worth the amount of whatever my current definition of effort happens to be.

I said as it happened that I’ll be fine. Probably. Eventually.

But right now, I don’t know where I am or how to get to wherever “fine” is. And I don’t even know how to define “fine” for me anymore. This is what I mean by broken.

My brain and I had a tenuous at best relationship before all of this happened. I don’t even know if I have the necessary coping mechanisms for this.

I started a project in Inkscape to preoccupy myself, and halfway through, I stopped. I lost the desire to finish it, because whatever sense of accomplishment or satisfaction I get from finishing and publishing a project hasn’t been worth the increased cost of energy to do just about anything productive.

I don’t know what to do to conclude whatever this is, so I’m just going to stop now. It’s 1:30 AM and I’m drained.

This is all just stream of consciousness, and I hope it’s coherent enough. If you’ve read this far down, I appreciate it, and if you want to talk to me, there are easy ways to get in touch. I’ll probably respond too.



New on SocTakes: On international rankings, FIFA vs. Elo


Photo credit: Oleg Bkhambri (Creative Commons license)

If you’ve followed international soccer for any stretch of time, you’re probably familiar with the FIFA World Ranking system. This list, calculated and maintained by FIFA, attempts to quantitatively determine which teams are the best in the world. They’ve been around in some form since December 1992, and have undergone several dramatic revisions since then. The latest such change will occur after the World Cup, with a completely new calculation method based on the Elo formula. That Elo formula is also used by the World Football Elo Ratings, a competing ranking system that I — and many others — actually prefer.

First up, how exactly does FIFA calculate its rankings? There’s a method to their madness. The core formula is:

ranking points = result points x match status x opposition strength x regional strength

Let’s break that down.

Result points refers to a simple table of points, from zero to three, depending on the final result. Zero for a loss without a penalty shootout, one for a shootout loss or a draw, two for a shootout win and three for a win without a shootout.

Match status is a bit more complicated. It’s a multiplier based on what sort of match was played, from 1x to 4x. A regular friendly match has a 1x multiplier, a World Cup or continental cup qualifier 2.5x, continental cup or Confederations Cup finals 3x (as in the tournament itself, not just the final) and a World Cup finals (see previous note) 4x.

Opposition strength is a multiplier defined as (200 – opponent ranking position)/100. Fairly straightforward, with exceptions that the top team is rounded up to 2x instead of 1.99x, and every country ranked 150th and below is set at 0.5x.

Regional strength is where stuff gets a bit odd. This is where FIFA’s subjective opinions come in and the entire confederation’s results dating back to the previous World Cup are considered. These are updated every four years. Currently, CONMEBOL leads with 1x, UEFA is second with 0.99x, and all four other regions are at 0.85x. The regional strength multiplier is defined as the average of the regional multipliers of the two teams. CONMEBOL vs. CONCACAF would be .925, for example.

And then there’s the assessment period multiplier, used to weight the rating points based on that earlier formula. This is another table of multipliers, ranging from 0.2x to 1x, with 0.2x for matches 36-48 months ago, 0.3x from 24-36 months ago, 0.5x from 12-24 months ago and 1x within the last 12 months.

And then, the matches played are run through the various formulas, and a number comes out the other end. That number, the “total points,” is the criteria by which FIFA’s rankings are determined.

This formula has been criticized since its inception, and despite numerous revisions still isn’t as impartial as it could be. With something like this, it’s possible to use purely quantitative observations without subjective decisions to determine a rankings list. That’s where Elo comes in.

Elo ratings were initially created by physicist Arpad Elo with chess as a focus. The idea is to create a formula for both absolute rankings (i.e. a player’s individual strength) and comparative rankings (i.e. how much better or worse one player is than another). This has been adopted and adapted for soccer as the World Football Elo Ratings, making a few modifications to the formula to include the necessary variables that come along with soccer.

Their formula considers the current rating of a team at the time of the match a weight index K representing the status of the match from 60 for the World Cup down to 20 for a friendly; an index based on goal differential where G=1 for a one-goal margin of victory or a draw, G=3/2 for a two-goal win and G=(11+N)/8 for a three-goal or more victory; the result of the match where W=1 for a win, 0.5 for a draw, and 0 for a loss; and the expected result of the match calculated by the difference in ratings with a 100-point boost for the home team.

There are some more complicated formulas there that I’m not going to bother transcribing into WordPress, so check out the Wikipedia article on the World Football Elo Ratings if you’re curious.

That last point, the expected result, is where the biggest advantage of Elo over FIFA lies. Not only can we say which team is the best in the world or which team is better than some other team, we can also say what we would expect the result of Team A playing Team B to be. World Football Elo Ratings also take into account every match played by international teams, giving it a predictive power that puts the FIFA ratings to shame. There was actually a study done in 2009 and published in 2013 that used both the current FIFA ratings system as well as Elo to predict the results of matches. The World Football Elo Ratings formula came out on top, while the FIFA formulas performed badly.

And before I jump into the 2018 World Cup groups, I’ll add that the FIFA Women’s World Rankings actually use a modified version of that Elo formula for their calculations instead of the FIFA formula used for the men’s teams.

So, to examine the World Cup and how these two systems apply, I’ll go group by group and give the ratings in both FIFA and Elo systems for every team. Ratings are taken from the June 7 FIFA World Ranking and June 13 World Football Elo Ratings.

Group A
Uruguay 14th (1018) 12th (1894)
Egypt 45th (649) 50th (1646)
Russia 70th (457) 45th (1678)
Saudi Arabia 67th (465) 63rd (1591)

Well, look at that, already something interesting. Russia’s FIFA rating is heavily depressed compared to their Elo. By the FIFA ratings, we wouldn’t expect Russia to be better than Saudi Arabia, but with Elo, it’s less surprising that they won, although probably not by five goals. Russia is expected to advance from the group per Elo, along with Uruguay. Saudi Arabia is predicted to outperform their FIFA ranking slightly, although they are the lowest rated team in the tournament. Egypt is the oddball as the only team rated worse by Elo than by FIFA in this group, where FIFA expects they would advance from the group while Elo says Russia goes on.

Group B
Spain 10th (1126) 3rd (2044)
Portugal 4th (1274) 6th (1970)
Iran 37th (708) 21st (1798)
Morocco 41st (686) 24th (1733)

More fun in Group B! Spain is rated lower by FIFA, Iran even more so, and Morocco very much a lot even more so holy shit. Portugal has the edge in the FIFA rankings, likely because of their Euro 2016 win. We would expect Spain and Portugal to advance from either rankings, though, so Iran or Morocco making it to the knockout round would be a significant upset.

Group C
France 7th (1198) 4th (1987)
Peru 11th (1125) 10th (1915)
Denmark 12th (1051) 16th (1856)
Australia 36th (718) 32nd (1742)

Nothing particularly odd here. FIFA rates France and Australia slightly worse, while rating Denmark a bit higher. The interesting thing to me is how little there is separating France, Denmark, and Peru on both ratings; only 131 points on Elo means that we can expect a lot of close games. So far, France only narrowly beat Australia thanks to an own goal, and Denmark beat Peru 1-0. This is going to be a very tough group.

Group D
Argentina 5th (1241) 5th (1986)
Croatia 20th (945) 17th (1853)
Iceland 22nd (908) 24th (1764)
Nigeria 48th (618) 44th (1681)

Not much to see here, really. Argentina is the undisputed fifth-best team on earth, Croatia and Nigeria are slightly underrated by FIFA, while Iceland is slightly overrated likely due to their run in Euro 2016. These four teams are separated by quite a lot, making Iceland’s draw against Argentina all the more unlikely. While, at first glance, it would look like both ratings pick Argentina and Croatia to advance, Iceland is close enough to Croatia to potentially beat them and make it to the knockout round.

Group E
Brazil 2nd (1431) 1st (2142)
Switzerland 6th (1199) 14th (1890)
Serbia 34th (751) 22nd (1777)
Costa Rica 23rd (884) 31st (1744)

And here we are, finally some discrepancies. Brazil is considered a very, very good team by both formulas, nothing surprising there, while Switzerland is ranked substantially higher by FIFA than Elo. Then there’s Costa Rica and Serbia, who nearly swap positions moving from FIFA to Elo. Serbia’s failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup hurts them badly in the FIFA rankings, while Costa Rica gets a boost from their eighth-place finish in Brazil and third-place finish in the most recent Gold Cup. That doesn’t make either of them an easy bet to advance, though, given that there’s still quite a lot of breathing room between Serbia and Switzerland.

Group F
Germany 1st (1558) 2nd (2077)
Mexico 15th (989) 18th (1850)
Sweden 24th (880) 20th (1795)
South Korea 57th (544) 40th (1714)

Iiiiiiiiinteresting. FIFA really hates South Korea. They’re exceptionally harsh on Asian teams in general, with Japan sitting in 61st. Korea actually outranks both Panama and Nigeria in the Elo ratings, despite sitting well below both on FIFA’s list. Elo tends to rate AFC higher than FIFA does, while rating CONCACAF lower, which explains the slight disparity for Mexico. Sweden is ahead of Iceland in Elo, but not in FIFA. I blame the Euro 2016 bump for that one as well. Germany is almost guaranteed a spot in the knockout stage. Almost. If they lose to Sweden or gasp Korea though, we could have some chaos. I like chaos, and I’m definitely pulling for Sweden and Korea to advance.

Group G
England 12th (1051) 7th (1948)
Belgium 3rd (1298) 8th (1939)
Panama 55th (571) 48th (1659)
Tunisia 21st (910) 49th (1657)

Here’s a potential hot take for you: I think FIFA is dramatically overrating Tunisia. There is no reasonable explanation for there to be a 28-position difference between their Elo rating and FIFA ranking. In Elo, which has shown much stronger predictive power, Panama and Tunisia are essentially level on strength, with Russia and Egypt a little bit better and worse, respectively. This seems reasonable — hell, even logical. I find it interesting that Belgium gets a five-spot boost from FIFA while England drops five. Again, when the FIFA rankings show something weird, trust Elo. This is a group that is probably predetermined.

Group H
Colombia 16th (986) 9th (1928)
Poland 8th (1183) 19th (1831)
Senegal 27th (838) 27th (1750)
Japan 61st (521) 43rd (1684)

OK, now this makes no sense to me. Elo barely rates Poland in the top 20, while they’re top 10 for FIFA. Colombia are top 10 for Elo and 16th for FIFA. You want some UEFA bias proof? Here it is. Senegal is 27th objectively. Japan, meanwhile, suffers from FIFA’s bias against AFC, like Korea above. Japan outranks Nigeria, Egypt and Tunisia in the Elo ratings, and should be viewed as a threat to advance, not as the worst team in the group. In fact, Japan is closer to Senegal than Senegal is to Poland, and the entire group is separated by only 244 points in Elo (compare to 662 in FIFA). This is going to be a very strong group, and we’ve already seen that with the current standings matching the inverted Elo order.

So, that’s a little primer on the two rating systems, an explanation of why Elo is better and a demonstration that the FIFA rankings are kind of nuts. Stay tuned to Soc Takes for more World Cup content as the tournament continues.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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New on SocTakes: World Cup of Flags: Group D


Image credit: Nicolas Raymond (Creative Commons license)

While we at Soc Takes were discussing our World Cup content, I came up with a few different ideas I thought might be interesting: a piece comparing the two common international ranking systems and what the differences are, a piece looking at what leagues and teams are most represented among World Cup rosters, and this.

So, I crowdsourced.

What if, instead of soccer, the results of the World Cup were decided by pitting the flags of those respective nations against each other? Who would win?

This is a fundamentally nonsensical idea, which is why I’m writing it.

Anyway, as the resident vexillologist and vexillographer here at Soc Takes, I’ll actually be running through probably every World Cup group, analyzing the flags and showing what the results for each group would be in this hypothetical Flag World Cup.

To start, we need the basic criteria held by various vexillological organizations for what makes a good flag:

  1. Keep the design simple, so that it can easily be drawn from memory.
  2. Use meaningful symbolism, where each component has some purpose.
  3. Limit yourself to 2 to 3 basic colors.
  4. Absolutely no lettering, seals, or crests of any kind.
  5. Be distinctive and unique, or be deliberately related and similar.

We’ll be using those five rules to judge the four flags in each group, and determining the result for the group stage matches. Rather than just rank the flags first through fourth and pick the top two, I think it’ll be more fun to “simulate” a match played between the two flags. Do note that even though those are the primary rules I’ll be using, it is possible for a flag to break one or more of those rules and still be a great flag. There is a bit of subjectivity here, but I’ll do my best to stay as objective as possible.

And with that, let’s begin the Group D group stage matches.

Argentina vs. Iceland

Flag of Iceland

Iceland enters the tournament with a very strong flag. The design is simple, known among flag nerds as a “Nordic Cross,” and represents the Christian influence in the country. All these Nordic Cross flags are ultimately derived from the Danish flag, in near-continuous use since at least the 14th century. The three colors all have meaning, with the blue representing the blue mountains, the white representing snow and ice, and the red for the island’s volcanoes. Denmark, at various points in history, conquered much of the Nordic region, with the flags in the area showing that relationship with Denmark. Here we have a flag that is both distinct and recognizable, yet also closely related with its neighbors. The colors, meanings and proportions are all rigidly defined by Icelandic law. In short, Iceland has an excellent flag.

Flag of Argentina

Argentina’s flag dates back to 1812, although the current version wasn’t adopted until 1861 and the standards weren’t fully defined until 2012. The original meaning and shade of the blue color is disputed, given the flag’s origins during a revolutionary period in Argentina’s history. The common belief is that they represent the sky, clouds and sun, but historians claim they’re derived from the House of Bourbon. This lack of official standardization and meaning is a point against Argentina. The flag also lacks a set ratio of height to width, with two officially defined and several others in use. Finally, the flag incorporates the Sun of May in the center, a highly intricate design featuring two different colors and both straight and wavy rays. This is enough for me to classify this as a seal, especially given its usage in Argentina as one.

Putting these two flags head to head, Iceland comes away with the win.

Croatia vs. Nigeria

Flag of Croatia

Croatia’s flag is the youngest in Group D, having been adopted on December 21, 1990, not long before independence was declared from Yugoslavia. The tricolor pattern of red, white, and blue has been used in the Slavic world for over a century, including Croatia’s time as a constituent republic in Yugoslavia. In fact, five of the Yugoslav republics as well as the nation itself used similar designs for much of the 20th century. While the checkerboard pattern does have some association with the fascist Ustaše period, the design has been used as part of Croatian coats of arms since at least 1495. The flag loses points for the incorporation of not one but five coats of arms above the checkerboard shield, which represent the five component regions of modern Croatia. While the symbolism is meaningful, it adds incredibly tiny, intricate designs as well as three additional colors. It’s not a bad flag, but it gets a bit messy there.

Flag of Nigeria

Nigeria’s flag has been unchanged since its adoption on October 1, 1960, the date of Nigeria’s independence from the United Kingdom. The green stripes represent the natural wealth found in the country, while the white stripe represents peace. This flag is the only national flag using only green and white, leaving it immediately recognizable. The colors and proportions have been standardized in Nigerian law. This is another very strong flag. Simple, yet distinct.

Match 2 ends with an easy win for Nigeria.

Argentina vs. Croatia

Match 3 is the closest fight we’ve seen in Group D. Both flags have a lot of history, but both also break some of the rules. Croatia gets the advantage in terms of standardization and specifications, while Argentina has the advantage in that the crest used is a simpler design. With that all said, this match ends in a draw.

Nigeria vs. Iceland

While Match 3 was pretty strong, Match 4 is even closer. These two flags are both very, very good, and follow every single principle of flag design to the letter. While subjectively I prefer the flag of Iceland, that’s not enough for them to win this one. This is a hard fought match ending in a draw.

Nigeria vs. Argentina

As with Croatia, Nigeria has an early advantage over Argentina from the beginning. The lack of a seal, the distinctive and unique design, and the clearly defined meanings mean three more points to Nigeria.

Iceland vs. Croatia

In a battle between red, white and blue banners, Iceland wins on simplicity. The two flags are both heavily tied to the surrounding regions, and Croatia puts up a tougher fight than Argentina, but I can’t get past the five crests incorporated above the checkerboard shield. And given that the flag with just the shield was literally used by a Nazi puppet regime, there is approximately a zero percent chance that the crests are removed. Iceland wins again.

Group D Standings:

  1. Iceland, 7 points
  2. Nigeria, 7 points
  3. Argentina, 1 point
  4. Croatia, 1 point

Iceland moves on to play the runner-up in Group C, while Nigeria will face the winner of Group C.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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The YouTube Experiment

I’m starting a YouTube channel. It’s going to bear the same branding as this website, intended as the video catch-all equivalent for me for the foreseeable future.

I’ve uploaded maybe a half dozen videos to YouTube in the past, but never with the intention of any sort of regularity. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s that I really have no idea what I’m doing with regards to video. I’ve done some incredibly rudimentary video editing, and I worked on a video project back in high school, but stuff like what I typically see on YouTube is a complete blank spot for me.

In the past, when writing was still a blank spot for me, I started this WordPress site, wrote more, shared my posts around the internet, and eventually became what I would consider to be a good writer. With graphic design, I dove headlong into InkScape, started working on little projects, and have moved up to my sports flags, logo work, and all sorts of interesting projects.

With video, I feel the best way to figure it out is to start a YouTube channel and learn by doing once again. So, I’ll be posting those videos to this site, and several written articles will be made into videos. I also have a few ideas about the tools I use for the work I do as part of a larger “What exactly is it you do?” series.

My initial video projects will be made using OBS, a tool that I’m gaining familiarity with, and edited at first with OpenShot. There may be better free options out there, but this one looked decent enough for now.

So yeah, consider this the official announcement. Here is a link to the channel if you’re interested in subscribing. And click here for the video equivalent of this announcement.

Three laptops? And a Surface?

“John, why on earth do you have three laptops AND a Surface Pro? And why are you writing this instead of that other, more time sensitive thing?”

On the latter, I need a break from Excel for a few minutes.

On the former, it’s pretty simple actually.


Right now, I have three laptops that are actively in use at home. And by that, I mean that all three get used at least twice a week on average. All three of these laptops are Dell, and all have been refurbished and restored from non-working, literally in the pile for recycling, to fully functional.

In order of increasing usage, I have a Latitude E6530, which has a 15 inch class display and a full number pad. This one is used for testing anything weird and experimental. I’ve had so few issues getting just about anything running on that generation of laptop, and it’s currently running a desktop port of Android called Phoenix OS.

The next-most used laptop is a Latitude 5450, which is a generation or two newer but lacks a backlit keyboard. It’s my Linux laptop at the moment, upgraded to 16gb of memory. It’s been positively rock solid running Linux Mint for weeks now, and is helping me to test for a future all-in on Linux again. I actually used Linux almost exclusively for most of high school, back when getting certain laptop functions working (cough cough Toshiba) was a pain in the ass.

The other laptop is the E6430 writing laptop, that once again is what I’m using to post to this website. It lets me watch stuff on my Surface Pro, which has a much nicer screen and actually decent speakers, while I’m writing. I’ve been using this thing almost every single day to keep working from bed or to move around the house. It even has its own dedicated MX Master.

So yeah. Quick little thing about work again. Work work work.


Ok, now back to my actual work.

New on SocTakes: Supporting local soccer: My Fort Worth Vaqueros experience

Fort Wayne Vaqueros

FORT WORTH, Texas — I have a confession to make. Despite my perpetual, vociferous evangelism of lower-division soccer, I have never actually attended a single game of any of the semi-pro or amateur teams in my area. This, despite having several such clubs in existence for several years now within an hour’s drive. This, despite researching and writing about these clubs for years. The only club soccer I’ve watched live that didn’t involve FC Dallas in some capacity was the USL game I attended in St. Louis last August.

And really, I don’t have any excuse that doesn’t revolve around laziness or apathy. Tickets are reasonable, cheap even. Games are scheduled at times that don’t conflict with my standard routine. The stadiums are all easily accessible with a car and well within what I’d define as a reasonable driving distance.

So, time to put my money where my mouth has been for years.

Tonight, I’m attending a match at a local NPSL club, the Fort Worth Vaqueros. I’ve actually followed them online since their inception back in 2014. Yes, this is their fifth season of existence and my first game attended. I’m documenting my thoughts and experience as part of something I hope might become a series, or at the very least an interesting story. I can’t think of a better way to promote the support of local soccer than to actually go support it and promote it. I’m armed with my point-and-shoot digital camera and my phone for note taking in an attempt to do just that.


Tonight’s game sees the Vaqueros hosting a reserve team of Tigres UANL. It’s a Wednesday evening in North Texas and it’s warm. Google claims it’s currently 94 degrees, feels like 101, and I believe it. I’m sitting in the stadium as nondescript as possible. I’m not here as a fan or a journalist, but as someone experiencing this for the first time, documenting my thoughts and taking pictures as the night progresses. Coincidentally, the blue undershirt I wore to work today is very nearly the same shade of blue used by the home side. The sun is beginning to set, casting a comfortable shade on the primary grandstand.

The Vaqueros play at Farrington Field, a WPA-era stadium primarily intended for high school football. It’s about what I expect from a high school stadium in Texas, which is to say there’s metal-bleacher seating, maybe forty rows deep on both sides, a turf field with permanent football markings and a capacity of around 18,000. During high school, I spent just about every single Friday night and Saturday afternoon in such venues across the state thanks to marching band. Even if I haven’t physically been here before, it’s still incredibly familiar.

Fort Worth Vaqueros

I arrive at 6:40 p.m. for what I thought was a 7 p.m. kickoff. I’m actually nearly an hour early. This leaves ample time to take pictures of a mostly empty stadium. I pass the time by writing this and walking around the venue. My ticket was $10, but apparently allows for two people to enter. A nice touch I’ll hopefully make use of in the future. Tickets are not what one might expect; they’re actually branded as vouchers without any specific home game indicated. One can buy these vouchers and use them at whatever game they attend. Students and staff of the local Fort Worth Independent School District receive free admission. I’m pleased to see scores of Vaqueros jerseys in the stands. This team runs a promotion where, rather than selling physical season tickets to fans, they sell the jersey as a season ticket every season. To get into games, one simply wears their jersey. I absolutely love this.

The local supporters’ group, the Panther City Hellfire, march in chanting with drums and flags. They’re remarkably well organized, with comprehensive chant sheets that are handed out to most of those in attendance. One chant in particular catches my eye, No. 17 on their sheet. Fort Worth has a player named Rio, therefore the Hellfire have adapted the eponymous Duran Duran song for him. I like that. I note that as the Hellfire hand out their chant sheets, they inform the spectators of their tendencies to light off smoke bombs after goals are scored, and give them plenty of opportunity to adjust their seating accordingly. There is no assigned seating here, possibly because the stadium lacks visible row and seat numbering. The stands here are configured so that the bottom two rows sit maybe three feet above the running track. This allows the supporters to get up close and personal with the home bench.

Fort Worth Vaqueros

There’s a small contingent of Tigres supporters here, maybe 20 or so. They’re mostly seated around a solitary Tigres flag. I spot a dozen or so jerseys for the visitors among the crowd.

Fort Worth’s head coach Nick Stavrou is a local soccer legend, having played nearly 300 games with the original Dallas Sidekicks before becoming a coach. At age 43, he actually briefly returned to playing when the Dallas Sidekicks returned in 2012. I think I have his autograph at home somewhere. The Vaqueros have been a strong team lately, topping the Lonestar Conference table last season and winning three of four league games played in 2018.

The Vaqueros have a partnership with two unlikely foreign clubs through their owner: Alfreton Town F.C., which plays in the sixth tier of English soccer, and Tobago FC Phoenix 1976, which plays in the top flight in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ahead of kickoff, the two teams meet at midfield for the usual pomp and circumstance. I find my seat in the first row, close to the goal at the north end of the stadium. The announcer’s voice blasted through the public address reveals that this is the first international friendly to be played at historic Farrington Field. He will repeat this a half dozen more times before the night is over. A youth team I encountered before the game, comprising a mixture of children who appear to be somewhere around 6-8 years old, accompany the players tonight. Their team is apparently called the Owls and they all have on rather fantastically designed sublimated jerseys. Their logo in particular catches my eye; it’s excellently designed.

Fort Worth Vaqueros

The ceremonies continue with the playing of the Mexican national anthem, and the display of an animated Tricolor on the full color video board. Everyone rises as prompted, and I faintly hear the visiting supporters singing along. The PA is remarkably clear. I find myself surprised at just how nice the speakers sound. The American national anthem follows, and hands in the crowd move from sides to chests. There are a handful singing along as well. It’s difficult to judge total attendance at a glance, but my best guess says there’s around a thousand people here. Not bad in the slightest for 7:30 on a Wednesday. The bulk of the crowd are seated mid field, between the two 30 yard lines. The bleachers in the front two rows and middle two rows have metal seat backs, and these are nearly all occupied along the entire grandstand.

The anthems come to a close, the Panther City Hellfire begin their chant and maybe fifteen seconds into their song, the PA plays some vague pop-rock song I don’t recognize. The Hellfire slowly come to a halt, unwilling or unable to compete with the loudspeakers. Fortunately, the PA goes quiet in time for kickoff, and the Hellfire pick up where they left off.

The youth team has returned from field level following their pregame participation and have set up shop in the sections to my immediate left. These children seem under-supervised, and they are running around the stands, hanging from railings and generally operating as children tend to do. I notice that a number of them are ducking under the railing at the front of the stands to get down to the running track, unimpeded. Interesting.

Sitting this close to the field allows me to hear the players and coaches clearly. Following an early goal kick, I catch the Vaqueros goalkeeper shouting to a defender, “It’s so fucking hot out here.” The shade has not yet engulfed the field despite its continuous progress, and he’s making an obvious point. The players on both sides are visibly sweating already.

Fort Worth Vaqueros

The youthful exuberance proves to be a bit too distracting for me. I notice a family seated nearby reacting similarly, continuously turning their heads toward the commotion. After maybe fifteen minutes, I start to consider moving south along the side line. Tigres have been controlling much of the action so far, so my southward relocation brings me closer to the action.

As I’m watching the first half, it dawns on me that what I’m watching now is incredibly tough to distinguish from games I watched in USL Pro in 2012. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that NPSL teams have reached a level of play comparable to where the third division was roughly six years ago. This achievement is nothing short of remarkable and paints a positive picture for the progress achieved already.

Tigres strike first half an hour in, to the delight of the fans in yellow. There’s something to be said about the appearance of the two teams together. Blue and white versus yellow and blue makes for a colorful experience. From my new perspective at the southernmost point in the grandstand, I take several pictures of the players and crowd. Even from a tight angle, the Panther City Hellfire’s presence is immediately obvious. The crowd at large is not that loud, but again, it’s Wednesday and this stadium is massive. I imagine that a Friday or Saturday night fixture would bring in greater numbers and noise.

Fort Worth Vaqueros

As the first half comes to an end, the visitors are up by a goal. The Panther City Hellfire have made continuous use of their chant sheets, shouting the number of the next song over a megaphone each time. I spot a handful of people without Vaqueros merchandise following along from their seats a half dozen rows above the supporters. Many of their songs are among what I would consider the standards of soccer, reworked for the city and club: a strong sense of civic pride west of the Trinity River. A few of them take shots at Dallas. The drum rhythms are simple but effective, and generate the accompaniment of clapping from the masses.

At halftime, I attempt to buy a scarf for my growing collection. I’m informed by the staff at the merchandise table that there are no scarves there, but that I should talk with the Hellfire. I debate internally purchasing a jersey and the intertwined season ticket. The team is now approaching halfway through its current NPSL season, so I elect to postpone it to next year. I surmise that, as tickets and concessions have been apparently cash-only at the stadium, and I’m running low on rectangular linen strips with dead faces, I likely will need to plan ahead for scarf acquisition.

There’s something to be said about attending a soccer game purely as a neutral. I’m not fully emotionally invested in the result, nor am I running through either of my usual gameday routines involving drums or Twitter. I’m sitting in the shade and relaxing, enjoying what is — in the context of Texas — lovely summer weather. For the past seven years or so, I’ve forgone trips to movie theaters in favor of local sporting events. Normally, that’s been hockey or baseball depending on the season, as the only soccer games I regularly attend require my attention directed away from the run of play. This change of pace is refreshing.

While watching the game and mentally comparing the scenes to what was higher level play than in years previous, I can’t help but consider the oft-repeated statements in dismiss of the likes of MLS, USL and women’s soccer in general. “I don’t watch any of that because it’s nowhere near as good as soccer in (insert league/country here).” This mentality has always been completely foreign to me from my earliest days around the sport. Maybe it’s because I only started watching in 2010 or so, or maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised playing the game, or maybe it’s because I lack some intangible necessary insight to evaluate relative quality. The idea of an allegedly inferior product deserving a lack of attention seems entirely arbitrary and contrary to the “love of the game.” I love this sport, this strange and beautiful sport, and I demonstrate that by consuming as much of it as possible. I think about the crowd assembled here, from the most passionate members of the Panther City Hellfire to the casuals attending their first game like me. I ask myself, are these not true soccer fans? I ask myself, why the hell haven’t I been here before? And I think about what people are missing by not coming here, what I was missing by not coming here before.

The announcer’s voice provides a mass invitation to the post-game party at the nearby World of Beer, where both teams’ players and staff will be present. This leads me to look closer at the various jerseys in the crowd and I find that most, if not all, have been signed. An interesting note on the jerseys: The Vaqueros have used a different jersey sponsor in each of their five seasons of play, and this is actually by design. The jersey sponsor is determined through a random drawing each preseason, with the current Miss Fort Worth in charge of selection. I can’t think of another club offhand that does this, and I like this tradition.

By 9 p.m., the game is past the 62nd minute and Tigres are up 2-0. Play has been fairly continuous and I can’t recall the issuance of any disciplinary cards. Both sides are still maintaining the intensity of the first half. This may be a friendly, but a win is still a win. Dusk has ceded to darkness, and my pocket-sized digital camera can’t handle the Wednesday night lights. The crowd has dwindled slightly, with many of the younger kids leaving. School isn’t out for the summer just yet. The Hellfire are still doing their various things, albeit with less intensity than an hour ago. I’m finding the metal bleacher seating much less comfortable than an hour ago and make a mental note that a stadium seat is not an optional accessory here. The announcer issues a reminder that time is kept on the field, which I interpret as “the stadium clock isn’t that accurate.”

At roughly 9:30, the referee signals fulltime with the scoreline unchanged. The scoreboard hasn’t quite reached the 90 minute mark, and the announcer’s previous actions are immediately justified. Everyone gradually staggers up the stairs and out the gates. The Hellfire light off blue and yellow smoke bombs in their section. I return to my car with my sunglasses still on.

The game and scoreline won’t stand as the greatest advertisement for lower-league soccer, but honestly it doesn’t even matter to me. I’d bet that many of the other first-timers tonight will be back again soon.

I definitely will be too.


I hope you enjoyed this unusual piece from me. This is a pretty dramatic departure from my typical ranting drivel, and I really enjoyed writing it. Every time I start a draft for Soc Takes, my goal is to write the sort of content I would enjoy reading, and this definitely fits that bill.

And yes, I’m aware my camera isn’t great. I got it for like $50 at the Denton Camera Exchange.

Follow John on Twitter: @JohnMLTX.

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The post Supporting local soccer: My Fort Worth Vaqueros experience appeared first on Soc Takes.

from Soc Takes

Aperiodic Tech Update and Workflow

Hello, website. It’s been a while.

Three years ago, I posted on here about the current state of my workflow, and the pending changes to my standard arsenal of equipment I was considering at the time. I’ve been thinking a fair bit about that post since then, considering potential updates, and an explanation of where I’m at now.

I’ve made some recent (like, arrived hours ago) purchases that has expedited the process substantially, and since I’m calling it a day (or night, I suppose) much earlier than usual, I’ve decided to sit down and write this out.

Back then, I had decided on a Surface Pro 3, a new desktop PC, and a Droid Turbo as my three primary pieces of hardware. How well did that plan pan out?

As it happens, remarkably well!

I built my desktop PC, nicknamed Zerua (Basque for “sky”), in August of 2016. I actually have a full parts list and description up on PCPartPicker right here. That system has served me well for nearly two years with nothing more than a handful of minor issues, and I couldn’t be much happier with the end result.

On the Surface front, I ended up not purchasing a Surface Pro 3, simply because it had been replaced by the (far superior) Surface Pro 4 when I actually had the money to spend. My chosen configuration includes an i7 CPU, 16GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. This one is named Azalera (Basque for “surface”). This too was purchased in the summer of 2016, and that computer has served me remarkably well. In fact, much of my workflow (and the contents of this post and my bag) revolve around that device.

I bought that device to serve as a take-everywhere, do-almost-everything computer, and I’ve used it for exactly that. Many of my published pieces for SocTakes, the WPSL, Dallas Sports Fanatics, and more were entirely written on there. I’ve used it to record podcasts and work on vector art from just about everywhere I’ve been. It goes to work with me daily, and currently sees more use (in terms of time) than my desktop.

And so, my work bag, a grey Ikea Upptäcka messenger bag that has sadly been discontinued, is full of wonderful things related to getting work done wherever I happen to be.

Starting off simply, I have this ProCase Surface Pro sleeve that I purchased over a year ago, and it does exactly what one might think. Despite repeatedly knocking around my bag, my computer is unscathed. No complaints. On the Surface itself, I have a dbrand skin (or skins, really) covering everything on the front and back that isn’t a screen or camera. I have the blue carbon color on the front bezel, upper back, and logo, and the black carbon on the lower black. This is all continuing the theme started with my desktop build. The vinyl skins have survived a reasonable amount of abuse with only minor nicks and scratches, none of which breached through to the device itself. Perfect.

In the sleeve, I keep a Surface Pen. This feature was a massive selling point of the Surface for me. I received a Wacom tablet as a gift in late 2015, and by the summer of 2016, it was at my work desk full time. Turns out, using a pen in place of a mouse is really, really nice. There’s the added benefit of less hand and wrist strain, too. The Surface Pen isn’t quite as nice as Wacom, but it’s definitely good enough for what I need. I’m normally using it when I want to handwrite outlines or notes, or sketch out design ideas. I actually have one for my bag, one for my office at work, and one that stays at my desk at home.

Last summer, I found myself working on more vector projects than normal upon joining the Dallas Beer Guardians’ design committee. My one complaint with the new Surface Pen, the inclusion of only one side button, made working in Inkscape frustrating. On my desk at home, I have a six-button gaming mouse mapped to my most commonly used Inkscape functions. I needed to replicate that as best I could with something portable (read: wireless), comfortable, and programmable. I ended up purchasing a Logitech MX Master wireless mouse that has worked out beautifully. I’ve actually even upgraded the gear bag mouse to the newer MX Master 2S, which is even better. The original MX Master I purchased now stays in my office for that computer for when I don’t want to use my Wacom pad. I even have a third that stays at home for using my “writing laptops”.

Quick aside, the “writing laptop” is a Dell Latitude E6430 I’ve restored and refurbished from scrapped parts. It runs Windows 10 with my standard writing software FocusWriter, Excel, Firefox, OneDrive, and that’s it. I use this when I want to sit and write without having access to any of the distractions found at my desk, or when I want to write while watching something on my Surface. I’m actually writing this post on there right now.

Back to the bag.

With my Surface, I keep a standard wall charger with a longer AC cable. Battery life on the Surface is good, and I can usually eke 5 or 6 hours out of a single charge if I’m not running anything intense. But for days when I want to hole up in a coffee shop and make flags all afternoon, it’s not always enough.

In the past, I kept an Anker battery bank in the side pocket to recharge any USB-based devices on hand. I’ve just today swapped it with my latest purchase, this battery pack from a company called Gissaral. This one can actually recharge my Surface fully, twice, without needing a power outlet. So far, it seems to do what I’ve expected, and I really hope this pans out. I desperately want to be able to work for hours on end without electrically tethering myself to a wall.

Elsewhere in my bag, I have my Sony DSC-W830 camera that I bought for $50 from the Denton Camera Exchange. It’s nothing special, but does better than the average smartphone and has proper optical zoom. I keep a Rhodia No. 16 dotPad for analogue handwritten notes and sketches, along some variety of fountain pen (currently a Platinum Cool). There definitely are times where I want to physically write or sketch things, and this is the best possible way to do that.

In the cell phone department, I’m actually using a Droid Turbo. I upgraded to an LG V20 last year, but recently shattered the screen, and have been unable (read: too cheap) to get it repaired or replaced yet.

The e-reader discussion is interesting.

The features I was looking for were a front-lit screen, physical page-turning buttons, and a MicroSD slot for expandability. At the time, Barnes & Noble was offering the Nook GlowLight (not to be confused with the older Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight), which had physical page-turning buttons but no MicroSD slot. I bought one, and very soon after, scratched the screen. When front-lit screens scratch, the result is a hairline spot of maximum brightness. It’s absurdly distracting, and made the device borderline unusable. So, I went on ebay, and bought the aforementioned Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. It had everything I was looking for, but with wonky, uneven lighting, and turned out to be even more fragile than the successor. And then I received the Nook Glowlight+ as a gift at Christmas. It has touch-sensitive page-turning buttons and lacks a MicroSD slot, but otherwise works remarkably well. It’s even water-proof, allegedly. This has served me well for over a year and a half. Maybe I’ll upgrade to the new(ish) GlowLight 3 which features the return of physical buttons, or maybe I’ll end up with a Kindle. But in all honesty, I don’t have that much reason to complain or desire a replacement. I’ve even found the lack of expandable storage entirely unnoticeable.

I think I’ve rambled enough here.

Looking back at that post, I find it interesting just how many predictions on devices worked out almost exactly as intended. I’m very pleased with my current technological situation, and have been for nearly two years now. I just need to get that phone replaced.