Monday, May 26, 2014

Simple Math

Subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive.

Almost daily on paintball forums new threads pop up somewhere that start by asking, “What can we do to help grow paintball?”  The same kind of answers come up all the time such as “invite your friends out and lend them your extra gear” or “get paintball on TV”, or “start a paintball club at your school”.

These are all great positive things, but I would like everyone to remember some basic math.  When dealing with a group whose size is affected by both addition and subtraction, both are equally important.  The negative things we DON’T do can have just as big of an affect as the positive things we do.

I think it’s important for anyone that considers themselves as an Ambassador of the game point out the negative things players do to the players themselves, the field staff, and the field management.  The more negative we control or stop, the better the chance that paintball participation will grow.  It’s just math.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lego and Paintball

I had a book when I was a young lad.  Forty-some years after first getting the book, I can still picture the cover perfectly.  The cover was a picture of a young boy looking out a window, with his arms crossed leaning on the window sill.  The window was covered in rain splatter and therefore the outside world was not recognizable.  The boy had a very sad and disappointed look on his face; he was obviously not going to be able to go outside and play today.  The book was printed for Lego.  The cover did not have any Lego pieces pictured on it nor did it even have the word Lego on it, if I remember correctly.  But inside was a world full of imagination; all sorts of projects that could be built using basic Lego pieces.  This book was not like the little instruction pamphlets that are now included in Lego kits designed around a specific model to be built with the pieces contained inside.  No, this book was designed to get your imagination flowing.  It was obviously also designed to be used inside on days when kids couldn’t go outside, judging by its cover, and those were the days I would bring it out.

What does this have to do with paintball?  Nothing... and everything.  The discussion on why paintball has lost some of its popularity compared to early days often pops up.  I think one of the main reason is a cultural change in our society that has taken place.  The book I described was probably published in the mid 1960’s.  It was published during a time when kids spent much of their free time playing outside.  I was born in 1961 and spent many, many hours from about 8 years old to mid teens outside, oftentimes miles and miles (yeah we measured distance in miles then, not kilometers) away from home, with my parents having no idea where I was.  So did all my friends.  We built forts in the forest, played Cops and Robbers on roads, Cowboys and Indians wherever we felt like it, explored old abandoned buildings, went swimming in muddy rivers, played hockey on barely frozen ponds and rivers, and did wonderful things that most of today’s parents would probably think was dangerous and reckless.  And we survived.  Sure there was the odd broken arm and bruised tailbone and sometimes when the ice cracked the adrenaline would speed through your veins at the speed of light, but it was a great childhood and I have many great memories.

You’re still wondering what this has to do with paintball, aren’t you?  Well paintball was first invented in 1981 and the players during that first decade were mostly in the 20’s and 30’s.  I would have been 20 in 1981.  Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about paintball until several years later, towards the end of the 1980’s.  But other people my age did and those people grew up in the same type of environment that I grew up in.  The wild outdoors were our playground.  For us, to have a game akin to playing soldiers or Cops & Robbers, or Cowboys and Indians, with “real” guns that actually shot someone to mark them, was like a dream come true.  As my generation discovered paintball, we flocked to it.  I remember playing my first game and feeling like my life was finally complete.  At the end of the day there were a few guys limping and sore and the odd fat lip (this was before full face masks), but we all survived and we were all ecstatic.  Life had come full circle.

Time went on, as time does, and our society slowly changed.  Some interesting things were happening.  In the 1980’s, School Boards and Municipalities, as well as a few Corporations were getting sued.  They were getting sued by parents whose children had been hurt on playgrounds and the parents were winning those lawsuits.  Municipalities may have thought they were doing a good thing to provide kids with swings and carousels and teeter totters, but apparently they were in fact hurting kids.  Playgrounds got revamped and everything was made “safer”.  Parents hearing of the horror stories of kids getting hurt playing at playgrounds unattended wouldn’t allow their kids to go unless Mommy or Daddy was there to supervise.  Playing anywhere unsupervised where kids might hurt themselves was becoming taboo.  Kids no longer hung out at parks and played games of pickup baseball, basketball, or soccer.  Kids were signed up for organized sports where they could be supervised at all times, driven back and forth to venues so they wouldn’t get hurt or god help, abducted along the way.  The media was reporting more and more incidents where kids were being abducted and molested.  I don’t know if the statistics for that type of thing are any higher today than they were 40 years ago, but the fear is definitely, infinitely higher which of course affects everyone, not just the very small percentile actually affected.

Another big change were toys and games.  Marketers were bringing out more and more addictive toys designed to be played with indoors.  Most parents didn’t object too much, as it meant their kids were “safe” inside, on the couch, instead of out in the terrible unknown world filled with all sorts of dangerous things where their little darlings might get hurt.  It’s much better to keep them within earshot at all times.  Safe.

We started raising a society full of paranoid people, afraid to venture outside and use their imaginations.  If they went on a hike, it was along well groomed trails, preferably with handrails so there was no chance of slipping and getting a bruise or scrape.  If they went skating, it was at a supervised rink, preferably indoors.  Swimming was done at a pool with lifeguards.  If swimming was allowed outside, it was only where there were 100’s of other people that would notice if something was wrong and not without parents present until kids were at least 14 or so (they might get abducted by a candy bearing stranger).  Imagination and adventure was slowly being lost in our youth.  Paintball was being converted (or at least trying to be) to a game much more like the other organized sports kids were being raised on.  Running around in the woods playing politically incorrect games was something that shouldn’t be done anymore and kids that were replacing the aging paintball players who were leaving to raise families didn’t grow up with that adventurous attitude anyway.  The new game was designed to be played at a much faster pace, much closer to the fast moving video games kids were used to.

Less and less time was being spent outside by youths in the 1980’s and onward.  Indoor activities were taking over.  Eventually,  most organized sports were seeing declines n participation.  More and more, youth were choosing to stay inside.  These young people were growing into young adults, still choosing to stay inside.  Addictive computer games were the name of the game.  Socializing could be done through the internet.  Kids growing up today have less and less reason to venture out into the dangerous outdoors.  They are growing up, accustomed to spending most of their time indoors.  Given a choice on spending a day at a paintball field and getting dirty or spending a day inside socializing on their computers or Smart phones, most are choosing to stay home.  It’s what they know.  The picture of the little boy looking longingly at the outside world wouldn’t have nearly the same effect today.  People are content to stay inside today, rain or shine.

Is it any wonder we have less people playing paintball today?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Is My Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

I’ve always found this question to be a little silly.  I know it relates to whether you consider yourself a pessimist or an optimist and when I was younger, I used to think that I needed to answer this question, based on those two choices.  But I’ve always been the type of person who tries to base decisions on reason, rather than emotion, at least most of the time.

As I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to the conclusion that I like to think of myself as a realist, rather than a pessimist or an optimist.  Now some people think a realist is just a pessimist in sheep’s clothing, but I disagree.  The way I see it, the glass is at the halfway point.  It is neither full nor empty at this point.  What is much more important is what will happen to the glass in the future.  And if it’s my glass, then really, what happens to it is up to me.

I can choose to drain the glass or I can choose to fill it up.  Draining the glass is always easier, but I will end up with an empty glass, which may not be a good thing.  Filling it up, may require effort.  As one is going through life, their glass is constantly being taken from and should constantly be added to.  The ratio that this takes place at is up to the glass owner.  I can choose to drain it quicker than I add to it, in which case eventually the glass will be empty.  I can add to it at a faster rate than I drain it in which case the glass will eventually fill to the rim and possibly even overflow (my cup runneth over).  The point being, the cup owner has control of his/her destiny and the amount of effort willing to be put in determines the outcome.  There is no predetermined fate.  The glass is at the halfway point.  Now you choose what you want to do with it.  Be a realist.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The World Economy through Laymen Eyes

This post is going to have to do very little with paintball, but it was spurred on by my rambling thoughts due to recent events by paintball manufactures closing North American plants and expanding in Asian markets.  The problem is not a paintball specific problem though, hence why the post is not so much about paintball but about economies in general.  I’d like to also add that these are the views from someone with no economic schooling or any real large scale business or commerce experience.

The way I see it, the crux of the problem is that world has much more labour than it needs.  We have become so efficient at making “stuff”, through the use of technology and relatively cheap energy sources, that we can produce much more “stuff” than we need, or at least that the people who can afford to buy the “stuff” need.

Manufacturers have seen this coming for a long time.  So they started to look at the world outside of the societies that could afford “stuff”.  As yet, there is a still a large part of the world that is “developing”.  In these areas are plenty of people who do not have as much “stuff” yet, but who want “stuff”.  Unfortunately, many of them don’t have enough money to buy the stuff.  But as those regions develop, the people who live in those regions will acquire more income and thereby be able to buy more stuff, in turn keeping the economy going.

But to develop those regions and put money in the hands of the citizens that live there, the economy has to move there.  So the “stuff” that used to be made in America and Canada, and Europe and consumed in those places with the surplus sent to other places in the world, is more and more being made in those developing areas.  The relatively cheap labour can make the “stuff” cheaper meaning that the citizens of those regions (who now have jobs) can afford to purchase them.  You can almost compare those developing areas to America and Europe coming out of the dark ages and into the industrial revolution.  We too worked for very little at one time, and as we acquired more “stuff”, we became stronger as a society.  The workforce started to demand more compensation, so they could buy even more “stuff”.  That was the start of inflation.

The developing areas of the world will also end up having inflation because their labour will as well one day demand more compensation so they can buy more “stuff”.  But this will take time.  It may be 100 years before these developing areas have as much “stuff” as we do and are on an even playing field.  Not everyone will develop at the same time or at the same rate.  Manufacturing will continue to shift to areas that are the most impoverished.  But in the end, the net result will be that eventually, many years from now, everyone on the planet will have a more or less equal standard of living (except those who own the factories of course).

As the standard of living rises in the developing areas, the standard of living will fall in the previously developed areas.  The already developed areas have labour prices that can’t compete with the less developed areas.  This is what is currently happening with manufacturing moving to Asia, out of North America and Europe.  The factory owners feel they have no choice but to pull up roots and move.  Either move or die.

All this will take another century or two.  But in the end, as we humans become even more efficient at making “stuff”, we will all have more stuff than we need, but we will have more and more unemployment.  Technology will mean we will need less and less manual labour and if people have more stuff than they need, our factories will be laying idle and more and more people will be unemployed.  This is the end game for “capitalism”.  That is the way it will play out over the next few hundred years, at least the way I see it.

What does this mean?  First of all, I don’t think there is much that is going to stop this natural progression.  But somewhere along the line, there will most likely be a rebellion (did we possibly see a first glimpse of it during “Occupy Wall Street?).  As America and Europe’s citizens lose the standard of living they have been accustomed to; as we increase the number of unemployed because of the shift of manufacturing to developing areas; the citizens will rebel.  I don’t know what form that rebellion will take, but more than likely, in the end, capitalism will be ousted and socialism, of some form, will take it’s place.

The human race will go in one of two directions.  Either we will become a more social society, meaning we learn to share the much more than needed amount of “stuff” we have, or we fight one another to physically, or militarily, try to dominate one another.  If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the latter happening.  Most likely we will either destroy the human species (possibly the whole planet) or destroy enough of our society and human kind, so that those left will have plenty of work rebuilding so they reacquire “stuff”.  Rinse, and repeat.

It's a shame really when you think about it logically.  If we as a species have developed technology to the point where we can produce more "stuff" than everyone needs, wouldn't it make sense if we could all work a little less, share, and enjoy the "stuff", rather than fighting and killing ourselves off.  I have a feeling that in the end, it will be difficult to take the "animal" out of "homo sapiens".

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Speedball – A New Format

Before reading this, I would suggest those that have not read my previous post ( ), should do so now.

When competitive paintball came out of the woods and was eventually renamed speedball, it was so named not because players were shooting extremely fast (initially they were not shooting any faster than when they were still competing in the woods), but rather because games were now played on small fields and ended relatively quickly.  Gone were the days of sneaking and crawling to new positions to gain a better angle on an opponent.  High rates of fire and their association with speedball came later.

I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of high rates of fire though.  I think there is a place for everything in paintball.  I am here to discuss a new format and how it can have positive effects on two of the three problems that most people seem to associate with current formats.  Why only two of the three?   Well if you go back you will see that the first and second problems are virtually opposite of one another.  People say that too many things are happening at once and therefore the game is difficult to follow and others say it’s boring to watch because there is very little movement going on.  Both can be true, although rarely simultaneously, but both can happen during the course of any game.  It’s very difficult, if not impossible to solve both.  Therefore the problem the new format is not going to try to solve is that too many things are happening at once.  This of course is only a problem from a spectator's point of view and will remain a problem until competitive paintball becomes popular enough that heavy investment in filming can alleviate some of this problem.  Personally I don’t think it can ever be totally solved and we should be concentrating on making the game fun and affordable for players to want to take part, rather than watch.

So on to the new format.  I’ll be honest, the format isn’t so much new, it has more to do with scoring and in reality, the rules of the game do not need to change from current rules very much; that applies to Race 2, 7-Man and virtually any other version of paintball.  This may bring a sigh of relief to those players reading and thinking, here comes another new version which will mean everyone has to learn a whole new game.  No, the game can for the most part stay the same, but that doesn’t mean that the new format (scoring) doesn’t change the way the game is played, A LOT.  It does indeed change virtually everything.  In the Race 2 version, there would no longer be a Race 2 a certain number of points, but rather a set number of matches.  How many matches doesn’t really matter and can be set by tournament organizers, just as the number of Race 2 matches is now set differently for different divisions.

Bear in mind that this is a conceptual thing right now, and can be modified and changed.  Actually the great things about this new format/scoring system is that although the rules don’t need to change, the new format’s scoring system can be “adjusted” to meet the needs of the organizer and the organizer’s intention and player base/level.

The format uses modern technology, which probably wasn’t available when paintball first came out of the woods.  If it was, it would have been very bulky and very expensive.  Modern electronics and an abundance of software writers have changed that.  Now let me say, that I am not a very “techy” person, but I do know the technology exists or can be adapted to meet our needs.  We’ll use the current Race 2 format as an example, as it is probably the most predominant version of competitive paintball in the world.  Points would be scored by hitting a buzzer (yes I prefer a buzzer for this – one tied electronically to the scoring system), but instead of 1 point for a buzzer push, a team would receive 1,000 points (working number, can be changed to whatever we want).  This doesn’t change anything except adding a bunch of zeros to the “1”.  Why we need so many points will become apparent momentarily.

The new “format” is designed to encourage movement, making the game true “speedball”, rather than the occasional “boredom” ball that spectators and players complain about.  It changes the “risk vs. reward” ratio of the game, making it more rewarding to move (sometimes).  How do we encourage movement?  By penalizing players that stay in any one position for too long.  We don’t penalize them so much that they CAN'T stay in a position if they feel it is worthwhile, but we do penalize them for choosing to do so.  In other words, a team that chooses not to move will have more points deducted than a team that chooses to actively move from bunker to bunker.

So you are asking, who is going to be able to keep track of all that?  Refs and scorekeepers can’t keep track of everything that is going on as it is.  You are absolutely right, so we are not going to have any human involvement in the tracking of this data and the points associated with it.  This is all going to be done electronically, with a computer doing the calculations for us.  Each bunker will have sensors (most likely two – one on each side facing the ends of the field).  Players will be wearing transmitters.  As  a player nears a bunker (distance to be determined – probably in the 5 foot neighborhood), the transmitter the player is wearing is activated, sending a signal to the computer, basically stating the Player # “1” is in bunker “C”.  A certain length of “free” time is permitted at each bunker, maybe 5 seconds.  After that, the player starts racking up negative points.  The points increase exponentially as time elapses; meaning the longer a player stays in a bunker, the more negative points are accumulated for each passing second.  The formula would be:
[p=(x) to the power of y], where,
“p” is points, and
“x” is the negative points accumulated from the previous second’s assessed points, and
“y” is the exponential factor. 
A new calculation is performed at the end of each second using the new point total for “x”.  I’m not a mathematician, so there is probably a more eloquent way of stating this.  We’ll do an example of the scoring momentarily which will make this clearer (it’s not as complicated as it sounds).

Like I stated earlier, the scoring can be adjusted to meet the needs of the type of play needed or wanted, so we’ll just set up an example of one possible way to set up the scoring and then discuss how changing the scoring rates will change the way the game is played and why you might want to change the scoring rates based on things like ROF allowed.  Let’s say we allow a 5 second “free” time, meaning a player (we’ll use Player “1” behind Bunker “C”) can stay within 5’ (working distance – can be adjusted) of a bunker for 5 seconds after arriving there without any penalty.  We’ll use an exponential factor of 1.2 for our example.  During the 6th second at the Bunker “C”, Player “1” will receive 1.2 negative points.  During his 7th second, he will receive 1.44 negative points (1.2 times 1.2).  During his 8th second, it will be 1.728 (1.44 times 1.2), 9th second, 2.0736 (aren’t you glad we’ve got a computer doing this now?).  Although the computer will use as many decimals as required, the result will be rounded to one or two decimal places.  As you can see, each additional second racks up more points than the preceding second, meaning that the longer a player chooses to stay within 5’ of that bunker the more negative affect it will have on the team’s score.  At some point the negative points given should become either fixed or the formula changed to a very low exponential factor.  Why?  If it were kept at 1.2, after 60 seconds in the same bunker, a player would have accumulated 113,218 negative points and after 120 seconds, it would be 6,379,891,595 (yeah, that’s over 6 billion).  However if perhaps after 11 seconds the points given were -3 for each additional second, then after 60 seconds, the amount would be -155.9 and after 120 seconds, 335.9; still a lot, but not totally unreasonable.  All these numbers can be changed of course with the minimal effort of a few keystrokes.  This is just one example.  Personally, I would change the formula after a certain number of seconds to a very low exponential factor.  This will keep penalties fairly reasonable at first, but then accumulate faster if players stay in bunkers for very long times, which will help create movement on the field.  Maybe change the exponential factor to 1.005  after 8 or 9 seconds or something along that line.

During the course of the game the computer is gathering and calculating data for all active players (players in the dead box would not be near a sensor so would no longer be accumulating negative points).  In theory, a very active player that never stays in a bunker for more than the allowable “free” time, would not rack up any negative points, while the player staying behind his bunker  for the duration of the game (until the buzzer is pushed and turns off reception of data from transmitters) will rack up a lot of negative points.  Once the system has been set up correctly, you can see that teams that move quickly and more frequently will have an advantage over those that don’t.  In fact, in theory, it could even pass that the team that ended up eliminating the other team and pressing the buzzer could still end up losing the game if they accumulated enough negative points.  All is not lost though as points for each game are accumulated and included in the match total.

In this new version, the risk/reward ratio changes as time spent behind bunkers accumulates.  This creates a game where critical thinking is mandatory.  Movement, although theoretically not required, becomes an asset, while “camping” becomes a liability.  Because the risk to move is rewarded, there will naturally be more movement.  Because there is more movement, there will be less need for high rates of fire (although the games can be played at whatever rate an organizer chooses) nor will the game require as many paintballs if an organizer chooses to limit paintballs allowed.  If less paintballs are allowed or a considerably low ROF were introduced (or both), this would create a game with much movement and return to a game where the skill of aiming and leading an opponent’s run, rather than laning becomes an asset.  It would also become a game where on field, critical thinking would be a must.  No longer could players be indecisive behind bunkers for long periods of time (they could, but it would cost them dearly).  Creating a “fast” and exciting game of “speedball” in this manner, means that players can show off their athleticism, skills, and critical thinking abilities without having to shoot high volumes of paintballs.  The game would be more affordable with potentially more activity (movement).

Changing the formula and thereby the severity of the penalty will change the risk/reward ratio associated with moving and thereby either slow down or speed up the game.  This makes it easy to adapt the game for various skill/division levels.  Lower levels would be penalized less for not moving while the upper echelon gets penalized heavier for sitting in their bunkers instead of moving.  The game can further be adapted by ROF’s and/or varying paintball limits if desired.  It could be used in tournaments from stockclass all the way to National level Pro leagues.  The rules don’t need to change at any level, other than possibly ROFs and/or paintball limits.

I want to reiterate how adaptable this system would be.  The criteria for the scoring can be changed very easily.  For instance, the length of “free” time behind a bunker can be changed to any duration desirable.  The severity of the penalty points for staying behind the same bunker can be changed easily by adjusting the exponential factor involved.  We can even change those criteria for different players.  For instance, maybe we want to have the game set up, so that a couple of the players (back players) have more free time before the penalty points start racking up and maybe they rack up slower.  This could be easily accomplished by having different colour transmitters for different types of players.

How much will converting to this new format cost?  The sensors, transmitters, receivers and software would be sold by the bunker manufacturers and could be purchased with a new set of bunkers or the components would be available separately.  The components would be transferrable and would be adaptable with any computer, even a cheap $250 laptop.  When replacement bunkers need to be purchased, they can be purchased with or without sensors, depending on whether the buyer has them already or not.  Like I said earlier, I’m not particularly “techy”, but I think the initial setup would be under $1,000 on top of the bunker price.  Being transferrable, in theory it would be a one time (per field) cost.

So who’s up to creating a faster, more exciting, less expensive competitive paintball game?