The 2016-2017 NBA Preseason is over, and the final standings are in. What do we know? What are we excited about? Basketball! That’s what.
The rich get richer
Of all the storylines to follow during the off- and preseason, let’s address one thing right off the bat: Cleveland and GSW seem destined – now more than ever – to meet each other again in the NBA Finals, making them the first teams to meet in three consecutive finals. It’s a long time until June, but this seems the only logical outcome if you look at the field.
Kevin Durant signing with Golden State turned both him and the team into villains, and they will embrace this role, score a ton of threes and win 65+ games again this season. People were afraid of how they would integrate KD into their offense, but after a 6-1 preseason, we should be confident they’ll figure it out. Their bench took quite a hit, but they kept the crucial Andre Iguodala and coach Steve Kerr will work his magic on rotations.
Cleveland also kept the band together, with the big three all returning (which might not have happened had they lost in the finals), as well as Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and adding some nice pieces like Mike Dunleavy. But even if they just had one player, they would probably still come out of the east. LeBron James seems destined to remain the Final Boss of the East, and might even be motivated enough to go for a fifth regular-season MVP trophy.
The result is the continuation of a great rivalry, with some new flavor added to it.
They grow up so fast
Apart from the top dogs, one of the main reasons to look forward to this season is the teams whose young cores are looking to take a huge leap forward. Of these, Utah is almost guaranteed to do so under Quin Snyder. Their players are healthy and have improved year after year, they play solid defense and they also added a solid veteran in Joe Johnson.
The Milwaukee Bucks will prove to be very entertaining to watch with the growth of point guard/forward Gianni Antetekounpo and Jabari Parker. Adding Matthew Dellavedova (maybe not the best, but certainly one of my favourite point guards in the league) is a nice bonus.
But even more appealing are the two teams I detailed below.
Teams To Watch Every season I pick one team in the east and one team in the west to watch. These teams follow a certain magic formula which make them especially appealing for the fans:
They are unselfish and share the basketball.
They have a great coach
They are developing young talent
They will improve (sometimes significantly) throughout the season
They will win more games than last season
They are exciting to watch
This season I’m picking the Boston Celtics in the east. They had a great offseason in which they added Al Horford to a young but talented core who continue to improve. Their coach is Brad Stevens who has managed to impress from his first days in the league. The Starters even tip him to win coach of the year, and I tend to agree. The Celtics are exciting to watch with Isaiah Thomas being one of my favourite point guards not just in the league right now, but all-time. Gerald Greene is very entertaining with both highlight dunks and his ability to get scorching hot on outside shooting. Jaylen Brown could be a dark horse for Rookie of the Year. What was really inspiring to see is how good the team atmosphere was during preseason. Every dunk was met by even better reactions from the bench. The fact that they had the best record in the east during preseason doesn’t mean anything, but it’s a nice bonus.
In the west there can be no doubt of who I pick. It’s only a matter of time before the Timberpups grow into the Timberwolves and end the longest streak of playoff-drought in the league. I believe Tom Thibodeau has the potential to be a great coach. People sometimes still paint him as a defensive specialist and knock him for his overuse of his starters and the top of his bench. While those things are true, I believe he will improve Minnesota almost immediately and as long as he watches out for overusing players he might get them back into the playoffs. If not this year, then certainly next year. The Timberwolves dismantled the Memphis Grizzlies during preseason, who – while maybe not a top-tier team – are definitely solid with some big stars like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. They also utterly trashed the Charlotte Hornets. Let’s see if they can produce results during the actual season, versus tougher competition.
A list of things to look forward to this year (in no particular order)
– Both GSW rivalries: the villain rivalry with the LA Clippers and the Finals rivalry with the Cavs.
– Seeing KD play for the Dubs
– Jeremy Lin playing in New York again (albeit for the Brook-Lin Nets this time)
– The Lakers being fun to watch again with Russel, Ingram, Clarkson, Randle and Black
– Trust The Process; Joel Embiid is going to be great. He’s technically still a rookie, so it’s great to see his preseason tussle with Detroit’s Andre Drummond. He responded through his play, and showed he doesn’t back down from anyone. It will be exciting to watch someone with his combination of size, skillset and spirit.
– Boston’s Jaylen Brown
– BKN-NYK might actually become a nice in-town rivalry
– Russel Westbrook has been completely unleashed in OKC and Steven Adams continues to improve, which makes for a great combo.
– Defensive highlights from the Orlando Magic
– The old guy show in Chicago
– The Perpetual Drama in Sacramento
– Blake Griffin is a superstar (look at the handles and drop-off at 1:05)
– Miles Turner being the second best player on the Pacers
How the pros prep for the season One of the best parts of the NBA season revving back up to full speed is The Starters Season Preview: 72 Burning Questions. Skeets, Tas, Leigh and Trey cover everything and then some in a 9-part YouTube epic. I embedded Part 1 below and you will find links to the other parts below the video.
Below you can find an assignment I wrote for the course ‘Design and Development of Games for Learning‘. I had to design a curriculum using an existing game. As a huge fan of the puzzle/platformer Limbo, I chose to design a lesson plan teaching the concept of gravity and acceleration in an introductory level physics class
The students are aged between 11 and 13, with the majority being around 12 years old. They are currently in the first year of the first cycle of secondary education of middle school1. They consist of both boys and girls. The students come from a variety of backgrounds, with large differences in socioeconomic status (or SES)2, which includes a.o. parent income and level of parent education3. The students are quite outspoken, both in their expectations about the learning process as well as in giving feedback when something meets or doesn’t meet those expectations.
The student should have a multifaceted understanding of the concept gravity and the acceleration of bodies. Apart from remembering the definition which they will only be told at the very end of the class, they should know what gravity looks like and feels like, as well as what the absence of gravity looks and feels like.
After an introductory round of questions including “What happens if I let go of this pen?” or “Will the pen also fall if I’m in space?”, students are asked to move to computers in pairs and start the Limbo level that incorporates gravity puzzles. They have been given no direct instruction on the term gravity or acceleration. The pairs of students discuss on how to proceed through the level, with one of the students taking the controls. Students have to switch if the avatar dies, so each gets their turn experiencing the pull of gravity. After all students have spent some time on the game and everybody has proceeded at least partly through the level, class is reassembled and one pupil is asked to move the avatar, which is being projected on the blackboard. He doesn’t get to make his own instructions but can only follow the instructions of the other pupils4.
In order to achieve this, the students will use a level in the platform/puzzle game Limbo5 about shifting gravity to solve increasingly difficult puzzles that highlight what happens if gravity were altered in some way (e.g. by inverting it). Usually these alterations are temporary, and objects that were suspended in the air, or stuck against a ceiling fall down again when gravity resumes its normal form. The goal of the game is to manoeuvre a character through the level and reach the end without dying (quite horribly). Because this is a goal-driven, problem space where you are emotionally attached to your avatar but failure isn’t met with severe consequences (if you fail you die, but you instantly respawn close to where you were and you have infinite lives) this is an ideal way for students to come to a deep understanding of the concept gravity and the acceleration of bodies because they get visual feedback and are able to draw on previous experiences to predict what will happen when they proceed to act in a certain way.
This is a lesson plan for a school context, more specifically a classroom that has at least one computer for every two students. While a short part of the game is played in class, the students can continue playing it at home on multiple platforms, and discuss some other concepts which will return later on during the semester (magnetism).
1For more details on the structure of the Belgian school system, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Belgium#Secondary_education
3More specifically, maternal test score appears to be a crucial factor in students’ performance. Crane, Jonathan: Effects of Home Environment, SES, and Maternal Test Scores on Mathematics Achievement in The Journal of Educational Research, vol.89, issue 5, 1996
4If this gets too rowdy, have only pupils who raise their hand give instructions.
Like so many others before me, this was my introduction to CrossFit. Intrigued, I browsed the web to find some more information. So what is this CrossFit business, you ask? According to wikipedia it is
Promoted as both a physical exercise philosophy and also as a competitive fitness sport, CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, strongman, and other exercises. It is practiced by individuals who complete daily workouts (otherwise known as “WODs” or “workouts of the day”).
I enrolled in a local gym and started training there. A couple of things one notices right off the bat: CrossFit mainly consists of group classes. There is always a certified coach present who teaches you the movements and helps you throughout a workout. The coaches at our box (the name for a CrossFit gym) are all very friendly and they know what they are talking about. Newbies like myself are not allowed to jump into regular training when starting out, but have to complete 6 intro classes to learn all the basics of air squatting, deadlift, front squat, ring rows, wall balls and other movements that are often used in normal classes. Special attention is paid to people with current or previous injuries and more often than not, people got individually altered exercises to alleviate stress on parts of their body that have been injured or are stressed. CrossFit has a pretty bad reputation as far as both form of execution and injuries is concerned, but at least for my box this is simply not true. I feel very safe , especially because all coaches let new people work out with broomsticks instead of barbells to get the movements just right. Only once you have correct posture are you allowed to move on to barbells and actual weightlifting.
After I had completed the six intro classes, I moved on to regular classes, or WODs (workout of the day). These have proven to be immensely fun, while often also quite challenging.
Constantly varied? Yes
Workouts are indeed constantly varied: throughout the course of one year you would normally not do the same workout twice. Some of the components of a workout come back: like squats, pushups, pullups, etc, but they’re always combined in different ways. I’ve noticed I’m always pretty excited to check crossfit.com to see what madness they have in store for me today.
Functional Movements? Yes and no
One thing you notice when walking into a CrossFit gym is that while there are some machines here and there, most people are working with their own body. Most movements are composite movements that require core strength and use many different parts of the body at once. The burpee, pull-up and handstand come to mind as nice examples of this. As real-life activities also require you to move in this way, it’s normal to train in this way. But while I use squats on a daily basis to pick things up and reach the mugs hidden in the bottom of kitchen cupboard, I wonder how often I do some of these other movements in real life. Of course things like deadlifts and snatches help with picking things up, but I feel like they’re mainly practice for doing heavier deadlifts and snatches. But then again, I like doing deadlifts and snatches, so no complaints here.
High intensity? Yes, but…
The high-intensity part is definitely true: workouts feel more like sprinting than going for a 10k run. Which brings me to my own practice: I have kept running on days I didn’t go the box, and I wouldn’t just throw out all other activities you do just yet. As you start out, your body simply isn’t ready to do WODs every single day. You need rest days every other day. In my case, that meant having to go for runs 2-3 times a week for weight control. As you get more experienced you can start going more often, until you reach the goal of working out every day. But even then I feel like CrossFit is mainly weight training in short bursts, and benefits from being complemented with running longer distances every now and then. In all fairness, one of the WODs I have done simply stated “run 10k”. Based on the low attendance that day and the way some of our regulars struggled with running I would say running on your own every now and again is probably a good idea.
Cold hard Cash
When shopping around for a place to train, it seemed like membership for a box is around 4 times the fees one would pay at a traditional gym. I have been quite willing to fork over these high fees, because if it allows me to have a skillful coach correcting my movements so I don’t injure myself, it is money well spent.
I had never thought of myself as someone who would go to a gym on a daily basis, but that’s exactly where I’m headed. I’ve really enjoyed the classes, met interesting people and am amazed at how much fun I’m having. I love being somewhat competitive (understatement of the week), and this sport allows me to challenge myself on a daily basis.
I recently started recording some of my gameplay and began uploading this to plays.tv. You can find my channel here. Right now most of the content is League of Legends videos from ARAMs, rotating queue or weird/dumb strategies in normals with friends.
To celebrate: a disgusting Karthus ult to the face on Howling Abyss.
As today was my last day in Seoul, I really needed to visit the last of the five Grand palaces of the Joseon dynasty.
When I got there, the place was deserted. Not a handful of tourists, not one other person was there. I had the entire palace to myself, and was surrounded by the chirping of the birds, the howling of the wind and the creaking of the palace doors and gates.
It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. If you want to see the Joseon palaces, I highly recommend going to see them during the wintertime, because nobody is there and the winter light is beautiful for taking pictures.
I decided to spend my last couple of hours in Seoul as efficiently as possible, which translated to going the National Museum of Korea. Before entering the museum, I took a walk around the park in front of it. The ponds were all frozen solid, and I had a field day trying to catch some of the sunlight refracting of shards of broken ice on the water’s edge.
Upon entering I immediately realized just how huge Seoul’s National Museum of Korea actually is. A dome which dwarfs most basilica’s throughout the world acted as an impressive entrance hall. I made my way to the counter to get a ticket, but the people sitting behind it only looked at me as if I was a total weirdo. “There are no tickets, sir. This museum is free.” Again? I love Korea! In Japan, watching the tiniest of collections will make you 1000 JPY poorer, but here even the largest collection of Korean art is freely available to the public. Yet somehow, I got the feeling that most Koreans are not really interested in that heritage. Temples, palaces, museums, all were very scarcely populated, something which would not be true in Japan, even though entrance fees are much higher there.
The museum’s collection was truly astounding. It had a large collection of ceramics, weaponry and art from paleolithic times, the three kingdoms period, as well as my favourite: the Joseon dynasty. On top of that, there are some excellent examples of calligraphy to be found in these halls. I was surprised to find an ancient go board including stones among some of the cultural relics stored on the second floor.
That’s all folks. Well, for Korea at least. I will board a plane back to Tōkyō tomorrow morning.
As this Korea trip is turning into quite the study break, I decided to do some more battery recharging today. I slept in really late and then had breakfast in my coffee shop (it’s mine now, I’ve ordered too many cups of tea for somebody else to have any claims regarding its ownership). As I had some work to do for Netlabelism, I pulled out the netbook and hammered away at the keys for an hour or two, before getting on the subway to do some shopping in downtown Seoul. I stumbled upon Kyobo Books, which is Seoul’s largest bookstore. It was positively huge, comparable in size to Tōō’s Shinjuku branch of Kinokuniya. Inside I noticed another cultural difference. Koreans are apparently not that fond of standing. Littered around the store were Koreans, ranging in age from their early twenties to their late seventies, just sitting on the floor reading a book. When navigating small aisles, that means literally stepping over some old lady looking for a book. Well, at least I hope she was looking for a book, otherwise I just stepped over an old woman with a broken hip. In hindsight, I should have checked if she was still breathing. Yikes.
After my apparent disgracing of a dead Korean woman in a bookshop, I returned to the youth hostel to spend the evening with Alan, Annie and Justeen, as they would be taking a boat to Shanghai the next morning. We went out for dinner with two of Annie’s friends studying in Seoul, and I knew just the place to go, as I’d been there only 24 hours before with Henry.
About a two minutes’ walk from the youth hostel there’s a seafood place that has outdoor sea food tanks filled with fish, eel, clams and squid. If you choose to go with the squid, after about five minutes a waiter will rush past your table with a bucket. Depending on how feisty the contents are (in our case: very) the entire trajectory gets splashed with water from the squirming squid. When they serve the raw, chopped-up squid at your table just minutes later, the tentacles are still moving, and the suction pads have not yet registered the fact that they are no longer alive. Result: the tentacles suck on to the plate, wriggle while you bring them to your mouth, and even while you’re chewing on them they will try to escape, or suck onto your lips, tongue or whatever part they get a hold of. Annie and Alan were not too amused with the moving snacks, but Justeen and I dug in, just as I had done the night before. Mmm, moving squid. Highly recommended, if only for the stories.
Yesterday we all feared today’s DMZ tour would be canceled, but we were assured none of that would happen. And indeed, we forged ahead as planned. Or to be more accurate: we crawled ahead with half-opened eyes at 7:15 in the morning. Henry, one of the people I met at the youth hostel, had the brilliant idea of setting the alarm clock 5 minutes before departure time, which was fine by me. In my ray-of-morning-sunshine mode (Olivier will know that one quite well from last year) I hauled myself onto the bus and snoozed for another hour or so. When I finally gave up trying to sleep, we’d arrived at our destination: the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea.
Arriving at the DMZ means passport checks. A fresh conscript (military service is compulsory in Korea) clambered aboard the bus and gave our passports a brief look. So brief, in fact, I wonder if he’d noticed at all had my passport photograph been one of an overweight black woman.
Well, I guess we presented no threat, and were allowed in for our first stop: Imjingak park. Here we had the opportunity to watch Freedom Bridge, which had been used to exchange POW’s after the Korean War. It’s really cold up here, and the morning light made love to the ice crystals on the park’s various wooden and concrete surfaces in the most beautiful way. I could have stayed here for hours with the right camera. Unfortunately, lacking focus on my crummy second-hand model soon made me abandon my attempts to catch the spectacle and I shot some very authentic looking barbed wire instead. We scored some breakfast at the convenience store and back on the bus we went.
Our second stop was one of the famous North Korean infiltration tunnels underneath the DMZ. In the 1970s, a defector from North Korea admitted he alone was responsible for designing at least 20 infiltration tunnels from North Korea. So far, four have been found.
The tunnel itself was nothing special. You’re given a safety helmet and then walk down through a brightly lit South Korean tunnel down to where it intersects the North Korean tunnel. After walking for a good five minutes in a tunnel that is too low to walk up straight (chronic malnutrition creates tiny North Koreans) you come to the first of three concrete checkpoints, beyond where you may go no further. No pictures allowed, though there’s nothing to be seen anyway, apart from some barbed wire and dramatic red lighting.
Next on the list was the Dora observatory, a large deck mounted with binoculars for spying on the North Korean neighbours. You were allowed to take pictures, but only until a certain yellow line drawn way before the edge of the platform, ensuring only giants could actually take pictures of North Korea.
When looking through the binoculars though, you can see the rivalry amounting to comical proportions in the placement of two gigantic flag poles. North Korea has the larger one, by the way.
Our last stop was the Dorasan train station, which has train tracks that extend all the way up to Pyeongyang. You can also get stamps of North Korea here. The actual stamp and ink cushion are covered in warnings not to put those on your travel passport, as an American man who did just that a few years ago was detained in an American airport for two whole days before being allowed re-entry. Oh, and I bought DMZ chocolate. Just couldn’t resist.
After returning to Seoul, I made my way to the Hankuk Kiwon, the Korean professional go players’ institute. It’s a lot different from the Nihon Kiin in Tōō, and it was almost impossible to see anything just wandering around. I tried talking to the few people I saw wandering around, but they spoke no English. Pretty disappointed, I went back to the subway station, thinking about how unwelcoming the Hankuk Kiwon is. And then it suddenly dawned on me that those thoughts where just that: thoughts.
I went back, tried one more time with an old man smoking a cigarette in front of the Hankuk Kiwon. He spoke English, and guided me to the basement floor where a dozen or so professionals where analyzing a game as it was being played. He put me on a chair, reminded me to be respectfully silent among the professionals and even got me a drink. I ended up watching the entire relay of a professional match in the 2011 Korean Baduk League. I didn’t know this, but that seems to be a team league. Today’s match was between a team “Posco Something something LED” and “Hite-Jinro”. Team something something was leading 1-0. The game was An Sungjoon (B) vs Ju Hyeongwuk (W). I enjoyed every second of the game and I’ll treasure this as a reminder of how you are responsible for shaping your own experience.
I found the game record on go4go.net and added it below:
On a pretty bizarre note, I asked the man who had guided me into the room full of professionals for his name. He smiled and gave me his card because I wouldn’t believe it otherwise. He was a 7-dan amateur player who had been teaching go in Mongolia for the past few years and recently returned to Seoul. And now a little reminder of his existence travels with me in my backpack. A piece of paper that says Kim Jeong-Il.
I’ve been away from home for almost 3 months now, and one of the things I really feel is the absence of a private space and time to engage in my training schedule. As I’m mostly rushing from one place to the next, I usually don’t have a lot of time to catch up on things. So today I decided to park my behind in a coffee shop about a five minutes’ walk from my youth hostel, and not budge another inch until it closes.
I’ve been here for about 6 hours, and have since read up on the international news of the last couple of weeks. Reading about the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il in a South Korean tea shop is a decidedly different experience from doing so in Belgium. Especially if you have a trip to the DMZ between North and South Korea planned for the next day.
Perhaps it’s the copious amounts of white tea I’ve been consuming here, but I feel pretty relaxed right now. Well, I’m all done with this digital business. I’m trading this screen for a book. “One more cup of white tea, please.”
Dessi had to catch her flight back to Japan today, so we spent the morning drinking coffee and eating pumpkin pie at Gimpo airport. I think whoever made the pie just translated the words from English directly, and never bothered to look up a recipe. It literally consisted of only boiled pumpkin and sweet, rich cream with extra sugar added for good measure.
On the way back I got off the train at Deoksugung, where another changing of the guard ceremony was underway. This palace used to be a second residence for the Joseon rulers, and it’s smaller than the Gyeongbokgung, Changyeonggung or Changdeokgung palaces. It also has some western-style buildings, and is surrounded by many embassies. Of all the Joseon palaces I’ve seen so far, this was the least impressive. However, one of the buildings really stood out. This old wooden hall had not been painted in the colourful motifs that cover all other palace buildings. Because it lacked the loud, attention-grabbing appeal of the other buildings, it radiated a serenity more reminiscent of Japanese temples than Korean palaces.
I walked around the Deoksugung area, and accidentally stumbled upon Namdaemun market. This veritable beehive has people selling everything and anything. There’s tons of clothes of varying quality (though that variation is mostly between nothing special and rather awful) to be found here, so I finally got myself a pair of gloves. After that, I hunted down the food stalls hidden among the loud purse and jacket salesmen, and spent most of my money on munchies.
From Deoksugung I had seen Seoul Tower in the distance, and I was wandering in that direction in order to catch the sunset from up there. By some extraordinary coincidence, I ran into Alan, Justeen and Annie when buying a ticket. It was definitely an added bonus to be able to share the cable car and elevator ride to the top of the tower with them. Once we made it to the observation deck, the sun was already setting, so we hurried over, snapped some shots and within a single minute the sun had set. Not behind the horizon, mind you, but behind smog so thick even sunlight could not penetrate it. The 360 degrees glass walls of the tower showed the location of most major cities in the world, as well as their distances.
Upon descending, we decided we were hungry enough to head towards Insadong for dinner and some post-dinner entertainment, as Alan was dying to try out some of the batting cages here. I had a go myself, but as the lowest speed was 90km/h here, and not 80km/h as the one I’d tried in Tōkyō, I ended up missing about a third of the balls shot at my unsuspecting head.
The whack-a-mole machine tucked away in a corner was more to my liking, and it ate many of my 500 won coins. Of course, I started obsessing about getting the high score, but after stranding a few points short three times in a row, I gave up and watched Annie become increasingly adept at swinging a baseball bat around.