Department of Player Safety examines tripping/slew-footing

The National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety on Wednesday unveiled its “Tripping/Slew-Footing” video, the third in a series of educational videos designed to help players and fans better understand how specific infractions are viewed and evaluated, what is legal and what merits the assessment of Supplemental Discipline.

This is awesome material, because what the NHL is finally starting to do is put the league casebook online.

If there’s a significant difference between the Colin Campbell era and the Brendan Shanahan era in NHL discipline, it’s that Shanahan and the NHL have embraced transparency. I always felt Campbell got a bum rap from many for being arbitrary and I don’t think that was really true, but what Campbell didn’t do a good job on was explaining why he made the decisions he did. Shanahan is changing that in the way he’s disclosing the information and rationale that goes into suspensions and using online video to help explain the situation. You may not agree with his decision, but at least you’re getting a lot more of what went into making it than you got with Campbell. 

Beyond that, we’re now starting to see the publication of casebook material. The game is governed by a rule book, and the official rules of the NHL (and other hockey leagues) have been available for years — I collect them and I have rulebooks going back into the early 40’s. But the way leagues have traditionally helped instruct referees and linesmen is with what’s known as a casebook. This has traditionally been some kind of publication that describes how the league wants the rules interpreted. Sometimes it’s bound and published as a book; sometimes it’s a series of sheets or sections distributed in a binder for easier updating. 

What the casebook tries to do is help the referee interpret the rule. With descriptions and pictures in classic ones, and today increasing use of video samples, casebooks try to define where the edge cases are — if a player does THIS it’s hooking, but if they do THAT it’s not. Since interpretation of a rulebook is subjective even if the words in a rulebook isn’t, the casebook is the guide to where to draw the lines around the rules and when to make the call and when to let it slide. 

They can be fascinating reading. They also are intended to be a living document as special cases or new interpretations happen. The NHL has long updated their casebook on an ongoing basis and distributed memos with clarifications or notes describing specific situations. 

A number of years ago — more than a decade — I had a few conversations with people working in the officiating department of the NHL, and one of the things I encouraged them to consider was publishing their casebook so all fans could (if they wish) learn how the rules are intended to be called.  that won’t stop much the fan griping, but I felt it would help fans become better educated and give them another tool to study the game. 

At the time, there were people in the department who wanted to, but there wasn’t enough support to make it happen. Now there is, for which I take absolutely zero credit — but I did want to call it out and offer credit to the folks at the NHL who are now willing to take this step. If you’re interested in the details of the game, these videos will be a useful tool is learning to watch for them.

One of the things happening at that time was a lot of criticism of the NHL refereeing; I was writing about it a lot then as well, and not always positively. But a number of broadcasters and journalists (people who’s job it was to know how the rules were supposed to operate) were either too lazy to actually learn them (too true in some cases) or had made a conscious choice to criticize based on how they wanted the rules to be written (the, ahem, Don Cherry scenario). Occasionally I’d hear about something that I got wrong, and that led to a discussion about the situation. I felt that having the casebook available would give broadcasters no excuse for being lazy or craven about knowing the rules (I also suggested they look into pre-season seminars on the rules that team broadcasters and journalists could sit in on and ask questions. Again, teaching and transparency. Now, with modern online webinar capabilities, this is even easier to accomplish). 

These days, I think that the broadcasters do a much better job of being balanced and knowing the rules, and I think overall, the reffing in the NHL is better, thanks in large part to the two referee system. It creates some challenges, but it reduces the difficulty of handling the game and makes it easier for the refs to ref it appropriately. Mistakes still occur — refs are human and the game of hockey is by far the hardest game to referee, with perhaps the offsides call of a soccer game at an elite level — but overall, I think NHL refs today do a pretty good job. 

I do think there are steps the league could take to push even further into disclosure and transparency. I don’t expect to ever see these happen, however, but I’d love to see these be implemented:

  • Disclosure of referee and linesman ratings, as well as discipline (fines and suspensions) when issued. Unfortunately, when i’ve brought this up, it hits the wall of this being personnel issues and not wanting to get into disclosure issues over an employee. Of course, the league does so with players suspensions and fines, but that’s negotiated with the PA. Trying to negotiate the same disclosure with the refs union would be tough. (you do know that referees and linesmen are subject to reprimands as well as suspensions? And some leagues (not sure about the NHL) they can be fined in some cases as well. you have to be careful, though, because officials get time off in-season just as teams get extended breaks between games, so just because a referee doesn’t show up in the box scores for a while doesn’t mean he got suspended. And referees get injured and sick, too..)
  • Post game media access for referees and linesmen. Let them sit at the podium and talk about their decisions. Players have to man up and be responsible for what they did on the ice, I think the referees should, too. Not holding my breath. It might get uncomfortable at times; knowing that is something that I expect would make referees more thoughtful about their decisions. And non-decisions. 
  • Get a referee off the ice. While I like the two ref system, at the time I felt a better option would be for the second ref to be off ice and in some kind of elevated viewing position. One ref covers the actions on ice, the other covers the entire ice surface from an “eye in the sky” position, because, frankly, there’s a lot of stuff going on that at ice level with all those bodies moving around is hard to see, even with two sets of eyes. Move one set of eyes above the action, and give them access to video replay and let them be responsible for it instead of the Toronto War Room (unless they want help). And that removes that extra body off the ice again. A minor advantage to this is that refs would end up skating half as many miles per season — so the senior refs would likely go longer before retirement. 
  • And finally, I want to see coaches challenges happen. There seems to finally be some movement in that direction. Video review and challenges and all of that can really screw over the flow of the game (hello, NFL replay…. yawn) — but getting it right and giving the teams some discretion in when it needs to be gotten right is a good idea. The devil is in the details (Hello, NFL Replay, in the 93 variants they’ve tried so far…). What major league baseball does is actually pretty good, but probably doesn’t go quite far enough. What you do NOT want is to screw up the game making sure you get every call right, because we’ll all die of old age before the third period ends. but there are key plays that if you get them wrong, you can destroy the integrity and results of a given game. And for those — find a way to get it right. And what seems to work is giving the coaches a limited right to challenge, and penalize them for being wrong (yes, the NFL Replay mode…. It works). 
Posted in Sports - Hockey

The new beast

IMG 0251

One of the things that has happened while I was off the blog was that I traded in the Subaru for a new beast. The Subaru was the best car I’ve owned in a long time, but at 120,000 miles, it was clear I had to either invest in it to deal with age-related maintenance, or replace it. my estimate was $2-3000 in 2013 for brakes, struts and shocks and the regular maintenance and fluid changes — at best. 

So I decided it was better to put that into a newer car. And then that got on hold when the refi on the house stretched out, because you don’t want to sneeze near anything that might tweak your credit rating. That’s why when the refi closed out on a Friday, I spent Saturday at the Ford dealer, and drove out for Christmas in SoCal on a Sunday in a car I literally hadn’t driven more than 10 miles or filled with gas yet. What’s this button do? Well, we’ll find out as we go… 

But it all worked out. The new beast is a 2012 Ford Escape, bought certified with 30,000 miles on it. Buying certified instead of new dropped the price a chunk, plus it got me a 2012 model, which I preferred over the 2013 — the trend with SUVs is to “car-ify” them, soften the ride and give them curvier lines, so they handle the road more comfortably, but don’t go off-road well and generally don’t haul as much. I wanted an SUV that still acted a bit like an SUV, without having to resort to one of the hard core off road vehicles like the Toyota FJ. 

The Escape fits the bill. Where the Subaru was “two adults and two kids”, the Escape’s a bit bigger, and I can fit four adults into it without feeling like I have to apologize constantly. it hauls a bit more, although with the seats up, the cargo area is actually close to the Subaru’s. So far, it’s been to LA once,  Morro Bay twice (including a stop on the way back from LA) with a day trip into Carrizo Plains, a day trip out to Merced, another day trip out to Colusa and Staten Island, and some short drives around the homeland. 

To my surprise, by buying not-quite-new, I was able to get one with 4WD (and a moon roof! woo!); one thing I really liked about my Subaru was the all wheel drive because in bad weather or on unpaved roads it held traction well. I haven’t put the Escape into snowy conditions yet, but even in some of the legendary Carrizo mud, it did okay with just a bit of sliding — I can’t believe the Outback would have handled it better. 

So the early results are quite positive. It’s a more comfortable drive for me overall; sometimes the Subaru left my knees stiff and sore, and that hasn’t happened with this beast. The upgrade from 4 to 6 cylinders fixes the feeling that sometimes I was a bit under-powered — but the Escape gas mileage is equivalent to, if not a bit better, then Subaru. that I didn’t expect, but I’m seeing 24MPG real world reliably. The gas tank is about a gallon smaller than the Subaru, which is making me have to relearn my “standard” fill up spots on the trips I take. 

As far as I can tell, the Subaru Outback is the standard car for nature photographers who don’t want a truck. I can’t argue, mine got me where I was going without a whimper for years. But this Escape seems to be all that, but a bit better set up for what I want. So far, it’s met all my expectations, and then some. 

So if you see me the beast out at one of the refuges, pop on over and say hi. 

Posted in About Chuq

A teaching moment on Bird ID.


Back at work after two weeks off, and getting back into the swim of things. It was nice to completely unplug for a bit and recharge the batteries. I definitely needed it… 

One thing I did was what I like to call a “long day” out birding and doing bird photography; up early (4:30AM) so I can get out so San Luis National Wildlife Refuge around sunrise, and I spend part of the day there, and the rest of the day at Merced NWR, one of my favorite places. I seem to do this once or twice a year during the winter birding season, and it’s not unusual for the day to end back home around 8 or 9PM. Definitely long. 

This year, the alarm didn’t go off and I got a couple of hours extra sleep; I got hit by the IOS notification bug. On the other hand, I still got to San Luis NWR only 90 minutes behind schedule — to clear 35 degree weather, sleeping birds (do you blame them?) and generally slow birding. A number of the still ponds were skinned over in ice, and frankly, the only thing I like LESS than central valley tule fog at dawn is black ice, and given the slow start to the morning, I was a lot more productive sleeping and being a bit more rested. So no complaint. 

While at Merced I ran into a hawk I wasn’t sure how to identify. In those cases I’ll grab photos, and rather than ID in the field, I’ll come home where I can spend more time thinking it through. That process, and then getting the ID corrected by the birding communities, turned out to be an interesting teaching exercise about how you can run through all the proper steps of ID — and still get it a bit sideways. 

Me, get an ID wrong? never. never ever. I’m perfect. 

No, really, I’m a lot more of an enthusiastic birder than a great one. And I’m cool with that. The amount of time and energy to do more than slowly get better is just time and energy I don’t have these days. But it sure is fun to try (birding is so damn analog. that’s what makes it a challenge — and fun). And if you aren’t pushing your limits and making mistakes, how are you growing yourself? So I don’t worry about getting it wrong. I worry instead about not putting the energy into doing the right things to try to get it right. If I do — and still miss — that’s how you learn. 

When I saw the bird initially, my reaction was “coopers hawk. No, wait…” — it wasn’t a cooper’s, it wasn’t a sharpie, but I wasn’t sure what it was. In that case, if possible, I’ll grab photos and defer a final decision until I get home and can study it more carefully. (if I can’t get photos, I’ll stop in the field and try to decide on an ID via my e-guides and then see if I’m comfortable with it when I get home; it not, it stays in “wish it was a…” category).

So when I got home and fired up the photos, “like a cooper’s…” was still in my head, and that’s a key here. Firing up the iBird guide, my first reference for what it might be was to bring up their cooper’s entry and look at their similar birds listings. They list six: Northern harrier, Broad-winged hawk, Northern Goshawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin, and American Kestrel.

I can throw out harrier, Merlin and Kestrel. I’ve already decided it’s not a Sharpie. colors are wrong for Goshawk (and I know that’d be a major rarity), so I pull up broad-winged. Looking at the images within iBird, and focusing mostly on the head of the bird (since that’s what keyed me onto “not a cooper’s” in the first place) I think it’s a maybe.  

And that’s where I went sideways — looking at the images today and the whole bird (instead of focussing too closely on the aspect of the bird that was ‘different’ it’s clear at a glance the chest pattern and the wing primary feathering don’t match. But at the time, I didn’t do that). I still wasn’t sure about the tail, the bird in question had a grey on white banding. 

There had been a previous report of this bird at Merced and I had in fact tagged that message since I was planning to head out there, but then I forgot all about  it until after I’d submitted my ebird report (so I don’t think it influenced my ID attempt). some of the email I got last night indicated the previous report didn’t get photos and there was some discussion about it being a red-shouldered. If nothing else, I’m glad I was able to (I presume) refind that bird and clear up this question… 

So I went off to flickr, searched on broad-winged and checked out images. I ultimately came on some images that I felt confirmed what I was seeing, and that’s when I made the call. 

Right now, a bunch of birders are looking at the image above and yelling “you idiot! that’s a….” to their computer screens. And they’re right.  

So now today, where someone has said “hey! think red-shouldered!” I’m looking at the image and going “well, duh!” and I in fact saw another red-shouldered at Merced that day, an immature. Most of my ID experience with that species is immature, and for some reason, at the time the bird triggered a thought towards Cooper’s, not red-shouldered. But as soon as someone suggested it, suddenly the bird kicked into view, and it’s obvious what it is. 

Whenever I get an ID wrong (not that I ever do, of course) and then get the correct ID, I like to go back to what I did to see how I came to the decision, where I went wrong (so I can be more accurate later) and whether the mistake was preventable (and how). I thought I’d go through it because I think there are some interesting details here, especially since I’m guessing whoever made the other report of this bird travelled down a similar path. 

The tool I used didn’t nudge me back down the path towards red-shouldered. that’s not the tool’s fault, but my over-reliance on its advice. I should have taken one step further back and asked myself what hawks should I be considering here, not just what hawks iBird was suggesting. That’s my bad (but I can see why I did it. won’t do that again). And yeah, I can see how if you walk down the iBird path with the mindset of “which of the birds similar to Cooper’s is this?” How you end up at Broad-wing. All very logical. Just wrong. 

 But I don’t feel too bad being wrong here, all things considered. And there are some good lessons to learn to help me (and hopefully, others reading this) from this mistake later. And ultimately, it all got sorted out which is what’s really important, and I’m trying to make sure that final info gets out to everyone so we’re all back in sync. I’d hate for someone to go chasing this bird because the corrected info didn’t get passed on.

There are a couple of learning points here:

First, don’t be overly reliant on your tools. I let iBird steer me down a path that was a little too convenient. Tha’s not iBird’s fault. Should red-shouldered be one of their similar birds? Well, where do you draw these lines? Put too many birds on the list, the list stops being useful. Use the list blindly as a definitive resource? that’s the problem.

Second, when ebird flagged the rough-winged ID as not just rare, but really, really, almost-unprecented rare, that should have been the clue for me to take a step back and ask myself what birds I should have expected there that I didn’t consider. If I’d gone in and taken a look at all of the local common hawks — if I’d looked up red-shouldered in the guide, the chest feathering would have likely triggered me onto the species. Since I had in fact seen a different red-shouldered immature on site as well, I really should have stopped to think about what other hawks it could have been. But I didn’t. 

Third, I got too focused on the parts of the bird (head and tail) that weren’t Cooper’s hawk, and stopped looking at the entire bird. This is not uncommon with ID attempts where a birder gets too attached to one field mark and ignores others that would define the ID properly. Which is what I did. The head was wrong for Cooper’s so find a head that matches. then look on flickr and find a matching tail. Done. Except one look back at the chest feathering, you see it’s wrong for Broad-Wing. Not even close. But I stopped looking at it. Bird ID is wonderfully difficult, and when I watch some of the senior birders make it look easy, I just sit back in fascination at how they do it. And just when you think you understand bird ID, toss in females (especially female ducks), shorebirds, juveniles, eclipse plumage, feather wear and fading…. For fun, go to the beach and start sorting out all of the 2nd cycle immature gulls… Me, I’ll go have another drink and pretend I tried. 

Fourth, every birder — every damn one of us — wants to find that really exquisite rarity. The more novice a birder you are, the more likely you are to assume what you’re seeing is a rarity. One key aspect of maturing as a birder is getting your head away from that. But when something wanders in that triggers that “SCORE!” in the back of your head, it can be tough… 

That is, by the way, an absolutely gorgeous red-shouldered hawk. Stunning bird. 

but it’s not a broad-winged hawk. But it comes with a couple of other consolation prizes. One is that by finding it, making this mistake and reporting it and getting corrected, I saved some other birders the time they were planning to go try to find that OTHER report of a broad-winged hawk. We’re all pretty sure that other birder went down a similar logical path to this mistake — only I had pictures that the experts could look at. 

And I was at Merced the day after the CBC, and found a couple of species that weren’t found during the CBC. Those become what’s known as count-week birds, which supplement the report and help us understand what’s going on with the birds in that region. One of the, a wintering Wilson’s Warbler, just made my day. There are always a few that winter here in Northern california, but finding one is a nice catch, and the birds are cute as a button. As soon as I catch up on my image processing, I’ll post some cute pictures of it… 



Posted in Birdwatching