Petanque vs. The Corona Virus, or: Should I stop going to petanque because it is a “crowded space”?

OPINION

CNN is reporting that the average age of people who need corona-related medical attention is 60. The average age of people who die of the infection is 80. With this in mind, epidemiologists are urging Americans who are “older and/or have medical conditions” to take steps to protect themselves from exposure to the virus. These steps include avoiding crowded spaces.

Wanting to take this advice seriously, American petanque players are naturally wondering whether they should stop attending their regular weekly petanque club meet in order to limit their exposure to corona. Here’s what I think.

Every day in our normal activities we are exposed to many, many different objects and people. In the grocery store or the convenience store we touch or pick up objects that certainly were previously touched by other people: a carton of milk or eggs, a loaf of bread, a can of soup. In the check-out lane we’re within a few feet of other shoppers and the cashier. At the bank we press the ATM buttons. At the gas station we touch the handle of a gas pump. We make purchases with dollar bills and receive change in coins. In short, our normal daily activities naturally entail a certain level of exposure to objects and other people.

It seems to me that our exposure to pathogens (germs, bugs, viruses) in a game of petanque is about the same as the normal level of exposure in all of our other daily activities. We touch the jack and the circle, but not a lot. We stand next to other players, but not much closer than we stand to other shoppers in the check-out lane at the supermarket. In short, our weekly petanque get-together isn’t significantly more dangerous than any of our other daily activities. This means:

  • If concern over possible exposure to the corona virus is keeping you from going grocery shopping, then you should skip petanque. For some of us, this is a good idea and a sensible precaution. This isn’t the time for recklessness. But if Corona Concern isn’t keeping you housebound, it shouldn’t keep you away from petanque, either.
     
  • If you’re wearing rubber gloves and a facemask whenever you leave your house, then you should skip petanque. Or you could come on down and play— remember: it is legal to wear gloves while throwing a boule. 🙂

Sensible precautions are of course in order. For the sake of your friends and fellow petanqueurs, if you feel like you might be coming down with something, stay at home. For the duration, French players should forego their bisous and American players forego their handshakes. In their place I recommend the traditional and graceful namaste (nama-stay).

But IMHO, concerns about exposure to corona virus should not interfere with your weekly petanque get-together. As contagious as this virus is, we’re all likely to be exposed to it sooner or later. But the chances of catching it while playing petanque seem to me to be vanishingly small.


Comparing online translators

Online translators can be tremendously useful for those of us who are not bilingual (or at least not fluently). This year I wanted to translate a simple sentence from English into French. I ran it through four different free online translation sites. Here is how those sites compare.

  • English: “Father Christmas says that Christmas may be late this year.”
  • Desired French: “Le Père Noël dit que Noël pourrait être en retard cette année.”

Skip to THE BOTTOM LINE

INTRODUCTION

There are a number of criteria that we can use to evaluate a translation site.

  • Is the translation correct? Are there any typographic or spelling or grammar or vocabulary errors?
  • How good is the translation?  Is it idomatic?  Does it make good or poor vocabulary choices?
  • Is the user interface user-friendly?  Can you easily switch the FROM and TO languages?
  • Are there limits on the length of the text that can be translated?
  • In addition to translation, does the site offer any other useful tools?

GOOGLE TRANSLATE  https://translate.google.com/
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Google can translate only short passages.  Its translation had one capitalization error.  The SWITCH LANGUAGES feature is primitive.  User interface is not user-friendly.

 

BING (MICROSOFT) TRANSLATE  https://www.bing.com/translator
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The user interface is good.  A major CON is that the translation had the most errors (3) of any of the sites.   On the other hand, it was the only site where you could hear the translated text in good native-speaker French. It can translate up to 5000 characters.

 

SYSTRAN https://translate.systran.net/translationTools/text
Click to open a larger image.The user interface is good.  It is possible to hear the translation, but the spoken French is terrible – it was what you’d hear from an American who doesn’t know any French and is phonetically sounding out the written text.  It can translate up to 5000 characters.

Systran seems to be the most full-featured of all of the sites.  It provides a lot of vocabulary tips and offers alternate translations based on different “models”. 
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DEEPL https://www.deepl.com/translator
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DeepL has a good user interface and produced the best translation of any of the sites.  The real strength of DeepL is that you can upload a long document in .docx format and DeepL will translate it for you.  This is the only site that offers that feature.

THE BOTTOM LINE

DeepL is our winner.  It produced the best translation (zero errors), has a simple and friendly user interface, and can translate uploaded documents.

Systran is a strong runner-up.  It did a good job at translation and offers a lot of useful extras.

Our obvious losers are Google and Bing (Microsoft).  Google Translate has an extremely crude user interface that is actually unpleasant to use.  Bing‘s translation was the worst of all of the sites, with 3 outright errors.  However, it gets an honorable mention for its good user interface and its ability to produce good spoken French.


An open letter to that third boule

AN OPEN LETTER TO THAT THIRD BOULE
Lee Harris, Portland Petanque Club, Portland, Oregon, USA (August 29, 2019)

If I could be judged solely on the merits of you, my third boule, then I would be likened to the greatest players in petanque.

But I must be honest with myself. Your greatness is no reflection on me. You are ever flawless in execution and I marvel at thee.

Contrary to the first and second boule to leave my hand this end, you plot your own course, and refuse to follow in the ruts that your predecessors did.

You are unlike your two fellows, who went where I threw them and not where I desired that they should go. You threw off conformity to mark your own path, casually rolling past the barricade of boules, to nudge your boxwood compatriot. I pump my arm in salute to you. Bob, I believe I shall call you, Bob.
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Where to aim when you’re shooting

My friends and I are aspiring shooters, and one question that we toss around is— “Where should you aim when you’re shooting?”  We’ve come up with a variety of answers. Here is the answer that I like best, because it is the one that works best for me.

Aim for the spot on the ground immediately in front of the target boule.

Go to the target boule and put your boule on the ground directly in front of it, so the two boules are touching. That’s where you should aim; that’s where you want your thown boule to hit the ground. Here is a view from above; the target boule is on the left; the ghostly circle on the right is where you want your boule to come down.

Here is a side view. You can see the thrown boule coming down from the right at approximately a 45 degree angle.

There a a number of reasons why I think this strategy works. Continue reading

The box tree moth and the future of the jack

I just saw a news story about the wood that is used to make petanque jacks. All of the wooden jacks produced in France (about a million each year) are manufactured by one small company, Monneret, which sells its jacks to large distributors such as Obut. Now Monneret is reporting that caterpillars (larvae) of the box tree moth (which were first introduce to Europe from East Asia around 2007) are attacking and killing the trees from which wood is harvested to produce the jacks. Monneret’s company head predicts that in 5 to 7 years, all of the box trees in France will be gone. The company is attempting to stockpile box tree wood, and says that in the future it hopes to be able to import wood from other countries.
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Why amazon.com is a terrible place to buy your first set of petanque boules

There are ladies and gentlemen out there who haven’t yet played petanque but are interested in learning it. Perhaps they saw it being played while they were on vacation in France, or they saw it in the movie A Year In Provence, and it looked fun. They’d like to buy some petanque boules and try it out.

If you are one of these wonderful people, I have two things to say to you. (1) It really is fun! (2) Be be warned about shopping on amazon.com. What you will find on amazon.com will almost certainly NOT be what you want.

If you search amazon.com for “petanque boules”, the first thing that will be offered to you will almost certainly be something like this. Click to see larger image.
The set will be described as “bocce/petanque” balls or boules. The cloth bag will be emblazoned with the word “bocce” or “boules”. The set will contain 8 metal balls— pairs of balls with 4 different groove patterns— single narrow, single wide, double, and triple.

The problem with such sets is that they contain NEITHER petanque boules NOR bocce balls. I’ve seen such sets so often that I’ve become hardened to the sight. Rather that screaming “stupid crap!” at my computer screen, I now give the product ONE star, and leave a review which I hope is both objective and helpful. It goes like this.
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✋ Tip: the physics of petanque shooting

Are you a petanque player who is interested in learning how to shoot, or in learning how to shoot better? The WIRED web site has a new video that you will find interesting. The video is about “shooting” a basketball (making free throws), but the considerations involved are basically the same as those in petanque shooting. In both cases you are trying to launch a ball toward a very small target with consistency and accuracy. The video is HERE. It is full of stimulating ideas that you can apply to your own shooting practice.

I’ve been interested in techniques for learning to throw for some time. In particular, I’ve identified consistency and the height of the throw as especially important for practicing shooting, so it was interesting for me to see the video confirm (and improve) my crude insights.

If you’re interested in more information about some of the people in the video, here are a few useful links.

Steve Nash’s HOMECOURT AI is an Apple (iPad and iPhone) app. Its web site is www.homecourt.ai. I wish there was something similar for petanque shooting!

Larry M Silverberg is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University. You can find a podcast interview HERE. His article (“Optimal release conditions for the free throw in men’s basketball”) is available HERE, but it is very technical and I doubt that it has any practical usefulness for petanque players.

You can easily find a lot of information about Bob Fisher, the free-throw wizard, on the Web. Just google “Bob Fisher basketball“. His book is Straight Shooter: A game-changing new approach to basketball shooting. His web site is secretsofshooting.com

✋Throw like a girl

A lot of women players struggle to throw boules to longer distances, so when I saw this photo on the Facebook page of Celia Crittenden, I just had to re-post it.

Good form is the key to gettting distance on a thrown boule. And in this photo Celia, one of the top U.S. women players, shows how to do it. Aside from the fact that she is squat pointing, note the full backswing of the throwing arm, which supports a strong throw. Note also the full backswing of the non-throwing arm, which keeps her balanced as she throws.

The magic yellow line comes to televised petanque

If you watch American football on television, you’re familiar with the magic yellow line. Incredibly powerful computer technology now makes it possible to superimpose computer-generated graphics onto the moving images of the game in such a way that the graphics appear to be physically painted onto the playing field. This technology was first used to display the first-and-ten line as a yellow line on the field (hence the name “magic yellow line”) but now it has advanced to the point where many other graphical elements can also be inserted onto the screen.

This technology has finally made its way to televised petanque. I’ve been wishing for it for a long time, and now it’s here. You can see it at a few scattered places in the 2017 Eurocup Finale on Youtube.

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The technology isn’t yet perfect— the 10m10 distance shown in the first image was wrong. (The umpires measured it at 9m73, so the jack was good.) But of course it will get better.

A new logo for the FFPJP

In case you missed it… in April 2017 the FFPJP (the French national petanque federation) adopted a new logo.

The evolution of this logo reflects the ambition of the FFPJP for the coming years. Its style, both more dynamic and refined, brings to the Federation the image of a strong brand, in full development. The logo of the French Federation of Pétanque and Jeu Provençal affirms its visual identity.


The rooster (le coq gaulois) is an unofficial national symbol of France. Its association with France dates back to the Middle Ages and is due to a pun (in Latin) on Gallus (an inhabitant of Gaul) and gallus (a rooster or cockerel). For a lot of fascinating information about le coq gaulois (including its connection to weather vanes) see the Wikipedia article on the Gallic rooster..


✋ Where should I look when I lob?

Players who are working to improve their game sometimes wonder: Where should I be looking when I throw a lob? Should I concentrate on the donnée, the spot where I want my boule to hit the ground? Or should my eyes follow the boule through its high trajectory in the air? Instructional books and videos say that your attention should be on the donnee. But if you watch Youtube videos of world-class lobbers, you can see that their eyes are following the boule through the air. Which is right? What should I be doing?
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Decathlon comes to the USA and starts selling Geologic boules

[originally published 2018-02-23; revised 2020-03-10]

Decathlon (technically, the Decathlon Group) is a world-wide chain of sporting-goods stores. It is, in fact, the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. It was founded in France in 1976. In the mid-1980s it started to expand into other European countries. In 2003 it started to expand into China, India, and Southeast Asia. Today, it has more than 1,100 stores (many of which are large superstores that stock a wide range of sporting goods) in 38 countries. There are about 40 stores in the UK, and one in Mexico. For petanque players, the interesting thing about Decathlon stores is that they stock petanque boules and other petanque equipment.
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The Ten Commandments of Petanque (postcards)

Paul Ordner had a long and successful career (starting in 1923) as a commercial artist, creating illustrations for advertisments, magazine covers, and posters (especially for sports-related magazines and events) as well as humorous and political cartoons. Around 1960 he began creating humorous drawings and cartoons for postcard publisher Éditions Photochrome à Toulouse. Eventually he designed almost 300 cards. He died in 1969 at age 68. A book of his art, Paul Ordner: 40 ans de dessin sportif, humoristique et politique, was published in 2014.

His series of postcards called “The Ten Commandments of Petanque” (Les Dix Commandements de la Pétanque) is popular with Petanque players.

01: You may tell your wife to go to hell, but thou shalt finish the game first.
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What killed the Mondial de Millau

For 34 years, starting in 1981, Le Mondial de Millau was one of the most important petanque competitions (perhaps THE most important competition) in France and in the world, attracting the world’s top pétanque players. Unlike Le Mondial la Marseillaise à Pétanque which is only a triples event, Millau held open singles, doubles, and triples competitions for both men and women, as well as a mixed triples competition. It was a 5-day pétanque festival that attracted 15,000 spectators (or 50,000, depending on who you ask) and 5,000 players. It was supported by an army of 400-500 volunteers. While it was being played in mid-August, it was impossible to find an un-booked hotel room within 80 kilometers of Millau.

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✋Working on your form: torso torque

A throwing form that allows you to throw effectively is something that you can work on. In this post we look at one aspect of effective form— torso torque. The expression refers to the way a shooter twists his torso while throwing. (See Byron Putman: Pétanque: The Greatest Game You Never Heard Of (pp. 82-85)— highly recommended.)

When you watch world-class shooters you will often see this…
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Unboxing Obut order from PetanqueAmerica

I ordered some jacks, an umpire’s folding ruler, and a set of the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules from Petanque America.

jacks
The first item in the order was several orange Obut jacks. I’d seen the orange jacks on Youtube videos and the color seemed to be easy to see. I’d describe the color as matte (not glossy) flourescent orange.

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