Geologic boules and Decathlon’s arrival in the USA

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 us petanque players, the interesting thing about Decathlon stores is that they stock petanque boules and other petanque equipment.

Decathlon has multiple research and development facilities in France dedicated to developing new designs for sporting equipment, and, since 1986, it designs and manufactures its own lines of sporting goods. There are now over 20 “Passion” brands, each dedicated to a single sport (or to one type of sport) for 70 different sports. The “Passion Geologic” brand, or simply Geologic, was created in 2008. It is dedicated to “target sports” such as darts, archery, pool, and petanque.

Early in 2018, Decathlon opened its first store in the United States, in San Francisco, California. This was a “soft launch” that enabled the store to operate in California, and to ship products to customers within the state, but not outside California. As of February 2018 they are working to clear the regulatory hurdles that will allow them to ship everywhere in the USA. The business plan is to become able to ship anywhere in the USA, then to open stores in other states in the USA, and then (in a year or two?) to expand into Canada. Their website says that their goal is to make every Decathlon product available throughout the USA.

The web page for Decathlon France is www.decathlon.fr. The web page for the San Francisco store is www.decathlon.com. At the bottom of that page you can subscribe to a newsletter that will notify you when the store starts shipping out-of-state, or a new store opens in the USA. The San Francisco store also has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DecathlonUSA. It is possible to order petanque boules via the store’s petanque page. Note that in addition to boules, you can purchase a throwing circle for about $5.

About Geologic boules

Geologic boules have a reputation for being relatively high-quality at a relatively reasonable price. Decathlon can do this by offering a very limited range of the most popular patterns (no grooves, single groves), weights (680g, 690g), and sizes (72mm, 73mm). The highest-end line of Geologic boules offers a slightly (but not very much) larger range of choices.

Geologic boules fall into three categories: cheap leisure boules, a middle-of-the-range line of leisure boules called “Discovery 300” boules, and competition boules.

Geologic’s entry-level line of leisure boules isn’t yet available in the USA. If/when these boules become available a set of 3 will probably sell for around $15. These boules come in only two styles (no grooves, wide single grooves), and only one size/weight combination, 70mm/560g. Frankly, I think that this makes them too small and too light-weight to meet the requirements of serious adult players. But in casual play they would be acceptable, and maybe even a good choice, for younger players or players with small hands. Commendably, and unusually, Geologic is up-front about the fact that these boules are filled with sand, but they guarantee that it is 100% sand. Given that some cheap Chinese leisure boules have been known to explode because of the crap inside them, I actually find this reassuring.

The “Discovery” line are moderately-priced ($35) hollow (chrome-plated?) carbon-steel leisure boules. They come in only one size/weight combination, 73mm/660g, so they are normal-sized if light-weight adult leisure boules. Discovery boules come in a variety of interesting and unusual designs, including one that looks like a baseball.

Geologic offers three models of FIPJP-certified competition boules. Read more about the hardness of boules HERE.

  • Alpha – an inexpensive ($43) medium-hard (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule.
  • Delta – a moderately priced ($75) relatively soft (39HRC, >126 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule.
  • Polyvalent – a relatively expensive ($110) stainless steel medium-hard boule (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²).

The real winner of the three is, I think, the Alpha. It looks like a good replacement for the need that La Franc boules used to fill— an entry-level, low-cost, but certified (and therefore high-quality) competition boule. There is a Decathlon store in Singapore where you can just walk in and buy a set of these boules, and the Alpha is popular among the players in Singapore for just this reason. The downside, as I noted earlier, is that you have only a limited set of choices— four, to be precise. You can get 72mm or 74mm, no grooves or single wide grooves. That’s it. You can get any weight you like, as long as it is 690g.

Will this affect Petanque America?

Decathlon’s move into the American market may threaten home-grown sporting-goods chains like Dicks, but it is especially disturbing for American petanque vendors and players. It looks very much like what we’ve seen in other markets, e.g. books. A huge high-volume international vendor moves in and drives out small independent vendors by offering a limited set of the most popular items at much lower prices. Customers gain by getting lower prices on the most popular items, but they may lose their small local independent vendors, and with them they will lose a lot the choices that they once had.

Petanque America has been a reliable supporter of petanque in the USA for many years, as well as a consistently reliable source of high-quality boules and equipment. Without Petanque America and the Petanque America Open Amelia Island Petanque Open, American petanque would be a pale shadow of its present self. Petanque players in the USA need Petanque America. In the future, we need to support them, and we must hope that they survive the invasion by Decathlon. But life may become harder for Petanque America, and its counterpart in Canada, Marcod.

On the other hand, life is strange. Barnes and Noble hasn’t completely killed off small independent local bookstores. If Decathon stores make petanque equipment more visible and easily available, it may actually help to promote petanque in America, and increase the number of discriminating buyers looking for the wider set of options provided by Petanque American. We’ll have to wait and see.


Advertisements

Design for a short-form competition

Design for a short-form competition

GOAL: A competition format for a friendly competition to be held in conjunction with a large family picnic. We expect 12-14 teams to compete. Teams have not been seeded (ranked for relative skill) before the competition. We want the competition to allow most teams to play several games, but not to be too grueling. We want the competition to fit into a specified time frame consisting of three or four hours for qualifiers, approximately one hour for (two simultaneous) semi-final games, and an hour or more for the final game.

PROPOSAL: A two-part competition. In the first part teams compete in short-form games. By “short-form games” we mean games limited to a 6 ends. (Note that at the end of 6 ends the teams may have the same score. It is also possible for a team to score more than 13 points in a game.) A game of 6 ends should take approximately 30-40 minutes to play. Planning for 5 short-form rounds guarantees each participating team about 2.5-3 hours of playing time. Scheduling short-form rounds at 45-minute intervals allows all games in a round to finish and for players to have 5-10 minutes of R&R time between games. Scheduling 30-minute breaks at 90-minute intervals also allows for a certain amount of slop and over-run in the schedule.

08:00‑08:45am team registration and check-in
9:00‑09:45 short-form round 1
9:45‑10:30 short-form round 2
[30 min break]
11:00‑11:45 short-form round 3
11:45‑12:30 short-form round 4
[30 min break] LUNCH BREAK
1:00‑1:45 short-form round 5
1:45‑2:00 assess the results of the short-form rounds and pick the teams to play in the semifinals
2:00‑3:00? two simultaneous semifinal games are played to 10
[15 min break]  
3:15-4:30? final game played to 13
4:30 congratulations and prizes to the winners
NOTE that ad hoc changes to the schedule are possible. For example short-form round 5 could be eliminated

For each short-form round, the games will be played between teams paired at random by the competition organizer, except that no team shall play a team that it has already played, and no team shall be forced to sit out a round more than once. A team may drop out of the short-form competition after any round. Teams that drop out of the competition are encouraged to organize friendly games among themselves.

The results of the short-form games will be determined using the following procedure. After a short-form game finishes, each team calculates its “margin”, the number of points by which it beat, or was beaten, by the other team. (Note that a margin may have a negative value. If team A beats team B with a score of 9-6, team A’s margin is 3 and team B’s margin in -3.) After all short-form rounds have been played, an “average margin” is calculated for each team (the sum of the team’s margins, divided by the number of games that it played). Team rankings are determined by the teams’ average margins. The team with the highest average margin is ranked #1; the team with the second highest average margin is ranked #2, and so on. In the semi-finals, team #1 plays team #3, and team #2 plays team #4.


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.

02: The next time, thou shalt write down the points.

03: When measuring, thou shalt not cheat.

04: Thou shalt not bother your partner.

05: Despite the presence of your mother-in-law, thou shalt throw only at the boules.

06: As you promised your wife, thou shalt play only at boules.

07: In boules, thou shalt think only of the terrain.

08: When throwing toward the open ocean, thou shalt avoid throwing too hard.

09: While an obstacle is going through, thou shalt wait patiently.

10: When you get a good thrashing, thou shalt kiss Fanny willingly.


How NOT to fly with boules

With the Petanque Amelia Island Open coming up next month, and players from all over the world planning to fly to the event, the following news item is worth noting.

For a long time we’ve warned players not to put their boules in their carry-on luggage when they fly. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers consider boules to be dangerous objects (like hammers) and will not allow them to be carried onto a plane in carry-on luggage.

The other issue is that, to a TSA officer who has never heard of petanque, a boule looks like nothing so much as the stereotypical image of an anarchist bomb.

That was emphasized today when a 63-year-old petanque player from Jersy (in the UK) attempted to fly to a competition in Denmark with his boules bag. The bag contained, along with his team uniform and his set of personalized boules, a phone changer and its cord, some kind of white electronic device (perhaps a voltage converter to go along with the cell-phone charger), and (something that older and arthritic players will immediately recognize and sympathize with) three containers of Biofreeze.


The Jersey TSA officers thought that the assemblage looked like a collection of bomb-making parts. They seized the bag. Since the player was an experienced veteran, I think that the bag must have been in his checked (not carry-on) luggage, but the bag was seized anyway. The player had to fly on to the competition without his bag. He played in a borrowed uniform, with borrowed boules, but didn’t play up to his usual level. His bag finally caught up with him, but too late for it to make a difference.

Apparently most players at the competition found the story amusing, but there is a serious lesson here. The TSA is (rightly) paranoid about containers that contain any kind of liquid. Electrical timers and wires are stereotypical parts of a bomb. (“Should I cut the red wire or the blue?!”) TSA officers must process a lot of bags quickly— they don’t have time to stop and carefully analyze something that on quick inspection looks like it might be suspicious. So they just act.

For petanque players the moral of the story is—
When flying to a competition:
(a) put your boules in your checked (not carry-on) luggage, but also
(b) in the same bag, don’t put anything that contains liquid, looks even vaguely “electronic”, or has wires.


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.

umpire’s folding ruler
The second item in the order was the Obut fiberglass folding umpire’s ruler. The best way to compare distances is with a folding ruler with an extension. I’d been using a carpenter’s ruler; it worked well but the shortest length it could compare (between boule and jack) was about 18cm. The segments of the umpire’s ruler are shorter (10cm) and it can compare lengths as short as 11.5cm. It is marked with numbers on only one side; the reverse side is blank. The extension isn’t loose in the channel and it doesn’t bind; it has a smooth action and I’m looking forward to using it.
Click below to see larger images.

boules
The third item in the order was a set of the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules. I was interested in getting a set because I was under the impression that the new Obut stainless steel leisure boules are smaller and lighter than Obut’s previous line of chromed carbon steel leisure boules.

The boules came in a nice cardboard box, similar to the box used to package competition boules. The box described itself as a “ready to petanque” set, and in the box, in addition to the three boules, I found an Obut jack (varnished but not painted) and a light cloth bag for carrying the boules.
Click below to see larger images.

The boules themselves consistently measure very close to 73mm in diameter (vs 74mm for the old chromed boules) so they are a bit smaller than the old chromed boules. The old chromed boules averaged about 625g per boule. The new stainless steel boules average about 650g per boule, putting them in the valid range for competition boules.


How to send text messages from your laptop or PC

If you’re trying to co-ordinate a group of petanque players, it can sometimes be handy to be able to send them text messages via email from your laptop or PC. Here’s how to do it.

The first thing you need to know is that, for the purposes of emailing a text message, each cell phone has an ordinary email address. The format of that address is

phoneNumber@carrierSMSgateway

The phoneNumber should be 10 digits. It should include the area code. It should include only numbers – no dashes or parentheses. So for a phone number of (333) 444-5555 the phoneNumber in the email address is 3334445555.

The carrierSMSgateway is the SMS (“Short Message Service”) gateway provided by the telephone carrier. If you know a telephone number, there are several free web sites that will let you look up the carrier of that number, and the carrier’s SMS gateway. One web site that I found easy to use was freecarrierlookup.com

freecarrierlookupdotcom

In the image, you can see that the carrier for this particular number is Verizon Wireless, and Verizon’s SMS gateway is vtext.com. Very conveniently, freecarrierlookup.com provides the full SMS gateway address (5206644133@vtext.com) for the number that was looked up, so I can just copy-and-paste it into my email program.

When the recipient receives your text message, he will see your email address (the “Reply-to” email address that you provided when you sent your email message) in the place where he would normally see the caller’s telephone number. If the recipient replies to your text message, his reply will be sent to that email address.

But, a WARNING—
Email providers often regard email that is sent from a telephone number as coming from an unknown or suspect source. Some will flag such email as spam, so that the reply ends up in your email’s JUNK MAIL folder. Some will greylist the reply and delay it (this message was delayed for an hour).

X-Greylist delayed 3601 seconds by postgrey-1.34 at mail8.webfaction.com

Some email providers will silently and completely filter out the reply— you receive no reply and no indication whatsoever that the recipient replied to your message. So, at least until you’ve experimented and determined otherwise, don’t assume that replies to your text message will get through to you.

When the recipient receives your text message, he will receive a text message consisting of the SUBJECT line of your email message (in parentheses) followed by the text of the message. You can use a very short subject line. When I send a text message with a question, I like to make the subject line just a question mark, so the recipient gets a text message that starts with “(?)”.

Keep your messages (including the SUBJECT line) short. Try to keep the whole thing to less than 160 characters. If your message is longer than 160 characters, your message will be broken down into chunks of 153 characters, and each chunk will be sent as a separate text message. Some carriers are smart enough to re-assemble the short chunks into one long text message, but most are not.

If you’d like to review your message before sending it to others, send it to your own phone. Then, if it looks good, you can send it to the real recipients.

Note that this information only applies to telephone numbers with US and Canada area codes. That is: numbers with country code = 1. You can send text messages to foreign countries, too. When dialing, you first specify your country’s “exit code” to get onto the international exchange, then you specify the recipient’s country code and his telephone number. For international dialing, one source that I found to be useful was www.howtocallabroad.com. It will tell you, for instance, that the exit code for the USA is 011.


How to access region-restricted web sites

On December 23, 2016 the world championships in Madagascar were streamed on a French TV channel, La chaîne l’Équipe. But if you are in the USA, and went to that web site to watch the championships, you saw a message saying that the channel is what is generally known as “region restricted”. You can see the message now if you wish— just click on this link to www.lequipe.fr/lachainelequipe.video_region_restricted

I won’t go into the technology behind how region restriction works, or the several ways to get around region restrictions. If you’re interested in that, you can Google for that information.

Here I will describe the fairly simple and easy tool that I used, that allowed me to watch the championships. It is a product/service called TunnelBear. TunnelBear is a highly-rated VPN provider, and it worked well for me. Here’s how you can do what I did.

  1. Get the Chrome web browser. It is a good, fast browser, and it is free. It can be downloaded from Google’s web site.
  2. Open the Chrome browser. Go to the TunnelBear web site and navigate to the DOWNLOAD page.
  3. On the DOWNLOAD page, scroll down until you see “Browser Extensions”.
  4. Download and install the TunnelBear extension for Chrome.
  5. The download comes with 500Mb of free data. That’s enough to watch several minutes of video and to make sure the browser extension is working, but it is not enough to watch an entire petanque game. I signed up with the TunnelBear service for a monthly subscription, which comes with unlimited data, at a cost of about $8 per month. That was enough to allow me to watch all 8 hours of the world championships. (You can also get the TunnelBear service for a much lower cost with a yearly subscription.)
  6. After you have watched the championships, assuming that you have no other use for TunnelBear, remember to go back to the TunnelBear web site and cancel your monthly subscription. (Technically, the way you cancel a monthly subscription is to downgrade it to a free subscription.) The cancel/downgrade process is quick and easy. If you don’t cancel/downgrade, your monthly subscription will remain in effect and TunnelBear will continue charging your credit card every month.

If you stream French TV, you need to be aware of time differences between France and the USA. Right now, where I live, we are on Mountain Standard time, which means that we are 8 hours ahead of French time. The French broadcast started at 1600h (4pm), which means that it started at 800h (8am) our local time. Depending on your time zone and whether or not you are on daylight-savings time, your time will vary.