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.


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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.

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, while the new stainless steel boules average about 650g per boule, so the new stainless steel boules are a tad heavier, but still very much on the light end of the range.


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.


How to blacken your boules

There are a number of reasons why you might want to make the entire surface of your boules black. You might want to make it easier to tell your boules from other players’ boules. You might want to play solitaire. You just might like the color.

Gun blacking comes off on your hands and wears off quickly. Black magic marker (permanent marker) is time-consuming and messy to apply, and leaves your boules slightly sticky for a while. Now Kim Badcock, of the Mission Beach Petanque Club in Australia, has a tip for what may be the best method yet.

In response to our post on boules and rust Kim wrote

Did you know you can make your SB boules black again and very easily. A soak or wipe over with a very weak acid solution (vinegar, lemon juice, dilute hydrichloric acid etc) will change the outer molecular layers of your boule to magnetite (black colour). Quickly wipe with an oiled cloth afterwards to help seal in the colouring.

This should work with all carbon-steel boules. It shouldn’t work with stainless steel boules or with chrome-plated boules (which means that it shouldn’t work with leisure boules).

Following Kim’s suggestion, I bought an inexpensive jug of distilled white vinegar. I left two La Franc SB boules to soak in the vinegar overnight. (La Franc SB boules are relatively soft carbon-steel boules, acier au carbone.) In the morning they were really black. When I washed them off, a lot of black came off on my hands. The boules were left with a deep uniform matte gunmetal grey color. There was a small shiny spot where they had been sitting on the bottom of the container.

In this picture, the brownish boule in the front is a rusty boule that has been brought back from the dead. The two vinegar-blackened boules are at the back. The boule at the left has been played with more than the boule at the right, so it is more scratched-up. The image doesn’t really capture the color of the boules. The boules, while not absolutely black, are a much darker grey than they appear in the photo. In play, they do appear to be black.
Click to see larger image.

This picture was taken immediately after I treated the boules. Since then, I’ve played with them a couple of times and the color seems relatively long-lasting. In any event, even if the color doesn’t last forever, renewing the color with another vinegar soak is essentially effortless. I’m happy with the result.


Update, April 28, 2017
Today, about 5 months after the date of the original post and after perhaps 30 to 50 hours of play, I thought the boules were beginning to look a bit shiny, so I blackened them again. Soaking them for 6 hours in distilled white vinegar restored them exactly to the condition that you see in the pictures in the original post.


How to remove magic marker from boules

During the off season I like to play solitaire. To make it easy to distinguish the two sets of boules, I cover one set pretty completely with black magic marker. When regular play resumes, I can easily remove remove the black marks with a product called “Goof Off”. You might be able to find it at your local hardware or hobby store. Otherwise, it is available via Amazon.com or from www.goof-off.com.
image_goof-off_can


Night play beside the baseball fields

Tucson’s climate is warm and dry (like the South of France) and there are many places in public parks that make fine petanque terrains. We don’t need a dedicated petanque boulodrome (although an air-conditioned one in summer would be nice). We prefer to play in the park on an open terrain.

There is, however, one problem with this arrangement. We can’t play after dark because none of the places where we play during the day has lights for night play.

There is a solution to this problem. I’m blogging about it because the solution is probably available in other cities, too.

 
In Tucson, the city and the county have a variety of public recreational facilities— parks, swimming pools, and community centers. There are also several large sports complexes scattered around the city. These facilities are designed to support sports that require large playing fields— baseball, (American) football, and soccer.

In these sports complexes, the baseball fields are typically pie-shaped. They are laid out in a large circular area that is divided into four quarters by wide gravel paths. There is one baseball diamond in each quarter. The paths between the fields give players and spectators access to the fields and to viewing stands. Tall posts supporting floodlights are located on the paths— the floodlights are very bright, and illuminate the fields on both sides of the paths as well as the paths themselves.

The paths are very wide. Because people walk across them a lot, they are hard-packed. They make perfect petanque terrains.

Aerial view (courtesy of Google Maps) of a typical sports complex— the Golf Links Sports Complex— in Tucson, Arizona, USA. The main entrance is from the parking lot in the upper right-hand corner of the photo.

Monday through Thursday evenings, city-league softball games are played on the fields. Games are scheduled for three time slots beginning at 6:30, 7:35pm, and 8:45pm. While games are in progress (roughly between 6:30pm and 10:00pm) the fields and paths are brightly lit by the floodlights located on the paths.

Between games players arrive and leave before and after their games, and there is a lot of foot traffic on the paths. But once the softball games have begun, the paths are virtually empty. The empty paths make excellent lighted petanque terrains.

A perfect lighted terrain for night play, on the paths at Golf Links Sports Complex.

View from the main entrance of the Golf Links Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona. The access path for the baseball diamonds makes a perfect lighted terrain for night play.

The moral of the story…
What worked in our town might also work in yours. If you’re looking for a location for night play of petanque, you might be able to use facilities built for night play of other sports.