Mark Richards


Friday, October 28, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

Sarah and I rented a DVD called Mad Hot Ballroom from Blockbuster last weekend. We pushed off watching it due to time constraints and finally got around to watching it last night. A call from Blockbuster about it's late return led us to almost return the DVD without watching it, but I sure am glad we didn't because it was absolutely fantastic.

Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary-style movie about a ballroom dance program that was implemented at a number of New York City public schools. The purpose of the 10-week class is to introduce urban 5th graders to dance, the arts, and other less defined social ideas and values. Students are taught by trained teachers how to merengue, rumba, tango, foxtrot, and swing. At the end of the class, select students are chosen represent their school in a competition to crown the school with the best ballroom dancers.

By the end of the 10 weeks of learning and practicing, the product that these 10 year-old kids put together on the dance floor is incredible. Some of those kids can really move! The biggest transformation though is watching these children learn about commitment, competition, being ladies and gentlemen, improving social skills, enjoying something out of the mainstream, and finding something they're good at...something that they enjoy.

These kids are much less fortunate that I ever was. Everyday they must endure parental issues, drinking, drugs, fighting, poverty, just to name a few. Unfortunately, their low socio-economic status has them trapped in a situation where opportunity does not come very often, and certainly, nobody is going to help them out. Escaping their own life is damn near impossible. But this program gives these children hope...a chance to see life from a different perspective...the vast range of possibilities that lie in front of them allowing them to make something out their lives. The best part is not that I am able to see this, but these kids can see it. They can acknowledge that paths exist for them and they can follow them for an improved life. These 10 year-olds are smart! Much smarter than I was at 10.

I never would have thought that ballroom dance classes could change the life of a kid so drastically. Watching their actions and listening to their thoughts brings out a great deal of emotion. Their passion is inspiring. Something so simple as ballroom dancing, that so many of us could care less about and take for granted, is changing the lives of urban kids by the hundreds. The experience will stick with them forever and they will be better people for that very reason.

The Mad Hot Ballroom website say that they are thinking about expanding their program to additional cities and I wonder how something like this would do here in Atlanta. Atlanta does not have the best arts experience in the world. The city does alright for itself, but it is nothing like New York. But that may be the perfect situation as the children of the city have had limited exposure to such culture. In a state where education is so poor and test scores are the "answer" to all problems, I wonder how a program such as this would affect the kids in this city. Would crime decrease? Would test scores increase? Would graduation rates increase? Would parental and teacher involvement increase?

From what I saw in this documentary, my guess is that the answer is a resounding yes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Back From MAX

I am now back from my week-long trip to Anaheim, CA for Flex Promotion Conference 2005, formally known as Macromedia MAX 2005. For those of you who do not know, MAX is a developer and designer convention run by Macromedia where dorks go to meet other dorks and talk about dorky computer things. Sessions are held by "experts" on topics related to the various Macromedia technologies. The sessions are a mixed bag when it comes to value, but I see the real value of the conference being exposure to thoughts and ideas that may be foreign or unexplored topics.

I usually only give a rat's ass about ColdFusion and the CF-related topics. That should not come as a surprise considering that I my area of expertise is ColdFusion. I tend to shy away from all the designy crap like Flash and Dreamweaver (and yes, Dreamweaver is for designers, not developers) that I just don't understand. This year was a little different though as Macromedia kept shoving their new pet project, Flex, in your face at every turn.

Flex is a pretty cool concept though. Using the standard Flex XML format, one can create an interactive, data-driven Flash web application. Sweet! Admittedly, I was intrigued by this developer/designer tool at MAX 2004, but at $15,000 a license, learning and implementing Flex seems highly unreasonable. Booooo! At MAX 2005, Macromedia announced its plans for Flex Builder 2. Flex Builder 2 (previously code-named Zorn) is Macromedia's way of answering the question, "How the hell am I gonna learn Flex if it costs 15 grand?" For less than $1,000, one can purchase Flex Builder 2 and develop, compile, and deploy data-driven Flex applications...with no need to purchase an enterprise license! Woohoo! What I like about Flex is that it integrates with ColdFusion smoothly on the server-side, allows for a pleasant user experience on the front-end, and has the feel of a programming language as opposed to a "designer, make things pretty, artsy-fartsy" feel.

Macromedia also announced the launch of Macromedia Labs "to provide early access to emerging technologies." Basically, as Macromedia develops news products and extends existing products, the work in progress will be posted at Labs for users to download and try out. The crap that gets put up there may not work very well since it is only an Alpha release, but this does give users a chance to play around with some cool, new stuff. This is perfect for somebody like myself who wanted to give Flex a try, but could never find a way to do so. I have been playing around with Flex Builder 2 over the last week and it is just a really cool product that allows me to take my web apps to a different level...that is if I can ever really learn how to use the stinkin' thing.

OK, enough of the geek speak. MAX 2005, as always, provided me with many entertaining moments outside of the tech world. Eventually, some of these moments can be re-lived through my photos on Flickr. Until then, I will just have to use other people's pics to give mad props to some of the cool people I met (R-Bizzle, M-Bizzle, Rob, Jim, Cathy).

Finally, my MAX adventure concluded with a trip north of Anaheim to the Los Angeles area. I was happy that I was able to convince both Robert and Cameron to go with me so I did not have to go sightseeing alone. Our tour consisted of walking down Hollywood Blvd., shopping on Melrose, driving through Beverly Hills and down Rodeo drive, cruising Santa Monica Blvd. all the way down to Santa Monica, and walking the Third Street Pavilion in Santa Monica. Being that this was my first time in California, I was pleased with how much of it I got to see in such a short amount of time. I took some good pics of our outing, but they too are not ready yet.

I am tired of writing, so I am done for now.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tearing Down the Walls

For years I have played fantasy baseball. For years I have struggled to be successful. For years I have never been able to finish higher than 5th place. For years I have been frustrated by bad drafts and players having "down years". But that has all finally come to an end, as I Mark Richards, General Manager, Owner, and Manager of team Anal Leakage, have won the Dick Hertz 2005 fantasy baseball championship.

The story begins 7 years ago while I was still in college. The league was created by a few fraternity brothers of mine. I believed that I had more baseball knowledge than all of my competitors, but that is not that wins fantasy leagues. What wins fantasy leagues is not big name players. It's about having the best team assembled that will give you the most amount of points in all statistics...balance if you will. A player with 50 homeruns can win you as many games as a player with 50 steals. Unfortunately, I did not realize this at the time. Subsequently, I finished in 10th place out of 10 teams.

As time passed, some of my fraternity brothers were kicked out of the league for "fixing trades" and for not playing the season out to completion. In their places, UGA law students were added as they were in school with one of the elder league members. They added to my struggles as they were intelligent and knowledgeable sports fans. It is not necessarily that they were smarter, but they grasped the game better. I never fully understood the finer intricacies of fantasy baseball until this year.

The season started out perfectly. I had the best draft I have ever had by a longshot. My infield was easily the best in the league and there was actually quality pitching to support those stats as well. I even took a chance on old, broken down Ken Griffey Jr. who turned out to be a star most of the season. I knew it was going to be a good year. But then reality settled in. My first half was marred by inconsistent pitching. And once that came around, my luck ran out and the injury bug hit. After starting in the top half of the league, I had fallen to 8th place. Here we go again. I contemplated trading my top pitcher, Johan Santana, in a desperate move to change my luck, but decided that it was in my team's best interest to keep him because the law of averages said that his numbers would get better. And they did. And I picked up some surprising quality free agents. And then the season started to turn around.

A few weeks from the end of the season, I had clawed back into fifth place with my re-tooled lineup. And then the injuries hit again. I lost 4 starters for the season and despite being playoff eligible, I thought I was done for. I has season-long backups shouldering the load down the stretch. There was no chance of winning like this.

I entered the playoffs as a wildcard team needing 3 wins to bring home the championship. That is when the light clicked on for me and I understood how to win games in the league's scoring format. My position players were never the problem. All season long they were stars. My pitching is what cost me games. If I could get good starts out of my guys during their first outing of the week, I didn't have to pitch them again that same week. This would keep stats like ERA, WHIP, hits, walks, and hits low. The strategy worked. I tore through the playoffs beating the other wildcard team, the regular season winner, and finally, the third place team to win the championship. The games were not even close. Anal Leakage did some butt kickin' (pun intended obviously)!

This is my proudest fantasy sport moment. I have won league titles in football numerous times, but this is slightly different. Not only because it's my first time winning in baseball. Nor is it the fact that I have been in this league longer than any other. It comes down to the fact that I have struggled mightily over the years. But the struggle has ended and the final wall has been torn down.

Anal Leakage
Dick Hertz 2005 League Champion