Monday, June 27, 2011

The Continuing Adventures of LASIK

I believe this is the first weekend since the end of February that I haven't had a tournament!

I've also been buried with other things - daughter graduating from high school, family and other company in from out of town, etc, etc. As a result, I'm behind, plain and simple. This is only the second posting for June (lame). I only had two postings in May (lame)... and I didn't even do PoolSynergy this month (ultra lame).

I'm behind on numerous topics, so I'll try to chip away at them over the next week or so. First up is... LASIK.

As you may recall, I took the plunge and got LASIK surgery a few months ago on March 31st. For those of you sitting on the edge of your seats waiting to hear the good news about how that went... keep sitting. I wish I had better news to report, but unfortunately my vision is less than optimal.

This is extremely frustrating. I put off eye surgery for years and years. I kept an eye on the state-of-the-art. I battled internally whether I should take the plunge or not. I even resisted when my mom suggested getting it done by her employer (she was an office manager for an eye surgeon for several years). She obviously had inside knowledge of his success rate and so on, and no doubt I'd get a good discount... but still I opted to wait. The procedures at the time (late 80's, early 90's) seemed to be enjoying a good deal of success, but I knew they were still in their infancy for the most part... and really there was nothing pushing me to go for it. I was OK with glasses and also able to wear contacts on occasion when glasses didn't cut it.

Fast forward a couple of decades... once I got serious about playing pool, I found playing with glasses to be annoying. I also discovered that playing with contacts wasn't perfect either, especially in the smoke-filled bars and halls here in Las Vegas where I spent most of my pool playing hours. It wasn't so bad in the smoke-free bars when I traveled to California and Arizona, but even then I discovered that I couldn't keep score or look at things like my phone or menus while wearing contacts because presbyopia had crept in on me (I wore progressive lens glasses as a result).

So I revisited the possibility of corrective eye surgery. I have numerous friends who have done it and are happy with their results. I checked out some of the local doctors, and found at least a couple of them with clean records with the FDA and recommended by local ophthalmologists. It turned out that a couple of my friends had their surgeries done by one of them and were able to personally recommend him. Digging further, I discovered that he was known as a doctor who people often turned to in order to correct errors that other doctors made. This all sounded pretty promising.

Enough about the doctor. I looked into the available procedures and how those were coming along since the days of my mom being an office manager. It sounded like significant progress had indeed been made! One procedure in particular, iLASIK, was being touted as the first and still the only procedure approved by the military for pilots and even by NASA for astronauts. This caught my eye (no pun intended) for at least a couple of reasons - (1) I initially wanted to go to the Air Force Academy to be a pilot but couldn't because of my vision. I checked into eye surgery then and found out it wasn't an option. (2) Going through a stringent military program myself, I knew how conservative the military (and NASA) would be about people they dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars of training into. I knew they wouldn't approve a procedure on something as important as the eyes unless there was very minimal chance of screwing up their investment.

Well, I'm sorry to report that NASA would be pissed with my results so far if I was an astronaut. I've approximated what I see when I look at a stoplight in this Photoshopped image.

It's not only noticeably less than 20/20 (in my distance eye - I opted for monovision), I'm also seeing double images... even with one eye closed!

My eye doctor calls it astigmatism. I call it eff'd up. I didn't have significant astigmatism before, and now through the miracle of laser surgery I do. Actually, my understanding of astigmatism (at least regular astigmatism) is that images are distorted in some way - a circle can appear to be an oval, for example. I'm seeing distinctly separate images rather than distorted images, and it gets worse with distance. When I see an airplane flying across the sky, for example, I see two separate images.

Hopefully, this will have a happy ending. My doctor says he's committed to getting it right, and is currently monitoring my progress on a regular basis. A second "touch-up" procedure is likely at this point to get me dialed in better, and so far he's confident that he'll be able to fix it to my satisfaction. They say they need to let my eyes stabilize before doing a second procedure, and that makes perfect sense to me. I want them to do everything possible to get it right next time.

I'm being patient and hopeful... but can anyone blame me for being a little nervous about this whole thing? Yes, my 'uncorrected' eyes are much better than they were by most measures. I can function without glasses and/or contacts. I can drive, work, etc., but definitely not as well as I could before surgery with glasses. I struggle at times with certain things that were easy with glasses, and I think it all makes me tired earlier than usual.

So how does this affect my game you might ask? It's impossible to be sure, of course... and I'll admit I delayed writing about this for awhile because I thought fessing up about my vision woes might give my opponents some sort of advantage, but I have since decided to go ahead and get it out there. The LASIK commercials make it sound so nice and rosy... you wake up the next morning, able to see the birds chirping in high definition and all that. Well, maybe some people do... maybe even most people do - but I'm here to tell you that not everyone does - even if they researched the doctor and ponied up extra bucks for the best procedure currently available.

Back to my shooting... I actually am doing pretty darn well all things considered. I haven't won any tournaments, but have had several 2nd place finishes in difficult fields since my surgery. I've beaten people I don't always beat. I've even beaten a few people for the first time ever. I'm stringing together respectable runs including several break and runs in both 8 & 9-ball. I've also had typical periods of mediocre play as well, of course, but that's normal. Overall, I think the negatives of less-than-great visual acuity (and double vision) are being countered by the positives of being able to shoot with a better stance and not having to deal with glasses... so it's more or less a wash, as long as I pick the right object ball image to shoot at.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Physics Don't Lie...

... but sometimes people do. Or maybe they don't understand physics. Or maybe they're just delusional. Or in denial. Or maybe all of the above.

Yeah, we had a bit of controversy on a shot yesterday at the annual 8-ball "cities" tournament, which is the local team qualifier for APA Team Nationals in August. As expected in tournaments like this, it was an extremely competitive environment and tensions ran high from time to time.

The shot in question is approximated in the diagram below. The opposing team's player was shooting stripes, and his object ball was on or near the rail as shown. My player's 3-ball and the cue ball were more or less as shown. A key point was: the cue ball had to completely pass the 3-ball in order to hit the object ball. Due to the ball positions, there was no possibility of a simultaneous hit (which would have been a legal hit).

Anyway, the player on the opposing team took the shot... and my player said "That was a foul, right? You hit the three first."

The shooter denied it. "No, it was a good hit, I hit my ball first."

My player replied, "Then how did you move the three?"

"I put a lot of draw on the shot, and it came back and hit the three afterwards."

The opposing captain jumped in with a (very weak) argument "He made the shot, how could he have made the shot if he hit the three first?"

I jumped in with "look where the three ended up, how could it possibly get there if he drew back into it after a good hit??"

A neutral bystander (high SL player) from a team at an adjacent table jumped in, saying "I saw it, it was a bad hit."

General chaos broke out for a minute or two... but it was quickly apparent that the shooter and his captain were not going to budge from their completely delusional stand that it was a good hit. Given that we didn't get someone to watch the hit, we had to fall back on the 'unwatched disputes go to the shooter' rule. Interestingly enough, I heard this very same captain reminding his players about the rule during the previous round (they happened to be playing at the table next to us). Apparently, he's a big believer in the rule.

Don't get me wrong, it's a decent rule to settle things when all else fails... but I also believe in being honest about the hit in the first place. Or at least being open-minded about evidence that counters what you think you saw. There is NO frigging way that the 3-ball could have been deflected forward to the middle of the end rail with a legal hit. Period. End of story. I don't care how much draw or what kind of English was used.

In hindsight, sure, we should have gotten someone to watch the hit. But hindsight is 20/20. This was not exactly an immediately obvious "hit watch" situation where the balls were frozen together or something. The shooter was also in the middle of a run and shooting at a fairly good clip, so the decision to get a hit watch would have had to have been a quick one. And calling for a hit watch would have been disruptive to the shooter's rhythm which I hate to do unless necessary... but so be it.

Because of this incident and particularly due to the attitudes displayed during and even well after the incident, I'm going to be a lot more careful (and quicker) about calling for hit watches when dealing with this player and/or captain in the future.

And why not? It's what they want. It's what they demand. They were very clear to us that it was our fault for not calling a hit watch. And it's tough to dispute that, but there's also fine balance between calling a hit watch when necessary and overdoing it. For me, the fine balance has been permanently tipped towards the cautious side when dealing with either member of this duo in the future. Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice, shame on me.

There's two sides to the "you should have called a hit watch" coin as well. The best sportsmen will suggest to their opponent that it might be a good idea to get a hit watch. Think about it - being the shooter, they're in the best position to make the suggestion anyway... they have the best picture of the shot, and they know how they intend to approach it. The opponent often doesn't know what the shooter is going to do until he's down on the shot. This is particularly true in a non-rotation type game such as 8-ball. So while it's the opponent's responsibility to get the hit watch, it behooves the shooter to approach the whole situation in a reasonable and sportsmanship-like manner unless he wants to get shocked out of his stance in the middle of his practice strokes by his opponent exclaiming that he wants a hit watch.

Given the nature of this particular situation, I wrestled in my mind whether I should name names. It's generally been my policy to avoid doing so, particularly when dealing with negative situations. The focus of this blog is more about situations, technique, equipment, rules, my experiences, etc... and not individual people (unless I'm giving them kudos or something)... so I decided to focus more on the situation than the actual people involved because I'm sure there are people like this in just about every league across the country (and beyond).

While thinking about this, however, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had seen one of the names (the shooter) mentioned somewhere before... and sure enough, it turns out that he's a blogosphere veteran. Figure the odds of that one, eh? Small world.

It also turns out that the team in question went on to qualify for Nationals, so I'll congratulate them on that. They are a decent team, and my only hope is that they represent Las Vegas well... both in performance and sportsmanship. I'll add that this particular situation was not the determining factor in the outcome of the match between our teams. Although the bad call enabled the shooter to win the game in question, he was already well behind in the match, clearly out-gunned, and lost his match in the end anyway.

Kudos goes to my player for putting the incident behind him and continuing to kick butt despite the BS and spot of an extra game.