Brief update on the Adult Recreational Soccer League

An update to this post: For the past couple of seasons, we’ve been playing on the VT (artificial) Turf fields, which are frankly amazing compared to what we used to play on. The price has gone up a small amount, but personally I consider it worth it. You can also find pick-up games at the Turf fields which are open at least to dusk, but often with the floodlights on late. No-one checks ID, so if you’re not affiliated with VT, you’re generally fine to play. The fields and floodlights have made scheduling much easier too, and weather-related cancellations just don’t happen generally.

Also, TechSportsPlex closed down, but NRU is running indoor leagues in the off seasons.

Wayfinding in Food Lion is really bad

Wayfinding in Food Lion (my local grocery store) is really bad. It’s surprisingly bad. The most egregious fault is that the list of items you’ll find in an aisle is different depending on which direction you’re coming from! To know what’s in an aisle you have to stand at the end and look up to the right and left to see what’s in it. Looking for cereal? You’ll only see it listed if you’ve not started with the fruit and vegetable section.

Surely someone made a conscious decision to do this. What on earth were they thinking?

Selling My Car: 1996 Honda Accord

1996 Honda Accord side viewI’m selling my car. It’s a silver (officially Heather Mist!) 1996 manual Honda Accord with 326,000 miles on it. It’s in pretty good shape. It was in an accident in the late 90s when someone pulled out in front of it, but otherwise it hasn’t had any accidents that I can recall. There are no significant dents. I’ve owned it since new. Maintenance has been regular. For the past five years or more, I’ve been using Auto Experts on Main Street (Blacksburg), so you can always ask there about it.

1996 Honda Accord front view

You don’t get to over 300,000 miles without some issues. Things have been replaced over the years, and I have most of the maintenance records. I honestly don’t recall what’s been done, but it’s the original engine. There are things that need work:

  • The radio mostly doesn’t work.
  • The A/C doesn’t work. Pretty sure this is a simple leak, but I’ve never got around to getting it fixed.
  • It burns (not leaks) a bit of oil, so you have to keep an eye on the oil.
  • Third gear sometimes requires double-clutching. This means it probably needs a new transmission fairly soon.
  • There is no rust, but the paint has faded in places.
  • The automatic door locking is flaky.
  • The engine light stays on, but it’s been on for the past five years!

The miles are mostly highway miles. State inspection was done January, 2014.

I will only sell it in person, to someone local, in cash for $2,000 (or thereabouts). I will not provide the VIN online, but will provide it in person if you stop by.

540-200-8630 or

Soccer in Blacksburg

If you search for soccer (football/calcio/futbal/fútbol/Fußball) in Blacksburg, you will probably quickly see that the high school has a great tradition of success for both girls and boys. If you look at Virginia Tech, the women’s team is excellent, the games are free, parking is good, and they are excellent to watch. The men’s soccer team isn’t quite so good at the moment.

If you want to play soccer as an adult, what are your options?

If you are a student at Virginia Tech, I guess you can play intramural sports, which for internationals who might not be familiar with the term, is recreational sports (“within the walls” I suppose). I never did when I was at VT, but that was probably more out of ignorance than anything. I have no idea what those games are like.

If you reside in the New River Valley, then the other options are a pick-up game, or playing in the New River United Adult Recreational League (NRU) – see below for more details. NRU do not, in my opinion, do a great job of advertising its existence. Their web site also leaves some things to be desired in terms of linking. Hence this post.

New River United also runs most of the kids recreational soccer in the NRV (there’s a Christiansburg setup too), and they have competitive teams for kids as well. I’ve coached and been involved with the kids recreational soccer and enjoyed it. It’s very popular and the fields around town are filled on a Saturday morning.

Pick-up games

I have never really cottoned on to where the pick-up games tend to be, but two locations that I know of where people gather include Nellie’s Cave Park, and the field behind the Food Lion on North Main (park behind the Food Lion and walk up), which is also known as Shenandoah Field. Nellie’s Cave Park tends not to have scheduled games, so it’s often available. Note that all the goals in town should be locked when not in use, because they mostly belong to NRU and they have to lock them for insurance purposes. It’s very frustrating as a casual player, but you just have to live with it.

Adult Recreational League

I play in the Adult Rec League, and have done for many years, perhaps a decade or more now. I played in high school in England where I was pretty good, but not great. The league is usually split into Sport and Competitive. At a very broad brush, Competitive (or the A league) tends to be under-30, skillful and athletic-kids who played in high school or maybe even college. Sport (the B league in which I play) tends to be older, less skillful and less athletic (or at least two out of three of those).

If I look at the team I currently manage/captain (The Goats), we have 8 in their mid-20s, 4 in their 30s, 3 in their 40s and one 60-year old(!). That’s a bit skewed for us historically. I’d say we have more 30 and 40-year olds usually. Our players are locals, graduate students, some undergrads, and faculty. We often have some international students on our teams. Not a ton of women play, but some certainly do. The focus is on having a fun, safe game.

We typically play an 8 game regular season in both Fall and Spring with a tournament at the end. We usually play one game a week, skipping when there is a break at VT. We tend to play on the weekends and weeknights because a lot of us have jobs, and the fields we usually use are owned and used by the local school system. NRU is building its own field near the airport which everyone hopes will be open soon. The fields we use are not great, but not terrible. There’s no budget for improvements really. The ground around here tends to be quite full of clay so the fields can get quite hard when they are dry. See the recent update posted here-we now primarily play on VT’s artificial turf!

One thing I wondered when I first signed up was why it seemed so expensive to me for so relatively few games. Part of the answer is that we play full games with three qualified referees. They generally are very good, and having them makes for good games. In terms of the rules, it is pretty standard, except that substitutions are unlimited, and we play with no slide tackling allowed. You can sign up as an individual and get assigned to a team if you are not aiming for a specific team.

Other options nearby

Roanoke has a number of good options. My understanding is that there is a women’s recreational league and a recreational league. I have heard there is a league for older players too, but I’m not sure where to find the details on that. I believe serious players involve themselves with the Roanoke Star Club, but there’s Valley AFC for kids too.

Indoor soccer

If you want to play indoor soccer (futsal) there are two basic options locally. There’s a winter league at the Blacksburg Community Center (Blacksburg Indoor Soccer League – BISL), and during the same time period there is an indoor league at the Tech Sportsplex near the mall area in Christiansburg. As an old geezer, I tend not to play because it’s a bit harder on my knees and can be quite fast, but the quality can be very good.

Flying with a red feather

So I just got back from Las Vegas last week, and no, I didn’t get the red feather there. It did not drift away from a showgirl’s boa.

I flew from Roanoke to Chicago and from there to Vegas. As I got to my seat on the flight from Chicago I noticed that there was a young African-american girl sitting in the window seat. There was no-one in the middle seat and I had the aisle. She was young, in sixth grade as I found out later which would make her around eleven or twelve. In my experience kids in the States don’t have ages, they have grades.

She looked at me. “Can I sit there?” She gestured at my seat.

I laughed. “I need it so I can stretch my legs.”

“What about that one?” She pointed at the middle seat.

“I guess. Why?”

“I’m scared of heights.”

I debated a bit with myself. A middle-aged white guy. A scared black girl. She reminded me very much of my own daughters. “Sure.”

We talked. We talked a lot. She talked a lot. She was scared of heights, but not exactly of flying. She was flying by herself from Akron to Las Vegas to live with her dad for a year, after living with her mom for a year. Her aunt was in the hospital having a baby (or babies) as we flew. Her dad worked with planes and had his own (really?). Another aunt had lost a leg in a plane accident. She was so nervous and anxious that she had puked in the bathrooms after her flight from Akron. She was being monitored by the flight attendants and I presume being met in Vegas. They checked on her with a second glance at me. “That’s your seat at the window, honey.”

“She’s scared” I replied before stopping to think through what they were really asking.

She wrapped her arm around mine as we took off and tightened it ferociously.

She fell asleep.

I never knew her name. The flight attendant mangled it when checking on her.

I told her about my daughters. My youngest who loves basketball. The eldest who loves singing.

We talked about the plane. I told her all about how they couldn’t just fall out of the sky, how they work with only one engine, and how air could be bumpy. That wasn’t nearly as effective at distracting her as my being exaggeratedly grossed out by her tales while we were landing.

She told me about her dad.

Near the end she showed me a cut on her foot where she’d stepped on some glass her mother had broken in the kitchen. It looked like it needed some care.

“You didn’t see a doctor?”


She’d not been good in school, she told me with a bit of a shameful grin, as if I shouldn’t really like her, nor enjoy her company.

She showed me some beautiful paper flowers she’d made, and I met her imaginary friend.

My mind filled in too many blanks.

When the time came, we parted with few words. I left her on the plane. She looked in her bag of random things and quietly gave me the red feather as a keepsake.

I put it in a safe place.

Reverend Sam Franklin

This is the Reverend Sam Franklin. This guest book doesn’t have long left, and while the messages are heartfelt, there’s not a lot there. He went by “Uncle Tom” apparently.

I met him once last year, just before he passed away.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while and have had the crumbs of it sitting in a draft since I met him. Last year I was at the mall in Christiansburg, VA with my kids. I had left them to their own ends for a while, grabbed a coffee and had sat down in a mildly comfortable chair in the middle of the mall. The seating made a small square with a couple of chairs on each side.

On one side an old man sat in a wheelchair. Opposite me another man sat. After a minute or two the old man spoke up, “If I was to ask one of these people here how old they thought I am, what do you think they would say?”

So, a couple of thoughts went through my head if I’m being entirely honest. Firstly, that I might be in for a crazy old man diatribe that I’d need to gently extricate myself from, and secondly that there was no way I was going to give a straight answer.

The man across from me smiled, but didn’t say much, umm-ing and ah-ing in a jokey kind of way. The old man insisted, “Go on, guess.” I hazarded a silly guess, “Fifty-five?” We bantered a bit more. I guessed a little closer, “Seventies?” I smiled, “You know, I’m not going to even try to get it right. It’s not very polite, is it?”

“I’m one hundred and four.”

Crikey…definitely crazy old man territory. There’s no way a man this articulate and seemingly healthy is that old, despite the wheelchair. We chatted some more and I don’t really remember why, but I moved over to sit next to him. I do remember that his fingers were thick, swollen and mottled with the years.

An hour and a half later, his middle-aged granddaughter and her husband (from Maryland?) came back to pick him up, and I was wiser. “You wouldn’t believe he’s one hundred and four, would you?!” they said. “Oh, I would” I replied.

I’ll admit to not understanding everything he told me. A Southwest Virginia accent, old age, and my own transatlantic origins made some things hard to grasp, but I still remember some of the stories he told me. I wish I remembered more, and I wish I’d written this last year when I intended, but I also hope that maybe one day someone will find this and he’ll be remembered. I’m sure I’ll get some of this wrong too.

In July 1916, the New River flooded. He would have been ten years old then. His family was living in Carroll County at the time, as best I can tell, right down by the river on the flood plain. It came at night. They barely had time to get him and his siblings out of bed, and to let the animals loose before the house was filled. The waters came well up to the second floor.

I wish I remember more, but I’m thinking that they found a friendly farmer and slept in a barn for a while after that.

The next year (1917), the river froze (here too), and the ice dammed up the river destroying bridges.

Some time after that they moved to Radford, VA, and I’d guess around then he started at the Radford pipe works which was owned by the Lynchburg Foundry (his obituary implies he worked in Lynchburg, but I don’t think he did). He worked in Radford for thirty-six years. At some point, perhaps during the war, he went to Tennessee to train to make aircraft parts, which should have enabled him to make a bit more money.

He took himself and his training to Atlanta after that, where I think he had some kind of supervisory role. He told me some tales of a crazy ex-con who he took a chance on. That was a bet that didn’t work out.

During all this time, he was a minister at various places, including a church in Ellett Valley, and they had ten kids. When we spoke his younger brother was still alive and living by himself. He had buried his son recently. I didn’t want to ask about his wife.

He did tell the tale of the time he saw one man shoot another six times. It was connected to his church, and he was the one who ended up taking the gun off the man who did the shooting. There was a court case of course. I seem to recall though that there was a sense that the shooting may have been justified and as a result the Reverend may have been careful with the truth when the time came.

…and that’s it. One hundred and four years. One and a half hours last year. It really cannot have been long before he passed away. It was a great conversation that meandered a fair bit, and was hard work sometimes, but so worth it. I couldn’t quite convey it to my kids when they came to find me, nor to my friends and colleagues.

He seemed a decent man who lived a decent life.

It was a pleasure to meet Sam. I’m glad I had that time to sit and listen to him. I’m glad he persisted in talking to me and shared some of his life with me. When my race is run, I hope someone takes the time to tell a tale or two about me. I hope there are some good tales to tell.

Batch Move Users to Organizations in Google Apps

Just a quick note. I write our own integration code for Google Apps in part because of our scale, and in part because I started integrating our systems before GADS (Google Apps Directory Sync) existed. The code mostly just works, so I don’t look at it very often, and I’m not a strong python coder.

Recently I need to move a fairly large number of users into an organization, but there’s no way to do this in the GUI as a batch job, so I needed to code it. I found the docs, but mostly I have to go through a lot of trial and error. Here’s the ultimate shape of the code I came up with, and an explanation. I’m just writing a quick utility script here so it’s nothing fancy:


import gdata.apps.organization.client

# get a client and log in as an integration user
ouclient = gdata.apps.organization.client.OrganizationUnitProvisioningClient(domain='')
ouclient.ClientLogin(email='', password='adminuserpassword', source ='apps')

# grab the customerId of the integration account - this is new
clientid = ouclient.RetrieveCustomerId()
customer_id = clientid.customer_id

# you need the customer id to do anything, I think. Read the provisioning docs.
# Objects that are camelCase in the XML, change to underscore in python
# I have never found that documented anywhere so I figure it is something you just know!

ouclient.move_users_to_org_unit(customer_id=customer_id, org_unit_path='nameorpathofOU', users_to_move=[''])

#users_to_move is a list, up to 25 email addresses. See the docs on move_users_to_org_unit.

Virginia Tech Hokies Women’s Soccer

I tweeted about this the other day but I’d like to expand a little.

Last year I attended a game or two, but this year, I’ve been to several Hokie soccer games: at least one of the men’s team and several of the women’s. It has been a lot of fun. There’s a smallish crowd, which is enough to make it fun, but not the insane size of the football games. It’s free to get in and parking is easy.

I’m going to give the men’s team another chance since they didn’t really impress in the game I saw, but I am really enjoying watching the Women’s Soccer team. They are extremely skillful and have many of the qualities of a great team, but they are not quite converting their dominance into goals as much as I think they should.

I thought they were unlucky in North Carolina (let’s just say that I didn’t entirely agree with the refereeing) and that they dominated Boston College for much of the game. They do seem to be a bit vulnerable on set pieces.

Their ball movement, patience, discipline, possession, and general talent are all fantastic. They play a little like Swansea in that they’ll typically move the ball out from defense on the ground with calm, precise and well-controlled passing. Several times, I’ve seen their central defensive players turn the opposition inside out before making a simple release pass. They are very good at relieving pressure in that regard.

The team seems to be setting up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and their midfielders are impressive. The one caveat is that they feel unimaginative on offense in the final third. What I have seen to this point are through balls, long balls, and runs that tend to be vertical (straight up and down) with few overlaps from midfield and less diagonal movement. Several times I’ve seen midfielders creating space in advanced positions by fantastic passing and then it fizzles out, either in a wayward shot or a tackle.

I’m not sure of the underlying reason. It could be intentional positional discipline, but the last game I saw there was at least one occasion for a clear overlapping run by an outside midfielder and the player just stayed in place. The other part of the equation is the offensive players themselves who seem a little static or “one note”. If you aren’t faster than the defense and being quick is your thing, then your options close down. If being tall is your thing, then you need service from the wings.

My understanding of an attacker’s role (and I say this both as a fan, and primarily a defensive player myself), is that it is at least in part to make defenses constantly worry about where you are, to get on their blind side, to get into positions where they can’t see both you and the ball, and to make runs off and away from the ball to draw the defense into bad positions. That off-the-ball mischievousness and creativity is what I think I’m not seeing. I’m not sure of the solution from a tactical point of view, but the team feels only a fraction shy of being a truly great team. They could easily have beaten North Carolina and Boston in my opinion.

Either way, they play again this Sunday, and I’m planning on enjoying the game, whatever the result.

by david tod