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Disc Golf – Walking Contradiction

An Honest Man

Today I got up, had my coffee, and headed out to play my first round of disc golf since starting my new job at NVIDIA. This time of year is very hot here in San Antonio, so I wanted to go early before it got unbearably hot.

I started off pretty well, and even made my second birdie of my (short) career! Here’s a photo I took of my tee shot; the light blue disc is hard to see, so I drew a yellow circle around it:

Within 3 feet!

The course is very hilly, and with the slowly increasing temperature and high humidity, I was definitely feeling drained by the halfway point. I just finished hole #10 when I looked at my disc bag and my stomach sank: it has a small zippered compartment where I keep my keys while I’m playing, and I noticed that the zipper had managed to work itself open enough for the keys to fall out! I hoped that they had fallen into the compartment with the discs, but after pulling them all out, I realized that they must have fallen out somewhere in the previous 10 holes. That meant that I had to walk back the course, retracing my steps and scanning the ground for them.

That is harder than it might sound, because as this is a practice round by myself, I frequently throw 2 or 3 different discs on a hole to test different flight patterns, throwing technique, etc. And each time I pick up a disc to make my next throw, I put the bag down. So that meant that I had to remember every throw I had made, and where it landed. It goes without saying that this took a very long time, and the heat and hills were starting to get to me.

I had retraced my steps all the way back to the tee at #4, and started walking to the basket at #3 when I saw a man playing that hole, walking towards me. I asked him if by any chance he had found a set of car keys, and he asked me “What color is your car?”. That seemed like an odd question; how would one know the color of the car that a given set of keys were for?? But I answered anyway: “Red. And the car key is black.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out the keys, telling me that he found them by the basket at #2. He mentioned that he had put a note on the car to let the owner know that he had the keys and was on the course.

So this man had not only found my keys, he walked all the way back to the parking lot so he could leave me a note!

The lost keys note

I started thinking about that: if he were so inclined, he could have not only stolen the car, but found my home address on the registration, and used the key to get into our home. Fortunately, he was a good person, and none of that happened. Instead, he went out of his way to make sure that I was reunited with my keys. So thanks, David, not only for finding my keys, but for helping to keep my faith in humanity alive!

Day 44: Employed Once More!

After 3 1/2 months of unemployment, during which I submitted countless job applications, became a regular on LinkedIn, learned the routines of the Texas Unemployment Benefits system, and sat through numerous interviews, I’m excited to report that I have a new job!

In a couple of weeks I will be starting at Nvidia as a Senior Python Developer, working on the tools for their GPU cloud. I’ve met the other people on my team during the video interview process, and they all seem like a bright bunch, so I can’t wait to start working with them!

It’s been difficult these last few months. It started with the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, which has affected everyone. Then came the layoff, with DataRobot letting 25% of its workforce go, including yours truly. It really wasn’t much consolation that I was only 1 of the 40 million or so in the US who lost their job in those few weeks – it still hurt.

Still, I have had it better than most. My wife still had her job, which was super-important financially. We also had some savings, so we weren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck like so many Americans have to. And it did give me some free time to work on my photoviewer software, and practice my newly-discovered sport of disc golf. It also gave me the chance to perfect my sourdough bread technique (yeah, I know – how cliché!). But there is only so much to do when largely confined to the house.

Which is why I started this daily writing exercise. Not just to fill the time, but to get down some of the thoughts that have been in my head for a while, and polish my rusty writing skills. And while it’s been difficult to always find something to write about, I have noticed that writing itself is feeling more fluid.

I will continue this daily project until I start the job on July 20. After that, I will continue to write, but just not on a daily basis. Going through this exercise has helped me enjoy writing more, and improved my ability to let a piece out into the wild without first obsessing with endless editing. That is probably the best thing I’ve gotten out of it.

Day 27: Disc Golf Numbers, Part 2

A few days ago we covered the first two of the four mysterious numbers that are on each disc: Speed and Glide. Today we’ll cover the other two: Turn and Fade.

Turn is the ability of a disc to turn toward the direction of its rotation during the initial high-speed part of its flight. That’s a mouthful! But what does it mean?

Let’s assume that you throw the disc with your right arm, and use the common backhand delivery. When you throw it, the disc will be spinning clockwise when viewed from above, and the front edge is spinning toward your right side. That’s why we say that the “direction of its rotation” is to your right.

Turn values range from 1 to -5, where 1 is the most resistant to turn, and a -5 will turn the most. Having some Turn is good for beginners, as it tends to offset the Fade at the end of the flight, making a more or less straight throw. One problem, though, is that high Turn discs are not as stable when throwing into the wind, so in general you should avoid high Turn discs in that situation.

Let’s compare the flights of two discs that have nearly the same numbers, but differ significantly in their Turn:

The disc on the left, the Thunderbird, has a Turn of 0. Note how its initial flight is fairly straight, while the disc on the right, the Roadrunner, bends to the right for the first half of the flight. That is consistent with a Turn value of -4 for the Roadrunner. I own a Roadrunner, and I can testify that it is very hard to control when throwing into the wind.

The fourth and final number to understand is Fade. Fade represents the tendency of the disc to turn away from its direction of rotation at the end of its flight as it slows down. In other words, Turn and Fade move the disc in opposite directions.

Fade values range from 0 to 5, with 0 finishing the straightest, and 5 bending hard at the end of the flight. It might seem odd to want your disc to fade, but it can be helpful for distance control, where you want to ensure that the disc doesn’t keep sailing past your target. It’s also very useful for when you need to shape your shot around an obstacle such as a tree, as you can throw to the side of the tree, and let the disc’s natural fade bring it back towards the target.

We’ve covered what the numbers on your discs mean. So, as a beginner, how do you use that information? First and most importantly, avoid buying high Speed discs. Until you develop your technique and strength, you simply won’t be able to throw them reliably. Start with a lower-speed disc, such as a fairway driver.

Next: practice! Find an open space where you can practice without having your mistakes (you will make plenty!) cause any problems. Not too far from my house is a park that has a baseball field without any outfield fence:

I’ve circled two trees that I measured to be 240 ft. apart. This is perfect, as I can rarely throw more than 250 ft. I take my discs, noting the numbers on them, and imagine how I need to throw them to get close to the target tree. I have to also factor in the wind, if any. When I make a good throw, I then observe how the disc’s flight goes, and whether it matches what I was expecting. I gather my discs, and now throw from the other tree back towards the first. This way I can practice both throwing with headwinds and tailwinds, or sidewinds coming from each side. I repeat this several times with a set of 3 discs, and then when I have a good feel for them, try with a different set of discs. It’s really helped me understand what disc works best in different conditions. Now I just need to improve my consistency, which means: more practice!

Day 25: Disc Golf Numbers, Part 1

When you start playing disc golf, you have to select the discs you will be using. One disc manufacturer, Innova, came up with a rating system for the flight characteristics of their discs, and it proved useful enough that all manufacturers have adopted it.

Stamped on every disc is a set of numbers that look like this:

Each of these numbers represents a different characteristic of the expected flight for that disc. They are, in order, Speed, Glide, Turn, and Fade.

Speed represents how hard the disc needs to be thrown in order to achieve its ideal flight. It ranges from 1 to 14. The higher the speed, the harder you need to throw the disc. In an earlier post I wrote about my difficulties getting one of my disks to fly, and that was because I wasn’t able to throw it hard enough, as I’m just a beginner. It takes time to build the strength and refine your technique in order to achieve the high speed throws that such a disc requires. The disc I was using had a speed of 12, and I wasn’t even close to being able to throw that hard.

High speed discs are drivers; i.e., when you need your throw to go a long way. More distance on a tee shot is almost always good, but you don’t want to lose accuracy, especially on a tight course. My home course is typical South Texas scrub, which includes a lot of cactus, so you don’t want to end up there! Below is where I ended up in one of my early rounds – another foot or two and it would have been painful to retrieve!


Speaking of distance, the second number in the ratings is Glide. This describes the disc’s ability to remain in flight, and ranges from 1 to 7. A disc spins when thrown, providing a gyroscopic effect, and also has a wing-like shape, which provides lift. Those two together determine how long a disc’s flight will last until it starts to drop. This is why the Speed is important: a harder throw will provide more lift and more gyroscopic stability, and the disc’s design is optimized to take advantage of that. For beginners, who can’t throw at such high Speeds, the driver discs are designed to Glide further by maximizing loft at lower speeds. For a beginner, the trick is to find a driver that flies the furthest that you can control. That generally means finding the highest Glide number for the highest speed you can reliably throw.

That’s enough for one post. I’ll continue tomorrow with explanations on the second two numbers, Turn and Fade.

Day 21: Disc Golf Intro

I am a beginner at disc golf, and am just beginning to understand all the different things you need to know. I thought I’d write some of them down in order to clarify them in my mind.

While I’m new to disc golf, I have been throwing Frisbees since I was in high school. Most of the time we free-styled, where you try to do tricks with your catches and throw with different styles. Here’s a photo of me in college with a disc:

Me, with more hair and less belly!

My younger son Dan has been playing disc golf, and gotten pretty good at it. He came to visit us the past January, and took me out to play a few rounds. Disc golf uses very different discs than Frisbees, and they come with all sorts of different characteristics that affect how they fly. Dan gave me a crash course, but it was a lot to keep straight! He let me use some of his discs, but once he went back home I needed some of my own.

I went to a sporting goods store that carried some discs, and more or less blindly picked a couple. I knew that there were drivers for getting distance, and putters for accuracy on the short shots. I bought the Innova Destroyer driver, and the Innova Colt putter.

There is a disc golf course not too far from my house: Pearsall Park. Besides being close by, it’s very hilly, and is a good workout just walking the course! The first hole is pretty open, so I threw my driver. It did not fly like I thought it would; it just turned over quickly to one side and crashed to the ground without going very far. The Colt, though, flew just fine. In fact, it flew straighter and longer than the Destroyer! This made no sense to me: why would a putter fly further than a driver?

Afterwards I texted Dan about this, and he explained that the Speed rating of the Destroyer was too high for me. I didn’t understand: wouldn’t the speed rating mean that it would fly faster?

No, it turns out. It doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is the speed at which the disc must be thrown in order to achieve the flight it was designed for. The Destroyer is Speed: 12, and I’m just not able to throw that hard yet. So when I threw it, it never got into the flight it was designed for. The Colt, though is Speed: 3, which I’m certainly capable of throwing. So I was able to get a good throw (albeit a relatively short one) with the Colt, and couldn’t throw the Destroyer reliably.

Guess I had some reading up to do! I found many good sources online, and soon felt confident enough to order new discs. I say “order” because by now the pandemic had forced businesses to close, so online was the only way to go. They’ve worked out much better for me, and slowly but surely I’m improving.

I’ll try to summarize what I’ve learned about disc flight characteristics in a future post. But for now I’m taking advantage of my unemployed state to practice disc golf as often as I can.