Playing in a Public Hall

If you ever get really excited about playing pool (and it would be fair to say that I spent a significant portion of my college years studying the physics of collisions of rotating spheres — a non-degree program, alas) you’re likely to run into Robert Byrne’s excellent books on the topic. They rank among some of the best educational texts I’ve read on any topic — it’s amazing that a skill based so much on visualization, stance and force can be improved so quickly simply by reading about it. He’s enormously entertaining as a writer, taking side-trips into immigration trends, the history of colonization, cinema, gender and economic differences, and all variety of other topics that relate in some way to pool. Combined with great diagrams and a wonderful set of historical photographs, flyers, and quotes, the books feel like Head First Cue Sticks.

This weekend at Foo Camp, I thought a lot about one of the things Byrne says in his books (somewhere — this morning I couldn’t find exactly where), to the effect that the best pool players are not the ones that own their own tables and play on them every day; instead, the players who play in public halls against a wide variety of opponents have the greatest skills. The analogy to open source software development is obvious, but I found the same effect this year when I took the application I’ve been developing with my company and showed it to all variety of people at Foo (well, everyone but investors). When you get a collection of inspired, talented, creative people in one place and ask them to talk about whatever they might be thinking, the result is a flood of ideas and reactions that you can’t find in any other setting. Foo Camp set me off on this project, two years ago, when I returned from the first one thinking, “How can I come back with something I’m proud to show?” This year I got to do that, and hearing some of the people I admire most, and some I’d never heard of or met from fields far from my own, tell me they love what they see — and hearing those with doubts and those who wanted more or less in the final product — is incomparable.

Foo Camp is one such venue. Wherever you find it, get out there, show people what you’re doing, and find the public hall where you can play. Playing on your private table will never get you to the same level.