Changes to Fire Wally Dot Net

Sun 18 May 2014

The nice thing about having your own website on your own server is that you can make it whatever you want.

The tough part about having your own website on your own server is that you can make it whatever you want.

One thing that I've noticed about my own writing is that a small feeling of discomfort quickly grows until it takes all the creative energy that I should be focusing on writing. For example, sometimes instead of writing about roller derby I feel like writing about programming (my day job) or tech or something else entirely. Since the nominal focus of my site is roller derby, that puts me in a bit of a pickle. I definitely don't write about programming enough to start a whole separate blog about it, but an article about, say, django webserver deployment would look pretty out of place on "my roller derby site". So I don't write about programming, but then I don't write about roller derby either because I'm busy worrying about how I would rather write about programming. The result is a lot of half-started drafts and self-imposed irritation.

To try and combat this, I've made a few changes to Fire Wally Dot Net.


I suppose I've never really said anything about the topic of this site before, but from now on the topic of this site is Whatever I Feel Like Writing About.

Category Pages

Under the site's header, you'll notice new links for "Derby", "Code", and "Other Stuff", which will get you a listing of articles specific to that topic. So if you are only here for the derby stuff or the code stuff, it should be pretty easy to find what you're looking for.

Similary, you'll notice that the new Subscribe Page lists RSS feeds specific to each category, so if you want to subscribe to just one category you can do that as well.

This is a Test

Sun 18 May 2014

This article is mostly a test of the category function of pelican, the static site generator used to create the blog portion of this site.

Ideally this article should appear in the "code" category, but not the "derby" or "other" categories.

I had to make one modification to the blog template to make it happen, which had some interesting consequences.

  • Needed to prepend {SITEURL} to the stylesheet link in base.html so that it didn't get destroyed by different levels of heirarchy.

  • That meant I needed an real SITEURL for local development, so I created a site at

  • That meant that I needed something to serve files on, so I needed to install nginx on my laptop. I usually try to get by with learning as little webserver config as possible, but at this point I think it's pretty reasonable that I focus on nginx and actually learn how to use it rather than paste together mini-howtos to limp along.

Derby Gear Brand Guide

Thu 20 March 2014

Now that we're a few years into the growth of modern roller derby, a number of gear companies large and small have begun to cater to the derby market. This growth brings lots of great gear choices for derby skaters, but along with it a confusing amalgamation of companies, brands, and manufacturers. There are perfectly decent reasons why, for instance, the same company might sell boots under one brand name and wheels under another, but it can get pretty hard to follow. This guide is, as of early 2014, a snapshot of who makes what and under what brand name in the roller derby universe.

Nistevo Sport Manufacturing

Jackson Boots
Luigino Boots
Bionic Bearings (also toestops)
Pilot Plates
Atom Wheels
Atom Gear (pads)


Riedell Boots
Powerdyne Plates (also toestops)
Radar Wheels
Kwik Bearings


Antik Boots (top-end models manufactured at Reidell's Red Wing, MN factory)
Reckless Wheels
B'Zerk Wheels
Heartless Wheels
Moto Bearings
Gumball Toestops

Sure Grip

Sure Grip Boots/Plates/Wheels
Snyder Plates
Qube Bearings
Hyper Wheels
Kryptonic Wheels
RX Toe Stops

Vanilla Skates

Vanilla Boots
Vanilla Backspin Wheels (sometimes listed as just "Backspin")


Bont Skates (boots, plates, wheels, bearings)


Crazy Skates (boots, plates, wheels, toestops)

Brooklyn Skate Company

Brooklyn Skate Company (currently just the Murillo 340 boot, manufactured at Avanta Skating Boots)

Juice Wheels

Juice Wheels


Faster Wheels


Cheezeballs Bearings

Powell Skateboards

Bones Bearings
Rollerbones Wheels


Roll-Line is an Italian skate manufacturer whose plates have found some devotees in the roller derby community. They don't have an English language website, but their dealer network is pretty well established in the USA.

Roller Derby Skate Corporation

Roller Derby Skates
Labeda Skates
Pacer Skates
Bevo Bearings

Safety Gear manufacturers popular amongst derby skaters

Triple 8
187 Killer Pads
Select Distribution (Smith Scabs)
Nutcase Helmets
S-One Helmets

Gear Guide: The Bare Bones

Fri 07 March 2014

If you're interested in playing Roller Derby (or participating as a skating ref) and are trying to get equipped for the minimum possible investment, here's how to do it. This set of gear is the best option for folks who are unsure about their commitment to derby or just low on funds. I recommend starting with The Basics of Buying Derby Gear, but after that you can pretty much use this post as a shopping list.

One word of warning: when it comes to buying roller derby gear, in many ways you do get what you pay for. By choosing the bare bones at the outset, you're going to hit the limitations of your gear faster because something wears out, breaks, or starts to limit your performance as your skills improve. I'm also planning writing an "investment beginner" guide that's a step up in price but will last longer for those with both the commitment and additional funds.


The cheapest way to start skating roller derby is to buy a complete skate package (boots, plates, wheels, and bearings all pre-assembled) that is focused on speed skating and/or roller derby. The Riedell R3 is by far the most popular option for new derby skaters, and for good reason: it's a relatively durable and comfortable skate at a very attractive price. The usual advice used to be to replace the wheels as soon as you got them, but Riedell must have caught on because many derby-focused shops now offer an "R3 Derby" package with Radar Flat-Outs, which are a perfectly reasonable first wheel.

A few alternatives that are worth noting: The Sure Grip Rebels have a slightly wider boot than the R3, so try those if the R3s are too narrow (you're gonna have to spend a lot more to get skates that actually come in wide sizes, unfortunately). Also, the Crazy VXi package seems intriguing (Crazy is an Australian skate company starting to make some headway into the US derby market), but I don't know anyone who has tried them so I can't recommend them fully.

Safety Gear

For a helmet, you want a something that is dual-certified for single and multiple impacts. The cheapest such helmet available is the Bell Faction, so get that. Some people have found that the lining wears out quickly, but Bell has been good about sending out replacement liners from what I've seen.

The cheapest pair of decent knee pads is the Triple Eight KP 22 at about thirty bucks. They're fine to start out for most folks, but if you have a history of knee problems I recommend going right to a a set of high-end pads like the TSG Force IV. Your knees will thank you for the additional padding.

For elbow pads, as long as they have a hard cap on them and fit you well I don't think you can really go wrong. Go ahead and get these ProTec Streets, or whatever is most comfortable on your arms.

I like the slide-on style wrist guards like these Triple 8 Wristsavers, but if you want to get the three-strap kind that's cool too.

You'll also need a mouthguard. From all the research I've done, safety-wise it matters a lot that you are wearing a mouthguard but not so much which mouthguard, so go ahead and get something Simple. I got a case for mine at my local crazy surplus store, but you could also buy one along with your mouthguard or bum a free retainer case off your dentist.

Other Gear

The Skates + Safety gear will cover everything you strictly need, but there are a couple extras you might want to throw in to solve life's little annoyances.

Your skates will come with a barely-workable skate tool, but it won't take many adjustments before you'll wish you had a proper skate tool

Similarly, you'll really want one of these Bearing pullers the first time you have to swap out bearings.

I also like to carry around a backup set of pivot cups and laces because it's irritating if you have to miss practice because a tiny little thing broke on your skates.

In case you need a bag to carry all this crap in, a surplus duffle will get the job done and probably last longer than anything you put in it.

Total Cost

Prices vary a little bit between different skate shops, but buying just the mandatory skates + safety gear should end up being just under $300 after taxes and/or shipping. It's not insignificant, but it's a small price to pay for memories and bruises that will last a lifetime.

The Dimensions of a Regulation WFTDA Track

Tue 04 March 2014

One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can write things down that you often look up and then it'll be added to Google's index so you don't need to look it up again. This is one of those posts.

Anyway, so I don't have to do the math in my head again (and again, and again), these are the rough dimensions of a regulation WFTDA/MRDA roller derby flat track. (Calculated from the Official Track Design )

The length of a WFTDA track is (17.5 * 2) + (12.5 * 2) + (14 * 2) = 88 feet.

At any one point, a WFTDA track is no wider than (12.5 * 2) + 15 + 13 = 53 feet. However, the offset curves mean that the the bounding rectangle of the track will be 55 Feet wide.

That of course is without safety lanes (10 feet in most cases, though there are legal ways to cut down on that distance and maintain a fully-sanctioned track). 10-foot safety lanes surrounding the track add 20 feet to each dimension, which means the bounding rectangle of a regulation WFTDA/MRDA roller derby flat track with full safety lanes is:
108' x 75'

WFTDA Track Dimensions

For rough size reference, a roller derby flat track would not fit inside an NCAA regulation basketball court, but does fit comfortably inside an NCAA regulation hockey rink.

Announcing the Stink Face Winner

Wed 02 October 2013

As the leaves fall, the air turns crisp, and a big-ass thunderstorm rolls outside my window here in St. Paul, it's time to bring the September of Stink Face to a close.

Thank you all who submitted your Excellent Stink Faces to the facebook event. Choosing a winner amongst all the frowns and squints was a painstaking process.

But between myself, my wife Jessie, and guest judges Mario Slamieux and Crust Almighty, we narrowed it down to the following finalists:

Four finalsts in the Fire Wally Stink Face contest

(Photo credit clockwise from top-left: Wijadi Jodi, David Dyer-Bennet, Adam Martini, Ryan Starr )

Now I think you'll agree, those are four stiiiiiiinky faces. But for the combination of perfect face contortion, demonstrated exertion, excellent photography, and similarity to the Fire Wally Original the panel gave the title to the Minnesota Rollergirls' own MeshugEnough!

MeshugEnough wins best stink face

Congratulations 'Shug on capturing the Stink Face title. She'll be receiving a complimentary Bell Faction helmet in the color of her choosing. Of course, even if you didn't win, remember that you too can purchase a helmet for a very reasonable price that is certified for both single and multiple impacts by the proper authorities. Protect your squishy brain bits!

Thanks for playing! Stay tuned for more roller derby hijinks coming this fall to Fire Wally Dot Net Slash Blog!