September 26, 2016

Thank You For Your Service

Gather 'round my good and dear, for I have a tale to spin for you.  It is a tale of long and unprecedented attention to duty, a saga of unswerving loyalty, a story of honor and faithfulness.  It is the story of a light bulb.

Not just any light bulb, however.  No, it's the story of a compact fluorescent lamp that put any other CFL to shame.  It began its life in the manufactury of Feit Electric, item number BPESL13T/R, a red party bulb.  It sat on the shelf at a Walgreens here in Duckford, waiting to provide service to whomever purchased it.  And waiting.  And waiting.

In October of 2005, I had a Cardiac Incident that sent me to the hospital, wondering if I was going to live or not.  I did, of course, but I did not escape the incident unscathed.  For a long time after, as I lay in bed trying to sleep, I would unintentionally concentrate on my heartbeat, freaking out slightly with every slight unsteadiness.  I began to worry about what would happen if I had to call the EMTs late at night but couldn't get out of bed.  I decided to leave a light on as I slept, but that was a problem.  I don't sleep well when there's light in the room, but it had to be bright enough for someone unfamiliar with the layout of Pond Central to be able to see the way to my bedroom.  Oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly if you know me, it was the US Navy that gave me an idea.

The Combat Information Center on Navy warships are routinely kept dark, with only dim red lights glowing.  The red light protects night vision while providing enough illumination to see what the heck you're doing... exactly what I was looking for.  Now I just needed to find a red light bulb.

The first one I purchased was a regular incandescent bulb, a little too bright, not really red enough for my purposes, and it stank to high heaven.  Undoubtedly the "dip" on the bulb, cooking from the inside out.  Unacceptable.  I searched the usual Home Improvement places, no joy whatsoever.  I knew there were red bulbs out there somewhere, I just had to find them! 

And then, one night after work, I stopped into my local Walgreens for... something.  I don't remember what anymore.  But what I actually got was that red CFL from Feit Electric.  I got home, put it in the artsy bakelite-like lamp a cousin gave me for Christmas the year before, and turned it on in the dining room.  Perfect.  Bright, but not so bright that it was going to bother my sleep in the next room over.  The rest of the apartment had a nice reddish glow to it, too.  Couldn't have done it better myself.  Leaving the light on, I moved on to other things.

For nearly ELEVEN YEARS that light was left on.  It was off only if the power went out or when I was vacuuming during the summer; the big fan was using the other outlet at that point, and I'd just unplug the light and plug it back in when I was done with the room.  According to the fact sheet for good ol' BPESL13T/R, it was supposed to have a lifespan of 8000 hours.  It passed that mark during the first year.  After eleven years, it would have been on for right around 96000 hours.  A few years ago, I realized just how incredible the performance of this thing was, and I began to wonder which of us would die first.  Until that time came, I let it do its job.  And it did, hour after hour, day after day, never weakening, never flagging, just illuminating the apartment for my entertainment and safety.

This morning, around 3am, I woke up.  Not entirely however... I was in that nice "mostly awake, partially zonked" state.  Rolling over to check the time, I noticed that it was VERY dark.  Not just in my bedroom, but out in the living room as well... and my brain processed that as "power outage."  Never mind that the fan in my bedroom was howling away at full speed and the alarm clock was glowing redly on my desk, the power must be out.  I fell back to sleep almost immediately.

This morning, I got out of bed, verified the power was not, in fact, out, and realized that the time I had long dreaded had finally come.  The seemingly undying red light, the light that has served me so well for so long, had finally ceased its efforts on my behalf. 

Another red CFL has taken its place in the lamp.  But it's not the same.  Nothing will be able to replace that BPESL13T/R.  Thank you for your service, little light.  You will always have a place of honor in my heart, and after I find a suitable ribbon, on my christmas tree.  Thank you.  I was lucky to have you.  Rest now.

You did well.

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September 25, 2016

Ducks In Anime: Tanks For The Memories


-Girls und Panzer der Film
What, you've never seen tanks camouflaged as rubber ducks before?
It was a well-known technique during WWII, replacing the terribly ineffective zebra camouflage.  Zebras, of course, are not native to Europe or the Pacific.  Ducks, however, are ubiquitous.

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September 22, 2016

Random Anime Picture #124: Reflections


-ARIA the Natural, Ep12
On the whole, today had to be listed in the "horrible" category.  But it's amazing how just one episode of ARIA is enough to take the edge off.  It didn't fix anything, it doesn't make things better... but it was enough to remind me that things aren't totally terrible.  And I guess that's enough, isn't it?

Akari Mizunashi, mad scientist.

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September 19, 2016

Returns


Soon.

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September 18, 2016

F1 Not-Update: Singapore 2016

As feared, my DVR didn't record the race.  I got about 30 seconds of the intro, then the message "recording is missing data" popped up and the image froze forever.  So there's that wrapped.

I will download the race from my secure source, but they won't have it up until much later.  Once it appears, I'll watch it and give some sort of writeup afterwards... probably Monday, I'm afraid.

Looks like it was, at least, an interesting race.  Of course.  The one race I can't watch is the one that I'd most want to watch.  Life has a funny way of being that way, doesn't it?

So.  Yeah.  Sorry folks.  I'll try and make it up later tonight with something fun.

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September 17, 2016

F1 Quals: Singapore 2016

This is the point where I would normally say "a warm, humid night greeted the assembled horde of the F1 Circus as they prepared for Quals for the 2016 Grand Prix of Singapore," but this race, there's a small problem.  To whit... I haven't seen quals.  And there's every chance in the world that I'm going to miss the race as well.  The satellite feed from Pond Central's apartment complex is, apparently, on the fritz.  Signal strength is... um... variable, leaning heavily towards the "signal unavailable" end of the spectrum.  However, it's not consistent in any way: early last night I couldn't watch jack squat, but the DVR still (successfully) recorded Legacy 59 later.  So who knows?  Maybe maintenance will clear leaves off the master dish before then.  Or retrieve it from the swimming pool.  It's also possible that my receiver is dying, I guess.  Either way, my race watching is threatened, and I won't know until it happens.  So here's the provisional grid:

Pos
Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:45.316 1:43.020 1:42.584
2 Smiley Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:44.255 1:43.933 1:43.115
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:45.167 1:43.471 1:43.288
4 Embryo Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:45.036 1:44.112 1:43.328
5 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:44.964 1:44.159 1:43.540
6 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:45.499 1:44.493 1:44.197
7 Kid Kvyat Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:45.291 1:44.475 1:44.469
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 1:46.081 1:44.737 1:44.479
9 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1:45.373 1:44.653 1:44.553
10 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1:45.204 1:44.703 1:44.582
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 1:46.086 1:44.740
12 Retiree Massa Williams Mercedes 1:46.056 1:44.991
13 Leave of Absence Button McLaren Honda 1:45.262 1:45.144
14 Esteban!  Haas Ferrari 1:45.465 1:45.593
15 Lettuce Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:45.609 1:45.723
16 Sony Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1:46.427 1:47.827
17 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:46.825

18 FelipeNot Massa Nasr Sauber Ferrari 1:46.860

19 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:46.960

20 Pascal's Wehrlein MRT Mercedes 1:47.667

21 False Esteban
MRT Mercedes 1:48.296

22 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:49.116


Seb Vettel had a broken anti-roll bar (sway bar here in the US), with predictable results:

Every turn reportedly saw the inside front wheel coming off the ground with the attendant loss of traction.  That 1:49.116 really was the best he could do, and the team couldn't get him repaired before Q1 ended.

The big news is the performance of the Red Bulls, both of whom will be starting on the Super-soft tires.  They were nearly as quick as the Mercedes, who will be starting the race on the Ultra-softs.  At least on paper, advantage Red Bull, as their tires will last longer.  If they can stay in touch with the silver cars, it'll be a very interesting race indeed.

Let's just hope I'll get to see it.  The F1Update! is thus in doubt... if I get the race, we're golden.  If not... well.  We'll just have to play that by ear, won't we?  See you whenever!

UPDATE: Just found out about this!  Y'know how in Canada we had the Montreal Marmot Massacre?  Apparently, Singapore has its own problems, as Embryo Verstappen discovered tonight:

Yes, really. 

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September 15, 2016

Finally!!!


October 5th. 

Hot damn.

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September 13, 2016

F1 on TV: Singapore 2016

Singapore.  The world's only island city-state.  The world's only nation to have independence thrust upon them unwillingly.  The only Asian nation to have had an AAA credit rating for the past decade.  The centerpiece of the Royal Navy's strategy in the Pacific right up until WWII began, home to what was at the time the largest drydock in the world (in case you're wondering, the largest now is owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, at Koyagi/Nagasaki.  At 900 meters long, it's three times the length of Singapore's). 

And it's the home of the 2016 Grand Prix of Singapore, too.  Here's the track map:

Being an island nation that's essentially one big city, there wasn't any room for a purpose-built FIA Class 1 circuit, so they went ahead and did a street circuit.  And, since it's halfway around the world from Europe, it was decided to make it the first night race on the calendar as well.

While there's been a couple more races added that run when the sun goes down, they start when the sun is still up.  Singapore is a helluva track that hasn't coughed up much in the way of great races, to be honest.  There's always a threat of heavy rain, but it's never occurred.  Actually, the weather in Singapore is pretty much the worst the drivers have to deal with all year: always hot, and always really, really humid.  Guys that can do whole races at Spa-Francopants and still look fresh as a daisy come get out of the cockpit in Singapore looking like they've spent the past two hours in a sauna... in a swimming pool... underwater.

Fortunately, we don't have to worry about that, for the Legendary Announce Team will be doing their usual great coverage while we sit in air-conditioned luxury (your local conditions may vary).  Here's the broadcast schedule:
Friday
Practice 2: 830a - 10a live on NBCSN
Saturday
Quals: 8a - 930a live on CNBC
Sunday
2016 Grand Prix of Singapore: 6a - 9a live on NBCSN

All times are Pond Central, your mileage may vary.  Of course, F1Update! will be along after the race... a race where we might actually see a team other than Mercedes on the top step.  The German team has been making noises that they aren't thrilled with their cars here.  Further, Ferrari and Red Bull both prefer these twisty tracks, where raw speed isn't quite as important as nimbleness.  We'll see about that, of course, but... well.

See ya then!

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September 11, 2016

It's Book Review Time!

A while ago, J Greely of .Clue mentioned that an old series of Star Trek books was available in omnibus form, bringing back fond memories of Ensign Rock and Romulan history and much derring-do from characters other than the bridge crew of the Enterprise.  This reminded me that old novels that I haven't thought about in decades were available at the click of a mouse.  I didn't actually act on that information right away, but it was there. 

Somewhat recently, a NPR report mentioned that "Father Andrew Greeley" passed away in 2013.  I knew the name, but I couldn't place it exactly.  When I got home, I hied myself off to google, and suddenly it all came to me... the Writing Priest from Chicago!  Of course.  And I had even read one of his novels, to boot... and remembered enjoying it, too, a very long time ago.  A few clicks later, and it was on its way here.  It took a few days to get to it, but once I did it went quickly and in a pleasant manner.  I last read God Game (1986) when it was only a few years old and some of it is amusingly dated, but despite that it holds together nicely.  The main character is a Chicago Catholic priest that's asked by a relative to playtest a computer game he's working on.  Duke and Dutchess is big, coming on a whopping eight floppy discs, and the "fast" version is designed to run on computers using the new 286 processor.  It's interactive fiction that the player can control, with at least 50 possible endings., limited animation, and a huge vocabulary of commands available.  And if you hook it up to your TV, it's in color, too!  In a small swords & sorcery world, there's two warring nations, ruled by the game's titular characters... and from there, it's up to the player to decide where the story will go.  The first night he starts in on the game, a big thunderstorm rolls in off Lake Michigan, and as he's playing lightning strikes his C-band satellite dish.  When the power comes back on, he finds that the graphics are now exceedingly lifelike, and that the characters now consider him as their God... or something like it, at least.  Suddenly the game has become all too real... imagine a cross between The Sims, Civilization, and a Visual Novel coming to life.

While God Game is primarily a fantasy novel, as you can imagine the philosophical conundrums of playing God (or being an author, which the narrator equates to being the same thing) play a large part in the story.  While interesting, it's the actions of the game's secondary characters that are of the greatest interest.  Their contact with "God" is quite personal, hearing his commands directly when directed at them, so it comes as no surprise that they talk back.  They consider themselves to be worthy of elevation to main character status, and work to get to that point... or not, depending.  But then they start showing up in the Player's bedroom in late night dreams, to have a talk with their God.  One of them has a fondness for Bailey's Irish Creme, but when the narrator wakes in the morning, there's an empty bottle on the end table...  And why do the secondary characters' events in the game start spilling over into the Real World?

In many ways, God Game is a delivery vehicle for a sermon on the perils of hubris and cause & effect.  However, much the way Robert Heinlein couched his lectures in Starship Troopers in an action novel, Greeley succeeds in masking the preaching (pardon the pun) in an entertaining story.  It's light enough fare to read casually, but you get out of it what you put in to reading the book.  There's quite a bit of meat here, particularly if you're a player of RPGs or so-called "4X" titles.  Actually, I wonder if Sid Meier or Wil Wright have read God Game.  It wouldn't surprise me much if they had.  A very good read on many levels.

Similarly, I was doing some research on Scapa Flow, the Royal Navy base in Scotland, when I came across a reference to the Picts.  That reminded me of another book I had read around the same time as God Game, a rollicking bundle of violence and sex called Calgaich The Swordsman.  Unlike the first book I reviewed in this post, however, there's absolutely no philosophy or introspection in this one... nor should there be: it's not that type of novel. 

Calgaich is a part-Celtic, part-Roman swordsman, raised in one world but due to his Roman side, having served in the Roman Auxilaries.  Exiled for killing a fellow warrior, the book begins with him returning to Scotland for the first time in years.  Blood soon soaks the pages as he hacks, slashes, stabs, chokes, spears, punches and kicks his way through Pictish war bands and tribesmen displeased that he killed the son of the now-chief.  He's soon off to Hadrian's Wall to rescue his elderly father, the prior chief, from the hands of the Romans.  Eventually, he is caught and shipped to Rome to become fodder for the Games.  Along the way, he meets other colorful prisoners, all of them skilled fighters, and he's already making plans to escape...

Gordon D Shirreffs was primarily a writer of Westerns novels, churning out more than 80 of them in a career that spanned some 40 years.   Four of his novels were turned into films, including John Wayne's Rio Bravo.   Unsurprisingly, Calgaich has many similarities to a Western, with showdowns of honor, bravery, revenge, and lots of dead bodies left in the dust.  Surprisingly, the book seems rather well researched, not that I know anything about Scottish history or much about the Romans in Brittania.  Shirreffs was Scottish by birth, moving to America in his youth, so it's unsurprising that he knows enough about the history to make it read convincingly.  In the end however, Calgaich is a Conan knockoff, but an entertaining enough one.  In the long run, the book would be totally forgettable save for the historical footnote of being the first novel released by Playboy Press.  I bought this from a used book store while looking for D&D-style books, so the rather lusty sex scenes came as something of a surprise, as did the tone being more realistic than what I was expecting.  It's not a bad book, honestly, but it's pretty much disposable pulp.  I like it more because of the memories I had of it than any particular qualities it may have.  It's certainly worth the $.25 you're likely to spend online for it... leastwise, that's what I spent for it!

So there you have it!  A couple of old novels from the reading history of Wonderduck... enjoy, won't you?

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September 10, 2016

Just For Laffs

I'm working on a couple of reviews, but they're taking longer than I expected to complete.  So, instead of just having the MiniDisc story at the top, I'm going to put some short videos that made me laugh here.

The death of rational discourse in video form.


This edit is almost as good.  Ditto with this one.


Important information we all need to know.

My sense of humor seems to be "low".

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September 08, 2016

Random Anime Picture #123: Obsolete


-ReLife, Ep06
The year was 1994 and Our Hero was working at the Big Blue Electronics Retailer in the music department.  One day, the department head asked if I'd like to spend a day in Chicago with her at a training day.  Well, heck, why not?  I'll get paid for it after all, and probably get a lunch out of the deal to boot.  As we drove in the next day, I asked what the training was on.  "Sony is releasing something new that we're going to be carrying.  Some new music format."  Oh swell, another one.  I quickly changed my tune when the training started, for the format we were talking about was the MiniDisc.

I instantly fell in love with the beast.  Magneto-optical data storage, anywhere from 74 to 80 minutes of re-recordable digital-quality music?  Be still my beating heart!  The more I heard, the more I liked it, and I learned everything there was to know about them that day.  They were, to me, flawless.  Except for a few tiny little problems.  And by "tiny little", I mean "gargantuan monster".

The first was the price.  There were two player/recorders available, one home-based, the other portable, and both were ridiculously expensive.  I mean, when you could buy three or four CD players for the same cost as the home unit, you know there's a problem.  The second was the size.  The home unit was normal, well able to fit in a home stereo system, but the portable?  It was very heavy, to the point that most of the people that bought them just used them at home because... well, it wasn't going to threaten the walkman/discman for portability, y'know?  The final and quite possibly worst problem was available media.  Only a few record labels were supporting the format; when we received our first shipment of pre-recorded MDs, they took up maybe two feet of display space... and that was a sizable percentage of all the MDs ever released.  Meanwhile, CDs and cassettes took up dozens upon dozens of yards of space, with music of any sort you'd care to think of.  Audiophiles loved the thing, though.  We had one guy who bought just about every classical MD we carried, and more besides, for example.  Here's the thing: he was pretty much the only customer we had for the thing.  And at that, we were still one of the top-selling MD stores in the central region of the country.

Eventually we stopped carrying MiniDiscs.  Sadly, it wasn't until the new century that the format started to get attention... just in time for MP3 players and the new thing called the iPod to appear on the market.  Still, Sony kept supporting the thing until 2011, when they finally stopped selling it altogether.  It's still a brilliant piece of kit, though... I wish I had one.  Alas, while that training class did give away a few portable units, I didn't get one.  I still have the Sony messenger bag, though!  Yes, 22 years later, it found a new life... as a case for my laptop. 

Yes, if there was ever a piece of equipment that was just flat-out unlucky, it was the MiniDisc.  Sadly.

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September 06, 2016

Well, I Tell Ya...

A few weeks ago, I had a doctor's appointment.  Mainly it was for the annual drug review... my prescription for the Keep Wonderduck Alive pills had run out... but while I was there, I had a little chat with Dr Red.  I explained to him how I was having problems staying awake at work, how I'd close my eyes and almost immediately almost fall asleep. 

Sure, like most adults in the United States, I don't get enough sleep, but it's not like I'm trying to operate on three hours and a can of Red Bull either.  I don't mind dozing off when I'm at home, but when I could be canned for sleeping on the job, it's kind of a bother.  So Doc Red took a gander down my throat (and how it fit, I'll never know), hemmed and hawed for a short time, then suggested that there's a good chance I have sleep apnea.  Well, that'd explain a lot... if my quality of sleep sucks, the quantity doesn't matter much.

So there's maybe a sleep study in my future sometime... nothing like sleeping in a strange bed while wired for sound with medical-like people watching you.  Actually, there are people who'd pay good money for just that for fun, probably.  Not like I know anything about that or anything.  Nope, not me.  Uh-uh.  But before that, there's something else we're trying: antidepressants.

Yup, I gave up.  I realized that I wasn't getting better mentally, so it was time to start taking the happy pills again.  It's been just over three weeks, and the only effect I've felt so far is the worst case of cottonmouth you can have without being a snake.  But it takes at least that long for it to start taking effect, so... yeah.  There ya go.  The thinking is that if I'm not so depressed, I'll be able to concentrate better and less likely to doze off.  Who knows, it might even work that way!  There is a part of me that feels like I'm a weakling for needing such help, but... well.  Piffle.

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September 04, 2016

F1 Update!: Italy 2016

A beautiful day in Northern Italy greeted the huge throng of racing fans and truly rabid Ferrari supporters known as the tifosi as they did what tifosi do best: be enthusiastic.  The sight of anything red sent them into paroxysms of enthusiasm loud enough to drown out even the loudest of race engines.  The enthusiasm was contagious: with the only living son and heir to Enzo Ferrari, Piero Lardi Ferrari, and Sergio Marchionne, the Chairman and CEO of Ferrari and Fiat-Chrysler, watching from the VIP area of the pit box, Seb Vettel said that the spirit of the crowd alone could will the Red cars to victory.  Such enthusiasm, while admirable, also masked the unease that must have been present in the team's hearts, following Marchionne's pronunciation earlier this week that the 2016 season was "a failure".  When the Aermacchi MB-339s of the Frecce Tricolori swept low over the the Autodromo Nazionale Monza trailing their streams of red, white, and green smoke, clearly it was time.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Italy!

*LIGHTS OUT:  When the Thundering Herd took the lights to start the race, it came as no surprise that a silver car was leading the field into the ridiculously tight first chicane.  What was a surprise was that it was Nico Rosberg, not polesitter Lewis Hamilton, doing the leading.  Hamilton, as he's done multiple times this season, borked the start and was swallowed by the field, falling all the way to sixth in the blink of an eye.  He was not alone in this: Embryo Verstappen saw his Red Bull slip into anti-stall and lose a handful of places, and Esteban!'s HaasF1 had the worst of the bunch, plummeting to dead last as the backmarkers scrambled to avoid him.  The upshot of all this was to give Ferrari a tiny opening that the tifosi could pour all their hopes and dreams into in an attempt to ring the church bells in Maranello.

*TIRE WAR:  After Quals, it was clear that the race had already been decided... the question was, which way would it go?  Mercedes had set their fastest time in Q2 on the Soft compound tires, while Ferrari's drivers were both on the Super-soft.  At least in theory, the Softs would be slower, but last longer, than the Super-soft tires.  With Monza being relatively easy on tires, if Mercedes was careful they could do the race with only one pitstop and a switch to the hardest tire available on the weekend, the Mediums.  Meanwhile, Ferrari would have to make two stops.  Any time disadvantage from making a second run down pit lane would nominally be erased by the faster laps the softer tires would provide.  In fact, the entire field other than Mercedes was on the two-stop strategy.  The problem was that the Silver Arrows were just as fast on the Softs as the rest of the field was on Super-softs, at least in Quals.  Which strategy would work best proved to be the only real drama in the race.

*KISS 'EM GOODBYE:  Hamilton's opening gaffe had handed Nico Rosberg, Hamilton's teammate and rival for the Driver's Championship, a gigantic present delicately wrapped and delivered by a squadron of cherubs on the wing.  He was in the lead and in clean air, while his teammate would have to fight his way past the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo, the Mercedes-powered Williams of Valtteri Bottas, and the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Seb Vettel before he could even think about attacking for the lead...and Rosberg wasn't one to turn from such a present.  While Hamilton got past the Red Bull in one lap, it took 10 more to put Bottas behind him.  In the process, he had fallen eleven seconds behind the leader and trashed his rear tires to boot.  A handful of laps later found him in second place as the two Ferraris each duly headed into the pits for their fresh rubber, but by now Rosberg was over 15 seconds ahead.  Nico pitted on Lap 24 and came back out still in the lead.  Hamilton pitted on Lap 25, and rejoined the race in fourth, behind the two Ferrari drivers.  While this meant that the Brit was functionally in second in the race since the Red cars would have to stop once more, in real life he still had them and their downforce-disturbing dirty air in front of him.  And he had to make up some 12 seconds of time to boot.

*IT WAS EVER THUS:  While Hamilton took fractions of a second off the leader each lap, aided by Rosberg catching up with, and working his way through, the backmarkers, he had to be careful with his tires.  If he pushed them too much too early, not only would he not catch his teammate, he could even lose the advantages of the one stop strategy if he damaged them enough, either by having to slow down or actually making a second stop.  And Rosberg kept on grinding away, free of disturbances or threats. 

*THE END: Ferrari's drivers made their stops, rejoining the festivities in third for Vettel and fourth for Raikkonen.  Even with the fresh rubber, it was clear that they couldn't catch Hamilton... and even more clear was that Hamilton would never catch Rosberg.  A lockup and jump over the curbs in the first chicane late in the race simply guaranteed the one-time polesitter couldn't work any magic.  Rosberg was some 15 seconds ahead of his teammate at the end of the day, while Vettel was only five seconds away in third.  Raikkonen came in fourth.  Smiley Riccardio pulled off the pass of the race late, taking fifth off Bottas in a daring move into the first chicane.  But during the podium ceremony, the tifosi only had eyes for the man in red, their cheers audible in Rome when he was handed the third-place trophy.

not pictured: the rest of Italy covering the front straight.
*THE SURPRISE:  Frustrated by an awful race and an extra pitstop, Fernando Alonso gave McLaren a shock fastest lap.  It was the team's first since 2013, and the first for a Honda-powered car in 24 years, when Ayrton Senna pulled the trick in Portugal, 1992.  It doesn't mean anything, of course, but it's quite the change from what we saw in 2015, when the team had problems even finishing a race.

So that's it from Monza and the European leg of the calendar.  Next up in two weeks, we'll be in Singapore.  See ya then!

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September 03, 2016

F1 Quals: Italy 2016

Oh, hey, hi there, wow look at the time, will ya?  Almost like I lost track of the clock or something and next time I look up, whoa but it's late!  Quals was over ages ago, what were you doing, you crazy duck you!  Honestly, the answer is "nothing of consequence."  Sorry about that... not that we're missing anything, really... here's the provisional grid for the 2016 Grand Prix of Italy:

Pos
Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:21.854 1:21.498 1:21.135
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:22.497 1:21.809 1:21.613
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:23.077 1:22.275 1:21.972
4 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:23.217 1:22.568 1:22.065
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 1:23.264 1:22.499 1:22.388
6 Smiley Ricciardo Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:23.158 1:22.638 1:22.389
7 Embryo Verstappen Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:23.229 1:22.857 1:22.411
8 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1:23.439 1:22.922 1:22.814
9 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 1:23.259 1:22.951 1:22.836
10 Esteban! Haas Ferrari 1:23.386 1:22.856 1:23.184
11 Felipe Massa (Ret.) Williams Mercedes 1:23.489 1:22.967
12 Lettuce Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:23.421 1:23.092
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1:23.783 1:23.273
14 Pascal's Wager MRT Mercedes 1:23.760 1:23.315
15 Jenson Button McLaren Honda 1:23.666 1:23.399
16 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:23.661 1:23.496
17 Kid Kvyat Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:23.825

18 Felipe Not MassaNasr Sauber Ferrari 1:23.956

19 Sony Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1:24.087

20 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:24.230

21 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:24.436

NC False Esteban! MRT Mercedes DNF


First, the important stuff.  Esteban! has brought Haas their first appearance in Q3, and by a goodly margin at the time to boot... he was 7th in Q2, for heaven's sake.  Of course he couldn't do anything in Q3 when it absolutely mattered, because that's when the BIG teams get serious, but it's still quite a nice sight, don'tchathink?  On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, Manor's False Esteban! had engine problems in third practice.  The team thought they had it fixed, but when he went out in Q1 to set a time, he made it all the way to the end of the front straight before it died again.  Disappointing, considering where his teammate ended up.

Now for less amusing news:  two drivers announced their retirements this week.  Felipe Massa is hanging up his helmet after the season.  He racked up 11 wins and 41 podiums for three teams in his 15-year career, the highlight (or lowlight, depending on how you look at it) was 2008, when he nearly won the Driver's Championship, only to have it snatched from him on the last turn of the last lap of the last race of the season.  The following year, he was very nearly killed when he took a damper spring to the helmet in Hungary.  He never regained his winning ways after that, but still proved to be a viable racer worthy of respect on the track.

The other driver to retire is Jenson Button.  Actually, he's only "stepping down from his race seat" for 2017 while continuing to work for McLaren.  He's not against driving again in 2018 however.  His 17-year career included 15 wins, 50 podiums and one Driver's Championship, for BrawnGP in 2009.  Interestingly, his was the last single championship we've had for quite some time... Mercedes now, Red Bull before that, then BrawnGP, McLaren, and Ferrari had one year runs, preceded by Renault.  Before them were the Red years of Ferrari and Schumacher.  I've always considered Button to be the type of driver that can get the most out of a good car and make it great, but can't outdrive a mediocre or bad car.  No shame in that, and there are very few drivers that have accomplished what he's done.  He'll retire as having participated in the second-most F1 races ever, behind only Rubens Barrichello.

Race is in the morning, see ya then!

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August 30, 2016

F1 on NBCSN: Italy 2016

Speed.  Turns and curbs to the contrary, speed is what F1 should be all about.  Go fast, turn fast, fast, faster, fastest.  But we all know and understand that F1 doesn't do raw straightline speed, not like IndyCar or NASCAR or that most quintessential of American motorsport, drag racing.  Their tracks are designed to allow their cars to go as fast as possible and devil take the hindmost.  Oh sure, both IndyCar and NASCAR throw in a couple of road circuits as a filip to those who think that turning right is important, but we all know that racing on a ginormous oval is the One True Way to speed.  The stereotypical F1 fan (aka almost all European F1 fans) sneer at ovals as too simplistic, too easy, too... American... for something as difficult as Formula 1. 

You can hear lips curling in a sneer all the way across the Atlantic.
And then there is La Pista Magica, The Magic Track.  Officially known as Autodromo Nazionale Monza, this has been the home of the Italian Grand Prix essentially forever.  And this legendary circuit is where all the sneering and talking down goes away, because Monza is about nothing more than speed.  Here's the track map:

Yes, there are a few turns thrown in.  For the most part, they are recent additions.  Why, Monza even had a high-banked oval portion to boot.  They would never admit it, but F1 fans know that Monza is an American track at its heart: raw oomph and no finesse anywhere.  One's right foot is to the floor for 80% of the lap, after all... and when it isn't on the floor, it's still pretty darn close to it.  The teams will be breaking 200mph at the end of the front straight, after coming off Parabolica (Turn 11) at about 170mph.  Oh, sure, the track in Mexico is now technically the fastest in F1, but that's all from one long straightaway.  After that, it's twisty and curvy and turny... none of that for Monza.  It's fast everywhere.  Brakes are for other circuits.

Yes, I exaggerate for effect, but it's not that far from the truth.  Teams bring the minimum amount of downforce possible to this place, because downforce slows the cars down and ain't nobody wants that. 

The only thing more ridiculous than the speeds at this Italian circuit are the Italian fans that show up... the rabid tifosi.  Loud, passionate, and not afraid to nick everything team related up to and including tires, cars, and drivers probably.  And woe betide the world if Ferrari ever wins here again... the crowd reaction can only be topped by fans of the Cubs when they win the World Series..  They're what makes Monza such fun... they start cheering before the race starts and doesn't shut up until a few days after the race is over.

It's that unique experience the Legendary Announce Team means to bring us with their usual on-air flair and panache.  No idea if The Varsha will be in Leigh Diffy's seat again, guess we won't know that until P2!  Here's the broadcast schedule:
Friday
Practice 2: 7a - 830a live on NBCSN
Saturday
Quals: 7a - 830a live on NBCSN
Sunday
2016 Grand Prix of Italy: 630a- 9a live on NBCSN

All times, as usual, are Pond Central Time.  Check your local listings for times in your area.  F1Update! will be along after the race... not that we're expecting anything more than another Merc domination.  But we will see, won't we?  Stay tuned!

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August 28, 2016

F1 Update!: Belgium 2016

A surprisingly pretty day greeted the F1 Circus as they took their spots on the starting grid.  It was more than 15°F cooler than it had been all weekend, giving hope that the supersoft tires could last longer than a lap, and that the softs wouldn't develop the spontaneous blisters that'd been forming during the practice sessions.  Polesitter Nico Rosberg had to feel confident that he'd rack up a huge score and close the gap to his rival and teammate Lewis Hamilton, starting last on the grid.  But would the two Ferraris on the second row be able to threaten the Mercedes driver, or could wunderkind Embryo Verstappen, sitting alongside Rosberg, score a surprise?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Belgium!

*LIGHTS OUT:  As the race began, Rosberg made a good start and was clear of his challengers as the Thundering Herd charged into Turn 1, the La Source hairpin.  The same could not be said of the Red Bull of Verstappen, victim of a less-than-swell start.  He was swallowed up by the twin Ferraris of Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.  With the blinding optimism of youth on his side, the 18-year-old Dutch driver decided to try and win the race in the first turn.  Raikkonen was on the inside of Vettel at the apex of La Source, and Verstappen tried to fit himself into the gap between the Finn and the inside barrier.  The resulting kerfluffle saw Vettel sideways in the path of traffic, Raikkonen with damage, and Verstappen needing a new nose.  Bodywork continued to fly from incidental contact throughout the field going into Eau Rouge, with a huge amount of sparks coming from underneath Raikkonen's car from a tire going down.  At the top of the hill,  Jenson Button saw his suspension turned into flinders when rammed from behind by the Manor of Pascal's Wager.  That mostly ended the first lap shenanigans, unless you count Kimi's pitstop where the undertray of the Ferrari caught fire from dragging around the track.

*SAFETY CAR OR RED FLAG?  WHY NOT BOTH!:  The next lap saw Carlos Sainz suffer a puncture and subsequent failure of his right-rear tire.  Unfortunately for his Toro Rosso, the carcass of the tire did not come free.  Instead, it sort of peeled back while part of it stayed attached to the shoulder of the tire.  It immediately began flailing away at the rear bodywork and wing, first bending, then snapping, the wing's upright.

Fortunately for him, the tire blew just after he got through Eau Rouge, otherwise the resulting wreck could have been calamitous.  The same luck could not be applied to the Renault of Kevin Magnussen.  He got a little sideways at the top of the hill and wound up going into the barriers at high speed backwards, ending up nose-first in a tire barrier. 

The Renault was comprehensively destroyed.  The chassis actually twisted along the length of the car, popping the removable cockpit bolster free.  A testament to the safety of a F1 car, Magnussen extracted himself from the remains quickly, showing only a small limp.  After a visit to the track's medical center, he was taken to a nearby hospital for observation and treatment of a cut on his ankle.  To allow the track workers to remove the remains of the car, a Safety Car was summoned.  Much of the field took this opportunity to change tires, getting off the destructing supersofts.  There were, however, a few drivers that stayed out.  Notable among them was the McLaren of Fernando Alonso and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.  These two drivers, with five world championships between them, had formed the final row of the grid due to engine penalties.  They now found themselves fourth and fifth, behind only Rosberg, Red Bull's Smiley Ricciardo, and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg.  After a lap or two behind the safety car, the race was red flagged; Magnussen's impact had damaged the tire barrier to the point that an extensive repair was required.  This stoppage of the race allowed the five drivers that hadn't stopped to change tires essentially for free.

*RESTART TO THE END: The red flag period lasted for 20 minutes, and the free tire change proved to be a godsend for all five drivers.  After Hamilton managed to pass both Alonso and Hulkenberg, within eight laps of the restart, the race settled down into just ticking off the laps.  Ricciardo couldn't close on Rosberg, but neither could Hamilton run down the Red Bull.  Behind them, the Ferraris struggled to regain positions lost during their accident and repair, with Vettel finishing in sixth.  With the third "power team" out of the running, Force India, which has always had good results in Belgium, was able to pull themselves into fourth and fifth.  This unexpected but welcome development pulled them up into fourth in the Constructor's championship, ahead of Williams but behind Ferrari.  So the final result saw Rosberg winning, with Ricciardo, Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Vettel, and Alonso rounding out the top seven.

*THOUGHTS
:  A great track with a promising starting grid should have led to a fun race.  Instead, we actually ended up with a dull tilt, the only excitement coming in the first few laps from the contact and accidents.  This is not why we watch here at F1Update!, either the accidents or seeing the result preordained by the red flag.  Pity.

Next weekend we get the fastest track of the season: Monza and the Grand Prix of Italy.  See you there.

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August 27, 2016

F1 Quals: Belgium 2016

Well, this is a fine kettle of pork.  Here's the provisional grid for the 2016 Grand Prix of Belgium:

Pos
Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:48.019 1:46.999 1:46.744
2 Embryo Verstappen Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:48.407 1:47.163 1:46.893
3 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:47.912 1:47.664 1:46.910
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:47.802 1:47.944 1:47.108
5 Smiley Ricciardo Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:48.407 1:48.027 1:47.216
6 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1:48.106 1:47.485 1:47.407
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 1:48.080 1:47.317 1:47.543
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 1:48.655 1:47.918 1:47.612
9 Jenson Button McLaren Honda 1:48.700 1:48.051 1:48.114
10 Felipe Not Nasr Massa Williams Mercedes 1:47.738 1:47.667 1:48.263
11 Lettuce Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:48.751 1:48.316
12 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:48.800 1:48.485
13 Esteban! Haas Ferrari 1:48.748 1:48.598
14 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:48.901 1:48.888
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:48.876 1:49.038
16 Pascal's Wager MRT Mercedes 1:48.554 1:49.320
17 Felipe Not Massa Nasr Sauber Ferrari 1:48.949

18 Esteban Ocon, Rio Usurper MRT Mercedes 1:49.050

19 Kid Kvyat Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:49.058

20 Sony Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1:49.071

21 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:50.033

NC Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda DNS


Okay, so the first thing that leaps out at you is that Rio Rainbow Gate is no longer on the grid.  It was announced over the summer break that his Indonesian backers hadn't paid Manor in a while, so he was given the boot.  Esteban Ocon will forever be reviled by The Pond as a result.

Okay, no, the real first thing that leaps out at you is that Lewis Hamilton is 21st.  There's a good reason for this, and it involves one of the slicker cases of rules lawyering I've seen in a while.  Here's what's going on.  Hamilton has had a bad case of engine problems this season, to the point that he's already burned through the five sets of power unit components he's allocated, yet has half the season remaining.  That means he automatically gets a 15-spot grid penalty for each new engine he uses for the rest of the year... and the engine in his car now is well-used.  So what some bright spark at Mercedes did is sit down with the Technical Regulations and found a loophole: you get a penalty for each new engine, but the rules don't specifically prevent you from using multiple engines in a race weekend.  That's probably what the spirit of the rules were, but not the word.

"I'll take three... and throw in a pair of sunglasses for my dog." - Lewis Hamilton, probably.
So Hamilton used a new engine in P1, P2, and P3.  In doing so, he racked up 55 grid spots in penalties... and there's nothing stopping the team from dropping another engine in before the race tomorrow, giving him in effect four free engines.  And Mercedes is doing it at a circuit where they are ridiculously strong, so Hamilton is likely to score points despite starting from somewhere near the Spa-La Sauveniere Airport.  It makes Fernando Alonso's 35 spot penalty look weak... he's had engine problems all weekend.

Really, the rest of the grid looks more or less normal.  While Embryo Verstappen looks racy, he's going to be starting on the supersoft tires, while polesitter Nico Rosberg is on softs.  This is going to be a major tire race: most teams chose to load up on the supersofts, with Ferrari using half of their tire allotment on the supersofts, and only bringing one set of mediums to boot.  However, it's been flat-out hot at Spa-Francopants this weekend, high 80s / low 90s... which is practically unheard of for race weekend.  That's disastrous for the supersofts, which weren't even capable of surviving a full qualifying lap before they began to die.  If the weather tomorrow is hot, with the cars carrying a full load of fuel, I expect the supersofts to fail by Turn 1.

In other news, the Ringleader of the Legendary Announce Team, Leigh Diffey, has been absent from P2 and Quals coverage, as he reportedly has a case of diverticulitis.  While Steve Matchett and David Hobbs did a good job in his absence, particularly Matchett, it's clear they need someone to keep control of the conversation.  Which is why NBCSN has a fill-in for the race:

The Varsha.  Ladies and Gentlemen, the Original Legendary Announce Team is back together again.  I'm actually giddy.

Race in the morning.

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August 26, 2016

Revisiting A Figure

Nearly four years ago now, friend Ben from the curiously named Midnight Tease removed a blight from his figure collection sent a thoughtful gift here to The Pond.  Of course, I immediately took photographs... but even as I posted them, I was less than satisfied with the results.  Everything was either too dark or too bright, and Rio deserved better, darnit.  Well, over at the Anime Figures Subreddit, they run a bi-weekly photography contest and this time around the theme is "Smallest Figure".  There's plenty of ways to interpret that, of course, but I went literal... it'd give me a chance to fix one of the Rio shots!  Here's the result:

click the pic for larger MVCD.
Y'know what helps?  Having a camera that can keep up with what your mind sees.  That really makes a difference.  There's some saturation boost, and a "vignette" effect that you would have thought was just lighting if I didn't mention it, but otherwise, that's the picture the way it came off the SD card. 

Yeah, that'll do.

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August 25, 2016

That Was A Day, All Right.

Never mind that I was later than I wanted getting into work... because I was dealing with a stomach upset from dinner the previous night.  Never mind that the claims during work were awful.  Never mind that I was too annoyed at work to enjoy the Cubs game on the radio.  And never mind that dinner tonight was awful... how does one ruin rice in a rice cooker anyway?

No, never mind all of that.  Because I was actually writing something for the blog this evening and was it was coming along quite nicely when the power went out.  It came back after 90 minutes or so, but by that time I had long ago gone to bed.  I noticed when the power came back on... there are enough fans in Pond Central to make the place sound like the EAA Fly-In... but just rolled over and fell back asleep.  Until now, that is. 

Of course, everything I had written was gone.  Thanks, ComEd, for having the power go out to 175 accounts for no reason that anybody there could explain!  And now I'm going back to sleep, because I've still got over three hours before my alarm goes off.  

Yup.  That was a day all right.

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August 22, 2016

F1 on TV: Belgium 2016

Well.  The alarm has gone off, sun is shining through the window, coffee has been imbibed, and no matter how many ways you try to deny it, summer break is over and it's time for the F1 Circus to get back to work.  And that means yours truly has to actually attempt to be clever and witty about something he's covered for 10 years or more.  Fortunately, it's easy to write about this race, for it's the Grand Prix of Belgium, and that means we're at Spa-Francopants!  Here's the track map for this longest of F1 circuits:

It's only 7km long, a mere pittance to the original 15km brute that had a nasty habit of killing the men racing on it.  You sorta have to expect that, what with the "track" actually being public roads, and the only barriers were the occasional haybale.  And trees.  Lots and lots of trees.  Also houses.  While it's be awe-inspiring to see a 2016 F1 car on the old layout, much of the awe would come from wondering just when the driver was going to die.

The chances of that result, it must be said, increases as the quality of the weather decreases... and as Spa-Francoamerican is located in the Ardennes Forest, home of its own little microclimate.  Rain is common, often on one part of the circuit while the opposite side is bone dry.  Makes for fun tire choices, that. 

Speaking of fun, the good Walloons of the Legendary Announce Team will be doing their usual level best to bring us their swell coverage.  Here's the broadcast schedule:
Friday
Practice 2: 7a - 830a live on NBCSN
Saturday
Quals: 7a - 830a live on CNBC
Sunday
2016 Grand Prix of Belgium: 630a - 9a live on NBCSN

Of course, all times Pond Central.  I leave it up to the reader as a test of their mental acuity to figure out how to manipulate the times for their location.  Post no bills.  Of course, some time after the race, the Legendary Crew of F1 Update! will present their usual writeup of variable quality.  Look forward to it, why don't you?

See ya then!

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