April 29, 2011

Ga-Rei Zero ep04: How Could I Have Missed That Joke?

Last night, Pond Central had a visit from The Librarian for our not-quite-weekly night of Chinese food and Japanese animation.  Instead of carrying on with Bamboo Blade (which we'll resume later), I kinda insisted that we watch a different series, one that we can finish in three or four sessions.  That series?

Oh heck yeah!  The Schoolgirl In Black, the Schoolgirl in White, the Rocket-powered Wheelchair of Awesome, Laser Weasels, Pocky, the works!  It's finally out on DVD and Blu-Ray, and of course it joined my collection as soon as it was available.  High art it's not, but it is a fun show. 

What was really enjoyable was watching The Librarian watch it.  From her questions before I hit play, it was clear that she hadn't read the episodic review I did last year (actually, she doesn't come 'round The Pond very often), so I was understandably curious what her reaction would be to Episode 01.  For those of you who don't remember, that's the one where they introduce the cast, put them into two harrowing situations, have them work through the problems in a calm and professional manner, gets you to like them... then the Schoolgirl in Black kills them all off in about thirty seconds.  The Production Staff for Ga-ReiZero even went as far as to make all their pre-airing promotional material focus entirely on the cast of Ep01, so to make their deaths even more of a shock.  The Librarian's reaction when Ep01 faded to black?  "Wait, that's it?  That's the whole show?  It's over?"  I didn't get to have that experience the first time I saw the show as I knew that there was more show coming... if the Production Staff is reading, rest assured that your efforts did not go to waste.  You done good.

Now understand... when Anime Night comes around, The Librarian and I usually watch two or three episodes of whatever show is on our docket, then we call it a night.  This time though, when we hit the end of Ep03, she asked how many episodes were on the DVD.  I said "six," and she replied "I've got time."   We wound up watching all six episodes, which ties a record for us (we saw six episodes of  Kanon '06 a few years back) and I suspect we'll finish up next week.  Definitely a hit.

As we watched Ep04, it dawned on me that I had completely missed a gag in the show...


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April 27, 2011

Status Check

I'm not feeling the whole blogging thing right now, I must admit.  There's a part of me that sees this three week break between F1 races as a little holiday, one that lets me take a mini-vacation from having to spend long hours staring at the computer screen as I try to write something witty.

I know there's a number of you that, for some unknown reason, are eagerly awaiting my write-up for Rio Rainbow Gate! ep03, and I can tell you that I've completed the preliminary work on it... rewatching the episode, screenshots and so forth.  I just need to clear an evening to actually write the darn thing... it'll probably be Friday or (more likely) Saturday. 

Until then, however, I'm going to catch up on some of the other shows running, maybe watch a movie on the DVR, that sort of thing.  I'm not going anywhere, I'm just not into slaving over a hot keyboard right now.  Maybe you can go back and read some of my archives for a day or two?  After nearly six years of The Pond, there might actually be something interesting in there somewhere!

picture unrelated, but magical girls and explosions are always worth posting.

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April 25, 2011

F1 Tids and Bits

While we wait for another 12 days and a few hours to pass before the next race, here's some news from around the F1 world...

First off, excellent news!  Robert Kubica was released from the hospital today, some 10 days earlier than was expected.  While still using a walker from all reports, he's progressing so well that the doctors decided that the best thing for him was to go home for a few days before beginning a new round of therapy.  It was just short of three months ago that he suffered the hideous crash that shattered his right leg, ruined his right elbow, and nearly severed his right hand.  It's still too early to tell if he'll ever be able to get behind the wheel again, but hey, he's walking and his hand is still attached... that's pretty amazing right there.

There's some serious discussion occurring amongst the teams about banning the movable rear wing, aka Drag Reduction System (DRS), for the Grand Prix of Monaco.  This actually makes a great deal of sense.  There really isn't a straight on the circuit worthy of the term, after all.  Further, the layout is so cramped that it's only just barely wide enough for two cars.  Considering that Monaco is pretty much nothing but slow, tight turns, DRS would seem to be flat-out dangerous.  I wonder if they're considering taking KERS out of the mix, too?

The organizers at Abu Dhabi are making some changes to the circuit prior to the race in November.  Amongst other things, they're combining the two left-hand turns 13 and 14 into one big sweeper, widening the chicane at Turns 5/6 so as to allow different lines through the curves, and they're changing the camber on Turn 9.  This is a big one as originally the camber ran opposite the way it should, i.e.,  the outside of the turn is lower than the inside.  Now Turn 9 is going to be much more of a traditional banked turn, allowing drivers to drive around the outside without losing grip.  Using my Crazy MS Paint Skillz, I've mocked up what the trackmap might look like.

Okay, maybe not, but you get the gist.  Should give us a couple more passing areas, that.

Finally, Pirelli is telling us that if we thought the tire wear problems were bad now, just wait until we hit Turkey!  According to the manufacturer, the Istanbul Otodrom's surface is made out of 2-grit sandpaper and broken glass, and the tires will last even fewer laps than normal.  I guess that means the soft tires will last maybe six laps, the hards a dozen, and the super-soft tires would explode the moment the Pirelli trucks reach the paddock.

More as events warrant!

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April 24, 2011

Easter 2011

In your Easter bonnet / with all the frills upon it /
you'll be the grandest duckie in the Easter parade...

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April 23, 2011

43? How'd THAT Happen?

April 23rd is the 113th day of the year.  It is also International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, Independence Day for the Conch Republic, the 351th anniversary of the Treaty of Oliva between Sweden and Poland,  and the birthday of Minoru Shirota, Max Planck, and Oleg Penkovsky.  Youtube had its first video uploaded on April 23rd, 2005.  The ill-fated Soyuz 1 mission launched on this date in 1967.

And a year later, in a hospital somewhere in Chicago, a Wonderduck was foisted upon an unprepared world.  Who knew what that would lead to?

 Birthday candles!

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April 22, 2011

Finally, A Gem For The Spring 2011 Season

A few days ago, I bemoaned how the Spring 2011 season was doing nothing for me.  To be sure, there were a few series that had potential, but nothing had grabbed my attention and made me excited as of yet.  Shows like Nichijou or A Channel, though they should have waist-high batting practice fastballs right down the center of the plate for me, had just failed to engage my interest.

Well, as of last night, that's changed.  There is one show that was so entertaining that it made me I watched not one, not two, but three episodes back to back and make me immediately wish for more.  That show is Hanasaku Iroha.

At its heart, HanaIro is a classic fish-out-of-water story.  Ohana is sent to live with her grandmother by her dissolute mother.  Grandma runs a old-fashioned hot springs inn out in the country, and has been estranged from Ohana's mother for some years.  When Ohana arrives she's told that she's not a guest, she's going to have to work for her room and board.  Our Heroine, a noisy city girl, immediately alienates the other employees with her graceless words and actions.  Slowly coming to the realization that she has to make the best of the situation, she sets about making things right.  Hijinks (and some Japanese rope bondage) ensue.

Obviously Ohana is the straw that stirs the drink, but unless her character has something to work off of, it doesn't much matter how engaging she is.  Fortunately, HanaIro has secondary characters that are the equal to Our Heroine.  An apprentice chef that seriously wants Ohana to die, a quiet waitress that thinks Our Heroine is scary, a martinet Grandmother, a prying head waitress, the heir to the inn (Ohana's uncle), the stoic head chef and his energetic assistant, even the required ancient handyman.  Oh, and the guest that's a failed writer trying to make ends meet via erotic fiction, can't forget about him.

l to r: prying head waitress, apprentice chef, ancient handyman, energetic assistant, stoic head chef,
Our Heroine, quiet waitress.  Not shown: martinet grandmother, uncle, perverted writer.

Everybody can keep up, character-wise, with Ohana, a tribute to this effort by PA Works.  Maybe the show as a whole won't be able to stay at the energy level its been at for the first three episodes, but it's gonna be a blast finding out.  Heck, it made it me laugh out loud a couple of times, is what I'm saying.  Highly recommended.

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April 21, 2011

Trading Paint II: Coming This Summer

Some years ago, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and then-F1 pilot Juan Pablo Montoya got together at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway... and threw each other their car keys.  Gordon wound up giddy as a schoolgirl, Montoya wound up moving to NASCAR.

A month ago, it was announced that there's going to be a sequel this Summer.  From NASCAR, Tony Stewart.  From the F1 Circus... Lewis Hamilton.

And this time, they're going to be at a real circuit: Watkins Glen.  No word if they'll be running the NASCAR layout or the full F1-grade track (my guess is the truncated one), but either way, it's gonna be fun.  I predict that Hamilton will suck, and that Stewart will be in F1 inside of three years.*  As you can imagine, I'll be all over it as soon as it occurs... probably around the time of the GP of Canada.

*note: not really, but I've wanted him, Earnhardt Jr or Kyle Busch to drive in F1 for years, just to set foreign relations back a few centuries.

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April 19, 2011

What's Wonderduck Watching? Spring 2011 Edition

Or, more correctly, "what's Wonderduck not watching?"  I've been a fan of anime for a long time.  I became a diehard fan maybe ten years ago, and was a casual fan for some years before that.  Over the years, my desire to participate in this hobby has been universally high; shows may come and go, both good and bad, but I've always enjoyed the actual watching of them.  Until now.

Which is weird.  Readers of The Pond know my tastes: slice-of-life, romantic comedy, melodrama, that sort of thing.  "Cute girls doing cute things in cute ways" would be a good description of the type of show I generally go for.  Throw in the occasional action-based series that catches my eye at the right time, and you've got me pretty much covered. 

Knowing that, the Spring 2011 season has a good handful of shows that may as well have been written specifically for me.  Yet I find that, not only am I not particularly enthused about them, I'm having a hard time watching whole episodes at a time.

Picture from The World God Only Knows II, which I'm probably not going to watch either.
Let's take a look at what isn't catching my fancy this time around, shall we?


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April 17, 2011

F1 Update!: China 2011

It was a beautiful day in Shanghai, absolutely perfect for a Formula 1 race.  Would it prove to be so for the polesitter Seb Vettel?  Or would one of his rivals prevent him from winning his third race in a row to start the season?  You'll soon find out, because THIS is your F1 Update! for the Grand Prix of China!

*BEFORE:  Prior to the start of a F1 race, cars form up on the grid after taking a "recon lap" of the track.  To prevent teams from holding their cars in the pits until the very last possible instant before a race, they must be off pit lane by 15 minutes prior to race start.  If a car fails to do so, they must start from pit exit and can't move until all the rest of the field passes that point on the track.  Usually this is the home of cars badly damaged during Quals, or that had a last-minute engine failure, or teams like HRT or Virgin, for whom such a handicap will make no difference.  You can imagine the panic felt by McLaren's mechanics, then, when they fired up Lewis Hamilton's car at 20 minutes to go, and fuel began spraying out from under the bodywork.

They had rip the rear panels off the car, figure out what was causing the leak, clean up the spilled gasoline, make sure the MP4-26 was safe to drive, then get Hamilton off of pit lane, all within five minutes.  It turned out that there wasn't a leak; instead, the engine somehow flooded when they engaged the starter.  A liberal application of paper towels to the inside of the car sopped up the fuel that dripped into the bodywork, they made some adjustments to the sprayer rail of the engine, and sent the 2008 World Champion on his way... with some 15 seconds to spare.  They didn't put the rear of the car's body back on until it was on the grid.  No, no stress there.

*DURING:  When the lights went out to begin the 2011 Grand Prix of China, we knew immediately that this was not to be a repeat of the previous two races.  Red Bull's Seb Vettel bogged down off the line, allowing McLaren's Hamilton and Jenson Button to get past him before Turn 1, and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg nearly did so as well.  It took a heroic effort by Vettel to keep his German countryman behind him, fighting him all the way through the Turn 1-2-3-4 complex, and only on the straight before Turn 5 did he shuffle the Silver Arrow back.  By the end of the first lap, Hamilton had opened a one-second gap to his teammate, and nearly three to Vettel.  That's the way it stayed for most of the first stint, Hamilton's lead bulging up to three seconds to Button at one point, then slowly dropping away.  Eventually, both Jenson Button and Vettel passed him, dropping him to third. However, the first strategic play came from the man in fourth place, Rosberg.  He made what seemed to be an early pit stop on lap 13.  Instead of being caused by worn-out soft tires, the team had made the call to bring him in before the soft Pirellis "fell off the cliff".  Then, as everybody else made their first stops, Rosberg ripped off some blazingly quick laps and found himself legitimately in first place.  Button and Vettel made their stops together.  Vettel came out ahead, aided by a major brainfade by the McLaren driver.

"I was looking down at the steering wheel to adjust a switch: when I looked up, I thought I was in my pitbox, but then I saw the Red Bull pitcrew in front of me," said Button, who had to roll slowly forward into his own box while Vettel slid smoothly into his.  That small delay was enough to get the Red Bull driver out first. 

*MEANWHILE:  Red Bull's Mark Webber started the race in 18th, after a miserable qualifying session caused by electrical, mechanical and KERS problems prevented him from doing much.  Starting the race on the hard tires, he slipped back to 20th after his first pit stop on lap 11.  However, one unexpected benefit of his problems in Quals was that he had a full three sets of completely fresh soft Pirellis to use in the race.  Getting his required stint on the hard tires out of the way early proved to be a masterstroke, as Webber began to climb his way through the field.  It became obvious that the fight up front was so intense that everybody else was going to be using their hards on their last stints, giving Webber an interesting advantage... if he could get close enough to the frontrunners to use it.  That was a mighty big "if", however, being as far back as he was. 

*MIDRANGE:  Nico Rosberg had driven a fantastic race, leading the more heralded Vettel, Hamilton, Button and Ferrari's HWMNBN and Felipe Massa for a good spell on the strategic decision to pit "off-sequence," taking advantage of fresh rubber to slip past opponents who had dying tires.  While that was a genius-level call, it would mean a longer final stint on the hard tires than the others, as his last set of softs would go away with more laps remaining.  Realizing this, team principal Ross Brawn made another strategic decision: Rosberg would be on a two-stop strategy while all around him would be making three.  This would, in theory, save him the 25 seconds needed for the roll down the pit lane and should give him a comfortable margin of error.  Rosberg made his final stop from the lead on lap 40, coming out in third, just ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and just behind Felipe Massa, while Seb Vettel, fighting a dead KERS unit and unable to speak to his pit crew due to a failing radio, led the race with 16 laps to go.

*MEANWHILE PT II:  Mark Webber was driving like a man pissed off at the world.  By lap 40, he was in seventh after making his last pit stop for fresh soft tires.  Sixteen laps on softs was proving to be doable, though there'd be something of a dropoff in grip later in the run.  On the plus side though, they had proven to be just over a second a lap faster than the hard tires that everybody else was on.  The angry Aussie set to work.  By lap 51, the standings were Vettel, Hamilton, Button, Rosberg and Webber... a miraculous drive by any stretch.  The top five positions were covered by only nine seconds.

*ENDGAME:  One thing you almost never see in F1 anymore is a pass for the lead late in the race, unless there's a breakdown on the leader's car.  While Vettel's KERS unit had died, it doesn't appear to have worked much during the race in any case, so we here at F1U! aren't counting that.  So it came as a pleasant surprise when Lewis Hamilton swept past the 2010 World Champion on lap 52 for the lead, a lead he would never relinquish.  It came as an even bigger surprise when Mark Webber, who you may remember started from 18th on the grid, caught and passed Nico Rosberg for fourth.  To be fair, Rosberg's tires had given up the ghost, but still.  Then our collective jaws dropped even farther when Webber set sail after Jenson Button for third.  On lap 54, the dislocation of our mandibles became total when the Red Bull driver cleanly dispatched Button.  The checkered flag flew with Hamilton five seconds ahead of Vettel, who was a mere two seconds ahead of his teammate, bringing to an end a frantically exciting race, one of the best dry races we've had in the seven year history of F1U!

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  From 18th to third and fast lap of the race?  Oh yeah, Mark Webber gets this one going away.  Considering the relative pace between Webber and winner Hamilton at the end, if the Grand Prix of China had been 60 laps long instead of the regular 56, there's very little question that we'd be talking about the greatest single race performance of all time right now.  Instead, it's merely fantastic.  Honorable mention goes to Nico Rosberg for nearly making a brilliantly flawed strategy work.  Not his fault the tires fell off the cliff.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  While McLaren finished 1st-4th and Red Bull 2nd-3rd, that third place finish came from a driver who was as low as 20th at one point.  Yeah, that worked pretty well, giving the team a huge haul of unexpected points.  Now they've got until Turkey to figure out their KERS problem.  That's a scary thought.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  While there were plenty of more exciting passes during the race, none were more important than Lewis Hamilton's against Vettel on lap 52.  He'd been harrying the Red Bull driver for most of a lap, parking his McLaren right under the rear wing of the World Champion's car all the way through the Turns 1-2-3 complex.  He then made his move on the short run to Turn 4.

It was almost as if Vettel wasn't expecting a passing attempt at that point, as it wasn't until the very last moment that he even reacted with a blocking manuever, and that came when it was too late to do any good.  Hamilton swept past into the lead for his first win of the year.

*MOOOOOOO-OOVE OF THE RACE:  Two candidates this time.  The first, Jenson Button's attempt to become the third Red Bull car, we've already seen.  While that cost him a place at the time, it probably didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things.  For Toro Rosso's NKOTT, a pit blunder ended his race.  Pitting on lap 10 from 12th place, the pit stop seemed to be routine... indeed, we got to see all of it from the point of view of a camera looking back at the right-rear of the car, which was pretty neat.  The director stayed with that view as the car rolled out and back onto the track, at which point, an eagle-eyed viewer might have noticed that right-rear tire seem to wobble... but it might have been the stripe Pirelli had painted on the soft tire.  A few moments later, it was obvious that it wasn't the stripe.

No, the tire made a mad dash for freedom.  Only a catch fence kept it from making its way into the wilderness outside of Shangahi.  Upon reviewing the video, it looks like the tire-gunner for that wheel never engaged the locking pin that prevents the wheel nut from working free after the tire change.  Some teams have gone to pins that are engaged by the gun itself so take care not to read too much into that, but either way it seems appropriate that Toro Rosso has earned themselves a Moooooo-oove of the Race.  Olé!



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April 16, 2011

F1 Quals: China 2011

Well, that was interesting.  A cloudy, chilly day greeted the teams as they got ready for the all-important Quals session at Shanghai.  That'd make getting heat into the tires a challenge, something the Ferraris have been having problems with anyway.  So how'd it work out?  Let's take a look at the provisional grid for the 2011 Grand Prix of China:

Pos Driver Team Q1Q2Q3
1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:35.674 1:34.776 1:33.706
2 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:35.924 1:34.662 1:34.421
3 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.091 1:34.486 1:34.463
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.272 1:35.850 1:34.670
5 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:35.389 1:35.165 1:35.119
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:35.478 1:35.437 1:35.145
7 NKOTT STR-Ferrari 1:36.133 1:35.563 1:36.158
8 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:35.702 1:35.858 1:36.190
9 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:36.110 1:35.500 1:36.203
10 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:35.370 1:35.149 No time
11 Adrian F'n Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:36.092 1:35.874
12 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.046 1:36.053
13 Gandalf Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.147 1:36.236
14 Slappy Schumacher Mercedes 1:35.508 1:36.457
15 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:35.911 1:36.465
16 Grizzly Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:35.910 1:36.611
17 Vicar Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1:36.121 1:36.956
18 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:36.468

19 Heikki Kovalaineninnie Lotus-Renault 1:37.894

20 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1:38.318

21 Custard d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1:39.119

22 Timo Glockenspiel Virgin-Cosworth 1:39.708

23 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1:40.212

24 Narain Kittylitter HRT-Cosworth 1:40.445

Q1 107% Time

The obvious shocker here is that Mark Webber was knocked out in Q1.  He'd been having electrical problems during Saturday's 3rd practice session, his KERS system failed (again) in Q1, and he only used hard tires during the 20 minute session.  Despite that, he should have been able to do better than 18th, but there he is.  The cold temps never allowed his tires to heat up sufficiently, I guess.  On the bright side, he'll have three untouched sets of soft tires for the race.

Then Quals got exciting for a different reason.  With about three minutes left in Q2, Vitaly (The Red Menace) Petrov turned in the fourth-fastest time of the session when his gearbox suddenly contained nothing but neutrals and hate.  Unable to get his car off the circuit, Charlie Whiting had no choice but to throw the red flag with 2:02 left in the period.  Back in the paddock, consternation reigned.  You see, a number of teams had kept their cars in the garage to conserve tires... including Petrov's teammate, Grizzly Nick Heidfeld.  Felipe Massa also hadn't turned a lap yet.  When the circuit was reopened, pretty much everybody other than the McLarens and Seb Vettel, all of whom were secure in their positions, poured out for one desperation hot lap.  When it was all over, Grizzly Nick was on the outside looking in, unable to get his tires to heat up sufficiently.

Q3, of course, belonged to Vettel's Red Bull while his teammate fumed in the garage.  After Vettel's lap, Button and Hamilton turned one hot lap each, then parked to conserve tires for the race... almost like they were conceding they couldn't catch the young German and the race would be for second place.

That's concerning.  If the team with the best chance of catching Red Bull just gives up, what's to keep the season from turning into a complete rout?  Eesh.

Race tomorrow, and F1U!'ll be all over it.  See you then!

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April 15, 2011

F1 Practice: China 2011

In the past, whenever there's been a Grand Prix approaching in Shanghai, the Chinese authorities have made the various factories in the area shut down.  This year, that didn't happen.

That's not fog making things in the distance look all hazy and indistinct, it's air pollution.  I can only imagine what it'd be like to breathe that when you're pulling 5Gs around a track... and what about the engines?  They're normally aspirated, I'd assume that there's some small loss of performance involved.

Pray for rain, ere Vettel run away again.  In P1, he was a half-second faster than his teammate Mark Webber... and two seconds faster than anybody else.  In P2, he was only a couple of tenths faster than the McLarens.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the practice sessions, truth be told.  Cars drove around, Grizzly Nick Heidfeld crashed his Renault twice (once each session), the tires look to be failing even faster than they did in Malaysia, and the smog makes it look like the racetrack was built on a moor.

Oh wait, it was.  Well, swampland at least.  As we've learned from tracks like Interlagos, when you build on or near water (i.e., filled swamp), you have problems with the track surface.  I gather that they had some problems with subsidence over the past year, as there are new sections of asphalt scattered all over the circuit.  Didn't seem to be causing any problems, though.

The tires seem to have picked up a new, unpleasant, trait: the rears seem to work great... right up until the point where they lose grip and snap the cars in random directions.  We were seeing that all day; it looked like the drivers had no idea if or when they were pushing too hard.  The first indication they had was when the car suddenly was pointing against the direction of traffic.  Yeek.  And, like in Malaysia, the soft tires may as well just be jelly-donuts after a couple of laps.  The hard tires aren't much better.  I suspect that Pirelli is gonna be hearing even more complaints right quickly.

Quals tomorrow.

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Rio Rainbow Gate! The Lost Reviews: Ep02

(Wonderduck's note: my internet connection went down again, just before I finished this.  It was supposed to go up Thursday night... the best laid plans of ducks and men...)

I do not believe I'm doing this.  I thought I had finished with these things, but somewhere in the back of my mind, there was a little figure in a shrimp costume that keep nagging me: "You've left something incomplete."  Sure enough, back when RRG! first started airing, I reviewed Ep01, made a brief comment for Ep03, then carried on every week from there.  But I never did a full writeup for Ep02, and Ep03 deserves one as well, if only because of that's when Rina joins the cast.  So sit back, relax, buckle in and strap it down, because I'm going back into hell.  I'm going back to Casino Island.  I'm going back to...

Do not pray for my immortal soul, friends, for it's already been damned to suffer eternal torment by viewing this show.  Just spare a thought for the agonies I am about to endure for your enjoyment, and when you think of me... think well.


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April 14, 2011

Internet Is Down

Just a quick post before my workday begins... the internet provider for The Pond and its surrounding environs reports that there is a general failure in the area.  As a result, there is zero internet at The Pond, the apartment complex Pond Central is part of, and indeed, a not-insignifigant part of Duckford that is serviced by said provider.

Blogging may be non-existent for a while... or it may be back up when I get home.  We'll see.

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April 11, 2011

F1 on SPEED!: China 2011

From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Shanghai, China is 2307 miles, or roughly a six hour flight.  That's just a hop, skip and a jump for the F1 Circus, and that's why we've only got our first back-to-back races of the season.  This weekend sees them racing at Shanghai International Circuit, yet another of the interminable Tilke tracks.  Let's take a look at the map, shall we?

Last year, I was somewhat... rude during the "F1 on SPEED" entry, but was forced to eat my words (or lack of them) after the actual race, a chaotic affair that earned the honorable mention for Race of the Year in the 2010 F1U! Awards.  It brought us both the Move of the Year and the Mooooo-oove of the Year as well.  Amazing what a little rain can do... it can turn even a Tilke track into one of the most exciting layouts!

Okay, I'm done gushing.  The last three races here have all been run in the wet; this made them exciting, but that's in spite of the track, not because of it.  Fortunately, the forecast is for rain this time around, too... just like Malaysia.  *sigh*  I dunno, flip a coin and let me know how it turns up, okay? 

Of course, the good people of SPEED will be providing all LIVE coverage for this race... no more "plausibly live" coverage of Quals anymore!  It all starts Thursday night from 9pm to 1030pm, with streaming coverage of 1st Practice... maybe we'll get another locked wheel or something exciting like that!  P2 comes along from 1am to 240am Friday morning on SPEED itself.  P3 is streaming from 10pm to 11pm Friday night, in preparation for Saturday's Quals session from 1am to 230am.

Then comes the big one, the 2011 Grand Prix of China, live from 130am to 4am Sunday morning!  There's probably a replay, but I can't be arsed to find out when it is.  Heh.

Of course, all times are Pond Central.  Add an hour if you're in Atlanta, subtract two if you're in San Francisco, and if you're on the Moon, add 1.29 seconds (assuming your base is directly over either The Pond), more or less.  Hope you have a lot of oxygen bottles.  Drop me a line, will ya, I'd like to hear from The Pond's first off-planet reader!

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April 10, 2011

F1 Update!: Malaysia 2011

The skies overhead were dark gray, heavy and humid, the ambient temperatures around 90 F... thoroughly unpleasant conditions for man and machine both.  But would the rain come and throw the race into a tizzy?  Or would tires, short-lived and prone to failure, prove to be defining aspect of the race?  You're about to find out, because THIS is your F1U! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Malaysia.

*THE WEATHER:  Surprisingly, the leaden skies never opened up.  Other than a brief sprinkle right around the first pitstops, the race was run entirely in the dry.  Of course, the timing of the sprinkles made for some tense moments up and down the pit lane.  If a car came in for Inters and it stayed dry, that would be a wasted stop and a few laps run on slow slow tires.  However, if a car stayed on slick tires and it began to rain, you're going to be turning laps 45 seconds slower than everybody else... if you can keep it on the track in the first place.  Lots of crossed fingers, dice rolling, and coin flipping later, everybody made the right guess.

*THE TIRES:  The combination of high temperatures and abrasive track surface made life hell on the Pirelli tires.  Three stops were the norm today, four stops were not unheard of... though Gandalf Kobayashi managed to do the race on a two-stopper. 

That's what the track looked like around Lap 40.  That black stuff is known in the business as "clag," and it's what comes off the tires as they wear.  You can see there's a clean line, but get off that you're taking your life in your own hands... literally.  Your traction goes away fast when you're driving on little balls of rolled-up rubber.  Unfortunately, it only took a few laps for the clag to build up to problem levels.  While passing did occur today, it was mostly at the end of the back straight where there was no clag to speak of.

*THE RACE:  Once the lights went out, Seb Vettel ran away and hid.  Again.  By the end of a very busy first lap that saw Grizzly Nick Heidfeld jump into second place, Mark Webber drop to 10th, and everybody else jumbled up, Vettel had a two second lead.  However, he never got farther ahead than nine seconds during his cruise to victory, and spent most of it about five seconds in front of second place.  That's good... except some of that might have been because neither Red Bull had a working KERS system; Vettel had overheating batteries and couldn't use his after Lap 25, while Webber's went into shutdown mode on the recon lap.  Explains his horrid start.  Behind Vettel, the race was one of the more confusing things we here at F1U! had ever seen.  The multitude of pitstops made keeping accurate track of what was going on nigh impossible. 

*AFTER THE RACE:  McLaren's Lewis Hamilton had a bad day.  Starting in second position, he got stuck behind Grizzly Nick Heidfeld for some 14 laps, ran out of soft tires at the halfway point, spent half of the contest on the slower hard tires and stumbled all the way down to seventh.  At one point though, he was in third, being harried by Ferrari's HWMNBN, who was faster at that point in the race.  Hamilton made two defensive moves to protect his position against a passing attempt by the Spaniard, who then clipped the McLaren coming out of the next turn.  This sent the Ferrari to the pits for a new nose.  Both drivers were brought before the Stewards post-race and handed 20sec. time penalties... HWMNBN for hitting Hamilton, Hamilton for his swerves.  This penalty kicked Hamilton from seventh to eighth, while HWMNBN did not lose a position.  F1U! thinks the penalties, while awfully ticky-tack, were both legit.  We have yet to see Hamilton's swerving, though we've looked at the video a number of times, and the contact between the two sure looked like a racing incident to us.  So it goes.

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Grizzly Nick Heidfeld had a heck of a start, jumping from sixth to second by the second turn.  He then grimly held off all comers for most of the race while Seb Vettel could never quite get away from him.  In the end, he wound up on the third step of the podium after holding back a hard-charging Mark Webber for four laps at the end of the race.  Good job, Griz!

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  Red Bull.  The death of their KERS unit made Webber's start understandable.  His fight back up the order to finish fourth was impressive, and Vettel's runaway victory despite the lack of KERS had to have cold chills running down the back of every team in the pit lane.  Honorable mention to Renault for their second podium in two races. 

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  After Lewis Hamilton pitted on Lap 14, he returned to the race in 7th position, right behind Seb Buemi's Toro Rosso in 6th and the Mercedes of Slappy Schumacher.  With fresh tires, he was surely faster than either, but approaching the long final straight, he had a decision to make.  Would he hang back, protect his tires, and get past them when they pitted?  Or did he risk burning his last set of soft tires off the rims by asking them to help him pass both cars?  Since this is Lewis Hamilton we're talking about, the answer should be obvious.

Using the aerodynamic tow of the two cars ahead, he slingshotted past Buemi, pulling even with Slappy.  However, neither driver really wanted to give up their positions without a fight.

Slappy moved to the right to push Hamilton onto the dusty side of the circuit.  This let Buemi, also slipsteaming, attack to the other side of the Silver Arrow.  Three abreast they came down to the final turn... who would blink first?

As it turned out, the seven-time World Champion, pinched between two drivers young enough to be his sons, backed out, then dove into the pits.  Hamilton gained two positions, Buemi one, and all three impressed by not turning their cars into smoking piles of carbon fiber.  Hamilton gets the MotR, but all three could share it.

*MOOOOOOOOO-OOOVE OF THE RACE:   Here's something you don't see every day...

That's right, the steering column of The Red Menace's Renault is completely disconnected from the car.  Fortunately his brakes still worked so he could bring his car to a relatively safe halt off-track.  But what caused his steering to break?

Yeah, that'll do it.  Petrov ran wide into a turn and wound up going agricultural.  He thought he could keep going at full speed across the grass... he was wrong.  Remember, F1 cars are totally unsprung, and the driver doesn't have a seat; they sit on the floor of the cockpit.  The landing must have really, really hurt... maybe the Mooooooo-ooootR will ease the pain.



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April 09, 2011

F1 Quals: Malaysia 2011

In Australia, Seb Vettel and Red Bull blew the rest of the field away on his pole lap to the tune of 8/10ths of a second.  He then went on to run away and hide from everybody during the race.  But could he continue that dominance in Malaysia, or could McLaren, Ferrari or even the resurgent Renaults kick the World Champion in the shins?  Let's look at the provisional grid for Sunday's Grand Prix of Malaysia:

Pos Driver Team Q1Q2Q3
1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:37.468 1:35.934 1:34.870
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.861 1:35.852 1:34.974
3 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:37.924 1:36.080 1:35.179
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:37.033 1:35.569 1:35.200
5 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:36.897 1:36.320 1:35.802
6 Grizzly Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:37.224 1:36.811 1:36.124
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.744 1:36.557 1:36.251
8 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:37.210 1:36.642 1:36.324
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:37.316 1:36.388 1:36.809
10 Gandalf Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.994 1:36.691 1:36.820
11 Slappy Schumacher Mercedes 1:36.904 1:37.035
12 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:37.693 1:37.160
13 NKOTT STR-Ferrari 1:37.677 1:37.347
14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:38.045 1:37.370
15 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:38.163 1:37.496
16 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:37.759 1:37.528
17 Adrian F'n Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:37.693 1:37.593
18 Friar Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1:38.276

19 Heikki Kovalaineninnie Lotus-Renault 1:38.645

20 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1:38.791

21 Timo Glockenspiel Virgin-Cosworth 1:40.648

22 Custard d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1:41.001

23 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1:41.549

24 Narain Kittylitter HRT-Cosworth 1:42.574

Q1 107% Time

All Skate, ladies and gentlemen, everybody All Skate!  Not only did HRT make the field, but even Kittylitter made it with nearly a second to spare.  Vitantonio Liuzzi was actually closer to the Virgins than he was to his own teammate.  A rousing round of applause to the tiny team from Murcia, everybody... HRT has officially joined the 2011 F1 season!  This bodes well for the rest of the season, at least as far as having a full grid goes.

Now for the important stuff.  Yes, Seb Vettel took pole position, but the difference has been much reduced.  .104 of a second is a much more manageable margin to deal with for the rest of the field to deal with in comparison to the sound thrashing handed out at Australia.  I think we're seeing a repeat of the Red Bull RB6 with this year's RB7: great in the corners, great under braking, but not quite as fast on the straights.  For you WWII buffs out there, the RB6 was the Mitsubishi A6M Zero of the F1 world: nimble, but not as fast as, say, the F6F Hellcat.  Australia isn't the fastest circuit in the world with no true high-speed zones to speak of, and so would play right into the RB7's strengths.  Malaysia, with its two gigantically long straights, would be more to the favor of the McLarens of the world. 

However, there is an ominous side to all of this for the rest of the field.  Vettel only put in 12 laps for the entirety of Quals.  In comparison, Hamilton did 19, Webber 17, Button 15, and HWMNBN 14.  On a circuit that's proving to be murder on the new Pirellis, those laps not turned on his tire allotment might make a small but crucial difference in the race.

Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, the top five spots on the grid fall exactly the same way they did in Australia.  Heck, even the sixth spot is held by a Renault, just like in the first race of the year, though this time driven by Grizzly Nick Heidfeld rather than The Red Menace.

So there you have it, folks.  We might just have ourselves a race tomorrow, depending on who makes it to Turn 1 first, and how much of a lead he has.  F1 Update! will be here Sunday... see you then!

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April 08, 2011

F1 Practice: Malaysia 2011

Nothing particularly exciting to report from the 2nd Practice session, to be honest, so it's time to discuss some goings-on in the F1 world while I wait for P3 to begin streaming.

First up, if you didn't believe your eyes when you saw the picture of Renault's massive flat spot, when Grizzly Nick Heidfeld had a brake lock-up on him, here's more proof:

Would have ground the tire down even farther if the bottom of the car hadn't've stopped it.  It turns out that the both Renaults had the same problem: defective uprights.  The upright is the part that lets the wheel assembly attach to the suspension.  It's what the brakes mount to, it's where the wheel hub sits, etc etc etc.  On a street car, the wheels mount to the axle; on a F1 car, the point of contact is the upright.  Renault thinks they had a bad manufacturing batch, which is why both cars had the same type of failure on the same day.  It manifested itself differently, of course (Heidfeld's caused the brake to lock, Petrov's was more severe, causing a high-speed failure of the suspension), but the same part was to blame.  Replacements were tested, installed, and both cars were back on track late in P2.

Custard d'Ambrosio's suspension failure was tracked to a clevis bracket that attached one of the suspension's rods to the body of the car.  The damage done was severe enough that he never got into P2.

What I thought was a transmission problem for Ferrari early in P1 turned out to not be so.  The team was doing aerodynamic testing of some piece or another, and required the cars to circulate at a specific speed all the way around the track... ergo, no upshifting.  Allegedly.

Narain Kittylitter's smoking HRT turned out to be nothing more than a really bad oil leak.  No blown engine, which is good news for the team.  When Vitantonio Liuzzi's car came to a halt on track in P2, nobody was quite sure why.  Turns out his gearbox got a little cornfuzzled when he took a curb a little too enthusiastically.  That sort of thing can happen to any car at any time... the shock transmitted itself to the gear selector and in lieu of trying to engage two gears at once (bad, leads to a gearbox full of neutrals) it decided to engage nothing and go into petulant child mode (not great, but a lot better than a handful of metal shavings).

The tires really are having problems at this track.  At one point during P2 track temps were well above 120°F, which improved grip but accelerated wear.  The abrasive surface at Sepang is also causing the tires to wear faster; look for three stops for sure, barring weather.  Speaking of weather, everybody is expressing surprise at the lack of rain so far, while commenting that every day the teams have been in Malaysia, it has rained at 4pm local time.  Both quals and the race will be in progress at 4pm on their respective days.

Quals tomorrow morning, see you then!

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April 07, 2011

F1 Practice 1: Malaysia 2011 (LIVE)

Well, this is turning out to be more exciting that I thought!  I brought up speedtv.com's live streaming feed of Practice 1 from Malaysia, wanting to get reacquainted with the circuit and hoping to catch a glimpse of the HRTs maybe making their first laps of the 2011 season.  And indeed, HRT brought out Narain Kittylitter 19 minutes into the session.

That went well.

Okay, oops, blown engine, right?  It's worse than that: the engine was smoking like it had just elected a Pope as he pulled out of his pit stall.  Now, it's not uncommon for a F1 engine to squirt a little oil onto the exhaust or some other hot thing in the back of the car, particularly at the start of a session (Mark Webber's Red Bull did just that at... the Aussie GP? in 2010, for example... race began, he began to move, and poof! Big cloud of smoke.).  But this time, the HRT kept on smoking as it rolled down the pit lane, into Turn 1, through Turn 2, around Turn 3... you get the picture.  Eventually, Kittylitter called back to the pit wall: "There's a lot of smoke."  Pit wall, sounding depressed: "Switch it off, Narain."  A few minutes later, Vitantonio Liuzzi came out, put in an installation lap (to make sure everything worked), then went right back in.  So we might be seeing a HRT in Quals, and the chances are good that there won't be a single insect anywhere near the track afterward!

Then Felipe Massa brought out his Ferrari.  It all sounded fine until he hit fourth gear (maybe 5th)... then he started bouncing off the rev limiter and couldn't shift up.  Into the pits he went, and out came HWMNBN... who had the same thing happen, in the exact same place on the track.  As of this writing, with 33 minutes left in the session, neither has re-emerged from the pits.

Then Grizzly Nick Heidfeld brought his Renault out onto the circuit.

"Okay," I hear you saying, "he locked up a tire going into a turn, so what?"  One little problem: that's not a braking zone he's in.  There's no commentary from the Legendary Announce Team (or anybody else, for that matter), so I can only speculate, but it sure looked like one of his brakes just decided to clamp on unbidden... and stay on.  For almost an entire lap.

Yup, now that's a flat spot.  That screencap is from towards the end of the lap, after a good portion of the tire has been ground away.  Note the position of the "R" and "NH" on the sidewall in the two pictures... that tire hasn't moved a whit.  By the time The Grizzly One made it into the pits, he was leaving a trail of sparks and debris behind him as the FIA legality plank was quickly rendered into its component atoms and carbon fiber began to be shed.  Eesh.

Vitantonio Liuzzi just posted a timed lap in his HRT!  Okay, yes, it was seven seconds slower than the fastest of the session, but he put in a timed lap!  Actually, seven seconds off the pace isn't so terribly bad, all things considered...

More tomorrow evening.

UPDATE:  No sooner had I typed that last sentence than Renault's Vitaly Petrov set off on a hot lap... and had a little tire problem of his own.

He did say on the radio that "the suspension, it was break (sic)," so take that for what it's worth.

More if someone else has something go bad.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  No sooner had I typed that sentence than Virgin's Custard d'Ambrosio had a suspension failure of his own.

One begins to notice a trend occurring, doesn't one?  I'm beginning to wonder if there's something wrong with this batch of Pirellis... I suppose an imbalanced tire could cause suspension damage, but you'd think the teams would have noticed that.  Guess we'll have to wait on that one.

The session is over now, so I won't have the chance to cause any more incidents by saying  "I'll have more tomorrow."  Yeesh...

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April 06, 2011

Random Anime Picture #61: Not Looking Good

It isn't every day an anime tells you what it thinks about itself in the first minute of the first episode...

-Sengoku Otome Momoiro Paradox, Ep01

I'd love to tell you what's going on in SOMP, but I came to the first eyecatch and realized I expected the show to be ending at that point.  When 12 minutes feels like 24, that is not a good sign.  There's a movement afoot to make this show the next RRG!-esque Bad Anime Reviews.  I don't think I can take that right now... let me have some time to regrow the dead brain cells, huh?

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April 05, 2011

Rio Rainbow Gate! Final Thoughts

Before I get started, let me make one thing perfectly clear: Rio Rainbow Gate! is not a good anime series.  I don't even think I can manipulate things in a way to even make it "average."  It's just not good.  That's all there is to it.

Having said that, let me try and explain just exactly why I not only watched all thirteen episodes, but spent hours on episodic reviews for each one.  This is going to come as quite the shock to anybody who's read those writeups, but I gotta admit... I think I actually liked RRG!.  In my review of the first episode, I described a concept known as "fun-bad."  Fun-bad is a point in which something is so terrible that it's fun to experience.  I used the 2010 Chicago Cubs as an example; losing a pop fly in the sun is bad.  Losing a pop fly in a gatorade bucket is fun-bad.  I also said that RRG! blew past fun-bad so quickly that it never acknowledged the existence of such a possibility.  In that, I was wrong. 

RRG! has a sense of the ridiculous about it that it seemed to embrace, intentionally or otherwise, as the show went on.  Stupidly over-the-top card games were just the beginning.  Supernatural possession, holographic space sharks, flying hotels, magical spells that only affect things made in China, giant water slides as casino games, headless androids, tentacle monsters, and many many things more... all of this is not only not uncommon in Rio's World, but not even thought of as strange.  It's a world where people can walk around in a shrimp costume and not be looked at twice.

As much as I joked about how the show didn't have a plot and any attempt to add one should result in extreme measures being taken against the Production Staff, there actually was one... and an evolving one at that.  What started out as a "gotta-catch-em-all/monster-of-the-week" thing with the Gate battles (each one more over-the-top that the preceding) turned into a story of revenge, betrayal and redemption with the inclusion of Rina.  To be sure, it wasn't a deep plot by any means, but it did become something slightly thicker than your average sheet of paper.  Praising with faint damns, I know, but there you are.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't really have a reason for liking RRG! other than the awe-inspiring level of stupid that pervades every frame of the series.  Anime, like everything else in life, doesn't have to be Art to be entertaining.  In fact, I'd place RRG! as my second-favorite series of the Winter anime season, behind only Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  It certainly ranks far above shows like Fractale and Kore Wa Zombie Desu Ka, two series that had a lot of promise that flamed out spectacularly.  RRG! had no such pretensions, and rose above my expectations.  To be fair, I had nothing but disdain for RRG! so that's no great achievement, but it's better than a kick in the teeth.

Oh, who am I kidding?


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