May 31, 2011

Blue Angels Stand Down

As long-time readers of The Pond are aware, my apartment (known as Pond Central) is just a few miles from Duckford International Airport.  Every year, the Duckford AirFest is held there, sometime during the summer months.  The past two years, the headlining act at AirFest has been the USAF Thunderbirds.  Let's face it, as far as headliners go, that's awfully hard to beat, and I got some great pictures of them last year.

But when the organizers of AirFest announced some months ago that they had nabbed the US Navy's Blue Angels for this year's show, and that they'd be performing on June 4th and 5th, I practically wet myself with joy.  See, 2011 is the Centennial of Naval Aviation, and getting the Angels during that service-wide celebration was a monumental coup.  Then look a little closer at the dates they'd be performing: June 4th and 5th would be the 69th anniversary of the US Navy's greatest victory, the Battle of Midway.  That couldn't have worked out better if I had picked the dates myself.  I was actually thinking about attending the AirFest, instead of standing nearby, I was so stoked.  In the end, I decided to return to the frontage road I was at last year, but either way... wow!

Then Brickmuppet sent me an e-mail, and it all turned to ashes.  Commander Dave Koss had voluntarily stepped down from his position of the Blue Angels' commander, as he had led a maneuver that "had an unacceptably low minimum altitude."

This video is actually two clips; the first clip, shot on May 21st, shows how the move is supposed to be done.  The second, shot on May 22nd, shows the incorrect maneuver.  Keep an eye on #4, the trailing or "slot" plane, look how low he gets... and notice how the diamond scatters, instead of staying together like they do in the first clip.  The lead plane, Cmdr Koss', takes the diamond too low.

It's not a particularly egregious error, but enough of one that the lives of the performers were in quite a bit of danger.  When you fly like the Blue Angels, or the Thunderbirds, or the Snowbirds, or any other performance team, any mistake is enough to kill you and potentially hundreds of spectators in an instant. 

It takes a brave man to admit that he screwed up like that, and a braver one still to step down from one of the high-prestige positions in their business... voluntarily, at that.  He's been replaced by last year's commander, Captain Greg McWhirter, for the duration of the season.  Because of all this, the Blue Angels have gone into "safety stand-down" mode for the next couple of weeks, canceling airshows in Evansville, IN, a show in New Jersey over Memorial Day weekend... and their appearance at Duckford AirFest.

Darn it.

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May 29, 2011

F1 Update!: Monaco 2011

The day dawned beautifully over the Principality of Monaco, just perfect weather for a quick drive around a tiny French fishing village.  But who could have expected the race we got?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Monaco!

*LIGHTS OUT:  As the race began, it looked like we'd have an improbable runaway victory for polesitter Seb Vettel.  By the end of the first lap, he had a three second lead over McLaren's Jenson Button, a lead that would grow to nearly five seconds by lap 4.  Great, another dominant blow-out for the incumbent champion, that'll be exciting.  To make matters worse, Lewis Hamilton, the only driver with a legitimate chance to catch Vettel in the championship standings, had fallen to 10th and probably wouldn't have a chance to do anything in the race.  But then the weirdness began.

*RED HOT PIT STOP ACTION:  Button came in for his first stop on lap 15, putting on another set of super-soft tires.  Then Vettel pitted from the lead.  To say that the Red Bull pit crew made a complete hash of the stop would be something of an understatement... or perhaps it was Vettel who did, as nobody was quite sure what the hell happened.  It looked quite a bit like the team had teammate Mark Webber's tires out and ready, as a mad scramble for tires occurred.  Whatever the reason, Vettel's stop took over 30 seconds to complete (including drive-in and drive-out), an eternity in F1, and nearly 10 seconds slower than Button's.  Then Mark Webber pulled in just as Vettel was leaving, and the same thing happened again.  Webber wouldn't be heard from again all day.  When Ferrari's HWMNBN came in for tires, Button was promoted into an 8.8 second lead over Seb Vettel.  A few laps later, Lewis Hamilton came in for his first stop on lap 21, McLaren clearly wasn't ready for him.  This sort of Keystone Kop-ery stuff just doesn't happen in Formula 1, and particularly at Monaco.  Hamilton returned to the race in 15th, losing eight places as the McLaren pit crew peed what little chance he had down their collective pants leg.

*WHAT IN THE WORLD...?:  As the race continued, Button stretched his lead to nearly 15 seconds over Vettel, who had put on soft tires at his stop, as opposed to the super-softs on the 2009 Champion's McLaren.  On lap 34, Button stopped for another set of super-soft tires, meaning he would have to stop one more time at some point to put on soft tires, so as to comply to the sporting regulations.  As he did so, Felipe Massa stuck his car into the barrier inside the Tunnel, bringing out the first Safety Car of the 2011 season.  Button rejoined the race in second place, but with backmarkers between him and the leader Vettel.  Unlike almost every racing series in the world, in F1 cars form up behind a Safety Car depending on where they are collected... backmarkers are not waved past.  This led to the race restarting and Vettel immediately having a 9 second lead over Button, as it took that long for the five or six cars between the two to cross the line.  Ten laps later, on lap 49, Button pulled into the pits for a set of soft tires, rejoining the race in third, some 20 seconds behind the leader and  15 seconds behind second place HWMNBN, who had pitted for his mandatory soft tires during the Safety Car.

*HE CAN'T REALLY BE TRYING THAT, CAN HE?:  Around lap 55, everybody came to a sudden realization: Sebastian Vettel hadn't been into the pits since lap 17, when he changed from super-soft tires to soft rubber.  Behind him, HWMNBN was whittling a second a lap out of Vettel's lead as the leader nursed his tires.  But if the Ferrari was whittling, Jenson Button was using a chainsaw.  By lap 60, the McLaren was a mere three seconds behind the Red Bull; he had made up 17 seconds in 10 laps!  On lap 62, the order was Vettel - HWMNBN - Button, all three covered by two-thirds of a second.  To say that we were set up for one of the most epic finishes in F1 History would be to massively understate things.  Three World Champions, running three different tire strategies, running nose-to-tail, on the most dramatic circuit in the world, with only 16 short laps to go.

*HOLY MACKEREL!:  For the next seven laps, we were treated to an example of just why F1 drivers are the best in the world.  Button would stab at HWMNBN, who would parry while attacking Vettel, who was managing to keep his tires functional enough to be able to keep the Ferrari behind, despite having 50+ laps on them.  All the while, the three kept going so quickly that they had nearly 50 seconds on Gandalf Kobayashi in 4th place... on a track where a slow lap takes only 80 seconds or so to complete.  The situation was fascinating: Vettel had the lead, but his tires were failing.  However, Monaco is the best circuit in F1 to keep someone behind you, even when your tires are paper-thin.  HWMNBN had better tires in second place, but he had the dual tasks of trying to get past Vettel while defending his position, splitting his concentration at a place that demands your entire attention at all times.  Button was in third, on the freshest rubber, but had to get past the Ferrari driven by someone with the ability to make his car incredibly wide when he wants to.  Legendary Announce Team member Steve Matchett summed Vettel's options up quite succinctly around this point when asked whether the Red Bull driver should pit for new tires.  "If he pits, he finishes third.  If he stays out, he has a small chance to win, and at worst he'd finish third.  He stays out."  And so he did, and the knife-fighting between the three was amazing.

*LAP 69:  Ahead of the leaders, an amazing gaggle of cars had formed.  Take a look:

6th: Adrian F'n Sutil  7th: Cleric Maldonado  8th: The Red Menace  9th: Lewis Hamilton
10th: NKOTT  11th: Seb Buemi  12th: Nico Rosberg
We've taken the liberty of labeling the on-track positions of the traffic.  Suddenly, Vettel's job had become infinitely more difficult; he'd have to pick his way through the cars ahead, all of whom were racing for position and couldn't just move aside like normal backmarkers.  To be sure, the sporting regulations insisted that they'd have to.  But, for example, nobody could expect Lewis Hamilton in 9th to pull aside in a manner that'd make it easy for NKOTT in 10th to sneak by too, or for The Red Menace in 8th to do so, either.  But a few moments later, it all became moot.  Just past Tabac, Adrian F'n Sutil brushed the armco, his right-rear tire coming off as they reached Piscene... and all hell broke loose.

*CAR-NAGE: Sutil, mostly out of control, cuts across Piscene just as everybody else arrives.  Lewis Hamilton slows to avoid the careening Force India.  NKOTT bangs into Hamilton, his front wing going under his tires and pitching his Toro Rosso into the air, deranging the McLaren's rear wing in the process.  NKOTT then has the left side of his car removed by the barriers.  The Red Menace, who had slipped back just before the melee, suddenly had a limping Force India blocking one side of the circuit and a ruined Toro Rosso blocking the other in front of him.  With no place to go, the Renault plows nearly head-first into the armco.  The remains then embed themselves into the back of NKOTT's car.  And then the leaders arrive on the scene.

*RED MEANS STOP:  So here's the situation facing Seb Vettel.  He's got an angry Spaniard crawling all over the back of his car, a confident Brit immediately behind him, and a disaster movie playing out directly in front of him.  Carbon fiber shards and chunks of racecar litter the track, and he has to pick his way through the mess.  By some miracle, all three leaders made it through the chaos in one piece, just as the world's fastest Safety Car indication comes out.  This time, no backmarkers are in between Vettel, HWMNBN and Button.  Nothing will get in the way of this ending.  Except things are not all right at the scene of the accident.  The Red Menace, still in his ruined Renault, tells the Medical Car occupants that he can't feel his legs.  An ambulance is summoned and the Red Flag is thrown, stopping the race.

*FINALLY:  According to the rulebook, if the race is red-flagged after 75% of the race distance is run, the race may be declared over.  But not today!  Instead, the horde forms up on the grid behind the Safety Car, shuts down their engines... and another quirk of the rulebook comes to light.  In most every other form of motorsport, if a race is red-flagged but is expected to be resumed, you can't touch the cars.  No tire changes, no repairs, no nothing.  In F1?  The only thing you can't do is refuel.  Immediately, Red Bull was out to jack up Vettel's car... carrying a brand new, unused set of super-soft tires.  It was at this point that the F1U! team wanted to throw our deep-dish pizza at the TV screen.  What was looking like a tremendous five-lap scramble to the checkered flag up until that point suddenly became a five-lap guaranteed win for Vettel.  Of course, HWMNBN and Button put on super-soft tires as well, but it doesn't matter.  The race restarts, Vettel opens up a 1.1 second lead and keeps it like that all the way to the end.  HWMNBN holds a similar lead over Button as they cross the line.  A frustrating way to end what was looking like a true classic race.

*POSTSCRIPT:  The Red Menace was essentially uninjured in the wreck, just bruised.  Good to hear!

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  A one-stop strategy in this day and age of F1 seems like an impossibility, but Monaco might be the one time it could possibly work, if you're quick and good.  Seb Vettel was both, and managed to keep his 52-lap old soft tires in racing condition right up until the race was red-flagged.  While we might be dissatisfied with the way the affair ended, there's no denying that the reigning World Champion did a miraculous job conserving his shoes while keeping up a competitive pace.  Not everybody could pull that off... indeed, perhaps not anybody.  Congratulations Seb, you deserve this one. 

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  The logical choice would be Red Bull.  After all, Vettel finished 1st and with the help of the red flag, Webber came in 4th.  However, we're not giving it to them.  After the race, it turned out that Vettel's tire strategy was an accident; he was supposed to have another set of super-soft tires put on at his first stop, but confusion resulted in the soft tires going on.  Then they wanted to bring him in late, thereby throwing away the win (but locking up a third-place finish).  Vettel ignored the call to stop.  That's not a sign of a team working together.  Yes, they did well, but something didn't click for the Bullies today.  So instead, we're giving the Team of the Race award to perennial underdog Sauber.  Despite working under the black pressure of having one of their drivers in hospital, they flawlessly executed an intentional one-stop strategy.  It was only because of the red flag and Webber getting to put on a fresh set of super-soft tires that they lost out on a fourth place finish for Gandalf Kobayashi.  Still, fifth place is pretty darn good, and well-deserving of the Team of the Race.  Honorable mention goes to Lotus for quietly having their best day ever, finishing 13th and 14th.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  Karma can be a real beeyotch sometimes. Last week in Spain, Lewis Hamilton complained that he believed Slappy Schumacher had intentionally blocked him, so as to slow the McLaren driver down in his pursuit of Slappy's fellow German Seb Vettel.  Today, Hamilton got a chance to provide some payback.  Early on, he'd been hounding the seven-time world champion for a couple of laps, needing desperately to get past if he wanted any chance to affect the outcome of the race.  On his soft tires, he had to stay in touch with the leaders, but here he was, stuck behind Slappy's Mercedes.  On lap 10, as the two headed towards Ste Devote, Hamilton said "enough."

He pulled alongside the Mercedes driver as they entered the braking zone, brazenly daring Slappy to slam the door on him.  Considering who we're talking about here, it was quite the gamble... Schumacher is notorious for doing just that, and damn the consequences.

Instead, Schumi squeezed over, getting their tires overlapped.  One false move by either, and the whole thing would end in tears and carbon fiber being shed.

No false move was forthcoming, leaving Slappy with a choice: either keep fighting the young Brit, and likely ending up in the quickly upcoming barrier, or backing off and letting Hamilton by.  Wisely, he did the latter, and Lewis zipped off into the distance.  A truly gutsy pass in a place on the track that isn't particularly conducive to such things.  Brave lad, here's your MotR!

*MOOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  From the sublime to the idiotic in 24 laps.  Now Hamilton was stuck behind Felipe Massa, and not having any luck getting unstuck.  The Ferrari driver just wasn't giving him any chance to get by, and Lewis was getting desperate... and impatient.  Coming into the Loew's Hairpin, Hamilton threw caution (and brains) to the wind and went to the inside of the Brazilian... with predictable results.

For the record: the sidewalk is not the preferred line around the Hairpin.  Bodywork flew, Massa wound wind up crashing in the Tunnel a few seconds later, and Hamilton was given a drive-through penalty for causing an accident, thereby ruining his race anyway.  He later claimed that it was all Massa's fault, saying that the Ferrari driver had turned in early, forcing him onto the sidewalk and thenceforth into the red car's sidepod.  Uh-huh.  Here's your Mooooooooo-oooove, Lewis.


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May 28, 2011

F1 Quals: Monaco 2011 (UPDATED)

We got a big dose of the reality of motorsport today during Quals for the 2011 Grand Prix of Monaco.  Here's the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:15.606 1:14.277 1:13.556
2 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:15.397 1:14.545 1:13.997
3 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:16.087 1:14.742 1:14.019
4 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:16.051 1:14.569 1:14.483
5 Slappy Schumacher Mercedes 1:16.092 1:14.981 1:14.682
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:16.309 1:14.648 1:14.877
7 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:15.207 1:14.275 1:15.280
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:15.858 1:14.741 1:15.766
9 Jathedar Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1:15.819 1:15.545 1:16.528
10 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:15.918 1:15.482 No Time
11 The Red Menace
Renault 1:16.378 1:15.815
12 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:16.616 1:15.826
13 Gandalf Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:16.513 1:15.973
14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:16.813 1:16.118
15 Adrian F'n Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:16.600 1:16.121
16 Grizzly Nick Heidfeld Renault 1:16.681 1:16.214
17 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:16.358 1:16.300
18 Heikki Kovalaineninnie Lotus-Renault 1:17.343

19 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1:17.381

20 NKOTT STR-Ferrari 1:17.820

21 Timo Glockenspiel Virgin-Cosworth 1:17.914

22 Custard d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1:18.736

23 Narain Kittylitter HRT-Cosworth No Time

24 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth No Time

Q1 107% Time

Sauber driver Sergio Perez suffered a massive wreck on his first hot lap in Q3.  He came out of the tunnel wide, which put him on a piece of track that has a small dip in it.  The rear of his car lost traction and snapped him across the track and into the armco, tearing the tires off the right side of his car.  Sliding off the wall, he then slammed broadside into the TecPro barriers at the Harbor Chicane. 

Q3 was immediately red-flagged, as the accident moved the padded tire barrier onto the track itself.  Marshals were at the accident site quickly, and almost as fast it was clear that Perez was hurt.  An ambulance was summoned and arrived shortly, followed by the FIA medical car.  It took some 20 minutes to extricate Perez from the ruined Sauber, while marshals stood around the car, holding a tarp above it to prevent spectators from seeing what was going on.  The television director did not help our growing unease, staying on the very-long view; a sure sign that something serious has occurred.  It got even worse when the Legendary Announce Team reported that the Sauber pit wall had called Perez immediately after the accident... and got no response.  Just to ramp the fears up to greater heights, he was loaded into the ambulance, which event we could not see due to the preponderance of marshals surrounding him.  The ambulance then drove off... slowly.  He was taken to Princess Grace Hospital in Monaco, which is actually just off the main straight, and at last report was conscious and aware and complaining of pain in his legs.

To be frank, I expected the worst.  F1 cars are very sturdy, and the monocoque is exquisitely protected, but nothing about the accident felt right.  Even the incongruous 'flumpf' sound the car made when it hit the padded barrier was out of place.  The only good thing about the crash was that Nico Rosberg had a similar wreck in P3, except that he missed the barrier by about two inches.  That incident led the organizers to remove the speed bumps from the inside of the chicane which prevented Perez from getting airborne, unlike Rosberg.

One driver walks away, one driver doesn't.  I surely hope Perez is all right, though I doubt he'll be in the car for tomorrow's race.  More as this develops.

The rest of the Quals pales in comparison to Perez's crash.  Neither HRT car took part in the session, and as they were substantially off the pace in all three practices, they will probably not be allowed to race on Sunday.  Seb Vettel is on pole, but didn't exactly look dominant.  Expect a decent race on Sunday.  We'll see you then!

UPDATE:  Sauber has put out a press release detailing Sergio Perez's condition.  "It was with great relief the Sauber F1 Team received the news that Sergio Perez has no serious injuries after his heavy accident in the closing minutes of the final part of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.  The doctors said Perez had suffered concussion and a sprained thigh, but no broken bones and, following a scan, they could find no further injuries."  He'll be kept in hospital overnight for observation and the concussion pretty much guarantees that he'll not be racing on Sunday, but wow!  What a relief.

Also breaking, the stewards have decided to allow both HRTs to run in Sunday's race.  This despite never making the 107% time in any of the practice sessions.  Their pace in P3 would have made the 107% time in Q1 however, which must be what the stewards are looking at.  Good for HRT, I guess.

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May 27, 2011

Beginning The Miracle

As all good Pacific War otaku know, the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Midway is coming up early next month.  Regarded as the most stunning and important victory in the history of Naval warfare, three US aircraft carriers, supported by aircraft flying from Midway Atoll, attacked and sunk four Japanese aircraft carriers, three of them in the space of just a handful of minutes on June 4th, 1942.

While the US was outnumbered by the Japanese in the number of aircraft carriers present at the battle, the Americans had broken the Japanese radio codes and had a detailed knowledge of their plans for the whole skirmish.  Taking advantage of this, the US Navy in effect ambushed the Japanese fleet.  Of course, the victory did not come without cost.  Three squadrons of torpedo planes were effectively wiped out, and one of the American carriers, the USS Yorktown, was sunk.

The Japanese presumed the Yorktown to have been sunk a month earlier, at the Battle of the Coral Sea.  Indeed, she had been beaten up, but the first and possibly greatest of the "miracles" of Midway had occurred in the intervening time.

Or had it?

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May 26, 2011

Meanwhile, Somewhere Else...

You may remember that I've been a strong supporter of Quacked Panes, a twice-weekly webcomic by fine fellow waterfowl GreyDuck.  The stresses of trying to come up with two good punchlines every week do take their toll on a duck, however, and every year GD takes a short vacation from the strip.  Last year, he simply went dark, which is never a good thing. 

This year though, he came up with a great idea: allow volunteers to make "remixes" of his comics, takign the original pictures and inserting their own scripts.  Of course, I couldn't not participate!  Today, my three-strip run began.  Go take a look, will you?  Quacked Panes deserves your eyeballs!

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F1 Practice: Monaco 2011

The only thing to talk about from today's practice sessions in Monaco are the tires.  Of course, one could say that about every race, every session at every track, but Monaco is different.  There's never any testing here, since the circuit is 100% public streets.  Bridgestone and Michelin, longtime tire makers to F1, never quite got the hang of how their rubber would react on the pavement of the Principality and publicly admitted it.  There's just too many variables that change every year.  Think about the streets where you live, the route you take to work every day... how many different patches of asphalt and concrete do you drive upon?  Just off the top of my head, there are eight distinct stretches in the three mile drive from Pond Central to Duck U, all of them laid down in the past five or six years.  Of course each of them seems the same to our cars, but what about to a highly-strung F1 car going at 150mph and braking at 3g's? 

That's why Pirelli, the sport's new tire manufacturer, had such a daunting task ahead of them this year.  But then, just to make things even more "exciting," the city streets of Monaco demand all the traction a car can find.  Every wing on the cars are cranked as high as possible, the suspension is as soft as the teams can make it, and the tires?  For the previous five races, Pirelli brought their Hard and Soft compounds to the track.  Here?  The "hard" tire is actually the soft compound.  The "soft" tire is the season debut of the super-soft rubber.  Earlier in the week, Pirelli thought the super-soft compound would last about 10 laps, which doesn't sound too horrible.  It's hardly great, but it seems workable.

Until you realize that Monaco is the shortest track in F1, just a hair over two miles long.  By way of comparison, the Turkish Grand Prix is run on a 3.3 mile circuit.  THEN you think "how many laps comprise a race at Monaco?"  The answer is 78.  If your stomach just got a little queasy at that revelation, congratulations!  You too could be a strategist for a F1 team!

As it turned out, the super-soft tires might have a little more life in them than anybody thought.  Towards the end of P2, Seb Vettel went out with a full load of fuel and the red-lettered shoes and managed to keep them on the car for 22+ laps.  Again, that doesn't sound too bad... until you look at the timesheets and see that his last laps were over three full seconds slower than the first laps.  This at a time when he should have been faster simply because of fuel burning off!  Feeling a little more nauseous?

The super-soft tires are approximately one second faster than the softs, which are about twice as durable.  Pirelli claims that it's theoretically possible that someone do the race on two stops.  I think three is probably more likely, and maybe someone will go for a four-stopper.

To get a good lap around Monaco, a driver has to be 100% committed, 100% of the time.  At every other circuit on the calendar, there's at least one place where a driver can relax, even if it's only for a few seconds: Abu Dhabi leaps immediately to mind, with its nigh-on 3000ft long back straight.  Nothing like that at Monaco... even the front "straight" bends to the right.  Felipe Massa showed just how focused you have to be around the Principality on one hot lap in P2.  Through the Swimming Pool complex, he was actually turning while airborne over a curb.  He then drifted around Rascasse and fishtailed through Anthony Noghes.  There, he looked like he was going to permanently embed his left-rear wheel in the armco barriers, but the curbing there kicked him away... and right towards the armco on the INSIDE of the turn.  A quick flip of the wrists kept him clear of those, and he crossed the line with the third fastest time of the session up until then.  Breathtaking!  Heck, the Legendary Announce Team was actually laughing about it.

Yes, should be a fun race weekend... the way it's going, we just might see someone in the harbor.  See you Saturday for Quals!

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May 25, 2011

Ducks In Anime: It's Been Too Long

It's been a while since there was a true Ducks In Anime sighting.  The brief view of a duck in Rio Rainbow Gate! doesn't really count, and before that the last one was in an eyecatch for (urgh) KissXsis.  You have to go back to the first episode of Kore Wa Zombie Desu Ka, in early January, for the last real D.I.A.  Sometimes we'll go through this kind of lull where there is nary a rubber duckie to be found, even though there are plenty of scenes where one would be appropriate (yes, Hanasaku Iroha ep04, I'm looking at you...).  But then the darkness will turn to light, and lo a duckie will appear to great rejoicing.  Like this one:

-Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi, ep02
It's not even from a series I'm watching (get with the program, Hanasaku Iroha!); it took a pointer from Big Papa Pixy himself to bring it to my attention.  But oh, it was worth it...


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May 24, 2011

F1 on SPEED!: Monaco 2011

There are two ways to look at the street circuit known as "Monte Carlo," home of the Grand Prix of Monaco.  The first is as a narrow and slow track that modern F1 cars have rendered close to obsolete, and would be too dangerous to have on the F1 calendar if it was proposed today.  The other way is to see it as what it is: the grandest Grand Prix of them all.  Here's the track map:

It's hard to argue with the "too narrow" and "too dangerous" assessment, because to be frank, it is both of those things.  Three-time World Driver's Champion Nelson Piquet famously described racing at Monaco as "riding a bicycle round your living room."  Because the track is so narrow, it's nearly impossible to pass without taking heroic measures.  The circuit starts by going uphill from Sainte Devote all the way to Beau Rivage, then descends sharply from Mirabeau to Portier.  There's another small descent as the cars approach the Chicane as well. 

Monte Carlo has the distinction of having both the slowest and the fastest turns in Formula 1.  Turn 6, better known as the Loew's Hairpin, is taken at approximately 30mph and is so tight that the teams usually have to modify their steering rigs to allow a car to make the turn.  Turn 9, aka The Tunnel, is run at about 160mph or so.  The only true tunnel in F1 (Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi has one at the end of the pit lane, which doesn't count.  Singapore has a stretch that runs underneath some grandstands, but that isn't really a tunnel), its aerodynamic effects take off nearly a third of a car's downforce.  For that reason, DRS will not be permitted while running through it during practice and Quals. 

That's kind of a pity, as it'd lead to more of my favorite camera sequence... 1) camera follows car through Portier and into the tunnel.  2) Camera picks up car as it approaches the apex of Turn 9, swings to follow. 3) Camera outside tunnel waits for car to appear; all that exits the dark tunnel is a tire or two bouncing free, followed by carbon fiber debris, followed by remainder of car.  It never fails to crack me up... it's like the track has eaten the car, and is in the process of spitting it out.

Yes, it's dangerous.  Yes, it's too narrow.  Yes, it's a horrible track for modern F1 cars.  It's also the most recognizable circuit in the world, and nowhere in the world can a (ridiculously wealthy) spectator get so close to a F1 car during a race.

Note spiral staircase to the left of "Le Casino" sign.
Monaco is one of the three entries in the "Triple Crown of Motorsport," along with the 24 Hours of LeMans and the Indianapolis 500.  Only one driver, Graham Hill, has accomplished the feat in his career, and only one active driver, Juan Pablo Montoya (aka "The Pope"), has a chance to join him (he won Monaco in 2003 and the Indy 500 in 2000).

Late breaking newsflash!  Earlier today, a truck caught fire at Sainte Devote.  It burned long enough and hot enough that it actually damaged the tarmac underneath it, requiring it to be replaced less than 48 hours before the first practice session.  This could very well cause some problems, as the damaged area is in the braking zone... look for Turn 1 to be very exciting this time around.

Of course, the Legendary Announce Team will be bringing us their usual reportage on SPEED!  It all begins on THURSDAY morning from 3am to 430am with streaming coverage of Practice 1.  Practice 2 follows from 7am to 840am, live on SPEED. 

Friday is a quiet day in Monaco for the F1 Circus, but the whole shebang picks back up on Saturday morning from 4am to 5am with streaming coverage of Practice 3.  Quals is likewise on Saturday morning, from 7am to 830am live on SPEED.

Finally, the jewel in the F1 crown, the 2011 Grand Prix of Monaco takes to the air from 630am to 9am, live on SPEED.  There'll be a replay on Monday from 1030am to 1pm.

F1U! will be providing our own version of the "usual reportage" as well, so don't miss it!

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May 23, 2011

F1 Update!: Spain 2011

A gorgeous day in Barcelona, but would the sun shine on Mark Webber, or would someone else steal the light and win today?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2011 Grand Prix of Spain!

*LIGHTS OUT:  With the Red Bull teammates locking out the front row, it was pretty much a given that one of them would be leading the pack into the first turn.  After all, they've got the best car, Seb Vettel is arguably one of the best drivers in the field, and Webber is hardly a slouch himself.  Still, with an iffy KERS unit, one could see Lewis Hamilton's McLaren sweep by them both from third.  But nobody expected what actually occurred as the Ferrari of HWMNBN, perhaps powered by the cheers of the Spanish crowd, blew past them all to take the lead going into Turn 1.  More surprisingly, he held the lead after the first lap, then the second, then the third... while he didn't run away from Vettel and Hamilton, second and third respectively, neither did he yield any time to them.  He had roughly a half-second lead on the Red Bull, who had a half-second lead on the McLaren.  That trio did manage to pull away from Webber in fourth, to the tune of maybe five seconds.

*THAT'S THE PITS:  Seb Vettel dove into the pit lane for new tires on lap 9, apparently just before they fell off the cliff and became a hindrance.  Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, stayed out until lap 11, running a lap or two after his tires went bad.  HWMNBN still held the lead, much to everybody's shock and horror.  On lap 18, Vettel came back in for another set of new tires, again before their performance fell off.  When HWMNBN came in a lap or two later, he wound up on the losing end of the pit rotation, as the Red Bull passed him just as he exited the pits.  Hamilton had the lead, maybe one that was big enough for him to hit the pits, change shoes and rejoin before the reigning Driver's Champion went by... but McLaren kept him out there too long.  When his pit stop finally occurred, he came back onto the track in second.  We here at F1U! were impressed by Red Bull's strategy: they didn't worry about tire wear, because they knew they wouldn't be keeping their man out there long enough for it to affect their pace.  Of course, that can only work when you've got relatively unused sets of soft tires... which, after Quals, they in fact had.  At this point, the F1U! crew were sure the young German would power off into the sunset for an easy win.

*MEANWHILE:  Sitting at the back of the grid at the start was Renault's Grizzly Nick Heidfeld.  Relegated there by dint of an exhaust fire in P3 that prevented him from taking place in Quals, it was obvious to everybody that he'd be a fox amongst the chickens once the race started.  Indeed, very quickly he went from 24th and dead last to 17th on the first lap, all the while on the new super-hard tires.  In fact, he stayed out for 22 laps, during which time the guys up front stopped twice.  He then had three sets of soft tires to go 44 laps.  The chuckling and metaphorical rubbing of hands with glee were obvious on the Renault pitwall.

*YOU MANGY CURS KERS:  Back up at the front, the F1U! crew were astounded to see that leader Seb Vettel did not, in fact, power away from Lewis Hamilton.  Indeed, after the last set of pitstops had been completed, with both drivers going onto the super-hard tires, the McLaren slowly began to reel in the Red Bull.  By lap 55, the gap was about a half-second and often closer.  The KERS unit in Vettel's car was to blame, apparently overheating after being used for a couple of laps.  The pit lane would then tell him to switch it off so it could cool down.  Eventually it'd be okay to use again... at which point it would overheat after a couple of laps.  Rinse, repeat ad infinitum.

*FINALLY:  Hamilton's frustration must have been terrible.  In the last couple of turns of each lap, Vettel would open the lead just enough to make the run down the front straight, even with DRS and KERS, a long stern chase that would end with the McLaren a bit too far back to make a passing attempt into Turn 1.  If he had been on the soft tires, he could have braked later, maybe carried a little bit more speed into the first turn, and made the pass easily.  But the McLaren had the less grippy super-hard shoes on, making it academic.  The rest of the lap would be spent closing up on the Red Bull, only to see all the work go away in the last turns.  No flaw in the McLaren, just that for some reason, Vettel could make the Red Bull work better in those last bends.  As their grim duel continued on, the duo managed to lap the field through fifth place HWMNBN's Ferrari when the race ended.  Hamilton did everything he could to catch the reigning Driver's Champion, but nothing he tried was successful.   When the Red Bull finally crossed the line, there was the McLaren trailing behind by .6 of a second.  A truly sterling race from both drivers.  Third place Jenson Button followed along over 35 seconds later, with Mark Webber finishing up 12 seconds after that.

*AND THEN...:  Further down in the pack, Grizzly Nick Heidfeld had been chewing up the rest of the field like the beast that gave him his nickname.  Particularly on the final stint, when he was the only car in the field on a brand new set of soft tires (everybody else on softs were running scuffs, or "pre-used" tires), did Heidfeld go berserk, showing what "two seconds per lap" really means.  He managed to end up in eighth, and given another couple of laps he probably would have passed both members of Team Mercedes.  All of this leads one to wonder why the teams even bother to go out in Quals anyway?

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Yes, he has the best car.  Yes, he's arguably the best driver.  Seb Vettel actually had to drive today, as opposed to coasting the entire race.  The result?  A hard-fought win in a balky car that was probably a smidge slower than his rival.  One small mistake and he would have been relegated to the second step on the podium... except he never made that mistake.  Vettel deserves this award, perhaps more than ever before.  The predictable Honorable Mention goes to Grizzly Nick Heidfeld for picking up 16 places during his charge from the rear.

*TEAM OF THE RACE:  McLaren wound up second and third on the podium, had a great shot at winning the whole thing, and out-thought their main rivals on tire strategy.  If Lewis Hamilton had the tire babying skills of his teammate Jenson Button, he probably would have won.  Still, they put a scare into Red Bull, and made sure their main opponent knew that they have a fight on their hands the rest of the way... at least until Red Bull gets their KERS unit reliably working.

*MOVE OF THE RACE:  Mark Webber had been trailing behind HWMNBN for a few laps, reeling the Ferrari in despite the two having tires with the same amount of wear.  As the pair approached Turn 10 on lap 35, Webber made his move.

From waaaay back, the Aussie braked about as late as you can and possibly later, throwing out the anchor, deploying the parachute, dragging his feet, and anything else you can think of to slow down.  HWMNBN must have been shocked at how quickly the Red Bull zipped by.  However, the two-time World Champion quickly got his head back into the game.

Turning inside Webber, HWMNBN took a shorter (but slower) line through the turn and got back on the gas while the Red Bull pilot gathered in the parachute and anchor.  The two sprinted down to Turn 11... another left-hander.

This time, the Ferrari was in the better position and retook the place from the Red Bull.  A brilliant piece of driving from both men, Webber for the initial pass, HWMNBN for the re-pass.  A well-deserved shared MotR for the two!

*MOOOOOOO-OOOOVE OF THE RACE:  Felipe Massa had been having a miserable weekend.  First, Quals simply sucked, qualifying eighth while his teammate took fourth on the grid.  The once the race started, he simply couldn't get his Ferrari F150 Italia to perform, languishing in eighth before starting a slow slide down the field.  The unforced error that led to a spin on Lap 38 mercifully didn't cost him any places, but must have just made an awful day even worse.  The ugly grinding sound in his gearbox couldn't have made him feel any better.  It probably came as a relief when he beached himself.

Intentionally, I might add.  His gearbox wasn't going to make it another five laps.  Really, he doesn't deserve this... so instead, I'm going to give it to a special surprise winner!

Yes, that's right, I'm giving the Moooooo-oooove of the Race to the cornerworker who managed to lose both his safety helmet AND his ballcap as he ran around the back of Heikki Kovaleinninninnie's car.  Well done!



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May 22, 2011

The Big Storm

It's 1116pm, and it's still raining outside, but the weather nabobs tell us that the worst of the storms are over.  That's good, because there were three distinct storms that rolled through the Duckford area in four hours.  The picture above comes from the first one, just as the tornado sirens were going off.  What you can't see is that there was a distinct (but slow) rotation occurring in that mass o' clouds, in a counter-clockwise direction.  A couple of minutes after I took that picture, the cloudfront passed over Pond Central:

A few minutes later, all heck broke loose.  Heavy, heavy rain, lots of wind, pea-to-quarter sized hail, the temperatures dropped nearly 20 degrees in about 10 minutes, and a wind gust of 70mph at E State and I-90, which is about 4 miles from Pond Central.  Multiple funnel clouds were reported, one in the Machesney Park area (north of Duckford proper by about a mile or so), and a few to the east and southeast (Cherry Valley vicinity, about five or six miles from Pond Central).  Lots of trees down, some 25000 people without power, the roof was ripped off a school gymnasium, so on and so forth.  The National Weather Service is supposed to be here tomorrow to investigate whether this was all due to tornadic activity, a microburst or two, or just a damn big thunderstorm.

Now, that one was bad enough, but then two more storms rolled through.  Neither caused tornado sirens to go off, but they had a lot more lightning, and a lot more rain.  There's probably flooding in Duckford as a result.

Also as a result, I'm not going to post the F1U! until Monday... I gave up when the second storm peaked.  Shut down the computer, unplugged it and sat far away from the windows.  On the plus side, I am more than happy to report that the Gunslinger Girl manga is great.

Thanks for being patient.

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Weather Delays

I had fully intended to have the F1 Update! for Spain up by now, but we had a few problems here in Duckford.  Namely:

This screenshot was just from just as one of the worst storms I've ever had the "pleasure" to experience hit Duckford.  There are reports of a possible tornado to the north of the city; here at Pond Central, we had a lot of rain, a lot of wind and some small hail.  There was a Tornado Warning here, the sirens went off and all that.  There's a tree down in the treeline behind Pond Central, too.

As I type this, there's a lot of thunder outside, and a severe thunderstorm warning until 830pm.  I don't know when I'll be able to get the F1U! up, but hopefully tonight.  I'll be keeping my head down (and the computer off) until things start to clear up a touch.

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May 21, 2011

F1 Quals: Spain 2011

Interesting strategies were on display today in the quals for the 2011 Grand Prix of Spain... very interesting indeed.  First, let's take a look at the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Mark Webber RBR-Renault 1:23.619 1:21.773 1:20.981
2 Sebastian Vettel RBR-Renault 1:24.142 1:21.540 1:21.181
3 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:24.370 1:22.148 1:21.961
4 HWMNBN Ferrari 1:23.485 1:22.813 1:21.964
5 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:24.428 1:22.050 1:21.996
6 The Red Menace
Renault 1:23.069 1:22.948 1:22.471
7 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:23.507 1:22.569 1:22.599
8 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:23.506 1:23.026 1:22.888
9 Archmandrite Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1:23.406 1:22.854 1:22.952
10 Slappy Schumacher Mercedes 1:22.960 1:22.671
11 Sebastien Buemi STR-Ferrari 1:23.962 1:23.231
12 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:24.209 1:23.367
13 NKOTT STR-Ferrari 1:24.049 1:23.694
14 Gandalf Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:23.656 1:23.702
15 Heikki Kovalaineninnie Lotus-Renault 1:25.874 1:25.403
16 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:24.332 1:26.126
17 Adrian F'n Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:24.648 1:26.571
18 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1:26.521

19 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:26.910

20 Timo Glockenspiel Virgin-Cosworth 1:27.315

21 Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1:27.809

22 Narain Kittylitter HRT-Cosworth 1:27.908

23 Custard d'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1:28.556

Grizzly Nick Heidfeld Renault no time

Q1 107% Time

The streak is dead!  Mark Webber beat teammate Seb Vettel for pole position, the first time all season that Vettel isn't on pole.  The Driver's Champion may have had a problem with his KERS unit, which would account for the difference easily.

The "interesting strategies" I mentioned earlier were in Q3, when the McLarens and Red Bulls went out just as the session started, did one hot lap, then parked themselves in the pitlane.  Then... we waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Until the 2:00 mark, it was looking like nobody else would head out on track, content to preserve their tires and take their place on the grid from where they stood in Q2.  That just might have worked, truth be told.  Having said that, it's a horrible precedent; the whole point of the Knockout Qualifying format is to get cars out on the track, not to have them sit in the garage.  Something needs to be fixed, and quick. 

You may note that Grizzly Nick Heidfeld has a big fat "no time" next to his name in Q1.  He never actually made it out on track, due to a little incident he had in Saturday morning's P3. 

Renault says that there was a crack in the ducting that runs the exhaust to the front of the car, and that let 1000°F. gases flow into the sidepod.  As you can imagine, there's a lot of stuff in there that can burn.  Heidfeld escaped without injury, but the car was not so lucky.  However, this gives Grizzly Nick a chance to earn Driver of the Race tomorrow, just like Gandalf and Webber before him, both of whom started from waaaaaaay back, and both wound up ending up in the points.  Good luck, Griz!

The Renault Flambé allowed Heikki Kovaleinninninninnie to get his Lotus into Q2, the first time the "new" team has accomplished that feat.  Before one says "eh, it was just because Grizzly got a deal on marshmallows", however, please note that he beat out both Force Indias and Rubens Barrichello with his 15th place on the grid.  Not just a gimmie, this. 

What is it with Finns and 15th place?  First it was Kimi Raikkonen taking his #15 Perky Jerky Toyota Tundra to 15th place in last night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, and today it's Heikki getting 15th on the grid... I think there's something going on here.

Finally, if you're a betting person, you should drop a big wad of cash on Mark Webber to win on Sunday. You have to go back to 2000 to find a polesitter that didn't win, and 19 of the past 20 races have been won from the front row.  The lone exception was when Slappy Schumacher won a wet race in 1996... from third.  Of course, that was before DRS and KERS, but it still looks pretty favorable for Webber...

Race tomorrow, see you then!

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May 20, 2011

F1 Practice: Spain 2011 (UPDATED)

Interesting news bits from Spain today, so lets get right to it.

First off, as the first real stop on the European leg of the F1 season (Turkey doesn't really count, since it's still pretty far from the team factories), every team has introduced a ton of new modifications to their chassis.  None of them were major... a tweak to the front wing here, a clip to the rear bodywork there, that sort of thing... but McLaren introduced "between 10 and 12" mods for this race, as an example.  That's not out of the ordinary; I'm sure most of the teams put the same amount of changes on their cars.  so what will all these changes mean?  I haven't the faintest idea, but here's the thing: neither does anybody else, including the teams. 

Next up, the FIA issued a command on Wednesday that made the teams scream.  One of the new technical developments that many of the teams have implemented is a neat trick with the exhaust.  As you know, when you push down on the accelerator in a car, the engine goes and exhaust is pushed out the... um... exhaust... at various speeds.  The harder the engine works, the higher velocity the exhaust is blown out.  Logical, right?  Well, most of the teams have repositioned their tailpipes so that the gas from the exhaust is blown over the rear diffuser, increasing the downforce generated.  Again, perfectly logical.  Well, the neat trick is that some of the teams have done something to their engines that, even when the accelerator isn't being pressed, the velocity of the exhaust gases is kept at a constant.  Now that's cool!  You can hear it during the races, a weird flatulence as they go through a corner or shift down.  Getting back to the FIA's fatwa, they decided to ban the constant velocity exhaust, effective for the Spanish Grand Prix.  Their rationale?  Because the exhaust flow is being used to improve the aerodynamics of the car, a part of the exhaust system violates the rule against "movable aerodynamic devices" (never mind DRS).  What part of the exhaust system breaks the rule?  The engine!  After all, the pistons move...  Of course, the teams immediately protested.  Not because they couldn't do the modifications in time, I'm sure they could.  The teams are saying the removal of the constant exhaust will ruin the stability of the cars, as they've been designed to have that additional airflow over the diffuser.  Remove that, they say, and the cars will be too dangerous to drive.  The matter has been referred to the F1 Working Group and a final decision will be issued "soon." 

Third, Pirelli has made a change to their hard compound tire and has debuted it here at Spain.  The short version is that it's now a SUPER-hard tire, and is predicted to last maybe 24 or 25 laps, instead of 16 or 12.  The tradeoff, of course, is that they have the grip of a newborn baby.  As a result, they are two seconds per lap slower than the soft tires.  Should make things interesting towards the end of the race, particularly if someone gambles by going off-sequence with their tire choices, like Mark Webber did at China.  Unsurprisingly, the drivers are united in their hatred for the new tire.  Lewis Hamilton calls them "disastrous."  Gandalf Kobayashi said "The new superhard compound gives you the feeling you are driving a totally different car. They are so slow."  To which I suggest, "shut up and drive."

Fourth up, the Circuit de Catalunya did something interesting during the offseason.  They excavated all the graveltraps at the track and replaced the kittylitter with larger-diameter stones.  This was in reaction to Lewis Hamilton's accident last year, and Heikki Kovaleinninninnie's crash in 2008, both of which were caused by a piece of gravel getting caught in the the front-left wheel and milling through the metal.  The larger gravel should prevent the stones from getting stuck in the first place, though it'd be even better if the drivers could keep their cars out of the kittylitter...

Finally, Kimi Raikkonen, former World Driving Champion and current rallycar driver, is making his debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series tonight, driving the #15 Perky Jerky Toyota Tundra.

Perky Jerky.  A legendary marque, the equal to Ferrari or McLaren, for sure.  I'll be watching the race tonight, just to see how Mumbles does... of course, I'll pass along information afterwards!

UPDATE:  Kimi ended up 15th in his first truck series race.  He bumped the wall a couple of times, but so did just about everybody else at one time or another.  The Charlotte Motor Speedway was apparently quite the vicious beast today, never quite settling down and never, ever, generating much in the way of traction.  Everybody was loose during the race.  That Kimi made it through the whole thing without wrecking or spinning was impressive as heck.  He showed a lot of the car handling skills that made him the 2007 F1 World Champion, making some passes, avoiding two or three wrecks that happened dead ahead of him, just driving a solid race.  For his first time in a NASCAR truck with other racers around him, he did a helluva job.  However, some things will never change:

"Mrmmmrmrrmrmbl mrmrblbbmmrblmrmmm mrmrblbmmrmrmr.  Mmrmmrb mrmrbrmmllbrr mrmmrmr." - Kimi Raikkonen (note: real quote from post-race interview... man I've missed that)

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May 19, 2011

The Pacific Q-Ship

In 1915, things were looking grim for the British Isles.  Unrestricted submarine warfare was slowly strangling the country, cutting off the flow of supplies to the nation.  Stocks of fuel, armaments, supplies and food were all at desperately low levels... the Allies were losing the Battle of the Atlantic.  At that time, defenses against submarines were rudimentary at best.  Sonar was non-existent, depth charges were crude and for the most part ineffective, and the homing torpedo wasn't even thought of yet.  The only realistic chance that a defending ship had to sink a submarine was to catch it on the surface.

While it's hard to imagine a submarine allowing itself to be caught on the surface these days, things were different in 1915.  At the time, submarines were what would be called "submersibles" today: able to descend under the waves for a short time only, while doing most of their movement on the surface.  Because their underwater time was limited, a sub would "go under" only when preparing for an attack run... and not always then.  The torpedoes of the time were cranky, ill-tempered beasts that were often unreliable, and always in short supply.  It was quite common for a submarine to sneak up on a target, surface, then engage with a deck gun.  Of course this would only work against an unarmed freighter or transport; it goes without saying that an actual warship would receive a torpedo fired from underwater.

However, even this limited method of attack was extremely effective against unarmed merchant craft... so effective that England was on the verge of starving.  The obvious defense, convoying, or putting a large number of merchant vessels in one group while defending them with one or more warships, was ruled out by the ship-strapped Royal Navy.  There just weren't enough warships to go around.  Something had to be done, and quickly.  Two innovations arose from this desperate need.

The first was the armed merchantman.  More of a throwback than a true innovation, at its heart the armed merchantman was a descendant of the age of sail, when almost every East Indiaman had a good number of cannon lining its rails to fight off pirates and privateers.  The generic armed merchantman of WWI-vintage would have the firepower of a destroyer or light cruiser, six 6" guns and various numbers of smaller guns as a secondary battery.  Since they were built as merchant vessels, they were however fragile: little in the way of compartmentalization to prevent flooding, little if any armor (other than raw size) to prevent damage, with a slow top speed that prevented running away.  Armed merchantmen were mostly for use against commerce raiders as a self-defense measure: if a warship came upon an armed merchantman, at least there was some way to fight back.  However, with their guns carried on deck, they were just as likely as a battleship to attract a torpedo from a submarine.

The second innovation was the Q-ship.  Take a freighter and turn it into an armed merchantman... then hide the guns inside false panels or deck structures or belowdeck.  When a submarine approached, it'd see a nice big fat undefended target, surface and engage with the deck gun... at which point, the Q-boat would drop the false panels, run out the guns and with the element of surprise blow the submarine out of the water.  To be sure, they could take on a surface vessel as well, but their weapons were more designed to engage fragile submarines: a hole or two would prevent a sub from diving, trapping it on the surface.  Q-ships had no set armament loadout, but multiple 3" guns were common.

Despite the clever idea, Q-ships were generally ineffective against submarines in WWI, accounting for less than 10% of all kills scored.  Instead, they were more of a psychological weapon, preying upon the mind of a U-boat captain.  If any freighter could be heavily armed and just waiting for you to surface, the sub captain might be more reluctant to do so, and either let the freighter go or waste a precious torpedo on it.

During WWII, there was a repeat of the WWI Battle of the Atlantic, and the Q-ship concept was revived.  It was even less successful than in WWI, mainly because advances in submarine technology meant that a sub could spend less time on the surface, torpedoes were much less prone to failure and in greater supply.   The Royal Navy commissioned nine Q-ships in 1939, two of which were sunk on their first mission.  None of them sank a U-boat, and they were quietly retired in 1941.  The US Navy converted five cargo vessels to Q-ships, one of which was sunk and the other four failed to engage a submarine during their two-year run.

And then there was the USS Anacapa.

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May 18, 2011

Name This Mystery Ship V

By popular demand, the "Name This Mystery Ship" contest is back!  Here's the rules: no cheating by using photo-matching programs or things like that.  Otherwise?  Free game.  The winner gets a post on a topic of his or her own choosing (within limits: no pr0n, religion or politics).  If it looks like nobody is going to get it, I may decide to post a hint or two.

Here's the mystery ship:

Good luck to you!

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May 16, 2011

F1 on SPEED!: Spain 2011

Some tracks are bad because they've got a horrible design (Hungary).  Some tracks are bad because time has passed them by (Monaco).  Some tracks are bad because they were neutered in the name of safety (Hockenheimring). 

And then there's the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, home of the 2011 Grand Prix of Spain.  Let's take a look at the track map:

On first blush, there's nothing particularly wrong with the layout.  Nice long front straight, some interesting turns in the technical portions, decent back straight, both slow and fast curves.  So what's the problem?  Well, there are three.

The first problem is that... there isn't any problem at all.  It's a perfectly acceptable circuit.  But there's nothing about the track that stands out in any way.  There's no one aspect of the layout that would make a driver quake with fear or quiver in anticipation.  Not even any elevation change to break up the monotony.  It's just there

The second problem relates to the first.  Because the track is so sedate and the weather in Barcelona so benign, the teams do a lot of offseason testing here, and have since the circuit opened in 1991.  As a result, there is hardly anything for the drivers to learn about the track.  Every bump, every crack, every bit of flaking paint on the curbs is known to the men on the pit wall.  In the past, this has led to a series of processionals to rival the Parade of Roses.  This may change this season, what with KERS and the DRS being in play, but if ever there was a circuit where the influence of these things could be minimized, this is the one.

The third problem is that this is the home track for HWMNBN, and therefore should be anathema to all right-thinking fans of Formula 1. 

Of course, the good people of SPEED will be on-the-spot with their coverage of the race weekend, beginning with streaming coverage of Friday's first practice session, which goes from 3am to 430am.  Practice 2 will be live on SPEED from 7am to 840am that same day.  Saturday brings us Practice 3, streaming from 4am to 5am.  Live coverage of Quals will be on SPEED from 7am to 830am.

Finally, the 2011 Grand Prix of Spain will be LIVE on Sunday, from 630am to 9am on SPEED.  There will be a replay from 3pm to 630pm that same day.

As usual, the F1 Update! crew will be more than pleased to bring you our usual sterling commentary, replete with trenchant wit, all weekend long.  We'll see you then!

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May 15, 2011

Graduation 2011

Ah, graduation.  That wonderful time of year when the fledgelings grow up and head out on their own into the real world.  A real world that involves many years of paying back student loans, yes, but the real world nonetheless.  Unless, of course, they go onto bigger and better things... like grad school.  In which case, they can avoid paying back those student loans for another few years.  But I digress.  I'd like to say congratulations to all the members of the Duck U Class of 2011.  Welcome to the Alumni club!

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May 14, 2011

A Day In The Life

I've not been posting much recently.  Truth be told, I've not been doing much of anything recently.  See, Monday was the start of Finals week at Duck U.  That means that it was also the start of buyback, and that means it was one of the four "Golden Weeks" at the Duck U Bookstore.  Other than Wednesday's visit with Vauc and Dr John, I've been pretty much focused on work, to the exclusion of most else.  Pretty much I'd get home, eat, watch a little television, then hit the hay.

Today was a bit different, however.  I was summoned by my doctor a few weeks ago, told that he wouldn't allow refills on my "keep Wonderduck alive" medication until I got up to the office for a status review.  Problem: his office is in one of the little towns that surround Duckford, to the North.  Pond Central is on the South side; indeed, if I threw a baseball from my balcony, it'd land outside the Duckford city limits... or at least, it would if my throwing wing was as strong as it used to be.  The upshot is that it's a 45-minute drive, more or less, to get to Doc's office.  Of course we've been too busy for me to get time off work to go during the week.  Such is the excitement of life, right?  Oh, and today was the only day off I'm getting for a while.  Graduation is on Sunday, and there's a Registration Event for the Fall semester next Saturday, and yours truly gets the pleasure of working them. 

The doctor's visit went well, though it took forever.  I've been going to Doc H for maybe 30 years; he was on the board of directors for the hospice Momzerduck used to run back in the day, and it was natural for him to become the family doc, y'know?  Anyway, the passage of time just blows my mind... I found out that his daughter is 21, studying to be a nurse, and will be attending Duck U in the fall.  I've seen her grow up via photographs in his office; that news just freaked me right the heck out. 

After the visit with Doc H (and a very professional stick job from his "lab rats"), I had a birthday party to attend for Ph.Duck's aunt.  She turned 90 on Friday, and there was a private room booked at a Swedish-styled eatery here in town (there's a huge percentage of Swedes in Duckford; indeed, Lilly and her family came over when she was two), always a good place to eat: fresh squeezed orange juice and lingonberries FTW!  Alas, the appointment with the doctor took too long, leaving me in a quandary.  I had planned to go to the doc, then grocery shopping, the the birthday party.  I got back to Duckford too late to go shopping, but too early to go to the party.  So I decided to visit a used book shop nearby, kill some time there.  It's been there forever, but I've never stopped in; sort of out of the way, y'know?

The moment I walked in, I was approached by the store's cat.  It took one look at me and knew I was okay; floor-counter-pile of books-Wonderduck-purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  So I spent a half-hour walking around the bookstore, skritching a cat... and if you've never done that, let me tell you, you're missing the best way to visit a bookstore ever.  When I was in grad school, there was a local bookstore that had a shopcat, too.  Whenever I dropped in, which was probably every week, he would immediately drape himself around my neck and just hang there like a scarf for the duration of my visit.  Wonderful way to peruse the shelves, lemme tell ya.  Sadly, the shopcat passed away a few years later, but got an obituary in the town's daily newspaper.

After the birthday party, I came back to Pond Central and promptly fell asleep.  Exciting day, huh?  Hopefully, now that the Spring semester has come to an end things will return to normal around here... or what passes for normal, that is.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:18 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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May 12, 2011

NSFW For Dr John

On Wednesday, I had dinner with Vaucaunson's Duck and his father, Dr John.  This was something of an event, as it was the first time since 1986 that the three of us were in the same room at the same time.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I've hung out with Vauc many times since we graduated from high school, and I've visited with Dr John on more than a few occasions in the past 25 years, but never at the same time.  To say that the quips, barbs, vignettes and japes flowed freely... would be to understate the situation.  Drastically.  One or two blogpost ideas came out of the night as well, which was an unexpected bonus. 

But the high point of the night came from Dr John.  Vauc, myself and Dr J were sitting around the dinner table when the good Doctor mentioned that he'd been reading The Pond.  Certainly I knew this before, but it always gives me a little thrill when I hear it.  Indeed, at one point he watched a few episodes of Strike Witches because of this little collection of pixels and stupidity, which Vauc wasn't aware of previously.  The look on his face was priceless... anyway, back to the story.  Dr J said that one of his favorite parts of The Pond was "the acronym."

Huh?  "Yes, you know... NSFW.  It took me a while to figure out what it stood for, but..."  Cue guffaws and general amusement.  After I could breathe again, I mused that The Pond has been pretty clean for awhile.  "You have, and as a reader I'd like to lodge a formal request."  Cue more guffaws.

Okay Dr John, here you go... just click "more."


Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:07 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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May 10, 2011

Well, I dunno...?

I've been sitting here at my computer, trying to figure out something interesting, funny or stupid to write about.  I'm coming up completely blank, which means I've probably fulfilled the last category with this post.  So I'm coming to you, my loyal reader(s?), with a plea: gimme something to write about.  Think of it like my "name that ship" contest, without having to name a ship... except it's not guaranteed that I'll write about what you name.

C'mon, I'm beggin' ya here!  In a show of good faith, here's a picture that made me laugh:

Don't make me bring out Rio Rainbow Gate! again...

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:09 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
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