October 31, 2015

F1 Quals: Mexico 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, we have one helluva circuit here in Mexico City.  This is a beast, and a lot of that is due to altitude.  Mexico City is over 7300 feet above sea level, meaning there's about 20% less air up there.  Less air means less drag on a F1 car, as seen by the Williams of Felipe Massa tripping the speed trap's sensors at 226.2mph during Q1 today.  Please note that the fastest a F1 car has gone during a race was 233mph at Monza, and that during the V10 era when engines were routinely putting out 1000hp.  However, there is a drawback as well.  20% less air also means less downforce, meaning less grip.  As a result, combined with a track that only completed having its asphalt laid a few weeks ago, cars are driving like they're on ice.  F1ast and F1urious: Mexico Drift!  We're seeing low-speed spins like the drivers have never touched a car before, high-speed spins that look like the cars have become frisbees, just less aerodynamic.  Paradoxically, the teams are all running Monaco-style front and rear wings, gigantic barn door-sized things in an attempt to claw back some of the missing downforce.  All this slipping and sliding is playing hob with the tires.  We've seen some gigantic lockups and the resulting epic flatspots over the past few days.  Oh, by the way, less air also means less cooling.  Nico Rosberg had a brake fire in Practice on Friday because there wasn't enough air getting into the brake ducts.  Kimi Raikkonen had what looked to be an engine fire during Practice 3 today, probably from overheating.  Some of this will be mitigated by all the rubber being laid down over the weekend (F1 tires love nothing more than to grip onto F1 tire rubber... if they made a track surface out of F1 tire rubber, we'd see driver's heads being torn off by the G forces), but did I mention that it's supposed to rain Sunday afternoon? 

With that daunting prospect in mind, let's take a look at the provisional grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of Mexico:

Pos. Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:20.436 1:20.053 1:19.480
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.808 1:19.829 1:19.668
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:20.503 1:20.045 1:19.850
4 Kid Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:20.826 1:20.490 1:20.398
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:21.166 1:20.783 1:20.399
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:20.817 1:20.458 1:20.448
7 Felipe Not Nasr Massa Williams 1:21.379 1:20.642 1:20.567
8 Embryo Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:20.995 1:20.894 1:20.710
9 Casachico Perez Force India 1:20.966 1:20.669 1:20.716
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:21.315 1:20.935 1:20.788
11 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:20.960 1:20.942
12 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:21.577 1:21.038
13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:21.520 1:21.261
14 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:21.299 1:21.544
15 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:21.422 1:22.494
16 HWIOAKAFernando Alonso McLaren 1:21.779

17 Felipe Not Massa Nasr Sauber 1:21.788

18 American Rossi Marussia 1:24.136

19 Will Stevens Marussia 1:24.386

Note: Jenson Button suffered a technical fault before Quals and did not appear in qualifying.  He therefore races at the whims of the stewards. 

Nothing too out of the ordinary, save for Raikkonen being 15th; on top of his engine fire earlier, in Q2 he had brake problems.  This is the fourth pole in a row for Rosberg, fat lot of good it's done him.  It was quite the fight between the two Merc drivers... Hamilton would throw down a time, Rosberg would better it, Hamilton would improve it, then Rosberg would go even faster.  Pretty fun stuff.  Throw in the upcoming rain, and Sunday's race is looking pretty darn great.

In other news from the weekend, American team HaasF1 named their second driver on Friday.  Partnering Lettuce Grosjean will be current Ferrari test driver (and former Sauber race driver racer) Esteban!  Not a bad choice, though hardly an inspired one, and probably "forced" upon them as part of the team's engine/technical deal with the team from Maranello.  Fair trade, I think.

Also, if you're a fan of Force India, enjoy these last three races as much as you can because in 2016 they're going to have a different name.  Vijay Mallya has reached a partnership that will see the team rebranded as Aston Martin, the legendary British car maker.  It's a pity... while I haven't rooted for a team since Minardi and SuperAguri left the grid, Force India came the closest.  And while I'd kill to see a F1 car in this livery:

...it's not going to happen.  A pity, as the Gulf Orange and Powder Blue scheme is, to me at least, the "Warbonnet" of auto racing.  On the other hand, having a title sponsor like Aston Martin might provide them the funding to take that step from midpack to racewinner.  Only time will tell, but it won't happen as Force India, mores the pity.

Remember, the race is on NBC at a decent time for the US... here's your chance to see a "debut" track in front of a flat-out ridiculously enthusiastic Mexican crowd.  The noise when they see Mexico City's very own Sergio Perez needs to be heard to be believed.  F1U! will be along sometime afterwards... see ya then!

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October 29, 2015

You Know What I Miss?

Feeling like I'm part of a team, of something larger than just myself.  That's what I miss.  Sure, we have our little soirees at work, the bi-monthly awards thingies or the lunches or whatever, and those are nice.  They can't change the fact that each of us claims processors are not only working alone, but we're really working against the others.  Every claim that Abbie, Bob or Chris does is one that Dave, Ernie, Frank or Wonderduck can't do... and there's only a finite numbers of claims out there.  It's not adversarial, it's just the way things are.

And it's a far sight from what it was like at the Bookstore, that's for sure.  If I had a problem, I could call on any of the other 20-odd managers in the region, plus another dozen or so that I knew from training classes or national meetings, based anywhere from San Francisco to Roanoke, Houston to Fredericton (that's Canada, y'all!), and I knew they'd help to the best of their ability.  I don't really miss the job, but I do miss that camaraderie. 

I also miss feeling like I was accomplishing something here at The Pond.  I'm not, and I don't think I have for a while.  I'm sorry about that.

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October 28, 2015

Well, THAT Was Unexpected... In A GOOD Way.

I've had my current cellphone for about four years, and it does everything I need it for.  It makes calls (I assume it receives as well, but it's been a while since anybody has actually called me), it both sends AND receives texts, it's my primary alarm clock, so on and so forth.  It's never more than six feet from me, and usually a lot closer... both because it's my ONLY phone (haven't had a land-line in a looooooong time) and because if something happens with my ticker (and, by the way, I had the 10 year anniversary of my Cardiac Event this past Sunday), having it close at hand might save my life.

So you can imagine how I felt when I left work on Tuesday and... the touchscreen didn't work.  It worked perfectly fine when I turned it off going IN to the office, but... well.  Not having a working touchscreen is something of a drawback on a touchscreen-based phone.  Oh, I eventually figured out a way to make a phonecall, involving the physical keyboard, the "phone" button on the frontplate, and a weird combination of opening and closing the slideybit, but I couldn't hang up when the call was over.  I also couldn't answer the phone ha-ha-ha, nor could I send texts.  Indeed, anything that needed the screen was no longer functional.  This was bad, as I had reset my alarm for a one-time only thing and couldn't reset it for the right time to wake me up for work.  Fortunately, my actual alarm clock, now closing in on 30 years old, still works... barely.

After work let out today, I set sail for my carrier's standalone store.  I had gotten the replacement insurance on the thing, so I assumed I'd be forced to upgrade to a so-called smartphone... there's no way they'd still have a four or five year old phone in stock.  As it turned out, I was right: they didn't have the phone anymore.  What they did have, though, was a brand new touchscreen!  After about a half-hour of techguy maneuvering little bits and pieces of the phone hither and yon, he called me over and said "it works great!"  Sure enough, it works like a charm.  Yes, the new frontpiece is purple, not blue, but I'll cope... when I first got the phone, I wanted purple anyway; they were out of stock. 

The best part however was that techguy laughed at my wallpaper (seen here to the left) when he turned the phone on.  And not a "that's stupid, ha-ha-ha loser" laugh, but an actual "I'm amused" laugh.  Which was nice.

Kids these days must have common experience with anime.  Either that or he's seen so many stupid/shocking/horrifying wallpapers over the years that he's stopped caring.  One of the two.

I'm not prepared to say which one.

But it doesn't matter, because my phone works again, at least for a while longer.  I'll take it for as long as it lasts.  It's a GOOD phone.  I'm used to it, and it at least tolerates me.  What more could you ask for?

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October 27, 2015

F1 on TV: Mexico 2015

Señors y señoras, hola!  Bienvenido a El Estanque!  That's pretty much used up my supply of Spanish, but it hopefully got you in the mood for this week's race, the "debut" of the Grand Prix of Mexico at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.  I put debut in quotes since there's been plenty of GPs of Mexico in the past, but it's been a while and never on this version of the track.  Let's take a look at the map, shall we?

A laps of the 2.76 mile-long circuit is expected to take around 75 seconds.  Alas, said lap won't be ending in the classic Peraltada corner, a massively fast 180° arc that used to run from Turn 12 to what is now Turn 16... Turn 17 is roughly half of it, though the banking is gone.  Instead, the layout now runs through a baseball stadium... on the aerial maps I've seen, it looks like Turn 12 enters the stadium somewhere near the right-field corner, and Turn 16 exits it somewhere up the third base line, but short of third base itself, through a gap in the stands.  It's hard to tell, as there is no outfield wall, and clearly the infield can be picked up.

That front straight is no slouch, by the way... indeed, at 1.2km, it becomes one of the longest on the F1 calendar.  That should make for some interesting pileups on the first lap.  We don't really know anything about how it'll race, per se, since F1 hasn't been there in 20 years or so.  Should be fast though, and my guess is about USGP level of tire wear.  That could be really wrong, however, so don't hold it against me if it turns out differently.  Definitely give me credit if I'm right, because I'm just that sort of duck.

The Tres Amigos plus Will Buxton will be providing their usual commentary, but NOT at the usual time and days.  Let's take a look:
Quals:  1p - 230p  live on CNBC
Grand Prix of Mexico:  1230p - 330p live on NBC

Yup, there's no mistype there: we're not getting coverage of Friday Practice except online.  For that matter, the coverage won't be on NBCSN, either!  How passing strange is this?

Well, we'll watch what's being shown... and we'll see you afterwards, yes?  Yes?

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October 25, 2015

F1 Update: United States 2015

The sky was grey and heavy as the Thundering Herd was led to the Circuit of the Americas' grid by polesitter Nico Rosberg.  If you tilted your head and squinted, you could almost believe it wasn't raining, the first time that had happened this race weekend since early in Friday Practice 1.  The track was still wet however, and the field was on Inters and glad for it.  Would it rain some more?  Would it ever dry out?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2015 United States Grand Prix!

*TURN 1:  The first turn of any F1 race is usually exciting as 20 cars try to file through a space made for two or three.  When something goes pear-shaped in the midpack, it accordions back through the field like a train derailing.  The one track where this should never occur is the Circuit of the Americas, where Turn 1 looks wide enough to fit the entire field through wheel to wheel.  Except when something intentional occurs.  At the start, polesitter Nico Rosberg was on the outside, nominally the racing line, with his teammate Lewis Hamilton right alongside, and it stayed that way as they ran up to the first turn.  Except Hamilton closed up next to Rosberg and kinda didn't bother to turn all that much, pushing his German teammate to the limits of the track.  At this point, Rosberg had a choice: fight back, possibly damaging both cars but more likely making Hamilton back down, or give up and surrender first place to Hamilton.  He gave up, allowing himself to be shoved into the runoff area and dropping down to fifth place.  At this point, the Legendary Announce Team had something of a disappointing moment, as they made it sound like they believed that Hamilton had lost control, when anybody with a set of eyes could see it was totally intentional.  We here at F1U! rolled our collective eyes and expected to see Hamilton gallop off into the distance, never to be seen again.  Behind the frontrunners, five cars were involved in incidents resulting in debris scattered around the outside of the first turn

*ABOUT THAT GALLOPING:  Did you know this was the first wet race we've had this season?  It was.  Which means this was the first time these cars had any real race time on the Intermediate tires, and we discovered something very interesting.  The Red Bull chassis is very good indeed on Intermediate tires, and the Mercedes... isn't.  Instead of running away and hiding, Hamilton instead found himself in an actual race, with Kid Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo right behind him, and Rosberg not far in arrears in fourth.  A Virtual Safety Car for the Turn 1 debris locked the field for a couple of laps, but the ending of the period saw Rosberg either be incredibly opportunistic (if you're a charitable sort) or a filthy cheater (if you have eyes), jumping past both Red Bulls at the restart.  He was actually alongside Ricciardo when it ended, and he made short work of Kvyat using the momentum from that move.

*CHARGING RED BULL:  On Lap 12, Ricciardo tried twice to get past Rosberg for second.  The first attempt saw him go too deep into Turn 1.  At Turn 2, though, he caught the Merc and set his sights on the lead.  Suddenly, the F1U! crowd actually started to be interested.  A few laps later, for what we believe was the first time this season, someone made an actual and real pass for the lead in a Formula 1 race when Ricciardo got past Hamilton.  It took only a few more laps for Rosberg to dispatch his teammate, who was complaining about his "worn inters."  Then, crucially, Hamilton pitted... for slick tires.

*THAT'S A FIRST: Valterri Bottas and Lettuce Grosjean had shifted to the soft slicks back around Lap 5, and they didn't work... it was still way too wet.  But when Hamilton stopped on Lap 18, the time had come and the other teams knew it. By Lap 20, the entire top 10 had stopped and put on the running shoes, and for the first time this race weekend, we saw F1 cars that were able to stretch their legs.  And by Lap 26, it was Rosberg leading Hamilton... Mercs in front, as usual.  It stayed that way until Lap 36.

*ENDGAME:  On Lap 36, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg got a little over-excited at being in passing position on Ricciardo and stuck his nose where it didn't belong.  One broken suspension later, and we had another Virtual Safety Car period while the recovery vehicles dragged the stricken Force India away.  Rosberg, Kvyat and Ricciardo stopped for new tires, promoting Hamilton into the lead and Ferrari's Seb Vettel to second.

*INTERLUDE: If Hamilton won, Vettel had to finish in second place to keep the driver's championship contest open until Mexico.  Rosberg's only chance was to win.  After the pitting, Hamilton led Vettel, Embryo Verstappen, Rosberg.

*RESTART / RESTOP:  On Lap 40, the racing re-began... and again Rosberg quickly dispatched the driver in front of him, blowing past Verstappen and setting his sights on Vettel.  A couple of laps later, the deed was done and Vettel was in third.  And then the critical moment of the race occurred, when Kvyat lost his car and smacked hard into the steel barriers.  As the incident happened in an awkward location, Berndt Maylander was summoned and a real Safety Car period began.  Now instead of pitting under green, Hamilton and Vettel got to pit under yellow flags.  Returning to the track after their stop, Rosberg led Hamilton and Vettel.  The restart occurred on Lap 46.

*END:  We looked to have a fantastic 10 lap sprint to the finish.  Instead, Rosberg blew a turn just enough to let Hamilton by for the lead... and on his fresh tires, there was no way anyody was going to haul him back in.  Rosberg barely managed to keep Vettel behind him to keep third place... and hand Lewis Hamilton his second consecutive World Driver's Championship, and his third overall.  It was still the best race of the 2015 season by a very long shot.  A wet track makes everything better.

*HAT DRAMA:  Afterwards, Rosberg sat dejectedly in the "podium room," where the top three finishers get to relax for a few minutes before heading out for the podium ceremonies.  Hamilton was there as well, of course, still pumped up on victory emotion.  After getting a hug from Paddy Lowe, the Merc tech director, Lewis grabbed his 1st place ballcap, lobbed the 2nd place cap to Rosberg, and handed the 3rd place cap to Vettel.  However, Rosberg wasn't paying attention, being (understandably) too wrapped up in his own emotions... and this happened.  When they moved out to the podium, Rosberg was booed by the crowd.  We here at F1U! think that Rosberg should have clocked Hamilton upside the head with the cap... we understand Hamilton was high on his victory, but we also think that Lewis was an insensitive berk, too.  Still, congratulations must be given to Hamilton on his third World Driver's Championship... he's moved into very rare company by doing that.

Next week we see the debut of the new circuit in Mexico City!  See you then!!!

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F1 Quals: United States 2015 Liveblog

Welcome to Sunday morning!  We don't do this very often, but the crappy weather the past coupel of days has moved Quals to this weird time and day... and it hasn't gotten much better, to be honest.  Let's start live-ish coverage!

Q1: Teams are under orders to use Full Wet tires and nothing else.  Which is good, because it's crap out there.  It's still raining, it's dark, it's wet, the spray is awful, and traction is less than optimal.  And oh boy! The folks on the pit wall are saying the first half of the session will be the GOOD weather.  It'll start getting worse after that... and we've got a Red Flag.

Carlos Sainz Jr lost it on the curbs at the start of the Esses (back where that other car is) and slid all the way into the TecPro barriers at the next turn... and it looked like he never slowed down in the process.  The session has restarted, but it's probably not going to matter... the rain is coming.

Okay, Q1 is over, and the rain never got worse.  Times actually improved, but that's all relative; it's hard to improve from 2:20.500, y'know?  That being said, wow, that was fun to watch.  The drivers had to have their hearts in their mouths, and the cars were slipping and sliding all over the place, but they were pushing hard because nobody knows if there'll be a Q2.    If there isn't, Daniel Ricciardo will be on pole, ahead of Hamilton, Rosberg and Kvyat: Red Bull Merc Merc Red Bull.

Q2:  Nope, we've got a Q2!  It's just started, it's still not looking great out there, and we're waiting for the next disaster.  Vettel kissed the wall late in Q1, but didn't appear to damage anything as he's on track right now.

Turn 10 is going to kill someone.  It's off-camber downhill, and everybody is winding up sideways...  yeesh.  American Alexander Rossi just came up with the understatement of the weekend: "It was a little sketchy out there."

Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton have both fallen victim to Turn 10 as well.  Raikkonen just called back to the pit wall "mrmrmmrmrr rm rmrmrmr rmrmrbrrlrl."  He didn't sound happy.

Kvyat just called in: "It's really dangerous out here."  I'm starting to think this is a bad idea.  So does Seb Vettel: "These are Red Flag conditions."

Q2 just ended... let's see if there's a Q3.  If not, Rosberg, Hamilton, Riccardio and Kvyat are your first four.

Heh from the Williams Twitter account: "By a show of hands, who hasn't had a moment at T10?"

Between sessions, Berndt Maylander is out on track in the Safety Car, checking conditions.

Q3: Q3 is being postponed for 10 minutes.  Here's the current standings:

There was just a broadcast from Jenson Button earlier, saying in effect that it's dangerous and bad out there.

Q3 has been called.  There will be NO Q3.  Rosberg takes pole.  Vettel and Raikkonen are dropped 10 places due to engine changes, so the first six are Rosberg, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Perez and Hulkenberg!  Two FIs on the third row, hooray!

The race is this afternoon, see ya then!

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October 24, 2015

F1 Saturday: USGP 2015 P3 + Quals

P3 ran with a completely empty house, as COTA didn't actually open to spectators until 12noon local time.  And by "ran", I mean "swam".  It started out damp and raining, and after 20 minutes or so it was sodden and bucketing.  By the 30 minute point, the teams had given up, parked their cars, and endeavored to keep everything dry.  An impossible task, as the rain just kept coming down harder and harder.  By the time the fans were let into the circuit, the weather was Biblical.

At best, the wind and rain was heavy.  Every so often, the weather would get much much worse, then calm back down to "heavy".  The start of the session was delayed a half-hour even before the Legendary Announce Team came on the air.  Not very long after that, it was pushed back another half-hour, to a 2pm local time start.

And then came the weirdness.  It started with a sighting in the Force India pits of this:

Yes, that's a paper boat.  That was merely the beginning.  In an attempt to give the hearty and brave fans that managed to get to the Circuit of the America's Cup any sort of show they could, the pit lane began to go insane.

Dancing Red Bull drivers, doing what was obviously a well-practiced pas de deux.  The cheers from the crowd drove the pit lane to new heights.

Still faster than McLaren/Honda.
The Williams pit crew forms... well, the Williams rowing crew.  The crowd enthusiastically rhythmically chanted "Row!  Row!  Row!" with every stroke.

Sauber got into the act with their kayak impersonation, being towed at fairly high speed behind two runners.  Not to be outdone...

... Force India broke out the bobsled.  At least they've got helmets.

And the breakdancer.  He even got a slow-motion replay on the world TV feed.

Quals soon got pushed back to 3pm.  Then 330p, at which point NBCSN gave up, went to NASCAR quals at Taladega, and sent F1 to their website.  Just a few moments ago, we got the news that if there isn't a break in the weather by 4p, everything is going to be scrubbed today and Quals will be rescheduled for 9am Sunday.  Maybe.  Force India has just challenged the other teams to an origami contest

Best.  Qualifying.  Session.  EVER.

Just as I was about to wrap this up, the word came down: Quals is cancelled, and rescheduled for 9am Sunday.  The last time this occurred (Japan, 2006?  2007?)  we didn't get video coverage here in the States, who knows what'll happen this time?  If I find out anything, I'll let you know, and I'll certainly post Quals results when they become available.  It'll still be wet, but there shouldn't be any arks about.  Race in the afternoon.

UPDATE: Quals will be live on CNBC at 9am Sunday morning!

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F1 Saturday: USGP 2015 Pre-Event Stuff

Okay, this is not good.  But first, a moment of levity from Legendary Announce Team member and author of three wonderful books Steve Matchett's twitter account.

"Good Morning from Austin!  Time to throw open those eagerly waiting bedroom curtains and see exactly what this new Texas day has to offer."

"Oh.  Plan B: Coffee and Palestrina."

Please note the picture was posted by COTA around 8am or so, not Matchett, but the point still remains: it's ugly out there.  It turns out that P3 actually began at 10am and NBCSN's coverage, which begins at 1130am, is on delay.  But it's somewhat amazing that P3 is running at all... all teams are required to run Full Wet tires and nothing else is allowed.  Meanwhile, Circuit of the America's Cup is not opening its gates until noon.  Why?

The weather continued apace last night, flooding is beginning to become widespread, and the storms are forecast to keep on keepin' on.  P3 is still going on, just without fans in the stands.  While that sounds weird, in a way it makes sense.  Consider: the FIA is responsible for the track and what occurs on it during a F1 weekend, but COTA is responsible for the circuit.  If the FIA needs to stop the running, they throw a red flag and everything is halted within two minutes or so as the last cars come into the pit lane... everybody safe.  If the same happens to COTA (lightning, for example), it's responsible for tens of thousands of people, and evacuating them to safety would be no small feat.

Avatar, I hope you didn't decide to attend the weekend. 

Practice 3 and Quals coverage coming after it's over... or sooner, if weather causes something.

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October 23, 2015

F1 Friday Practices: USGP 2015

The F1 Circus has made it to Austin, TX, site of the 2015 United States Grand Prix, and... well, so far things are NOT going to any sort of plan any sane person could have hoped for.

See, it's kinda raining down cats and dogs and hippopotami and blue whales and any other type of creature you care to name.  In the runup to Practice 1 it poured a good deal, but it stopped just before the session began.  The circuit was wet enough for the Full Wet tires to begin with, but long before the session ended everybody was on Intermediates.  The usual suspects did the usual things, nobody broke anything, and all was okay.  But in the gap between P1 and P2, Very Bad Things occurred.

Just as the Legendary Announce Team came on the air for P2, heavy rain and high winds hit COTA (and much of Texas in general).  As it hasn't rained in Texas since 2003, the water isn't soaking in.  Flash Flood Warnings have been released, and apparently Austin could get up to a FOOT of rain by Sunday night.  P2 had actually been delayed before TV coverage began because of the rain and, more importantly, lightning.  The track workers and camera crews were unable to take their positions around the circuit, most of which are protected... by steel and aluminum structures.  Zap.  After about maybe an hour or so the FIA announced that the medical helicopter wouldn't be able to fly for at least another two hours, at which point the sun would be rapidly setting.  Even without the storms, things would have been sketchy for P2 anyway, so the session was scrubbed altogether.  Good call, that... here's an amateur video of what it was like on the front straight.  The weather forecast for Saturday is for rain and more rain... indeed, it's quite possible that it'll be worse conditions than today.  If Quals gets cancelled, the FIA has three choices: 1) run Quals on Sunday; 2) have P1's times set the grid; 3) set the grid via the Driver's Championship standings.  #1 has practically no chance of happening, there's every chance the rain will still be coming down.  #3 is probably the most likely, as #2 seems too random to me.  But all of this is of secondary consideration, really, because of this:

Hurricane Patricia officially made landfall in Mexico just as I started writing up this post (around 7pm Pond Central Time).  While the wind speed was merely 165mph (down from the 200+ mph measured a couple of hours earlier), it was still a Category 5 hurricane, and heading dead for Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico and the hometown of Force India's Sergio Perez.  There's some five million people in the Guadalajara metro area.  Patricia is being reported as the most powerful hurricane to hit North America in recorded history... and it can't be helping the weather in Texas.  And ohbytheway, it's about 340 miles from Mexico City, home of next week's GP of Mexico.  Given what could possibly occur, there's already talk about that race being affected.  Let's just cross our fingers and hope for the best, both for the race and more importantly for the people about to be hit by a massive hurricane.

Hopefully, we'll have info tomorrow!

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October 21, 2015

Well, Darn.

It still counts as a successful season to me.

Wait 'til next year!

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October 20, 2015

Insanity Averted, Thanks To Friends

Around 1pm this afternoon, Jack, the hulking front desk guy, loomed over my cubicle wall.  The single word "Package" rumbled from his mouth and he handed me a box that looked tiny in his massive mitts, but in reality was just small-ish.  I thanked him, and reminded him that I could have run up to the front of the building to pick it up.  "Nah.  Cubs ducks are here."  He then turned and massived his way back towards his office.

See, Jack's a big (in both common usages of the term) Cubs fan, and I have a pair of Cubs rubber duckies on the top of my cubewall.  Guess he likes them.  Anyway, he left me with a box, which I promptly put to one side so I could finish up a series of claims I was working on.  This diligence lasted for roughly thirty seconds before I reached into my Magic Desk of Holding for a pair of scissors.  Screw the claims, I needed to open the box!  And what was inside?

The gift of music... and sanity.

I mean that quite literally.  I'll actually be able to concentrate on work now, as opposed to the tappity-tappity-tap-click-click-click-tap of ambient noise in the production room.  Throw in the ridiculously chatty ladies who sit just beyond my cube's front wall, and music will be a blessed relief, similar to that experienced when the morphine kicks in.

"But Wonderduck," I hear you ask quizzically and I've got to do something about that microphone, its directional feature is misaimed, "what happened to the iPond reader ReallyBored sent you?"  Funny story!  It arrived here quite promptly, it had enough juice in the battery for me to even turn it on at work, and everything worked quite well.  Got home that night, plugged it in to charge, installed iTunes, all that jazz.  When it was fully charged, I copied music over... and all hell broke loose.  There was a quiet screech sound from the iPond, the screen reset, and a rhythmic "tic" sound began to emanate from it... and I couldn't break out of anything.  I couldn't even do a hard reset.  Probably not a huge surprise... it was a 2006 edition, meaning it was pushing 10 years old.  RB apologized, which I immediately turned around... he shipped me an iPond, for heaven's sake. 

When I mentioned this in online conversation with Pixy, he immediately said he'd ship me one of his.  From Australia.  Surprisingly, it isn't as expensive as you'd think, about $12 US or so for seven day shipping.  It's a big world, but it's getting smaller all the time. 

It's tangent time!  That link will take you to the title song of Joe Jackson's album Big World.  Indeed, the video was shot during the recording of that very track.  "Wonderduck, that's a concert video," you say disbelievingly.  And indeed, that too is true.  Big World was JJ's attempt at capturing the immediacy and energy of a live performance without all the noise from an excited audience.  The crowd was told they were cutting an album, and they could only cheer at the end of songs.  Anybody violating this rule would be kicked out.  It says a lot about JJ fans that I have found nothing about anybody being ejected.  Anyway, it was an interesting experiment, and it turned out one of my all-time favorite JJ tracks, but on the whole I'd druther clap.  End digression, back to the original point.

Pixy took the sacrifical iPod to Australian Post where, he told me later, the lady behind the counter was very nice and cheerful and helpful, which immediately tells me that he wasn't in a US post office.  They had everything all set, and then she said that due to the US Department of Homeland Security rules, he had to demonstrate that the battery was removable.  Ah.  Yes.  Quite.  And y'know what?  That was the first time that I've ever been affected by the so-called draconian Homeland Security rules, save for having to remove my shoes at the airport.  Curse them!  Curse them all!

Cut to two weeks ago.  I'm on Steam when I notice my brother in feathers GreyDuck is also online.  We chat for a while about nothing in particular, although I congratulated him on his time-lapse video when he asks if the iPond had helped me at all.  So I explain the Great iPond Saga, and I can tell he's laughing on the other end of the (metaphorical) line.  I then mention that I had to borrow money from the folks to buy food this month (it was, and still is, a little tight around here, though it's getting better) and that a mp3 player was probably going to the only thing on my Xmas list this year (not that there's ever more than a couple of things in toto).  GD asked what I was looking at, and I threw him a link to the SanDisk Clip Jam.  It's not fancy, but I don't need fancy... I needed something that'll shuffle-play music and I'd be happy.  At which point, GD said "done."

Huh?  "Something good happened at work.  Gimme a week or two."  Wait, no!  "Shut up, WD.  Do something nice for someone else when you can."  But... but....  "Just say yes." 

So that's how I now have a surprisingly small mp3 player, and I can't thank GD enough.  And one of these days, something will happen here at The Pond to pay it forward.

Now if you'll excuse me, it looks like it's done charging.  I can load songs onto it for tomorrow!

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October 19, 2015

And I Laughed And Laughed And Laughed...

So here's the situation.  I'm at work... actually, I'm in the breakroom, refilling my water bottle with water and fresh cold ice (best benefit of the job: the icemaker), and I notice one of the really new hires (I'm no longer a total noob!) reading a paperback.  The cover is emblazoned with the words...

...which of course made me smile.  While I'm pretty much over Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, et al, I'll always remember them fondly.  I must have chuckled or something like that, for the kid reading looked up at me, and was that perhaps a look of annoyance that flashed across his face?  Oh no, not another vunderkinde who thinks his generation invented everything cool.  Yup... "Is something funny?"

"Yep!  The cover of your book... seems to fit this place perfectly."

"It's not really like that.  The book is called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and..."

"Yes, I know!"

"You saw the movie, huh?"

Oh.  Oh dear.  I've had this sort of thing happen to me before, and ever since that time in 2008, I've wondered why.  Do I look like I'm so incredibly uncool that I wouldn't watch anime, or read science fiction or manga, or even seen Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog?  I've even had someone express surprise that I've played Fallout 3.  Is it because I'm old?  What? What is it?  "Yes, I saw the movie.  Quite enjoyed it, actually, particularly the dolphins, and Zaphod's two heads effect was...".  At this point, I was going to say "...much better than the old TV show's", but the kid got all kinds of snippy then.

"The movie is awful, you should read the book."  Now look, the movie isn't going to win any awards, that's for sure, but short of having the ghost of Douglas Adams make his way back to this plane of existence and take a few classes in movie directing it wasn't likely to be any better than it was.  I mean, other than the Heart of Gold looking completely wrong, there's very little to complain about visually.  Heck, some bits of it were quite inspired: Mos Def as Ford Prefect?  Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry as Marvin and The Book?  Zooey Deschanel playing Trillian like the character was written for her?  But where does he come off suggesting I've never read the book? 

At this point, I probably should have nodded, said "good idea," and walked away.  If I had been in a better mood, I probably would have.  But I'm still in an awful mood, so I didn't.  "My hardcover copy is probably older than you are.  I have a British paperback first edition of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  I once had a small group of friends over to my house when I was a freshman in high school, just to listen to the radio play on NPR... on 8-Track!  But you're right, I should read it.  Again.  It's been a few years."  And I walked away, humming "So long and thanks for all the fish."

I then cranked out 40 claims in an hour, followed by another 39 the next, on the way to my best day yet: 245 claims in eight hours.  Maybe I can get the kid to piss me off every day?

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October 18, 2015

F1 on TV: United States 2015

I admit it: when it comes to Formula 1 these days, I am very tired and extremely jaded.  It's very hard to get excited race after race when the ending is pretty much preordained. "Oh look, it's a Mercedes on pole.  Oh look, a Mercedes is winning.  Oh look, a Mercedes won."  For the past six years, its been this way, just replace "Mercedes" with "Red Bull" for 2010-2013.  The politics of F1, often just as interesting (or more!) as the racing now just bores me.  Oh, Red Bull is threatening to pull out if they don't get Ferrari or Mercedes engines in 2016?  Whatever.  People wanting Honda to fire the guy in charge of the F1 engine program because it isn't winning races?  Yeah, good luck with that.  Bernie threatening yet another classic track (this time Monza) while Azerbaijan gets a race in 2016?  It's been done.   But there is one way to get me interested again... let's head to Austin TX for a big ol' race, American style!  Let's take a look at the track map for the 2015 United States Grand Prix:

Still the same place it's been 2012, but that's good because this is one helluva circuit.  Much the same way that English doesn't so much borrow words from other languages as much as it pursues other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary, the Circuit of the Americas did the same to the great racetracks of the world.  Turns 3-4-5?  Look to Silverstone's Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex.  6-7-8?  If you squint a little, they look similar to the S-Curves in Japan.  The big horseshoe (16-1 is surely a hat tip to Turkey's Quad-8.  But COTA's party piece is undoubtedly the runup to Turn 1, a roughly 140ft climb from the start/finish line to the top of "Phil Hill".

Doesn't look like so much from that angle, does it?  Don't worry, it gets better.  I've never heard a racer say anything bad about the track, nor any of the teams, and not even the tire supplier or fans grumble too much about it.  That pretty much makes it unique among new tracks.

Also unique is the coverage we're going to get from the Legendary Announce Team this weekend!  Here, take a look:
Practice 1: 10a - 1130a  Live on NBCSN
Practice 2: 2p - 330p  Live on NBCSN
Practice 3 & Quals: 1130a - 3p  Live on NBCSN
2015 United States Grand Prix: 130p - 5p  Live on NBC (includes pre- and post-race coverage)
We just don't get that type of coverage for any other race on the calendar, and it's all because it's the home race of NBC.  Hopefully the race will be good!

We'll see you then, then!

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October 17, 2015

Bad Mood.

I am in a very bad mood.  I have been all day, though I suspect I managed to keep it hidden at lunch with the folks.  Seriously bad mood.  I don't know why.  But there's not gonna be any blogging tonight because of it.  Because hell no.  Maybe Sunday.

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October 16, 2015

The Natural Culmination Of Mankind's Inventiveness.

First, there was the Duck Army.

Then came the Duck Army (Reversed).

Now today comes: the Duck Army Bomb.

The world will never be the same again.

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October 14, 2015

Ducks In Anime: One Punch Duck

-One Punch Man, Ep01
I've never been happier for green water ever.  The hype was ridiculous over OPM leading up to this season, and every ounce of me wanted to just ignore it.  After all, fighting anime ain't my gig except for Ikkitousen, and the fighting isn't the reason I watch that franchise.  However, I saw too many reviews suggesting that there was more to the show than just stupid over-the-top fighting, so I gave it a watch.  Good thing, too... it's funny as all get-out.  The main character has Superman's Dilemma...  no, not how does he have sex... but what happens when you're so strong that nothing at all can threaten you, and you can defeat anything literally with one punch?  If you're like our hero, you get bored.  You fight mostly because you're annoyed by the beings that ruin the roof of your apartment instead of using the door, or because they destroyed the grocery store that's most convenient for you.  You literally dream of a challenge that will cause you to actually have to work for a victory.

Instead, to you everything is a mook.  And you are empty inside.

But your rubber duckie loves you.  Because that's how rubber duckies do.

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October 13, 2015

Wins To World Series: 4

Cubs 6, Cardinals 4.

Holy crepe.  The Cubs eliminate their arch-rivals, their most hated foe, the St Louis Cardinals.  This was a Cardinals team that had the best pitching in the NL, and the Cubs just hit homer after homer off them.  This one by Kyle "Schwar-machine" Schwarber actually got stuck on top of the video board in right, probably the longest homer I've seen at Wrigley.  Outside of the park, Wrigleyville is going nuts.  Inside the park?

Hell, I'M going nuts.  This is the first time in Cubs history that they've clinched a post-season series at home.

Next up is either the Dodgers or the Mets in the NLCS, beginning Saturday.  Holy crepe!  It's happening!!!


UPDATE: Y'know that home run that ended up on top of the video board?  The Cubs have decided to create a tribute, much the way the Red Sox have "The Red Seat" or there's a tribute to Harmon Killebrew's 500+ foot blast at old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis.  Here's what they're doing:

That's right, they're leaving the ball in situ under plexiglass.  I am amused.

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October 12, 2015

Wins To World Series: 5

Cubs 8, Cardinals 6.

Six home runs for the Cubs, one from each of the first six players in the lineup... and oh, that's a postseason record for home runs in one game by one team.  The Cubs are now one win away from eliminating the Cardinals and moving on to the NLCS.  Game 4 is Tuesday afternoon... I have goosebumps!

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October 11, 2015

F1 Update: Russia 2015

A pretty day greeted the F1 Circus as Nico Rosberg led the field to the grid.  His Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton, sat next to him, supremely confident in his lead in the Driver's Championship.  Combined, the two had to outscore their Ferrari rivals by a mere three points to secure the team's second Constructor's Championship.  So would they manage this?  Would Ferrari's Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, champions both, be able to outrace the Silver team?  Or would the Mercedes-powered Williams of Valterri Bottas have something to say about the matter?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2015 Grand Prix of Russia!

*LIGHTS OUT... OY!: The start of the race was everything Rosberg could have hoped for.  Not only did he have and keep the advantage going into the big looping third turn, Hamilton pushed a bit too hard and washed away.  The lummoxing Mercedes suddenly was no longer interested in attacking the lead, but was having to defend second from the hard-charging Raikkonen who had gotten past Bottas for third at the start.  But it was all moot very quickly, as Sony Ericsson and Nico Hulkenberg came together in a mess of carbon fiber and tears.  The safety car was called out and the exciting start was put on hold.

*RESTART... OY VEH!:  While under the control of the safety car, race leader Rosberg called in to the pit lane: his gas pedal was sticking, to the point where he actually had to remove his foot completely from the pedal for the throttle to react.  As you can imagine, this did nothing for his overall pace.  Shortly after the restart, he relinquished the lead to Hamilton, then had to watch as the rest of the field went by as he nursed his broken Mercedes to the pit lane, never to be seen again.

*OHFERTHELUVVA...:  Shortly after the Ericsson/Hulkenberg coming-together, the Lotus of Lettuce Grosjean was seen in the pit lane getting a change of tires.  The stop took longer than normal, but things seemed fine for the Frenchman anyway.  Until he lost control, smacked the TecPro barriers with the back of the car, then pinwheeled and smacked the rest of the car into them, just to be completely sure he was out of the race.  The safety car was called out again while the marshals removed the Lotus, cleaned up the pieces, and repaired the barriers with duct tape.  No, we're not kidding.  No, this isn't the usual technique.

:  Once the race restarted again, Hamilton and Bottas pull away quickly from the squabbling Ferrari drivers, and everything settled down into something resembling a normal F1 race.  During the various pit rotations, the standings became Hamilton, Vettel, Sergio Perez in the remaining Force India, Bottas, the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo (who would retire with something broken in the suspension), and Raikkonen.

*IVAN DID WHAT???:  Carlos Sainz was in the points, but had a brake problem.  His front brakes had been overheating, despite his best efforts to keep them cool.  Still, everything looked like he'd be okay... until his front-left brake disc exploded in a cloud of black brake dust.  He spun and skidded back first into the wall at Turn 13, the same place he had his wreck in Practice 3.  The impact seemed to be minor, but as he pulled away to limp back to the pits, one of his rear wing's endplates was visibly hanging by a single mounting point and swinging in the breeze.  It took no time at all for it to fall off and end up in the middle of the track.  And then a marshal ran out to collect it...

...right in front of Seb Vettel.  One must wonder which one was more surprised, and which one needed a new firesuit more.  Moments later, Vettel called back to the pits: "We have a very brave Russian running across the track."

*THE END:  As expected, Hamilton's lead held up nicely, leading Vettel across the line by some six seconds.  It was what was going on behind them that was interesting.  Sergio Perez was in third but was on old tires.  Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen were both stalking the Force India driver... and each other.  On the second-to-last lap, Bottas got by the young Mexican driver, followed quickly by the Ferrari; the podium for Force India was clearly gone.  Until, on the final lap, Raikkonen tried an... inopportune... move on his countryman Bottas.  The Williams was sent into the barriers, broken and done.  The Ferrari was injured but still, technically, running, leaving a trail of sparks behind.  Perez went by to reclaim third, and Felipe Not Nasr Massa also went by for fourth.  Raikkonen would finish in fifth, earning just enough points to keep the Constructor's Championship in play... barely.  Until the Stewards came down after the race and gave the Ferrari driver a 30sec time penalty for causing an accident.  This dropped him to eighth and handed the Constructor's Championship to Mercedes for a second time.  Vettel's strong finish, mixed with Rosberg's DNF, moved him into second for the Driver's Championship, which in theory can be clinched at the next race.

Speaking of the next race, we'll be here in two weeks.  And by "here", we mean "Austin, TX", and by "next race", we mean the United States Grand Prix!  We'll see you then!

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October 10, 2015

Wins To World Series: 6

Cubs 6, Cardinals 3

The Cubbies needed to split in St Louis, and that's exactly what they did.  Now it's a best-of-three series, and the Cubs have the next two at Wrigley.  Next game is Monday!

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