April 30, 2015

Not So Good

I can't explain.  I can't.  Not without whining.  It's my fault anyway.  Way to go, Wonderduck.

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April 28, 2015

Your Weekly Asuka, Ep04

-Hibike! Euphonium, Ep04

A rather Asuka-less episode, with the cute goofball having maybe a minute of screentime.  She was remarkably serious this time around, too.  From being the voice of reason in the section leader meeting that actually determined the course of the series from here on out to teaching the newcomers to the bass section advanced techniques, she played the role of "good sempai" to a Tee.

What might not be obvious at first blush is that Asuka has, to date, gotten everything she's wanted in this series.  From corralling three of the main characters to making sure the band is trying for Nationals to subtly siding with the new teacher in the section leader meeting and thus pushing everybody to accept his somewhat abrupt (but effective) style, Our Goofy Fascination is proving to be ridiculously skilled in playing the political game.  One gets the impression that if she was even slightly normal she'd be president of the student council, or maybe dictator-for-life.

You know how there is a school of thought that says that the Star Wars series of movies is actually telling the story of R2-D2?  At least through Ep04, an argument can be made for Hibike!  Euphonium being Asuka's tale, told from the standpoint of the three so-called main characters.  To be honest, I'm not sure if I really believe that or if it's just because I'm doing this weekly thing, but I find the possibility to be intriguing.

Shhhh... don't tell anyone!

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April 27, 2015

War Thunder Ground Forces

I got very frustrated with the game War Thunder, the player community as a whole, and most importantly, its match-maker (which I've learned much more about than what I mention at that link).  Roughly, vehicles have Battle Ratings, or BR.  When you're looking to join a match, the game looks only at your highest BR score, and matches you with a maximum 1.0 BR spread.  So if you have a BR plane of 3.0, you may be matched against a 4.0 BR plane.  In this situation, you would NOT be matched against anything lower than 3.0, though, because then the gap to the 4.0 plane would be too large.  The important thing is that you're only compared via the top rating in your lineup of three planes/tanks/whatever, so if you have a Corsair, a Buffalo and a Peashooter, you're matched up via the Corsair... which means you're going to be sealclubbed after your Corsair is gone.  Further, as you play you earn improvements for your plane... you get a new engine instead of one rebuilt and repaired; you get fresh machine guns instead of ones with worn-out barrels, that sort of thing... but the BR doesn't change.  The difference between a stock plane and one that's fully improved (or "spaded" in player terminology) is huge.  So, you have a stock P-38 Lightning and you're flying against a spaded FW-190D (or whatever)... and you're on the ground, upside down and burning before you know what hit you.

You'll have to imagine the "upside down and burning" part.
Finally, I said enough was enough.  I'm not having fun with the airplanes anymore, and Avatar's been extolling the virtues of the game's Ground Forces feature... eh, what the hell, let's give it a shot.


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April 25, 2015

To L With You

You can't get more Chicago than this without a deep-dish pizza somewhere in the picture.   Though, considering where this must have been taken, there's probably a few dozen Italian places within a few blocks.

The Pond's internet connection is... poor... tonight, so I'm hoping this posts, and leaving it at that.  Maybe I can go back to being creative.  Everything is breaking down at once over here.  The apartment complex will be replacing my toilet on Monday... until then, I have to manually "flush" it by pouring water into the bowl in copious amounts.  Came home from lunch on Friday to discover the floor of the bathroom was pretty much a swimming pool in the making.  After cleaning it up, I took a nap... and woke up to another swimming pool.  Seems one of the bolts (?) that holds the tank to the stool (?) had loosened.  No problem, the maintenance guy said, just need to tighten it up.  Except he couldn't.  The toilet is old, the water from the well is ridiculously hard, and between the sediment and corrosion, the bolt was frozen and he couldn't budge it, no matter how he tried.  Whatever, he said the upshot was that it was easier just to turn the water off to the thing so I don't wind up swimming in the bathroom and they'll replace it with a new one.  As I'm not paying for it, I'm game.  Thankfully, I have an empty mini-water-cooler bottle lying around the place, I can use that as a tank.  That, and the handheld shower head reaches that far, too.

I'm going to shut up and take a nap.

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April 24, 2015

Your Weekly Asuka, Ep03

-Hibike!  Euphonium, Ep03

It's not uncommon for me to be more interested in a secondary character than a main... I love background characters, and always have. The Skippy T Spearcarriers of the world are people too, and they all have stories, at least in a world well-created.  Sure, the true background characters, i.e., the ones there to make it look like the world is populated, they won't have anything, but the students sharing a classroom with Our Heroes?  They should be people in their own right.  Maybe not as interesting as a 12-year old high school senior, or a schoolgirl who fights demons at night with a holy water-powered steam iron, but people nevertheless.

However, it is uncommon for me to create a weekly entry for them, but yet that's what I'm going to do for the character of Asuka from Hibike!  Euphonium.  There are two reasons for that.  The first should be obvious.  The second is that, while she's loonier than a sack full of wet quokka, she's also dearly devoted to the concert band in the show.  So much so that she's one of the true driving forces behind its continued existence after the second-year student walkout alluded to in this episode. 

What I'm saying is, there's more to her than a cute goofball.  I mean, sure, that's undoubtedly what I'll be focusing on in this running feature, but don't be surprised if it gets deeper than that.  If you're interested in a weekly writeup on the series, visit Ben over at Midnight Tease; he's adopted the show.  In contrast to my writeups, there's actual thought behind his!

Since I missed Week 2, here's a special bonus Asuka:

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April 23, 2015


Today is World Book Day.  It is also Canadian Book Day, which tends to be covered with gravy and unerringly polite.  In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, today is the Feast Day of Holy Glorious Great-martyr and Victory-bearer and Wonderworker Saint George.  April 23rd is the birthday of Baseball Hall of Fame players "Sunny Jim" Bottomley and Warren Spahn, and non-HoF players Dolph Camilli and Emilio Bonifacio (Mr Goodface!). 

Today is also the birthday of Charlie "Slats" Dorman, who played one game for the White Sox at catcher in 1923.  He went 1-for-2 in his debut, which would be promising if not for the other side of the coin.  He came into the game against the Philadelphia Athletics in the 6th inning, relieving Roy Graham (who was relieving Roy Schalk) behind the plate.  In the four innings he played, the A's went three-for-four in steals.  The final score was 9-0 A's, and Slats was never seen in the majors again.  He left baseball later that year and moved back home to San Francisco, where he joined the police force.  Late in October of 1928, he was playing a game of baseball with his Elks Lodge when he shattered his kneecap during a play.  Infection set in, and he died of pneumonia in the hospital in November of that year.  He was 30.

Some 40 years later, in a hospital near Wrigley Field (which also debuted on April 23rd), a Wonderduck was foist upon an unsuspecting world.

Birthday candle!
As has always been the case, nobody is more surprised than myself.

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April 22, 2015

Duck. Duck. Grey Duck!

Because it's been years since I last mentioned it, and I'm feeling a little melancholy today.

It's funny... I see this little object many many times a day, and yet I almost never look at it.  Shame, that. 

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April 21, 2015

Star Wars: The New Film

Over at Brickmuppet's place, there was a lively little discussion of the second official trailer released for the new Star Wars film coming in December.  I decided to let it cool down a touch before bringing it over here... and here it is.  See, over there I mentioned that I didn't believe it to be so heavily "wow factor"'ed as the first trailer.  There's no holy crap that's awesome! moments, but it still does a great job of getting people, aka "me", geeked up for the movie.  Reader David disagreed, saying that the scene showing the crashed Imperial Star Destroyer did the job quite nicely.

Personally, I was amused by this shot, as I can't imagine any way a 1.6km long starship with obvious battle damage could survive re-entry to an atmosphere and a crash landing that buries most of it under the ground.  Yet there it is, essentially in one piece.  David also suggests that it's the first time in the series that we get an idea of the true scale of these ships.  Really?  Because eight-year-old me had a pretty good grasp on the concept after seeing this scene from the beginning of Star Wars.

Endlessly long white ship gobbles up the ship it was chasing.  White ship big!
Anyway, back to my original point.  I still stand by the statement that Trailer #1 was the Wow! Moment for the film, and intentionally so.  New director, new producer, new characters, and three other "new films" that the series has to have to recover from.  Don't concentrate on plot, concentrate on making it feel like Star Wars did that first time we saw it as kids.

That's the moment, right there, that did it for me.  Three X-Wings in formation, S-foils in attack position, racing at full power across the surface of a lake.  Though there was nothing like it in the Original Three films, it immediately took me back to being 10 years old, watching SW:ANH for the 10th time in the theatres.

And that's exactly what Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, has to do.  Make us feel like we were kids again.  I hope they manage it.

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April 19, 2015

F1 Update: Bahrain 2015

Back again for the second night race at Sakhir, the assembled F1 Horde sat burbling quietly under the lights.  Would the Mercedes massacre?  Would Ferrari fight fiercely?  Would Williams win?  THIS is your F1 Update for the 2015 Grand Prix of Bahrain!

The beginning of a race is signaled by the sequential lighting and mass extinguishing of five red lights.  The way these work is interesting, to a certain extent.  Once the field has taken to the grid, Charlie Whiting, technical overseer for Formula 1, presses a button on his control panel that begins a random countdown.  When the countdown reaches zero, the set process begins.  Today, there was a remarkably long stretch of time between the cars hitting the grid and the lights coming on.  Part of that was due to Pastor Maldonado taking the wrong place on the grid for reasons not worth getting into and easily capsulized by rolling your eyes and saying "Maldonado" in a disgusted tone.  But part of it had to be the timer taking longer than we can remember.  This is somewhat more important than you might at first think... F1 cars are cooled by airflow over relatively small radiators.  Thus, if they aren't moving, they aren't being cooled... and the cars had been still for a very long time indeed.  Much to our surprise here at F1U! HQ, everybody on the grid got away clean... Felipe Massa started from the pitlane due to a problem getting started on the grid, and Jenson Button's power unit woes continued, the team giving up on getting him into the race.  Meanwhile, both Manor cars took the start.  Just sayin'.

Thus the race started, and noticed was served quickly that Ferrari were not messing around.  The two Red cars, starting second and fourth on the grid, actually seemed to team up as they headed into the first turn.  In doing so, they positioned themselves so that the Mercedes of third-place-sitting Nico Rosberg had two choices to make: either back off the throttle and surrender the place to hard-charging Kimi Raikkonen, or bury his Silver Arrow deep in the bowels of one of the Prancing Horses.  Wisely, he backed down, but the tone for the race had been set.  A dogfight was in the offing!

And then a lack of refreshing sleep caught up with the members of the F1U! staff.  This is not an uncommon problem when the weather begins to change around Duckford.  It was right around the time of the first pit stops, with Hamilton leading Rosberg and Vettel leading Raikkonen, that the whole of the F1U! horde found itself in that state of not-quite-asleep, eyes closed, brain right on the edge of pulling up a pillow and shutting down.  The first time we watched the race, we stayed that way until the winner's anthems were played.  The second time, we picked up from where we remember leaving off.

And promptly went under again.  This time though, the F1U! staff managed to pull ourselves out of the blissful arms of Morpheus (the Greek god, not the Matrix character) after roughly 20 laps, just in time to see the second round of pitstops.  In the rotation, Hamilton still led, but Vettel's Ferrari jumped Rosberg's Mercedes for second.

This situation only lasted for a few laps.  Vettel, finding himself under all sorts of pressure from Rosberg, went wide out of a fast turn and badly damaged his front wing, either on a rumblestrip or from just barely getting into a sandtrap at high speed.  Either way, the Ferrari had to come in for an unscheduled third stop, letting Raikkonen into third... well, not really.  In truth, Raikkonen was in the lead at this point, but only because he had yet to stop for tires.  He did not stop until ten laps after everybody else, emerging on fresh Option tires in third place.

While much faster than either Mercedes at this point because of the tires, Raikkonen was 24 seconds in arrears to Hamilton, and 19 to Rosberg.  By Lap 50, the gap to Rosberg was 10 seconds and dropping by over a second per lap.  By Lap 55, Rosberg had mirrors full of Red car, and it looked like we were going to have an exciting fight for second.  And then both Mercedes drivers reported problems with their rear "brake-by-wire" systems.  Rosberg's glitch occurred just as a turn approached, and he had to run very wide, letting the Finn past with no fight at all.  The question then became "could he catch Hamilton in the few remaining laps?"

Alas, the answer was "nope."  He did cut the lead to only a few seconds while Hamilton wallowed around the track with recalcitrant braking, but it wasn't enough.  Lewis Hamilton led Raikkonen, Rosberg, the Williams of Valterri Bottas who was some 45 seconds back, and Vettel who probably would have passed Bottas in another lap, across the line for his third win of the season in what turned out to be a pretty interesting race.

It's clear that Ferrari may not be able to match the overall pace of the Silver Arrows.  However, it's also clear that it's a lot closer than anybody expected, and while I'm not positive about this, it seems like when the cars are on the softer, less durable tires, the Red cars are quicker.  It's not enough to make up the overall gap between the two marques, but it does make it a lot closer.

The next race will be Spain on May 8th, as the European leg of the season begins.  At that point, we'll have a whole new championship as that's traditionally when the upgrades start to get applied to the cars.  Might make for some extra excitement!  We'll see you there and then.

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April 18, 2015

F1 Quals: Bahrain 2015

Pretty night at Sakhir tonight as the F1 Circus gets ready for tomorrow's race, but who's going to be leading the horde towards Turn 1 when the lights go out?  Here's the provisional grid:

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.928 1:32.669 1:32.571
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:34.919 1:33.623 1:32.982
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.398 1:33.878 1:33.129
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:34.568 1:33.540 1:33.227
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:34.161 1:33.897 1:33.381
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:34.488 1:33.551 1:33.744
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:34.691 1:34.403 1:33.832
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.653 1:34.613 1:34.450
9 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:35.371 1:34.641 1:34.462
10 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:35.007 1:34.123 1:34.484
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.451 1:34.704  
12 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:35.310 1:34.737  
13 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:35.438 1:35.034  
14 HWMODBNA McLaren 1:35.205 1:35.039  
15 Embryo Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:35.611 1:35.103  
16 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:35.677    
17 Kid Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:35.800    
18 Will Stevens Manor 1:38.713    
19 Roberto Merhi Manor 1:39.722    
20 Jenson Button McLaren No time    

The same "Big Six" as we've come to expect, just a little scrambled.  Actually, Vettel was the polesitter right up until the very last moment.  Unsurprisingly, Hamilton nailed him on his last attempt, and to be honest there was a sense of inevitability to the proceedings.  Of COURSE Lewis Hamilton was going to be on pole.  No, it doesn't matter than his car is on fire and he's only got two tires, he'll still be faster.

One nice thing to see is that McLaren appears to have begun their long trek out of the darkness, at least kinda.  Jenson Button had an engine failure before he could set an actual qualifying time, and races at the Steward's whim.  However!  HWMODBNA got his valiant steed out of Q1 and firmly into Q2.  Reliability is still an issue obviously, but the signs are there: they're picking up about a second per lap ever race.  Again, this is the easy stuff they're doing.  Analogy time!  When painting a wall, it's a cinch to slather the big areas and cover dozens of square feet at a time.  Things start to slow down, though, when you're painting the baseboards and the moulding and around the electrical outlets.  It's those details that make the wall look good when you're done... and it's the little details that take a F1 car from the midpack to join the big guys.

The race is in the morning, 10am Pond Central time... you bring the bagels, I'll have the cold pizza ready.  See ya then!

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Random Anime Picture #96: Flying Phoenix

-The Wind Rises
Because we all need more Hosho in our lives.

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April 17, 2015

Happy Birthday, Vauc!

Today is the birthday of Official First Friend of the Pond Vaucaunson's Duck.  We've known each other for something like 38 years, more or less.  During that time, we've had our differences like any friends will, and there was one long period where neither contacted the other for nigh on six years.  Despite that, we remained friends.  I suspect we've become rather closer as the number of candles on our cakes have increased.

Friend GreyDuck and I joke about being related, what with our similar tastes in music and affection for vinyl waterfowl.  With Vauc, however, it stopped being a joke long ago... I'm happy to call him family, even if that pesky genetics thing says otherwise.  Hell, I'd call him "brother" if he didn't already have one that might take offense.

Here's to ya, Vauc.  Enjoy the chocolate gingerbread cookies.

Happy Birthday.

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April 16, 2015

Stormageddon 2015: One Week Later

Seven days ago, the area around Duckford and Pond Central suffered through a series of severe storms.  More and more information regarding them, and the damaged caused, has been coming out over the past few days.  The National Weather Service has confirmed a total of seven tornadoes hit the area, three of which were "satellite tornadoes" from the big EF-4 that did most of the damage. 

The one my neighbors and I saw was classified as an EF-0, did no real damage, and had winds around 70mph.  I've actually experienced stronger straight-line gusts.  I can only assume it was picked on at tornado school.  I jest, of course.  Of the seven tornadoes confirmed, six were either EF-0 or EF-1 in strength. 

Residents were allowed back into Fairdale a few days after the tornado hit, to recover what they could.  Not everybody from Fairdale has been accounted for even now, though it's believed all the victims have been found.  The death toll still sits at two.  Again, that could have been so much worse.

This picture is particularly exciting for me, as it's the first one I've seen that can be recognized as of the tornado that was forming behind Pond Central.  For anybody curious, that's South Perryville Road, and the L-shaped object on a pole in the middle distance is the emergency siren for the area.  That pole is at the intersection of S Perryville and the street my apartment complex is on.  Pond Central would be about a mile, mile and a half, to the right of this picture.  About a half-mile to the right is the site of the Bad Day In Duckford

Other than all that, however?  Life continues on unabated, as it always does for those not directly affected by disasters.  Something about that feels... wrong, somehow. 

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April 15, 2015

Triage X Diagnosis: Black

So, I decided to give Triage X another episode.  I figured I owed it that much, after the amount of fun High School of the Dead provided.  Maybe, just maybe, it'd realize how bad the first episode was and make some sort of drastic change that'd make it watchable.  It's not totally unheard of.

But in the case of Triage X, that would be impossible.  Everything loathsome from the first episode is back, this time with bandages and narcotics thrown in for good measure.  And just why exactly the bad guys decide that duct-taping folding chairs to someone's forearms would immobilize them is beyond me... particularly when the tape is applied in a small X to each seat.  I just don't it.

Even the single use of color for dramatic purposes, shown above, is disappointing because you just know it's going to go away for the BD release.  Instead of dramatic silhouettes, you'll wind up with bodies and blood, just like every other awful show that has a surgeon-samurai with gigantomastia in it.  Really, it's almost enough to make me weep for the anime business that crepe like this can not only be released, but awaited eagerly. 

I'll be fair, however: there was one change I can approve of in this episode.

They added "Episode: 02" to the card.  After last week's "Prescription of Hell" with no hint of what that meant, this must be considered a step up.  Maybe someone from CrunchyRoll reads The Pond.

Whatever.  This is so dropped.

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April 14, 2015

Random Anime Picture #96: ... And Taxes

-Hibiki!  Euphonium, Ep01

Why yes, yes I am eight years old, why do you ask?

So I did my taxes tonight, a duty that I've been dreading for... reasons that should be obvious if you've been reading The Pond for any length of time.  I'm happy to say that the disaster I was expecting didn't occur.  So yay for me.  Up until that time, however, I looked very much like the young woman up there as I attempted to muster up the courage to actually do them.  Just without the sound effects.  I never could manage those.

Oh, the show, right right!  Loved the first episode, it's not at all K-On! with brass instruments like most people were lazily expecting.  Friend Ben has an entertaining little writeup that I recommend you read, as he went in-depth into the episode, and I'm going to be vapid and vague. 

The first thing to point out is that, whether you've liked their recent shows or not, Kyoto Animation still makes everything look friggin' amazing.  Sure, I picked a shot of sakura snow to illustrate that, but I could just have easily used this picture:

...and the point would still remain true.  Even a random throwaway shot of some garbagecans in a hallway looks beautiful.  In fact, the show as a whole so far reminds me of the days before KyoAni did Lucky Star and decided afterwards that everything had to look like that.  That maybe they're getting away from that is a good thing in my book.

"...is that a camera?"
It's not just landscapes and backgrounds.  Everything in Euphonium looks great.  Even the story seems to be less cutesy than one might expect, though I don't expect it'll ever be considered "dark".  "Slightly cloudy on a summer's day", perhaps, but not dark.  If for no other reason than...

...her.  In a world where everybody is refreshingly normal, she's about as nutty as squirrel poop, but even that's handled in a goofy, yet realistic way.  My feelings mirror Ben's here: "If there was a girl like that in my school, I would have pledged to help her take over the world."  She's a wackadoodle, but she's a fun wackadoodle.

I'm not saying this is going to be a slam-dunk.  KyoAni's had a bad track record with me of late, but there are signs that this might be something special.  Keep your wingtips crossed.

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April 13, 2015

F1 on TV: Bahrain

From Shanghai, the F1 Circus now packs up and wings westward.  Across China, over the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the length of Pakistan, maybe catching a small piece of Afghanistan, winging over southern Iran just to the north of Bandar Abbas, crossing the Persian Gulf, and landing nearly 12 hours later at Bahrain International Airport.  From there, it's a 40 minute drive down the Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Highway to the Bahrain International Circuit, located at Gate 255, Gulf of Bahrain Avenue, Umm Jidar 1062, Sakhir... the home of the 2015 Grand Prix of Bahrain.  Let's take a look at the track map:

Seems like quite the journey for us to end up... here.  It's very much a Tilkedrome, almost totally indistinguishable from Malaysia or China... only the decorations differentiate between locations, really.  Well, that and the sand in Bahrain.  There's a lot of that.  The University of Bahrain is literally right across the street from the Bahrain International Circuit, too... indeed, the bleachers that line the outside of Turns 1 through 3 are called the "University Stands."  See?  You really DO learn things here at The Pond! 

Anyway, the track surface aggregate is very grippy.  Interestingly, it was shipped from Bayston Hill quarry in England, but it should play merry hell with the rubber this race.  There's also the ever-present fear of sand on the track; the adhesive the event organizers spray on the surrounding desert does seem to keep most of it down.  The track is mostly very wide, thus allowing plenty of room for cars to run side-by-side, ha-ha.  It has one of the best medical centers on-site at a racetrack in the world, with perhaps only the Abu Dhabi facility rivaling it.

On the whole, it's not a particularly challenging circuit, but there's one huge change being made to it this year: lights.  That's right, this year the Grand Prix of Bahrain is going to be a night race.  That'll add a whole lot of confusion to the proceedings, since nobody's ever driven here under the lights. 

It's a huge boon for us, the viewers, though!  Let's take a look at the TV schedule...
10am - 1130am: Practice 2 Live on NBCSN
10am - 1130am: Quals Live on CNBC
930a - 12noon: 2015 Grand Prix of Bahrain live on NBCSN

No staying up until 4am, or getting up at 6am, for this one!  For once, I can actually be happy with Formula One Management. 

We'll see ya after!

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April 12, 2015

Ducks In Anime: Lyrical

-Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, Ep02
It's not grabbing me the way A's or StrikerS did, but at least so far ViVid has been harmless.  I was exchanging e-mails with Ben after last week's episode, and he thought it strange that there weren't a lot of fansub choices available for the series. 

I think it's because the Nanoha franchise is kinda old nowadays.  The last non-movie installment, StrikerS, came out eight years ago to quite a bit of disdain amongst fans (though it's my favorite), and that's really a long time in the anime business.  People who are anime fans now like as not have never experienced the Nanoha thingy.  The two movies are graphically upgraded retellings of the first two seasons, which is great, but... y'know?  There just isn't the excitement behind the franchise anymore.

But it's got a duck, and that makes it okay with me.

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F1 Update: China 2015

Right, so, much to my surprise, I stayed up to watch the race last night.  This morning?  It started at 1am, so you make the call.  Anyway, I had no plans to do so, but an overly-long nap after a day of intestinal distress found me wide awake when the lights went out.  So what happened?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2015 Grand Prix of China!

Weather was no issue when the lights went out and the Thundering Herd piled into Turn 1.  It took very little time at all for the front of the field to settle down to Hamilton-Rosberg-Vettel-Raikkonen-Bottas-Massa... or Merc-Ferrari-Williams, if you prefer.  Prior experience would have us see that and think "Silver Arrows galloping over the horizon."  But!  This is no longer 2014, my friends... it's 2015, a new era in Formula 1!  Things have changed!  And by that, I mean that Mercedes didn't gallop over the horizon... at least, not alone.  Ferrari tagged along, staying close enough that Hamilton and Rosberg could clearly see red in their rear-view mirrors.  By Lap 10, a mere six seconds separated the leader from Raikkonen in fourth.  It looked like Ferrari's plans to make their tires run longer than the Mercs were working... and if they could stay in touch with the Silver cars, they would actually have the advantage.

Which is why it came as such a shock when Seb Vettel brough his Ferrari in on Lap 13, before either driver for the German team even discussed stopping.  After all the drivers made their stops, the standings were exactly the same as they had been: Hamilton-Rosberg-Vettel-Raikkonen, with seven seconds covering the four.  On one hand, Ferrari had to be ecstatic: they were actually racing with the dominating Mercedes.  On the other hand, they had to be disconsolate: their strategy of out-lasting the Mercedes on tires had clearly been launched out the window.  Still, it could be worse; they were still in contact with last year's champs, and it was pretty clear they would be able to stay right there.

So far this season, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton had seemingly called a truce after last year's nigh-on open warfare.  These days, both drivers were saying all the right things and appearing to mean it.  Sure, Rosberg did say that he wasn't the team's second driver, but you'd want him to say that.  On Lap 20 however, we heard a call to the pit wall from the German wunderkind: "Lewis is driving really slowly, get him to speed up."  After the race, he go even farther, accusing Hamilton of intentionally sabotaging his race by driving just slowly enough to force him into his dirty air.  This would cause his tires to wear more, due to decreased aero grip.  This had the effect of letting Vettel close up, ohbytheway.  The after-race interview was... um... heated.

Anyway, everybody stayed close (at least in F1 terms, anyway) until the second round of pitstops occurred in the early Lap 30s.  By the time it was all over and done with, Hamilton had a six second lead over his teammate, who was four seconds up on Vettel, who had a similar gap to his teammate.  The Williams were at least on the same lap, some 50 seconds back, but there's clearly Big Two and an Everybody Else now.

Now that the leading four were on the harder Prime tires, the race went straight to hell with 20 seconds covering them.  Unfortunately, they weren't evenly spaced: the two Mercs were a couple of seconds apart, then there was a 12 second gap back to Vettel, who was slowly losing time to his Finnish comrade.  Indeed, on Lap 50 it looked for all the world that we were going to see an exciting fight between the Red cars for the final podium position.

Until 17-year-old Max Verstappen's Toro Rosso had A Bad Thing happen to the rear of his car just over the start/finish line on Lap 53.  With his rear tires locked solid and a lump sounding less like an engine and more like the sound pudding would make if it were dropped down a flight of stairs... and made of metal... he tried to pull off the track, but couldn't manage the feat.  Not his fault, this fell into the category of "comprehensive and total failure." 

Unfortunately, it occurred on the front straight, where it would be singularly unsafe to try and send marshals out to recover the car unprotected.  It would have been even more unsafe to leave the car where it was, so Berndt Maylander was duly summoned to the track for Safety Car duties.  And that's how the race ended, under the watchful eye of The Powers That Be.  Hamilton led Rosberg, Vettel, a slightly disgruntled Raikkonen who later said that he believed he could have taken Vettel, followed by the Williams of Massa and Bottas.  Both McLarens finished the race (12th and 13th) as did both Manors (15th and 16th). 

A race that was right on the edge of being really exciting... coulda been.

Next weekend, we'll be in Bahrain, where it's going to be hot again... look for Ferrari to make a comeback.  See ya there!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 02:59 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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April 11, 2015

F1 Quals: China 2015

Before you can race in F1, you must qualify.  This has been duly done by the accumulated Circus, but how did everything end up in Shanghai?  Let's take a look at the provisional grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of China:

Pos Name Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:38.285 1:36.423 1:35.782
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.496 1:36.747 1:35.824
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:37.502 1:36.957 1:36.687
4 Felipe Massa Williams 1:38.433 1:37.357 1:36.954
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:38.014 1:37.763 1:37.143
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:37.790 1:37.109 1:37.232
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:38.534 1:37.939 1:37.540
8 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:38.209 1:38.063 1:37.905
9 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:38.521 1:38.017 1:38.067
10 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:38.941 1:38.127 1:38.158
11 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:38.563 1:38.134  
12 Kid Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:39.051 1:38.209  
13 Zygote Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:38.387 1:38.393  
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:38.622 1:38.538  
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:38.903 1:39.290  
16 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:39.216    
17 Jenson Button McLaren 1:39.276    
18 HWPMBN McLaren 1:39.280    
19 Will Stevens Manor 1:42.091    
20 Roberto Merhi Manor 1:42.842    

Pretty much what we expect these days.  The Mercs have the one lap speed advantage over the Ferraris, but aren't as easy on their tires as the red cars.  The team from Maranello looked quite  good during long runs in practice, suggesting that Vettel and Raikkonen will be bringing it to Hamilton and Rosberg on Sunday.  The Finn's position in sixth is due to, and I quote, "a sh*t lap", where the car misbehaved during his final pole attempt. 

Nobody believes that the Williams are serious contenders for anything more than staying a notch below the Ferraris, and Red Bull is trying desperately to find some way to explain their sudden lack of speed, grip and class.  Their whining coefficient is off the charts, though.

The one thing everybody can hope for is Nico Rosberg's proclamation coming true.  After Quals, he stated that he believed the softer Option tires were going to die quickly during race conditions.  While the Silver Arrows managed to hold an unused set of Options in reserve, their 1.7 seconds per lap advantage over the Prime tires won't matter if they're only good for five or six laps... the extra pit-stop will take longer than the speed advantage saves the team... particularly if Ferrari can repeat last race and make their tires run longer.

Down at the other end of the order, we actually had both Manor chassis on track at the same time, which may have been the first time that's occurred this year.  Both are well within the 107% time of 1:44.something as well.  Meanwhile, McLaren is... improving, something like a second or two a race.  Of course, these are the easy fixes they're applying; its when they reach "average" that they'll start to really have difficulty improving to "good" or "great."

In other news, we had a track invader during Friday practice.

The man, a Chinese citizen, came down out of the stands, scaled the 10' tall catch fence and the interior armco barrier, ran across the front straight and dove over the inside wall.  He then approached the Ferrari pits and stated an interest in "giving one of the cars a try."  He was apprehended by circuit marshals and turned over to the local police.  As one can imagine, the F1 Circus immediately screamed for a larger security presence.  Reports say that the organizers doubled the front grandstand's police force.  I'm only going to say "wow" and leave it at that. 

Race is Sunday morning... see ya after.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 01:14 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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April 10, 2015

Stormageddon 2015: The Next Day

(UPDATE @ 4pm: the National Weather Serviceis saying that the Fairdale tornado was EF-4 in strength.  That equates to winds between 166-204mph, with "well-constructed houses and whole frame houses completely leveled; cars thrown and small missiles generated."  It's considered "devastating damage".  The only realistic step above that, EF-5, basically means everything smaller than highrises are scoured to the ground, cars are thrown the length of a football field, that sort of thing.  Though I wasn't aware of it, there's a step above EF-5, called "EF-No Rating".  Winds measure from 319mph up to the speed of sound.  Damage level for those is "literally inconceivable.")

(UPDATE @ 1017pm: I just learned that a second person was killed in Fairdale, the next-door neighbor of the first fatality.)

Authorities are still trying to account for everybody from Fairdale, including people who may not have been home when the storm hit.  As you can imagine, that's taking a while.  It makes sense when you see this picture:

This is looking south at the hamlet.  If you compare it to the satellite shot in the previous post, imagine the camera is the yellow arrow and you've got the correct orientation. 

The confirmed injury list grew to 11 people overnight, but thankfully the death toll has stayed at one.  That doesn't include the minor scrapes and bruises suffered by a dozen people trapped in the basement of a Rochelle restaurant when it collapsed. 

The UP intermodal yard had a close call, but escaped undamaged.  As one of the main staging hubs for the railroad in the Chicago area, and thus the entire midwest, a direct hit could have been catastrophic for rail traffic across the entire country.

On the whole, Northern Illinois probably has to consider itself lucky.

Fairdale residents probably don't feel that way.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:03 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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