June 30, 2015

Your Weekly Asuka, Ep13

"It's a little sad, isn't it?  We had so much fun, and now it's about to end."

-Hibike! Euphonium, Ep13
It's rare that a final episode of a show will make me immediately wish for more, but that's what just happened with Hibike! Euphonium.  Oh, to be sure, the climax was what I mostly expected (the writers left juuuuuust enough room for doubt), but along the way the Goofy Cute showed yet another side of herself, and an unexpected one at that.

Melancholic Asuka.  Sitting on the stage, amongst the classmates she's worked so hard for and with, ready to give what is potentially their final performance together, she gets quiet and introspective, and says the words at the very beginning (and very end) of this post.  When she said them, I got very sad.  Combine them with the picture from Ep07, and it's very hard not to see a prototypical (if not stereotypical) image of a "gifted child".  An loner with just one or two friends that don't really know her, who in public tends to go a little overboard in the ebullience category, yet winds up sitting alone in her room studying a topic that none of her peers understand at a level anywhere near hers.  Being in the concert band has to be something close to the only normal relationship she has... she's given so much to it, and now comes the moment she's both anticipated and feared since the moment everybody decided to try for Nationals.  There's every chance in the world that the group she's helped create over the past three years will be no more after this performance... and she'll end up back in the bedroom, alone, studying a topic that none of her peers understand at a lever anywhere near hers.  Melancholic?  If that's all she is, she's got a stronger will than most.

(thanks to friend Ben for the screenshot... I could not get my player to pause at the right spot to save my life)
When the announcement finally comes down, revealing that all their hard work... all HER hard work... has paid off, we get this look.  Around her, the members of the Kitauji High School Concert Band and its auxiliary team is celebrating... and Asuka is entirely, hopelessly alone.  There may very well be a different story than the one I've told behind her reaction.  In some ways, I suspect I'm reading way too much into this from not enough information.  But in other ways?  I know I'm right, at least to a certain point.  Her reactions are much too familiar to me for them to just be a coincidence.  Longtime readers of The Pond know that I have a background in theatre, specifically lighting design and scenic work.  I've worked on countless shows, almost entirely in a behind the scenes capacity, and while everybody else on cast and crew celebrated their performances, it wasn't uncommon at all for me to react like Asuka... and yes, I was a so-called "gifted child," both musically and book learnin'.  Or, at least, the school district thought so.  Anyway, what I'm saying is that my reaction to Asuka isn't just pulled out of thin air here... there's too many parallels from my own history for me to miss them.  It would explain a great many things, looking back at her through that lens.  Unfortunately, this is all just conjecture.  We've seen the final episode of the series, there's been no announcement of a season two as of yet, and, while there's an OVA coming sometime in the future, I expect something other than an Asuka episode from that.  We may never know exactly what makes Our Goofy Cute tick.  If that's true, it would be perhaps the only major failing of Hibike! Euphonium. As of right now, it's the Series of the Year, and its only competition is likely the forthcoming ARIA sequel.  Bravo, Kyoto Animation.  And thank you for introducing us to Asuka.

"I wish summer would go on forever."

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June 29, 2015

F1 on TV: Great Britain 2015

There was once a time where Silverstone was my favorite circuit on the calendar.  The track was just about as perfect as it could be.  The racing was thrilling.  The fans were insane.  But those days have gone, demolished by a remodel of the track.  And here the F1 Circus comes again, once more to the old RAF airbase.  Let's take a look at the map, shall we?

They moved the start-finish line, they added a whole new section in a pointless arena complex, and they managed somehow to make me stop loving my favorite track.  Good job, F1!  You must be proud... or you would, if you cared about American F1 fans, which you don't.  Which is a pity.  Its not like some of us aren't the most passionate followers of your sport around or anything.  Heck, I don't even count myself among that number, and I've still written about F1 since 2005.  Along the way, I've either created new fans or brought lapsed fans back into the fold via my readership, but because I'm in Duckford, not Duxford, I'm not important in the eyes of Formula 1 or Bernie Ecclestone.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I have all the answers... or indeed, any answers at all... but I can tell you that I'm kinda tired of being considered a second- or third-class citizen in the eyes of my favorite form of motorsport, which it must be said is rapidly descending  towards second-class status in MY eyes.  It's too bad full races in the World Endurance Championship are so rarely shown here in the US.  Just sayin'.

But you're not here to read my diatribe, you're here to find out when the 2015 Grand Prix of England will be on television, right?  Well, here's the schedule:
Practice 2: 800a - 930a live on NBCSN
Quals: 700a - 830a live on CNBC
2015 Grand Prix of England: 630a - 900a live on CNBC

NBCSN has decided that either the Tour de France or English Premiere League soccer is more important than F1, so off to the hinterlands of CNBC goes the Circus. 

I apologize.  I'm bitter all around right now.  Drug dopers on bicycles and floppers acting like their spine has been shattered when someone pats 'em on the back... now that's entertainment!

See you Friday.

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June 27, 2015

Oh, Did I Have SUCH Plans...

I truly had great plans for this post.  I had intended to sit down earlier today and write out something that would both create and cement my reputation as a brilliant humorist with a deep philosophical side, a duck of both wisdom and goofiness.  It was to be wide-ranging, but each section would be self-contained to the degree that any part of the post could be read in a manner satisfying to both mind and soul, but to read the entire post together would be a monumentally edifying experience.  But more importantly, it would have been entertaining and fun and perhaps even in some ways actually life-changing.  This was my plan.

Much like this picture contains both wisdom and humor, so to was my post destined.
For some time, the post would have been treasured by my readers, kept private as a gift from me to my friends, the Pond Scum.  Eventually, inevitably perhaps, one of you would have a friend or family member who desperately needed what the post could offer.  Perhaps the trenchant wit, maybe the poignant sense of understanding, maybe just simply the knowledge that somewhere out there there is a hyperintelligent duck that can type deep and meaningful works of literary art.  Whatever the reason, I could not begrudge them the experience, nor would I want to.  That lone reader would be the starting point; soon thereafter there would be many more from "the outside world" coming to read the post.

As with any piece of art, reactions would likely be mixed.  Some would be unable or unwilling to see beyond the superficial words to the deep meaning behind them.  Some would be too willing to do just that and thus miss the point of the post altogether.  Some relative few, however, would understand the spirit of the post and become welcome members of the Pond Scum indeed.  The immense influx of readers would forever change The Pond.  Every post before, and every new post forevermore would be closely examined for the deeper meaning behind that which I had planned for today.  Along the way, there would be some interesting consequences... Rio Rainbow Gate! would become the best-selling anime of the last ten years.  Formula 1 fandom would finally take off across the United States.  Rubber ducks would skyrocket in popularity.  And the so-called pseudonym "Wonderduck" would be thought of as a literary giant in the same vein as Hemingway, Heinlein, Clemens, Poe, Clancy and Royko all in one.  Yet such fame, would like as not, ruin The Pond.  Quietly, a Second Pond would open, known only to those who were the Original Pond Scum.  There, we could go back to reading writeups of bad anime and the occasional WWII post.  But it could never truly be the same, and with great sadness all that was The Pond would quietly fade away.

In hindsight, it's probably better that I took a nap and watched a dumb movie instead of following my plans.

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June 25, 2015

Your Weekly Asuka, Ep12

Dammit, we need an Asuka-centric episode.  I say that not because it would make writing Your Weekly Asuka a lot easier, but because KyoAni has stopped using her as an actual character.

-Hibike! Euphonium, Ep12
In this, what will probably end up being the penultimate broadcast episode for this season, the euphoniums are asked to lend their sound to a particular fragment of music that sounded empty being played by just the contrabass.  It's a tough passage, the musical equivalent of making Rio: Rainbow Gate! funny.

Of course, Asuka barely glances at the sheet music and plays it flawlessly.  Worse, she makes it look and sound easy.  So when it comes time for Our Hero to give it a go, she sounds awful.  Worse than awful, she sounds clumsy.  Embarrassed for no good reason, she grabs her music stand, says "I'm going to go practice", and the events of the episode are put into motion.

And that would be fine if that's all Asuka had ever been, just some musical goal to reach for.  But she's been a major character in this show, just one small step behind the "big four" (and arguably ahead of one or two of them as well!), and light-years more important than most.  Worse, she's been a character with character, and a distinctive one at that.  And now KyoAni has turned her into a mere plot point.  I've been saying all along that, in a sense, this has been Asuka's show and in a way Ep12 proves that: her skill at playing the euphonium makes the episode happen.  But that's really not what I meant.   It is, however, how Kyoto Animation has decided to use her.  Damn shame, and quite possibly their biggest waste of a personality since Tomoyo in Clannad... the non-OVA version, that is.  Well, with the release of the first BD in Japan this week, they did give us a little bit of a pat-on-the-head... a two minute omake that included this image:

Obviously she needs a rubber duck.  I'm not surprised she doesn't have one, though... disappointed, but not surprised.  Really, Sapphire seems to be more likely to own a rubber duck.

UPDATE: I just noticed that this is the 400th post in the anime category.  That's gotta earn a "wow".

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June 24, 2015

Days Two and Three

More book learnin'.  I now know more about medical coding than I ever knew existed, ever dreamed could possibly exist.  Dear god, Dan Brown would be weeping with horror about the infodump we're dealing with... and there's still two days of basic training left before we start in on our specialty stuff.  To give you an idea about how much there is of that, they handed us brand new three-inch binders yesterday.  Occasionally, someone walks in with twelve sets of newly-printed pages for us to put in the binders.  Our binders are already half-full, with assurances that they'll be full tomorrow.  These are the instructions and rules and laws and dos and don'ts for what will be our specialty.  Or, more correctly, the first HALF of our instructions and rules and laws and dos and don'ts for our specialty.

But other than my brain overheating from all the stuff being... um... stuffed into it, it's certainly not difficult.  No more difficult than sitting in a college class.  For eight hours.  I know, I know, construction workers weep at the mere thought.  Really, the hard part is having to get up at 615am to be there by 8am.  I know me.  I know that I can get up, do the morning stuff, get dressed and get out the door in a half-hour if I really needed to, but I'd get to work with a toothbrush in my ear, half my face unshaven, and socks on the outside of my shoes.  So, I give myself time.  It bit me on Tuesday... I came home, had something to eat, checked e-mail, and decided to take a short nap before watching the new episode of Hibike! Euphonium.  My head hit pillow at 830pm.  I woke up around 130am, and was back to sleep by 215am.  When my alarm went off four hours later, the only reason I didn't roll over and hit snooze was because my bladder was acting like it was the Upper Geyser Basin, and there had just been an earthquake.  Well, that and I want to keep this job.

Your Weekly Asuka should be up later tonight, after I have dinner with Vaucaunson's Duck and his lovely wife Geese.

UPDATE: Dinner was great, conversation was grand, and after having watched Hib!Euph, I'm not sure what to say.  So I'm going to stew on it until tomorrow.  Because reasons.  And sleep.

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June 22, 2015

Day One

Knowing that I needed to get plenty of rest before the events of Monday, I went to bed at the early time of 115am.  Oh, sure, to most people that's not early, that's late... but most people haven't been engaged in less-than-sufficient-employment-status for the past 11 months.  My normal sleepy-bye time for most of the past few months has been closer to 4am.  So yes, I went to bed early!

Which is not to say I actually slept.  Oh heavens no.  That wouldn't be the Wonderduck Way®!  That would have been the easy way of doing things, and when it comes to the way Wonderduck deals with stuff like this, it ain't never easy.  But I went to bed early!  I flipped and flopped and flooped and checked to see what time it was over and over again ("oh, good, 10 minutes after I checked the last time... I'm doomed.").  Eventually, Chronos took pity on me.  No, not by letting me sleep, but he did eventually make it be 616am, the duly authorized time for my phone alarm to start its caterwauling.  A couple of minutes later, my clock radio clicked to life for the first time in 11 months, unused since the morning of my booting from the Duck U Bookstore.  Approximately 25 years old, the damn thing just keeps working.  I can only imagine the amount of dust inside of it.

After hoisting myself out of bed, all the usual things a middle-aged duck does in the morning followed along quickly.  By the time all that sort of thing was done, it was 7am and I was busy pulling on various bits and pieces of clothing.  Surprisingly, I got them all on my body in the correct order ("boxers, then t-shirt, then socks, then dress shirt, then finally pants."  It's never a good thing when those get mixed up... people begin to get ideas about you, not all of them complimentary), and with a good half-hour before the drop-dead leave time to boot!  After wandering around the interwebs for a little while... oh good, hot and humid until around 5pm, when it's gonna rain... I headed for the door. 

So much for the rain coming in the evening.  While it rained the entire six-minute drive to my new place of employ, the pitter-patter of moisture on the windshield providing a counterpoint to Mark Ronson telling me to funk on it, wonder of wonders it stopped just as I exited the DuckMobile!  I chose to take that as an good omen as I headed in to work.

During the next eight hours, it poured rain like nobody's business.  Small tornadoes popped up south of Duckford, hail the size of walnuts plummeted from the heavens, the wind was reported to have been gustifying up to 70mph at the Duckford International Airport, and as the training room was part of what used to be a warehouse, we heard every second of it.  Clearly.  Back when I went to Orlando for a biz conference with my previous employer, the opening ceremonies were going on when a Florida t-storm rolled in.  What was funny was that you could tell the managers from Midwestern states because we were the ones looking for the sturdy bits of the room to hide under when the storm got BAD.  Everybody else was like "what's this noise we hear?"  That's kinda the way we were all reacting today... "there's no basement, but this computer desk is pretty sturdy.  Hey, the trainer's desk is one of those old-fashioned steel jobbies, ain't nuthin' gonna crush that... we'll just have to go through her to get to it..." 

I'm not proud of that thought, by the way.

Eventually, the day came to an end, and as I walked out to my car, tired from being subjected to the usual battery of introductory forms and quizzes and "don't do this!" stuff, I had a sudden realization.  I had gone from spending all day in front of the computer, sitting in a comfy chair, to spending all day in front of a computer, sitting in a decidedly uncomfy chair.  But there's one huge difference... I was now being paid to do it.  And that makes all the difference in the world.  And Day Two is just a few hours away!

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June 21, 2015

F1 mini-Update!: 2015 Grand Prix of Austria

Right, we here at F1U! Central are up to our necks in getting ready for the new job, so we'll be honest: while we watched today's race from Spielberg, our collective minds were concentrating on other things.  As a result, this is going to be a short one.  With no further ado, THIS is your F1 mini-Update! for the 2015 Grand Prix of Austria!

*THE RACE:  For all intents and purposes, this race was over when polesitter Lewis Hamilton was beaten off the line by his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.  Rosberg took the lead into Turn 1 and held it until the ugly accident between Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and the McLaren of HWIOSCTBNA.

Both men walked away from this wreck unscathed, though the Finnish driver probably wished he had a brown racing suit.  A Safety Car was called out, and when the race restarted a handful of laps later, Rosberg got away cleanly from Hamilton and that was all she wrote.  A mid-race five second time penalty for Hamilton for crossing the pit exit safety line put paid to any faint hope he may have had to win the race.  Behind them, Felipe Not Nasr Massa took advantage of a slow pit stop from Seb Vettel to take Williams' second podium in as many races, while his teammate Valtteri Bottas beat out the 2015 24 Hours of LeMans overall winner Nico Hulkenburg for 5th place.

*THE TRACK:  The RedBullRing is proving to be that rare bird: a fast circuit that also manages to be rather dull.  It's no Tilkedrome, true, but with only nine turns and none of them being particularly memorable, it's a track that's just... there.  The hill up to Turn 2 is nice, but it makes no real difference in the grand scheme of things.  However, it's there and it's well-funded so it'll be on the calendar for the foreseeable future.

*NEXT TIME:  We'll be in Jolly Old England for the Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone.  Ironically, it'll be during Independence Day weekend here in the States... we'll see you then!  Thanks for reading this F1 mini-U!

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June 20, 2015

F1 Quals: Austria 2015

Rain hit the RedBullRing before the Qualifying session.  While it wasn't raining when the Time To Go Fast began, there were still plenty of wet patches around the circuit.  Would it make any difference to who was on top?  Let's take a look at the provisional grid for the 2015 Grand Prix of Austria:

Pos. Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:12.218 1:09.062 1:08.455
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:10.976 1:08.634 1:08.655
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:11.184 1:09.392 1:08.810
4 Felipe Not Nasr Massa Williams 1:11.830 1:09.719 1:09.192
5 LeMans Hulkenberg Force India 1:11.319 1:09.604 1:09.278
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:11.894 1:09.598 1:09.319
7 Embryo Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:11.307 1:09.631 1:09.612
8 Kid Kvyat Red Bull 1:12.092 1:10.187 1:09.694
9 Felipe Not Massa Nasr Sauber 1:12.001 1:09.652 1:09.713
10 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:11.821 1:09.920 No Time
11 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:11.661 1:10.374
12 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:12.388 1:10.426
13 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:11.158 1:10.465
14 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:11.973 1:10.482
15 HWIOSCTBNA McLaren 1:12.508 1:10.736
16 Sergio Perez Force India 1:12.522

17 Jenson Button McLaren 1:12.632

18 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:12.867

19 Roberto Merhi Marussia 1:14.071

20 Will Stevens Marussia 1:15.368

Up at the top of the grid, it looks awfully normal.  Lewis Hamilton took pole, but it actually took a little bit of luck for it to happen.  He was the last to cross the start/finish line before time ran out on Q3, but he immediately beached his Mercedes into the kittylitter outside of Turn 1... just as the news came out that his teammate Nico Rosberg had set the fastest first AND second sector times of the day... if he kept that pace up, he'd grab pole easily.  And then, just as Hamilton was exiting from his car at the far end of the front straight, Rosberg hurled his car off at the final turn, located at the OTHER end.  He left four long black streaks of rubber behind as he reached the gravel trap short of the tire wall.  So much for fast times on the first two sectors.

At the other end of the grid, we had a very interesting conversation between the Ferrari pit wall and Kimi Raikkonen: "Okay, Kimi, we wound up P18."  "How did that happen?"  As this is a friendly, happy blog, I may have edited a few words out of his response.  Mistakes were made, and as the track dried at the end of P1, times began to plummet.  When the team pitted his car, Raikkonen was seventh on the timesheets.  A couple of minutes later, he was 18th and out of Quals.  Heck, at one point McLaren's Jenson Button was on pole, though with six or seven minutes left.

Speaking of McLaren, both of their cars will be starting from Unterkohlstatten due to receiving matching 25-grid place penalties.  Since there are only 20 places on the grid, they'll both be starting from the very back AND either a time penalty or a drive-through penalty to boot.  Button basically changed every aspect of his power unit before Quals, while HWIOSCTBNA did the same except for the cigarette lighter.  Red Bull's Daniel Riccardio and Toro Rosso's Kid Kyvat have also suffered various penalties, though nowhere near as extreme as the McLarens.

So that's the way it works out for the race in Austria.  One thing to keep an eye on: both Saubers are reportedly set up for a rainy race, while nobody else appears to be.  More and more reports are suggesting rain about one hour into the contest... if that happens, considering how well they qualified I'd expect a major upset on Sunday.

Oh, and congratulations have to go out to Mercedes.  The last time either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg wasn't on pole for a race was one year ago, when Williams' Felipe Not Nasr Massa pulled a surprise in Austria.  It's been one full race year, 19 races, since then.

Race in the morning.  Lord knows when I'll get the writeup done!

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June 19, 2015

No Stress. NO STRESS! Damn.

A couple of days ago, I began to feel a little under the weather.  Nothing terribad, just slightly unwell.  Felt the same way on Wednesday and Thursday, too.  I wasn't feeling at the peak of my game.  Still, nothing everybody hasn't dealt with before, particularly those of us of an older persuasion.  Sometimes, for no reason whatsoever, you don't feel as great as you did.  It happens.

However, this time came with an added complication.  All day Thursday, not only did I feel blech, but I was also bloody emotional.  Example: I watched an episode of Later... with Jules Holland that I had DVR'd that had a great lineup of acts: Norah Jones, Sting, Jay-Z, a Canadian hammer-style guitarist that just was impressive as hell, a generic group that sounded perfect for coffeehouses around the world... and the Foo Fighters, who were the real reason I was there.  All of them on the same soundstage at one time.  Jones did a couple of songs that I recognized from the Duck U Bookstore and they sounded much like their studio recordings.  Sting's just weird.  Jay-Z did a really slick version of "Empire State of Mind" with a live band that moved him up a few notches in my estimation.  But the Foos just killed it.  They played three songs while everybody else got two, and every single time they began playing, I began crying.  Not  "teenage girls at a Beatles concert" crying, just "too much damn emotion" crying.  Hell, earlier that day I saw a particularly cute picture of a cat, I said "kitty!" and bawled my eyes out for a few minutes.  That stuff ain't right.

But why?  I mean, yeah, I wasn't feeling great, but that doesn't make me all weepy.  I mean, it's not like the flu includes that in its symptoms: nausea, headache, runny nose, weepyness, body aches, lethargy....  And then I woke up Friday morning.  I had a headache.  Joint pain and muscle aches.  Ah.  Yay.  I really am unwell, it's not entirely in my mind.  Spiffy.  And then it hit me... I start the new job on Monday.  Could this be my brain's reaction to that?  I mean, the past 11 months have been... really, not so bad.  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't really care to repeat them anytime soon, not without having so much money in the bank account that I'd never have to work ever again, but y'know?  Its been kinda cool not having to do anything for a year.  But the end is coming up fast, and my brain might be reacting.  Crap.

I don't have time to be stressed.  I need to be 100% for Monday.  I can't be sick.  I need to do laundry.  I need to go shopping for little incidental stuff.  I... I need my year back.

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June 18, 2015

Your Weekly Asuka, Ep11

There's one problem with having a weekly feature that follows a secondary character: sometimes they don't do a whole lot and that makes it hard to write coherently about them.

-Hibike! Euphonium, Ep11
Or, as in the case of the Goofy Cute this week, she stays as guarded and evasive as ever.  Even when Kaori asked her point-blank twice who she thought was better suited to play the solo trumpet part, Asuka deftly danced and deflected the question.

I'll admit that I'm beginning to understand why some people dislike this part of her personality.  I'm fairly certain that she's dodging all the drama intentionally... she knows that she's got influence in the band club.  The last thing she wants to do with that influence is use it in public; she wants the band to sound the best it can.  If that means arranging matters so that there's a second audition for trumpet solo, so be it.  That it'll help her friend, Kaori, is merely a side-note.

We desperately need an Asuka episode, but with two broadcast eps and an OVA remaining in this season, I'm pretty sure it's not going to happen.  Which means we may never find out what makes her tick, and that disturbs me more than anything right now.  I'm sure Ben's forthcoming writeup over at his place will cover the events of this ep in depth; he actually thinks about the show which puts him a step up on me.

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June 16, 2015

F1 on NBCSN: Austria 2015

From that well-known European city of... Montreal?, the F1 Circus makes their way to the cosmopolitan megalopolis of Spielberg, Austria, some 197km down the S36 to the B227 from Vienna, home of the RedBullRing, the location of the 2015 Grand Prix of Austria!  Let's take a look at the track map, shall we?

Last year's race saw Felipe Massa on pole and Nico Rosberg get the win over his teammate Lewis Hamilton in a brake-problem-filled race that also saw Patrick Friesacher in a Minardi PS04 in the pre-race festivities.  Ah, the memories.  Other than all of that, however, it was a fairly lackluster race that I remember as being on a fairly boring circuit that felt like it really was in the back-end of nowhere.  Like, the run from Turn 2 to Turn 3 seemed to be bordered by a wheat field.  One expected to see cows grazing beyond Turn 3.  There is a nice bit of elevation change here, however, so perhaps there's some hope for the track and my opinion was colored by my mood at the time.  I can't think of anything else interesting to say about this track so here's a pretty picture of a classic F1 car.

Ah, UOP/Shadow... we need you back on the grid.  Anyway, here's the schedule for NBCSN's coverage this weekend:
Practice 2: 7a - 830a live
Quals: 7a - 830a live
2015 Grand Prix of Austria: 630a - 9a live

Join me, join all of us, won't you?  Y'all be there, y'hear?

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June 15, 2015

Dynasty ! ! !

The Chicago Blackhawks just won Lord Stanley's Cup for the third time since 2010.

I'm not going to say I'm a hockey fan, because I'm really not.  I like the 'Hawks, of course, but it's not like I go out of my way to watch games.  I pay attention to the team, however, and I feel at least a little bit more "plugged in" to them than your average highlights watcher.

But I'm not a hockey fan, and I won't claim to be.  But my heavens, this is a cool feeling.  I don't really remember the Bulls run all that well... that ended 20 years ago, and my only real memory of it was thinking that having Michael Jordan on the team made it all unfair.  In retrospect, that was a stupid thing to think, but that's the way I thought.  The Bears Super Bowl was 30 years ago... I remember being more impressed by the big-screen TV I was watching the game on than by the game itself.  I left the party before the game ended and watched the rest at home.  And when the White Sox won in 2005, I hated the experience for a couple of reasons: first, it was the damn White Sox.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, I had just had my cardiac incident and was afraid that I was going to die at any moment.  But the Blackhawks won in 2010, which was fun.  They won again in 2013, which was even more fun... I was in Orlando for a couple of the games, and there was a lively rivalry going between the Boston-area and Chicago-area store managers.  This was unintentionally promulgated by the company itself when they gave us all iPads and allowed us to post e-messages to huge screens hung around the conference area with them.  Of course, the company is based in the Chicago 'burbs, too.  And now there's this one.

I either listened to or watched at least some of each game the Blackhawks played this playoff season, and it's an amazing feeling to have that attachment to a championship team.  No, it's not the same as what a REAL fan would be experiencing right now, but it's pretty darn cool nevertheless.  And they got to win it at home for the first time since 1938. 

CrawfordToewsKaneKeithHossa.  Chicago, you want the Cup?  They, and the rest of the Blackhawks, got it done.  And they've created a dynasty in the process.

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June 13, 2015

Ducks In Anime: Seeing The World

-Shokugeki no Soma, Ep10
I'm still only here for the duck, but there was an amusing joke involving it this episode.  You'll want to click "more" to see what it is, as some might consider the scene NSFW.


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June 11, 2015

Achievement Unlocked

So there I was, asleep.  Peacefully, blissfully, sleepily asleep.  Totally asleep.  And then, at 854am, everything changed.  Because at 854am, my cellphone rang.  Immediately, I snapped awake... not because I'm really good at waking up, but because the phone was about six inches from my ear, and the ringer was ridiculously obnoxious.  Intentionally, of course, just on the off chance that this exact occurrence... um... occurred.  I looked at the listed number, and didn't recognize it... except for the area code.  It was the code for Duckford, and pretty much anybody who would be calling me from Duckford was programmed into the phone already... and I started to get excited.

A couple of weeks ago, an e-mail came through my inbox.  It was from the company that interviewed me back in March, and turned me down for a position because I apparently had a giant pulsating brain.  They didn't want giant pulsating brains on staff for fear they'd be bored with the job.  They were looking for more staff, and would I be interested in re-interviewing?  I failed to see what the point would be since I hadn't gotten much stupider in a couple of months, but it's not like dozens of other companies were beating down my door... and maybe if I drooled on myself during the interview, I could convince them that I was what they were looking for.

This was actually when I took a weekend off, by the way.  Part of the laundry I got done was my bestest dress shirt, don'tchaknow.  A couple of days later, I found myself at the job location attempting to look like a well-dressed simpleton.  I'm not entirely convinced I managed to pull off either of those two things, but at least I was wearing a suit and tie.  That matched.  Intentionally!  After I had been standing in the reception area for a few minutes, my interviewer popped up and I felt a moment of growing hope: it wasn't the person that had interviewed me in March.  After we chatted for maybe ten minutes, doing the usual interview routine ("oh, you were a paid assassin?  Interesting... would you have problems doing office work?"), the moment I had feared came to pass.  She looked at her notes and said "You're very smart."

If I had managed to keep that hidden up to this point in the interview, my response pretty much blew the camouflage right off.  "That's what the tests say, at any rate."  I then gave a short speech on how I felt that I had lost my chance at the previous position because of my giant pulsating brain, and that I wanted to assure her that it really wouldn't be a problem.  And then she said the magic words: "I agree.  My team does different, more difficult tasks.  Being smart isn't a drawback, because I can train you on more things."

Even with those assurances ringing in my ears, I was loathe to rejoice quite yet.  We talked for another fifteen minutes or so, then she said there's going to be a background check, of course.  For whatever reason, background checks fill me with terror.  No, there's no secrets in my history, no more than any other person that is.  But who's to say that the traffic ticket I got 27 years ago won't be enough to tell them not to hire me... or that the Powers That Be that ran the Duck U Bookstore wouldn't jab another pencil into my brain?  So I left the interview, picked up something for lunch, and returned to Pond Central.  And spent the next seven days waiting to hear something.  When it reached seven days, I began to rationalize.  When it hit eight days, I figured I was out of luck again and had a pleasant Mexican dinner with The Librarian.  That was last night.

So there I was, asleep.  Peacefully, blissfully, sleepily asleep.  Totally asleep.  And then, at 854am, everything changed.  Because at 854am, my cellphone rang.  It was the head of Human Resources at the place I had interviewed, saying those words I'd almost given up on ever hearing again: "we think you'd be a great fit with us and would like to offer you a position in our company."  I start June 22nd.

I feel more a sense of relief than joy.  Strangely, the feeling I have now is similar to the one I had when I got canned almost exactly 11 months ago.  Without the whole "getting canned" part, that is.  I'm certainly looking forward to feeling like a productive member of society again.

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June 10, 2015

Your Weekly Asuka, Ep10

She's back!  The Goofy Cute is back!

-Hibike! Euphonium, Ep10
But only for a few moments, after which she is gone is a cloud of seriousness and puppetmastering.  For as mentioned weeks ago, whatever Asuka wants for the band club, Asuka gets.

This week, we had drama in that many of the 2nd and 3rd year students were outraged that a first year student, Reina, could possibly beat a popular 3rd year, Kaori, for the trumpet solo honors... to the point that a sense of discontent and back-biting has arisen.  Sides have been taken, with Team Kaori being both loud and sneaky.  Rumors are floated that the Conductor has known Reina for years, and that favoritism played a major part in his decision during auditions.

Kumiko, the POV character for the series, is perturbed by the way the band is disintegrating... and that her friend Reina is the proximate cause of the problems.  She hears Kaori practicing the trumpet solo part, and winds up wanting to find out what Asuka's opinion on the solo situation is.  "No comment", since she's the Vice-President and all.  Kumiko ain't havin' it, so she presses the matter with Goofy Cute, asking for her personal opinion, off the record. 

"I don't care.  I couldn't give a damn."  And then she traipses away, leaving an angry and depressed Kumiko behind.  She knows Asuka has an opinion, but there's way too much mask and armor to penetrate to find out what it really is.  Later, the rumor-mongering and backbiting becomes so bad that the Conductor allows for a second audition for anybody unsatisfied with the results of the first audition.  Only one person wants a redo: Kaori, the 3rd Year trumpet player.

...and Asuka smiles.  Which leads me to believe that she was the driving force behind the rumors of favoritism.  We already know she's devoted to music.  We've seen that she's extremely knowledgeable about the world of music (for example, when their playlist for the upcoming contest is handed out, she knows quite a lot about the obscure composer that created one of the tunes, just off the top of her head).  We've learned that the Conductor is rather well-known as a music educator, and that Reina's father, a well-known trumpet player himself, has known him for years.  It seems likely to me that this is all information that Asuka would know.  If she was dissatisfied with the results of the solo auditions, she could certainly say something casually where the wrong ears would hear... and the rumors would spread.

And Asuka gets what Asuka wants.

I'm willing to bet, though, that the audition next week will be done blind, with the soloists behind screens.  The winner is going to be chosen by a show of hands, and if they're behind screens, it won't devolve into a popularity contest.  Mark my words.

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June 08, 2015

You Don't See THAT Every Darn Day...

So I was browsing the Flickrs earlier today, looking for fodder for computer desktops, when I stumbled upon this:

"Engines of Change" indeed... or, more likely, change of engines.  Union Pacific UPY2644 is a RP20BD, which is itself a rebuild of an older General Electric B23-7.  The original unit was Southern Pacific 5111, built in 1980, one of 15 owned by Southern Pacific.  It was acquired, along with the rest of SP's fleet, when Union Pacific took control of SP's assets in 1996.

The conversion took place in early 2007 at a company called "SuperSteel" in New York.  These RP20BDs seem to make their home in Texas, based out of San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth.  As switchers, they probably don't venture too far away from those yards so you'll probably not want to hustle down to your nearest Union Pacific right of way to see them go by... Avatar, Ubu, and Ben, however, should grab their cameras.

UPY2644 in more intact days.
The RP20BDs are what's called a "genset" unit.  Instead of one big power unit, they have instead three smaller power generators that can be used (or not used) as needed.  These save on fuel and cut way down on emissions/pollution in the process.  I can only assume that 2644 either is having a major service performed on it, or it finally wore out and is in the process of being scrapped.  Either way, I can't claim to have seen a picture like that one at top before.  Kinda disturbing.

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June 07, 2015

F1 Update: Canada 2015

A beautiful sunny day greeted the assembled masses at Ile Notre-Dame, masses gathered to see the F1 Circus make their way around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve 70 times in pursuit of victory.  Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes was on pole with his teammate Nico Rosberg next to him, but a resurgent Ferrari driven by Kimi Raikkonen lurked just a spot behind.   Which of them got to spray the Molsons?  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2015 Grand Prix of Canada!

*OH.  RIGHT.  FORGOT.:  The lights went out, the Thundering Herd made its way to the first turn, and there went the two Silver Arrows.  Hamilton and Rosberg began to run away from the rest of the field, with Hamilton staying a scant second or so ahead of his teammate.  And that's how it stayed for the entire first half of the race: Rosberg close but no cigar on Hamilton, while the rest of the field fell farther and farther behind.

*MEANWHILE...:  Due to power unit problems and penalties, Ferrari's Seb Vettel took his place on the starting grid somewhere back around the Hairpin.  Within seven laps of the start, he had worked his way up the field to 13th place, where he found his progress balked by a fight between Sony Ericsson and Felipe Not Nasr Massa.  Judging there'd be no real harm, the team brought him in for a early pit stop.  This would get him free of the fight, and off the pit rotation as well, perhaps allowing him to jump multiple places without struggle.  Unfortunately, the team had problems with his jacks and by the time he made it back onto the track, Vettel was in last place.  Again.  Even Embryo Verstappen, who had to start in Newfoundland, was ahead of him.

:  After the first pit stops, Rosberg discovered that his car was dealing with the race a smidge better than Hamilton.  The leader was forced to save fuel, lifting and coasting into turns instead of accelerating all the way in.  For his own part, Rosberg was being warned about his brakes.  This is a common problem at Canada... the track is very fast, but with very heavy use of the clampers.  For example, you've got the full-throttle dive to the hairpin where you hit 180mph or more, but then have to slow to sixty or less, then another full-throttle run to the final chicane, where you have to slow right back down again.  That's bad enough, but what occurs is that the upper layers of the carbon brakes actually melt from the heat, then the cooling airflow solidifies it again.  This process is called "glazing," and it reduces the efficiency of the brakes... which means you have to stomp even harder on the brakes, which means they heat up even more, which causes more glazing, which means you need to stomp on the brakes even harder... and so on.  This circuit is the only place we've seen brake discs actually shatter in an explosive way.  Despite all this, Rosberg was able to close up to right around one second behind Hamilton.

*MEANWHILE PTII...:  Vettel was having none of these problems, at least not that we were being made aware of.  Instead, he was working his way back up the field, picking off drivers one after the other.  The only problem he had came from Nico Hulkenberg in seventh, who refused to go down without a fight... and going side-by-side through the final chicane put paid to that, the Force India driver losing control and spinning.  Vettel would eventually finish fifth, a remarkable drive reminiscent of Jenson Button's last-to-first (with six pit stops!) in 2011.

*NO SURPRISES:  Despite getting close, Rosberg couldn't quite bring his Mercedes into attack position on his teammate.  Suddenly there were only five or six laps left, Hamilton was told he was good on fuel, and he began to open the lead up again.  When they finally swept across the finish line, only some 95 minutes after the race started, the reigning world champion was 2.5 seconds ahead of Rosberg.  It took nearly 45 seconds for the third place car, the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, to cross the line.  He was followed a couple seconds later by Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari.

*WILDLIFE:  It isn't Canada without the threat of another Montreal Marmot Massacre.

It was a lot closer than it looks.  Felipe Not Nasr Massa almost wound up with a marmot hood ornament.

*TERROR:  Lewis Hamilton was 47 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas in third.  FORTY-SEVEN SECONDS.  It's going to take disaster upon disaster to keep him from dominating the rest of the season.


"I never felt under pressure out there." - Lewis Hamilton (note: real quote)

"I'll give you 'no pressure', you..." - Nico Rosberg

"We earned this podium.  Even if it's like we were in a different race." - Valterri Bottas

"mrmrmrbmrl rmmrrlrbrbrlr rmrmrrblrbrlllr mrmrmmrmmrmrrrmrmrbbl." - Kimi Raikkonen

"I lost time at the first pit-stop and I am not sure it was totally on me, something went wrong at the back of the car, but the guys have done a super job so far and they shouldn't be blamed if sometimes things go a bit slower." - Seb Vettel (note: real quote.  Translated: I'm throwing the pit crew under the bus.)

The next race is in two weeks at the Red Bull Ring in Austria!  See ya then.

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June 06, 2015

F1 Quals: Canada 2015

Having loaded myself up on buttermilk pancakes from Scandahoovia Inn (warning: swedish pancakes have been known to instantly clog arteries.  Fortunately, lingonberries have restorative properties equaled only by a high-level cleric's healing spells... and it goes with just about everything!) and conversation with the folks, I returned to Pond Central to watch myself some Qualifying for the 2015 Grand Prix of Canada.  So how'd it turn out?  Here's the provisional grid:

Pos. Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:15.895 1:14.661 1:14.393
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:15.893 1:14.673 1:14.702
3 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:16.259 1:15.348 1:15.014
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:16.552 1:15.506 1:15.102
5 Lettuce Grosjean Lotus 1:15.833 1:15.187 1:15.194
6 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:16.098 1:15.622 1:15.329
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:16.186 1:15.706 1:15.614
8 Kid Kvyat Red Bull 1:16.415 1:15.891 1:16.079
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:16.410 1:16.006 1:16.114
10 Sergio Perez Force India 1:16.827 1:15.974 1:16.336
11 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:16.611 1:16.042  
12 Embryo Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:16.361 1:16.245  
13 Sony Ericsson Sauber 1:16.796 1:16.262  
14 ;"> HWIOSCTBNA McLaren 1:17.012 1:16.276  
15 Felipe not Massa Nasr Sauber 1:16.968 1:16.620  
16 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:17.344    
17 Felipe not Nasr Massa Williams 1:17.886    
18 Roberto Merhi Marussia 1:19.133    
19 Will Stevens Marussia 1:19.157    

Sharp-eyed readers will note that Jenson Button's McLaren is conspicuous by his absence.  He had a major failure in part of his power unit during Practice 3 and the team couldn't get it repaired in time.  He'll be starting towards the back of the grid.  Seb Vettel, who had a power unit problem of his own, has been penalized five spots for passing under a red flag in P3, and thus will be starting halfway through the Hairpin.  Meanwhile, Embryo Verstappen received two penalties: five grid spots for causing the wreck towards the end of the race at Monaco, and a whopping ten spots for using his fifth engine of the year.  He'll be starting somewhere near Channel-Port aux Basques, where he's likely to have a slow getaway considering he'll need to take a ferry to the mainland when the lights go out.  Fortunately, the MV Leif Ericson (no relation to the Sauber driver) makes a good 18kts so it's only a seven hour trip to North Sydney, Nova Scotia.  From there, it's 14 hours by passenger car to Toronto.  He has his work cut out for him if he wants points.

Up at the top of the grid, nothing's changed.  Oh, there was some thought that Nico Rosberg might possibly take pole over Lewis Hamilton, but it didn't happen... even Rosberg said his last try was a "rubbish way to end the session."  With Vettel not making it out of Q1, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen felt free to stretch his legs, and it earned him his best starting position of the season.  He should try that more often.  The two Lotii of Lettuce Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado nearly came to grief in Q3 when both of them were released from their pit stalls simultaneously and wound up running side-by-side down the pit lane... I'm surprised there wasn't a penalty somewhere for unsafe release for that.

Otherwise, everything was pretty normal going.  The race is tomorrow on NBC... the big network, kids!  Break out those rabbit ears and pull the 12" b&w out of storage, it's race time!  We'll see ya afterwards for F1U!

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June 05, 2015

F1 Practice: Canada 2015

Well, that was a bit of a wet noodle.  Practice 2 started out well enough.  Every team had their car out on track almost from the get-go.  That's exciting for the fans, but not so much for those "in the know", because that always means that weather is coming in, and the teams are trying to get as much data in the computers as possible.  Sure enough, the on-screen graphics quickly popped up a message: rain due at 135pm Pond Time.  Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes was tearing off laps a good .330 faster than anybody else (on top of his session-leading times in P1), but he didn't look jaw-droppingly dominant.  Indeed, he very nearly stuffed it into the Wall of Champions at one point, missing the turn-in to the final chicane and getting all four tires off the ground when he hit the backside of the curb.  For the record: your grip levels are greatly reduced when you're not physically in contact with the racing surface.  He managed to not come to grief, though.  And then, at 137pm Pond Time, the rains came to Ile Notre-Dame.  Everybody made their way into the garages and superhero Berndt Maylander began to run laps around the course, testing grip levels.

After Berndt gave the car a rest, Mercedes had a great idea.  Their thinking went something like this: "Just in case it rains on Sunday, which it isn't supposed to do but the possibility exists that it could, let's send Nico and Lewis out on Intermediate tires to try and get some data.  It'll be fun!"  Meanwhile, everybody else kept their cars under cover, snug and dry.  So how did Mercedes' fun-filled adventure go?

Ah.  Yes.  Heading into the Hairpin at less-than-racing speed, Lewis realized that he wasn't so much driving a car as riding in a boat.  The car was aquaplaning so badly that you could actually see that the front tires weren't making contact with the track surface.  Remember what I said about grip levels being reduced in that situation?  The car slid all the way into the barriers on the outside of the Hairpin, which is quite the journey.  I can't remember the last time I saw someone end up there... not even Robert Kubica made it that far.  Anyway, the good news was that the impact was at quite low speed and Lewis was unhurt.  The bad news was that the nose got stuck in the tire barrier.  The ugly news is that, when the tractor pulled the Merc free, the car swung back and smacked into the big green chunk of machinery.  Who knows what sort of damage that did to the rear of the car?  Of course, the session was red-flagged during all of this, and once it was over with, none of the other teams thought it was worth going back out.  Or they were all laughing themselves sick, one of the two.

Quals in the afternoon tomorrow; I'll be having lunch with the folks, so I won't have the post until after I get back.  See ya then!

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June 04, 2015

Midway Day 2015

It seems fitting somehow that the Blue Angels have been buzzing around Pond Central all day on this, the 73rd anniversary of the US Navy's most important victory.  We all know the story by now... at least, if you've read The Pond for any length of time you do.  In fact, I've written so extensively on the topic that I can't find anything new to write about regarding Midway.  So I open it to you, my readers: do you have any questions regarding the Battle of Midway?  Let me know in comments, and I'll get you an answer.

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