November 30, 2016

A Long Time Ago

Almost a year ago, there was a bit of hullabaloo over a movie that was coming out.  You may have heard of it, a little thing called Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  You may have even gone to see it, I heard it was kinda popular.  Wouldn't you know it?  Between work and just being me, I never did see it.  Yup, that's right, Wonderduck, the old Star Wars fan from waaaaay the hell back, he never saw the new film.  Thanks to a free movie weekend on one of them premium stations on my satellite dish, however, I have rectified that problem.

Imagine my surprise when I realized I had seen it already!  Oh, at the time it was just called "Star Wars", and it was 1977, but SW:TFA is about as blatant a copy of that first movie as you're ever going to see. 

I'm not complaining.  The first English words spoken in the film are "This will begin to make things right," and if those aren't a shot across the bows of the three prequels, it's only because the shot actually hit.  Director JJ Abrams set out to put the magic back into the franchise, and the best way to do that is to make people forget about the bad movies.  What better way to do that than to take what worked and do it better?

For all that the film has been out for a year, I had managed to avoid all but the most basic spoilers... mainly the things from the trailers.  That took some doing, let me tell you.  But oh so worth it.  The scene from the trailers when the Millennium Falcon goes into combat with some TIE fighters at low altitude?  I knew something was coming, but I didn't expect it to put a gigantic grin on my face the way it did. 

When it's action time, the film delivers in spades.  Modernized X-Wings fight updated TIE fighters, lightsaber duels, Han Solo using a bowcaster, there's even a trench run as another nod to the original movie.  Really, there's so many hat tips to the original trilogy it's impossible to see them all on one viewing... which is one of many reasons I'm glad SW:TFA is on my DVR.  But as with all good films, you're not here for the action.  You're here because of the characters...

The only thing that could have ruined the movie faster than having George Lucas involved would have been if the new characters didn't work.  Fortunately for everybody, they do... mostly.  What few fails the movie has involves them and their oh-so-witty banter.  There are moments where I wanted to curse the name of Joss Whedon for making the "overly cool snark" school of dialogue popular, even though he has nothing to do with SW:TFA.  Nothing directly, at least, but some points in the script are pretty much lifted straight from Buffy or Firefly, and when that occurs, it doesn't fit quite right.  Even if you didn't know it in advance, it's pretty obvious that this is the first film of a series though, because we don't learn diddly-poo about backstories of any of' 'em.  Except for Finn, the ex-Stormtrooper, we learn his entire life story.  Not hard to do when a life story is "taken from family as a child, trained to be a Stormtrooper since then."  Rey, the nominal lead?  Well... um... she was left on a planet bysomeone, and has lived there all her life waiting for them to come back.   Poe, the Resistance's hottest pilot?  That's about it, really.  But there's still time to learn about them, and in the meanwhile, we've got all the characters from the first movies back! 

In a movie packed with great moments, this is probably the best of 'em...
Sure, they're older, but aren't we all?  It was nice to see 'em all in the roles that made them legends.  They certainly kept up with the kids... or, really, vice-versa.  Whichever.  It all works.  I went into it hopeful, and 2-1/2 hours later I wanted to watch it again, so I guess that's a good sign.

I'm not fooling anybody, am I?  My GOD that was fun!  The bang and the whoosh and the Falcon did that thing and X-Wings over the lake and lightsaber duels at night in the snow and... and... and...

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November 27, 2016

F1 Update!: Abu Dhabi 2016

Say what you want to about the Yas Marina circuit, the chances of having anything other than perfect weather for a race there are vanishingly slim.  In was in this atmosphere that polesitter Lewis Hamilton led the rest of the F1 Circus to the grid.  Next to him, teammate and championship points leader Nico Rosberg had plenty of reason to be confident.  He didn't need to win the race to be Driver's Champion after it was all over... he just needed to be close to Hamilton, and he'd win on points.  Hamilton needed help from other drivers... would he get it?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi!

*LIGHTS OUT: Though it pains those of us at F1U! to say it, when Lewis Hamilton is motivated, focused, and on his game, there is nobody in the field that can beat him.  And thus it was today, when he rocketed off the line without a care towards his teammate, winning the race to the first turn and jumping into the lead.  But instead of rocketing off over the horizon as has happened in way too many races over the past few years, he did not pull all that far away.  It was pretty clear that Hamilton was controlling his pace to allow the field to stick close and threaten Rosberg.  He couldn't do it for long, as his ultra-soft tires weren't going to last forever... or even 10 laps.  On Lap 7, the leader pitted, and could only hope that his delaying tactics would pay off during the pit rotation.  As it turned out, they nearly did.  After Rosberg pitted, he rejoined behind Hamilton, but just barely ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.  As it turned out, the Finn was the slowest of the "big six".  Being stuck behind him, even for a short while, could have done serious damage to Rosberg's race.  Bullet dodged, the race continued.

*THE MIDDLE: Let's be honest here... this was not an exciting race, save for the way it was deciding the Driver's Championship.  The middle thirty-odd laps were dreadfully boring, with the leaders just grinding out the laps one after the other on a visually uninteresting circuit.  The F1U! crew wound up dozing off twice during this stretch, that's how dull it was.

*THE END:  As the race reached approximately Lap 50,  Lewis Hamilton still led the race ahead of Nico Rosberg, Red Bull's Embryo Verstappen, and Ferrari's Seb Vettel, all of whom were covered by less than three seconds.  Smiley Ricciardo in the second Red Bull was just a couple of seconds behind the front pack as well.  Vettel, however, had the freshest tires and had been tearing huge chunks of time out of the leaders, passing Verstappen on Lap 50.  And then Hamilton began to slow.  Not because of a technical problem, but because his best chance to win the driver's championship was if he could push his teammate into the clutches of Vettel and Verstappen.  Hamilton would saunter through the twisty third and first sectors, driving a wide car and staying just far enough ahead to make a pass attempt unwise.  Meanwhile, in the fast second sector, he'd go as fast as he could to keep Rosberg from getting by in the DRS zones.  The strategy was working, too.  Rosberg was furious, calling the pit wall and telling them to get Hamilton moving.  The Mercedes honchos agreed: Hamilton wasn't just jeopardizing Rosberg's position, but entering a not-trivial chance of losing the lead altogether into the equation.  Twice Paddy Lowe, the Mercedes technical director and race boss got on the radio to Hamilton, telling him to pick up the pace.  The second time, he specifically said "Lewis, this is an instruction."  No chance of a misunderstanding there!  Hamilton's response was "I'm leading the race, I'm perfectly comfortable."  Vettel actually got close enough to Rosberg to launch two attacks, neither of which were particularly hard to fend off, and the race ended with less than a second covering the podium drivers, Hamilton leading Rosberg by .3 seconds, and Vettel a half-second behind him. 


Rosberg joins his father, Keke Rosberg (1982), as Driver's Champion.  The pair becomes the second father-son set of Champions, joining Graham and Damon Hill.

We here at F1U! are somewhat disgusted with Hamilton, as he was rather ungracious after the race was over.  During post-race interviews, he flat-out said his car "had a lot of problems this year, and that's why we're here now."  If he ever congratulated Nico Rosberg, we must have missed it.  Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff has already stated that the team is greatly annoyed with Lewis Hamilton for disobeying team orders, too. 

So that's the 2016 season wrapped.  In 2017, we'll be seeing a new set of tech regs that'll change a lot of how the car looks... and a return of wide tires, too.  Next year is right around the corner...

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November 26, 2016

F1 Quals: Abu Dhabi 2016

With tomorrow's race deciding all the marbles, its down to just two... Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.  Rosberg has the points advantage, and knows that as long as he's on the podium, he wins no matter what Hamilton does.  What does Hamilton have going for him?  Here's the provisional grid for the 2016 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi:

Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:39.487 1:39.382 1:38.755
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:40.511 1:39.490 1:39.058
3 Smiley Ricciardo Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:41.002 1:40.429 1:39.589
4 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:40.338 1:39.629 1:39.604
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:40.341 1:40.034 1:39.661
6 Embryo Verstappen Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:40.424 1:39.903 1:39.818
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 1:41.000 1:40.709 1:40.501
8 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1:40.864 1:40.743 1:40.519
9 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1:41.616 1:41.044 1:41.106
10 Felipe Retiring Massa Williams Mercedes 1:41.157 1:40.858 1:41.213
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 1:41.192 1:41.084
12 JensonRetiring  Button McLaren Honda 1:41.158 1:41.272
13 Esteban! Haas Ferrari 1:41.639 1:41.480
14 Lettuce Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:41.467 1:41.564
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:41.775 1:41.820
16 Pascal's Wehrlein MRT Mercedes 1:41.886 1:41.995
17 Kid Kvyat Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:42.003

18 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:42.142

19 Felipe Not Massa Nasr Sauber Ferrari 1:42.247

20 False Esteban Ocon MRT Mercedes 1:42.286

21 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:42.393

22 Sony Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1:42.637

Right, he's got pole.  That's not an insubstantial thing around a track that's relatively difficult to pass upon.  But in many ways, it doesn't matter what Hamilton does.  He could win by 95 seconds over the next closest driver, and as long as Rosberg is third he wins the championship.

So who's the pressure on?  I'm leaning towards Rosberg.  He knows his destiny is in his own hands.  If he screws it up, it's all on him.  I almost wonder if he'll be driving nervous, and thereby making everything worse for him...

Race is tomorrow morning, we'll find out how things work out then.  See ya soon!

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November 23, 2016

F1 on TV: Abu Dhabi 2016

Instead of clicking "save" on the original version of this post, which would then allow you, my readers, to actually read it, I instead clicked "view site."  While this gave me a wonderful view of my front page, it didn't do a thing for the post, which immediately disappeared into the same place that your other sock goes to.  As a result, you're getting this for a preview for the final Grand Prix of the season, the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi.

That's the track.  It's very safe, with lots and lots of run-off area.  It's also quite dull, with practically no place to pass in the first and third sectors, and since the second sector has both DRS zones, anybody who makes a pass in the first will likely be passed by the victim in the second. 

What the hell are those?
Still, this is what we've got.  It's the final race, and the deciding race for the driver's championship.  If Nico Rosberg finishes 4th or above, he wins no matter what Lewis Hamilton does.  If Hamilton finishes fifth or below, it doesn't matter what Rosberg does, he wins.  If Rosberg finishes ahead of Hamilton, he wins.  It looks grim for Hamilton, doesn't it?

No, really... what the hell is that?
The Legendary Announce Team's broadcast schedule is as follows:
Practice 2: 7a - 830a  live on NBCSN
Quals:  7a - 830a  live on CNBC
Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi: 630a - 9a  live on NBCSN

All times Pond Central... but after all these years, you should know that by now.  Of course, the final F1Update! of the 2016 season will meander its way to you sometime after the race.  See ya then!

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November 22, 2016

Your Weekly Asuka, S2E07

So we come to Asuka's most revealing episode yet.  We finally discover exactly why she's so wistful about "wanting the summer to go on forever", why she's so adamant about getting the band to Nationals, and maybe... just a bit... about why she's so secretive all the time.  However, sometimes the answers you get aren't the answers you want...

This look comes immediately after an announcement that the Club will be playing a concert at the local train station in about a week or so.  Our Goofy Cute is definitely not reacting the way she should.  A short time later, we find out why.

In the Teacher's Office, Asuka's mother is trying to get The Powers That Be to accept Asuka's resignation from the Club, so she can concentrate on college prep exams.  Body language would seem to suggest that there's some disagreement on this matter.  When Conductor-sempai says "nope, because it's not what Asuka wants, and you really should support her y'know..." it looks like the matter is over and done with.  Until Mom says, quite calmly, "Asuka, tell the nice man you're leaving the club."  It's with some surprise in her voice that Our Funny Obsession says that she doesn't want to quit.

And then her mother whups her upside de haid.  It was at this point that I suddenly had an icy knot in my gut.  Look, I know she isn't real.  I know Asuka's just a secondary character in a cartoon.  Not even ink on paper anymore, y'know?  I know all this.  But this show has done a helluva job making the watcher care about the cast of Hibike! Euphonium.  Hats off to KyoAni for a job well done.  It was also at this point that much of Asuka began to be explained.  Why the desire for the endless summer (so she wouldn't have to quit).  Why she was so desperate to get the band to Nationals (so she had a reason not to quit).  And why she's so secretive about her real feelings (learned behavior, keeping her interest in band under cover from mom). 

When a suddenly contrite mother attempts to apologize, Asuka simply turns to Conductor-sempai and says "I'm afraid I'm going to miss club today," takes her mother's hand, and walks away like nothing had happened.  She's then missing from the Club for the next week (note: the original translation out there said it was a month.  Within twelve hours of release, the length of time had changed to a week).  Well, mostly missing.

She does make an appearance shortly after the slap, tells everybody not to worry, and then mostly disappears again... except for one conversation she has with the president of the club.  Again, she says it's no big deal, but this time someone calls her on it.  It's a lot more serious than she's letting on.  She doesn't deny it, but also says she won't be causing problems.  And then she's gone again until the day of the concert at the train station.

She's back and she's ready to play.  But there's no explanation about how that happened, how things got worked out with her mother, nothing like that at all.  This isn't over, and we're going to learn a lot more about Asuka pretty darn soon I'm thinking.  Though after this episode, I'm no longer quite as enthused about seeing behind the curtain. 

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November 21, 2016

When WoWS Grinds My Gears

I'm still playing World of Warships, though nowhere near as often anymore.  Still, I've managed to break into Tier VI a couple of times while playing almost exclusively against bots.  My first Tier VI ship was the New Mexico, a big, slow, heavily armored US battleship that costs 45000xp stock... no small feat, considering that a good match vs bots will net you ~500xp. 

My second Tier VI ship is the Cleveland, an American light cruiser that holds the distinction of being built in greater numbers than any class of cruiser by any navy ever.  It's a good ship, I just hate it... I just can't get the hang of its rainbow-arc guns... but that's not why I'm here.  Like many Tier VI cruisers, the Cleveland has a "float fighter" on-board that it can launch for limited protection against enemy planes.

In this particular case, it's a non-existent float variant of the Grumman F3F "Flying Barrel."   This cheeses me off something fierce, and it's one of the few things I really dislike about this game: the amount of "Paper Ships" involved... or in this case, "Paper Planes".  There was a perfectly good float fighter out there that they could have used, one that actually existed!

The Grumman F4F-3S "Wildcatfish".  Yup, they basically stapled a pair of floats to the underside of a Wildcat and ran it through testing.  I can only imagine that performance was... well, let's be charitable and call it "lacking."  But who cares?  When you've got a cool nickname like "Wildcatfish", you don't need to be fast or maneuverable.

It was no A6M2-N "Canoe of Destiny" though, I'll tell you what.

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November 18, 2016

Your Weekly Asuka, S2E03 - E06

Yes, yes, the feature took a few weeks off.  Between the Cubs and overtime at work, it's been hard enough to watch Hibike! Euphonium 2, let alone write about it.  But this week was special, because we've finally gotten to see behind the curtain and find out what makes Our Goofy Cute tick... at least partially.  More than we have before, and that's a good thing.  Except... well, you'll see.  But first, let's get caught up.

Episode 3 saw the band go to a training camp for a few days.  Meanwhile, the controversy about the third-year who quit the band wanting to get back in swirls apace... and all of it swirls around Asuka.  She's the one preventing it from happening for reasons she refuses to tell, other than it'd hurt the club.  Just like in Season 1, she's the focal point of everything... without being the center of the show.

Ep04 brought around the resolution of the previous episode's drama, and Asuka's true reasons for her actions become apparent.  One telling line from Our Silly Obsession was "I think people are fairly calculating in terms of their behavior."  When the show's nominal lead comes right out and says Asuka's too cynical, we get another one of these shots:

...and her saying "Let's get to Nationals."  In doing so, the lead begins to wonder (again) what the REAL Asuka thinks, as do we all.  The look on The Goofy Cute's face as the scene comes to an end is not goofy at all, but... resigned, maybe.

Ep05 includes a rather emotionally charged speech from the Vice-President of the Band Club, where she comes out and says just how badly she wants to win this competition.  She actually gets angry during it, which is new.  Even as it's going on, it's clear that this isn't just another rah-rah-win-one-for-the-gipper speech for her, there's something more brewing behind it.  And then KyoAni goes out and blows every production studio in Japan out of the water with the last eight minutes of the show.  We finally get to hear the band's competition piece in its entirety... and KyoAni animates the entire thing, giving every member of the band some face time... and not a single word is said during that time.  If you want to see the whole thing, you can watch it here... I'd recommend watching the whole episode though, simply because yootoob's compression does bad things to the video quality.

Ep06.  It's festival time at school, so of course Asuka's in full Goofy mode as a fortune teller.  After this, she disappears for the rest of the episode... or at least until the very end, where we find her alone in a classroom, practicing silently... while a woman with similar colored hair knocks on the door to the teacher's office.

Which brings us inexorably to Ep07... soon.

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November 15, 2016

Bless You, Boys!

This has the potential of becoming the greatest thing ever.  If he was given a Cubs jersey with "Pope" on the back... or maybe he if he was presented with a "W" flag...?

Ah.  Yes.  St Peter's Square.  Perfect.  Maybe get some ivy on those walls...?

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November 13, 2016

F1 Update!: Brazil 2016

Rain.  Rain and Formula 1 go together like pasta and tomato sauce.  It levels the playing field between cars and makes driver skill paramount.  But just like anything else that's good, too much rain is a bad thing.  The dividing line between "good" and "bad" can be razor thin, and both the track and the tires have a lot to do with where the line can be found.  It often rains in Brazil.  THIS is your F1 Update! for the 2016 Grand Prix of Brazil.

*UH-OH:  It had been raining and drizzling all day.  As the cars rolled out for their pre-race recon laps, the decision had already been made to delay the start by 10 minutes, apparently expecting a break in the weather.  The wisdom of that unusual decision was underscored a few moments later when the Haas of Lettuce Grosjean lost traction on one side of the car and smacked into the outside wall of the last turn going backwards.  The driver was unharmed, but the car could not say the same and was out of the race before the race even began.  This may have influenced the decision that came down a few minutes later to begin the race behind the Safety Car.

*AW, JEEZ:  Because of the Safety Car start, everybody was required to begin on the full wet tires.  Pirelli likes to trumpet that the full wet tires "pump 65 liters of water off the track every second at full speed".  That's great, sounds really impressive, but there are two problems with that.  First, with the cars behind the Safety Car they aren't going at full speed, and second, according to both the drivers and the teams, the full wet tires don't work well in the rain.  They aquaplane too easily when they are cold, and the track temperature today was 68°F... and crawling behind the Safety Car doesn't give them enough energy to warm them up.  The amount of spray from the cars was amazing... even polesitter Lewis Hamilton was unable to see from the rooster tail thrown up by the Safety Car.  Somehow, the field survived seven laps of this before Berndt Maylander took the Mercedes-AMG GT-S into the pit lane and the race began in earnest.

*REALLY?  REALLY?:  Immediately we saw cars diving for the pit lane, desperate to get off the full wets and onto the Intermediate rain tires.  This seeming case of mass idiocy lasted for all of six laps until Sony Ericsson, one of the first drivers to put on the Inters, slipped off the track in much the same place as Lettuce Grosjean.  Instead of ending up against the outside wall though, Ericsson's Sauber ended up in the middle of the pit-lane entry.  The FIA quickly threw up the "Pit Lane Closed" warning, which didn't prevent the Red Bull of Smiley Ricciardo from swerving around the Sauber to put on Inters.  He would later be penalized for that, by the way.  Because of the debris strewn across the circuit, the Safety Car was again summoned... with all the problems that would cause to the tires.

:  At this point, half the cars were on Inters, the other half on the full wets, and there was no real indication which was better for the conditions.  The Safety Car came in after four laps and the race once again restarted.  Lewis Hamilton got a great jump over his teammate, who was followed by the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen... for a few moments.  While accelerating in a straight line down the front straight, the Ferrari snapped hard to the right, slammed into the outside wall, then pirouetted back across the circuit to the inside wall.  In the process, he nearly collected the fourth place Red Bull of Embryo Verstappen, who managed to avoid the car, but did hit the damaged front wing left lying on the track.  As Raikkonen extricated himself from the cockpit of his shattered Ferrari, Berndt Maylander was again summoned... and moments later, the Red Flag was thrown.

*RIDICULOUS.  STUPID.:  A half-hour stoppage was followed by a Safety Car restart just as the rain, which had slowed down a bit, came back heavier than we'd seen all race.  After five laps trundling along behind the GT-S, we had seen the Renault of Jolyon Palmer run into the side of Kid Kyvat's Toro Rosso, invisible in the spray, and a Force India having to pit for a flat tire, and Seb Vettel reporting that it was "quite bad."  Another lap, and The Powers That Be said "nope."  Red Flag II: Electric Boogaloo was displayed, and the Brazilian fans (that's a lot of fans!) began to boo.  Leader Hamilton reported that "it isn't even that bad, it isn't wet at all."  As the cars stopped in the pit lane once again and the gazebos re-erected, the rain began coming down harder than ever.  One was forced to wonder if the race would ever restart.

*RACE ON:  15 minutes later, the cars were back on track.  Two laps later, on Lap 31, the Safety Car ducked in and we were racing again... and very quickly, Embryo Verstappen passed Nico Rosberg around the outside of Turn 1 for second place.  For the championship leader, this was horrible... not only was his rival leading, but now he was losing even more of his point gap to boot.  On the other hand, it looked like Verstappen was ready to challenge for the lead soon enough.

*SPIN SPIN SPIN:  The Red Bull driver managed to get to about two seconds behind the leader (and eight seconds ahead of Rosberg) when his car attempted to emulate the actions of Raikkonen's Ferrari by throwing itself at the inside wall.  The young driver not only managed to keep that from happening, but he didn't even lose the place to the trailing Mercedes!  A remarkable bit of handling, that.  A few laps later, after the Red Bull had pitted for new tires, Rosberg's Mercedes went squirrely in the same place Grosjean and Ericsson had, but he too managed to save it.  But then the saddest moment of the day occurred, when Brazilian Felipe Massa, participating in the final home race of his long career, spun and crashed heavily, losing it roughly where Grosjean, Ericsson and Rosberg had. 

*HAT TIP:  But Brazil wasn't finished with Felipe Massa quite yet.  As he walked back to the Williams pit box, the crowd cheered their hero loudly and energetically.  Despite the rain, he was clearly crying from the emotion of the moment, tears that became more prominent when his wife and son met him in a strong embrace.  After a while, he restarted his walk to his pit box.  This took him past the Mercedes box, where the entire compliment of their team had turned out to applaud.  A nice gesture from a team he had raced against.  But a few yards beyond Mercedes was the Ferrari pit box, and they too turned out... and Massa raced for them for eight years, 11 victories, and, for 25 seconds, a World Driver's Championship... and many of the people on the team had been there when Massa was.  All in all, a wonderful scene, and a nice tribute to a long-time driver.

*SWIM TO THE END:  The Safety Car stayed out for eight laps and saw Verstappen brought in for full wet tires.  He would rejoin in 16th place on Lap 55, the same lap the SC came in.  As Hamilton and Rosberg pulled away from the rest of the field, the Red Bull driver was going nuts.  By Lap 60, he passed his teammate for 10th.  Four more laps saw Verstappen in 6th place with 11 laps to go.  It took two laps and a physical (but clean) move to get past Seb Vettel, but only two more turns to pass Carlos Sainz for fourth.  By Lap 69, he got by the struggling Force India of Sergio Perez for third.  To review: in 14 laps, Max Verstappen gained 13 positions.  Alas, by this time second was out of reach, and the race ended with Lewis Hamilton leading Nico Rosberg by nearly 12 seconds, who was 10 seconds up on Verstappen.

And that does it for Brazil.  The final race of the year is Abu Dhabi in two weeks, with the driver's championship up for grabs.  We'll see you then for the grand finale!

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November 12, 2016

F1 Quals: Brazil 2016

It was a gray day in São Paulo, breezy, cool, nothing like the weather there on Friday: sunny and hot.  But today brought with it something extra, something that made it perfect for F1 fans: rain.  It hadn't occurred yet, but there was threat of deluge hanging over the day's proceedings, and wouldn't *that* throw a spanner in the works?  Particularly with pole being potentially all-important in the race for the Championship between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.  So, what happened?  Here's the provisional grid for the 2016 Grand Prix of Brazil:

Driver Car Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:11.511 1:11.238 1:10.736
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:11.815 1:11.373 1:10.838
3 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:12.100 1:12.301 1:11.404
4 Embryo Verstappen Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:11.957 1:11.834 1:11.485
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:12.159 1:12.010 1:11.495
6 Smiley Ricciardo Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer 1:12.409 1:12.047 1:11.540
7 Lettuce Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:12.893 1:12.343 1:11.937
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 1:12.428 1:12.360 1:12.104
9 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1:12.684 1:12.331 1:12.165
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1:12.700 1:12.312 1:12.266
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 1:12.680 1:12.420
12 Esteban! Haas Ferrari 1:13.052 1:12.431
13 Felipe Retired Massa Williams Mercedes 1:12.432 1:12.521
14 Kid Kvyat Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:13.071 1:12.726
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso Ferrari 1:12.950 1:12.920
16 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:13.259 1:13.258
17 JensonRetired Button McLaren Honda 1:13.276

18 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:13.410

19 Pascal's Wehrlein MRT Mercedes 1:13.427

20 False Esteban MRT Mercedes 1:13.432

21 Sony Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1:13.623

22 FelipeNot Retired Nasr Sauber Ferrari 1:13.681

While it was Hamilton who got the pole, it wasn't without effort.  In Q3, Rosberg was last on track, so Lewis had to go fast and hope for the best.  His second run improved his already blazingly quick time, and a good thing too, for Rosberg did the same... and beat Hamilton's old time.  As it was, the championship leader is about 1/10th of a second behind... and over a half-second faster than anybody else.  Hamilton must finish ahead of Rosberg for the championship to reach Abu Dhabi... any other result means Rosberg is the 2016 Driver's Champion.

Of other points of interest, I'm beginning to wonder if Jenson Button actually stopped driving a couple-three races ago.  When your teammate is easily making Q3 but you can't get out of Q1, well, sooner or later it ain't the car's fault.  Which is a damn shame, because I really like Button.  Ah well.

Race is tomorrow morning, at a decent time no less... F1U! afterwards.  See ya then, then!

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November 10, 2016

Everybody Knows

The unstoppable beast that is 2016 has claimed another victim.

Leonard Cohen died today at the age of 82.  By the time I first experienced his incredibly rich, almost frighteningly bass voice, he was already legend.  Strangely, it was in the slightly-better-than-mediocre movie Pump Up The Volume, which had a killer soundtrack.  Cohen's "Everybody Knows" was featured throughout the film.

This young duck was stunned... and then he quickly tried to find out more about this guy.  Turned out he'd been around for nearly 30 years by that point.   I felt right at home with I'm Your Man, the album I purchased.  It was all full of synths and drum machines, and it reminded me a lot of the band Double.  Which just goes to show what I knew of Leonard Cohen.

Allow me a digression here... I promise it all ties together in the end.  When I moved to the northlands for grad school, it was actually the second time I'd been there.  The first time was when I went up to find an apartment.  I was graciously shown around the town by a lass I had contacted via Prodigy... yes, that long ago.  I had sent out 25 or 30 e-mails more or less at random to people in Mankato that were on Prodigy, essentially saying "I'm moving there in a few months for grad school, I don't know anybody, will you be my friend?"  Most went unanswered.  One replied "no."  One said he didn't live there anymore, but he owned a bar and grill in town... I should stop in, tell the guy behind the bar that he had sent me, and I'd get a burger and beer out of it.  Sure 'nuff, I did.  And then there was the one who accused me of writing to her because she was female... "yeah, that's so slick."  Well, she wasn't entirely wrong... anyway, she agreed to show me around the town, have dinner with me the first night I was up there, you know the drill.  And she gave me the nickname that stuck with me throughout my Minnesota years: "Slick".  Actually, for many years after she continued to call me that.  Um.  Like I was saying...  Somewhere along the line, it came out that I worked in radio, and she insisted I let her hear some of my stuff.  So, I made her a mixtape in the station's production studio, with voice drops by me.  The catch was, every song had something to do with her.  The featured tune?

I've often joked that "Suzanne" was Cohen singing falsetto.  According to him, he just wasn't quite sure how to use his voice at that time.  Still, a lovely song.  In case you're wondering, that picture at the start of this digression is of a Mankato landmark; my apartment would be just off-picture to the right.  I could see the place from my bedroom window.

I've often wondered just what it must be like to have written and sung one of the most beautiful songs of all time and have it be famous because of the performances of others.  "Hallelujah", off the album Various Positions, was popularized somewhat by John Cale, turned famous when Jeff Buckley covered Cale's version, which then got used in the movie Shrek, though Rufus Wainright's version was on the soundtrack album, and then kd lang did my favorite performance of the song at the opening ceremonies to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

There are at least 300 known recordings of the song.  He's certainly been honored worldwide for the song, both by the public and by fellow musicians, but one wonders... 

Just a couple of weeks ago, Leonard Cohen released a new album, You Want It Darker.  Given the lyrics of the title song, it's hard to imagine that he didn't know his time was short.

If so, then I think it can be said that he went out on his own terms.

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November 08, 2016

F1 on NBCSN: Brazil 2016

I have made a decision.  Other than this sentence, I am not going to mention how much I despise the circuit for the 2016 Grand Prix of Brazil, Interlagos, and have for quite some time.  Let's take a look at the track map, shall we?

This place has given us some remarkable season-ending races in the past, and a victory by Nico Rosberg this weekend wraps up the Drivers Championship (there are other scenarios where he closes the contest, but that's the most likely one).  One aspect of this race that should prove to be quite dramatic is that this is Felipe Retired Massa's last home race... almost literally in his case, as he grew up very close indeed to the circuit... since he's retiring at the end of the season.  An interesting career, his... so close to winning the Championship in 2008, then came the spring to the helmet the following year, and he never quite seemed the same afterwards.  Ah well.

The Legendary Announce Team will, of course, be bringing us their usual sterling coverage live all weekend!  Here's the broadcast lineup:
Practice 2: 10a - 1130a  live on NBCSN
Quals:   10a - 1130a  live on NBCSN
2016 Grand Prix of Brazil:  930a - 12n  live on NBCSN

Of course, all times are Pond Central, and make sure you doublecheck them... what with the timechange, I'm not even sure what my name is, let alone what the time race happens.  F1U! will come along sometime after the race, of course.  See ya then!

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November 07, 2016

Vascilating Back To Normal

Of late, things have gotten a little off-track here at The Pond.  First came the tragic news about SDB, which threw the place into a funk.  Then there was the whole Cubs winning the World Series thing.  Following each game of the playoffs closely tended to eat up entire evenings and nights, setting me up with little time to sleep, let alone blog.  Fall anime got ignored, too... even Hibike! Euphonium 2 got left at the wayside, for heaven's sake.  I've gotten caught up on that, and I'm trying to figure out a three-episode YWA, just to bring that feature back to speed. 

It's a mess around here right now, but these have been extraordinary times.  Just bear with me.  Again.

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November 05, 2016

Cubswatch 2016: Reflection

Now that it's been a few days since the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, I can look back and talk about the whole thing with something like restraint.  Before now, just thinking "the Cubs won the World Series" would make me break out in a huge grin and a case of the giggles.  My boss, who is also a big Cubs fan, played Eddie Vetter's love song to the Cubs, Someday We'll Go All The Way, over the intercom and it was everything I could do to not cry again.

Truth be told, it still makes me tear up.  Anyway... where was I?  Oh, right, the Cubs won the World Series, their first in 108 years.  Did you see the movie Bull Durham?  Do you remember Baseball Annie's opening monologue?  Specifically the part where she says "...there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and 108 stitches in a baseball"?  Almost enough to make you believe in things like curses and stuff like that.  Which I don't.  Never have.  It's never been about the Goat, or Bartman, or stuff like that.  It's been about lousy team management that cared more about making money than winning ballgames.  Once a real owner came on board, he hired the best people to rebuild the team from ground zero. 

Jed Hoyer, GM - Joe Maddon, Manager - Theo Epstein, Team President
And they did.  They based their team of the future around a core of hitters in the minors like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, and Javier Baez, sprinkled in some veterans like David Ross, Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo, and Dexter Fowler, and then went out and obtained a pitching staff.  Not one of the Cubs starters came up through the organization... and it worked.  Obviously.  The Chicago Cubs won the World Series!

The victory parade and rally on Friday saw an estimated five million fans gather along the parade route and in Grant Park.  If that number is accurate, and it's anybody's guess if it is, it is the seventh-largest peaceful gathering of people worldwide in history.  It's the largest gathering in American history.  But to get to that point, the Cubs had to win a Game 7 against the Indians, a game that went to extra innings after they blew a 6-3 lead.  A rain delay gave the team a chance to recover their wits and score twice in the top of the 10th.  And when MVP-in-waiting Kris Bryant fielded a grounder with a smile on his face and threw it over to Anthony Rizzo at first, the Cubs had finally won one for not only themselves, but for their fans.

I'll freely admit to showing more emotion after they beat the Dodgers to earn a trip to the World Series.  After this game, I was exhausted... the way the game whipsawed back and forth was emotionally draining.  The final out was as much relief as triumph.  On paper, there was very little way the Indians could hang with the Cubs, particularly after losing two of their starting pitchers... but the playoffs usually aren't about the best team, but the hottest.  The Indians had been very hot indeed, taking three of the first four games in the series, but the depth of the Cubs showed.  One could argue that the Cubs got hot, but it really was more a case of the better team winning.  Make no mistake, the Cubs were the better team.  In fact, they had been the best team in baseball all season long.  It was only during a stretch in July when they played something like 28 games in 28 days just before the All-Star Break that they didn't have the best record in baseball, relinquishing it to the Texas Rangers for a week or so.  Beyond that, they were a massive steamroller.  Some people have suggested that this triumph changes the Cubs... that they've now lost their identity as the "lovable losers", the butt of all jokes, the "wait 'til next year" that never comes.  Maybe so.

I'm okay with that.  I haven't been happy like this since 2009.  Because 40+ years of fandom have finally been rewarded.  The Cubs have won the World Series. 

The Cubs have won the World Series.

The Cubs have won the World Series.

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November 02, 2016

Cubswatch 2016: Eamus Catuli! AC 0000000

The Chicago Cubs have won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.  I'm laughing and crying at the same time. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the greatest moments of my life. 

Consider it flown

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November 01, 2016

Cubswatch 2016: "...And We'll See You Tomorrow Night!"

A few days ago, the Cubs were down three games to one to the Indians in the World Series, and they looked like they deserved to be down three games to one.  And then the Cubs did what they've done all year: win.  Which brought us to tonight: the Indians were throwing Josh Tomlin, who made the Boys in Blue look silly earlier.  And they were back in Cleveland, in front of a full house at what might be the loudest stadium in baseball.  Cubs fans everywhere were torqued down so tight it was hard to breathe.  The tension was unbearable.  For two batters.  Then Kris Bryant came up.

433 feet later, the Cubs had the lead.  By the end of the first inning, the Cubs had scored three runs and Cubs fans everywhere began to relax slightly.  By the time Addison Russell hit a grand slam in the third to make it 7-0, Cubs fans began to smile grimly.  One game for all the marbles on Wednesday.  The Indians will send their ace Corey Kluber out on short rest to face the Cubs Kyle Hendricks, 2016's ERA champion, going on normal rest.  I like those odds.


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