April 19, 2015

F1 Update: Bahrain 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 18, 2015

F1 Quals: Bahrain 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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Random Anime Picture #96: Flying Phoenix


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

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April 17, 2015

Happy Birthday, Vauc!

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

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

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

Happy Birthday.

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April 16, 2015

Stormageddon 2015: One Week Later

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

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

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

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

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

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April 15, 2015

Triage X Diagnosis: Black


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

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

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

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

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

Whatever.  This is so dropped.

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April 14, 2015

Random Anime Picture #96: ... And Taxes


pbbbpbpbbpbbpbpbpbpbpbbppbpbpbthhhhhhhhh.
-Hibiki!  Euphonium, Ep01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 13, 2015

F1 on TV: Bahrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

We'll see ya after!

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April 12, 2015

Ducks In Anime: Lyrical


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

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

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

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F1 Update: China 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 11, 2015

F1 Quals: China 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race is Sunday morning... see ya after.

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April 10, 2015

Stormageddon 2015: The Next Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairdale residents probably don't feel that way.

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April 09, 2015

Stormageddon 2015

Around 545pm or so, I was jolted out of a nap by my cellphone's "screamer" alarm.  That particular alarm is set to go off when I get a text message from one of the local TV stations regarding weather Warnings... severe thunderstorm warnings, blizzard warnings, that sort of thing.  This one was for a Thunderstorm, which I was expecting.  The Weather Nabobs had been saying since Tuesday that there was a good chance of nasty storms today, after all.  Part of me wanted to just roll over and go back to sleep... I've been having work-related nightmares recently, so relaxing sleep has been at a premium of late... but then the piercing, warbling sound of the emergency siren located less than a mile away went off.

Oh hell.

The screamer went off a few moments later... tornado warning for the area.  A small storm cell to the southwest had rotation visible in it according to radar, the Nabobs said, and it was due over Pond Central in about 20 minutes.  Then a second tornado warning was issued for an area west-south-west of Pond Central, and that storm cell had visible and confirmed rotation, lowering clouds, and had been all-in-all ugly since Iowa. 

Look, I don't consider myself a particularly brave duck.  I'm not particularly afraid of anything, though I give routers (woodshop, not IT) a wide berth, and mushrooms and I have a bad relationship, but I'm not the sort who will go out looking for "EXTREEEEEEEME XXXXXXXCITEMENT!" or anything like that.  But I'm also not overly concerned about storms, either.  Oh, I'll avoid them when possible, and snowstorms I'll avoid driving in, but all in all, I'm good with weather.  So, I stepped out on the balcony to see what's going on, right?  Chatted with a couple of neighbors, we all jokingly agreed that we were about to die, haw haw haw... and then we all noticed that gosh, that front edge of the cloudline sure looks a little... um... cone-shaped?  Well, whatever, it's past us and heading to the northeast. 

And then, exactly the time the Weather Nabobs said the storm would pass over Pond Central, the rains came.  What started as merely heavy soon escalated to "Malaysian Grand Prix" levels.  The storm clouds disappeared in the combination of failing light and monsoon rain, but moments later the keening bandsaw sound of the emergency siren went off again.

The Weather Nabobs on the television were having problems keeping up with everything.  It suddenly sounded like the storm to the west-south-west had put a for-sure tornado on the ground, while they were also reporting a tornado in the vicinity of the local shopping mall.  The shopping mall that's about a mile or so northeast from Pond Central as the duck flies.  Oh.  Hm.  Guess we were right about that cone shape.  Quickly they turned their attention to the WSW storm, though, as it was headed right for a whole series of little towns, while the one near Pond Central was making its way through farmland and already showed signs of fading away.

The WSW tornado gathered strength and made its way through the vicinity of Rochelle, a town of around 10000 people that's long been a major railway hub and is home to one of Union Pacific's largest intermodal yards.  It then made its way through farmlands and small widespots in the road at about 50mph and leveled at least one restaurant that's known of so far.  The major problem, of course, is that nighttime was falling and power is out.  It may be some time until we know the true extent of this one.

Then, as if those weren't enough, the sirens wailed again.  Another storm cell had reportedly barfed up a third twister near Byron, IL, about ten miles southwest of Duckford, and it was headed right for Pond Central.  It was at this point that yours truly retreated to the hallway that leads to his bathroom, taking with him his cellphone, a portable radio, a battery-operated lamp, and a nice book.  And then I heard something I've never heard before in the 14+ years I've lived here: rapidfire "plonk" sounds coming from my heater.

It took me a second or two to realize that I was hearing hail hitting the exhaust outlets for the heater that are located on the roof.  Oy.  After about 20 minutes or so, and reports of two more tornadoes on radar east-north-east of Duckford, it seemed like things were calming down a bit.  Sure enough, all extant tornado warnings were being cancelled except for one waaaaaaaay to the east of us... technically that was part of the same storm line, but couldn't really be considered part of what hit us.

Remember what I said about not considering myself particularly brave?  I'm not ashamed to say that this might have been as nasty a storm system as I've ever encountered, and that includes this one that hit a TV station while they were broadcasting.  That one was on the far side of the city from me, after all.  At one point during this mess tonight, which only lasted about two hours all told, there were three different tornado warning tracks pointed directly towards Pond Central, and another one just a few miles east.  Now that things have settled down, they seem to be thinking that there were only two on the ground, not five.  Unfortunately, the one that touched down near Rochelle has definitely been confirmed.  There has been damage and injuries, and it may have had a run of close to fifty miles.

One place the beast touched was the tiny town of Fairdail, IL, which the mayor of nearby Kirkland said had been flattened.  ABC7 out of Chicago is reporting that there's been one death there, the first reported for-sure casualty.

The Rockford Fire Department has responded to Fairdale, and the news coming out via twitter isn't promising.  All structures in town are damaged, access is difficult to due to debris.  Just outside Pond Central, I can hear the sound of sirens on the highway that heads from here to Rochelle; with a small jog, it also goes to Fairdale.  It sounds like the sirens are headed back to Duckford... probably ambulances, and that's sobering.  I was really about to say that it seemed like the area dodged a bullet, and I suppose that's true.  After all, 15 miles north was Duckford, a city of close to 200000 people.  Rochelle has 10000.  Fairdale supposedly has 2000.  I say "supposedly" because... well, here's the googlemaps view of the town:

They must be counting nearby farms as well..  Rochelle is off to the left, Kirkland to the right, Duckford off top.  So, yes, we may have dodged a bullet, but Fairdale didn't.  Hopefully we'll have good news once the sun comes up.

Right now, it's rainy and the wind is howling outside as the cold front that caused all this hullabaloo flows through.  Behind it is supposedly clear skies and cool temperatures.  Midwest weather: if you don't like it, wait a few minutes, it'll change.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:30 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
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April 08, 2015

Random Anime Picture #95: The Third Best Sniper...

You know how I knew that the new series Triage X was from the same guy who did character designs for High School of the Dead?

-Triage X, Ep01
Well, that and the nigh-on fetishistic abuse of women that abounded in the episode.  We've seen that before from Shoji Sato, as well as his... um... particular attention to proportions.

Swear to god, this cast is more top-heavy than a US destroyer in 1945... again, not like we haven't seen that before from this guy.  There is plenty of action, which seems to be taking the place of a coherent plot or serious characterization. 

I'm not sure if this is an episode title or just confirmation of my feelings about the show.  I'll pass, thanks, and if you have the sense evolution provided to sloths, you will too.  Ye cats and little fishes, this was unfortunate.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:12 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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April 07, 2015

F1 on NBCSN: China

After a relatively surprising result in Malaysia, the Formula 1 Circus has bundled itself up and traipsed its way across the South China Sea to find itself in Shanghai, home of the 2015 Grand Prix of China.  Let's take a look at the track map, shall we?  Yes, let's!

Well, one thing's for sure: it hasn't changed.  It's still smoggy, it's still shaped like the Chinese symbol shang, meaning "arise", it's still a Tilkedrome.  It's more likely to cough up a good race than any other Tilkedrome, true, but that's nothing to hang on your wall proudly.  Throw in the perceived dominance of Mercedes and I find myself staring at the schedule and wondering just what I'm doing with my life.   I mean, besides "nothing".

Well, since I'm not doing anything, I may as well watch the race.  Here's NBCSN's planned coverage schedule:
Friday
Practice 2: 1am - 230a live
Saturday
Quals: 2a - 330a live
Sunday
Grand Prix of China: 1230a - 300a live

All times are Pond Central, of course, but please check your schedule, just to be sure we've got the times listed right.  Seriously, Zap2It is a clumsy, awkward, sloppy little piece of moldy cheese of a TV listing software, and I trust it about as far as I can spit an eatanter.  And for the record, I can't spit an eatanter at all... the tail keeps getting snagged.

In other F1 news, Red Bull has stopped whining about Mercedes' so-called engine domination.  Now team principal Christian Horner is calling for a wind tunnel ban.  Given his track record on this sort of stuff, I can only assume that Red Bull is having technical troubles with their wind tunnel.  Either that or they hate the thought of Haas F1 having the best automotive wind tunnel in the world at their beck and call.  Maybe both, who knows?   I'm not even sure Horner knows.  Red Bull is talking about getting out of the sport altogether, Toro Rosso is on the verge of becoming a Renault tean... maybe we can get a team that's concerned about racing on the track, instead of a team that's a marketing tool first, and then a racing team. 

Rant over.  Everybody back on your heads.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 11:22 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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April 06, 2015

It's An Amazing Day

Okay, first it's Opening Day with a full slate of baseball games on TV and radio.  That always makes it a good day.  But even better is the appearance of this:

This PV for the upcoming ARIA the Avvenire answers many questions about the upcoming series. Specifically it lists the cast members and the news on that front is good: the VAs that made their characters who they are will all be coming back.  The PV does list Tomoko Kawakami as Athena, which on the face of it seems impossible since she passed away in 2011 from cancer.  Maybe flashbacks, or dialogue snipped from past episodes?  They can do remarkable things with technology!  The presence of Ai and Akari's hair style suggests that Avvenire will be continuing on from Origination... which means Athena and Alicia would both be retired gondolieri, but they're shown in their respective company uniforms.  Which means who knows? 

Here's what I can tell you for sure: I desperately need this show in my life.  Like, right now.  Instead, we'll have to look forward to September. 

Posted by: Wonderduck at 02:29 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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April 05, 2015

Baseball Is Back


In the past, I've sneered at the concept of beginning the baseball season on a Sunday night with a single game.  Darn it, the baseball season is supposed to start on a Monday with a game in Cincinnati, followed closely by the rest of the teams.  That's the way it was for decades, and if it was good enough then, it's good enough now.  I believe in tradition, and Baseball is the perfect sport for such beliefs.  Of course, a few years ago, they started the "Opening Night" thing.  I've managed to successfully ignore the event... in my mind, baseball still begins on Monday. 

Not this year.   

That's because the new baseball season begins tonight at Wrigley Field, with a game between the St Louis Cardinals and my Chicago Cubs.  Back in 2009, SDB mentioned that the Cubs had been sold and asked if it would make a difference.  My answer was "in the short term, no."  Left unsaid was that in the long term, it would make a big difference.  My short-term prediction was borne out... the Cubs were a very bad team, and the management staff was turned over.

What nobody could have predicted is exactly what happened.  In 2010, the Cubs brought in Theo Epstein to be their President of Baseball Operations, and Epstein protege Jed Hoyer to be GM.  Owner Tom Ricketts said "I don't want this team to be the one-year wonders they've been in the past... I want a team that'll contend year after year.  Make it happen."  Epstein and Hoyer promptly poured gasoline over the entire organization from majors to the lowest of single-A teams and set it ablaze with a flamethrower.  They had found that during the long period of TribuneCo. ownership, the team had been run to make money, not necessarily win games.  Fixing it required a total revamp, a head-to-toe concentration on the farm system instead of free agency... and time.  Time to let bad free agency contracts expire, time for the farm system to start generating prospects, time for moneys to build up again... and time to bring Wrigley Field into the 21st Century.

Despite threats of lawsuits from the so-called "rooftop owners", businesses that put bleacher seating on the rooftops of apartment buildings across the street from Wrigley and made money by leeching off the Cubs, the team began major repairs and renovations to their park as last season came to a close.  The most visible and obvious of these is the huge Jumbotron screen just beyond the left field bleachers.  Those iconic bleachers, both in left and right fields, were razed and are in the process of being rebuilt with more seats and added concourse area behind them.  Indeed, the outside wall of the park will now come all the way to both Waveland Avenue in left and Sheffield Avenue in right, instead of leaving room for a triple-wide sidewalk.  The third-base side concourse is having structural work done, and new bathrooms installed.  If you've ever used the bathroom at Wrigley, you understand just how important this is.  Additional structural steel and concrete work is being performed all over the park as well, so as to keep this 100-year old park from collapsing in 20 years or so.  The bleacher work was supposed to have been completed by Opening Night, but the lousy winter kept that from happening.

As recently as five days ago, this was the way the field looked.  It goes without saying that the bleachers won't be finished in time.  Indeed, left field is now scheduled for completion sometime in May with right field following along in June.  The outside wall of the park is still totally unbuilt, simply blocked off by chain-link fencing and ivy-printed tarpaulins.  In just a few days, though, the crews have managed to pretty the place up quite nicely.

This picture was tweeted out by Cubs catcher David Ross on Saturday.  The right field construction is covered with screens celebrating Cubs legend Ernie Banks, who passed away this past January.  Left field will undoubtedly have something similar, though the Jumbotron is fully functional.  In a lovely touch, it's able to mimic the appearance of the center field scoreboard.  There are many who believe that Wrigley's charm stemmed from its lack of modernity, and they may have been right... but only to a point.  I'd rather actually have Wrigley Field still standing but modernized, than collapsed to rubble with an old-fashioned charm.  For make no mistake, that's where Wrigley was heading.  They had already been forced to install catch netting under the upper decks to prevent chunks of concrete from hitting the fans below, for example.  Amenities for the players were awful: the home team clubhouse was tiny, cramped and little changed from 50 years ago, for example.  This brought up the horrible situation where Sloan Park, the new spring training home for the Cubs in Mesa, actually had immensely bigger and better facilities for players than the major league stadium.  The remodel will change all that.  But what of the actual team?

Late last season, we began to see signs that the suffering of the last five years was beginning to end.  The Cubs began to give some of their prized minor leaguers a taste of the Big Show, all the while making it clear that they players they brought up weren't even the best they had.  Through crafty trades of legit big-league talent for other teams' prospects, and some good old-fashioned scouting of their own, the Cubs farm system went from nigh-on worst in baseball to the unquestioned best.  In Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, they have the #1 and #3 best prospects as selected by Baseball America, the bible of minor league baseball.  Jorge Soler is #12, Kyle Schwarber #19.  Having that many players in the top 20 is unprecedented.  Throw in other rookies like Arimendy Alcantera and you've got a deep, deep pool to pull from.  This goes along with a young roster of major leaguers headed by all-stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, Javier Baez of the massive power numbers (and massive strikeout numbers).  Throw in a solid pitching rotation headed by free-agent powerhouse Jon Lester, and you have a team that will certainly be better than 2014's 73-89.  Indeed, there are people picking them for playoff contention and even World Series predictions.  The biggest acquisition in the offseason wasn't a player, however, but a manager.  In December, two time manager of the year Joe Maddon exercised an opt-out clause he had in his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and joined the Cubs.  He has a track record of being an innovative coach who also knows how to get out of the way of his players when needed, perfect for this team.  If anybody can get the Cubs to a World Series, it would be Joe Maddon.  I don't think it's going to happen this season... I expect something around 82-85 wins; that's still an improvement of nine to 12 wins, a huge amount.  But in 2016?  Good times are ahead, and that's not just "wait 'til next year" thinking.

And it all starts tonight.

UPDATE @ 1025pm:  the St Louis Cardinals defeated the Chicago Cubs 3-0.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 03:19 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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April 02, 2015

Ducks In Anime: ....Aaaaaand We're Back.


-Yuri Kuma Arashi, Ep02

Awful, awful, so awful.  Visually great, a very unique art style, but the show itself can't decide if it wants to pander or be highbrow artsy-fartsy.  Or both.  I was actually shocked when I discovered that it wasn't a Noitamina show... it's got the same feel as a lot of those.

Please note that I do not consider this a good thing.  There have been 50 Noitamina series, and of those, I've only finished two: Library Wars and Ano Hana

So anyway, yeah, give Lesbian Bear Storm a miss.  Nice duck, though.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 12:03 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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April 01, 2015

Fish In Anime #3: Gold Fish


-Tokyo ESP Ep02

So this magic penguin burps up flying gold fish that activate mutant powers in people when they fly into them.  That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Tokyo ESP.  Of course, there are people who use their new-found powers for Bad Things... and a perishingly few that decide to become the X-Men.  Well, no, not really, but kinda.  Hijinks occur, but they're of the "only mildly interesting" type.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have watched the show if it wasn't for the appearance of the Monochrome Schoolgirls in Ep01... I kept hoping they'd come back.

Never did.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 06:40 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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Fish In Anime #2: I'm A Shark!


-GYO Tokyo Fish Attack

Here's the plot of GYO Tokyo Fish Attack, near as I can tell from the German language dub I watched on youtube (note: I do not speak German).  Something something something fish with metal legs something something kill and infect something something shark punches through door something something something circus something something human centipede.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 02:16 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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