December 22, 2014

First Episode Writeup #3

As I mentioned earlier, I was working on another First Episode Writeup when I wound up putting it on hold to work on a different one, one that forced its way into my attention.  I received two different e-mails from Robert featuring a show that I knew absolutely nothing about.  Then I bumped into it again somewhere else, and I just gave up and watched it.  And it was perfect writeup fodder!  I benched the half-done writeup and immediately started on this... and now, with no further ado, let's get right the heck to it!

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Skippy.

Skippy is a boy after my own heart, and I suspect most of my readers will identify closely with him as well.  Y'see, he's a bibliophile.  Indeed, that weird pose above is due to Our Hero being in the middle of a truly stupid happydance.  Now don't get me wrong, I love books and bookstores as much as anybody and more than most, but I've never done a happydance upon arrival at one.  That should tell you what sort of individual we're dealing with here.  Yup, he's a Skippy!

A bagful of hardcovers, a points card, and a cute bookstore employee?  It's exactly how Wonderduck first met The Librarian!  Except for the points card, I didn't have one of those yet.  Or the bagful of hardcovers.  I think I bought a paperback and a magazine.  Cute bookstore employee though?  That part meshes.  Except that The Librarian looks nothing like the employee in the picture.  Okay, can we just say I once met The Librarian in a bookstore?  Cool.  By the way, can you guess what Skippy is reacting to here?  Hint: it's not the cute bookstore employee.

Oh.  Hm.  I'm starting to identify less and less with Skippy.  Hopefully most if not all of my readers are feeling the same.  Our Hero's family moved to the hinterlands of Japan due to father's job, but Skippy refused to leave... out there, new release books are often delayed, and that just will not stand.  So they left him behind in the city, as long as his grades stay high.  Yeah, well, duh on that part.  Look at him!  You think he can't get whatever grades he wants?  He's Skippy.  He can do what he wants!  Except for one thing.

He cannot read the final book of the "Seven Sins" series by Akimaya Shinobu.  Because it hasn't been released yet, and while all of Japan is looking forward to it, Skippy really really wants to read it now.  In something of an unhealthy way, if you know what I mean.  Alas, he can move heaven and earth and it won't hasten the arrival of the book one iota.

So while he waits, Skippy reads everything else in sight every waking minute of the day.  This Akimaya person has never been seen in public and writes everything from rom com to sci fi to any other abbreviation you can think of.  Basically he (if he is a he)'s Isaac Asimov, just without the non-fiction.  Like probably everybody that visits The Pond, Our Hero finds a visceral pleasure in reading in restaurants.  Actually, he finds a visceral pleasure in reading anywhere, but roll with it, huh?  So he's reading in a charming little cafe, though he's dismayed when he realizes he's lost his wallet.  At that moment...

...gun crime is so rare in Japan that in 2006 there were only two gun murders nationwide.  Most guns are illegal.  Air rifles are okay.  Strangely enough, so are shotguns, though you need to take a test, register it with the police, store ammo separately in a locked container, retest every few years, and let the police inspect it regularly.  I have a hunch that hoodyguy up there hasn't bothered with any of that.  Oh, and for the record?  I suspect it's a Mossberg, but I can't find an exact match with any of the major companies.  Maybe one of The Pond's guy folk can figure it out... here's the unresized picture if you want to have a go.

Hoodyguy is annoyed that not everybody is terrified of him... indeed, the lass in the corner doesn't even seem to realize he exists as she writes away.  I get the same way when I do these writeups, except I would react if someone holding a shotgun was screaming at me to stand up and pointing it at me.  To be blunt, it'd just be a good thing that I regularly wear black pants and I leave it at that.

Our Hero, however, is just young and stupid enough to be having none of that noise.  The struggle doesn't last very long, and hoodyguy kicks Skippy to the floor.  He pants and wheezes for a second or two, then starts to get up again.  Our boy Skippy, he's got some fight in him.  Not a lot of brains, but fight.

Are we about to find out just how much brains he's got?  Nah, this is anime.  When was the last time you saw someone shot in the face in anime without being a zombie, android/cyborg, or mook in Gunslinger Girl?  Certainly never Our Hero!

more...

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December 20, 2014

Timewaster Delayed!

I've been working on the next First Episode Writeup for the past week after having found a good BD rip of it.  It's been a slog, however, as the episode has a bad ratio of unexplained-action-to-explaining-dialogue.  That makes a coherent writeup difficult to create since I often wind up worldbuilding at the same time.  However, I've made it about a third of the way through, and the second half is flashbacks.  Yay, I guess. 

Have you ever had something force its way into your awareness in such a way that you couldn't ignore it?  Let me give you an example.  Back in 1991, I was driving up to Minnesota to get an apartment and tour the town I'd be going to grad school in.  As I crossed the Mississippi River at La Crosse, a saxophone-led song with a funky backbeat came across the car radio.  Catchy, I thought, but the DJ didn't say the name of either the song or the artist.  Later that night, as I was out driving around the town, seeing the sights (such as they were), same song came on.  Again, no name, no artist.  I woke up the next morning, turned on Good Morning America or one of those shows, and wouldn't you know it?  The live musical guest for the day was a blonde saxophonist named Candy Dulfer, with Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics on guitar, playing a tune called "Lily Was Here."

I bought the cassette before I left Minnesota.  I felt like I couldn't not do so.  What's the point of this story I hear you asking?  Well, it's happened again.  There's an anime series that forced me to watch it, just by showing up everywhere I looked for a couple of days.  Didn't know anything about it, but it kept forcing itself upon me... I felt violated, yes, but it'd be a while since that had happened.   As I rolled through the first episode, I realized it'd be perfect for a writeup.  It was just begging for one.  As a result, I've put the original writeup that I'm a third of the way finished with on hold and will now be doing this mystery show instead.  With luck, it'll be up tonight or Sunday!

Look forward to it.  Or not.  Whichever.

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December 18, 2014

Night Of The Cuban

Over at friend Ed's place, a discussion of the potential lifting of the Cuban embargo ended up with me mentioning that I've had a Cuban cigar once, but that the explanation would be much longer than a simple comment could handle.  Settle in, my friends, for this is that explanation!

The time is around 1994 or so.  My failed attempt at Grad School has seen Our Hero return to Duckford in disgrace, the sort of disgrace that only the person who had always succeeded can experience.  Our Hero makes his way through life but reluctantly, a simmering anger behind his every word and deed.  After making connections with his old theatre teacher, Our Hero stops being quite as much of a jerk to everybody and sees him make his way to a cool local bar (now a true hangout for hipsters, alas) as a regular thing.  To the point where the bartenders start pulling his beer when he's walking in from the parking lot; that sort of regular.  It's the sort of bar that "intellectuals" would hang out in, all hardwood floors and tin ceilings and a truly startling selection of good beers (remember: 1994... beer snobs hadn't really been invented yet) and some wonderfully tasty not-quite-gourmet food.  The sort of place that bakes its own bread fresh all day in a wood-fired oven.  A great bar with non-bar food?  Sign me up.  Anyway, while sitting there one night sipping on his Kulmbacher (no, not the German one but an inexpensive dark beer on tap that shared the name.  I've never seen it anywhere before or since), in walks Rick (all names have been changed to protect something something something).  Our Hero and Rick have known each other since high school, decent enough friends via the shared experience of being really bad at football one summer back then.  After a couple of hours of catching up, Our Hero gets an invite to Rick's Place.  He and Bob, another mutual friend who's name is changed in this story, share an apartment down by the Candy Bridge, and they recently lost a player from their weekly penny-ante poker game.  Well, sure, why not?  Our Hero is instructed to bring only pennies and at least a dozen cheap beers, the traditional entry fee for the night.

Poker night rolls around and Our Hero, armed with two rolls of pennies and a pair of six-packs of Red White & Blue, he makes his way to Rick's place.  After stashing his beers in the fridge, he gets to see the battlefield for the night.

The arrow points out the apartment's open-air porch where we'd be comfortably ensconced for the night.  Not shown were the truly astounding number of party lights and xmas lights arranged around the porch, nor the ingenious curtain/tarp arrangement that kept it dry in all but the very worst pelting rainstorms.  It turned out that the expected fourth for the game never showed, and his absence was never noted again, nor a replacement found or needed.  As I learned that evening, there were a few set rules for Poker Night.

more...

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December 16, 2014

Around F1: 2014 Postseason

Though we're almost a month past the final race of 2014, there's still news being made by the F1 Circus.  Shall we take a look at some of the more interesting bits?

*McLaren finally set their 2015 driver lineup.  As was expected, HWMNBN was tabbed to occupy one of the seats.  This officially puts his nickname in danger; if the team he screwed over has welcomed him back, how can I still hold a grudge?  As it turns out, pretty easily.  Fernando Alonso will remain HWMNBN until further notice, but it's getting harder and harder to grump at him.  His teammate will be returning driver Jenson Button.  The surprise was that it took a very long time to announce that decision; it was only made a few days ago, much to the consternation of Button fans everywhere.  While I personally believe that it should have been a slam-dunk decision, I can't fault McLaren for taking their time.  Kevin Magnusson is a young up-and-coming driver who flashed brilliance at times during the 2014 season (see Australia), while Jenson is on the far side of his career.  Still, I think they made the right choice.

*Possibly more exciting news occurred in the first offseason test as the worldbeating combination of McLaren and Honda returned to the sport.  Honda will be returning to F1 as an engine manufacturer in 2015, powering McLaren exclusively.  While the Yas Marina test sessions didn't go all that well, with the 2014 chassis/2015 engine lashup only managing five laps in two days, that's also to be expected.  Remember, Red Bull was having similar problems at the beginning of 2014 testing, too. 

*Marussia is now officially gone.  Tuesday was the first day of the liquidation auction of the team.  There's another day of auction on Wednesday, but almost all the interesting stuff went today.  Multiple complete chassis were auctioned off, in the 2012 and 2013 configurations, with the 2014 cars being sold either at the end of December or early January (the 2014s are in Ferrari hands at the moment, having their engines removed).  Apparently, Haas F1, the American start-up team  that'll take to the grid in 2016, bought one of the chassis, and this is a smart move.  They now have a guaranteed working testbed to run pieces on, and of recent construction as well.  Compare this to Caterham, HRT and even Marussia iteself (as Virgin F1), who had no such crutch when they joined three seasons ago.  I'd be surprised if one or both of the 2014 chassis didn't end up in Haas hands to boot.  Other things auctioned off were all the spare parts, basically everything you would need to race-run a team, except for engines and tires.  Wednesday's auction includes the actual factory fittings and equipment: cordless drills, CNC machinery (I don't think Haas will be needing any of those), computer chairs, big-screen TVs, that sort of thing.  Oh, and the team's transporters and hospitality "mobile homes."  Something tells me Haas F1 will be looking at those, too.

*Also from Marussia, mixed news about Jules Bianchi.  A few weeks ago, he was taken off the ventilator and removed from the medically-induced coma.  He was also transferred from the hospital that he's been in since the horrible accident at the Japanese Grand Prix, and is now in hospital at home in France.  However, he's still in a coma, and remains in intensive care. 

*Eye-rolling news from Red Bull.  Last week, news came from the team that some bandits ran a car into their office/factory complex and stole some 60 of their trophies, causing thousands of dollars of damage in the process.  Heaven knows I'm no Red Bull fan, but for whatever reason this annoys me to no end.  It's not like the thieves could fence them or anything, unless its to some secretive F1 fan who won't ever display them to the world.  News came out this morning that 20 of the trophies were recovered by police from a nearby lake.

Y'know, the McLaren Technology Center is near the Red Bull factory, and it has a lake... I'm just sayin'.

More news as it happens, or as I'm motivated to write about it!

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December 15, 2014

Waiting For Something

Dunno what, though.  Something.  In the meantime, though, I've finally decided what the next First Episode Writeup will be.  As it turns out, it was my first choice, I just couldn't find an acceptable video source!  Nori, my computer, is a brilliant package of electronic goodness but one thing she doesn't do well is DVD screenshots.

Which makes her exactly like all the other computers I've ever owned, truth be told.  Earlier today, though, I found a great BD rip of the series and quickly d/l'd the first episode.  So while I eagerly anticipate writing it, you can eagerly anticipate reading it!

Or, y'know, not.  Whatever.

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December 13, 2014

Random Anime Picture #89: Company


-ARIA the OVA: Arietta
It still gets me every time.  The combination of wonderful joy and quiet introspection (and occasional sadness) that is the ARIA franchise.  I was considering doing S01E01 for my next episodic writeup and found that I just couldn't.  It doesn't deserve it. 

The show isn't flawless, but the flaws are buried so deeply by the good that you don't care.  Or it's too slow-paced and sappy for you, one of the two.  That's okay, too.  It'll be waiting for a time that you need it.

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December 12, 2014

WT ACTUAL F?

My GOD, people are friggin' annoying.  All frickin' day I've been dealing with idiots, morons and nebbishes, and I've not left my apartment building.

Was it "National Piss Off Wonderduck" day or something?  Because if it was, PEOPLE SUCCEEDED!  From the guy who was trying to argue that Michael Jordan "really wasn't that good" to the whole raft of folks who decided that since I was a college bookstore manager, it was open season on me to the telemarketer who called me four times in 10 minutes to the jerk who felt it was okay to scream at me for using three washers when he needed two and there are only four, it's been one round of annoying annoyances after another.

YARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!!!

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December 10, 2014

Mayfly

In 1911, the Royal Navy eagerly awaited the official delivery of His Majesty's Airship No.1, infuriatingly nicknamed "The Mayfly".  She was to be the RN's first airship, the largest and fastest in the world.

In pre-delivery tests, the usual panoply of problems were discovered, none of which were unable to be solved.  Except for one tiny difficulty that refused to go away, no matter how hard the crew at Vickers worked at it: she couldn't fly.  Make no mistake, she could float (barely), but nothing more than a tiny amount, and that only in perfect conditions.  She weighed in at 19.5 tons and had the lifting ability of 19.7 tons.  Something had to be done.

There were two options.  The first was obvious: add more lift.  However, "obvious" doesn't mean "easy."  For an airship, it means cutting the beast in half and adding a new section containing more gasbags.  This is also a relatively expensive way of accomplishing the task.  The second option is easier: lighten ship.  Get extra weight out of the hull and you'll be able to fly without changing the amount of gas involved.  Of course, this is what the folks at Vickers decided to do.  They went in and replaced structural members with thinner, lighter pieces... including the main keel.  The day came for a new flight test.

A gust of wind caught the Mayfly as she came out of the hangar, tilting her hard to starboard.  While the groundcrew struggled to roll her back over, she snapped in half.  As her crew abandoned ship, the two ends rose in a V-shape, ironically proving that cutting the internal weight down fixed her flight problems.  Soon enough, however, the Mayfly settled into the waters at Barrow-in-Furness.

Fortunately, none of the crew was injured, and British airship development went into something of a dark period.  It took five years for HMA.09 to take to the air, under the guiding hand of designer HB Pratt, who had predicted the failure of the Mayfly.  Pratt's main assistant was a young man named Barnes Wallis, who wound up with a successful career designing unconventional bombs.  He was the designer of the "Dambuster" bouncing bomb, as well as the "Tallboy" and "Grand Slam" weapons.

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December 09, 2014

Random Anime Picture #89: Endless


I forgot just how good The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was.  Even "Endless 8", which I really enjoyed.

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December 08, 2014

First Episode Writeup #2

Well!  The writeup for Black Lagoon's first episode certainly seemed to go well.  I'm encouraged... maybe this can be a thing.  Or maybe it was because Black Lagoon is such a good show and people are just reacting to that quality, as opposed to my digital scribblings. Well, there's only one way to find out, isn't there?  Actually, no, there's many more ways than one to find out... I could just ask my readers, the so-called Pond Scum, their opinion!  Or I could do another writeup and judge the response from that!.  See?  Two ways right there!.  In this case, I decided to go with Option #2, because asking after just one writeup seems... um... needy?  "Please, love me, love me," said the blogger, desperately clinging onto your pants leg.  "Tell me I'm a good blogger!"  Yeah, exactly like that.  Man, that flowed so naturally from my fingertips... nah, I haven't thought of that before, never ever!  So I went through my anime collection looking for the next series to write up.  There's some good candidates in there for sure, but one almost literally jumped off the shelf at me (it actually just fell off, but that was enough to convince me).  Let's just get right to it, shall we?  This should be surprising, I think.

A train races across a cold, snowy land.  Except there's no way in the world it should be able to do this because the pantographs on the motor units aren't actually contacting the catenary wires.  That means no electrical power, and that means our train goes nowhere.  The end.  Well.  That's anticlimactic.  Okay, let's pretend this could actually work and the train races across a cold, snowy land.  Shortly thereafter...

...a young man named Skippy sits on a bench in a cold, snowy land.  He hardly seems dressed well enough for the weather, what with no hat or scarf.  His internal monologue suggests he's been there a while.  The snow on his shoulders suggests the same.  The snow piled on his head suggests that the body heat radiating out of his uncovered pate has cooled substantially.  So apparently this young man is actually dying of exposure and his internal monologue are the final firings of tortured neurons  Terminal burrowing will soon occur, perhaps under the bench itself, bringing this show to a grim and sad end and turning this writeup into the shortest ever

As Skippy drifts off into the next world, his brain spasms one last time and imagines a young lady, showing care and concern.  She is someone that he knows, someone named Nayuki that he's not seen in seven years.  Surely she's only a hallucination, dressed as poorly for the weather as she is.  They smile at each other as she guides him towards the afterlife.

They walk off into a cold, snowy land.  Neither notices, as neither can feel the elements any longer.  She because she doesn't exist, and Skippy because he's actually huddled pathetically under a bench, the bonechilling cold freezing his body into a sad parody of life.

more...

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December 07, 2014

73 Years Later

The USS Arizona looking glorious in pre-war white, some years from her ultimate fate in Hawaii.

It was 73 years ago today when the United States was plunged into the maelstrom of World War II by the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was 73 years ago today that Arizona became more than just a ship to the American people, but a symbol to rally around.

Which doesn't mean it wasn't more than that to those who served upon her.  To them, the Arizona was home, their shipmates brothers.

Today, there is a memorial to the Arizona in Pearl Harbor, but most moving is that the ship is still leaking... some melodramatically say bleeding, or weeping... oil into the waters entombing the ship.

Today is likely the last official meeting of the USS Arizona Survivors Association.  There are only nine names remaining on the Association's list, none of them younger than 93.  Four survivors are in attendance today at Pearl Harbor's ceremonies.

Soon, the phrase "Remember Pearl Harbor" will be all we can do; those who were THERE will be gone.  Time marches on.

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December 05, 2014

Orion Up

NASA took the first step in getting back into the manned exploration of space business today with the first launch of the Orion spacecraft/Delta IV Heavy rocket system.

I admit to a small amount of disappointment.  When I first heard of the Orion project, this is what I thought of immediately, not the usual rocket/capsule arrangement.  Sure, there's that pesky "nuking your own planet" thing, but I'm sure they could figure something out.

Still, this new Orion is planned to be used to get us to Mars.  However, for this launch it was unmanned... which doesn't mean there wasn't anything on board.  The TV show Sesame Street donated mementos to the flight, including Cookie Monster's cookies, the Inchworm, Super Grover's cape... and Ernie's rubber duckie.

If that isn't the coolest darn thing ever, I don't know what is.

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Oh, This Is Gonna Be Good.

I've just gotten started on First Episode Writeup #2, and I've got that feeling I had during Rio Rainbow Gate!... nothing is being forced, it's all just coming out like it was meant to be, and even better, I'm enjoying it!  While you wait, however, here's pictures.

Quite a lovely photograph, no?  I have it as one of my rotating lock screens as an example of what people like to think of winter looking like.

As opposed to what it really looks like.  Closest thing to a good picture that I've taken with my cellphone.  It hasn't rained much this winter so far, nor has it really snowed.  We had one threat of up to five inches of the white stuff, but all we got was a dusting.

I'm pretty much okay with that, truth be told.

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December 03, 2014

First Episode Writeup #1

While we're waiting for the Kantai Collection anime to finally come down the pike, I'm going to try something different for a while.  Since there's only a month or so until the Winter season begins, I probably don't have enough time to do a writeup for an entire series worth of episodes... but I can do single episodes with no problem!  Take the first episode of a show, inflict upon it my own special kind of love and kindness, leave it broken and bleeding in the dirt, and move on, laughing at my own callousness.  Unless, of course, there's an outpouring of feeling demanding I do the rest of the series, in which case I'll consider it.  Then leave it, too, broken and bleeding in the dirt whilst I do the evil laugh and twirl my mustache like Snidley Whiplash (kids, ask your parents).  I dunno how it'll work, but I think it has the potential of being kinda fun!  Heck, why not, let's give it the ol' college try.

Say hello to Skippy.  That's probably not his name, but as we've yet to be told what it is, Skippy will do for now.  Skippy is pretty much your average to slightly-below-average salaryman cliche.  He works long hours for a huge multinational corporation in an unrewarding job, has no time for a life outside of work, and tends to wear a lot of gray.

His direct superior treats him like whale snot on the bottom of your shoe, and why not?  That's how his boss treated him when he was just starting out in the company, and if it was good enough for him, it's good enough for Skippy, only doubly-so.  After all, now HE'S the boss and he's got to make sure the underlings know it.  Skippy meekly bends over and takes it, because that's how it's done in Stereotypical Salaryman's Life, and hopes to someday move up in the world, into a position where he might be able to make someone else as miserable as he is today.

His appears to be a crapsack world indeed.  Nowhere in it is there room for things like zombies, bento fights, technomagical girls with kickarse scarves or happy gambling paradises.  All is gray, and that's the way it's always been, and that's the way it'll always be. 

So how the hell did it come to this?

more...

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December 02, 2014

Electrics

When one thinks of railroading in the US, you either cast your thoughts towards steam engines or diesel.  And rightfully so, those two styles cover probably 95% of the engine types in the country's history.  But there is one other major style, one that often gets overlooked.  That's Electric locomotives.  Now, I'm not talking about the interurbans like Chicago's 'L' trains or New York's subway, but big engines that can pull real trains.

Despite the advantages of the electric, like not having to pull its own fuel around, they never really caught on here in America the way they did overseas.  Probably that's because of the one huge disadvantage electrics bring to the field: infrastructure requirements.  Overhead wiring (or the less-used third rail method) to carry power to the trains had to be installed over the entire length of a run.  The cost of maintenance could be prohibitive, particularly in areas where heavy snow occurred.

That doesn't mean it wasn't used here, though.

Milwaukee Road "Little Joe".

A helluva story behind these.  General Electric originally built 20 of these beasts for an order from the Soviet Union... just as US/Soviet relationships went to hell and they were banned from exporting them.  Eventually 12 of the locos made their way to the Milwaukee Road, where they were known as "Little Joe (Stalin)'s locomotives", which eventually got shortened to "Little Joe."  With a 2-D + D-2 wheel arrangement (meaning two unpowered axles and four powered + four powered and two unpowered), the Little Joes weighed in at roughly half-a-million pounds and generated about 5100hp.  By comparison, the famous EMD F7 freight engine generated 1500hp.  The Little Joes ran out in Montana and Idaho on the Milwaukee Road's Rocky Mountain Division until electric service was retired in 1974.  One survives in running condition at the Illinois Railway Museum, and four others of the 20 survive in non-running shape.

Pennsylvania Railroad GG1

The GG1 entered service in 1935, and wasn't finally retired until 1983.  In between, they were certainly the most distinctive locomotive on America's rails.  Limited to use on the East Coast, they moved both passengers and freight exclusively for the Pennsy, though successor lines (Penn Central, Conrail and spinoffs, Amtrak) continued to use them as well.  They weighed 475000 pounds, generated a continuous 4600hp, though that could increase to 8000hp for short lengths of time.  Over 130 GG1s were built, 15 of which (and the original prototype known as "Rivets") still exist.  None of them are in running condition for many reasons, not least of which was the use of PCBs in their transformers.

So there ya go, a couple of electric locomotives for your perusal.

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November 30, 2014

Remembering A Time

I remember a time when the world was endlessly fascinating, from the moment I woke up to the time I went to sleep.  It wasn't without its problems, but on the whole it was "an endless summer."

I don't often feel that way anymore.  Now I can't wait to go back to sleep, because my dreams are endlessly fascinating, and everyday life isn't.  It's all about what I'm NOT doing and what I CAN'T do.  I don't like it, but until the job situation changes, there's not much I can do about it.

Remember when the world was endlessly fascinating?  I haven't wanted to be a kid again in a long time and I don't want to be now, but there are times when I envy that Wonderduck of 40 years ago.

He still had his dreams. 

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November 29, 2014

A Curiously Interesting Form of Frustration

Of late, I've found myself spending time playing a MMO game called War Thunder.  For those who aren't aware of the game, War Thunder is primarily a WWII-era air combat (mostly)sim.  I say "(mostly)sim", because there are three different difficulty levels you can play.  The first is Arcade, where it's nearly impossible to make your plane do Bad Things, like spin or rip your wings off.  Flight models are roughly correct, but relaxed, and there's aiming assistance as well.  The second level is Realistic.  It's difficult to get into a spin, but possible.  You can dismember your airplane, and G-forces can knock your pilot out, though I've never managed that feat.  Damage is modeled in more detail as well... you can ruin a rudder, instead of just doing "tail damage", for example.  Finally, there's Simulator, the highest level possible.  I've never dared climb that mountain, mostly because I don't want to pull my flight stick out of storage.

Fear the Peashooter!
Everybody starts off with the very wimpiest airplanes, Spanish Civil War-era biplanes or early monoplanes like the P-26 above.  Then, as you fly more, you earn research points to unlock more advanced aircraft.  At the same time, you also research improvements to your current aircraft, like better engine tuning or replacement of worn equipment... that way, your old plane gets better as you get ready for the next generation.

For example, the direct replacement of the Peashooter is the P-36 Hawk, which is replaced in turn by the P-40.  Which is not to say that Americans are the only planes available!  Five nations are currently available: USA, Japan, Germany (with Italy, which are about to be spun off), England and the Soviet Union.  All the legendary planes are able to be earned, from Gladiators to Me262s to some of the "paper airplanes" Japan had on the designer's table when the war ended.

Combat balancing is done on a tier system, roughly based on generational levels.  The P-36, for example, is a Tier I plane, where the P-40 is a Tier II.  The A6M2 Zero is also a Tier II aircraft, as is the Hellcat.  Of course, the Spitfire is anything from a Tier II to a Tier IV, depending on the version you're looking at.  Tier V is where you find the jets... we won't be talking about those!  In any battle, you can see planes within one tier of you... so if you've got a Hellcat, you could be up against A5M4 Claudes or later versions of the Me109s

Speak of the devil...
Fighters are not the only planes in the game, either!  Bombers and seaplanes are also available to fly, and there's nothing sadder than seeing a Zero do unspeakable things to a Swordfish.  So I won't show you that!  Here's a Dauntless instead:

You'll have 20 players or more in an Arcade battle, evenly divided with little regard to nationalities.  It's not uncommon to see Buffaloes being menaced by Wildcats, or Me110s under attack from 109s, for example.  In Realistic, though, it's nationality-based.  If you're in a P-38 Lightning, you won't be dogfighting a Corsair... not that you'd want to in any case.  The flight models would make that a fool's game, and one that'd be short and unhappy for the P-38. 

War Thunder is free-to-play, and the cynic in me wants to add "pay-to-win".  That's not strictly true, however.  Everything a pay player can get is available to the free player as well, it'll just take a lot more time spent grinding away at the tech tree.  One thing that amazes me is just how stunning the game looks. 

While all the pictures in this post are from the in-game replay system, quality doesn't drop when you look at gameplay screenshots.  It really does look this good all the time.  So why don't I just freakin' love War Thunder?

more...

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November 26, 2014

Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving...

...and The Librarian and I had Italian food and two hours of enjoyably pointless conversation.

For someone like me who professes to hate human beings, I sure miss having the opportunity to talk to them.

Enjoy the mass consumption of turkey and potatoes and stuffing and cranberries and corn souffle and gravy and broccoli and pumpkin pie and other foods.  Or, if you're in a location that doesn't  celebrate America's Thanksgiving Day holiday, have a swell Thursday. 

But consider moving.  Because lots of turkey and potatoes and stuffing and cranberries and corn souffle and gravy and broccoli and pumpkin pie and other foods is a good thing.

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November 24, 2014

Music! Nonstop!

A week or so ago, I get this e-mail from by brother in feathers GreyDuck talking about having "introduced someone to the Yoshida Brothers the other day."  I had never heard of these people, but I trust GD's taste in music to approximate my own pretty well, so I looked 'em up.

Yoshida Brothers - Rising

Who knew you could shred on shamisen?

Yoshida Brothers - Storm

I'm thinking this was from the soundtrack to the Spy Hunter video game.  If it wasn't, it should have been.
 
Yoshida Brothers - The National Anthem


I've never been a fan of Radiohead, but covers like this could convince me.

There was once a time in my life where the very concept of listening to "world music," no matter how funkified or Americanized it was, would have appalled me.  I guess that's fallen by the wayside, huh?

Thanks, GD!  Good stuff here.

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November 23, 2014

Mini-F1Update!: Abu Dhabi 2014

The evening was clear and warm as the F1 Carnival took to the grid for its final performance of the season.  The final showdown between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for the Driver's Championship was at hand with the young German needing a victory and help to score enough points to take it from the Brit.  Would he get it?  THIS is your mini-F1Update! for the 2014 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi!

*LIGHTS OUT:  Rosberg's hopes for the Driver's Championship essentially lasted just long enough for the cars to roll 100meters or so.  By that point, Hamilton had perhaps the greatest start of all time, already passed Rosberg, and was working on opening a lead as they ran into Turn 1.  Indeed, Williams' Felipe Massa was hard on the German's wing in third, an ominous sign.  While Massa slipped away soon enough, Rosberg had no real answer for Hamilton.  Even through the first round of pit stops, the lead was around three seconds, but you never got the feeling that Rosberg could really cut into it.

*WORST FEAR: On Lap 23, Rosberg had a fairly substantial tire lock-up, but it seemed very much like any other such event.  Until you realized that suddenly the gap from Hamilton was over seven seconds, not the three it'd been all race.  Then came the call to the pit lane: "I'm losing engine power."  A whole lap passed before we heard the response from the Mercedes mechanics... Rosberg's KERS unit had packed up and gone home for the night.  As a result, Rosberg was going to be down some 200hp on power for the rest of the race, and his braking was going to suffer as well.  By Lap 27, Massa had caught and passed Rosberg for second place.

*AND THEN:  Rosberg's pleas for something to do... anything... to keep him in the top five went unanswered.  He fell to seventh after his next pit stop, something of an adventure with his electronics beginning to get wonky.  Meanwhile, the Mercedes pit wall was telling Hamilton that his teammate "was no longer a threat."  In response, he dialed back his engine just a bit... choosing reliability over speed, in the hope that his power unit wouldn't cough up a lung as well.  This allowed Felipe Massa an opportunity to close the gap as he headed into his last stop.

*FINALLY:  On Lap 43, Massa pitted for the last time, putting on the super-soft tires and returning some 10 seconds behind Hamilton with 10 laps to go.  The Williams driver immediately began taking a second or two off the lead every lap.  Eventually, Hamilton's racing instinct got the better of him and he turned his engine back up to full power, putting paid to Massa's charge.  Even with that, he only led the Brazilian by 2.5 seconds when he crossed the finish line to win both the 2014 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi and the 2014 World Driver's Championship.  Valterri Bottas, Massa's teammate at Williams, came along in third, giving Williams their first double podium since Monaco in 2005.  Nico Rosberg finished in 14th, after refusing a request from the pit lane to retire the car. 

*DRIVER OF THE RACE:  Daniel Ricciardo was forced to start the race from the pit lane, thanks to Red Bull's front-wing chicanery.  He finished the race in fourth place, a full forty seconds ahead of his Ferrari-bound teammate 4Time Vettel in eighth.  Not too shabby.

*TEAM OF THE RACE
:  Last year, Williams scored five points and finished 9th in the Constructor's Championship.  This season, they finished with 320 points, third in the Constructor's Championship, and a double podium to put a gold star on the whole proceedings.  Not too bad.

*MOMENT OF THE RACE:


*SELECTED DRIVER QUOTES OF THE RACE:

"It's the greatest day of my life." - Lewis Hamilton

"It was close at the end, who would have thought?" - Felipe Massa

"Speak for yourself." - Valterri Bottas

"Vettel who?" - Daniel Riccardio

"If I'm now done with Formula 1, this is as good a way as any to go out, I suppose." - Jenson Button

"Don't mind me, just passing through." - Nico Hulkenberg

"I swear to you, I really was in the race today." - Sergio Perez

"Maranello, here I come!  My favorite color is now red." - 4Time Vettel

"What the king says I cannot go against. The king is the king. He is always right." - HWMNBN (note: King Juan Carlos of Spain said that he'd been told that HWMNBN would be driving for McLaren in 2015.  Actually, he abdicated in favor of his son earlier this year, so once he was the King of Spain.)

"mrmmrmrmbl mrlmlbbl mrmbblllmlbr mrmrmrrmrmlbl mmmmblbph." - Kimi Raikkonen

"He’s done an amazing year, an amazing job and he was the best driver on the grid this year, for sure." - Nico Rosberg (speaking of Hamilton).

So.  That's it for the 2014 season.  Congratulations to Mercedes for just completely dominating the entire year.  The next race will be in Australia, March 15th, 2015.  Thanks to all the F1U! readers for following along for another year, and we'll see you soon.

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