April 30, 2015

Not So Good

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

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April 27, 2015

War Thunder Ground Forces

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

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


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April 25, 2015

To L With You

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

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

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

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April 23, 2015


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

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

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

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

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April 21, 2015

Star Wars: The New Film

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

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

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

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

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

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April 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 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.

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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.

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