Tuesday, September 19, 2017

World Heritage Update: Great Smoky Mountains

Last weekend, on a trip to Tennessee, I visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a World Heritage Site. This was the 62nd World Heritage Site I've visited.
I went to the Sugarlands visitors center and hiked a short trail.
Since my phone captures everywhere I go, this is what it looked like. My phone knew (though I didn't) that I hiked to the John Ownby Cabin and back.

I couldn't tell at the time what made this more special than other National Parks and thus worthy of being a World Heritage Site. It turns out it's the biodiversity, so it makes sense that doesn't jump out at me. (Though I did see some nice trees.)

This is the first site I've visited since I was in Brussels almost two years ago. None of the sites inscribed in 2016 or 2017 were ones I had already visited, so my percentage has dipped from the all-time high of 5.92% sites visited in 2015 to 5.78%.
I don't have any more visits I can see coming soon, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings won't make it in before 2019, so I don't see a path to 6% right now. But you never know!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Google Local: 1 Million Views

Well, like a video game that is fun until it gets too easy, the challenge of getting to a million views of my photos kinda bored me once I got a good engine going where I got lots of views (somehow I got 139.9K views this past week). I still upload pictures from time to time, but I lack the enthusiasm I had before.

Still, it was nice to receive a congratulatory e-mail from Google, particularly since I had conceived of this challenge myself.

Here are my top 10 photo locations. Most of the pictures themselves are in previous posts with this label.
  1. Michaels, Bowie, MD, 61,341 views.
  2. Office Depot, Bowie, MD, 59,218 views.
  3. Dollar Tree, Bowie, MD, 52,977 views.
  4. DICK's Sporting Goods, Gambrills, MD, 48,058 views.
  5. Harris Teeter, Bowie, MD, 46,854 views.
  6. Safeway, Gambrills, MD, 44,852 views.
  7. Safeway, Reston, VA, 39,070 views.
  8. Arby's, Beltsville, MD, 38,849 views.
  9. Dollar Tree, Chantilly, VA, 36,402 views.
  10. Michaels, Vienna, VA, 35,598.
For some reason, pictures in Maryland seem to have done better than pictures in Virginia (they have more views despite being newer). And boring old chain stores rule the roost. The most-popular photo I have that's not of a chain store is #16, Jumping Jack Sports (an indoor kiddie play space).

And I'm still enjoying the free Google Play Music for another couple of weeks.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Geocaching Update: Two Per Month

I was too busy this summer to find any more than six geocaches (two each month), but I have some hopes for the fall.

The first June cache that I found was in the tree pictured above. The more I think about this one, the more I liked it. It combines "nature" with "easy to access". It was also my first November 2010 cache, keeping me at 68 missing months (since I didn't have June 2017 yet).

The second June cache I found was a less than exciting one in a parking lot.

The first July cache I found was also one I was FTF (first-to-find) on. It's less than half a mile from my office, so I should have had a good chance at it.

Here's the satellite image of it. Yep, it's on that sign there. (I was going to use Google Street View, but in the 2012 picture, the sign is still under construction.) Someone else showed up while I was poking around, but I was the one who spotted the cache perched up there, and I was the one who tore a (small) hole in my pants climbing up there. That gave me July 2017, and kept me at 68 missing months.

It was my 12th FTF.

My second July cache was very close to the first. I was not in my office at the time it was listed, so I missed the FTF.

My first August cache was in Ellicott City. I was present shopping, and I looked for nearby caches. This one was interesting, at least for my stats! It was a June 2017 cache, keeping me at 68 missing months. It was my first at N 39° 15', giving me my 17th minute of 39 North. It was my first at W 76° 48', giving me my 32nd minute of 76 West. I actually have 32 of the 33 westernmost minutes in that degree of latitude, missing only W 76° 48'. I have one scouted out for that minute, then I guess it's off to the Eastern Shore to make more progress on that challenge.

My second August cache was unremarkable, but it was a nice pick-me-up to find it on a day I needed cheering up.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Group Stage Preview

Hey! It's the still Champions League!

Playoff-Round Review

Celtic all but clinched their participation in the Champions League group stage with a 5-0 win at home. But then they lost on the road 4-3. It didn't "matter", but there went 0.25 for the coefficient for the next five years. Still, with the bonus for group stage qualification, that was 1.25 more for this year's coefficient.

Group-Stage Preview

Let's look at the Clubelo rankings of Celtic's group. There's #3 (Bayern Munich), #8 (Paris St. Germain), #65 (Anderlecht) and #90 (Celtic). Incredibly, this is not as tough a road as last year, when Celtic faced teams from the three top leagues in Europe. Celtic has been scrappy enough to pick up draws at home from even the best teams in the world, and Anderlecht shouldn't scare them, even on the road. (Sadly, the reverse is true.) So it wouldn't be impossible to imagine 3 draws and 1 win netting a third-place finish for Celtic, which would drop them into the elimination phase of the Europa League. In fact, 14 years ago, Celtic ended up in group with...uh...Anderlecht, Bayern Munich and a French team, and ended up third. So one could dream of picking up 1.25 more in the group, and even more by making a Europa League run.

FiveThirtyEight

The American web site FiveThirtyEight has expanded their soccer coverage to include the Scottish Premiership. I find this mildly cool (currently second-place Celtic are 81% favorites to win the league...seems low). But what really helps us out is the coverage of the Champions League, and yes, the Europa League, so I can analyze how likely other nations are to get points for their coefficients.

Where We Stand

We (they) stand 23rd. Despite the awful start for Scottish teams, their 3 point so far look pretty respectable compared to other countries in their neighborhood. The problem is moving out of that neighborhood...

I tend to show a window of countries within 2 points of Scotland. Right now, that's 21-28. That means there's more downside than upside, particularly with many of these teams in the easier Europa League group stage. Let's take them one-by-one.

21. Romania. Despite starting with five teams in Europe, they're down to one, and in the Europa League. Steaua has a 55% percent chance of advancing from the group, according to FiveThirtyEight, so expect them to widen then 1.05 gap with Scotland. Still, any points they get are divided by 5 rather then 4, so they will not be too far ahead.

22. Azerbaijan. They are having a better year than Scotland, but like everyone else in the neighborhood, they are down to one team. Garabag (or however you spell it) is the lowest-rated team in Champions League play. Fivethirtyeight gives them only a 3% chance of even finishing third. They could well be shut out of further points, and a decent performance by Celtic could pass them.

23. Celtic, while distinct underdogs, is listed as a 4% chance of finishing second and 43% to finish third. That's almost a 50/50 chance of advancing!

24. Belarus. They have the same number of points as Scotland. I'm not sure what the tie-breaker is here. BATE Borisov is in Europa League play, where they are severely outclassed by Arsenal and Koln. They only have a 14% chance of advancing, but they should pick up enough points from Red Star Belgrade to keep Belarus close to or ahead of Scotland.

25. Sweden. Osterund is another team out of its depth in its Europa League group, between Bilbao and Hertha. But even the Ukranian side Zorya should outperform them -- they have an 8% chance of advancing, so Scotland's lead of 0.15 is more likely than not to hold up.

26. Bulgaria. Ludogorets Razgrad has a decent shot -- 29% -- at their group. Hoffenheim is the clear class, but neither Braga nor Istanbul should scare them too much. The 0.25 lead Scotland has over Bulgaria could evaporate quickly.

27. Norway. After Celtic bounced Rosenborg down to the Europa League, they still have the opportunity to pick up points. In this case, mostly against the Macedonian side Vardar, because Zenit St. Petersburg and Real Sociedad should deny them, as long as they take Europa League play seriously. I think the 1.2 point gap is safe; Fivethirtyeight gives a 21% chance for them to advance.

28. Kazakhstan. Astana is another side Celtic bounced from the Champions League, and another side with a 21% chance of advancing. At 1.5, the gap is probably even safer.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

My Top Five In-Person Sports Moments

I heard the hosts of a sports podcast recently talk about the five most important sports moments they had experienced. I decided to tweak it a little to count only ones I had attended in person. That made it a lot harder to come up with five, because "largest Redskins regular-season comeback to date" isn't quite a memory for the ages. So here they are, in chronological order.

September 14, 1991: Michigan fans know it as "The Catch" but the rest of the country reserves that for a pro moment. Still, Sally Jenkins wrote an entire Sports Illustrated column about it.

November 23, 1991: Desmond Howard does the "Heisman Pose" after a punt return against Ohio State. More than 20 years later, he was the star of a Cheez-It ad campaign about this, so I guess it stuck in the collective consciousness. This was in the opposite end zone, so I don't have as visceral of a memory as the Notre Dame catch.

April 14, 1996: This was the only round of golf I've spectated in my entire life, and it was at least in the top three chokes in golf history.

August 1, 1996: The U.S. women's soccer team wins its first gold medal. Attending the Olympics on a graduate student's income, I could only afford one gold medal event, and I wanted it to be one where the Star Spangled Banner would likely be played. $50 well-spent.

January 6, 2013: It wasn't pleasant, but watching star rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III destroy his knee in the franchise's first home playoff game of the century was definitely a Redskins turning point.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Playoff-Round Preview

Why is it the playoff round and not the fourth round? Who can say?

Third-Round Review


Celtic made it through, but not without making it interesting. Having your top two strikers out makes it hard to generate goals. It is even harder if, as Brendan Rogers says, there's not enough challenge in the Scottish league to justify recruiting a third top striker. So Celtic settled for a goalless draw at home. before pulling out a 1-0 win on the road. 0.375 for the coefficient.

It was always going to be tough for Aberdeen to make it through, but a 2-1 victory at home gave hope. A 2-0 loss on the road dashed those hopes, but they bow out with 0.25 for the coefficient in this round and 0.625 overall. This is their fourth third-round exit in a row, and it only generated fewer points because this was the first time they entered in the second round.

Playoff-Round Preview


Well, it's down to Celtic, who drew Astana. They squeaked by Astana in the third-round last year, so they should be favored, but not by much. Indeed, Clubelo gives Celtic a 74.7% chance of advancing.

Celtic lucked out, to a certain extent. Of the 20 teams in the playoff round, Celtic has the #14 Elo. Astana is #19. (Maribor, despite being 20th, is seeded, so Celtic could not have faced them.)

I'm not sure whether it's better for the coefficient in the short term to end up in the Champions League, with the bonus points but a really rough group stage ahead, or the Europa League, where the group games are much more winnable. But Celtic really needs the TV money to compete in future years, so Scotland fans should be rooting for victory. Let's say getting through with at least 0.375 for the coefficient will be positive, and dropping to the Europa League will be negative.

Where We Stand


Despite Aberdeen's exit, things aren't looking too shabby. We have 1.750 for the coefficient so far. Last year, we had 2.375 at this point. Having 0.625 less is not ideal, but Celtic ended up garnering 2.0 more from this point forward. If they do that again, Scotland would end up at 3.750 for the year, which would give it its best back-to-back years in a decade.

And, since this is the point to dream, how could Celtic do better? Well, they could sweep the playoff round, instead of splitting last year. And they could luck into a weak Champions League group instead of an incredibly strong one, and do better than three draws.

Consider last year's FC Copenhagen side. They got a win and a draw in the playoff, before being drawn into a group with Leicester City, Brugge and FC Porto, where they went 2-1-3, good enough for third place. That dropped them into the Europa League knockout phase, where they advanced over Ludogorets Razgrad before losing to Ajax (while still notching a win). From the playoff forward, they notched 3.375 for Denmark. So that's the maximum realistic upside, I think.

Another thing playing in Scotland's favor is looking at their coefficient neighborhood, which now includes leagues 22-29. Only Serbia has two entrants left, and they are a full 2 points behind Scotland. Belarus, Sweden, Bulgaria, Norway and Serbia are all out of the Champions League, so they won't get the bonus points for hitting the group stage -- and they could even miss the Europa League group stage.

So going into the group stage ranked 22nd isn't out of the question -- or 23rd if both Celtic and the Azerbaijani champions do well. A loss, however, would see Celtic passed by Kazakhstan and possibly even Norway.