Monday, June 19, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: First Round Preview

It's a very exciting time of year here at the Android's Dungeon, as the Champions League draw...and, more to the point, the Europa League draw has been announced for the first round. Four Scottish teams are alive with potential contributions to Scotland's UEFA coefficient.

Where We Start

So let's see where we are heading into the first round of competition.

Scotland sits at #24, tightly packed in with a group of countries that I have come to view as its peers. So tightly packed, in fact, that I can't imagine them sitting in the same slot most of qualifying, like they clung to #23 in the previous year's rankings.

Recall that in qualifying, each win translates into 0.25 added to the coefficient over the next five years and each draw contributes 0.125.

First-Round Matches

Two of Scotland's clubs enter in this round, so there's a potential full point to be gained from four wins in home-and-away competition. On the other hand, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan have three teams enter in the first round, so there's a potential to lose more ground to teams from those countries. All in all, the extreme positive scenario vaults Scotland to 21st, and the extreme negative scenario drops them to 27th.

I was disappointed to see low-budget St. Johnstone grab 4th place in the league, given their lack of success in European competition in the past. I made my peace with it by realizing that this year there weren't four solid squads in the Scottish top flight. At least St. Johnstone has an excellent manager, even if they don't have a decent transfer budget.

St. Johnstone faces Lithuania's FK Trakai. Here is where I point out that Lithuania is currently rated the 50th-best league, so even though St. Johnstone finished 4th and FK Trakai finished 2nd, one would hope St. Johnstone would be more than a match for the Baltic squad.

I am going to try to use Club Elo to preview these match-ups. Trakai is ranked at an Elo of 1055. St. Johnstone is 1327. The 272-point difference between the clubs is roughly the distance between a club in the lower half of Italy's Serie A and St. Johnstone. At some point, the Club Elo web site will translate this into a win probability, but not yet.

So, anyway, I would put St. Johnstone as the heavy favorites to advance, despite their loss in the first round (on away goals) two years ago. I will say the expected result would be at least a win and a draw, netting 0.375 for the coefficient.

The other Scottish club in the first round is Rangers, one of the two biggest in Scotland. After emerging from bankruptcy, this is their first European tilt since losing in the Europa League play-off round six years ago.

Rangers face Progres Niederkor, the fourth-place Luxembourg side who have been outscored 40-1 lifetime in European competition. Rangers, who finished third, have been going on a bit of a transfer spending spree, so...this should be a cakewalk. Expect the full 0.5 towards the coefficient, and be embarrassed should even a draw sneak in there. Progres Niederkorn does not even merit a Club Elo ranking.

Second-Round Sneak Peak

The draw for the second round happened at the same time. So...

Should St. Johnstone defeat the Lithuanian runners-up, they face the winner of  Sweden's Norrkoping (Elo: 1468) and Kosovo's Prishtina (Elo: not calculated). I have to think that St. Johnstone's run ends here with a loss to Norrkoping.

If Rangers overcome the Luxembourgers, they face either Cyprus' AEL Limassol or Gibraltar's St. Joseph's. Neither has a Club Elo rating, but I have to think the fourth-placed Cypriots have the advantage in the first round. Rangers may get the better of them in the second.

Entering the Europa League second round of qualifying is Aberdeen. They dodged a bullet when their red-hot manager, Derek McInnes, chose to stay rather than ply his trade down in the English Championship with Sunderland. They have not been big players in the transfer market (unless you count losing players), but hopefully not entering until the second round will give them the time they need to make some key moves.

By the way, I had previously had Aberdeen entering in the first round, due to Scotland's #25 ranking from 2015/16. However, with Manchester United winning the Europa League, this opened up another slot higher up, and bumped a several teams to enter in later rounds. On the one hand, it feels like this makes the coefficient less important, since even dropping to #25 didn't matter. On the other hand -- good thing they didn't drop down to #27.

Aberdeen (Elo: 1413) faces the winner of Kazakhstan's Ordabasy (Elo: 1269) and Bosnia-Herzegovina's Siroki Brijeg (Elo: 1197). McInnes will chase his dream of the Europa League group stage at least into the third round.

In the less-exciting Champions League (am I the only one who feels this way?), Celtic (Elo: 1623) debut against Northern Ireland's Linfield (Elo: 1041) or San Marino's SP La Fiorita (Elo: 689). Look for Linfield to collect quite the windfall in gate receipts to have Celtic come across the Irish Sea and destroy them. Brendan Rodgers' boys got embarrassed in Gibraltar last year, but they are too experienced to suffer a repeat.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Google Local: 300K Views, More Photo Diversity

I am now over 30% of my way to my goal of one million views for my photos on Google Maps. I figured out a few things.

I was paging through other people's photos on Google Maps, and I realized something, I was seeing the photos Google wanted to show me, not the ones I necessarily wanted to see. So how could this help me figure out why my interior photos seem to be doing so much better? Well, it hit me -- Google has exterior photos from its own mapping. I might argue that they're better off with a well-framed photo that shows exactly what you're looking for, but the algorithm doesn't reward that.

At the 100K and 200K thresholds, about 70% of my views came from photos with 10K or more views. That's down to 63% as I have only one new photo with 10K views. I think that's because I have a lot of recent, popular photos that have not yet crossed that point -- I have four photos between 8K and 10K. Still, let's look at my star performers.
#7 (was #6) Rubio's, San Diego, CA, 17,695  views, August 2016. (Was 17,375 last time.)
#6 (new) Dollar Tree, Chantilly, VA, 20,138 views, April 2017. This has garnered an astounding number of views in a short period of time. I have other pictures of Dollar Trees that look almost identical, and have been popular -- but not this popular.

#5 Wendy's, Chantilly, VA, 23,646 views, August 2016. (Was 22,665 last time.)
#4 (was #3) Jumping Jack Sports, Ashburn, VA, 26,142 views, January 2017. (Was 24,891 last time.)
#3 Office Depot, Bowie, MD, 31,281 views, December 2016. (Was 22,854 last time.) This one continues to get a lot of hits, unlike  #2, #4, #5 and #7. I can only assume pictures continue to get hits until more recent ones taken by other users bump them. Perhaps I should re-take ones if I revisit formerly popular locations?
#2 (was #1) Arby's, Beltsville, MD, 34,414 views, January 2017. (Was 32,053 last time.)
#1 Michaels, Bowie, MD, 42,040 views, December 2016.  (Was 30,952 last time.)

Every week Google e-mails me my top six photos -- the Dollar Tree one was the only one that ranked in May, so my road to 400K is in the new photos. It would be nice to take interesting pictures that people wanted to see -- I am thinking that next time I have a sit-down meal, taking a picture of the food could be worth trying.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Geocaching Update: Busier May

I found nine geocaches in May, which makes it my busiest month since November.

Last month, I described geocaching "souvenirs". Another date-based souvenir was on offer on May 2nd, to celebrate the 17th anniversary of increased GPS accuracy, which made geocaching possible. I happened to be driving by one that was easy to find to claim the souvenir.
Next, I happened to be driving through Davidsonville, which I don't usually do. There was a cache there in a lovely outdoor church. As a bonus, it was my first January 2014 cache, which put me back at 72 missing months (after adding in May).

Next up was an LPC near a Best Buy. I was in the shopping center to visit another store, and well, it was my first February 2011 cache, so down to 71 missing months.

My fourth find of the month was one hidden by a Girl Scout troop outside a library. It ended up being an LPC too, although the container itself was nice. It was a May 2017 cache, dropping my missing months to 70.

Later that day I found a micro cache outside a Wawa. At least it wasn't an LPC, but it wasn't exciting other than being my first April 2013 cache. Down to 69 missing months.

The sixth cache of the month got me back in the FTF game. It was a pill bottle (boo) in a nice little park (yay). It was my eleventh First-to-Find overall, and my first FTF in Montgomery County. It was also my first cache in W77° 07', giving me 24 out of the 60 minutes for the West 77 Longitude Challenge.
I finished off the month with a deliberate caching expedition. First I found one which was "just" a cache in a nice area.
It was tucked in the bridge under one of the rails.

The second cache of the day was chosen specifically to get me W77° 27'. That's my 25th minute in West 77. I have 24 of the 28 from 0-27, and one other. This cache was along Route 50 in Chantilly. A pretty good strategy for filling in missing minutes is probably to find an east/west road like that with a lot of caches and work your way through it. I can probably make it to minute 33 on Route 50 with this strategy before the cache density gets too low. Also, the cache was my 250th. And crawling with ants!

Finally, I found one in a guardrail in a nearby shopping center. It was my first July 2006 cache, dropping me to 68 missing months.

So now I have one month missing in each of 2006, 2015 and 2016. When I finished 2002 last year, I thought I'd soon have more completed years. But not yet! I would like to clear out some more "easy" months, so I just have to think about the rare, early months and where they are located.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bowie Restaurant Project: (97) Taco Bell (Bowie Gateway Center)

Taco Bell,
16300 Heritage Blvd,
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 4/12/2017
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

I will recall this quote by a friend from the review of Bowie's first Taco Bell:
Nobody WANTS to eat at Taco Bell--myself included. But when you need 4000 calories in under 4 minutes, for under $4, there are worse options!
Well, now Bowie has a second Taco Bell, and the same thing still applies. One day I hadn't brought my lunch, so I thought I'd knock out another review of a new Bowie eatery. I went on-line to speed the process. It was actually nice how you could customize the order to add lettuce and onions or leave off sour cream. You couldn't, however, order a Dr. Pepper, only a Pepsi. So I placed the order for inside pickup so I could get my own drink. But then it would not let me place an order. I tried installing the app. The app installation took the length of the drive, but I still decided to use it to order from the parking lot to make the customization easier. It didn't work either.

When I went inside, I just went with "no sour cream" because I lost the energy to further customize. It turned out that the Pepsi was broken, so I had to get Dr. Pepper anyway. And the food took way more than four minutes. I'm not sure why I am giving it that extra half star.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Google Local: 200K Views and Two More Photos

In March, I hit 100,000 views of my photos on Google Local, and I noted that four photos made up about 70% of those views. I started trying to figure out how to increase my views.

Well, this week I've hit 200,000. And now it's six photos that make up 70% of my views.
#6 Rubio's, San Diego, CA, 17,375 views, August 2016. (Was 16,470 last time.) This is the dumb picture of my drink, some hot sauce and my order number. It is a good example of how some photos stop getting me hits after a while.
#5 Wendy's, Chantilly, VA, 22,665 views, August 2016. (Was 21,600 last time.) This one has also stopped garnering hits.
#4 Office Depot, Bowie, MD, 22,854 views, December 2016. Though not a new picture, this got a lot of views in the past two months. It further confirms my "interior pictures get more hits" theory. And it's a terrible picture.
#3 Jumping Jack Sports, Ashburn, VA, 24,891 views, January 2017. (Was 14,840 last time.) This continued to get hits, though the weekly tracking e-mails Google sends me says it hasn't been a top photo of mine since April 11.
#2 Michaels, Bowie, MD, 30,952 views, December 2016.  Another one from last December that has really taken off in the past couple of months. Not as bad as the Office Depot one.
#1 Arby's, Beltsville, MD, 32,053 views, January 2017. (Was 21,263 last time.)

So interiors of either chain restaurants or non-grocery chain stores seem to have done the best. My top two last week were interiors of Dollar Trees, so that seems to continue to be true. I have not done a good job at accelerating my views. I had 10,966 in the past week. While that's slightly above the 9,246 I had for the week I saved the e-mail in March, I had three weeks of 17,000+ in April. I really don't understand the algorithm well enough to figure out how to turn that around. All I've figure out is more pictures are better and interiors beat exteriors most of the time.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Geocaching Update: Four Caches in April, One Souvenir and One County

April was another relatively slow month for my geocaching. The opportunity to make finds that checked certain boxes was the main motivator.

Geocaching reached three million active caches in April. To celebrate, Geocaching HQ released a "souvenir". Souvenirs are digital achievements. Most of them that I have are geography-based, so I have one, for example, for finding a cache in Austria:
A number of geocaching souvenirs are date-based, and this one was awarded for finding a cache the weekend after the three million mark. I had one on my to do list for some time. It was hidden inside a "little free library" (a place where people can exchange books). I had trouble finding it, but I poked around, and eventually it fell on me. That earned me this souvenir:
That was Souvenir 32 for me. (Earlier in April, I got #31 retroactively for finding one in Germany. Previously, souvenirs were only issued for individual German states, but I got the newly-issued Germany one.)

My second of the month was an unexceptional one inside a lamppost. It was outside a CVS I needed to visit. I hate to criticize cachers who put these things out there for other people to enjoy (so I won't link to this specific one), but it really a half-hearted container that didn't protect the baggie containing the soaking log. Oh, well.

My third find was also in a lamppost, but a lamppost near Potomac Mills. This allowed me to claim my first cache in Prince William County, County 33! Also, my first cache in Minute 38 of 38 Degrees North (20 down, 40 to go).

My FTF streak came to an end at three months. Still, I hated to have the month end without finding an April 2017 cache. When I miss a month (like September 2016), it can be surprisingly difficult to go back and fill it in, as caches get archived. So I headed out behind a strip mall to find a recently-placed one. I got it, keeping me at 72 missing months. It was a neat container, but I don't know how long it is going to survive.