Thursday, October 20, 2016

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Group Stage Halfway Point

I didn't want to let six matchdays go by without checking in, so here's where we are halfway through the group stage of the Champions League (and for other nations, the Europa League).

So Celtic managed to grab a draw against Manchester City. That added 0.25 to the coefficient, which moved Scotland past Norway into 22nd. Yay! No more 23rd (for now), where they had been stuck the entire time.

Legia Warsaw is having an even worse time in the Champions League than Celtic, so Poland is still within striking distance, if Celtic can put together a win or two draws in their last three matches.

On the other hand, Israel's coefficient has inched up 1.25, Azerbaijan is up 0.75 and Cyprus is up by 1. A repeat of that performance in the last three matches by Israeli clubs, a surge by Azerbaijan, or qualification for the knockout stages by APOEL Nicosia could move any of those nations past Scotland.

It just goes to show that having two teams do reasonably well in the Europa League is better for the coefficient than having one do poorly in the Champions League. I'm not sure that's fair, but that's how it is.

In December, UEFA is supposed to unveil the new qualifying procedure, which will take place the year after next. The coefficient referenced above is the one that will get used in this qualifying, so these moves of one or two spots could make a big difference...or no difference at all. I will update when we find out.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Geocaching: Year 2002 Caches

On Friday, I found a virtual cache in Virginia that was placed in January 2002.
Not only did this bring me one month closer to finding a geocache placed in every month since geocaching started (the Jasmer challenge), for the first time there's a year where I've found a cache placed in every month.

Why 2002? Well, 2000 and 2001 were really early days of geocaching, and there aren't a ton of caches left from then. I have actually found four caches from 2001, but none from 2000 yet.

The other reason is that new "virtual caches" were banned about 11 years ago. Since there is no container to maintain, they tend to stick around, and they can be fun to find. Currently, there are 4,642 virtuals remaining, only seven of which date from after 2005. I think those seven are weird cases where the placement date has been changed over the years.

In fact, I found a virtual cache placed in every month from 2002. Of the 29 caches from 2002, 25 were virtual and 4 were traditional. Of the four traditionals, two are no longer available. Of the 25 virtuals, two are no longer available. How do virtuals go away, since there's no container to maintain? Well, generally you need to e-mail your answer to the cache owner, and if the e-mail address no longer works, the geocaching reviewers will archive the cache.

Looking at the list of 29 caches, I have found them in Virginia, California, England, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Germany, Maryland, Turkey, Georgia, DC, and Arizona, so geocaching had definitely spread far and wide by 2002.

So now I'm up to 108 months found, out of 198. Perhaps I should count down by saying I have 90 left to find, since the total number of months keeps going up. I'm only missing 2 months from each of 2006 and 2007 -- most of those I did when I started caching in 2007 and early 2008. So those may be the next years I finish.

Also, that January 2002 cache is now the fifth oldest I've found.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Scottish Football: Thinking About Elo

The American data journalism site uses Elo ratings pretty heavily in its sports coverage, but the ratings are actually pretty popular worldwide. A few points about Elo:
  • Elo was originally created as a chess rating system. It underlies the go ratings I've blogged about.
  • I used to think Elo stood for something, but it's actually named after its creator, Arpad Elo.
  • The difference in ratings is used to predict the probability of an upset.
  • The outcome of a match is used to adjust the ratings, with points shifting from the winner to the loser.
  • There are endless variations, including adjusting for score.
It is unsurprising that this system has been repurposed for soccer. I decided to take a look at the Scottish club rankings, as posted by

This gives a pretty clear answer to something I've wondered -- is anybody else in Celtic's vicinity? No. Aberdeen has consistently been the second-best team, which I had realized, but I didn't know it would come across so strongly in the graph.  St. Johnstone, Hearts and Inverness form the next grouping of three.

I have been keeping an eye on the Scottish Premiership tables. It's very early -- less than 20% done, but the European places are currently occupied by Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts -- plus the Scottish Cup winner, or St. Johnstone, if the Cup is won by one of the top 3.

So the top 3 all look good, but St. Johnstone is the club that had a streak of four weak years in the Europa League snapped by not appearing this year. If they're back, it's probably not a good sign for Scotland's UEFA coefficient.

Another thing that does is use the Elo rankings to project the rest of the Champions League group stages. According to them, Celtic has a 75.5% chance of doing worse than Borussia Mönchengladbach, a 97.4% chance of doing worse than Manchester City, and 100% chance of doing worse than Barcelona. In other words, a slim-to-none chance of qualifying for the knockout stage, but a 20-25% chance of dropping to the Europa League. I'll buy that.

Another thing the site tells you is the peak Elo rank of each club. Despite the fact that Celtic played minnow to Man City's whale in this week's draw, note that as recently as 2012 Man City was the #3 club in Europe, their best ever rating, which they held for a total of 33 days. But the #1 club back in 1972, when I was born -- Celtic, a position they held for a year and a half.

On the one hand, it's tempting to see that as a historical artifact. On the other, as recently as 2014, Celtic out-drew Man City (by an average of 4 fans!). While the TV money isn't comparable, there has to be some way of turning those resources into European competitiveness (and there was last week in Glasgow!). I don't think putting them into the English pyramid is the right answer, but maybe some sort of Atlantic League, where Celtic and Rangers could mix with top teams from other smaller European countries, would do the trick.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Geocaching North Carolina

Looking back on my last few geocaching posts, they've been mostly dry sifting through numbers. So I'm going to try to mix in more narrative this time. Hopefully, it will help give other geocachers (and non-geocachers) an idea of what it's like to look for caches. (If you are looking for caches in Greensboro, you might not want to read the "spoilers" of the specific ones below.)

I went to a conference last weekend at UNC Greensboro, which provided me the opportunity to expand my geocaching map. I was also looking for other ways to expand my geocaching experiences.

One cache on campus I was particularly looking forward to was "A Little Cacher Told Me". It's what's known as a "chirp cache" or "beacon cache". At the posted coordinates, there is a low-power radio beacon which broadcasts information used to find the actual geocache location. It requires specialized equipment to receive the beacon, but fortunately for me, Samsung loves to cram their phones with every type of sensor known to mankind. Unfortunately, when I tried loading the software, I found out that Samsung had accidentally disabled the sensor in their latest Android upgrade for my phone. Boo hiss. So no chirp cache, and no 4/2 difficulty/terrain combination for me.

Undaunted, I looked up a cache near where I was having lunch. "Corner Garden" was a few blocks away. It was located, as one might surmise, in a community garden on a neighborhood street corner. (I keep forgetting to take pictures, which would punch up these posts.) I read through the logs from the previous finds, and one helpfully said "look for the chain", so when I saw a rusty chain lying on the ground, I pulled it out and found the cache attached. It really points out how many random things we see on lampposts and elsewhere that we don't give a second thought to.

So now I could claim my 11th state. But wait -- it says I found 7 caches in NC. Yes, I decided to do a more thorough job of finding available caches. After lunch I found Peabody Overlook, which was in a quite nice wooded area on campus. It was nice to find an area in what was really quite an urban setting. Unfortunately, the cache was soggy, and one of the "trade items" was a condom, which is just gross. At least I thought to take a picture of the area!
On a busy campus
Then, that evening, I found Hop-Scotch. This is another "in plain sight" cache -- it's a tiny magnet on a handicap parking sign, right over the screw.

The next day I found ATN Where's the Beef while looking for lunch. It was in a Chik-fil-a parking lot, so Sunday was the perfect time to grab it undisturbed. Unfortunately, the container was one of those plastic domes in which you get cheap toys out of vending machines. It was cracked, but the cache was still findable. So I found it and went to Popeye's.

Then there was Off Your Rocker in Greensboro, NC. The "OYR" series consists of geocaches on Cracker Barrel porches, but was discontinued in 2007 due to Cracker Barrel's banning them. This one is from 2005, so it's grandfathered. It was a hide-a-key attached to whatever iron junk was on the porch. At difficulty 3, it was a little trickier than I am used to, so I was happy I was able to locate it.

That day while grabbing dinner, I also grabbed ATN Return to Honey Do Valley. It was near a Lowe's, and it was an Altoids tin painted to look like the light pole it was wedged on. I am not thrilled when people place caches on electrical equipment, since it encourages poking around electrical equipment.

So that's six Greensboro caches -- but wait, it says I found seven in North Carolina. The next day, on the drive back, we stopped at a rest area which I noticed contained two caches. So while Christina got a break, I took the kids to find one of them. It was far enough off the paved surfaces so that it could be in plain sight without drawing too much attention. The kids were excited enough to search for treasure, and I got to add Granville County to my list of counties.

So that's up to 28 counties. Only 3,114 to go!

OK, now on to more dry statistics. Last time I checked, my difficulty/terrain averages were at 1.484756/1.423780. By focusing on slightly harder caches, I've bumped that up to 1.505814/1.427326. That takes me from the 0.2nd percentile to the 0.3rd.

I reached a milestone here in a challenge I had not discussed here -- the Jasmer challenge. The challenge is to find a geocache placed in each month since the start of geocaching in May 2000. In North Carolina, I got up to 100 months (out of 197 so far). That's more progress than I thought I'd been making. The older months are typically the hardest, so I may look for some particularly old geocaches the next time I travel.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Geocaching: County 26

Last month, I made it up to 25 of the United States' 3142 counties (or county-equivalents). I'm pleased to say I've added Fairfax County, Virginia to that list, so I'm now at 26!

This cache was also the first one I've found in West 77° 17', so that gives me the 10th minute in the West 77 Degrees Longitude Challenge. I am one-sixth of the way there!

Speaking of longitude challenges, I also logged a cache in Beltsville that was the first one I've found in 76° 53'. (Although the second one I've found while visiting the Beltsville MVA.) That's the 30th minute in the West 76 Degrees Longitude Challenge. Halfway there! (I have none of the minutes from 0 to 26, so my ability to fill in gaps will be limited -- on the other hand, it gives me incentive to visit some new counties to the east.) I now have a neater map to look at when figuring out where I can go to help me with degree challenges. (I'm not extending this snippet west of 77° 04' because I have so little filled in there.)

In terms of another geocaching goal, how am I doing on increasing my difficulty and terrain? Well, I realized my last post on the topic didn't include the actual averages, but they rounded to 1.49 difficulty and 1.42 terrain. The two caches referenced above were 1/1.5-rated, which brings me to a 1.48/1.42 average, or more precisely 1.484756/1.423780. The combined ranking now puts me 7818/7834. I am now at the 0.8th percentile on terrain, instead of the 0.7th, but I am still at 0.2nd combined and 0.36th on difficulty. This goes against my plan to increase my D/T average, but it accords well with my "don't waste too much time looking for geocaches" plan. (Speaking of percentiles, I have crept up from the 18.7th percentile for counties to the 19.1st.)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Go Update: 5 years, 1 kyu

It has been exactly five years since I've checked in on my on-line go rating. What has happened? Well, looking at the above graph, it's been ugly. I quickly ascended from 15 kyu to 12 kyu, which I held for two days in February 2012, only to crash back down to 15 by January 2013. Since then, I've seen 14 kyu as well as 16 kyu a few times. My latest stint as a 14 kyu has lasted since June, so I'm going to take that as my ranking for this check-in, meaning that I've made 1 kyu of progress in the past five years. Not great, but better than regressing 1 kyu. I am trying to play more games against different people both to get a better sense of my skill level, as well as hopefully improving through practice.