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.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Third-Round Preview


Well, that went about as well as could be expected.

Second-Round Review


Celtic dispatched Linfield as handily as you would think -- 2-0 in the away leg, and 4-0 in the home leg. I guess some might have expected even more lopsided scores, but a win's a win, and this was two wins and 0.5 for the coefficient. Also, this guarantees Celtic a place in the playoff round of either the Champions League or Europa League.

Aberdeen unexpectedly struggled to a 1-1 draw at home, meaning they needed at least one away goal to make it through. Midway through the second half, they had none, but they came up with two in rapid succession to progress. 0.375 for the coefficient, and they progress. We could quibble with the dropped 0.125 at home, but let's not.

Third-Round Preview


Celtic face the Norwegian champions, Rosenborg. I have to admit, I like the qualifying better than the group-stage, where 15 out of the 32 teams are not actually league champions. Here, however, you have the Scottish champions facing the Norwegian champions. The Scottish champions got there after defeating the Northern Irish champions, who defeated the Sammarinese champions. The Norwegian champions defeated the Irish champions.

Celtic's Elo is 1596, Rosenborg's 1501. It shouldn't be a blowout, but Celtic should win comfortably. Not getting the full 0.5 for the coefficient would be a little bit of a disappointment, but the main thing is making it through. (Clubelo gives Celtic a 65.3% chance of advancing, but that seems a little low.)

Aberdeen is up against Cypriot side Apollon Limassol, the 3rd place Cypriot club (and cup winners). Aberdeen has an Elo of 1393, Apollon Limassol 1444. Clubelo gives this a 57.5% chance to go to the Cypriots. I have hope that this is Aberdeen's year to break through to the playoff round. So let's say any result that sees Aberdeen advancing is good, and exiting without picking up any points is bad.

Where We Stand


Hey, Scotland moved up to 26th from 27th, so that's something. (Not a good couple of weeks for Kazakhstan.) That was my "best realistic scenario". My best realistic scenario for this round is keeping 26th, which should be even easier since Celtic should deny Norway points by beating Rosenborg. 24th is theoretically possible, but very unlikely. On the other side, a Celtic collapse would be the only thing that would let Scotland slide to 27th or 28th.

The good news is that nobody below 21st place has more than 2 teams left in European competition, which puts things on an even playing field moving forward. Sweden lost its Champions League entrant, so they may be out of Europe sooner rather than later. So I think the best case scenario is having both Scottish sides advance with 0.75-1 point, and a lot of the nations above them having only 1 side left in Europe.

How bad has this year been for Scotland's coefficient? On the one hand, the 1.125 is worse than any comparable side ranked higher than Iceland (33rd). On the other hand, last year (not a bad year!) at this stage, they had 1.875. If they picked up 1.875 this year, they would be...in 26th place (although significantly closer to 25th).

The question going forward...will this be a struggle to keep the second-round Europa League entrance due to the Scottish Cup winner (or league runner-up). (This threshhold is 24th or 26th depending on...stuff.) Or can Scotland put two teams in the group stages and move closer to 18th (which would put the Cup winner in the third round) and higher?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Second-Round Preview

First-Round Review


Well, that was a disaster. I was embarrassed by it, until I realized that I am not really Scottish, so I am not tainted by association.

Let's start with St. Johnstone. They should have been able to beat the Lithuanian runners-up at home, but they lost 2-1. When FK Trakai went down to 10 men in Lithuania, St. Johnstone should have been able to get two goals to win the tie. But they didn't. They should have been able to get one goal, to get 0.25 for the coefficient before exiting. But they didn't. They should have been able to prevent the shorthanded goal to salvage the minimum 0.125. But they didn't. And their manager probably shouldn't have described the Lithuanians as "technically better" after the first leg. But he did.

So, on to Rangers. I was excited when before the match, Rangers' manager explicitly mentioned the importance of doing well in order to raise up Scotland's UEFA coefficient. And then they beat Luxembourg's fourth-best team 1-0 at home. You'd think they could do better, but still, 0.25 for the coefficient and all that. Then they went to Luxembourg and not only lost, but lost 2-0, which knocked them out.

The optimistic (less pessimistic) way to look at this would be to say that Rangers, while fielding a team good enough to get third place, knew that wouldn't be good enough, so they had to blow up the roster as if they had just been promoted. The new group of players didn't have time to gel and got upset by a more cohesive squad.

The pessimistic (more pessimistic) way to look at this is that a perfectly-good third-place squad got blown up for no good reason. While that squad certainly would have been good enough to beat the fourth-best side in Luxembourg, this group of overpaid imports is not going to cut it.

Time will tell, but not in the Europa League, because that door is closed for another year.

Second-Round Preview

That leaves Aberdeen and Celtic.

Aberdeen opens things up on Thursday against Bosnia-Herzegovina's Siroki Brijeg. Aberdeen's Elo is now 1381, and Siroki Brijeg's is now 1236. Siroki Brijeg's went up for advancing from the first round, and Aberdeen's tumbled based on the St. Johnstone and Rangers results pulling down everybody in Scotland. clubelo.com lists Aberdeen as 72.7% favorites to advance. So let's say that a win and a draw, worth 0.375 for the coefficient is the target.

Celtic starts on Friday against Northern Ireland Champions Linfield. Friday is an unusual date for a Champions League match -- most will be played on Tuesday (hence why I'm rushing to get this post up). But the match was rescheduled to avoid "marching season" in Northern Ireland, which has its own set of sectarian tensions that will cause the police to have their hands full.

Speaking of sectarian tensions, Linfield is a traditionally Protestant club, and Celtic is traditionally Catholic. So while it seemed like Linfield might get a big payday from Celtic fans traveling over to see their club, Celtic told their fans to stay away. This is the sort of thing that fascinates me about European soccer that you don't get by following American sports.

Anyway, clubelo.com puts Celtic as 98.1% favorites to advance. Anything less than the full 0.5 will be an embarrassment. Though Scottish clubs are getting used to embarrassment, I think there will be enough continuity to manhandle Linfield.

Where We Stand


I said that 27th place would be the "extreme negative scenario".  Here were are in 27th. A good showing by Norway could drop Scotland down to 28th, even if the Scottish teams are perfect in this round. At this point, we have to hope that both Celtic and Aberdeen stay alive into the group stage and climb back up as other countries inevitably have some teams knocked out.

If everything breaks Scotland's way, they could be in 23rd at the end of the second round, but 26th with both clubs alive is the best realistic scenario.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Google Local: Rocketing to 500K

Well, it took about two more weeks to hit 500K photos. Nothing magic, just the bunch of pictures I've accumulated over the past few months starting to gain traction.

This Dollar Tree (Chantilly, VA) from April cracked 30K photos and is now #4 overall. Fun fact: I had a raging ear infection when I took that picture.

Four more photos topped 10K.
This Dollar Tree (Crofton, MD) from May is now #12.
This Harris Teeter (Bowie, MD) from June is now #13.
This Dollar Tree (Bowie, MD) from June is now #14. If I cared more about this project, I think I would spend a day driving around and taking pictures of Dollar Trees.
This Michael's (Vienna, VA) from June is now #15. The fact that I am getting pictures to 10K views in about a month tells me I shouldn't have much problem breaking the million view mark. Halfway there!

Also, those latest ones aren't as bad as some of the other popular photos.



Monday, June 26, 2017

Google Local: 400K Photos and Some Free Music

I seem to be getting the hang of increasing my photo views on Google Local (take lots of interior photos, especially of Dollar Trees), so I have hit 400K already. I was pleased that Google recognized this by give me "points" for each photo, and the number of points I had achieved got me to a level where I got three free months of Google Play Music. I was more pleased before I discovered that last month they had a promo of four free months for doing nothing.

Let's look at some photos that have reached milestones rather than going through all of the top photos.

This photo of Michaels (Bowie, MD) from December 2016 hit 50,000 views and remains my number one photo for some reason.

Four new photos have cracked 10,000 views.

This photo of a Safeway (Reston, VA) from May 2017 is now #8.
This photo of a Wawa (Gambrills, MD) from May 2017 is now #9. This is actually one of my better photos (not that that seems to help with views). Also, I had a feeling when I took it that I would get lots of views.
This photo of a Safeway (Herndon, VA) from May 2017 is now #10.
This photo of a Dollar Tree (Sterling, VA) from April 2017 is now #11.

I guess I can add Safeway to Dollar Tree as a reliable source of views. (I have two Safeway pictures from this month that haven't taken off, though.)


I had decided to try taking pictures of food to see if they would get views. The answer seems to be (based on two examples), not more than pictures of interiors.

I'll leave you with a final mystery. Here are three pictures of Targets.


All are from May 2017. Despite the fact that the one on top is the most recent, it has received 7,624 views, while the other two have received 158 and 231. I don't think it's in any way better or more representative than the other two






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.


Saturday, April 01, 2017

Geocaching Update: Slow February and March

Not surprisingly, December/January/February tend to be my slowest months geocaching. (Keep in mind that the ten years represented here include a lot of years where I only found one or two caches.) The weather tends to want to keep me in my car rather that out searching. This year, March was mostly lousy around here too, so I ended up only finding 3 caches in February and 6 in March.

Two of the caches I claimed were FTFs, and the other almost was. On that one, I was poking around for a while when another cacher showed up with his daughter. I said hi and explained my thought process about where I had searched. He ended up finding it in one of the places I had previously looked; I guess I wasn't thorough enough. There's probably a lesson in there somewhere. Too bad I missed it, as it would have been my first Montgomery County FTF.

Anyway, all three were hidden in February 2017, so that was an easy month to cross off and keep myself even on the months found (Jasmer) challenge.

On one of the FTFs, I left a geocoin of mine that had finally resurfaced after many years in the house. I used to enjoy tracking them, but I haven't found any since I've started caching in earnest again. Sadly, though someone picked it up the next day and promised to move it along, he hasn't. I should probably send him a message.
Also on that FTF, it was the first 3.0/3.0 difficulty/terrain combo I'd found, bringing me to 29 out of 81 combos needed for the D/T (Fizzy) challenge. It was probably not appropriately rated, but I'll take it.

March opened with the grabbing of a couple random Anne Arundel County caches. They were targets of opportunity, but one of them happened to be an August 2013 cache, which was a month I was missing. Since I had yet to find a March 2017 one, that kept me where I was at the end of January with 75 missing months.

After that it was time for a "historic" cache. Geocaching has only been around since May 2000, so caches from 2000 are rare. In fact, there's only one in the State of Virginia. So when I was driving nearby, I decided to cross this one off my to do list. It was nice enough, but hardly a challenge -- the hint says it is "8 paces from the exact center of the road" (pictured). So that was my first cache from December 2000 (down to 74 missing months) and my first cache at N 38° 45'.

Because of a bug, I had a heck of a time attaching the above picture to my log. That reminded me why I don't take pictures more often, even though I think they improve logs (and these blog entries). The bug is supposed to have been fixed, so maybe I'll try to do that more often.

The next day, I had a "I need to get of the car and stretch" moment, and luckily there was a cache nearby. Quick and pleasant, it was my first cache in N 38° 46.

The day after that, I snagged my first March FTF, and my tenth overall. That also meant I was down to 73 missing months.

I closed out the month with a find on another old cache. From July 2001, it's the 17th oldest active cache in Virginia. (I have also previously found the 3rd oldest.) It was somewhat underwhelming. The original container is long gone, and it isn't really being maintained any more, so there's a camouflaged pill bottle with a soggy log inside. But still, down to 72 missing months.

And I found two of the four oldest ones I've found in March, so that's something.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bowie Restaurant Project: (96) Chipotle Mexican Grill (Marketplace)

Chipotle Mexican Grill,
15475 Annapolis Rd,
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 3/23/2017
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

As I noted in my review of Chick-fil-A, I am not really keeping up with the Bowie Restaurant Project, but if I happen to visit a restaurant in a way that enables a review, I'll add it to the list.

As I noted in my 2012 review of Chipotle's original Bowie location, I don't like Chipotle. On the other hand, one of the inspirations for the Bowie Restaurant Project was overhearing someone remark that since he was in Bowie, he was going to eat at Chipotle. That was fine if that was his favorite restaurant, but part of my goal has been to find better options for people.

Anyway, I found myself in possession of a $10 Chipotle gift card, so fate was telling me to write this review. First, I used the web to create an order. The estimated total was $10.02. When I tried to plug in the gift card, it told me that I didn't have enough money to pay for my lunch, and offered me no way of kicking in the two cents in another way. So I changed my selection to "pay at restaurant", and the web site told me that it was now too late to get my food when I originally asked for it. In the ensuing chaos, I accidentally ordered it for over an hour in the future.

The person at the restaurant was very nice about fixing my error when I called, and they were unnecessarily apologetic when the food wasn't ready when I arrived. I definitely give them high marks for customer service (though low marks for the web interface). As it turned out, the web site actually knocked the extra 2 cents off when I finally placed the order. That was nice, but it was dumb of it to complain about my gift card balance if it was going to do that.

The food was fine. As noted before, one of the reasons I don't eat at Chipotle is the resulting digestive disruption I experience. Because of this, I can't rate it too highly. Hopefully soon we will have real Mexican food back in Bowie.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Google Local: Four Photos

My phone has been prompting me to add pictures to various places I've visited, so that Google can display them to people who are looking for the establishments in question. Free labor for one of the world's most valuable companies? Sure, why not?

For example, if you search for "D&D Cleaners" in Virginia, you will see featured a photo I took (mostly to make a joke about the name).

Google from time to time will e-mail me with a total number of views on all of my photos (as I look now, the D&D cleaners photo has 432 views). As that number got into the tens of thousands, I conceived of the goal of getting a million views.

My reasoning was that the number of views each photo gets should go up linearly over time. If I contribute photos at a steady pace, the total number of photos should also go up linearly. So, the total number of photos should go up quadratically. (You did know I'm a mathematician, right?)

As my number of views passed 100,000 this week, I thought I'd take a look at how my theory is working out. Well, as it turned out, roughly 70% of my views are from just four photos. That sort of blows apart my theory that quantity of photos is key to upping my views. (Unless more photos means a greater chance of having one of the "good" pictures.)

Here they are:
#4 Jumping Jack Sports, Ashburn, VA, 14,840 views, January 2017.
#3 Rubio's, San Diego, CA, 16,470 views, August 2016.

#2 Arby's, Beltsville, MD, 21,263 views, January 2017.
#1 Wendy's, Chantilly, VA, 21,600 views, August 2016.




I have no idea what the lesson of this is. I guess three out of four are panoramas of store interiors, so maybe I should concentrate more on interiors than exteriors. I had switched to exteriors lately on the theory that it would be more helpful to show people how to find the place. I guess if exteriors really are better for views, those will shoot up the rankings, and I can correct. I don't really see what's going on with the Rubio's picture. That seems singularly unhelpful, yet popular.

I guess I will try for more interior panoramas. I really don't want to spend much time on this project, so time spent while waiting to order or waiting for my food (or watching my kid play at a birthday party) seems like a good time to add to my totals.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Scottish Football: European Speculation

With the final four set for the Scottish Cup, it's time for me to offer my second annual preview of who might represent Scotland in Europe.

To recap, the goal is to get good results and see the UEFA coefficient rise to the point where Scottish teams are treated better. This year's coefficient drops to 25th, which puts the Scottish Cup winner in the Europa League first round. Next year, it will probably be 23rd, which puts the Cup winner in the second round. If APOEL Nicosia continues their Europa League success, Scotland could drop to 24th, but that still would mean a second round entry. The upcoming season (2017/8) affects the matches in 2019 and beyond.

So let's look at the contenders.

Celtic

Chances of playing in Europe: 100%
Path to Europe: They are going to win the Scottish Premiership. They have won all but one match this season. In the amazingly unlikely event that they lost all further matches, there is no way Aberdeen wins enough to catch them. And they are favorites to win the Cup.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Very. They are the only Scottish side structured to make some noise in the Champions League.
Managerial dysfunction level: Low. Brendan Rogers knows what he's doing, and he hasn't had enough success at Celtic to move on to an English club yet.

Aberdeen


Chances of playing in Europe: 95%
Path to Europe: They are currently sitting second in the Premiership. Rangers might catch them, but third would be good enough. As long as Hibs doesn't win the Cup, even being caught by Rangers and Hearts would still leave them in Europe. And they could still win the Cup.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Quite. Over the past five years, the three best European performances not belonging to Celtic are the past three years of Aberdeen results.
Managerial dysfunction level: Low. Derek McInnes knows what he's doing. He could get lured away by a bigger club, but I heard a commentator say he probably wants to get through to the Europa League group stages first. Hopefully this is the year for that.

Rangers


Chances of playing in Europe: 75%
Path to Europe: They are sitting third in the Premiership. As with Aberdeen, second, third, or probably fourth would get them through. They've looked uneven lately, so this isn't a lock, but Hearts hasn't looked great either. And they could win the Cup.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Mostly happy. They have the second-biggest budget in Scotland, so they should be able to make some noise. On the other hand, the last few years they have improved from very messed up to somewhat messed up as an organization. If they can get their act together, they should contend for the group stages.
Managerial dysfunction level: At least medium. Their last manager either left or was fired (they are still arguing that) while looking to jump to an English side. The are (so we hear) closing in on a Portuguese manager who sounds promising, but is mostly an unknown quantity. There's a lot of risk here.

Hearts


Chances of playing in Europe: 65%
Path to Europe: If they can maintain or improve their fourth-place standing, they're in as long as their arch-rivals Hibs don't retain the Cup.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Not too unhappy. They did OK last year under their previous manager. They're one of the biggest five clubs in Scotland, so they have the resources to put together a decent side.
Managerial dysfunction level: Medium-high. After Robbie Neilson moved to England, they appointed the young and inexperienced Ian Cathro and the results have not been there. Optimism says he needs time to find his footing and get the club playing the way he wants. Pessimism says he's in over his head. The club has been smartly focused on getting the finances and stadium set for the future, but that doesn't help the short-term results.

St. Johnstone


Chances of playing in Europe: 30%
Path to Europe: Overtake Hearts and/or Rangers for one of the top-four spots.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Not very. They put together a string of four appearances which was broken last year. Of Scotland's 18.925 coefficient, that run contributed 1.35. I groan when I think about them showing up again, as they don't have the resources of the other clubs.
Managerial dysfunction level: Low. It takes skills to keep St. Johnstone so high over the years, and Tommy Wright has them. As long as he doesn't get lured away, they are going to be dangerous domestically.

Hibernian


Chances of playing in Europe: 10%
Path to Europe: Repeat as Cup winners, in hopefully their last season in the second tier.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Happy. Despite the fact that they're in the second tier, they have a first-tier manager with European experience. They will very likely be promoted, so they'll have a first-tier budget, especially as one of the five biggest Scottish clubs.
Managerial dysfunction level: Low. Neil Lennon had great success at Celtic, and is still licking his wounds from his time in England, so he should be there at least another couple of years.

The Field


Chance of playing in Europe: 25%
Path to Europe: Stumbles by Rangers, Hearts and St. Johnstone could bring Partick, Dundee or someone else into contention.
How happy we should be if they're in Europe: Not. Smaller clubs have a record of dragging down Scotland's UEFA coefficient.
Managerial dysfunction level: Variable.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Geocaching: Another FTF: ho-hum, but not a ho-hum FTF

I scored one FTF (first to find) on a geocache in 2007, one in 2008, a record three last year, and just found my third of the month in January 2017. So they've become more routine, and perhaps less deserving of their own posts.

Except this one was pretty cool. I got an alert that one had been published a few miles away from me, so I headed out. (As it turned out, another was published during the drive about a thousand feet from my original location, but I missed that one.)

The fact that it was named "King of the Hill" probably should have prepared me for a bit of a challenge. The description said, "There are plenty of difficult ways to the cache, but I will say there is an easy way to it."
 The satellite imagery gives some hints as to the difficulty. It's in a stand of trees -- but how do you get there from the road? The beige strip to the southeast of the cache is actually a concrete gully, so you have to pick your spot. You can't see the elevation changes, but that also factors in.

As it turned out, near the clearing, there's a place to hop over the gully where the vegetation is not too thick, and then there's sort of a trail heading up. The hint really narrowed down the number of possible hiding locations, so once I was up there, it wasn't too hard to find...and then my pen wouldn't work to sign the log.

Now, sometimes it's possible to take a picture of the log, or count making an indentation in the paper as "signing", but this seemed inadequate for a first-to-find claim. First I tried breaking open my pen to see if I could get ink out that way...no dice. Then I tried dipping the pen in a nearby berry; that sort of worked, but didn't. Fortunately, in the process of doing so, my pen started working again.

Given the terrain, I didn't think it would be found as often as some other caches. It was found again three days later, and then a day after that. That finder forgot their pen, so despite my forgetting to take pictures of my adventure, I do have a picture of my scratching at the log from them.
So, what does this do for my stats?
Well, most obviously, it is a record FTF month for me.
Also, the hike up the hill made the terrain a 3.0, but the ease of finding the cache was rated 1.5. That's a new combo for me, the 28th out of 81 possible.
And the cache was hidden in the waning days of 2016, although not published until January 2017. That's my first December 2016 find, for Month 126 (75 to go).
Finally, it's my first FTF in Fairfax County, Virginia. Mildly amusing, and a stat that Project Geocaching keeps track of.