Saturday, October 07, 2017

Bowie Restaurant Project: (98) Pho D'Lite

Pho D'Lite,
6840 Race Track Rd,
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 9/30/2017
Total Foursquare Check-ins:2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Welcome to the latest entry in the now-defunct but still-breathing Bowie Restaurant Project.

It's pho. In Bowie. That's novel. There are actually 3 different places to get pho not too far from Bowie, if you're willing to head up north around Route 3. I don't know that I'd say that Pho D'Lite is any better or worse than Saigon Noodle House, Pho Golden (which I actually haven't visited), or V N Noodle House. But it's here! In Bowie!

In general, any restaurant in this space has a high bar to clear to get me to visit rather than Chesapeake Grille. But after a less than ideal last visit there, and the sense that pho is so completely different, I was able to convince myself to head there.

Anyway, if you're in the mood for a big bowl of Vietnamese noodles, you've come to the right place.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Geocaching Tennessee

As noted in my previous post, I went to Tennessee recently. This was an opportunity to find some geocaches and generate some geocaching stats.

My first stop on the day of the trip was a geocache near Dulles airport (and my kids' school) that I had been saving for this occasion. It was easy to find, and it set me up to break my maximum per-day distance record, a task that eluded me last year. As a reminder, this is the old record:

I had the chance to break a few more personal records. I could have driven to Kentucky after landing, to get 3 states in a day, but seeing the World Heritage Site seemed more interesting. I could have found a cache near the hotel after checking in, to get 4 counties in a day, but I was tired, and I figure I will save that record for the next trip.

The Knoxville airport is in a different county from Knoxville itself. Rather than stop right by the airport, I drove to nearby Maryville College. My grandfather spent a year there, and played on their 1932 JV football team. It was a nice place to stop, and there I found a geocache. It was my first September 2016 geocache. That completed 2016 for me, and gave me Month 141 (still at 68 missing months because of the addition of September 2017), State 13, and County 34 (Blount County).

After that, it was off to the Great Smoky Mountains. There was a virtual cache there at the John Ownby Cabin. That is in Sevier County, County 35 for me.

And there's a new maximum distance!



The next day, on my way back from lunch to the conference, I found a cache on campus, giving me Knox County, County 36.


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.

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.