Saturday, July 25, 2015

Geocaching: A Few More Degrees

I was looking at the West 76 Longitude Challenge Cache (of which I claimed 14 of the 60 required degrees covered), and I discovered a couple of things.

First of all, there is an automated checker available to tell you which of the minutes you haven't yet found caches in. I used it, and it told me I had 45 minutes left to go. Hmm. It took a while to track down the discrepancy, but it turns out I was the one who was correct. I attended an event cache in Minute 51, but that type of cache doesn't count in the challenge.

Secondly, the cache links to challenge caches for West 77 Longitude and North 39 Latitude. Of course! Latitude! Why didn't I look for this a while ago?

So, how am I doing? Well (assuming the checker is correct), I have found Minutes 0, 1, 2, 3, 9, 18, 22, 24, and 41 in West 77, for a total of 9 out of 60.

For North 39, I have found Minutes 0, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 16, 19, 22 and 24, for a total of 14 -- the same as West 76. Nope, wait, Minute 12 is that same event cache.

I actually live about an eight minute walk south of the 39th parallel. (Seriously, how did I never notice this before?) So North 38 Latitude seems like an equally good one to check. As it turns out, that cache is near Sacramento. Which makes sense.

For North 38, I have 19, 22, 33, 34, 42, 47, 51, 53, 54, 57, 58 and 59, for a total of 12.

What the heck, I might at well keep track of these, too. Any other degrees are going to be sufficiently far from home that it's unlikely I will make any substantial progress. Let's take a look at the new challenges, then. I'll note my first find of each minute, and which state it occurs in, if not Maryland.

West 77

  1. Minute 0: Back to School III "Sports Zone"
  2. Minute 1: The Original
  3. Minute 2: Last stop for a weary traveler (DC)
  4. Minute 3: Patriotic Wheaton
  5. Minute 9: Jason Turns 30!
  6. Minute 18: Blair Witch Project - Coffin Rock
  7. Minute 22: Jug Bridge
  8. Minute 24: Michaels Mill Cache
  9. Minute 41: Berries and Bikes (Virginia)

North 39

  1. Minute 0: Yowies
  2. Minute 2: Patriotic Wheaton
  3. Minute 3: I.C.C. ya Later - Rt 1 Brick House
  4. Minute 4: Shallow Marsh
  5. Minute 5: TimberHollow
  6. Minute 6: Beachwood Park Travel Bug Hotel
  7. Minute 7: Blair Witch Project - Coffin Rock
  8. Minute 8: Berries and Bikes (Virginia)
  9. Minute 11: Manta's Mystery Cache
  10. Minute 16: Time Will Not Dim...
  11. Minute 19: Michaels Mill Cache
  12. Minute 22: Mount Airy Remembers
  13. Minute 24: Jug Bridge

North 38

  1. Minute 19: A Stroll Around Solomon's Island
  2. Minute 22: All's Well in Greenwell
  3. Minute 33: Back to School III "Sports Zone"
  4. Minute 34: Birds Don't Have Pockets
  5. Minute 42: Hutchins Hideaway
  6. Minute 47: "Awakening"
  7. Minute 51: Grab A Seat (DC)
  8. Minute 53: The Lone Sailor (DC)
  9. Minute 54: Church Ruins Park (DC)
  10. Minute 57: Gallant Fox and Omaha
  11. Minute 58: Jason Turns 30!
  12. Minute 59: Maryland Marathon

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Three New Geocaching Maps

As I mentioned yesterday, I am back to premium geocaching membership. That allows me to generate various fun maps. I'm going to include the ones that have changed since I last was able to do that. In 2011, I added Estonia to my caching countries. It shows up better on the European map than the world one, so that's what I've included here.

Last year, I added Baltimore City to the list of Maryland "counties" cached, so that map gets an update. (Baltimore City has the equivalent of county status in Maryland and is a separate entity from Baltimore County, in which I've not found a geocache.)

Finally, this year I've added Georgia and New Jersey to my list of states. So that map looks a little less lonely. (And I appreciate My Geocaching Profile acknowledging DC without pretending it's a state.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Geocaching: Minute 52

I busted open a piggy bank I've had lying around for a few years, so I had a little extra money lying around. I used some of it on a year's premium geocaching membership. One of the results is that I'm now able to see member-only caches I visited when I was previously a member. So I can now update my very weak attempt to visit a cache in each minute of 76 degrees W longitude.
I.C.C. ya Later - Rt 1 Brick House, which I visited on my 36th birthday, is in minute 52.

I now have 14 of 60 minutes: 27, 31, 36, 37, 40, 44, 50, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59.

Slightly more entertaining will be the maps I'll be able to update in a future post.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

More trying to fix Scotland's UEFA coefficient

Earlier this week, I pondered how Scotland could get back to respectability (15th-18th place) in the rankings of European soccer leagues. The scenario I gave the most credence to for the four Scottish teams to behave as Celtic, one "half-Celtic" and two "non-Celtics".

Before addressing those scenarios more concretely, let me dismiss two other scenarios. One is that Celtic could just become a super-Celtic. Celtic's best run in recent years was in 2012 when they reached the round of 16 in the Champions League. That run netted them 19 points. A "non-Celtic" has typically produced 1 (let's round down from 1.077), so under the current system, a super-Celtic and three non-Celtics would get 22 points, which gives five-year coefficient of 27.5, which is in the range I identified. (Actually, Celtic would have to win one more round to make it to the sixteen based on current rankings, but we can ignore that for now.) Although Celtic has been very successful, expecting it to end up in the top 16 clubs in Europe every year to make up for the deficiencies of other Scottish clubs is just too much.

Another possibility that I identified would be Celtic, and three "mini-Celtics". Let's round Celtic's usual contribution to 12 (up from 11.875). Then if each other team contributes 3 points, we're at 21 points for the year, a five-year coefficient of 26.25, again in the 25-30 range. But since the birth of the Europa League, only two teams have managed 3 points. The 2010 Motherwell squad got 3.5, as did last year's Aberdeen side. Motherwell barely avoided relegation last year, so they are not in European play this year. Aberdeen...well, we'll get to them later. The point is that expecting to have a stable of three Scottish clubs that can each win two rounds of qualifying (as those two did) is a bit far-fetched.

So we return to my scenario of Celtic, half-Celtic and two non-Celtics -- in other words, Celtic contributes 12 points, another club puts up 6, and two sides throw in 1 each. So far this year, St. Johnstone played its part, getting a point before exiting in the first round. Inverness CT may disappoint even low expectations. They dropped the first half of their tie with Astra Giurgiu 1-0 today, so they will need an away win (against a team they couldn't score on at home) to get a point. Celtic has 1 point, and seems likely to advance, so we hope they do their part. That leaves us with...Aberdeen.

Aberdeen now has 2 points after demolishing HNK Rijeka 3-0 in Croatia today. Unfortunately for fans of Scotland's UEFA coefficient (maybe that's just me), that will leave them with the temptation to "park the bus" next week and get a draw or a 1- or 2-goal loss, which will allow them to advance, but not get them another point towards this year's total. Nevertheless, let's take the long view. What does a team (in particular, one who enters in the first or second rounds of Europa League qualifying) need to do in order to get 6 points?

I only had the energy to look at last year's games. But the fact is, no team that missed the group stage got 6 points. The closest (Spartak Trnava) got 5.5. The average of those who entered in the first round and exited in the playoffs was 4.8, and second-round entrants who lost in the playoffs averaged 3.1.

So making it to the group stage is crucial. Four teams entered in the second round and made it to the group stage, averaging 9.4 points. Unhappily for Aberdeen, no team entering in the first round made it that far, and no club entering before the third round made it out of the group stage.

But, that tells me that if Aberdeen can turn itself into a side that makes the group stage half the time, and falls just short the other half, it would be the team that Scotland needs. Some other team could, of course, fill the void (as I said on Monday, keep an eye on Hearts), but that appears to be the basic formula.

I don't know why it interests me to work that out, but it does. I guess because there's math involved, but the coverage of it doesn't explain how "doing better in Europe" would translate into "getting a better ranking."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Geocaching Update: Two New States

In March 2008, I had been geocaching less than a year, and I posted a map showing that I had found caches in seven states...

Well, my geocaching really tailed off after then, because seven years later, I had found caches in seven states...and the District of Columbia (added in May 2008). I've geocached in ten countries, which isn't too bad, but the last of those was added in 2011.

So, with two recent trips to potentially new states, I decided to add to the list. I give you Bronzed Barker, a virtual geocache in Georgia, and 1938, a virtual in New Jersey.

To get a new map, I'll need to upgrade my geocaching membership again, but then it looks like My Geocaching Profile is a nice, free way of generating maps.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Who messed up Scotland's UEFA coefficient?

Last July, I puzzled over the weird way in which UEFA, the European soccer association, figures out which European club teams end up in which European competitions (namely, the Champions League and the Europa League).

One of the concerns in Scottish soccer over the past few years has been the dip in Scotland's coefficient. The Scottish ranking used to be enough to send two teams to the Champions League; now it's only one (always Celtic). An opinion piece in today's Daily Record summarizes the distress nicely.

The article assigns blame to three parties:
  • Celtic has not been doing as well as Scots feel it should. Since Celtic tends to earn the majority of points that count towards the coefficient, that hurts.
  • The non-Celtic teams don't contribute much.
  • Rangers, which traditionally could be counted on to contribute significant points most years, hasn't been part of the picture since their departure from the top flight.
I've been puzzling over the numbers, as I like to do, and I'd like to nominate a fourth culprit:
  • The Europa League, for existing.
UEFA posts season-by-season rankings for Scotland going back to 2004. The actual UEFA coefficient is aggregated over five years, but the reasons for a particular ranking are clearer in the yearly statistics. One thing that jumps out at me is that from 2004-2007, Scottish football was anywhere from 5th to 17th, while since then, it has been no higher than 19th. The 2008 season seems to be somewhat of a fluke; I can't figure out why only two teams are counted. But from 2009 on, the number of teams involved never drops below four, while it was never more than three prior. This matters because your one good team gets its results divided by four (or five or six) after being added to the pittance the rest of the league produces.

Usually that team has been Celtic, but as recently as 2010, it was Rangers, who produced 12 of Scotland's 18 points. The average, across five teams, was 3.6, good enough for 21st. If Rangers and Celtic were the only two teams, their combined 14 would have given an average of 7.0, good enough for 11th. Perhaps more fair would have been to say what had happened if you paired Rangers and Celtic (the top two league finishers) with Dundee United, the Scottish Cup winners. Well, then you would have 14.5 points, divided by 3, so at 4.833, Scotland would be a still-respectable 14th.

With the Europa League here to stay, what does Scotland have to do to climb back up to its previous heights of at-least-we're-not-Sweden? For the current season, Scotland is ranked 23rd with a coefficient (five year total) of 16.566. That earns them one berth in the Champions League, entering in the second round, two first-round entries into the Europa League, and a second-round entry into the Europa League.

Nothing would change for Scottish Champions League entry unless it rose to 15th, at which it would get two berths, both entering in the third round. Since that's what Celtic has been complaining about, it's worth keeping that in mind as a goal. Nothing would change in the Europa League until they rose to 18th, which would boost the second-round entry to the third round. 17th place (or 16th) would promote one of the first-round entries to the second round. 15th place would mean two second-round entries and one third-round (in addition to the two Champions League spots).

So it seems like 15th place is the goal for real change in Scotland's fortune, with some consolation prizes at 16 through 18. This year, the Czech Republic took 15 place, which a coefficient of 29.350, almost twice that of Scotland. Next year is already set, with Romania at 26.299. Looking back in time doesn't help too much, since it includes pre-Europa League years. So somewhere in the 25-30 point range should be Scotland's goal -- in other words, 5-6 points a year.

But that's a per-team average, so 20-24 points spread across 4 teams (for the forseeable future). Over the past four seasons, the average Celtic team has contributed 11.875, while the average non-Celtic team has kicked in 1.077. That projects out to 18.882 for a five-year total with Celtic and three non-Celtics. If Scotland could field two Celtics and two non-Celtics, the resulting 32.38 coefficient would be more than enough. In fact, one-and-half Celtics and two-and-half non-Celtics projects out to 25.631, at the lower end of the range I identified above.

So one path to regaining European respectability is the emergence of a club with decent, but not Celtic-caliber results. I have three nominees for this position.
  • Aberdeen. They seem to be well-run, and finished second to Celtic in the Scottish Premier League last year. On the other hand, they barely squeaked into the second round of the Europa League this month, and it looks like they can only afford a payroll about 6-7 smaller than Celtic.
  • Hearts. Despite being only promoted this year, they seem to have emerged from bankruptcy as a well-run club, dominating the second-tier without living beyond their means. As an Edinburgh-based club, they have the potential to increase revenues more than some of the other clubs from smaller areas.
  • Rangers. Despite living in the second-tier for another year, they will eventually get back up. When they do, they are the only side positioned to challenge Celtic.
Another scenario would be Celtic and three "mini-Celtics"  -- perhaps the three sides I mentioned above. If Celtic can continue to earn more than 10 points per season, and the other three Scottish teams chip in between a third and a quarter that number, Scotland's coefficient would be in the 25-30 range. It seems less likely that smaller clubs that get hot and enjoy one year near the top of the league or hoisting the Scottish Cup will do anything other than what they do now -- go out after a round or two.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

World Heritage Update: Three "New" Sites

My quest to visit World Heritage Sites has slowed down. I travel less these days, and I tend to travel to places I've already been. For the first time in years, I have been able to take advantage of another way of adding sites to my visited list.

Earlier this month, UNESCO added 27 new sites to the list. I've visited 3 of them! That's a pretty good hit rate.

The three are:
So I'm now at 60 out of 1031, or 5.8%, which is the same (up to rounding) as my all-time high.