Sunday, July 24, 2016

Geocaching: Caching Bristol

I had a nice week of geocaching in Bristol. I had ambitions of doing some "numbers caching" -- either breaking my record of 5 days in a row or 8 caches in a week. But to get the sixth day would require caching before my 6am taxi ride to the airport (or after midnight), and after 7 caches, I lost my pen and it was getting dark on my last evening, so...I guess I'll settle for seeing the UK pass Canada for #2 country in which I've cached.

All of the caches I found in the UK were what's known as "urban micros". They are tiny caches, just big enough for a tiny piece of paper, and they're hidden in busy areas where you need to avoid being detected finding, signing and replacing the cache.

Ordinarily these are not my favorite types of caches. But in Bristol they ended up being pretty neat, mainly because Bristol is a cool city, and they took me to some interesting places. Also, I think I'm finally getting better at finding these micros.

The first cache I found, shortly after landing, was in a car park. But what a view!
My hotel (and this car park) were right near St. Mary Redcliffe church, known to Elizabeth I as, "the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England." The hide was fairly clever -- it was inside a bike lock (sans bike) attached to a bike rack in the parking lot.

The next day at lunch I found one in Queens Square. I didn't take a picture, but here's one from 2008 I took of the statue the cache is named after: 

The third day I found my first "Church Micro". Hiding micro caches near churches is apparently a big thing in the UK. They've hidden over ten thousand of them. This one was in a church that was destroyed during the Blitz, which is now a park. Bristol was experiencing a record heat wave when I was there, so the parks were full. I thought it was a bit odd for people to be out in the heat, but I realized they probably were better off in the park since most of the buildings weren't air-conditioned. Anyway, I had to come back four times before the bench the cache was attached to was clear of people.
On Day 4, I found another blitz-related cache on my second try. This one brought me to a spot where a tram rail had been sent by an explosion into the courtyard of St. Mary Redcliffe. They left it there to remind people how close the church had come to destruction.
Then it was another "Church Micro". This was actually pretty far down the street from the church in question, but it was a nice view.

The final cache of Day 4 was in an open area near the water. Previous logs said it was hard to access during festivals and whatnot, but at around 9 at night it was mostly deserted -- but still light out!

My final cache of the trip was in a park. For this one, I'll show you a little bit more about how urban micros work. This one was a fake screw on the underside of a bench. Once you know what to look for, it's pretty obvious. On some benches, this would be trickier, but this screw was fairly obviously not one that belongs to this type of bench.

Anyway, geocaching got me out and walking, which helped (maybe) with the jet lag. Because these types of caches are placed in high-traffic areas, a few of the more interesting ones had gone missing. I've marked them down for my next trip to Bristol.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Countries Visited: Number 32

My path to the Travelers Century Club continues. A layover (it counts!) in Dublin allowed me to add a country for the first time since 2009. 68 to go!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Third-Round Preview

Well, I guess I should be glad there's a third round to preview.

Second-Round Review

After I said, "Celtic has no business being in Europe if they can't dispatch these guys handily," Celtic went to Gibraltar and...lost. Oh, boy.

Well it was time for what this blog is (not actually) known for: on-the-scene (sort of) reporting. I was going to be in the UK for the return leg, so I planed to a Celtic pub. The usual one was all the way across town, so I envisioned an epic walk across Bristol followed by watching the game among throngs of rabid Celtic supporters. By Wednesday, however, I was pretty tired, so I was very grateful to find out that the Celtic supporters were watching at a pub kinda near my hotel. Oh, and the sound wasn't going to be on because it was pub quiz night. Well, anyway, it was a place to have a pint of Guinness and watch with...I'm guessing three Celtic supporters. Celtic scored three goals in rapid succession to put things away, and I left before the pub quizzers showed up. The loss in Gibraltar, I'll remind, knocks 0.25 off the coefficient (compared to a win) for a five-year-period.

For Hibs, I said, "I don't hold out much hope here, but it would be nice to see Hibs grab 0.125 or even 0.25, even if they don't advance." They almost advanced! They let in a goal in the first minute of the first leg, then held Brøndby scoreless for 209 minutes. And then lost in penalties. Sigh. I hate penalties. At least they got the 0.25.

Of Hearts, I said, "I think everyone would expect two wins and 0.5 points." How about no wins and 0.125 points? Versus a team from Malta? Very embarassing.

Finally, Aberdeen had looked rusty. "If Aberdeen can shake off some rust, they are certainly capable of a good result, but the full 0.5 points, or even advancement is not assured." Well, they got the full 0.5 points, and they're Scotland's sole Europa League representative (at least until Celtic gets knocked down from the Champions League).

"I think a good outcome of the second round would be to see Scotland with 1.875 points or more for the year, with three out of four teams advancing. If two (or fewer) teams advance and Scotland only comes out of this with 1.5 points or fewer, things will not be looking up." So it's a split decision -- 1.875 points, but only two teams advancing.

Third-Round Preview

So Celtic is off to Kazakhstan to face Astana. Honestly, while they should win,  it's going to be dicey. I included Kazakhstan in the chart above to show their position in the provisional 2017 rankings. A little below Scotland. If you stretch things out to the (very provisional) 2018 rankings, they're actually poised to pass Scotland. As for Astana, they were in the Champions League group stages last weekend, so a Celtic loss and dropping into the Europa League playoffs is a distinct possibility.

Aberdeen faces Maribor of Slovenia. Slovenia is a couple of notches below Kazakhastan. However, two years ago Maribor knocked out Celtic on their way to the Champions League group stages. It's not going to be easy for Aberdeen, but they've got an experienced squad.

A good outcome would have both teams alive, with Celtic still in the Champions League. Honestly, if that happens, the minimum points (2.375) would be acceptable. If it doesn't, you'd like to see Aberdeen add to the coefficient on its way out, with Celtic's main contribution likely to be in the group stages of whichever competition they are in at that point.

Where We Stand

First of all, my plan all along was that Celtic needs to stay Celtic (or Rangers, but we'll address that next year maybe) and pick up on the order of 12 points (3 after adjustment for the coefficient).  They're at 1, which is not great, but most importantly they are alive.

The other teams need to provide 8 or 9 parts. Aberdeen has 3, so they've done their share and are poised to pick up more. Hearts got 2.5 before exiting, which is close to their share. Hibs, however, exited with 1, which is typical for Scotland, and frankly more than you'd expect for a lower-division team. So 6.5 so far. If Aberdeen can advance, there's every reason the non-Celtic teams can hold up their end of the bargain for the year.

Looking at the chart at the top of this post, Norway is in sad shape and is certainly catchable this year. Denmark is doing great, and will likely pass their Scandinavian neighbors soon. Scotland has come close to catching Poland, but the four countries directly below Scotland have done at least as well and are keeping the pressure on. (He says, pretending that anyone feels pressure related to the UEFA coefficient.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bowie Restaurant Project: (BB8) Killarney House

Killarney House
584 W Central Ave, Davidsonville
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 6/29/2016
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 2
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

 In addition to reviewing (most of) the restaurants in Bowie, I sometimes highlight a restaurant in the area that provides something Bowie is lacking. I did the seventh and most recent "Beyond Bowie" installment in 2014, so this makes this one...BB-8.

159/366 - BB-8


Anyway, Killarney House is great. The food is delicious, but it's the setting that makes it a must-visit. It's an Irish pub out in the countryside -- how great is that? Normally I think of the Beyond Bowie series as "restaurants that Bowie doesn't have, but should." But I'm not sure where you'd put this in Bowie to get the same effect.

One of my motivations for reviewing restaurants was finding new places to take people who were visiting work (RIP, Grace's Fortune). This is a great place to take people to convince them not every restaurant in the area is in a strip mall.

Bowie Restaurant News

  • The Olive Grove is closed.
  • Sardi's Pollo a la Brasa will be giving Bowie its second Peruvian chicken restaurant, at Bowie Town Center.
  • Pho D'Lite is coming to Hilltop Plaza.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Second-Round Preview

First Round Review

Before we preview the second round, let's recap what happened in the first round. Hearts squeaked by Estonian side Infonet FC 2-1 at home before taking a definitive 4-2 away win. End result: 0.5 points for the coefficient, and a second-round date with the Maltese team Birkirkara FC.

Aberdeen got two late goals for a 3-1 home win against part-time Luxembourgers Fola Esch, before falling to an embarrassing 1-0 loss that left them one goal away from a first-round exit.  End result: 0.25 points for the coefficient, and a second-round matchup with Latvian side Ventspils. Note that if Aberdeen had won this match, that would have been an extra 0.25 carried through for the coefficient for an entire 5-year period.

Looking at the above chart excerpt from Bert Kassies' excellent site, not much has changed among teams within two points of Scotland. Of most note is the bad round Poland had, seeing one team knocked out, only picking up 0.25 points and falling behind Denmark. I included Norway in the picture just to note that they had trouble too, having a team knocked out to the fourth-placed Welsh side.

So where are we (as fans of Scotland -- specifically Scotland's UEFA coefficient) and where are we headed? I have two different ways of looking at things.

Reasons for Pessimism

Among the teams within two points of Scotland, only Poland did worse -- Denmark, Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Israel all did better. If Scotland is not only going to retain their ranking, but improve, they need to gain ground, not lose it.

Going into the second round, Hearts has to face a Maltese side that took West Ham United to penalties last year. Aberdeen looked shaky in both of their matches -- Ventspils didn't. And Hibs, a second-tier club, has to face Brøndby, who just advanced with a 10-1 aggregate score. (Note that losses to Brøndby both hurt Scotland and help Denmark.) Celtic should be fine against a team from Gibraltar, but it's later rounds where we worry about their performance slipping.

Reasons for Optimism

Despite not quite keeping pace with most of the countries ranked in the twenties, Scotland didn't slip more than a quarter-point compared to any of them. And it did keep all teams alive to earn more points.

Further, my past analysis indicates that a typical year gives Scotland a coefficient contribution of 3.75 -- 3 from Celtic and 0.75 from everybody else. Well, they've already got 0.75 from everybody else, so things are looking better than usual, with all three non-Celtics able to add to that. Bringing Scotland's coefficient gradually up into the mid-teens requires the non-Celtics to contribute consistent totals of 2-2.25 points/year -- that's at least mathematically possible in the second round alone.

And despite the possibility of upsets, three of the opponents are from leagues ranked 40, 50 and 52 out of 54 European countries. And although Hibs have a tough road ahead, their new manager did take Celtic to the knockout stages of the Champions League a few years back, so they may do better in Europe than they have any right to.

Second Round Preview

Celtic starts things off with Champions League matches against Lincoln Red Imps, who won the Gibraltar Premier League for the 14th time. Celtic has no business being in Europe if they can't dispatch these guys handily. They should pull out the full 0.5 points for the coefficient, but it's certainly possible that they get way ahead in the first leg and settle for a draw or a narrow loss in the second to rest their players.

Hibs face Brøndby (honestly, I will never tire of putting ø in my posts). I don't hold out much hope here, but it would be nice to see Hibs grab 0.125 or even 0.25, even if they don't advance.

Hearts face Birkirkara. The Maltese have never made it out of the second round of European competition, and I don't see this year being any different. Like Celtic, Hearts might drop some points by not going all out in the second leg, but after their impressive performance in the second leg of the first round, I think everyone would expect two wins and 0.5 points.

Aberdeen takes on Ventspils. If Aberdeen can shake off some rust, they are certainly capable of a good result, but the full 0.5 points, or even advancement is not assured.

I think a good outcome of the second round would be to see Scotland with 1.875 points or more for the year, with three out of four teams advancing. If two (or fewer) teams advance and Scotland only comes out of this with 1.5 points or fewer, things will not be looking up.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Geocaching Update: So Many Minutes

When I last checked in with my quest to get all 60 minutes of longitude in 76 degrees West, I had 23. Now I'm up to 28!

One way I've been finding caches to fill in holes is by creating a map that shows where I've already found caches. The vertical stripes are pretty clear; the shaded in areas show minutes I've already covered. (It extends west to 77 degrees.) The top and bottom of the rectangles represent the extent to which I've filled in the 38 North and 39 North latitude challenges in this area. I could create more boxes to show areas I've cleared in Baltimore, but that would be too much work.

Anyway, the bottom line is that anywhere in the shaded boxes will not help me with a longitude or latitude challenge. There are only five strips to fill in between Washington and Annapolis, so it will be challenging to get beyond 33.

The five minutes I've filled in are 28, 29, 30, 32, 39. The kids were in camp in Severna Park this week, which allowed quick stops for 28 and 30 (and a failure for 34). Minute 29 was found in April on a visit to a friend in Essex, Minute 32 was in a shopping center while waiting for the Annapolis MVA to open, and Minute 39 was in the woods near Crofton while passing through.