20150225

Exploding Kittens?

I haven't posted anything about it, but a friend pointed me at the kickstarter for Exploding Kittens a week or two ago.  Seeing The Oatmeal's Matt Inman involved, I immediately plunked down my money for two decks (I plan to enjoy, but not show my kids, the NSFW one).  I don't read The Oatmeal very often, but I should, because I always enjoy it.

What amazed me was how much they managed to pull in.  They decided that they had so much extra money that they threw pizza parties for a lot of animal shelters around the country.  Totally awesome.

And they ended up with fancier boxes than originally planned, and some additional cards.  Cool for us.

But they somehow raised almost nine million dollars.  For a card game that wasn't made yet.  Blows my mind.  And over 200k people put money down.  Again, head explosion.

And to get those nicer boxes and extra cards, they got people to do some pretty weird things (pictures of taco cats (in many different interpretations) or of ten batmans in a hot tub).  Again, totally awesome.

And speaking of awesomeness, here's a semi-related video.  Enjoy.

Challenges (also) met

I feel like I should also catch up, at least a little bit, with the Caps.  Other than the second and third periods of last night's game which, as I mentioned, I haven't seen, I've watched all the games since my last post about them.

And it's hard to argue that they haven't been doing well.  A game off, here and there (and hopefully last night was no worse than that), but mostly very solid.  It's impossible to be anything but thrilled with the West Coast swing.  It took some lucky bounces (especially against San Jose), but three wins and one loss is better than we had any right to expect.

And then there was that Winnipeg game.  I was sorry to hear that Matty P was injured, so we couldn't see him, but was otherwise thrilled with the game.  Five to one, with the one goal against deflecting off of Alzner's stick when he went down to block the shot, then deflecting off his skate boot, then up and over Holtby.  And how can you not love 6:15 of continuous power play time in the second period (and none of those were iffy penalties, either.

Admittedly, Winnipeg looked pretty bad (their organization wasn't), but it was cool to see the Caps completely dominate.

It wasn't nearly as smooth, but the Caps handled themselves well against the Conference-leading (man, it seems strange to say that) Islanders.  The last-minute goal forcing overtime was a bit of a blow to the Caps' chances of catching the Islanders, but at least they won in the shoot-out.

Generally speaking, I've been happy with what the Caps have been doing.  OV has just been killing it; he's looked more dangerous than he had in quite a while.  He's been back-checking, which is a welcome change.  He's also been blocking the occasional shot, but despite that leading to the occasional rush the other way, I think I'd prefer he didn't (the team would be too badly hurt if he got injured).

Saint Nick has also been killing it.  Not only has he kept setting up OV at a torrid rate, but he's scored quite a few of his own to take the league lead in points.  Awesome.  And he and OV are both rapidly approaching Pivonka for the team lead in career assists.

One of my two big bones of contention with team management, though, has to do with the third spot on that line.  I'm not a big fan of switching out Bura and Wilson on that spot, although I don't think that's a terrible way to operate (well, as long as Bura stays in the line-up when he isn't on the top line).  But putting Beagle there is just awful; really, I understand what he brings to the table (back-up face-offs, battling on the boards, a little forechecking), and he isn't a terrible player, but the only situation justifying him being on the top line is a whole rash of injuries.  Seriously, any of MarJo, Fehr, Brouwer, Ward, or the two above would be a better choice.  I certainly understand why Fehr and Ward don't get consideration there, but Brouwer and Wilson are both unconditionally better than Beagle in the strategic situation where you might think of putting Beagle there.

I was quite fine with seeing MarJo up on the top line, and I think there's plenty of reason to think that's basically optimal (considering that line only).  But Bura needs to be in the line-up.

We haven't reached a situation where Trotz' mismanagement of Bura approaches what Oates did with Erat, but it's heading in that direction.  And Bura's very young; some recent quotes by him lead me to believe that he's having confidence issues that entirely stem from Trotz yanking him around.  I think Trotz' perspective is he doesn't want any fancy play from Bura in the defensive zone, but he's got to realize that the rare problem is more than offset by the excellent results most of the time.  Creative players need to be allowed to be creative.

It's the same philosophy that makes it so (relatively) easy for teams to come back in the waning minutes of a game.  Not productive.

Anyway, my other major bone of contention has to do with Holtby.  I have mostly been ok with his handling, but I was very disturbed when he was allowed to play against the Flyers, the other day, in the second half of a back-to-back.  Yes, I know there were a couple days off afterwards, but the kid shouldn't be playing 70 games.  Yes, he's looked good (actually, he's looked fantastic), but I want him to continue to look good for years to come, not just this season.  Perhaps even more importantly, I don't want him to be mentally fatigued when the play-offs arrive.  Give the kid some rest.

I'm glad he didn't play both halves of the prior two back-to-backs, at least.

On the back end, things have been pretty darned good.  Carlson and Green have both cleared thirty assists, which is very cool.  Hillen's played more than I would prefer, although I guess with both Orlov and Schmidt unavailable, that's not terrible.  Schilling looked fine when he played, the other day.

The one other thing I've been thinking about lately also gets back to Beagle.  He's been getting quite a bit of attention from the announcers, especially on NBC.  It makes me wonder if there's a perception that Beagle, thanks to his uncharacteristically high shooting percentage, is worth a significant amount in trade.  I hope McLellan is exploring that possibility, because trading high would be fantastic, especially if it would help land someone like, say, Weircoch.

Update: I just checked the numbers on Schilling and Oleksy (who played a game or two in there).  Both were more sheltered (and Hillen) positionally, but less so, competition-wise, and both did much better.  In small samples, of course.  I'd probably play Schilling over the other two, at this point, until Orlov or Schmidt becomes available.  And I'd definitely play either of them over Hillen, once they're options.

20150223

Challenges met

I haven't been writing lately for the simple reason that I've been really tired at night.  Last night, I turned on the Caps game right after putting the kids to bed (I didn't, earlier, because I thought I'd missed recording it, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I had when I checked).  Part of it was that they looked terrible (to be fair, some of it was that Philly looked quite good), but I couldn't even watch past the end of the first period.

In any event, there were two days I was especially worried about.  One was last Wednesday, when we were scheduled to get 8-12 inches of snow.  It turned out to only be four or five, which helped a lot.  Regardless, it turned out that the only real challenge was getting going fast enough to get my second foot clipped on to the pedal.  Once I did that, which required going the opposite direction out of my driveway from my usual, it was pretty smooth sailing.  I didn't do a lot of miles (partially because it was still really cold), but the ride had very little drama.  And the only drama it had came from my concern about stopping fully, and having to deal with clipping in again.

The route was, perhaps, a little interesting.  I went down George Mason Dr, as usual, but then turned right on Wilson (which I occasionally do, to get to the trail at Bluemont Park).  But from there, I went all the way to Seven Corners (not something I would normally do on a bike), and turned right on Rt 7 (something I generally avoid, even in a car).  In any event, I took Rt 7 all the way down to Haycock, followed that over to Westmoreland, then turned up Williamsburg towards home.  All in all, a good eleven miles.

One thing I did discover, before the end of the ride, was that being in a very low gear helps a lot on snow.  And that's kind of interesting, because it's exactly the opposite in a car.  Driving, you want to be in a higher gear so you don't over-spin the tires (sometimes I'll start the car moving in second gear, for instance).

Thursday wasn't terribly interesting.  It was nine degrees, and I just rode down into Shirlington, turned around, and came home.  It being that cold, I did have to speed up a bit over the last mile and a half or so, just to keep warm.  But that did work out to a bit over twelve miles, so it wasn't bad.

Friday was the second challenge, when it was supposed to go below zero on my ride.  And it did, although barely; the forecast had called for -4F, but it only got to -1F.  I did roughly the same ride as Thursday, and again had to crank it up a little bit at the end.  But I did manage to keep my heart rate within my target zone for all but three minutes, so that wasn't too bad.


What was kind of funny was, later in the day, I needed to do laundry because I was out of my warm base layers and of my liner socks.  I didn't expect that to happen; quite a statement on the recent cold snap, I think.  I was also close to the end of my tights, but that's a bit less weird.


Saturday the roads were clear enough that I finally got to ride my road bike again.  And I was happy to do that, as I wanted to do a much harder ride.  It was 10F, and I went into the hills.  I actually couldn't wear my Assos jacket, because I knew that the phone would shut down from cold, within it (no jersey with pockets).  But I was riding hard enough that I knew that my PI PRO Softshell jacket would be warm enough (with my heaviest base layer), and would keep the phone warm enough as well.

My average power on the ride wasn't quite as good as I was hoping (193W), but the weighted average was excellent (233W, per Strava, 255 according to Cyclemeter).  I'm not sure if I set any records on my power curve, but I was close to the top for everything longer than about half a minute.  And my power zone distribution wasn't too bad; 7:34 anaerobic and four minutes and change neuromuscular.  I think I could have done better, but that wasn't bad.

It ended up with fourteen miles, 1440' elevation rise, and 15.1mph avg speed.  Nothing to set the world on fire, but numbers I was fairly happy with.

Sunday was a bit warmer (finally), right around freezing, so I was thinking of doing a longer loop.  And technically, I suppose, I did, but the roads were pretty treacherous.  I actually put my platform pedals back on my hybrid, to kill two birds with one stone: warmer feet and insurance if my chain decided to give up the ghost.  I'd cleaned and lubed the chain again Friday, but I saw, doing so, that it was in really terrible shape (the rust particularly worries me).  I'll replace the chain soon, but I'm going to try to use the old one until the snow stops.

Anyway, the loop I did Sunday ended up being only eighteen and a half miles.  I had to stay away from the trails, and some of the roads had me pretty worried as well.  Also, I knew my speed was pretty bad, thanks to being on the hybrid with hiking boots.  I knew I wouldn't have the clip-in problem with the boots, but the traction in parts of the ride was made worse when my feet slipped off the pedals.  Definitely some mixed blessings, going to hiking boots and platforms.

But I got through it without major problems, so I'll definitely call that victory.  And I did a good job keeping my heart rate down, as well, averaging 106 and keeping it under 125, except for the last hill before home (oops... should have gone around it).

So those were the challenges, and I'm proud to say that I beat them into the ground.

This morning, I went out and only did ten miles (on the hybrid again; I was worried about ice).  But it was a nice ride; the first time in a couple weeks where I wasn't cold.  I didn't have to ball up my fists in my mittens a single time (though I did still wear the mittens).  But the route was very weird, as I again had to completely avoid the trails (I thought about changing that, but didn't like the looks of things when I got to one).  I went through Falls Church again, but this time on Sycamore and Washington/Westmoreland.  And I went through to Powhatan, where I took the hills (slowly; trying to keep heart rate down).

Physically, in fact, I felt great this morning.  Better than I have in a while.  I hope that's a harbinger of things to come.

20150216

Challenges coming

The last two days seemed a little bit challenging, for biking.

Sunday came in at 4F, on the heels of some light snow the night before.  Since I really didn't have any idea what the snow did to the roads, I had to ride the hybrid out of caution.  Oh, and on top of that temperature, there was a wind chill warning, saying that it was -20 - -25F with wind chill.

I'm not a huge believer in usage of wind chill, but that was enough wind to make me a little bit cautious.  Plus, I didn't want to do a hard ride.

So I wore my amfib tights, with leg warmers under them (that was a new tactic), my under armour hood, my warmest base layer, my fleece coat and hardshell (with pit zips closed, for the first time ever), liner gloves under my heavy mittens, and liner socks with heavy socks.

All in all, I was more ready for cold than I've ever been before.  The one mistake I made was that I forgot that I was going to wear my ski goggles (just for the wind), and was only reminded after I locked the door.  I didn't want to wake anyone up, so I just went without.

While I wish I'd had the goggles on, it was bearable without them.  My cheeks were a little chilled, but that was plenty manageable.

While my fingers weren't horribly cold, my toes did start getting cold, with the result that I shortened my (planned) 14-mile ride down to what ended up being only ten.  And yeah, that wind was brutal, when I was riding into it.

But on the hybrid, that was all an hour's ride, so I was still out there a pretty good length of time.

Thankfully, the snow didn't end up being much of an issue (though I have no regrets opting for the spiked tires).

Really, though, other than the cold, it wasn't bad.  There weren't any joggers, or any other bikers, and damned few cars.  So long stretches of the ride were almost completely quiet, which was really nice.  My one regret is that I didn't use my (off-brand, and unused) Bar-Mitts to try to keep my hands warm.  I wonder if I could have gone further with them.  I don't know if there's anything else I can do for my feet, however.  Will have to give that some further thought.

Today was a much harder ride, which mostly went well.  I did the huge hill on Walter Reed, above Shirlington, for the first time in a while.  I did well, but not as well as I'd hoped.  The hill up S 31st went a little bit worse, as well.  Couldn't maintain my cadence all the way up.  But I did have some very good stretches.

The one bit that was weird, and which I was a bit reluctant to try, was wearing the fleece and hardshell on a hard ride.  As expected, I got a bit sweaty from that, but not as much as I thought likely (it was only a degree or two warmer than yesterday, but didn't have as much wind).

The next two days, things get really challenging.  We're expecting 8-12 inches of snow tonight, with the temperature expected to be just below 20F when I'm riding.  I don't know if riding is even feasible in that much snow, but it's a certainty that almost none is melting (and the only reason even a little is likely to is that there's so much salt on the ground).

Anyway, I'll get the hybrid out and give it the old college try.  And I'll hopefully remember to try the Bar-Mitts.  And hopefully there will have been at least a tiny bit of plowing by the time I try.  It'll definitely be a hard ride, regardless of the plan.

And then there'll be another challenge the two days after.  First, we get single-digit temperatures again, and then we get negative single digits.  Not looking forward to that at all.  If the Bar-Mitts do well tomorrow, I'll use them in the super-cold temps, even if it means using the hybrid on cleared roads.  There's tough, and then there's stupid, and I know on which side of that line I want to be.

20150213

Who's that singing?

I mentioned My Singing Monsters earlier; I've been playing that a lot recently.  I discovered it through an ad in Crossy Road (which I discovered via ATP.  Also, when they compared notes on high scores, I was about 100 ahead of Siracusa, and have added another 80 or so since), and eventually tried it out.

The idea is that you can breed different monsters, all of which have different songs.  You can make buildings with the money they generate, which can help you to make more, and bigger, monsters.

It's all very cleverly set up, with five different elements and five islands.  Each of the islands supports four of the elements, and you can breed within those four elements.  Each monster has one to four of those elements in its make-up, and each breed sings a different part in that island's song.

And as you'd expect, you make bigger monsters by breeding together ones with some of the elements.

Each island also allows several weird combinations that can breed an ethereal monster, which has different characteristics, and can go to the ethereal island.  There, they can breed even more ethereal creatures.

The idea and execution really nice; excellent graphics and sound.  The game play is actually very much like Tiny Tower (which I haven't played in months; maybe even a year).  Having played TT previously helped, as I realized early on to conserve diamonds (the more valuable of the two currencies in the game.  You can easily waste them hurrying things up; don't!

Anyway, it's a fun game; I'd recommend giving it a try if you like resource-management games.

Ex Post facto Office?

When packages started arriving on Sunday, a little before Christmas, I wondered about it a little bit.  I was reminded, by a friend who works there, that they've done that before Christmas the last couple of years.  So I didn't think much more about it until I got a Sunday package (from Amazon) in January.

That had me curious, until I ran into this article about what's going on.

Essentially, they've signed an agreement with Amazon for special delivery.  Which sounds great, until you find out how that's being carried out.

Basically, there are two classes of deliverymen, the full career people and the non-career "assistants" (CCAs).  You can certainly see why they did this:
the USPS [is] being financially burdened by congressionally mandated pre-funding for retiree healthcare packages (paying 80 plus years in advance at 100% compensation —a burden no private company has had to nor could endure)
And I did already know about that.

The assistants (now; more details in that article) make about 2/3s what the career carriers do, which still isn't bad money.  However,
Before the Amazon reveal, CCAs in Greensboro were already working six days a week at roughly 8-10 hours worked per day. The work we perform is grueling and the days are long. We spend the entire workday combating weather extremes, making sense of unfamiliar routes, and dealing with management’s repeated calls to hurry things up while making our rounds.
With the Amazon deal, that's now seven days a week.  And that's harsh, to put it mildly.  I suspect they'll end up grinding those people down like dog food.  Twice minimum wage doesn't seem worth it if you have no time (that's a 60-80 hour workweek); at least not for long.  Half of your time at work, and (at least) a third of it sleeping and eating doesn't leave much room for living.

And there is another point in there at the end, suggesting that the USPS might be involved with wage fraud for the Sunday deliveries.  As one of the package receivers, that ain't worth it.  I can wait until Monday.

Riding through it all

The last three days have been something else, when it comes to riding.

Wednesday seemed great.  I went out and did my hill route again, and that largely went very well.  I ended up cutting it a little shorter than I'd planned, as my legs were starting to cramp up (calf cramps from exercise are an old and familiar problem for me, although this is the first time I've had it happen from biking).  I kind of wish I'd had a banana with me, for potassium, but as cold as it was (23-25F), the banana might well've been inedible by that point.

So I got home, parked the bike, and got the kids ready for school.  Just before getting the little ones into the car, I pulled my bike inside, and noticed two inward-pointing notches (for lack of a better term) in the front tire.  The completely deflated front tire.

Anyway, got the kids packed up, did some other things, finally got a chance to look at it again, a few hours later.  Took the tire half off, and looked at the tube.  Not terribly surprised to see a hole, except that I have no idea when it might have happened (especially as it was a big enough hole that I'd expect deflation to take less than a minute).

So I patched the hole and put the tire back on (I also checked the middle of the tire, and found a small hole there, although I didn't expect that to cause further issues).  I put the wheel back on, and inflated the tire.  Before I'd even gotten to the normal pressure, there was a loud pop.  Ugh.  Took it all off again and looked at the tube.  Now I had a new hole, opposite the first.  Patched that one.  Note to self: when patching a hole caused by a tire puncture, make sure not to flip the tube when re-installing (will have to think of how).

Fixed the other hole, reinstalled, reinflated.  Got to full pressure, but decided to re-inspect tire with everything installed.  Found another cut in the tire; this one on the side, and pretty big.  In fact, it looked like the tube was trying to bulge out of the hole.

Well, that was never going to work.  First serious bump, I'd pop the tube right at that spot.

So I took everything off, and put the Gatorskin tire back on (I'd been using Grand Prix 4000S II's for the last several weeks).  Second note to self: only use Gatorskins in winter, when cutting stuff can be hidden.

After all that, I was able to get ready for the next morning.  And it was relatively warm, being right at the freezing point.  The ride itself went smoothly, although I think something might've been wrong with the heart rate meter.  It was showing 10-20 bpm higher than usual for a given exertion level, and when I realized that I wasn't feeling anything like I normally do when I get above 125 or so, I decided to ignore it (two reasons to consider that: I knew I'd put it on upside down, which doesn't seem like it should matter, but who knows?  And I know the battery must be getting low).

Well, that all felt fine, even after I finished.  The heart rate indicator stayed very high, but my breathing was still easy, so I'm still not sure about the data.  The one factor I've figured out, since, is that I'm coming down with something, which might have pushed things higher.  No idea what other effects, if any, that would have.

Feeling sick, I went to bed very early (basically, right after the kids went to bed), and got up at the normal time.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to do anything, but I felt kind of decent.  And since I knew I wouldn't be going as far (not only was I not feeling well, but it was 10F outside), I took my time getting ready.

My Singing Monsters ads are double-effect this weekend, so that also slowed me down a bit (one of the sponsors is allowing almost-unlimited play of their ad.  I'd already been taking advantage of that).

But I did get out there, and actually felt pretty decent after the first minute or so.  So much so that I ended up riding quite a bit further than I'd planned.  In fact, I went as far as I've been going, recently, before turning around.  I knew I wouldn't take any of the detours that I normally take on the way back, but I still went six miles outbound.

Boy, did I get an eye-opener when I turned around.  I hadn't realized how much the wind had been pushing me.  Man, was it brutal on the way back.  I had my thumbs inside my mittens for most of the return trip, and was even making fists to warm my fingertips some of the time.

But other than my hands and my cheeks, a little, I was actually doing pretty well most of the way.  Being sick wasn't bothering me, and the cold was causing minimal problems.

Until I was a mile and a half, or so, from home.  Then I started feeling cold around my torso, so I hurried up, from there, to get home.  Timing-wise, that worked out fairly well, though it did make one hell of a (completely predictable) spike in my heart rate.  I hope that spike didn't ruin the efficacy of the ride, but I have no way of knowing.

All in all, though, I think it worked out about as well as it could have.  The Under Armour hood that I mentioned a few days ago arrived yesterday, so I was happy to wear it today.  And, as planned, I left the face-cover on it down.  It was great, although I might have welcomed wearing my ski goggles as well.  Anyway, I probably won't wear that all that often, but I am glad to have it.  Tomorrow's supposed to be around 20F, so I'll skip it, but the days after are supposed to be down to single digits.  I'll wear it then, possibly with the goggles.  I just hope the prediction of snow for tomorrow evening is off; I do not want to deal with snow at that temperature range.  Perhaps more to the point, I don't want to be riding my hybrid at that temperature.  We'll see.

20150210

Astrophotography

I'm certainly not big on astrophotography, but I was amused to hear, yesterday, that Nikon came out with a new model specifically for that.  It's a slight update to the D810 (called the... wait for it... D810a) that has slightly tuned sensor detection, and allows for longer programmed shutter intervals.

While I haven't really done any astrophotography, I'm certainly interested, so this caught my attention.  Especially once I heard about the shutter part.  I don't do a lot of exposures longer than 30s, but they do happen from time to time, and they're a pain on my D4.

Anyway, I probably won't buy one ($3700), but I'd like to.

It's cool that they have it, although it seems like a very small niche, so it surprises me that they're making it.  And I'm especially surprised they didn't introduce a special lens for it, although maybe the recently-introduced 55mm f/1.4 is that lens.

Easy rider




The last several days have gone pretty smoothly, on the bike.  Saturday was cold again, although not horribly so.  I put the mittens on and got out there for just over two hours, covering 26.6 miles (which is considerably less than I'm capable of, but was pretty good for a recovery ride).

I was very happy, as I managed to average over 100W on the ride.  That's a bit less than I'm aiming for (I'm trying for 120-130W on recovery rides), but is an improvement on the 93-98 I've done on my last several.  Even better, average heart rate 112, and max of 126.  Those are both wonderful numbers, for my purposes.

Plus, I managed to get the photo above.  Not fun, getting the camera out and setting up the tripod in 27F weather, but I'm pretty happy with the results.

Sunday actually did not go as well.  I turned on the RFLKT+ as usual, right before going out the door.  And just before getting on the bike, I hit the Start button on that.  Got the sound, as usual.  But the first time I looked for my power output, the screen was blank.  I tried turning it back on, and it did turn back on, but it couldn't find the phone again.  Battery too weak, I assume.

So I did the right without any feedback, which was a little annoying.  What was more annoying was getting home and finding that there was no data (beyond position and speed) saved.  No heart rate, cadence or power, even though both items connect directly to the phone via BTLE (bluetooth low energy).

So, while the ride didn't feel bad, I have no idea how good a job I did of sticking to my targets.

Monday, at least, went much better (after hanging the battery, of course).  I rode easily, got in almost fifteen miles (which is about my limit on weekdays), kept to a good speed (13.3 mph), good power (104W avg, 106W weighted), and kept my heart rate down (110/124, even better than Saturday, with only a couple seconds over 120).  All of which is just about ideal.

This morning was a little harder to say.  I wanted to do a hard ride, but it rained last night with the temperature, at ride time, right around freezing.  To handle the risk of ice, I rode the hybrid, so my only feedback was with heart rate.

I managed 10.4 mph and an average heart rate of 113, but it was a much choppier 113 than the 110 the day before.  And my heart rate was definitely spiked by some jackasses who felt the need to drive extremely close to me at high speeds (one of whom, in a fit of puerile pique, even floored it, squealing his tires, right as he got past me.  I wonder what he thought he'd proven, with that, but the light ahead didn't last quite long enough for me to ask).

Despite all that, it went much better than I'd expected.  And even though I never encountered any ice, I don't regret the decision of which bike to take.  Well, I sort of do, in retrospect, but I'd make the same decision again, knowing what I knew at the start.