Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wildlife in suburbia


Suburbia .... I gather that it's considered much cooler to live in an urban environment, where you can walk to coffee shops and food carts, ride your bike to work, and all that. Meanwhile, suburbia is the land of SUVs and 2.5 kids.

But apart from the livability advantages that suburbs can offer for families with kids (yards, parking, generally strong public elementary schools), they are also aesthetically pleasing in the Pacific Northwest.

This is especially true where I live. The development touched as little of the native trees and environment as possible, so it looks nothing like the hideous display in the nearby picture. I basically live on the edge of a natural forest. And it's a forest that teems with wildlife, and wildlife being wild, we get visits from North American critters - sometimes even in our backyard!

For all I know, we have snakes in our grass, but they wouldn't be easy to spot. I do see them occasionally when I go running, though.

Enjoying the sunshine
So hot even the snake had to shed its skin

I've also seen a coyote on a run, but when I followed it a bit to try to take a closer picture, it scurried away into the forest, so I can't show you what it looked like. But we see them once in a while. Another time, a coyote scampered across our backyard. My wife was mildly concerned, my dad thought it looked beautiful, and I thought it was immensely cool that we had a coyote in our backyard.

Raccoons, too. This one popped out at night:

"You looking at me?"

Deer, of course, are quite common in North American forests. Like coyotes, they seem quite adaptable to human civilization.

Seen while running

I came across the two little guys (girls?) in the picture below earlier this afternoon. I pulled into the driveway and thought I saw a dog in our sideyard. When I got out to examine, I saw that there were two deer calves, smaller than a full grown retriever. They ran behind the bush to hide from me. I managed to get this picture with a full zoom on my smartphone a full moments later.

"Where's Mommy?"

Despite my backing away and leaving them plenty of room, they wouldn't leave that corner. So I went inside and was prepared to open the gate from the backyard, because I know that deer sometimes cross from our backyard to other yards. When I opened the back door, I saw why the calves were hanging around:

"Come here, babies!"

I am still not sure how Mommy Deer ended up in our backyard separated from her calves. The wooden fence is 6 feet high, so I don't think the calves could jump it, but I'm not an expert. Anyway, I wanted to open the gate so the family could be reunited, but I didn't want to get charged by the mom, and I was worried about scaring the calves ... or being bitten by them. After consulting with my neighbor, I slowly approached the gate from the front side, carefully watching the calves to make sure they stayed behind the bush of safety. I pushed the gate wide open and backed away cautiously. When I was far away, one calf tentatively went through the opening, and then the other.

To be clear, I'm not knocking the urban lifestyle. It has its appeal, and I'm sure there are people who love it. But suburbia has its benefits too, including - at least in my situation - a good dose of wildlife.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Would Ichiro have been the "Hit King" if he'd started his career in MLB?

Image result for ichiro
Ichiro Suzuki got his 2978th hit in Major League Baseball last night, which combined with the 1278 he had from the Japanese League before coming to the U.S. in 2001, gives him 4256. That happens to match Pete Rose's career total. None too pleased, Rose had this to say:
I don't think you're going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to Major League Baseball. There are too many guys that fail here and then become household names there, like Tuffy Rhodes. How can he not do anything here and hit [a record-tying] 55 home runs [in 2001] over there? It has something to do with the caliber of personnel.
I don't disagree with Rose that it makes little sense to count Ichiro's hits in Japan as being equivalent to MLB hits. But the interesting question is, what would Ichiro's MLB hit total be if he had started his career in the U.S.?

Ichiro debuted in Japan as an 18-year-old, but I don't think we can assume that he would have reached the major leagues at that age. Or, if he had, that he would have had success right away. Alex Rodriguez came up to the major leagues at age 18, and hit .204/.241/.204 in 17 games. The next year, he hit .232/.264/.408. And then he exploded into a near MVP season at age 20.

Ken Griffey Jr. arrived in the major leagues at age 19 and hit .264/.329/.420. And then he too became a superstar the next year.

Like Griffey, Mike Trout came up at age 19. He hit .220/.281/.390. He's been the best player in baseball since then.

Bryce Harper, who rivals Trout as the best player in the game today, came up at age 19 and hit .270/.340/.477 - a decent year but far from superstar status. His next two seasons were pretty similar. Then, at age 22, he won the MVP.

Now, I'm not saying Ichiro was as good at his peak as those guys, but it's not unreasonable to think that he could have reached his peak at his kind of game (lots of ABs with a ton of singles and some extra base power) fairly quickly, say somewhere between ages 20 to 22.

If you take the 217 hits/year that he averaged as a full-time player with Seattle from 2001 to 2012, and use that as the baseline, then the five years from 22 to 27 would give him 1085 more MLB hits, plus whatever he might have amassed in earlier formative years. If you start at age 21, he would have 1302 more MLB hits.

So he'd be somewhere around the missing 1278 hits between him and Rose, either above a little, or short by a couple of hundred.

But here's the thing: of Rose's 4256 hits, at least 159 of them are pretty illegitimate. In his last two years, Rose hit .264/.3195/.319 and .219/316/.270. While playing a power position, first base. In that last year, he ranked 18th in the team in OPS, behind two pitchers and every position player who played more than 12 games, except the shortstop. It's not like Cincinnati didn't have good players who could have played first base over Rose - Kal Daniels only got 200 at bats despite leading the team in OPS.

Why did Rose suck up so many precious at bats? Who in their right mind would have started Rose?

Well, um, Pete Rose did. He was a player-manager for those two years, so he started himself in all those games, because he was chasing the hit record. It's one thing if a team decides to start a legendary player to see if he can reach some record. It's another if the player himself gets to start himself.

Without those 159 hits, and even with a relatively late MLB arrival age of 22, Ichiro would be within striking distance of Rose's "earned" hit total.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Resisting the cult of the new

About a year and a half ago, my wife gave me a Garmin Forerunner 220 for my birthday. Before that, I had just relied on Runkeeper on my smartphone (which necessitated getting a new smartphone when my Galaxy Nexus's GPS started to become erratic and unreliable). Once I experienced the advantages of a GPS watch -- much faster GPS lock, more accurate tracking -- I was sold. I've been super-satisfied with the 220.

Today, I took my dad to Road Runner Sports to look at GPS watches. For his purposes, Runkeeper would be perfectly adequate, but he doesn't want to run with a phone. We looked at the Forerunner 25, 230, and 235, and then I came home to do some research -- i.e., reading DC Rainmaker's reviews. It didn't take long to determine that the 25 would be the most cost-effective option for my dad. (He mostly runs laps at a non-standard track at the local elementary school.) I don't think he would use the fancier features on the 230/235.

However, as I read DC Rainmaker's review of those higher-end watches, I started thinking, hey, those sound like pretty cool features.... I use my Galaxy S5's step counting app, but it would be nice not to be tethered constantly to it, which the 230 or 235 would allow with their activity trackers. (That recent study about cellphones and cancer seems pretty questionable, as this column argues, but it wouldn't hurt to be cautious.) And the 235 has a heart rate monitor based on the wrist pulse, meaning no need for an uncomfortable chest strap.

I began to toy with the idea of offering my 220 to my dad (clearing all the settings, of course), and then getting a 235 for myself.

"Hey, wasn't that a present from Mommy?" my pre-teen son asked.

"Um, yeah," I answered sheepishly.

My wife was non-plussed. (She's so awesome!) "Go ahead and get it if you like," she said.

I got maybe 75 percent of the way toward pulling the trigger by ordering from Amazon, but I read some more reviews/comparisons. The third post in this thread from Let's Run included the following suggestion:

The GPS function of the 230 and 235 are both spot on, so tracking your run is fine. between the two I would get the 230. Less S*** to fail on you. better yet, save money, buy a Forerunner 220 (best running watch by Garmin currently in my opinion)
That threw some cold water on my idea. I did some more reading and it seems that the optical reader in the 235 is pretty new technology, and hence good but not great at picking up the HR. It would make more sense to wait for Garmin to work out all the kinks before adopting it.

The thrill of getting something new faded, and I told my dad that I thought the Forerunner 25 was the best choice for him. If/when my 220 dies, I'll upgrade, but until then, I'll stick with old reliable.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ranking the seasons of "24" (in anticipation of "24: Legacy"

I can't wait for the 2017 Super Bowl to be over. Not because I dislike football; I feel guilty about how much I like watching the concussion-inducing sport. It's just that when the Super Bowl ends, "24" returns.

Okay, Jack Bauer is not going to be back, not yet. In the meantime, while I reminisce about the past nine seasons, here's how I rank them. Obviously, chock full of spoilers:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The five best episodes of each of the "Star Trek" series (imho)

Image result for star trek

A good friend of mine (in real life and on Facebook) made an interesting and provocative assertion, namely, that every incarnation of "Star Trek" has been worse than the previous series. I responded that I didn't think the original series (TOS) could be compared to the others, because its production values, tone, and acting were so different; and that I agreed with the assertion as to the offspring except that I believed that "Deep Space Nine" (DS9) was superior to its predecessor. Naturally, this being Facebook, a time-sucking argument ensued.

I didn't want to attack TOS, but when push came to shove, I resorted to pointing out all the dreck from the third season - episodes like Spock's Brain, The Mark of Gideon, and The Cloud Miners, among others. My friend defended even these atrocities, noting that they were memorable. Apart from the general awfulness, I remembered not very much about Spock's Brain - and it turned out that the line that I thought I remembered wasn't even in the shooting script! That episode was so bad, I was inventing better dialogue for it....

Anyway, my friend then asserted that the best episodes of TOS were better than the best episodes of the other series. "Best" is going to be subjective, of course, but I decided to come up with my list of the five best episodes from each of the series.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" and the Bechdel test

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" is my favorite scripted TV show that's currently airing. (Perhaps Fox's "24: Legacy" will take that spot when it debuts in the next TV season.)

I don't think it's ever quite matched the sense of wonderment that it engendered in the first season, although the Peter Pan arc in season 3 was very good. It's gotten darker in recent seasons, which is generally good as far as I'm concerned, but "OUaT" has done it unevenly. For reasons I can't quite fathom, the male antagonists have been much more interesting than the female ones, which is quite surprising considering how much the female protagonists drive the show.

Apart from Rumplestiltskin and maybe Killian/Captain Hook, most of the male characters are either dull (David Nolan/Prince Charming, Robin Hood) or plot devices (Henry). However, there is a cornucopia of strong women who light up the screen and get things done: Emma Swan, Regina/Evil Queen, Mary-Margaret/Snow White, and even secondary characters like Mulan and Ruby/Red Riding Hood.

This is a show that easily aces the Bechdel test:
  1. The [show] has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man
There are entire scenes in this show in which the only speaking characters are female, and they are not talking about a man. (Okay, in some of those scenes, especially from the first season, Emma and Regina are squabbling over a male, but that is their son Henry - Emma's by birth, Regina's by adoption. I suppose that may be a technical violation of the Bechdel test, but they are defined in their relationship to Henry by motherhood, not romance.)

Indeed, a recent episode [SPOILERS for the episode "Ruby Slippers" OAD 4/24/16] involved the backstory of how Red and Dorothy Gale met, with no discussion of men at all, because the episode culminated in the two women declaring their love for each other.

Other continuing arcs/relationships involving just women include the sibling rivalry between Regina and Zelena/Wicked Witch; the even more complicated triumvirate of Regina, Zelena, and their mother Cora/Queen of Hearts; Regina's and Snow's rivalry for dominance of the Enchanted Forest; Elsa's and Anna's sisterhood (ABC is owned by Disney); the trio of villainesses Cruella De Vil, Ursula, and Maleficient and their plan to take over Storybrooke; and others. About the only major female character who is defined primarily by her connection to a male character is Belle (who is Beauty to Rumple's Beast).

Monday, December 14, 2015

Random thoughts about fall 2015 TV shows

Most of my current TV shows are entering hiatus, having aired their winter finales. I've got questions about them. [SPOILERS AHEAD for "Grimm," "Supergirl," "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD," and "Once Upon a Time."]

- On "Grimm," there is a mayoral candidate who's been on the City Council for the past 8 years, and claims his district is #1 in terms of job growth. Considering that "Grimm" is not just set in Portland but also filmed here, you would think the writers would've been able to figure out that Portland elects its city councilmembers at-large, not by district.

- I get that Supergirl is largely invulnerable because of her Kryptonian background and something about the sun's yellow radiation, but her costume is made from Terran materials. When she steps in front of an out-of-control train and uses herself to slow it down, how do her boots not get eroded to nothing by friction?

- One of the results of watching as much TV as I do is that I start recognizing potential twists because, at a meta-level, it's what would be surprising. In "Agents of SHIELD," the Hydra sleeper Grant Ward takes nerd Fitz and some Hydra redshirts to the alien planet via the black monolith portal, in an effort to grab the alien god or something. Fitz's unrequited love Simmons spent several years on the alien planet, surviving only because of the presence of stranded human astronaut Will, with whom she fell in love. Fitz finds the astronaut's underground home, tries to escape from Ward, but ends up getting himself and Will captured. Hmm, I thought, I wonder if that's really the astronaut ... or if he's the alien god? Sure enough, "Will" turned out to be just a shell, with the real human having been killed covering Simmons' previous escape. And when Fitz "killed" the body with a flaregun, we later saw a silvery substance slither out of the charred remains - all of which reminded me of the black oil from "The X-Files" and the body-stealing alien from the underrated sci-fi horror flick The Hidden.

- In the resolution to "Once Upon a Time's" "Dark Swan" arc, Emma gets freed of the darkness when Captain Hook sacrifices himself to stop the revived Dark Ones, by sucking them into the sword Excalibur, which he then begs Emma to use to kill him. She does, but only later does she learn that Rumplestiltskin charmed the sword to become a conduit, rather than a vacuum, so that all of the darkness flowed into him, reinvigorating him as an uber-Dark One. Emma forces him to help her open a portal to the Underworld so she can rescue Hook; he agrees to do so because she threatened to reveal his treachery to his love Belle. All fine and well, but in the next scene, it's not just Emma and Rumple at the river Styx. Snow White, Charming, Regina, Robin Hood, and Henry are all there! Now, first of all, why oh why would you bring Henry on a journey to the freaking underworld?!? But more importantly, how does Emma explain to the others that Rumple can open a portal to the underworld? Doesn't this mean the others also know that he's back to being the Dark One?

UPDATE (12/15): Is Kara Danvers' (aka Supergirl) catty boss Cat Grant the smartest human ever in comic book TV history? I realize that Kara puts on glasses and ties her hair back in the ponytail to "disguise" herself, so it's a good thing she doesn't give in to vanity to get contact lenses. But Cat notices some interesting coincidences, corners Kara, and asks her to take her glasses off.... Wow, someone in a comic book show actually figured out a superhero's identity by, you know, observing things!