A Running Commentary 8/2/2021

A Running Commentary 8/2/2021

Hello,

I'm in the middle of writing too many different things as it is, and I can't figure out a good way to start this newsletter off.

Anyway...

Watching...

The Olympic Games

Gymnastics

This week's big story was gymnast Simone Biles dropping out of competition in the middle of the women's team gymnastics event. A great deal has already been written about that, certainly, but here are my thoughts anyway:

Biles is, at her best, the top gymnast currently competing, to the point she's been asked to pull punches, as it were, when planning out the tricks she'll attempt in competition, so that less gifted gymnasts don't try feats beyond their ability and injure themselves. But "at her best" is an important caveat. No one is at their best all the time. Sometimes off-peak performance comes after a lapse in practice. It inevitably comes with age in most sports, and especially early in gymnastics. But sometimes it comes out of nowhere, for no readily apparent reason.

In considering Biles, I draw from my own experience. I am not a gymnast. I am, arguably, not as good at anything as Biles is at gymnastics. But I do have my own talents; I am, through years of practice, pretty good at drawing, particularly at drawing birds. Even still, there are times, more than a few, when I set out to draw a bird, and I can't, at least not well. For instance, go back to the March 22nd, 2021 edition of A Running Commentary, which featured the Common Grackle as the Bird of the Week. That drawing of a grackle is, and hopefully shall always remain, the worst drawing I've featured. Compare it with this week's bird, or any of those I've featured in recent weeks, and you'll see for yourself that that grackle just isn't up to my regular standards. The details are smeared and indistinct. The proportions are off. The colors are a bit too bright overall. And I can't really say why. I wasn't trying to draw an unfamiliar bird, and I wasn't trying out unfamiliar techniques. I just forgot how to draw that day, as I've forgotten how to draw on many other occasions when I didn't even finish the piece.

Something similar happens to everyone who's good at something, when the unconscious, memorized skills their talent is built on seem to suddenly disappear. In gymnastics, as I understand, this has its own name: the Twisties. A gymnast with the Twisties loses their muscle memory and sense of up-and-down in the air. They hope this doesn't come on during a competition, but it can be brought on by mental pressure, so sometimes that will happen. Biles with the Twisties became one of those less gifted gymnasts that couldn't do her routine without injuring themselves, essentially. So she withdrew.

Did she let her team down? Yeah. They were counting on Biles-at-her-best to help them win gold, and Biles-at-her-best didn't show up, and the team took silver as a pretty direct result. But that wasn't a matter of her hanging the team out to dry on purpose, so it's hardly fair to hold it against her personally. Biles showed up, just not at her best. No one is at their best all the time.

Actually, this all brings up the question of why there even is a team competition in gymnastics. It's not a team sport, and tying competitors' chances at winning to each other's performances like that seems like a source of un-needed stress, now that I think about it.

Handball

I came across this sport somewhat randomly. It seems like soccer played in a basketball court and with no rules. I checked, and it does actually have some rules: you can't hold the ball for more than 3 seconds, and you can't enter the marked region around the goal unless you're the goalkeeper. There are fouls, but they seemed a lot less strictly enforced than they are in basketball. I'm curious how it's less popular than other, very similar sports; there's probably a good story there.

Cycling

If you've been clicking past the "cycling" section while watching Olympics on-demand (if, indeed, you've been able to get that far. I understand NBC has dropped the ball a bit in this aspect.) thinking it would be all long-haul, Tour de France-type affairs, you've been missing out on some really exciting competition. In addition to the typical road races there are mountain biking races and BMX races and style competitions (that last of which Michigander Hannah Roberts delivered a great performance in.)

The Bad Batch

Infested

Image from StarWars.com
  • This episode didn't seem to have much to do with the story of the show going forward, unless Roland Durand is set to have a bigger role later. It's not a bad episode, but it feels like filler.
  • I checked if the actor who voiced Roland was anybody. His name is Tom Taylorson, who seems to be a busy voice actor. His biggest role seems to be as the player character's brother in Mass Effect: Andromeda. I'm not sure if that gets him on The List or not.
  • This episode is perhaps the first example of an action sequence on mine railcars that didn't turn into a roller coaster at some point.

War-Mantle

Image from StarWars.com

moves a lot forward in the over-arching story of the show. We get more about Kamino, the transition from clone troopers to stormtroopers, and see more of Crosshair.

  • This show can be pretty when it wants to be. I wonder if different episodes have different animation teams for their environments. That could explain things.
  • I'm not sure if the TK's are in some intermediary armor version between the Clone Wars Phase 2 and Stormtrooper gear, or if they're in special trainee armor.
  • I'm sorry to say I did not recognize Gregor's serial number. I'm not sure if I was supposed to.
  • It's weird to see commandos in all-white armor. I can see the Empire making them adhere closer to uniform standards, but Scorch still had his gray-and-yellow paint job.
  • There are two episodes left in the season. With Hunter captured, I'm thinking rescuing him will be a two-part finale.

Eating...

It's August now, which makes it the tail end of the blueberry season here in Michigan. Blueberries are a big thing here; we were the top producer among the 50 states for a long while, but, recently, they've become more popular, which got states with longer growing seasons, like Georgia and California, growing them. We're usually third in production nowadays.

Blueberries are my favorite fruit. They aren't the best tasting; if it were purely a matter of taste, my favorite would probably be kiwifruit. But blueberries combine a pretty good taste with a really convenient form factor. You don't need to peel, slice, core, pit, de-leaf, or otherwise eat only specific parts of blueberries. Just give them a rinse and eat them whole.

But I can't just say "eat blueberries they're good" and leave it at that. Here's a recipe for blueberry pie, which is, you'll remember, the third-best pie:

Prep Time: 1 hour

Makes: One 9-inch pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup, firmly-packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 piecrusts (refrigerated)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Preparation:

  1. Combine first 7 ingredients, tossing gently to get the blueberries coated in a generally even mix of everything else.
  2. Fit 1 pie crust into 9-inch pie-plate. If you know how to make your own piecrust, go for it. Otherwise, just buy some of the standard sized ones. They come two to a box.
  3. Spoon blueberry mixture into pie crust. It won't look like it will fit, but it will.
  4. Roll the other pie crust into 1/8 inch thickness; cut into six 2 1/2 inch wide strips
  5. Arrange strips in a lattice design over filling; fold edges under and crimp
  6. Brush pastry with milk; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sugar
  7. Bake at 400 F for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden, shielding edges with strips of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning during last 20 minutes of browning
  8. Allow the pie to cool completely before cutting into it! There are a lot of chemical processes going on in the filling still when it comes out of the oven. If you start cutting into the pie when it's still warm, the filling will run like thin soup, and will never set up. Cooling will take at least a few hours, but it's a critical final step.
  9. Serve with ice cream.
https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/secure.notion-static.com/6ae206f1-c0a4-4347-8547-ce0d489c2455/Maleo.png

Bird of the Week

After a month of birds that can be found in Michigan, we're traveling to the other side of the world, to Indonesia. The maleo is a large fowl that can be found in the lowland forests of Sulawesi (that's the island northeast of Bali that looks like a stylized letter K.) They are megapodes, members of a family within the order Galliformes noted for their large, powerful feet. They can be immediately recognized by their distinctive black-and-peach coloring, their vertical, fan-shaped tail, and bald, knobbed head. They are omnivorous eaters, feeding on anything sufficiently bite-sized. They are, in turn, prey to the large reptiles also found on Sulawesi.

Megapodes differ from other birds in the sense that they do not incubate their eggs by sitting on them. Instead, they bury them. Maleos particularly are notable for burying their eggs in the hot sand around Sulawesi's volcanos, then leaving their young to the warmth of the nearby magma. Chicks kick their way out of their shells using their feet (rather than their beaks, as many other birds do) and emerge from the sand comparatively fully developed. They never meet their parents.

Maleo eggs, though illegal to sell or consume in Indonesia, are considered a delicacy among the people of Sulawesi. Egg poaching and the loss of good nesting areas have hurt maleo numbers; the ICUN lists them as endangered, with less than 15,000 mature maleos alive at last count.

Their binomial is Macrocephalon maleo. The species name, like the common name, comes from the local term mĕleo. The genus name means "large-headed". The maleo is the only species in Macrocephalon.


Ancient Rome's Fight Club | Andrew Curry, National Geographic

In the cover story for National Geographic's  August 2021 issue, Curry dives into what we really know of ancient gladiators. Contrary to some modern depictions, gladiators were rarely killed, and were less often captive soldiers than professional athletes.

What Is Killing Wisconsin's Bald Eagles? | Rachel Nuwer, Audubon Magazine

An investigation into Wisconsin River Eagle Syndrome, a mysterious phenomenon leading to the deaths of bald eagles over the past several decades. The syndrome appears to be abating, but its root cause remains unclear.

The Dimmer Switch | Sarah Scoles, Popular Science

The story of Wet Mountain Valley, a community in rural Colorado committed to eliminating local light pollution.

The Myth of Panic | Tanner Greer, Palladium

An argument that honesty is the best policy, even in public emergency announcements.

The people must be trusted with fear, and the governing class must be comfortable with leadership during times of crisis. Fear is an unpleasant emotion— but at times, a useful one. Fear lends urgency to action. Fear forces the afraid to focus on that which matters. This is the great lesson of the 2020 coronavirus: We should have been allowed to fear. Alas, our leaders feared our fear more than they feared our deaths. The world bears the consequences of this stark faith in the myth of panic.

Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police | Andrew Curry, WIRED

As the Berlin Wall fell, the East German Stasi had one overriding mission: destroy all evidence of their surveillance state. Only 5% of the massive trove of documentation of actual and potential dissidents was destroyed before the citizenry seized it, but there are still those trying to recover this data, using pattern-recognition software to piece back together papers torn apart by hand after the shredders burned out.

Dentist’s Chair: For Practicality, Comfort, or Spectacle? | Olivia Armandroff, Journal of Design History

A history of one of the more specific pieces of furniture out there. The story of the dentist chair mirrors that of dentists themselves, ordinary chairs at home giving way to ornate thrones taken on the road giving way to mass-produced mechanized seats in dedicated offices.