Running Commentary 1/11/2021

Running Commentary 1/11/2021

Hello,

Hello,

I had a thought, this week, about snow clearing and the economics of scale. At certain depths, snowfall becomes easier to clear from walks and driveways, because it becomes worth using a snowblower.

Anyway…

Bird of the Week

Our bird this week is a fixture of the marshes of western North America. Look for them among cattails. They’re generally easy to spot: just look for a mid-sized black bird with a yellow head. (If its wings are white, you’re looking at a bobolink from behind.)

The bright golden heads of the males have made a real impression on taxonomists. Obviously, its common name is about as straightforward as names get, but its binomial name is Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus. “Xantho cephalus” being Greek for, what else, “yellow head”. We can thank C. L. Bonaparte for that. He was Napoleon’s nephew, another of those European men of science who moved to America in the early 1800s to see all the new birds. In total, he named over 200 species.

Even the family name for New World blackbirds, Icteridae, references yellow. It means “jaundiced ones”, a reference to the fact that not only the Yellow-headed Blackbird but also other family members (the Red-Winged Blackbird, the Bobolink, the Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, the Cacique, the various orioles) featured yellow plumage.

BattleBots

After a very impressive first fight, Claw Viper lost to Black Dragon. High speed is only as good as your steering; Claw Viper started the fight by flying across the box and into the opposite wall, which gave Black Dragon a big opportunity to deliver a full-powered strike, which seemed to break something important as Claw Viper steadily lost drive capability and caught on fire.

Quick decapitation of Ghost Raptor by Jackpot, followed just as quickly by a general dismemberment. So far, Jackpot is $4000 well spent. Say what you will about Chuck Pitzer coming out of retirement and maybe not being up to fighting the modern state of bots, but Ghost Raptor really did not do well in the last season it competed, and generally is not a durable bot.

Sub-Zero was introduced as “The Fridge of Sacrilege”, which was weak, even for Faruq. Our bot design lesson of the week is You’re not driving in the mud or snow, so don’t have studded tires. I understand that Grabot didn’t spend much time on the ground, but when it did, it struggled to get traction.

Hydra tried quite a stunt with its cow-catcher strut against Huge, and it paid off in our controversial judges’ decision of the night. This one, even more so than Beta’s win, I think will lead to a rule change against super-defensive strategy. There’s apparently going to be a change penalizing willfully not using your main weapon. I would suggest a change to the definition of “pin” as well, to include instances like when Hydra parked around Huge without touching it and that time in the 2018 season when Warrior Dragon blocked Chomp from self-righting.

The Ewarts continued to have a great night with Reese Ewart and Fusion defeating Aegis, though that wasn’t super impressive considering Aegis was made out of kevlar board. That’s your bonus bot design tip: Make your bot out of metal or at least some sort of resilient polymer or ceramic not really expensive cardboard I mean honestly. Aegis is bad.

The one Aegis team member’s helmet was funny, though.

Lock-Jaw had major problems in its fight against Big Dill, but even with some wonky wheel issues and being flipped over, Donald Hutson was able to drive to victory. Good driving matters.

Our main event was Kraken vs. Witch Doctor. As much as I’ve said I find Witch Doctor over-rated, Kraken is just bad, so I picked Witch Doctor as the winner ahead of the match. Kraken performed probably the best they ever did, delivering meaningful damage in a way I’ve never seen. Congratulations to Matthew Spurk and the team on a match well won.

Why Grocery Shopping is on its Way Out | Corey Mintz, The Walrus

A history of the supermarket, and predictions on the changes to come to the way we acquire food in the digital age.

Kellogg v. Kellogg | Charlie Herman, Julia Press, Sarah Wyman, Brought to you By…

[AUDIO] An interview with Prof. Howard Markel, of the University of Michigan, about Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, his much put-upon younger brother William, and the origins of cold cereal. Markel has written a book on the subject.

Why is there a Bucatini Shortage in America? | Rachel Handler, Grub Street

An investigation into a journalist’s preferred long pasta reveals the intricacies of FDA approval processes, especially as they have been bent by pasta makers to their own ends.

Amazon still hasn’t fixed its problem with bait-and-switch reviews | Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica

Timothy B. Lee, looking for an inexpensive flying toy to give as a Christmas present, found one online with glowing five-star ratings. But after the toy failed to live up to expectations, he found those reviews were for…honey!?
An examination into the practice of switching what is sold on an Amazon listing to boost bad products with the reviews of good products.