Running Commentary 5/1/2023
10 min read

Running Commentary 5/1/2023

The Mandalorian (Season 3 Finale), BattleBots (S7E14,15), The Toaster Project, Sungrebe


Sorry to have missed last week's newsletter; some things came up and I just didn't have the time to write it. Even this week, I'm holding off on giving my thoughts on the new Warframe update (although, in short, I find Duviri fun but still very buggy in mission-ending ways). I do not anticipate any further delays in the near future.



Still from @TheMandalorian on Twitter

The Mandalorian

The season wraps up a lot more conclusively than I thought it would, and it was all the better for it. Here are my notes:

  • Sort of a lot happened in a short episode, but then again, not really. The finale was mostly action scenes; they were good action scenes, but still, it was mostly action scenes. Beyond the final (?) defeat of Moff Gideon, not a whole lot happened. And yet, a lot of things of consequence did happen: Moff Gideon was defeated, the Mandalorians retook their homeworld, the Darksaber was destroyed, and Din Djarin officially adopted Grogu. That all feels like it ought to have taken more time, but I don't feel like any scene should have been longer.
  • There was no traitor in the Mandalorian ranks. That's honestly what I was hoping for. I get that some sort of twist made sense by the usual rules of screenwriting, but a traitor would have undercut the season's theme of restored Mandalorian unity.
  • Grogu lost his mech suit, right as the charm of it started to wear off. Favreau has his timing down, that's for sure.
  • So, apparently, Din Djarin's surname is Din, since Grogu becomes Din Grogu upon his adoption. Most Mandalorians, actually all the others we've seen, have their surname last, but I suppose Djarin's people, his family who were killed by the Separatists before the Death Watch took him in, must have done it the other way.
  • Again, this season wrapped up a lot more conclusively than I thought it would. Jon Favreau called this season a "middle chapter", and I suppose it still could be, but I was expecting some sort of cliffhanger ending. I was also expecting an appearance from Thrawn, leading into Ahsoka. Instead, the finale just wrapped up the storylines started earlier in the season. If there's one thin I can say I liked about Season 3 over Season 2, it's that the show was about what it was about, not about setting up other shows or other stories. The finale exemplified that, even if I did really want to get a look at Thrawn.
  • I did appreciate that, despite having a lot of fans hoping that the Covert would somehow abandon the Way of Mandalore to modernize by the end, not only did they not do that, but the (more relatable to outsiders) traditions of mainline Mandalorians were somewhat destroyed with the Darksaber.
Minotaur v Witch Doctor | Still from


The final fights of the qualifying season aired over the last two weeks, and we now have the bracket for the tournament. Let's look at the fights and at my bracket:

  • HUGE v STARCHILD - Huge took its fourth win against the other big-wheel bot. This fight was fun, but not Huge's most impressive performance this season. Huge struggled in not being able to reach over its opponent for once, and Starchild showed surprising durability. It was thoroughly trashed in the end, but it did technically last the full three minutes. I don't expect we'll see any more of Starchild; it might be great in the lower weight classes, but it just wasn't ready for the BattleBox.
  • SHATTER v OMINOUS - Shatter takes a much-needed win in a fight that was really frustrating to watch. I think the fad of omni-wheels might be short-lived given how much the arena floor really isn't even and flat in many places. Shatter makes it to the tournament but has to face Riptide first.
  • TRITON v HORIZON - Even with its huge blade, Triton struggled to reach Horizon's center. This seemed to be as much because of drive control issues as because of Horizon's arms blocking it. This fight was pretty awkward, and neither bot is in the tournament.
  • BETA v BLOODSPORT - Beta's severely sloped armor really didn't give Bloodsport's blade a chance here, and Bloodsport's full-diameter disk spinner didn't give Beta's hammer a chance either. But Beta was able to stay aggressive and maintain control of the fight throughout, so they deserved the win. Beta's been quite good this season, probably the best they've ever been. Bloodsport, by contrast, hasn't been quite the terror this year that they have been in past years. Both are moving on to the tournament.
  • MAMMOTH v KRAKEN - Mammoth performed really well in this fight, albeit against an opponent that's had a pretty poor showing this season. I will say that I'm glad to see Matt Spurk is still running the original Kraken as part of the untelevised exhibition match live shows. I haven't mentioned those yet but I'll take the time now to say that I think the live shows are a great idea. I know that other off-TV events have always been a thing in robot combat but having a consistent place where bots can fight in the actual BattleBox without it affecting their ranking and without the pressures of TV production will be good for the sport, so long as lots of different bots have the opportunity to participate.
  • VALKYRIE v GLITCH - I don't think any bot has fallen off harder and quicker than Glitch. Once again, it just couldn't seem to get any traction and was unable to move. Even last year, it struggled to drive, mostly winning after a single solid shot delivered. Valkyrie isn't a great bot, but they were able to get free hits all fight. Last year mechanical failures in the pits left Glitch unable to participate in the tournament. This year, it's not even invited. (Neither is Valkyrie).
  • RIPTIDE v BLACK DRAGON - Black Dragon's no-knockout streak came to an end just shy of matching Bite Force's record. Black Dragon is built for durability, with padded, compartmentalized internals that the show let us see in an all-to-rare look in the pits. Riptide, however, hits harder than even Black Dragon can take. Riptide earns the #2 seed in the tournament, and it's hard to imagine any other bot taking a direct hit from it and coming back to win.
  • COBALT v LUCKY - Cobalt took an easy win, ripping into Lucky's aluminum belly and rupturing its pneumatic charge. Cobalt's design is a little awkward and dependent on getting under its opponent, otherwise it would probably be my pick to win the tournament.
  • BLIP v BANSHEE - Blip made a weird call to bolt an aluminum block onto the end of their flipper. It didn't cost them the match, but it hindered their ability to get under Banshee, taking fully half the fight to start flipping Banshee. Fortunately for them, Banshee didn't get any flips in. Blip is in the tournament, though its first match-up is a tough one against Sawblaze.
  • MONSOON v DEATHROLL - Monsoon did really well here, knocking Deathroll out quickly. Both bots have moved on to the tournament, but both are up against some real top-tier bots in their first fights.
  • WHIPLASH v TANTRUM - Whiplash ended a pretty weak season with a really strong victory over the reigning champion. Tantrum really needs to find a way to protect their self-righter before the tournament.
  • SWITCHBACK v HIJINX - Switchback isn't the most agile or limber bot, but when it hits, it hits hard. Hijinx broke in the most spectacular knockout of the night, which is something considering that Lucky suffered an actual explosion. Jen Herchenroeder and Gary Gin make up a group of "Bot Builders Who Ought to Know Better", veteran BattleBots contestants whose bots are unexpectedly poor in design. I suppose it might be a desire to be unique. Switchback advances to the tournament, but I don't see it getting very far in.
  • DOUBLE TAP v SLAMMO - An exhibition fight so unengaging that the show cut away to talking about rankings of other bots for a bit. Obviously, neither bot went to the tournament.
  • MINOTAUR v WITCH DOCTOR - This was the fight to pick the top seed, and a rematch of a really controversial result from last year that is reportedly the impetus for this year's attempt to leave crab-walking bots be. This time around it was still a close match, but Minotaur won out, taking the top seed.

And now to the bracket: the picks seem basically fair. I do think Witch Doctor is seeded higher than it deserves, considering that it didn't have a particularly hard field of competition this year, but generally, I think the bracket makes sense. I don't think that any of the 2-2 bots that got left out (Mammoth, Shreddit Bro, Triton, and Valkyrie) had much of a chance at the nut. I'm also clearly in agreement with the top two seeds.

There are, of course, a few matches I'm not certain about (Switchback v Malice and Copperhead v Rotator are basically toss-ups in my mind) but I feel pretty confident that the final match will be between Minotaur and Riptide. We'll have to see how my bracket holds up in the coming weeks.

Fill out your own bracket at the link below:

BattleBots World Championship VII bracket – BattleBots

Bird of the Week

This week we have a very strange bird. The Sungrebe is a swimming bird found in the Amazon Basin and the rainforests of Central America. Despite its name, it is not a grebe, and it tends to avoid direct sunlight. What it is is something called a finfoot. These are members of the crane order with coot-like, flat, broadened toes. There are two other finfoots, one in sub-Saharan Africa and the other in Southeast Asia, and each finfoot is classified in its own genus. None of the finfoots are particularly well-understood by science; the sungrebe seems best known. They live in shaded, quiet bodies of water such as streams and lagoons, and they have been spotted swimming in irrigation and drainage trenches on coffee plantations.

Sungrebes are not known to eat fish, though they do eat snails, crabs, and insects that they find in the water. They are more prone to fly away from danger than to dive, and their feet are positioned far enough forward under their bodies that they can climb up and out of the water and perch on branches to sleep. All these things differentiate them from actual grebes.

Sungrebes exhibit sexual dimorphism, with the females having a golden-orange mark on each cheek; the sungrebe is a rare example of a bird whose females are more colorful than its males. Little is known of sungrebe courtship, but this could be because it's the males who select mates, in reverse of the usual avian courtship.

One very interesting thing that we do know about sungrebes is that the males have shallow pouches on their sides, under each wing, that they use to hold newly-hatched chicks while swimming or flying. New chicks are featherless and barely capable of movement in a nest, like songbird chicks. Their early days are something more expected from a marsupial mammal than from a bird. It's possible that the other finfoots also have under-wing pouches, but we don't know for sure.

The "sun" in "sungrebe" comes from the bird's Latin name, Heliornis fulica. The genus name was given in error to the sungrebe based on a description of a different shy Amazonian water bird now called the sunbittern; it simply means "sun bird" and is more fitting for the sunbittern, whose wings display a golden starburst pattern. The species name foms from the Latin for "coot", in reference to its feet. In parts of South America, it is also called the ipequí, a name whose etymology eludes me; since it doesn't translate to anything in Spanish, I suspect it is a Tupí word or a name from another South American language. In Venezuela, they are "Zambullidores del Sol", or "sun divers".

Two Hundred Years of Surgery | Atul Gawande, the New England Journal of Medicine

Surgery is a very ancient practice, but for most of that long history, the main idea was for surgery to be done quickly, as painlessly as possible, and, ideally, avoided. That changed with the invention of anesthesia and antiseptic practices roughly a century ago. An insensate patient could be operated on for hours, and methods to keep harmful germs out of open incisions meant less risk of sepsis. Suddenly surgery became less reviled, by both patients and doctors. In this article, Dr. Gawande looks at surgical practices in the hundred years to either side of this revolutionary period.

Watching Paint Dry | Ed Conway, Material World

Conway’s forthcoming book, Material World, will look at how chemical science has shaped modern technology. This passage was cut from the final book. It’s a look at how automotive paint was developed to reduce drying time and increase durability over existing carriage paints.

Jacob Collier Answers Music Theory Questions From Twitter | WIRED on YouTube

[VIDEO] A solid overview of some elements of music theory, from a largely piano-focussed perspective. It’s not a comprehensive class, but it’s still interesting. (15 minutes)

The Turnaround | Charlie Jane Anders, Alta

[FICTION] “Whit got lost in 1971 and couldn’t find her way back. She hit the fail-safe button but nothing happened, and meanwhile she kept getting thrown off by all the foreign landmarks, which turned the city into a maze. The Embarcadero Freeway, this wall of reinforced concrete, cut across the waterfront, with a view of the half-finished Transamerica Pyramid and the scorched ruins on Alcatraz. On Ocean Beach, scores of people squatted among cardboard and plastic across from a hastily built artificial reef, cleaning oil-soaked birds by hand. New stenches hit at every turn: piss, petroleum, smoke, untempered car exhaust, patchouli, wet rot. Everywhere Whit looked, San Francisco stood in ruins or, even worse, in some limbo of urban development gone awry.”

See the full archive of curations on Notion