Running Commentary 5/15/2023
6 min read

Running Commentary 5/15/2023

BattleBots (S7E17), Northern Mockingbird


I have a really serious backlog of things to type up. My full review of The Mandalorian Season 3 has been written out on paper, as have one-and-a-half book reviews and another, shorter look at a book for the "Reading..." section of RC, along with my thoughts on the latest Warframe update for the "Playing..." section. I've been pretty busy in the past few weeks, but hopefully, I can make a dent in this soon.



Quantum v Ribbot | Still from


The second half of the first round of tournament fights aired last Thursday. Out of these sixteen fights, I only predicted four incorrectly, two last week and two more this week. That's better than I usually do. Let's look at the fights:

  • BLACK DRAGON v RIPPERONI - If you had told me that Ripperoni would be fighting in the tournament after I'd seen their first fight, I wouldn't have believed you. But here they were, and even though they lost, their performance over the season has earned them the 2023 spot as the Edwards Edition Battlebots Rookie of the Year, and presumably the official Rookie of the Year title as well. Black Dragon once again simply wouldn't die; they'll advance to face Ribbot, which should be an interesting match-up.
  • MONSOON v COBALT - I figured Cobalt would win this, but Monsoon delivered their best all-time performance here, and Cobalt seemed a little off. Once again, Cobalt's weakness is how steep a slope it needs its opponent to climb for that devastating weapon to actually make contact. They weren't able to push Monsoon up against the wall, so they never got the right angle to deliver a good hit.
  • MINOTAUR v FUSION - Fusion was, indeed, winning for the first five seconds. As much as I appreciate that having both a horizontal and vertical spinner is strategically a good idea, trying to cram two weapon drives into a single chassis is difficult; that's a lesson Rotator learned a while ago. I'd love to see Fusion get its issues sorted out, but I'm not sure it's a possibility within the weight limit. Minotaur goes up against Malice next, which I don't think will be a hard win either. I'm still feeling very good about Minotaur taking the Giant Nut this year.
  • HYDRA v DEATH ROLL - Hydra finally tossed a bot into the ceiling in this fight. Death Roll might have won, if it hadn't broken its own weapon delivering that huge embedding hit to Hydra's corner. Hydra was definitely hobbled after that, but they could still toss Death Roll when they did get under them.
  • RIBBOT v QUANTUM - Quantum had this fight won, but they let Ribbot get free of the kill-saw slots, then drove right into Ribbot's weapon, like they completely forgot what strategy a grappler bot needs to employ. Of all the fights I got wrong, this was the most disappointing, seeing how I had them going to the final four and seeing how they really could have won here.
  • MALICE v SWITCHBACK - This was a toss-up fight that happened to go the way I guessed it would. Switchback is a bot I wouldn't be surprised to see get really good in a few years, like Huge and Claw Viper did this season or like Hypershock last year, but I don't think they're quite there yet. Malice, on the other hand, I feel has kind of peaked where they are now. Again, the winner of this match was up against Minotaur next, who could easily beat either of them, so this didn't matter too much.
  • WHIPLASH v BETA - Beta really needs to retire their square, open-top configuration; they've never won a match while using it. Whiplash did what Whiplash does here, controlling the fight and somehow leaving Beta stranded on the Upper Deck. I'm not sure what happened to Beta, actually. They didn't seem to have been hit hard enough to disable their drive, unless some critical wire got shaken loose when Whiplash pushed them up over the Upper Deck's screws. Anyway, Whiplash is up against Hydra next. I think they win, but it won't be easy like this.
  • SAWBLAZE v BLIP - Sawblaze took out Blip's flipping mechanism pretty early on, and that sealed the match for them. Credit for Blip for otherwise keeping completely intact and for not giving up, but Sawblaze had this fight from start to finish. They face Monsoon next; I had them losing to Cobalt, and I think they stand a stronger chance against Monsoon, so they might get the chance to fight Minotaur later, too.

Bird of the Week

This week we have a bird most readers have probably at least heard of. The Northern Mockingbird is the only of the sixteen species of mockingbird found in the United States, the others being found in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and the Galápagos. Mockingbirds are known for singing near-continuously, cycling through the songs of other birds as well as other noises, such as the vocalization of frogs, or the horns of cars. Mockingbirds are, of course, not the only birds to mimic other birds, but they are so dedicated to imitation that they don't really have a song of their own.

Birdsong is not something I've really gone into that deeply in this space, and now seems like an appropriate time to finally do so. Songbirds possess a branched voicebox known as a "syrinx" (as opposed to the mammalian larynx) that is capable of producing two different notes at once, which results in very complex sounds that people generally cannot fully replicate. Bird's songs are often reduced in popular understanding to being simply mating calls, and while many songbirds do sing to attract mates, that's not the only reason they sing. For instance, it's true that unpaired male mockingbirds sing the most (starting before dawn and carrying on well into the night, reciting a repertoire of as many as 150 songs, calls, and sounds), but paired male and female mockingbirds also sing, and singing continues into the Fall, past the breeding season. The purpose of birdsong is not fully known; besides mating, it also seems to serve to claim territory, to alert others of danger or food, to call for aid, to announce birds' presence, to keep flocks flying together, and clearly to achieve other, unknown ends. What is known is that singing puts birds at considerable risk, by revealing them to predators. For this reason, it seems unlikely that wild birds sing purely for their own pleasure.

The northern mockingbird is not a particularly beautiful creature compared to other birds in its range, but their singing has endeared them to people. President Thomas Jefferson, one of the more noted nature lovers to lead the United States, kept a mockingbird named Dick, who would follow him around the White House. Harper Lee featured the mockingbird in the title of her famous novel, saying within its pages "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird...They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us."* Several states in the southeastern U.S. (where mockingbirds are particularly numerous) have honored the northern mockingbird as their state bird.

For their part, mockingbirds seem to like people as much as we like them. More mockingbirds live in urban/suburban landscapes than in rural/wild ones. In cities, mockingbirds find a more consistent food supply and artificial lighting that allows them to feed their young for longer hours.

To science, the northern mockingbird is Mimus polyglottus, the "mimic of many tongues". English has taken from Latin the term "polyglot" to refer to someone who speaks several languages.

*A couple of notes: mockingbirds actually will eat things like tomatoes and berries from gardens, though generally not so many as to become a nuisance; also, sin or no, it is a crime to kill both mockingbirds and blue jays, which Atticus Finch should have known, considering that he was a lawyer.

To Live and Fail by the L.L. Bean Game and Fish Cookbook | Jason Diamond, TASTE Magazine

A few days in a borrowed cabin in rural Connecticut gives the author a chance to try recipes from a copy of a cookbook published by an outdoor apparel company but written by two legitimate authorities on the cooking of wild game. His experience is mixed, though not because of the recipes.

Can water solve a maze? | Steve Mould

In response to a computer simulation of water pouring into and, eventually, out of, a vertically oriented maze, Mould builds a physical water maze. The reality is different than the model, in a good illustration of the importance of considering which factors are relevant in a given problem.

Winners of Smithsonian Magazine’s 20th Annual Photo Contest | Smithsonian Magazine

Photographs featuring fighting rabbits, the top of a circus tent, and a remote crater in China.

The Good German | Anton Chekov, trans. Peter Constantine, The London Magazine

[FICTION] First written a hundred years before this translation was first published, a short story from the master of the form.

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