Revisiting Euro 2016

I've been supporting the Portuguese National Team (the Seleção) religiously for well over ten years. I witnessed a heartbreaking finish to a very promising World Cup 2006 where the Portuguese bowed out 1-0 to France in the semi-finals (yes, Thierry Henry dove in the penalty area). Regardless, they still celebrated in Lisbon after, and I contend this version of Scolari's team was his best. After, the likes of Joao Moutinho and Nani entered the fray. They would lose to Germany in Euro 2008.  Qualifying for World Cup 2010 with Carlos Queiroz was tedious to say the least; a solid performance against Bosnia in the playoff round saw them through. They played ultra defensively in the group stage and even more defensively in the round of 16 against Spain, the eventual winners. Queiroz was sacked and Paulo Bento was in. He ended up ticking off a bunch of players, leading some to exit. But, Portugal again overcame Bosnia in the playoffs, booking a trip to Euro 2012. They lost to Spain in heartbreaking fashion in the semi-finals, 4-2 in penalties. Bento stayed on. They would go on to beat Sweden in the playoffs (the second game in Sweden is Cristiano Ronaldo's greatest game ever) and wind up in Brasil for World Cup 2014. Remember that thing about Bento ticking players off? Well, this made his selections very questionable. When Fabio Coentrao went down against Germany in Portugal's first game, there was no other left back to replace him. Antunes was never called up for some reason. Bento would later be sacked after losing their first Euro 2016 qualifier to Albania in Aveiro. But, miraculously, they won their group! They were in Euro 2016, a tournament they would conquer and claim as their own.

A lot of pundits said that Portugal did not deserve the European championship. It's true they had a relatively easy road to the final. There is no denying that. Croatia was their biggest challenge, and I contend they anticipated an open affair; however, Santos gave them a regimented, structured attack. Renato, Ronaldo, and Quaresma linked up for a late-game winner, and while the victory was sweet, us Portuguese were queuing up Amalia in anticipation of the eventual heartbreaking defeat. But, it never came!

Santos believed his team could win the championship, but you don't see this mentality much in European sports (especially not with Santos' predecessors). I suppose because there's typically a huge gap in quality between the contenders and everyone else. In America, I guess we're a bit more optimistic; anyone can win on any given day! This attitude was stitched in the very fabric of Portugal in Euro 2016. They played with passion and a composed sense of urgency. Add this to Santos' amazing tactics and player selections, and you have a formidable Portuguese squad. Consequently, when people say Portugal are not worthy champions, it infuriates me. It's not like they won by accident. Nor did they win on account of referee error. Did they play defensively? Yes, but they didn't park the bus. They played long stretches of games with the majority of ball possession. And what's wrong with playing to "win" if you're only chance of winning is to play conservatively? Italy is praised for playing in this manner. Why is Portugal the villain?

My guess is jealously. How can a nation the size of Indiana produce Eusebio, Figo, and Ronaldo? How can Portugal continue to qualify for the big tournaments? How can Portugal win without a legitimate striker? They're all great questions, and to some extent, I think someone in Heaven has a soft spot for Portuguese soccer. Additionally, we have been blessed with excellent youth development. While some nations struggle to integrate their youth, Portugal exceeds. They found a way to matriculate William, Raphael, Renato, and Cedric (and, more recently, Gelson Martins, Andre Silva, and Joao Cancelo) to complement the older guard.

Forca Portugal!

 

Rethinking The Carousel of Progress

 

The Carousel of Progress was the brainchild of Walt Disney, designed for the 1964 New York World's Fair. It has since made appearances at Disneyland Park in Anaheim and the Magic Kingdom in Florida, where it currently lives. Since its inception, the show has not changed much. For nostalgia buffs, that's not a bad thing. But let's consider Walt's intentions here. During the 1960s, the world was becoming a very, very different place. Check out George Lucas' second film entitled American Graffiti to get a sense for people's mentalities back then. Americans were awakening from post-WWII euphoria to Cold War and Vietnam in the Sixties. I cannot help but think that Walt wanted to preserve this innocence through the Carousel. He wanted to showcase the innovation and industry in the first half of the Twentieth Century for families to "relive" the spirit of bygone eras. Little Johnny got to see how grandpa lived sixty years prior. And that's cool! But, does the Carousel serve the same purpose today? I do not think so. The early 1900s and 1920s probably do not resonate with audiences today. Little Johnny has no familial connection to these eras. By the time the Carousel rolls into the 1940s, an era that might align with grandpa's upbringing, he's fast asleep because he's been sitting in an air-conditioned, dark theater for twenty minutes. Would Walt want that? I guess not. Walt loved the American family, and he wanted them to experience attractions together. That's probably why you don't see the really scary roller coasters at Disney parks. That's also why you don't see child-only attractions like Midget Autopia anymore. It's about doing things together. We need to keep the Carousel relevant for everyone in the family!

So, we potentially do away with Turn of the Century and 1920s. In their place, we could put the 1970s and "tomorrow". The 1970s scene can be jam-packed with telecommunications and computing. We can also backtrack and discuss space exploration and leap forward a bit and showcase the dawn of the world wide web. The "tomorrow" scene should be updated every few years. I'd enjoy seeing a scene featuring quantum computing, renewable energy, personalized healthcare, and "smart" homes.

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

 

My homestead sits three hours away from Boston, New York City, and Montreal. I get over to Boston a few times each year, and there's no doubt it's a vibrant, dynamic city. I've never been to New York CIty, so I cannot speak for the place. I suppose I'm saving it for an epic adventure. And then there's Montreal. I liken it to Toronto, but with much more diversity in language and demographics. The shopping is amazing; Montreal's Hudson Bay is oppressively huge. And the food! We're not talking about Big E fried food anymore. This is world class cuisine with French and American influences. But I'm saving these two favorite pastimes of mine for another post. Let's talk churches! I visited these in October, 2016.

Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral

This minor basilica might be familiar to those who've visited St. Peter's. While Moderna's facade dwarfs this cathedral's rendition by a large margin, it is nevertheless proper for the space. Sitting atop are thirteen statues, each of a patron saint of one of Montreal's thirteen parishes. I admit the my hagiography skills were put to the test trying to identify all of them!

Inside, you'll find an impressive side chapel, the Chapel of the Assumption, as well as nine paintings depicting the Church's early history in Montreal. And there's this little guy:

Yep, that's a baldachin. And if it looks familiar, it's because a much larger version sits above St. Peter's tomb in Rome. This version lacks some features of its predecessor including the childbirth sequence in the plinths; however, it's very, very convincing. It even has bees at the top, a symbol in the Barberini coat of arms (Pope Urban VIII, who commissioned the baldachin, was a Barberini himself).

Saint Joseph's Oratory

Situated on Mont Royal, this minor basilica took over forty years to construct. The interior is austere, to say the least. I guess I would characterize it as "modern". Lots of wooden sculptures. And it's cavernous. Where the Baroque elevates the current space, literally inspiring awe in the worshiper, this type of architecture doesn't evoke much. And perhaps that is by design. By the way, its dome is the third largest in the world. And if you have any affiliation to the Congregation of Holy Cross, you'll be very interested to hear that Saint Andre Bessette of Montreal, who cured thousands through the intercession of Saint Joseph, was instrumental in the construction of this basilica. His body and heart are interred here.

Notre-Dame Basilica

$5. Yep. $5 admission. I've been to churches all over Rome and North America, and this is the first time I've had to ante up to gain admission into a church. I wonder why? Apparently the fee is waived if you are attending mass. With that said, you do get a lot for your $5. The basilica offered tours in different languages. Moreover, everything was in tip-top shape. Very clean. And on top of that, it was definitely one of the coolest sanctuaries I've ever been in!

Gothic churches are a mixed-bag. They tend to be dark, somewhat cold spaces. Also, they kind of all look the same. I suppose I'm being ignorant here, but aside from the altar and side chapels, these big Gothic churches just feel the same to me. But, they do boast some amazing artwork. Take a look at this Bel Composto.

I love the use of light in the basilica. I attended on a dreary day, so there was not much natural sunlight going through the rose windows; however, that did not matter much as the church was adorned with this radiant blue paint. Actually, it reminded me of the color palette of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame.

Eating @ the Big E

 

Big E 101

The Eastern States Exposition, aka the Big E, takes place in late summer every year in West Springfield, Massachusetts. This one is tough to describe. There's so much variety at this event! You got your standard fair food and carnival rides, exotic fare like camel and bison, exhibitors hawking their wares, craft beer, and barnyard animals. There's also the infamous "state buildings" wherein each state in New England exhibits the finest they have to offer. For example, Vermont features Ben & Jerry's, Connecticut boasts LEGO, and Rhode Island has some tantalizing seafood. Each building is unique in its own way, and it's amazing to see the diversity that New England has to offer. It's not all coastline and maple syrup!

It's relatively easy to get there. I met my cousins on Riverdale Street, and we caravan-ed over to the fairgrounds. We arrived around 1:00, but not before sitting in about twenty minutes of traffic. Onsite parking was $10.00. 

Gluttony reigns supreme at the Big E. You can eat practically anything here, and I mean anything. They even have fried Kool-Aid!  Crazy. Here's what Cousin Dave, Cousin Laura, and I devoured:

Fried Fare

We stuck with the more traditional options in this category, sampling from a food truck specializing in tempura.

Corn dog. $4.00. Nothing special, but tasty. I do not believe these were hand-dipped, but I saw those elsewhere.

Corn dog. $4.00. Nothing special, but tasty. I do not believe these were hand-dipped, but I saw those elsewhere.

Mozzarella sticks. The cousins sampled these. Laura was not a fan, but Dave (who loves mozzarella sticks but not fried cheese curds oddly) enjoyed them. The cheese was plentiful, but not as gooey as we would have liked.

Mozzarella sticks. The cousins sampled these. Laura was not a fan, but Dave (who loves mozzarella sticks but not fried cheese curds oddly) enjoyed them. The cheese was plentiful, but not as gooey as we would have liked.

Blooming onion. $10.00. The onions were cooked just right; however, extra seasoning was in order as each successive bite was a tad bit more bland.

Blooming onion. $10.00. The onions were cooked just right; however, extra seasoning was in order as each successive bite was a tad bit more bland.

Baked Potato

Anyone who's been to the Big E knows about the backed potatoes inside the Maine state building. They're quite good, but sometimes the line to get them is unbearable. Last year on Reddit, I read that Connecticut has baked potatoes that rival Maine's. My cousins were skeptical, but Reddit has never let me down! Nestled on the side of the Connecticut building facing New Hampshire is Danny's Little Taste of Texas Smoke House Grill. Unlike Maine which offers melted cheese, these guys have shredded cheese. And, more importantly, they have pork! I never thought that shredded pork on a backed potato could taste so good, but it does!

Baked potato from Danny's Little Taste of Texas Smoke House Grill. $9.50. It doesn't get better than this. Best thing I had all day. Combination of melted shredded cheese, buttery potato, and tender pork was not only unique and obviously unhealthy, but memorable.

Baked potato from Danny's Little Taste of Texas Smoke House Grill. $9.50. It doesn't get better than this. Best thing I had all day. Combination of melted shredded cheese, buttery potato, and tender pork was not only unique and obviously unhealthy, but memorable.

Miscellany

Corn on the cob with garlic butter. $5.00. I got this on the main drag before I saw the corn at New Hampshire. Sweet and savory. Easy to enjoy while walking.

Corn on the cob with garlic butter. $5.00. I got this on the main drag before I saw the corn at New Hampshire. Sweet and savory. Easy to enjoy while walking.

Lemonade. $6.00 with $3.00 refills. Forget about refills. It's OK. It is freshly squeezed. How fresh? You see that seed on the top of the cup? I sucked up about five of those through the straw.

Lemonade. $6.00 with $3.00 refills. Forget about refills. It's OK. It is freshly squeezed. How fresh? You see that seed on the top of the cup? I sucked up about five of those through the straw.

Playing with Airports in Python

Intro

Airports are pretty cool. As a kid, every time I went to SFO, I'd invariably end up in a cooler place on the other side (think MCO, MDW, or BOS). I began to associate airports with vacation, family, and fun. Today, they're just as fascinating! Here, we play with most of them on the globe!

Step 1: Get Airport Information

OpenFlights is a great resource for airport information. Here, we're simply interested in the longitude, latitude, and ICAO code of each airport. And there are about 7,000 airports! Not all of them have ICAO codes, so some are quite obscure. We first read the data with Python:

import pandas as pd

# read data from airports.dat (http://openflights.org/data.html)
airports = pd.read_csv('airports.dat', header=None)
airports.set_index(5, inplace=True)

Step 2: Plot the Airports

We use the matplotlib extension Basemap to plot each airport on a map of the globe.

from mpl_toolkits.basemap import Basemap
from matplotlib import pyplot as plt

# generate map on which to plot airports
map = Basemap(projection='mill', resolution='i')
map.drawcountries()
map.drawstates()
map.drawcoastlines()
map.fillcontinents(color = 'coral', lake_color='aqua')
map.drawmapboundary(fill_color='aqua')

# plot point for each airport
for idx, val in airports.iterrows():
    icao = idx
    latitude = val[6]
    longitude = val[7]
    x,y = map(longitude, latitude)
    map.plot(x, y, 'ro', markersize=2)

# view plot
plt.show()

Step 3: It's All About Location

Next, we calculate the great circle distance (GCD) between each airport. Note that we are only considering airports with ICAO codes. That's almost 25 million calculations (if you treat A to B = B to A)! Luckily, it's not too bad. In fact, with geopy, it's a breeze. Here's how it's done:

from geopy.distance import great_circle

# calculate GCD between each airport
gcds = {} # example gcds['KSFO']['KLAX'] = GCD in miles 
for icao_origin, val_origin in airports.iterrows():
    gcds[icao_origin] = {}
    for icao_destination, val_destination in airports.iterrows():
        origin_lon = val_origin[7]
        origin_lat = val_origin[6]        
        destination_lon = val_destination[7]
        destination_lat = val_destination[6]
        origin_coords = (origin_lat, origin_lon)
        destination_coords = (destination_lat, destination_lon)
        if gcds.has_key(icao_destination):
            if gcds[icao_destination].has_key(icao_origin):
                gcds[icao_origin][icao_destination] = gcds[icao_destination][icao_origin]
        else:
            gcds[icao_origin][icao_destination] = great_circle(origin_coords, destination_coords).miles

Now, we can have some fun! I exported the "gcds" dictionary created above into an Excel spreadsheet. Using the spreadsheet, I was able to answer the following questions.

What two airports are the farthest apart from each other?

SKNV (Neiva, Colombia) and WIPP (Palembang, South Sumatra) are 12,437 miles apart. Even the Airbus A380 could not cover this distance!

What is the most isolated airport?

SCIP (Mataveri International Airport on Easter Island) takes the prize!  It is 1,615 miles away from the closest airport. The second most isolated is Wilkins Runway in Antarctica (1,313 miles away from the closest airport). Coincidentally, if you take the GCDs from Wilkins Runway to all other airports in the world and calculate the median, the result is 8,873 miles— the highest value of all airports. This is a more holistic measure of isolation, but it undoubtedly underpins Antarctica's isolation from the rest of the continents.