Saturday, August 27, 2016

2016 US OPEN: Men's and Women's Draw Released and Analyzed

The 2016 US OPEN draw has been released. 2015 US Open champion Flavia Pennetta has retired so she will not be defending her title. However, defending champion Novak Djokovic is seeded #1 this year as well. The draw has been released and the potential men's quarterfinal match ups are:
  • [1] Novak Djokovic versus [7] Marin Cilic
  • [4] Rafael Nadal versus [5] Milos Raonic
  • [3] Stan Wawrinka versus [8] Dominic Thiem 
  • [2] Andy Murray versus [6] Kei Nishikori
On the Women's side, the potential women's quarterfinal matches are:
  • [1] Serena Williams versus [5] Simona Halep
  • [4] Agnieska Radwanska versus [6] Venus Williams
  • [3] Garbine Muguruza versus [8] Madison Keys  
  • [2] Angelique Kerber versus [7] Roberta Vinci
Last year at this time Serena had won the last 4 majors in a row (i.e, the Serena Slam!) and was attempting to win her 22nd major and complete the first calendar year Grand Slam since 1988. In one of the great historic upsets in sports, she lost in the semifinals to Roberta Vinci, setting up an all-Italian major final with first-time major finalists that was won by Pennetta.

As usual, there are always some exciting first round matches. Here are the notable ones to look out for this year:
  • Serena Williams versus Ekaterina Makarova
  • Camilla Giorgi versus Sam Stosur
  • Taylor Townsend versus Caroline Wozniacki
  • Yulia Putintseva versus Sabine Lisicki
  • Sara Errani versus Shelby Rogers
  • John Isner versus Frances Tiafoe
  • Stan Wawrinka versus Fernando Verdasco
  • Gael Monfils versus Gilles Muller
  • Jack Sock versus Taylor Fritz
  • Janko Tipsarevic versus Sam Querrey
  • Fernando Lopez versus Borna Coric
I plan to attend the tournament myself next weekend!

Friday, August 26, 2016

CELEBRITY FRIDAY: Katherine Johnson, Legendary NASA Mathematician, Turns 98 Today

Katherine Johnson is an African-American mathematician who is famous for contributing calculations to several landmark NASA missions. Johnson turns 98 today, and was awarded the National Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in November 2015. In May 2016, NASA named one of its buildings at the NASA Langley Research Center the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility.
Johnson worked at Langley from 1953 until her retirement in 1986, beginning as a research mathematician -- part of a pool of women hired to perform mathematical equations and calculations by hand for engineers. She quickly distinguished herself and was permanently assigned to the branch that would later calculate the launch windows for NASA’s first Project Mercury flights. 
Notable accomplishments include her computation, by hand, of the launch window and trajectory for Alan Shepard’s maiden space voyage aboard Freedom 7 in 1961, and verification, also by hand, of calculations made by the first computers for John Glenn's history-making orbit around the Earth in 1962. She also calculated the trajectory for the historic Apollo 11 first moon landing flight in 1969.
In January 2017, a big-budget Hollywood movie titled Hidden Figures starring Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons based on the real-life story of Johnson and other Black women who worked for NASA will be released in theaters. See the trailer below:

Happy Birthday Katherine Johnson!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Although Children of Time  starts off relatively slowly (do we really need to read pages of exposition from the perspective of an alien?) things gets VERY real very quickly as there are certain shocking event that cause the trajectory of the story to ricochet in a very surprising direction.

I'm happy to say that I was completely unspoiled about many details of the story and thus was completely surprised and engrossed when the full ambitious scope of Tchaikovsky's novel slowly revealed itself. I have endeavored to keep those aspects of the story out of this review so that others can experience the book and enjoy it as much as I did, which was considerably.

Essentially Children of Time is two (very good!) science fiction books in one; The first book is about the events and people on an ark ship containing 500,000 frozen humans who are the last remnants of a devastated Earth and the decline of human civilization (somewhat reminiscent of Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora) and the other book is an uplift story with incredibly realistic descriptions of an authentically alien culture (reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky and David Brin's The Uplift War) developing into a formidable civilization.

Time is a key component of the story (hence the title), as we follow multiple generations of the aliens as they evolve and their culture slowly develops technology. On the ship a great deal of time also passes, with the use of cold sleep allowing the audience's main characters to avoid most of the effects of time's arrow but the story follows multiple generations of descendants of the original ship's crew and defrosted cargo.

Much of the compelling nature of Children of Time is based around the reader's connection to the fate of humanity and the skill with which the author has presented the alien culture so that when the inevitable clash between the two factions occurs it is difficult for the reader to know who to root for! (The ending is pretty surprising, even if the resolution of the conflict is a tad too neat to be completely satisfying. But this is a minor quibble after spending nearly 600 pages engrossed with these characters and situations.)

Overall, Children of Time is an incredibly original, intensely compelling, standalone novel of hard science fiction which is an instant classic in the grand tradition of other memorable (and award-winning) works like Neal Stephenson's Seveneves, Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky and Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves.

Title: Children of Time.
Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Paperback: 600 pages.
Date Published: June 4, 2015.
Date Read: August 8, 2016.

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TENNIS TUESDAY: Cilic Wins Cincy; Serena Will Tie Graf's #1 Record; Stevie Is A Top; #Santina Splits

2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic became only the fifth player since 2010 other than the Big Four (Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal) to win an ATP Masters shield event by beating Murray 7-5 6-4. The other four are Robin Soderling (Paris 2010),  David Ferrer (Paris 2012), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Toronto 2014), Stan Wawrinka (Monte-Carlo 2014). Murray was hoping to continue his 22-match winning streak after triumphing at the 2016 Wimbledon championships and 2016  Rio Olympics this summer. Not only was this Cilic's first Masters 1000 win, it was the first time he had even reached the semifinal of a masters in 8 previous tries.

By Angelique Kerber losing in straight sets to Karolina Pliskova in the Cincinnati Final, World #1 Serena Williams will remain at #1 for three more weeks and tie Steffi Graf's record of 186 consecutive weeks at #1. However, to break the record Serena will probably need to win the 2016 US Open (which would also simultaneously surpass Graf's major singles title haul of 22) because she is defending semifinal points from the 2015 US Open and none of her rivals: Garbine Muguruza, Agnieska Radwanska or Kerber have very many points to defend. Theoretically any of these four could conceivably be #1 on Monday September 12th. The most exciting scenario would have Serena and Kerber facing off for the #1 ranking in the final.

Fresh off of winning the Men's Doubles Bronze medal with partner Jack Sock (who also won the Mixed Doubles Gold with Bethanie Mattek-Sands) Stevie Johnson is now the highest ranked male American player by reaching the #21 spot on the ATP rankings while John Isner (who had been the top-ranked American since July 2013) fell to #22 with Sock at #28 and Giant-Killer Sam Querrey at #31.  This also means that there i no American male in the Top 20 of the ATP World rankings while on the women's side there are three American women in the Top 10: Serena (#1), Venus Williams (#6), Madison Keys (#9).

During the Rio Olympics it was confirmed that despite winning 3 grand slam titles, the 2015 Year-end championships and a 41-match winning streak in the last 18 month, the doubles team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza have decided to split up. (They have agreed to play the 2016 year-end championships together, having already qualified!) Awkwardly, the two former partners faced each other in the very first tournament after the Olympics in the Cincinnati finals, and the team of Mirza and Coco Vandeweghe defeated Hingis with Barbora Strycova.

The seeds for the U.S. OPEN have been revealed, and the only notable absences are 2015 Champion Flavia Pennetta who retired soon afterwards, Victoria Azarenka who is pregnant. On the men's side Roger Federer (is missing the rest of 2016 with injury) and Tomas Berdych has appendicitis.

Monday, August 22, 2016

EYE CANDY: Daniel Tamayo Zapata

Daniel Tamayo Zapata is another hottie I found on Instagram (@danieltamayozapata). According to his Facebook page, he is from Medellin, Colombia. Unfortunately, I don't have any other information about him. If you do, let me know in the comments!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016 CINCY: Pliskova Denies Kerber's Bid For #1 Ranking

Angelique Kerber is having an amazing year. She has reached two major finals (2016 Australian Open and 2016 Wimbledon and won one of them). She also reached the Gold medal match of the 2016 Rio Olympics, losing to Monica Puig.

However, today was not one of them. She was two sets away from ending Serena Williams near-record 183-weeks-long hold on the #1 ranking on the WTA tour but was blown off the court in the finals of the 2016 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati  by Karolina Pliskova. Pliskova, who has a surprisingly tepid 5-9 record in tour finals, was able to play calm, powerful tennis to win in straight sets, 6-3 6-1.

With her loss Kerber will remain #2 and guarantees that Serena Williams will be #1 for 3 more weeksm thus tying Steffi Graf's record of 186 consecutive weeks at #1. Analysis shows that if both Kerber and Serena reach the women's final on Saturday September 10th, the winner will be the new #1.

N.K. Jemisin Becomes First Black Woman To Win Hugo Award for Best Novel

Wow! Defying the predictions of most prognosticators, Nora Jemisin was the surprise winner of the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel for The Fifth Season. (See my A-/B+ review.) By my reckoning, Jemisin win is historic for multiple reasons: she's the first Black woman (and first Black person) to win science fiction's most prestigious award. And she did it after two years of intense debate (most of it online) in the speculative fiction community about the meaning, necessity and importance of diversity in the speculative fiction community. She also did it despite being nominated for (and losing) the Nebula award to Naomi Novik's Uprooted.

This is how The Guardian placed this year's awards in context with the ongoing Puppy fracas:
As in previous years, there had been attempts by two separate groups, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, to “game” the awards in favour of their preferred slates of works. Both groups claimed that science fiction has become dominated by a liberal, left-wing bias. 
The Hugos are voted on by those who purchase an attending or supporting membership to either the current or previous Worldcon events. Eligible voters can tick the “No Award” box if they don’t agree with any of the shortlisted works, a tool which has been used to block out Puppies recommendations previously. In 2015, five No Awards were given, including for the prestigious best novella and best short story categories; an unprecedented number, as No Award had only been presented as many times in the entire history of the prize, which began in 1953. 
In contrast, this year there were only two No Awards, in the smaller best related work and best fan-cast categories.
However one of the key ironies (also noted by The Guardian) in Jemisin's win is that the primary rabble-rouser of the rabid puppies, Theodore Beale (a.k.a. Vox Day) had previously been expelled from the Science Fiction Writers Association after he called Jemisin an "educated but ignorant savage." The group of Rabid Puppies has been trying to destroy the Hugo awards, by exerting undue influence over the nominations and winners but Jemisin becoming the first Black woman to win the top prize is the clearest repudiation of the recent actions of Beale's Puppies to "make science fiction great again."

Saturday, August 20, 2016

2016 RIO OLYMPICS: Usain Bolt Completes Triple-Triple (9 Gold Medals In 3 Olympics)

Usain Bolt of Jamaica proved (again) that he is one of the greatest track and field athletes of all time by winning his 9th Gold medal on Friday, anchoring his country's 4x100m Olympics relay team to a 3rd consecutive win. Bolt earlier won the Olympics 100m for the 3rd time (in a time of 9.81s) and the Olympics 200m for the 3rd time (in a time of 19.78s).

Bolt is tied with American Carl Lewis and Finland's Paavo Nurmi for the most gold medals in track and field. Of course, American swimmer Michael Phelps has the most Gold medals (23!) of any Olympic athlete (plus 2 silver and 3 bronze).


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