Friday, August 29, 2008

Serie A Time!

The first matches of the new Italian season are nearly upon us, and, without further ado, here's what's going to happen in the upcoming season:

The Big Four: I think it's fairly safe to say that the Scudetto will reside in Milan come next May. However, it has the potential to be a tight race between Inter and AC. Inter, of course, have won the title three times on the trot, but there are enormous asterisks beside this seemingly impressive feat. To begin with, three years ago they were awarded the title after the season, when Juventus got in trouble for match-fixing. They duly won the title the proper way the following season, but that was with Juventus in Serie B, and AC Milan suffering a point penalty that made it impossible for them to compete. Last season, Inter looked to have the whole thing wrapped up by February, only to collapse and need a last-day win to fend off Roma. They got said win, but it was relief rather than ecstasy at the end of the season, and the manager was duly fired... and replaced with Jose Mourinho, who's done nothing but win championships everywhere he's managed. They've not done much in terms of player acquisitions, with today's purchase of Portuguese midfielder Riccardo Quaresma probably the biggest move, but with Mourinho in charge they're probably pretty safe standing pat.

AC Milan, on the other hand, could do anything but maintain the status quo. Last season was flat-out embarassing for the Rossoneri. They were unceremoniously dumped out of Champions' League competition in front of their home fans by Arsenal, and compounded that by being overtaken in Serie A by Fiorentina late in the season and ending up in fifth place. So, they'll contest the UEFA Cup this season, a great achievement for many teams, but a humiliation for Mr. Berlusconi, who's gotten used to seeing his boys in the Champions' League every season. AC responded to last season's disaster in a fairly predictable way; they hurled money at the problem, bringing in Ronaldinho, Mathieu Flamini, and Philippe Senderos, among others (the latter two, interestingly, were acquired from Arsenal; if you can't beat 'em...). With Ronaldinho, Kak√°, and Pato up front (and Andriy Shevchenko subbing in, presumably), they're going to score lots and lots of goals, but there remain questions about their ability to prevent the opposition doing likewise. The error-prone Dida has been replaced in goal by Christian Abbiati, and Senderos will help, but the Milan defence is slow, a bit on the old side, and as a result likely to be vulnerable. As a last note, I could not possibly write about AC Milan without mentioning my very favourite Italian player, Gennaro Gattuso. And how annoying is it that he plays for AC Milan? Very. I would dearly love to see him in a Napoli shirt, but it seems that he will finish his career at AC.

The other two members of the big group, Juventus and Roma, don't look likely to be able to mount a title challenge this season. Roma are probably the better of the two, and the acquisition of Brazilian striko Julio Baptista means that they won't have to rely on the aging and injury-prone Francesco Totti as much as in previous years. Juventus, on the other hand, haven't made any really significant changes to their lineup, and will charge forward with last year's group. This is a bad thing, if you're a Juventus supporter, since last year's group is almost to a man past the point where a being a year older is a good thing for a professional soccer player. Also, Gianluigi Buffon looked mortal at this year's Euro championship, and if he doesn't return to his previous best-goalkeeper-in-the-world form, it's going to be a long season for La Vecchia Signora.

The Challengers: The best of the group outside the Big Four is undoubtedly Fiorentina, and if the Tuscan club stays ambitious (there is every sign that they intend to do just that), we could very soon be talking about a Big Five. They've bought very intelligently over the summer, and will be expecting to match last season's 4th-place finish (and accompanying Champions' League qualification) and possibly even better it.

It will also be worth keeping an eye on Napoli this coming season. They finished a worthy 8th last season, their first season back in Serie A in some time, and have managed to work their way into the UEFA Cup for this season. Last season also saw them defeat Inter, Juventus, and Fiorentina, and lay an epic thrashing on AC Milan in a game that AC really needed to win (it ended 3-1 to Napoli, a scoreline which greatly flattered AC Milan). However, they're going to have to learn how to pick up victories on the road; last year they won only three times outside of Naples. They have been active in the transfer market, and have harkened back to the glory years of Diego Maradona by stocking their front line with Argentinians. Napoli are probably not yet at the point where challenging for a Champions' League berth is likely, but they should improve on last season's results.

As for the other challengers, Sampdoria and Udinese are likely to be sniffing about, come sempre. Neither team did anything particularly stunning in the transfer market, but they're both solid, well-established teams, fully capable of taking points off the big boys every once in awhile. And is there anyone else capable of crashing the top eight? Well, Torino and Lazio, possibly. However, keep an eye also on newly promoted Bologna. They fended off an ownership bid by an American company this summer, and apparently their current owners have opened the chequebooks to improve the team. The seem to have spent the summer plundering the South American leagues, and if those new signings work out, Bologna will be good.

Palermo, whom I would normally count amongst this group, will likely start the season with eight new players in the starting lineup. Even if they all turn out to be good (unlikely), it will take them awhile to gel as a team. I do not see Palermo going anywhere above a comfortable mid-table position.

The Rest: It's much of muchness from here on down the table; there isn't a lot of difference betweeen the various clubs down here, and they're all hoping merely to survive the Serie A season. And who, pray tell, is not going to make it? Well, Siena have managed to ward off relegation for a number of seasons now, but I think the clock is going to run out on them. It's always a bad sign when you're buying up other teams' backup players and sticking them into your starting lineup. Also in trouble are Catania, who failed to win even one game on the road last season, and just barely avoided a trip to Serie B. The third victim could be one of a number of clubs, but, sadly, the Kobold seers are looking at Reggina, mostly because the Calabrian club has had a rough time this summer in the transfer market.

All right then! Here's a reasonable facsimile of what the table should look like at the end of this season:

2AC Milan
16Chievo Verona

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Which People Say Nice Things About The Kobold

Got the Instructor Evaluations for my summer Latin course back today. It really was a superb group of students this time around, and it was nice to find out that they seemed to feel the same way about me! A couple of comments from the evaluations:

"Chunklets is a good prof; he presents material clearly and is certainly quite knowledgeable in the subject material. The Friday activities were fantastic; it was good to do something Latin related that wasn't Wheelock. Overall great instructor and great course!"

"This is the first textbook based course I have taken where the instructor was not just an expensive babysitter for the textbook. I felt Chunklets was actually doing the teaching and the textbook helped him, not the other way around which is unfortunately typical."

There now. The ego has been nicely massaged, now on with the day!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bonus Lizard-Bug Picture!

Here you go (it's the same lizrard as below)!

UPDATE: And here's a lovely Australian lizard!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bugs of Italy!

Editors' note: If you don't like creepy-crawlies, then you probably should read no further.

Anyhoo, this particular offering was made possible by the confluence of two circumstances this past May and June. These two circumstances were: a) I had a new digital camera, and b) there were bugs. Hence, pictures of bugs! Enjoy!

1. Ants:

Yes, it's blurry and fuzzy and out-of-focus (hooray for hendiatris!), but it was taken from a good 6 feet away. I really like my new camera...

2. Lizards:

Chunklets: I spotted this fine fellow... huh, what?

Kobold Minister of Accuracy: Uh, lizards aren't bugs. You do know that, right?

Chunklets: Of course they're bugs; they're like bats that way!

Kobold Minister of Accuracy: * Sighs *

Chunklets: Exactly. Now, I spotted this fine fellow sticking his nose out of a stone wall one evening, and for a wonder he hung around long enough to have his picture taken. I say "for a wonder" because this particular lizard was taking his life into his hands; he and his ilk were among the favourite prey of Agata, about whom we have written before.

3. Scorpions:

This is The Scorpion Who Lived Under The Window. It liked to relax in the cool damp space beneath one of the windows in the lab at Ossaia. This meant that throwing open said window first thing in the morning had the potential to be really, really, exciting if you forgot about the scorpion's presence. Note: One of these stung me once. It wasn't really all that bad.

4. Fred:

This is Fred, who was about the largest spider I have ever seen in the wild. She, too, dwelt in the lab at Ossaia, in a large and beautifully constructed web. She tended to sit, as shown above, at the entrance to the little funnel-y part of the web, presumably awaiting dinner (this was fine by me, since it meant that I knew where she was. The one time I went into the lab and discovered that she was "out and about" somewhere was a little bit nerve-wracking). Occasionally dinner would show up:

Yes, that is a moth. As I said, we are not dealing with a small spider here.

4. Snails:

* Sits on Kobold Minister of Accuracy *

They don't move so fast, as we all know, which is a bit of boon to the photographer. I also happen to think that they're pretty. I mean, is this not a thing of beauty?:

As always, click to see big pictures!

Lizards not bugs... what will they think of next? Sheesh...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Well, Yes, It Would, Wouldn't It...

Courtesy of the CBC, we have the runaway winner of the "Bestest Headline of the Year Award":

Inflatable dog turd sculpture escapes Swiss museum, wreaks havoc

37, going on 10. Why do you ask?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Footie Season!

Well, they're underway in England (and some other leagues, too!), or at least the lower divisions are. Millwall dropped their first match, 4-3 away to Oldham, much to the surprise of nobody. What was a bit surprising was that the Lions were leading an expected-to-be-very-good Oldham side 3-1 with 20 minutes to go. Perhaps there is hope for the season after all!

And what can we expect when the Premiership boys get going in a week or so? Go to it, Kobold seers (and we'll try to forget about the whole Mets-Tigers unpleasantness from awhile back):

  • First of all, it's reasonable to suppose that the big four (Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal) will divy up the four Champions League spots among themselves. Arsenal, at this moment, appear to be the weakest of that lot (sorry, CR!), and will probably be looking over their shoulders at possible top-4 interlopers like Everton, Aston Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur. Manchester City could nose their way in as well.
  • Expect a lot of attention to be paid to Hull City A.F.C., newly arrived in the top division for the first time in their 104 years of existence. It's an excellent feel-good story, particularly given that a mere ten years ago they were struggling at the very bottom of the entire League, and nearly folded. Prior to this season, they were primarily known for wearing a bizarre tiger-striped kit during the '92-'93 season.


    Sadly, their stay in the Premiership is likely to be a short one. Expect them to be relegated, along with Wigan and fellow new arrivals Stoke City.
  • Here, then, is a reasonable expectation of what the final table will look like come next May:

    2Manchester United
    5Tottenham Hotspur
    6Aston Villa
    8Manchester City
    11West Ham United
    12Bolton Wanderers
    17West Bromwich Albion
    18Wigan Athletic
    19Hull City
    20Stoke City

  • Finally, moving away the Premiership (a looooong way away), let us spare a moment to mourn the passing of Halifax Town Football Club. The luck finally ran out for the team that was once so poor it couldn't afford to feed the clubhouse cat, let alone pay the players (this situation was swiftly rectified by the team's supporters, who donated somewhat in excess of a ton of cat food, along with almost no actual money). They went out with a bit of a bang, overcoming a 10-point penalty for begin broke to avoid relegation from the Conference National Division (basically the 5th division of the English league structure. However, the good news is that the team has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes, and will contest the upcoming season as FC Halifax Town in the Unibond Northern League Divison One (the 8th division, if you will). The cat's opinion of all of this is unrecorded.

Very Happy Birthday Wishes... Crimson Rambler!! And here's to many more!

Update!!: And... here's another good thing that happened on an August 9th!

Friday, August 8, 2008

'Tis That Time Again...

More on the upcoming season tomorrow!

Monday, August 4, 2008

More Musical Interlude

Well, since Crimson Rambler recently mentioned it, here you go!

Update: Something seems to be up with Youtube, or perhaps Blogger, since the video above and all the other Youtube things I've posted are showing "This video is no longer available" messages. However, never fear! The video is indeed still there on Youtube, and, even though the visual part of it isn't working, you can still hear the music on this site. Which is, after all, the point. I'll look into it more later on.

Update II: And... everything seems to be working fine again!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

And A Very Happy Dies Natalis To You!

So I was busy the other day attempting to come up with a bonus question for the exam I intended to inflict on my poor Latin students on Friday (Note: exam was duly inflicted). And since we had just week taken a look at some of the more interesting graffiti from Pompeii and Ostia, it seemed a good idea to give them their very own graffito to try to untangle. I should point out here that ancient Roman creators of graffiti were just as in touch with the idea of good spelling and grammar as their modern counterparts. Anyway, I think that the graffito I chose, in the end, is actually quite lovely. It's from Pompeii, and was/is located in Via della Fortuna, a street of shops and houses located North of the Forum.

Via della Fortuna

Unfortunately, very unfortunately, I don't have a photo of the actual graffito itself. However, it reads:

illa nata
diie Satu
ora secu
v IIII Non Au

And what does it say? Well, the first line, "Iuen," is a shortened form of the name "Iuenilla," which is itself a variant spelling of "Iuvenilla," a common Roman girl's name. We know this because next to the graffito the name is spelled out in full, around a drawing of a baby. Why a baby? The next line of the graffito explains that. It translates as "that (girl) was born," with the form of the verb "to be" left out. We are dealing here with the announcement of a birth.

The third line, "diie Satu," contains a misspelling. "Diie" should, in fact, be "die," in the ablative case indicating time when, and thus meaning "on the day." "Satu" is short for "Saturni," meaning "of Saturn." Thus we end up with "on the day of Saturn" - in other words, "on Saturday." The Romans did have a seven-day week by this time, with the days named after celestial bodies, a practise that most Romance languages have followed, and that is preserved in English in the names "Saturday," "Sunday," and "Monday."

Break Time! Here's Mount Vesuvius, on a glowery sort of day.

On to the fourth line, then! "Ora" is again in the ablative case for time when. In "proper" written Latin, it would have been "hora," but the initial "h" very often drops out in more colloquial writings, and probably did so in speech as well. "Secu" is short for "secunda," also in the ablative case agreeing with "ora." Taken together, it means "at the second hour."

The last line is where it gets a bit tricky. At first glance, it would appear to translate as "nine (v IIII) days before the Nones (Non) of August (Au)," a Roman date written in the standard format. However, the problem here is that you cannot have a date written as "nine days before the Nones." The Roman month had three Named Days: the Kalends (the first day of the month, and from which we get the word "calendar"), the Nones (the 5th or the 7th, depending on the month), and the infamous Ides (the 13th or 15th). The actual date of a particular day was reckoned based on how many days it was until the next Named Day. Nine days before the Nones would be back before the Kalends, and thus the date would have been written "so many days before the Kalends of August." Therefore we must dispense for now with the "v," and read this as "four days before the Nones of August." The Nones fall on the 5th in August. However, just to be difficult, the Romans reckoned inclusively, so in counting backwards, we must count the 5th, not the 4th, as "1." And so we count off the days: 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd. Iuvenilla was born on Saturday, the 2nd of August.

*Pauses to check today's date*

Finally, we must do something with the "v" in the last line. It actually goes with "ora secu" in the line above, and stood for "vespertina," or "vesprae," or "vesperi," or "vesperis." It doesn't really matter which of them it is, as they all mean, roughly, "evening," so we are dealing with the second hour of the evening. Like us, the Romans had a 24-hour day. However, they achieved this by dividing the time between sunrise and sunset into 12 equal portions, and doing the same for the time between sunset and sunrise. This meant two things. First of all, except at the Equinoctes, the daytime hours were not the same length as the night hours. Secondly, the length of a Roman hour changed over the course of the year, ranging from about 44 minutes to about 76, with the day hours at their longest when the night hours were shortest, and vice versa. And so, after doing a bit of research on when the sun rises and sets in Italy in early August, we can say with some confidence that Iuvenilla was born at around 10:00 pm.

Artist's rendering of the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79

Ok, then, to put it all together, we end up with this:

Literal translation: "Iuvenilla. That girl was born on the Day of Saturn, at the second hour of evening, 4 days before the Nones of August."

Less literal translation: "Iuvenilla. The girl was born on Saturday, August 2, at about 10:00 pm."

Our anonymous graffito-writer has not given any indication of the year of Iuvenilla's birth. However, if we accept two completely unprovable premises, we can at least make an educated guess. First premise: that the calendar has not been distorted at any time, apart from the switch from the Julian version to the Gregorian (September 1752 for Britain and her North American colonies, incidentally), and that therefore we can actually compute accurately the days of the week for a particular ancient year. This is not, perhaps, as unlikely as it might seem. Second premise: That the graffito refers to the last August 2 to fall on a Saturday before the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. I am tentatively assuming this simply because I think it unlikely that the graffito would have survived in any legible state for very long. If I ever see a photo of it, I may revise this opinion. Assuming these two things, then, and having found an excellent day-of-the-week calculator that takes into account the change in calendar, I would submit A.D. 77 as the most likely candidate. I would repeat, however, that there are some very big "ifs" here.

Well, this has been a very long post. I would like to close it by returning to the title, and wishing a very Happy Birthday to Iuvenilla, whoever she was (and would mention, without going into detail, the there are reasons to be optimistic that she survived the eruption)!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Musical Interlude!

Hmm, how about a nice fluffy piece of synth-pop (with horns, and fluty bits), ideal for a warm summer afternoon/evening! Will it get stuck in your head, never ever to remove itself? Yes, yes it will. You have been warned!