Unlike Last Season, Early Schedule Will Challenge Cubs In 2017

The celebration has ended, the 108 year drought is over, and baseball on Chicago’s North Side should return to normal. In other words, fans of the Cubs can go back to worrying.

Several big concerns face them as they look toward the 2017 season, in addition to the nearly impossible task of topping the World Series Championship they earned in October. No team has won the Fall Classic back to back in this century, although a much shorter span than the Cubs endured between titles.

That trip to the World Series was made easier by the early schedule, an arrangement the Cubs will not enjoy next April. Chicago did not play a winning team until April 18 against the Cardinals, which was their fifth series of the season. The Cubs did not play another winning team until May 2, when they played the Pirates. Spending the first month against the likes of Cincinnati, Arizona, Atlanta, and Milwaukee would provide nearly any team with the confidence needed to carry them through the most important stretch of the season. To emphasize just how important a hot start is, examine the National League from last season.

All four of the teams who reached the Division Series posted winning percentages over.700 during the first week of 2016, led by the Cubs and Nationals winning eight of their first nine games. The Giants were victorious in six of their first eight, and the Dodgers won seven of their first ten.

The advantage of opening against non-contenders will not be available to the Cubs in 2017, when the early part of their schedule features matchups against the only two teams that had winning records against Chicago last year. They open in St. Louis on April 2nd, a Sunday night game between the two rivals that will be broadcast on national television.

What could make that initial series even more troubling for the Cubs is the strong possibility that one of their most exciting players from last year will be playing for the opposing team. Center fielder Dexter Fowler, Chicago’s spark plug at the top of the batting order, is a free agent. Many baseball writers have projected St. Louis as the most likely team to sign Fowler. After the series in St. Louis, the Cubs must play the team that nearly eliminated them in the NLCS. The Dodgers, who won both of their regular season series against the Cubs in 2016, have the opportunity to avenge their playoff loss on the opening weekend in April.

The hot start Chicago used to build momentum for their World Series run last year is far less likely to befall them in 2017, simply because of the competition. Instead of opening against last place clubs like San Diego and Cincinnati, the Cubs will be tested right out of the chute by teams expecting to be contenders.

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Less Than 1,000 Days Until the Next Total Solar Eclipse in the United States

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible in some areas of the United States. This is now less than 1,000 days away. The event has been a long time coming. While the last total solar eclipse to be seen in the United States occurred in 1991, that event was limited to Hawaii. Before that, the last solar eclipse visible from the continental United States was on February 26, 1979.

While the 1979 event tracked across Oregon, Washington and Montana, people in 12 states will see the 2017 event. Both eclipses started in Oregon. The earlier one then tracked up into Canada. The 2017 eclipse starts in Oregon, travels across the central United States before finishing far out to sea beyond South Carolina.

A total solar eclipse is a rather rare occurrence. Estimates place the likelihood of any point on Earth experiencing one only every 400 years. This is not absolute, however. Several Oregon locations saw the 1979 eclipse and they will see the 2017 event as well. For them, experiencing two solar eclipses in a little more than 35 years is quite unusual. Closer yet are the cities of Carbondale, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Residents there will see the 2017 eclipse as well as another in April, 2024. This separation of less than seven years for these two eclipses is very unusual. Of course, it may be hundreds of years before these cities see another.

To be a total eclipse, the moon must completely obscure the sun, for an observer standing on Earth. This can occur monthly, at New Moon. Ordinarily, however, the moon passes either above, or below, the sun’s position, as viewed from Earth. As a result, the moon’s shadow normally sweeps across open space. On rare occasions, as the moon passes directly in front of the sun, a shadow is cast upon the surface of the Earth. If the sun is partially obscured, a partial eclipse results. If the sun is completely obscured, a total solar eclipse occurs. The moon is much smaller than the sun, of course. In fact, the moon is some 400 times smaller. In an astronomical twist, the moon is also 400 times closer to the Earth. This makes the apparent size of the moon very close to the apparent size of the sun. When the moon passes directly in front of the sun, it is able to completely eclipse the sun, for some viewers on Earth.

The shadow cast by the moon, however, is very small. Depending on the distance between the Earth and the moon, which varies somewhat, the moon’s shadow will darken a strip of Earth about 70 miles wide. This strip is called the Zone of Totality. Those people located within this zone will experience a total solar eclipse. Those near, but outside, will see a partial solar eclipse.

On August 21, 2017, the sun is eclipsed for as much as 2 minutes and 40 seconds at the maximum point. Hopkinsville, Kentucky happens to be located at this point. People not located there may see a shorter eclipse duration. Those located outside the zone of totality will only see a partial eclipse. Some cities that will experience totality include Nashville, Tennessee, Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri. The 2017 eclipse will potentially be seen by millions of people located across the United States.

Each total solar eclipse is unique, but there are similarities. The Earth will darken over time as the moon obscures more and more of the sun. This is the partial eclipse phase. As totality approaches, the amount of sunlight striking the Earth will be greatly diminished. The sky will become similar to twilight. Colors normally seen at sunset will be visible during the day. Birds, animals and insects will be fooled into believing that night is falling. Some will return to their nests or roosts. Nocturnal creatures will begin to emerge. These effects often happen even if a total solar eclipse occurs early in the morning. After totality ends, another partial eclipse phase occurs until the moon passes beyond the sun’s location.

The biggest factor that cannot be predicted with certainty is the weather on August 21, 2017. Cloudy weather could obscure the eclipse for interested observers. As a result, many people examine historical weather patterns in order to determine prime eclipse viewing locations. Since the 2017 event occurs in August, there are some rather promising weather possibilities. In Oregon, the August weather tends to be sunny and dry, perfect eclipse conditions. Morning fog, storms, or clouds, could thwart eclipse viewers, however.

Idaho and Wyoming residents will also experience the 2017 eclipse. The weather in these states could allow a very good eclipse viewing experience. The eclipse occurs fairly early in the day, lessening the possibility of localized thunderstorms.

As the total solar eclipse tracks across more states, from Nebraska to South Carolina, the possibility of inclement weather increases. These locations will experience the eclipse later in the day. Afternoon storms, or hazy weather, could be encountered. Such weather could limit the eclipse experience.

Many US cities have already begun planning for the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. The event represents an opportunity to entertain tens of thousands of visitors to cities located within the zone of totality. With proper attention to details, cities can provide a favorable eclipse experience that also highlights the attractions of the local area. Weather permitting, of course.

Bonus Facts:

– the distance from the Earth to the moon increases each year. In less than 1.5 billion years, the moon will not be close enough to produce total solar eclipses. After that, only partial or annular eclipses will occur.

– when the moon eclipses the sun, the sky darkens enough to allow planets and bright stars to be seen in the daytime. On August 21, 2017, the bright star Rigel should be visible low in the south. – Albert Einstein predicted that a total solar eclipse could provide direct proof of the General Theory of Relativity. He postulated that the eclipsed sun would cause light to be bent, for an observer on Earth. This would be proved as stars located behind the sun would appear to be shifted in location. This visual evidence was demonstrated during an eclipse in 1919.

– as the moon passes in front of the sun, it blocks enough sunlight that the solar corona, the super heated atmosphere, becomes visible to people on Earth. The shape of the corona is different during each eclipse as it is influenced by the level of magnetic solar storms, which constantly changes.

– ancient civilizations did not understand the science responsible for total solar eclipses. Eclipses were attributed to supernatural causes and thought to be bad omens.

– the theoretical maximum duration of a total solar eclipse is about 7 minutes. The 2017 eclipse is less than half this duration, at 2 minutes, 40 seconds for those located in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

– the sun is not safe to view during any portion of the partial eclipse phase. Even if only 1% of the sun is visible, observers risk damage to their eyes through direct observation. At this eclipse stage, the sun appears to be dim enough to view. Unfortunately, the lit portion still transmits full force sunlight to the optic nerve. Because the level of light is so much lower than normal, the observer feels no urge to avert their gaze. Moreover, the optic nerve does not contain pain receptors so victims are unaware that their eyesight is being damaged. Proper eye protection is vital for all observers of the partial solar eclipse phase.

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Five Former All-Stars Who Need To Have Comeback Years in 2017

St. Louis did to Chicago what the Cubs did to the Cardinals during last year’s off season, signing a valuable part of their outfield to a free agent contract. In 2015 Jason Heyward went from the Cardinals to the Cubs, where he received a World Series ring.

This year, the Cardinals returned the favor, signing Dexter Fowler to a free agent deal. Fowler served as a spark at the lead off spot for the Cubs, as well as providing near Gold Glove defense in center field.

St. Louis hopes the overall season turns out as well as 2016 did for Heyward and the Cubs, who won their first Fall Classic in over one hundred years. In order for that to happen, the Cardinals will have to get better individual results from Fowler than the Cubs did from Heyward. Although he remained a top notch defensive right fielder, Heyward’s offensive numbers were disappointing. He struggled so much that manager Joe Madden did not even start him in several World Series games against the Indians.

The Cubs are hoping Heyward has a comeback season in 2017, as are a dozen or so other players. Several of them were mentioned in an article by David Schoenfield at ESPN.com on December 6,2016, a list including Arizona pitcher Zack Greinke, Boston infielder Pablo Sandoval, and Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Omitted from that list are five other players who are hoping to bounce back after a down year, or in some cases, back to back down years. Here are five other prominent players who need to have comeback years in 2017.

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins

The former American League Most Valuable Player has had two sub par years in a row, even though he still leads the Twins in quality at bats. Mauer’s batting averages in 2015 and 2016 were both more than thirty under his career .319 mark.

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals

After earning the National League M.V. P. honors the season before, Harper hit just .243 and his 24 home runs were barely half of the total he hit in 2015. The outfielder is also hoping to improve his numbers considerably, since he is eligible for free agency after the season.

Andrew McCutcheon of the Pittsburgh Pirates

Trade talk regarding the former N.L. M.V.P. has been frequent throughout the winter, so his comeback may have to occur while he is wearing the uniform of a club other than the Pirates. Ben Revere of the Washington Nationals

After hitting.317 with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015, Revere’s average plummeted to .214 when he went to Washington. He really needs a comeback year for, like his teammate Harper, he will become a free agent at the end of the season.

Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals

His home run totals went up four from 2015, but his batting average dropped fifty one points to .221. Kansas City, which missed out on the playoffs after winning two straight pennants, needs Gordon to bounce back if they want to return to the postseason.

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Stay Healthy and Wealthy

When you make those New Year’s resolutions, you’re thinking about fresh starts and the year ahead. What you might not realize is that some resolutions also could save money. Here are some popular resolutions that could help get you and your finances in shape in 2017.

Quit smoking: You can save money by stopping a pack-a-day habit, which can cost between $1,825 and $3,650 per year, depending on the cost of cigarettes in your area. Nationally, a pack-a-day smoker is going to spend an average of $2,000 annually on cigarette costs.

Set up and stick to a realistic budget: If you want to resolve to stick to a budget in 2017, you must start with a realistic plan. People tend to make financial resolutions the same way they do a weight loss plan. If you start with lofty goals they will be unachievable within a month. List your priorities for spending rather than restricting your spending. Focus on necessary expenses then include a certain amount for retirement savings. Then with the remaining money you have each month, set aside a little for enjoyment. It’s critical you have rewards in your budget.

Exercise regularly: You’ll save money in several ways with regular exercise. On average, Americans are spending $7,800 annually on health care, according to the National Association of Health Underwriters. But exercise brings real savings. “If people are eating right and exercising three times a week for 20 minutes a day, they see prescription costs decrease by 70 percent and medical costs decrease by 30 percent,” says Ric Edelman of Edelman Financial Services. Stop spending money recklessly: One of the best ways to stop spending your money recklessly is to track where it is going each month. Check with your credit union and download their free mobile budgeting app that shows expenditures by category so you can monitor your spending. A great way to get your spending under control is quit trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. If you want to fix your bad spending habits in 2017 start hanging out with other spendthrifts because you will likely become one yourself.

Eat healthier: A healthy eating plan can be as — or more — economical than fast food. It’s a total myth that eating healthy is expensive. Buy smaller but leaner cuts of meat, eat protein-rich beans and buy produce in season when it’s freshest and least expensive. A smaller amount of a leaner cut can slice your food bill and your bad cholesterol.

Build an emergency fund: Nothing takes the stress out of financial situation like spare cash. If you are among the millions of Americans that don’t have enough money set aside to cover unexpected expenses or emergencies, then you should resolve to build one in 2017. Experts recommend putting enough money in a savings account to cover six months’ worth of expenses in case of unexpected emergencies like job loss, maternity leave or medical issues. You can always apply a small amount of your paycheck towards this account, so you make sure it is hidden from you.

Pay off high-interest debt: Paying down credit card debt is one of the most popular short-term goals in 2017. Try focusing on paying off your high-interest credit card debt before other debts because it is more expensive. And, it you are motivated by seeing those results first hand, start by paying off your card with the lowest balance first so you can feel that sense of accomplishment. Create your estate plan: An important 2017 resolution would be to tie up any financial loose ends for your loved ones so they aren’t left trying to pick up the pieces. Make sure you have a will or trust that designates who’s in control of your assets. You certainly don’t want the state court system to make that decision for you. Don’t forget to designate a guardian for your children, and someone who will make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

Develop common financial goals with your partner: Many times finances are the biggest source of conflict between couples. It’s important that couples sit down and create a financial plan. It doesn’t usually work to try and manage their finances separately.

Any of these resolutions can help improve your financial security in 2017. I suggest tackling one financial tip each month so you don’t get overwhelmed. Then as you get accustomed to the new approach to spending and saving, add another. By the time 2017 starts dwindling toward 2018, you will find you’ve made progress on achieving your financial goals.

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The Future of Android Games, Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality

Mobile gaming has come a very long way since the introduction of crude & simple games like Snake and Pong which were available on early Nokia phones. Mobile processors and graphics are now as powerful as desktop computers were just a few years ago. Older generations still remember lugging around a Game Boy or Game gear and begging their parents for another game. New generations literally have access to 100’s of thousands of games on their mobile device.

In short, mobile gaming has exploded in just a few years time. In the month of July 2016 there were 63.1 million arcade games downloaded & games in the “strategy” category generated $195M revenue. In a recent study over 37% of mobile app users with 30 minutes of free time choose to play games over any other activity. We’ve all seen it and we’ve all done it ourselves, whether its waiting for an appointment or sitting at the airport, we pull out our mobile device and jump into a quick game to kill the time.

So what does all of this mean for the future of android gaming? For starters, the massive amounts of revenue and user interest in android gaming has bolstered continuous innovation and fierce competition in the global marketplace. For example, just 12 months ago, top executives were saying they didn’t see any major benefit to augmented reality. With the release of Pokemon Go and estimates citing as much as $500 million in revenue in just 60 days, I think we can all agree augmented reality is here to stay. Virtual reality is another area that has been picking up steam in recent months. You can now buy virtual reality headsets at local gas stations for a mere $30. Or if you’re on a budget you can purchase Google Cardboard for as little as $7.00. There are still only a limited number of VR enabled games but that number is increasing daily. Not only that, as more and more people experience VR we are sure to see a blockbuster release sooner or later.

Let’s take a look at some real life examples of recent game releases. Dawn of Titans which was recently released on Google Play was in development for over 2 years. This is akin to the development cycle of a mid-level PC game release on Steam. The game features mass controlled troops, world building elements and impressive graphics. A few years ago this would be considered a major release for the Android platform. These days this is just another drop in the massive pond. With over 2.4 million apps and games currently listed on Google Play it’s become harder and harder to stand out. This is actually good news for gamers as developers are working harder and faster to create new innovative titles to attract users.

I firmly believe that both Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) titles are going to gain more traction in 2017. Major developers who can pump out triple A content can’t be left in the dust while indie developers pump out AR and VR enabled games. They will be forced to port existing titles and come up exciting new ways to interact with the mobile devices.

There are many gimmicky games available that utilize the phones microphone, gyroscope, camera and accelerometer. However, these sensors combined with AR and VR could bring a whole new experience to gamers. Imagine walking through a recreated 3D world that represents your neighbourhood, immersed in full virtual reality, and using your phone as a targeting device to defend against waves of zombies. This is already possible with the technology that is available, it just needs to be packaged in a user friendly way that people can enjoy. Combining meticulous graphics with well thought out virtual reality experiences would be impressive indeed. If you’re familiar with PC based virtual reality demo’s you already know how immersive the experience can be. It’s only a matter of time before these same experiences make their way to our mobile devices en masse. And to think, only 30 years ago we were playing Mario on our beloved Nintendo consoles. Let’s not even mention the Virtual Boy that burned your eyes after 2 minutes of playing tennis. Android games and mobile games in general have come a long ways since then and they will continue to push barriers even further in the near future.

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