Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 26 August 2014

Noam Scheiber writes today that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other right-wing Republicans are fighting the most important elections in this cycle:

But consider what happens if Republicans fail to win the Senate, in which case Walker’s re-election may loom even larger. The GOP will be coming off its third disappointing election in four cycles. Some Republicans will insist it’s long past time to moderate the party’s stance on issues like immigration and gay rights, as they did after the 2012 drubbing. But those voices will almost certainly be drowned out by right-wingers who say Republicans haven’t stood firmly enough in defense of conservative principles. And Walker, the governor who managed to destroy the left and live to tell about it in a swing state, will loom as an incredibly appealing model. His brand of aggressively partisan, aggressively conservative politics will immediately vault him to the top tier of presidential candidates for 2016.

Of course, if the GOP loses the Senate and Walker loses, too, I have no illusions that the GOP’s moderate reformers will suddenly win out. The party that rallied around Ted Cruz and ousted Eric Cantor partly over his supposed liberal heresies isn’t tacking to the political center any time soon. But, in a way, that’s exactly the point. What makes Walkerism so dangerous is that it puts a moderate face on what’s actually a pretty extreme set of policies. A politician working from Walker’s playbook can always say he or she is out to save taxpayers money and make government more efficient even as they’re really out to upend a decade-olds arrangement between workers and employers. (If you think Walkerism would stop at public employees unions, I have a beautiful timeshare in Green Bay to sell you...)

But why is Walker in so much trouble, despite surviving his recall election 53-47? Possibly because people really wanted the Medicaid money he turned down:

To get a look at whether a Republican governor’s policy stances matter, I re-plotted some of the relevant polling data. This time, I used two symbols to represent a governor’s stance on Medicaid expansion (and other aspects of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act):

According to these data points, Republican governors who bucked their party’s stance and accepted the policy are faring better with voters—in these races, an average of 8.5 percentage points better.

We've got two months until the election, so a lot could happen. But this is starting to look like the pendulum swinging back to center. And wow, do I hope so, because these right-wingnuts have been so depressing for so long...

Tuesday 26 August 2014 13:42:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 25 August 2014

Mainly, since I'm going there soon, I should have mentioned the 6.1 earthquake in Napa yesterday morning.

Also, a few blocks from where I'm sitting, Chicago is building a new river walk for $100 million.

Anyone else looking forward to Rick Perry's next political campaign? It should be fun.

Oh, and I went with the REI duffel.

Monday 25 August 2014 13:23:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | San Francisco#

Someimes—rarely—I disconnect for a couple of days. This past weekend I basically just hung out, walked my dog, went shopping, and had a perfectly nice absence from the Web.

Unfortunately that meant I had something like 200 RSS articles to plough through, and I just couldn't bring myself to stop dealing with (most) emails. And I have a few articles to read:

Now back to your regularly-scheduled week, already in progress...

Monday 25 August 2014 12:25:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Travel#
Friday 22 August 2014

The Sun-Times reported last night that the Cubs organization's desire to avoid paying heath-care benefits required by Obamacare led to the tarp-rolling error Tuesday night that, in turn, almost caused a forfeit:

The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers – including much of the grounds crew – under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

Sources say 10 crew members were sent home early by the bosses Tuesday night with little, if any, input from the field-level supervisors.

Tuesday's game was rained out in part because the ground crew couldn't deploy the tarp over the infield correctly. This caused water to pool on the infield dirt and grass, making the field unplayable. Since the game had gone into the 5th inning, and the Cubs were ahead, a rain out would have meant a Cubs win. The Giants successfully protested, the first time since 1986 for a Major League team.

Keep in mind, the Cubs have more revenue than 26 of the 29 other MLB teams. And they don't want to provide basic benefits to their employees?

Why do I keep going to games again?

Friday 22 August 2014 14:03:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs | US#

Crain's has the story this morning about how the airline is adapting to reduced travel expense accounts:

Waning customer interest in the costliest tickets prompted American Airlines to drop first class as it adds seats to its 47 long-haul Boeing Co. 777-200s. The aircraft will get new lie-flat business seats — plusher than coach, but lacking first- class flourishes such as pajamas, slippers and an amuse bouche.

“We're responding to what demand is,” Casey Norton, an American spokesman, said yesterday. “We've looked at what the demand level is for business and also what we need in the main cabin as well. That's where we think we've hit the sweet spot.”

The changes will leave American with international three-class service — first, business and economy — only on the 777-300ER, the carrier's biggest aircraft. Fort Worth, Texas- based American has 14 of those planes flying on some of its most-lucrative overseas routes, such as Miami-Sao Paulo, while using the 777-200 for city pairs including Chicago-Beijing.

There are some other factors here. Intense competition for business-class passengers—but not for first-class—has driven most airlines to build business classes that would be incomprehensibly luxurious to passengers who flew first class as recently as 1995. The last time I flew first class overseas on American was Tokyo to Chicago in December 2011. I didn't pay the $12,000 for the seat the airline charged other people on the plane; I paid $400 for a fare-class adjustment to my coach ticket and used frequent-flier miles for the upgrade.

If you want to travel Chicago to London next week on American, you'll pay $7,700 to fly American or BA in business class and $10,600 to fly in first class. Four weeks out the business class price remains the same but first-class seats dry up as the airline moves the refitted 777-200s onto the route.

I love flying in American's business class overseas. But like most people who do so, I'll probably never pay full price for it. And this is the root of the airline's problems with first class.

Friday 22 August 2014 10:08:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Thursday 21 August 2014

Philip Shorer on the Atlantic's CityLab blog argues for a 4-day work week:

Beyond working more efficiently, a four-day workweek appears to improve morale and well-being. The president of the UK Faculty of Public Health told the Daily Mail that a four-day workweek could help lower blood pressure and increase mental health among employees. Jay Love of Slingshot SEO saw his employee-retention rate shoot up when he phased in three-day weekends. Following this line of thought, TreeHouse, an online education platform, implemented a four-day week to attract workers, which has contributed to the company's growth.

In this scenario, employees still work 40-hour weeks, but they do so over the course of four days rather than five. This arrangement still sounds sub-optimal, though, as working at full capacity for 10 hours is more demanding than doing so for eight. Despite that, the employees at Stephens’s company still preferred 40 hours in four days to 40 hours in five days. They might be even happier—and work even better—if they worked fewer hours in addition to fewer days.

Of course, counting travel, as a consultant I frequently do four 10-hour days followed by an 8-hour day. Cutting one of those out might be a good thing.

Thursday 21 August 2014 16:01:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business#

The Wall Street Journal explains why the Cubs can sell 38,000 seats and only get 19,000 asses in them:

Since 2009, ticket sales are down almost 6,500 a game. Where have all the Cub fans gone?

The answer may be that they've in effect awakened from a beer-soaked party.

Over the first four years of Ricketts ownership, attendance sank 13.7%. It is flat so far this year versus 2013, but the figures don't include the legions of no-shows. "I have plenty of friends with tickets who can't get rid of them," said Jon Greenberg, executive editor of Team Marketing Report.

Count me in that group. After sitting through six innings of last night's sad 8-3 loss against the Giants (in which the Giants hit and fielded better than any team I've seen this season), we left shaking our heads. We've still got tonight's game available, plus the 4:05 pm back half of Tuesday's game, but we can't sell them. The Cubs will count our tickets as "paid attendance" even though no one will be using them.

It's even odds whether we're going to renew our season tickets next year, especially if the Cubs don't drop the prices. Unfortunately, it's even worse odds that the Cubs will end the season out of last place.

Thursday 21 August 2014 09:05:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs#
Wednesday 20 August 2014

I'm waiting for Azure to provision a virtual machine for me, so I thought I'd solve a nagging annoyance.

Even though I travel a lot, I don't have a good carry-on-sized bag. My medium-sized travel bag, which has been around about ten years, goes into the hold of the airplane and sometimes I don't see it again for an hour after landing at my destination. This is especially irksome when I go on a 3-day business trip.

So I've been thinking about replacing my medium-sized bag with a smaller one. I've got it nailed down to two: the REI Wheely Beast Duffel and the Travelpro Luggage Crew 9. Both are about the same size, have good (independent) reviews, cost about $150, and would allow me to donate my current medium-sized travel bag to whomever wants it. (That last bit is because the bag actually belonged to an ex.)

This isn't the biggest decision I'll make all year, but the reduction in irritation it brings will be welcome, especially given the number of 3-day business trips I expect to take this fall.

Wednesday 20 August 2014 10:47:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 19 August 2014

I had planned to write today about aviation weather radar, being an accidental landlord in Chicago, or the latest plan to replace a burned-down grocery in my old neighborhood. Instead, I'm going to gush a little about my new phone.

I've used a Windows HTC-8 for almost two years now, and I've been frustrated with it nearly the whole time. Today, while waiting out a thunderstorm at the local T-Mobile store, I decided to pick up a Samsung S5.

Instead of complaining about the HTC-8, I'll link to a comparison, and then list these things that made me giddy earlier today:

  • I have all the applications I've been missing again.
  • Android has a new, combined inbox for email they didn't have before, so I still get all my mail in one place. (This was the best feature of the Windows 8 phone.)
  • Wi-Fi calling.
  • Combined SMS and Google Hangouts.
  • An app to archive SMS. I've lost all my SMS messages for the past two years because Windows 8 doesn't have any way of extracting them.
  • Google Maps.

I could go on, and no doubt I will, but it's late in the day and I have to play with my phone some more.

Tuesday 19 August 2014 17:00:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Monday 18 August 2014

And wow, is it frustrating.

I mentioned last week that my cousin, a professional musician, had replaced his old stage piano and given me the old one. I implied but never stated explicitly that I took many years of piano lessons as a child, ending about 30 years ago. Off and on since then I've picked up some music and banged away at it in a practice room—I was a music major for a year, after all—but I haven't done anything of significance in such a long time I'd almost forgotten what it was like.

So I've been practicing again, and it's incredibly frustrating.

Take Petzold's simple Menuet in G that ever kid learns. In only two or three playings, I could get my right and left hands to sail through it independently at about 132 to the quarter note. Putting them together even at 108 was excruciating, however. Fingers on one hand would fire out of sequence while the other hand stammered along like a wounded cicada; transitions I'd practiced two dozen times would fall apart for no reason; my mind would go blank for half a second causing the whole edifice to fall. And this is the 16-bar Petzold menuet, not a freakin' prelude and fugue, FFS.

Yes, this is normal, I know. It's just that I'd forgotten. And also that I'm doing pieces every 10-year-old can do. But after only a couple of hours, I got two Petzold menuets back to fighting strength (at least until the next time I practiced), so it's more encouraging than discouraging.

And finally, I'm experiencing the chagrin that adults have always felt. Remember when your parents told your teenaged ass you'd kick yourself for giving up piano/horseback riding/competitive Yahtzee when you got older? They were right.

Monday 18 August 2014 11:43:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Writing at The Dish, Freddie deBoer argues that we made police misconduct inevitable:

But as we did with the presidency, the military, the intelligence services, and soldiers, we responded to 9/11 by buffeting our police officers with obsequious respect and endless displays of extreme gratitude. We feted them at football games and through parades in their honor. We plastered stickers celebrating them on our cars. We exhorted each other to “thank a first responder today.” We set about to create a culture of unwavering, unquestioning, credulous support for our police, and that has everything to do with today’s problems.

None of this should be surprising. In times of crisis, people often retreat to militarism, nationalism, and extreme respect for authority.

[W]hen you give any group carte blanche to do what they want, and make it clear that you will support them no matter what, how can you be surprised when they abuse that generosity? It’s human nature: people who are subject to little or no review will inevitably behave badly. No group can be expected to police itself; that’s why the foundation of our democracy is the separation of powers, the way in which different parts of government are expected to audit each other. Ultimately, though, the most important form of audit comes from the people themselves. Only the citizenry can ensure that our systems remain under our democratic control, and this function is especially important concerning the conduct of those who have the capacity to legally commit acts of violence– and to define for themselves what acts of violence are legal, whether those definitions are official or merely ad hoc. Well, we have abdicated that responsibility, and in that vacuum, misconduct, brutality, and corruption have rushed in. The problem is endemic. I don’t believe that all cops are bad, or even the majority, but I also don’t believe that this is a “few bad apples” problem. A few bad apples could not cause a problem as widespread and constant as the one we’re witnessing now.

I really hope the pendulum has started swinging back to center.

Monday 18 August 2014 11:23:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 17 August 2014

The Chicago Air and Water Show may not happen today because of rare weather conditions:

[T]he Chicago National Weather Service said "rare low clouds" are impacting the Air and Water show. Low clouds have a ceiling height of 1,000 feet, the weather service said. Only 2 to 3 percent of August days have had low clouds since 1973, the weather service said.

Now, skipping the foggy understanding of weather terms and government agencies the ABC reporter showed in that paragraph, it doesn't look good for the show. Right now conditions the lakefront has low instrument meteorological conditions due to a 125 m ceiling (somewhere around the 60th floor of most downtown buildings) and 6 km visibility. The latest forecast calls for more clouds.

We've had a cool, wet summer, following a record-cold winter, so Lake Michigan is just a huge fog maker lately. Yesterday was warm and sunny, but in the past 12 hours a low pressure system has passed directly overhead bringing northeast winds and draping a cold front across the region. It's 6°C warmer in Aurora and Kankakee than it is in Waukegan or Racine, for example.

So, thousands of people are disappointed today. Still, it's quiet and cool in Lincoln Park right now. That's not a horrible outcome.

Sunday 17 August 2014 13:38:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Weather#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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