Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 18 April 2014

Crain's reported today (sub.req.) that Lagunitas Brewing will cap their first Chicago-brewed beer today:

Workers at the 300,000-square-foot Douglas Park facility are firing up the bottling line this morning and slapping on Lagunitas India Pale Ale labels. Once they flip the switch, the line will fill 500 bottles a minute.

"It's just the IPA right now," said owner Tony Magee. "It's the beer we know best."

The first 750-barrel batch of beer was mixed a few weeks ago before heading to the brewery's fermenting tanks and filtration system. Other batches of IPA are right behind as production begins to ramp up. The Chicago brewery is set to start making Little Sumpin' Sumpin' beer next month.

Crain's also reports that Lagunitas is now Illinois' largest brewer, with a capacity of 200,000 barrels—23.5 million litres—per year.

Friday 18 April 2014 12:05:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

After years of doing whatever they were doing, the CTA has released details of its planned Red and Purple Line renovations north of Belmont:

We already know the first phase of the project, set to begin in 2017, will involve rehabbing the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations and replacing tracks for the Red and Purple Lines at those stations to reduce slow zones. CTA has started the process of securing federal funding to extend the Red Line from its current southern endpoint at 95th Street to 130th Street, using existing freight rail tracks. That project would cost $2.3 billion.

The aspect of the Red/Purple Line rehab we’re most impressed by is a “Belmont bypass” allowing the Brown Line to continue along its route by riding above the existing Red and Purple Line rails. Currently the Brown Line has to negotiate its route by crossing those rails, resulting in 40 percent of weekday trains being delayed by up to three minutes.

In order for the bypass to be built CTA will have to buy 16 buildings between Belmont Avenue and Addison Street in order to make room for the project. The total cost of the Belmont bypass is included in the $1.7 billion cost the first phase of Red and Purple Line rehab is expected to cost.

The CTA says the bypass project will save 500,000 passenger-hours per year.

Friday 18 April 2014 08:28:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Travel#
Thursday 17 April 2014

As of today, 8 million people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Krugman puts it in perspective:

[T]he benefits of Obamacare, for all its imperfections, are immense. Millions of people who lived extremely anxious lives now have far more security than before. Compared with those benefits, the complaints of some already insured people that they have less choice of doctors than before, or that they’re no longer allowed to retain minimalist plans, look like whining. (And of course not one of the more serious-sounding stories about soaring premiums and all that has held up under scrutiny.)

And speaking of whining, the GOP response seems to be to make every possible insinuation to the effect that the numbers are somehow fraudulent. I actually don’t think there’s a game plan here; their whole position was premised on the inevitable collapse of health reform, and they have no plan B.

Winning.

Thursday 17 April 2014 17:15:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Politics | US#
Wednesday 16 April 2014

So, Sunday's car problem is decidedly non-trivial. As I suspected, the water pump failed. I got lucky yesterday because the cold air allowed me to get the car all the way to the nearest dealer (barely 2 km away), but the car is essentially undriveable.

This is a $1400 repair.

I am selling a kidney. Any takers?

Wednesday 16 April 2014 10:20:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Tuesday 15 April 2014

This lovely spring morning in Chicago:

It's April 15th. And we have snow on the ground. Again.

At least we got a new record:

Snow has historically been no stranger in Chicago during the month of April. Official snow records indicate a trace or more of snow has fallen this late in 86 of the past 129 seasons dating back to 1884-85. That’s 67% of the time.

But the amount of snow which fell Monday and the fact it occurred within 3 days of 27°C warmth (on Saturday) and on a day which opened near 20°C is without precedent. Neither has occurred before over the 129 year term of official Chicago snow records.

Monday’s preliminary snow totals through 10 pm came in at 30 mm at O’Hare and 25 mm at Midway.

The 30 mm tally at O’Hare equals the amount of snow which typically falls over the full month of April and was the heaviest official snowfall to occur here so late in a season in 3 decades.

Winter, you're drunk. Go home.

Tuesday 15 April 2014 13:11:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 14 April 2014

After a last-minute offer was rejected by a Quebec court, Montreal-based Bixi (who make the bikes Divvy uses) was bought for C$4m by Canadian adventurer Bruno Rodi:

At the last minute, the New York company REQX Ventures – a project of Equinox Fitness and luxury real estate behemoth Related Companies – countered with an offer for $5.5 million. Both Rodi and REQX were willing to pay cash for the international arm of Bixi, which is $44 million in debt.

REQX’s sally came too late, a Quebec Superior Court justice decided on Friday after hearing lengthy arguments. Rodi’s $4 million carried the day, and all of it will go to the city of Montréal, which is Bixi’s major creditor and has shelled out an estimated total of $40 million on the bike-share innovator since it was founded in 2008.

Rodi is quite possibly the most interesting man in the world, though it's not clear he drinks Dos Equis.

Monday 14 April 2014 14:10:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Travel#

I just took Parker for his evening constitutional, and discovered it's really warm out. My kitchen thermometer says it's 17°C, but the official temperature at O'Hare is 9°C. That's...unusual. In fact, here's what the weather near me looks like:

So, O'Hare and Midway, which are about 25 km apart, have a temperature delta of fully 10°C. If you look at a slightly more distant pair, say Waukegan and Gary, which are both on Lake Michigan but separated north-to-south by less than 100 km, the temperature delta is almost 16°C. That is one hell of a cold front.

And it's coming...this...way...

Sunday 13 April 2014 22:45:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 13 April 2014

Near Lincoln and Bryn Mawr, 4pm:

The 9 km tow to my house was $150. It appears as if the water pump has failed. The car is driveable for short distances, so I hope that Tuesday morning I can get it to the nearest dealer, 2 km away.

I am not happy about this.

Sunday 13 April 2014 17:21:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

Just this morning I wrote about how warm the weather had gotten (finally!) but how it would get cooler throughout today.

Well, between 10:45 and 11, while I was in the grocery, the wind shifted, plunging the temperature 7°C and making me suddenly under-dressed. Plus, it's foggy.

Spring, we hope, will return in two weeks.

Sunday 13 April 2014 11:23:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#

Yesterday Chicago got up to 27°C, one more "warmest day since November 7th." We've had a few of those recently. (November 7th got up to 28°C.)

It stayed relatively warm overnight, though, so for the first time in half a year I got to have dinner outside. This morning it's still warm enough to go outside without a jacket.

But this is Chicago. The forecast calls for falling temperatures and rain starting this afternoon, falling to 3°C tonight and slipping below freezing Monday night. With snow.

Sitll, for the next few hours, we have some sun and some warmth, so Parker and I are going outside for a bit.

Sunday 13 April 2014 09:09:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 11 April 2014

Forget the Kennedy Expressway during rush hour; Chicago's railroads are worse:

Come to the west side of Chicago to find out why a power plant in Michigan is short of coal and a biodiesel maker in Brewster, Minnesota, can’t get enough grain.

The answer is found near Western Avenue, where rail cars from Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM), the largest U.S. publicly traded ethanol producer, rest idle on the track above the Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway. A short drive away a burnt orange, yellow and black locomotive from Warren Buffett’s BNSF railway sits on an overpass as motor traffic is snarled below.

They can’t move because increasing oil production from North Dakota’s Bakken field, a record grain crop and unprecedented cold weather overwhelmed the U.S. railroad system. In part because of transport delays, coal inventories were down 26 percent in January from a year ago. A quarter of all U.S. freight rail traffic passes through Chicago, or 37,500 rail cars each day. The trip through the city can take more than 30 hours.

This has pushed up coal prices and cut coal consumption, which Bloomberg sees as a problem but I'm not so sure actually is. Also, BNSF is spending $5 billion on service upgrades near the oil fields, including adding 500 locomotives, 5,000 rail cars, and 300 crew members.

Friday 11 April 2014 11:52:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Travel#
Thursday 10 April 2014

Right on time—i.e., six months after screwing up worse than any HHS secretary in history—Kathleen Sibelius has resigned:

Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning, U.S. officials told NBC News on Thursday.

U.S. officials told NBC News that President Barack Obama would nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently director of the White House Office and Management and Budget, to succeed Sebelius, 65, the former governor of Kansas, who was an original member of the Cabinet that Obama appointed when he took office in January 2009.

No reason for Sebelius' departure, was immediately available, but she came under sustained criticism as head of the agency in charge of the controversial rollout of Obama's health care reform initiative.

For those of you reading overseas, particularly in the U.K., we do things differently than most other democracies. In the U.K., when a minister completely fails at his job, he resigns more or less immediately, and gets back in government (or shadow government) usually at the next election. In the U.S., when a cabinet secretary completely fails, she waits six months, resigns, and never holds that level of responsibility again.

Now, contrast British and American bankruptcy laws and you will see how completely backwards these things are. British bankruptcy ruins a person; it's really the very-last-ditch thing you can do before living on the street. American bankruptcy is a chance to start over, and usually done just at the point where a person is in serious default but not yet destitute.

So it's interesting how our government resignations are just the opposite. Then again, someone like Sibelius will usually has no trouble earning millions on the lecture-and-book circuit, which I believe isn't an option in the U.K.

Anyway, Sibelius has resigned pretty much six months to the day that her epic failure became public knowledge. It's the American way, after all.

Thursday 10 April 2014 18:20:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

Last week at my remote office, a man came to the bar to order the Duke's most excellent fish and chips for takeout. Then he asked a question: is the fish beer-battered? Well, yes, of course it is; it's a Scottish pub.

Unfortunately for the pub's sales and the customer's stomach pangs, he was an observant Muslim, and believes alcohol is haram. So we got into a conversation about whether beer-battered fish was in this category. (Pubs in London have many more Muslim customers than pubs in Chicago, so they generally don't use beer in their fish batter.)

I'm not religious, not even a tiny bit, but I understand some people keep strict dietary laws like halal. Some people in my own family are strictly Kosher too. But putting aside my feelings that dietary laws in the 21st century make no sense except as a way to keep the observant ethnic group separate from society, the question "is beer-battered fried fish haram" actually interested me.

Again, as a rational person, I would have assumed that the reason alcohol is haram has to do with its intoxicating effects. Since ethanol boils at 78°C, well below the oil's temperature (150-175°C or so), it pretty much evaporates completely when the fish is fried. People get intoxicated on fish-and-chip nights at the Duke (all you can eat Wednesdays and Fridays!), but from the 90 single malts and half-dozen beers on draught, not from the fish.

But it turns out, once it touches alcohol, it's haram:

Fire/cooking does not remove impurity, and the Shafi’i School considers alcohol, like beer, impure. Therefore, even when cooking removes all the alcohol, contamination with the impurity makes eating it problematic.

And Allah knows best.

In fact, most imams seem to agree that food becomes haram as soon as it touches impure oil, even if it is chemically purified by frying:

So long as we know that most of what is fried [with this oil] is impure [for the Muslims to eat] from dead [meat (of the animal which had died prior to slaughter)] or pig [meat], then it is imperative that we ask. However, if we do not know whether most of what is fried [with this oil] is impure [for the Muslims to eat] or other than that, then it is not obligatory to question. And Allaah has the complete knowledge [of all affairs].

But there may be an out:

Hanafi muftis allow the consumption of products containing alcohol from sources other than grapes or dates so long as: 1) it does not intoxicate and 2) it is not used in vain. Also, the amount of alcohol must not exceed 0.5%. Thus, if the amount of beer used is disproportional to the extent of more than 0.5%, then such a product would not be permitted. If the amount of alcohol is 0.5% or less, then they would allow it.

Why Allah decided on 1/200th as the magic amount, what "in vain" means, and how the Hanafi muftis in question learned these specifications, are beyond the scope of this blog post. And it seems to be an open question whether the 0.5% refers to the ethanol itself or to the beer as a whole, but I'm going with the actual alcohol content. I will endeavor to find out from Colin Cameron how much beer exactly gets used in the preparation of fish and chips, and what kind of beer, so that the guy who just wanted a chippie to take away can have it from the Duke without going to hell.

Thursday 10 April 2014 11:25:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | Religion#

Via Sullivan, science has discovered how to keep your grilled meat from killing you:

Now comes some better news. Scientists have found that marinating pork in beer--yes, beer--can reduce the level of carcinogens. According to this study, black ale has the most beneficial qualities, reducing eight types of PAHs by 53%, compared to meat that hadn't been soaked at all. Nonalcoholic Pilsner beer was also useful, showing a 25% reduction, followed by Pilsner (13%). Each piece of meat was marinated for four hours.

The Economist:

This welcome advice was the result of some serious experiments, as Dr Ferreira explains in a paper in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The PAHs created by grilling form from molecules called free radicals which, in turn, form from fat and protein in the intense heat of this type of cooking. One way of stopping PAH-formation, then, might be to apply chemicals called antioxidants that mop up free radicals. And beer is rich in these, in the shape of melanoidins, which form when barley is roasted. So Dr Ferreira and her colleagues prepared some beer marinades, bought some steaks and headed for the griddle.

One of their marinades was based on Pilsner, a pale lager. A second was based on a black beer (type unstated). Since black beers have more melanoidins than light beers—as the name suggests, they give it colour—Dr Ferreira’s hypothesis was that steaks steeped in the black-beer marinade would form fewer PAHs than those steeped in the light-beer marinade, which would, in turn, form fewer than control steaks left unmarinated.

And so it proved. When cooked, unmarinated steaks had an average of 21 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of PAHs per gram of grilled meat. Those marinated in Pilsner averaged 18 nanograms. Those marinated in black beer averaged only 10 nanograms. Tasty and healthy too, then. Just what the doctor ordered.

Next time I'm at Morton's, I'll expect to see the porter-marinated Porterhouse on the menu.

Wednesday 9 April 2014 19:06:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink#
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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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