Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 22 May 2015

Less than 24 hours ago, I put my old camera on Craigslist: $500 for the body, two old lenses, the battery pack and charger, and a 32 GB CF card.

This afternoon, someone stopped by my office, played with the camera for five minutes, handed me $450 in cash, and that was it.

Thank you, Craig. That was remarkably painless.

Friday 22 May 2015 17:07:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography | Business#
Thursday 21 May 2015

I'm not sure this produced a significantly different photo, but I've done another quick HDR image with Lightroom. First, the basic shot, posted the day after my visit to the Joint Security Area on the North-South Korean border:

Here's the first HDR attempt posted a week later:

And here's one with Lightroom 6:

The second HDRI used different source images, but only from a few seconds later. Are they significantly different? Maybe insignificantly? I must ponder...

Thursday 21 May 2015 13:57:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Photography#

WBEZ's Curious City has the story:

Every town that folded into Chicago, from Lake View to Hyde Park, had its own system for naming and numbering streets. Some towns counted out addresses starting from the Chicago River, while others started from Lake Michigan. Some placed even numbers on the north side of the street, others put them on the south. Some even let developers choose their own street names or numbers if there wasn’t a lot of local opposition.

Edward Paul Brennan was a delivery boy for his father’s grocery store, and later a bill collector for the music company Lyon & Healy. He was so frustrated with the chaos of Chicago’s address system that in 1901 he came up with his own. But it would take him years to get it implemented.

Beginning in the 1890s he started a scrapbook, collecting newspaper articles about problems with city navigation or delays due to address confusion. Articles had headlines like “Streets in a Tangle. Visitors Lost.” One report tells about a doctor who couldn’t find a patient during a house call emergency.

Today, Chicago addresses increase by 100 per block, 800 per mile. (Miles are significant because of the way land is surveyed in Illinois.) It's an easily-understood system that makes it hard to get lost in the city.

Thursday 21 May 2015 10:02:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography#
Wednesday 20 May 2015

Upgrading my camera unfortunately meant I had to upgrade Adobe Lightroom as well. But I discovered that Lightroom 6 has a basic HDR feature, which I didn't expect. For a long time I've been taking bracketed images in order to make HDR images, and then forgetting about them. Images like this one:

For comparison, here's the non-HDR image I posted back in February:

In this case, the HDR imagery expanded the dynamic range of the image without making it look really bizarre. I think it's a stronger photograph as a result, though the bottom image is still pretty.

Wednesday 20 May 2015 15:22:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#

I've just upgraded my main camera to the same model's Mark II. The first shot doesn't seem that impressive, as it's a daylight shot of a familiar view. (There are noticeable differences in Lightroom, however.) But check this out:

That was shot at ISO-51200, 1/60th second at f/5.6. I mean, holy crap.

To put this into perspective: in order to take that shot with the Tri-X Pan film I used as a kid, I'd need a 2-second exposure at the same aperture—a 7-stop difference. The mind reels. Yes, it's grainy, but it's still crisp and accurate. (It's B&W because the sodium vapor street lamps don't produce any red light, so there's no way to correct the colors.)

The 7D I got four years ago was the first digital camera that was as good as the film cameras I used to use. This is the first one that's better.

Here are the stats, updated from 2011:

Wednesday 20 May 2015 11:46:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#
Tuesday 19 May 2015

...with my new camera:

More details forthcoming...

Tuesday 19 May 2015 18:32:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#

Via Citylab, the clearest explanation yet for why subways have delays, courtesy NYMTA:

Tuesday 19 May 2015 13:20:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Travel#
Tuesday 19 May 2015 13:13:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | London | US | World | Travel#
Monday 18 May 2015

The Economist quotes a study finding that a quarter of American schoolchildren believe Canada is a dictatorship:

Most of the closed [Chicago Public School] district schools were in deprived areas. Nearly three-quarters of the children were black and more than 90% were poor. The report [from the Thomas Fordham Institute] concluded that “though fraught with controversy and political peril, shuttering bad schools might just be a saving grace for students who need the best education they can get.”

They do. And nationwide, many are not getting it. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which periodically tests sample-groups of America’s children on various subjects, this week released disappointing results for history, geography and civics for 13-year-olds. Pupils showed no improvement since 2010. Most know little about history: only 1% earned an “advanced” score in that subject. Geography scores are even worse. Most did not understand time zones, and a quarter thought Canada was a dictatorship. Results have been flat since 1994.

Speaking of Chicago public services, now that Illinois actually has to follow its constitution and pay the pensions it promised, the only way to make up the deficit is (obviously) to raise taxes. Crain's takes a look at what that would mean. Despite the newspaper's general right-wing slant, even they see the logic in it:

Gov. Bruce Rauner had proposed reducing state employee retirement payments to partly close a nearly $6.2 billion deficit in fiscal 2016. But there also are big pots of money to tap, if the governor and legislators can overcome their distaste for raising taxes.

For instance, raising income tax rates 1 percentage point would bring in nearly $4 billion, eliminating two-thirds of the deficit in one fell swoop, according to one estimate. Taxing services, such as those provided by lawyers and consultants, could yield more than $900 million annually, while taxing some retirement income could produce between $1.5 billion and $2.0 billion.

“Given the state's politics and short amount of time between now and the start of the state's fiscal year, it's hard to see how some sort of temporary tax increase or tax-base broadening could be avoided,” says Carol Portman, president of the Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois, a Springfield-based fiscal policy group.

We had a 5% income tax for a short while until the legislature allowed it to lapse. Now we're back to 3%, one of the smallest in the country (of states that have income taxes). Even though it would affect me directly, I'm not only in favor of increasing state taxes to 5%, but also of adding a 1% income tax for Chicago workers (not residents) that would work the same way New York's does.

Stop trying to destroy state and city services in order to make tax cuts seem reasonable. Well-funded public services, including pensions, make cities better to live in, as Europe has demonstrated for 60 years.

Monday 18 May 2015 08:45:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Sunday 17 May 2015

A pile of Gulf moisture has arrived in Chicago making the otherwise-comfortable 22°C feel like a sauna. I'm using the day to do some planning for my next trip (11 days, 22 hours!) and move (28 days, 22 hours!), client work, and taking Parker to an interview of sorts at a new daycare facility. Yes, an interview: he has to play with the other dogs for two hours so they can decide whether to allow him to come back. I hope he passes.

Results from that, as well as a probably thunderstorm (unrelated), later today.

Sunday 17 May 2015 10:35:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#
Friday 15 May 2015

I went to the NPR show's taping last night:

The show will be broadcast tomorrow. It's going to be hi-larious.

Friday 15 May 2015 15:18:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Politics#

South Africa Airlines will no longer transport your trophies:

Shooting a marvel of nature and shipping its carcass home seems an odd practice to many. But business is roaring. An estimated 1,000 captive lions are shot dead by mostly American and European tourists on South African ranches annually. That's nearly double the number of wild lions felled across the entire continent. Killing beasts in fenced-off, private property is easier than gunning them down on their own turf. It's also much cheaper: tourists can pay $20,000 for a captive male, compared with $75,000 for a wild one. The expansion of the “canned hunting” industry—which breeds lions by isolating mothers from their cubs to jumpstart ovulation—has lifted African trophy hunting revenues to $200m a year.

For SAA, making money from this booming trade should be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Tourists have few options but to load their spoils onto planes for one final journey, providing the flag-carrier with lucrative custom beneath the passenger deck as well as above it. Cargo can account for up to 10% of a passenger airline’s revenue. In an industry with average annual profit margins of 1-2% per cent, that is nothing to sniff at. Cargo is also one of the more trouble-free aspects of the business: freight doesn't complain when you push it around; and many of the fixed costs of getting a plane airborne apply regardless of how full the cargo hold happens to be. SAA, which is in financial straits, can ill-afford to turn away such easy money.

No matter how profitable and defensible, SAA has decided that trophy kill cargo is bad business.

Good on them. And maybe someday we'll give lions rifles and turn them loose on hunters. Or just skip the rifles.

Friday 15 May 2015 11:06:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Thursday 14 May 2015

Fortunately, I have a couple of long flights coming up in two weeks. Unfortunately, not all of this will be relevant then:

Tonight I'm taking a short break to go to the Wait! Wait! Don't tell me taping, which is conveniently located two blocks from my office. And tomorrow I might have some time to think.

Thursday 14 May 2015 16:19:47 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Cool links | Weather#

After Moody's cut our credit rating this week, people are starting to compare Chicago with Detroit:

here are five reasons, now more than ever, that suggest Chicago is akin to Detroit—or, by some measures, even worse. Or, as Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner put it last month: “Chicago is in deep, deep yogurt.”

BIG, SCARY NUMBERS: Chicago's unfunded liability from four pension funds is $20 billion and growing, hitting every city resident with an obligation of about $7,400. Detroit's, whose population of about 689,000 is roughly a quarter of Chicago's, had a retirement funding gap of $3.5 billion, meaning each resident was liable for $5,100. A January 2014 report from Morningstar Municipal Credit Research showed that among the 25 largest cities and Puerto Rico, Chicago had the highest per-capita pension liability.

Yes, it's bad, but wow. Has the author ever been to Detroit?

But yeah, it's pretty bad.

Thursday 14 May 2015 11:20:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International 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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