The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Drive much?

I stopped at Jiffy Lube today because I had a nagging sense that I hadn't gotten an oil change in a while. When I got the bill, I realized why. I really don't drive a lot.

Right on the Jiffy Lube receipt is shows that since my last oil change on November 23rd, I've driven 2,165 km. A quick glance through Quicken says I've filled up six times since then, most recently two weeks ago. That all means I drive about 7 km per day, on average. Wow. And most of the time I didn't have trouble like this.

On the other hand, in the past 12 months I've flown 95,000 km and (yay Quicken!) spent $750 on public transportation and more than that on cabs.

But really, I thought I drove more than that. I'm glad I got the oil change...

History, unmade

Yesterday I found myself on North Milwaukee Avenue in Bucktown, right across the street from my grandparents' clothing store:

That's from 1956; the store is "Joy's Apparel" in the foreground. Here's the same scene yesterday:

The Weiboldt's is long gone, but the building remains. Not so the three buildings to its southeast, which got taken down in the 1980s, shortly after my grandmother sold the store.

As an added bonus, fans of the film High Fidelity might recognize this:

Even though it's boarded up, the building at Milwaukee and Honore still stands.

For the record, I will not post a picture of the Real World loft, no matter how often I go to Wicker Park.

Whither jobs?

Krugman nails it:

Although you’d never know it listening to the ranters, the past year has actually been a pretty good test of the theory that slashing government spending actually creates jobs. The deficit obsession has blocked a much-needed second round of federal stimulus, and with stimulus spending, such as it was, fading out, we’re experiencing de facto fiscal austerity. State and local governments, in particular, faced with the loss of federal aid, have been sharply cutting many programs and have been laying off a lot of workers, mostly schoolteachers.

And somehow the private sector hasn’t responded to these layoffs by rejoicing at the sight of a shrinking government and embarking on a hiring spree.

I'm sorry I missed the column when it ran.

Lunch-break links

A few stories have gotten my attention in the past day. Each of them merits thought, but unfortunately I haven't got enough time to think today:

On this last point, apparently the future Queen Consort of the UK is getting tutored in statecraft to help her be queen someday. As I wrote to Celebitchy, "It’s not like she’s getting tutored in how many MPs there, who’s the head of the C of E, or how to pick Ed Milliband out of a crowd, which I’m pretty sure she knows already. (By the way, anyone criticizing her not knowing how English government works had better know those things cold.) Imagine if you were someday to become the symbol of the United States for all the world, wouldn’t you want to know the real ins and outs of US institutions? And if you had the opportunity to get private tutoring on those institutions from, say, Joe Biden, Ruth Ginsburg, Mitch McConnell, Hillary Clinton, Admiral Mullen, and a dozen others of their stature—don’t you think you’d take that opportunity?"

I'm not usually cock-a-whoop about royals, but in this case it seems the duchess is behaving like a conscientious adult, and wants to do her job competently, or even as well as her mother-in-law. She's not treating her marriage as a fairy tale; she's treating it as a responsibility. The future of British royalty is riding on her, after all. Another Diana and England could become a republic, and we can't have that, what what.

Reposting: The essence of programmer certification exams

I do not like programmer certification exams, and I have used this space to rant about them before. The topic came up again today during a conversation with a colleague, so here follows a distillation of the reasons why I can't stand the stupid things.

Imagine you are taking a driving test, so that you can put "Certified Chicago Driver" on your CV. Never mind that you've done a great job driving in Chicago without this credential; never mind that you've gotten one parking ticket and no moving violations in 20 years of driving. For whatever reason, you think getting this credential is a good idea. Maybe someone told you it would look good on your résumé. For whatever reason, you want the CCD logo on your business card, so you fork over the money and go to the testing center.

Now, imagine you get there, and rather than put you in a car, they plop you in front of a computer that is running—I am not kidding—Windows 3.1. Then you begin the multiple-choice, computer-scored test that will determine whether you get your CCD. Here is the first question:

You're driving from 1200 West Fullerton Parkway to 741 West Cornelia Avenue. What is the route you follow?
A. East on Fullerton, North on Halsted, West on Cornelia.
B. East on Fullerton, North on Clark, North on Sheffield, East on Cornelia.
C. West on Fullerton, North on Western, East on Addison, South on Halsted, East on Cornelia.
D. East on Fullerton, North on Clark, North on Broadway, West on Cornelia.

Do you know the answer? You have 60 seconds, closed book.

The correct answer is C, because the other three are illegal. Of course, no one would ever, ever, ever, choose C in real life, because it takes you three miles out of your way. But that's not the point. Certified Chicago Drivers may not know how to use a manual transmission, but they absolutely know all the one-way streets in the city.

See, in order to get this question right you need to know several things. First, Halsted is 800 West, so you need to be East of it to get to 741 W. Cornelia. Second, Cornelia is a one-way street that goes East and West from Halsted. In other words, if you're on Halsted, you can go either East or West on Cornelia, away from Halsted.

Further, if you got the question wrong, so what? So you're going up on Halsted and you turn the wrong way on Cornelia. Oops: you're on the 800 block of Cornelia, the numbers are getting bigger, so you waste maybe 15 seconds turning at the next street and trying again in the other directon.

And even more: Anyone who has ever spent time in that neighborhood knows you won't find a parking space on the 700 block of Cornelia unless you get really, really lucky. So you may want to turn West on Cornelia anyway, because it's sometimes easier to find parking over there.

Ready for Question 2? Good.

You are at the Eastern end of Hugh Hefner Way. How many traffic lights are between you and the Water Tower?
A. 4
B. 24
C. 118
D. 0

So, wanna-be-Certified Chicago Driver, what's the answer? You have 60 seconds, and if the test center catches you banging your head on the keyboard they'll throw you out.

Actually, I'm not entirely sure what the answer is. There are two major problems with the question. First, Hugh Hefner Way doesn't appear on any maps of the city that I'm aware of, because it's an honorary street name (on Walton Street between Michigan and Rush). So the Eastern end of it is, therefore, at the corner of Michigan and Walton, which is three blocks above the Water Tower. Only I'm not sure if it ends on the East or West side of Michigan, because "end of a street" isn't defined in the Chicago Municipal Code anywhere.

This dovetails with the second problem. How do you count traffic lights? Does the question want you to count intersections, actual light structures, or the lights themselves? Do you start counting with the ones nearest you? What does "between" mean, and anyway, doesn't it depend on where your car is sitting? Finally, if you want to split hairs, a car sitting at the point described should be pointing West, again because of the one-way street business Chicago has all over the place.

OK. You've spent an hour slogging through 40 questions like that, and you've got five to go. So you get to question 41, the only one of its kind on the exam, the only one with absolute relevance that every Chicago driver should know without thinking too hard about it:

What is the maximum legal speed, in miles per hour, for non-emergency vehicles on any street, road, or expressway inside the Chicago city limits?
A. 25
B. 30
C. 55
D. 65

Please tell me you answered C. This hasn't changed in my lifetime. It's important to remember, because speed limit signs are scarce on the expressways. If you don't know the answer you probably shouldn't earn any kind of Chicago driving certification.

But look what's happened: Only at Question 41 have you finally gotten something that everyone should know cold. Something that real people wouldn't need to look up. Something that's not necessarily obvious everywhere in the city, but that is nonetheless important to know. It's relevant. It's appropriate to ask in a multiple-choice format. It MAKES SENSE.

Then comes Question 42:

You are parking in zone LV-2 on the second Monday of July. Which of the following does not apply?
A. You must have a permanent LV-2 sticker or a 24-hour LV-2 pass to park overnight.
B. You may park without a zone pass any time between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm.
C. You must have a permanent LV-2 sticker, not just a 24-hour pass, on this particular day between 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm.
D. If you violate the LV-2 zone restrictions, you could get fined $60 by the city.


Before I tell you the correct answer, can you think of any reason why a normal person who can read parking signs would ever need to have this information memorized? I only know it because I used to live in that zone, and even then, I forgot from time to time and had to look at the big red signs posted every half-block along Cornelia.

The correct answer is C. Here's why: The LV-2 zone surrounds Wrigley Field. When there is a night Cubs game, parking is prohibited to all but permanent LV-2 sticker-holders between 5pm and 10pm. However, the second Monday of July is night before the All-Star Game, the one day of the year when there is no possibility of a professional baseball game anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.

It's important to note that the night-game regulation is posted on the corners of every block in the zone, on big yellow signs, that have the exact dates of all the season's night games listed. If you get a night-game ticket it's because you are illiterate or because you were at the game and felt that the $120 ticket was a better value than the price-gouging lots near the park.

Aren't you happy you took the Certified Chicago Driver test? And don't you see how Certified Chicago Drivers are more skilled drivers than you?

The lesson, for those considering employment in software development, should be clear. Forget certification exams; learn the art and science of the profession. Unless you want to work for the kind of company that values the kind of knowledge the exams test, in which case you and I won't work together much anyway.

Santorum's frothy mess with Google

Via TPM, search-engine watcher Danny Sullivan says former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum hasn't been Googlebombed; he's simply lost the war:

In a classic Googlebombing — which Google did crack down on when it was used to tie searches for “miserable failure” to George W. Bush back during the Republicans administration — pranksters tricked Google’s algorithm into sending (for lack of a better term) the “wrong” results for a search. An example could be you entered “apple” in the Google bar and got back a page about bananas thanks to people purposefully tricking the algorithm.

This is not what happened to Santorum, Sullivan explained. [Columnist and LGBT advocate Dan] Savage literally created a new definition for the word “Santorum” and then made a website explaining it. That explanation has become accepted and — “in some quarters,” Sullivan said — a topic people actually go searching for when they enter santorum into Google.

And how did Santorum lose this battle? In a nutshell, committing homophobia while in national office. And what is the colloquial definition 'santorum?' You're on your own there...

Waking up in Texas

The very first thing I heard today was the weather forecast, calling for 34°C temperatures this afternoon.

Then I heard an NPR story about Texas' war on women:

For hundreds of thousands of Texas women and teens between the ages of 13 and 50, the 71 family planning clinics in the state serve as their gateway to health care, and for many of those women, visiting the clinics is the only time they see a nurse practitioner or a doctor.

This year, the Republican-controlled Texas legislature and Gov. Rick Perry cut funding for family planning clinics by two-thirds. Dr. Celia Neavel runs the People's Clinic in East Austin and says it is a devastating blow.

"So that particular funding was used obviously for birth control, but also pap smears, breast cancer screening, for diabetes, thyroid disorders, anemia [and] high cholesterol," Neavel says.

But who wants low-income women to get horrible diseases? Surely this is an unintended side effect of state funding cuts. Oh, wait, this is Christianist country:

When The Texas Tribune asked state Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Nacogdoches), a supporter of the family planning cuts, if this was a war on birth control, he said "yes."

"Well of course this is a war on birth control and abortions and everything, that's what family planning is supposed to be about," Christian said.

The budget cuts to family planning clinics won't in the end save Texas money. The state estimates nearly 300,000 women will lose access to family planning services, resulting in roughly 20,000 additional unplanned births. Texas already spends $1.3 billion on teen pregnancies — more than any other state.

What's particularly galling to family planning advocates is that part of the money, $8.4 million, that was cut from family planning will now go to Crisis Pregnancy Centers around the state. Crisis Pregnancy Centers are part of the pro-life movement's answer to family planning clinics.

Yes, welcome to the land empiricism forgot, where preventing abortion has nothing to do with preventing unwanted pregnancy or preventing treatable diseases.

I did hear one bit of good news, a reminder that Don't Ask, Don't Tell ended today.

Sullivan on two simple issues

First, he highlights the fundamentals of the President's speech this morning:

The president's policy is simple, really. More stimulus now, more fiscal retrenchment later. And there is no way that we can - or should - balance the budget entirely on the backs of the poor and the middle class. There has to be some contribution from those most successful in an economy that continues to reward them more and more generously, even as the country's debt escalates.

In other words, as the President said, "This is not class warfare. This is math."

Also, Americans support the President's policies by overwhelming majorities.

Oh, and a quarter of the world away, our Conservative cousins in the UK have put marriage equality on the legislative agenda for next year, something the American radical right can't see how to do:

Addressing the opening day of her party's autumn conference in Birmingham, [UK Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone] spoke passionately about the need to reject prejudice and discrimination, and support the cause of women's equal rights and persecuted minorities across the world.

To rounds of applause, she said: "I am delighted to announce today that in March this Government will bring in a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same-sex couples.

"And this would allow us to make any legislative changes necessary by the end of this Parliament."

So, by this time in 2012—in time for our election, wouldn't you know—the UK may have full marriage equality. Cool.