The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Conducting intro programming classes

...sort of. But that's not important right now. I'm just spiking some articles to read later:

OK, time for a vendor phone call...

In the cards

My catching-up on the Netflix version of Michael Dobbs' House of Cards has taken a brief hiatus as the friend in question has actual work and family obligations. I'm taking advantage of the pause to go back to the original BBC miniseries with Ian Richardson in the role of F.U.

You know what? It'ts better. It has a faster pace, more sharply-drawn characters, it's funnier, and it isn't sanctimonius—it's an actual satire. Francis Urquhart is evil, and doesn't care that we in the audience know it. Francis Underwood wants us to like him. That may be the difference between the UK and the US in a nutshell.

Still, in three hours of the BBC miniseries, I find myself laughing out loud at Urquhart's deviousness and at the lampooning of British political archetypes (that, granted, require some context about British politics post-Thatcher). The Netflix series just seems so...sanctimonious. Melodramatic. Long.

The British understand satire. Americans, not so much. Comparing the two versions of House of Cards side by side has been an education.


One of the biggest perks of being a CTO is that I get to roll out really fun initiatives every so often. Our CEO has a Microsoft Surface 2, and he's had such success with it that we decided to make it our official laptop replacement.

I made one moderately-annoying error in rolling out Surface Pro 3 tablets to seven people who were waiting for laptops: I failed to give the less-technical users guidance on how to set up user accounts. We're fixing it, but we still have some confusion around the idea that multiple authentication providers can use the same account name. Think about it: Microsoft and Google will both allow you to set up accounts with a email address, and even let you use that address as the user name; but they're separate accounts, and Microsoft has no way of knowing if you've changed your Google password. But users who always set up the same account name and password (please do not do this! Get a password manager instead) get into the habit of logging in to things the same way, and don't have the mental model of the difference between a username-password combination and an actual authenticated identity.

Despite the hiccup rolling them out, they've been a success. They have about a quarter the mass of a laptop but most of the power. For most users, who rarely create 50 MB presentations and who have never tried to debug a 50,000-line MVC application, even the entry-level Surface Pro 3 is more power than they'll ever use.

After having mine a little more than a week, I have to say it's my favorite tablet so far. First, it runs Windows 8 (and in July I'm upgrading to Windows 10). So it behaves exactly like my laptop. In fact, since I use my Microsoft ID to log into both my main laptop and my Surface, all my preferences and settings are synchronized (including WiFi passwords, I was surprised to discover), making it even easier to switch between them.

Second, the keyboard and stylus work better than I was expecting. I have an ASUS 700 with a keyboard attachment that I never use, principally because the keyboard, which functions as an extension battery, weighs almost as much as the tablet. But the Surface keyboard is light and makes sense as a cover. The stylus also gives me more control over routine point-and-click tasks than I've been able to achieve on my ASUS. I'm still not as proficient with it as I am with an ordinary mouse, but I'm getting there. I'd probably like it even more if I were a graphic artist.

I've got a couple of annoyances with the device, but nothing that's a deal-breaker. I may catalog them later. For now, I'm pretty satisfied with the thing, and I'm even happier that it lets me leave my laptop at my office most of the time. If only it could drive a pair of 24-inch monitors through DVI...then I could actually develop software on it.

Lufthansa could face "unlimited" liability

Under international treaties, German flag carrier Lufthansa could face huge compensation claims after one of its pilots apparently intentionally crashed an A320 into the Alps on Tuesday:

Under a treaty governing deaths and injuries aboard international flights, airlines are required to compensate relatives of victims for proven damages of up to a limit currently set at about $157,000 — regardless of what caused the crash.

To avoid liability, a carrier has to prove that the crash wasn't due to "negligence or other wrongful act" by its employees, according to Article 21 of the 1999 Montreal Convention.

That would be a difficult argument to make when a pilot intentionally crashes a plane into a mountain, and one that Lufthansa would likely avoid as it could further damage the brand, [German aviation lawyer Marco] Abate said.

Abate said that in German courts, damages for pain and suffering typically don't exceed 10,000 euros ($11,000). However, Lufthansa could face much bigger claims for loss of financial support. If the breadwinner of a family was killed in a plane crash, the survivors can sue for years of lost income, Abate said.

The difference between U.S. and European procedures might be a problem for Lufthansa. In the U.S., pilots are never left alone in the cockpit; in Europe—at least until this week—there was no comparable practice.

Reading list #286

Sigh. I just don't have the slacker skills required to read these things during the work day:

Continuing, now, with a database migration...

The only medieval country in NATO

Yah, Utah, for finding yet one more way to take us back to the 19th Century:

In 2011, the European Union banned the export of lethal injection drugs to the United States in an effort to save America from itself. The reasoning behind the embargo was queasily naïve: Without the drugs, European legislators reasoned, American officials would be at a loss to carry out executions, and the practice would perhaps come to an end. Though the ban did slow the rate of American executions, it now seems Europe’s humanitarians underestimated old-fashioned American ingenuity. On Monday, Utah’s governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law that will allow firing squads to be used in place of lethal injections should the drugs be unavailable.

Comfort does not come any colder. It is the year 2015, and we Americans are idly musing about what particular methods kill people most harmlessly. There probably are, as Stroud and McCoy suggest, only miniscule differences in suffering when most viable methods are carried out precisely, because life is fragile and relatively easy to snuff. The bizarre reality, then, is that we are content to argue about the last two or three minutes of a person’s life, when the entire procedure of a death sentence is an experiment in torture.

The debate over particular death penalty methods obscures the cruelty of the entire scheme.

Capital punishment is, to me, a prima facie violation of the 8th Amendment. Unfortunately it's not unusual in the U.S. We're the only country in our peer group—the most advanced and powerful nations on the planet—who kill prisoners and children. It needs to stop. I'm glad Illinois ended the practice years ago, but it's not enough.

I have a break at 6:30, at least

With meetings and a new developer on the team occupying almost all my time today, I've put these things aside for the half-hour I have at 6:30 to read them:

Now to jot down some policies on our new Microsoft Surface setups...

Spring in Chicago

The northern hemisphere's first full day of astronomical spring was Saturday. Yesterday, this is what it looked like in Chicago:

And here's this morning:

And, more than likely, it'll be sunny and warm on Wednesday. The snow on the ground this afternoon should be gone by then.

Chicago weather certainly builds character.