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Tuesday 27 January 2015

January is long, cold, and dark in Chicago. We've got no more holidays, we've got much more snow, and we hardly see the sun.

So January 28th always makes me a little happy, because it's (usually) the first day in almost four months that the sun sets after 5pm. (The last time was November 1st.) It marks the log-jam of dark and cold nights breaking up. Sunset will slide to 5:30 in only three weeks and, thanks to Daylight Saving Time, blast almost to 7pm two weeks after that.

Of course, it's still another week and a half until the sun rises before 7am...

Tuesday 27 January 2015 15:28:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Monday 26 January 2015

Duke Basketball coach Mike "Coach K" Krzyzweski won his 1,000th Division 1 game yesterday:

Mike Krzyzewski earned his 1,000th career win Sunday, making him the first NCAA Division I men's coach to reach the milestone, when No. 5 Duke surged past St. John's in the second half for a 77-68 victory at Madison Square Garden.

When the final horn sounded, Blue Devils players engulfed Krzyzewski and he received a bear hug from assistant Jeff Capel. Photographers swarmed the coach on the court, and players were given T-shirts that read "1,000 Wins And Kounting."

Today is also the 29th anniversary of the only time the Chicago Bears won the Superbowl.

Monday 26 January 2015 10:27:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Duke#
Wednesday 21 January 2015

Today is the last day the CTA will run 1970s-era trains from the 2400 Series:

With their traverse-style seating, return to sliding doors and bicentennial trim, Chicago Transit Authority’s 2400-series rail cars proved popular with riders when they first debuted in 1976. CTA also got more than their money’s worth from the 200 cars they ordered from Boeing-Vertol, as they were only phased out of use once CTA began adding the Bombardier 5000-series rail cars to its fleet.

Over the next four decades the 2400-series cars provided thousands upon thousands of rides and arguably as many “hobo corner surprises” while the last of the cars were eventually pulled from the Orange and Brown lines. To commemorate their service, CTA is saying C-YA to the 2400 series cars with a fanfare-studded “final ride” Wednesday, Jan. 21. A train of eight 2400-series cars will roll along the tracks in the Loop, on the Brown Line, the North Side Red Line and South Side Green Line, to and from the Ashland/63rd Street station. The cars will be decorated in their original bicentennial detail, follow their original routes and contain interior map and advertising cards from the period when they first launched. CTA also plans on having shuttle bus service to pick up riders to board the trains in the Loop at Washington and Wells.

This doesn't mean a lot outside the city, but for we who take the El often, it's a good thing. The 40-year-old cars will not be missed by the average commuter.

Wednesday 21 January 2015 12:12:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Tuesday 20 January 2015

Yep. Pretty dreary today:

At least it's above freezing.

Tuesday 20 January 2015 12:56:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Interesting things to read:

Before reading all of those I need to get a production deployment ready for this weekend. It would help if I were completely certain what's in production right now...

Tuesday 20 January 2015 12:30:14 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | Cool links | Weather | Windows Azure#
Monday 19 January 2015

Via Chicagoist, a compilation of Super-8 movies showing Chicago more than 45 years ago:

Monday 19 January 2015 16:00:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago#
Saturday 10 January 2015

Sure, it's -17°C, and it's been colder than that the last six nights in a row, but let's put this in perspective: last year was way, way worse:

The new year has opened very wintry bringing the city major league doses of snow and cold. Through January 9 temperatures have averaged a frigid -10.9°C and there have been 193 mm of snow. But, it was much colder and snowier during the same period last year with temperatures averaging -13.4°C and the city buried under nearly 509 mm of snow.

With clear skies and a fresh snow cover, Saturday will dawn bitterly cold with another round of subzero [Fahrenheit] temperatures, but readings will moderate in the afternoon as highs approach the upper teens [Fahrenheit]. Slow warming will continue with the mercury flirting with the freezing mark by Thursday and closing in on 6°C by next weekend. The only significant snow threat on the horizon comes Sunday night and Monday as a weather system moves through the Midwest, but current forecast trends point to the bulk of the snow falling south of Chicago.

Yesterday, white-out conditions contributed to a 193-vehicle pile-up in central Michigan that killed one and hurt 23:

There were 26 semis and 34 cars involved on the eastbound side of the freeway, and several vehicles there were burning in the pileup west of exit 92. Among them was a truck that carried 20 tonnes of hazardous materials and another hauling fireworks. Shortly before noon, those fireworks caught fire, causing an extended display of aerial explosions. Police said crews are still fighting flareups and monitoring the air as of 8:23pm [Saturday].

The westbound side of the freeway saw 50 semis and 83 cars involved.

More than 12 hours after the pileup, wreckage was still smoldering and emergency crews were still cleaning up.

I-94 is closed in both directions from exit 88 east of Galesburg to exit 92 west of Battle Creek, the Michigan Department of Transportation said. The expressway is expected to remain shut down until at least midnight.

More personally, on Monday night my car got tapped by a taxi who locked his brakes and slid right into the corner of my bumper causing $3100 in damage to my car and, of course, none to his.

So: if you're not familiar with snow, don't drive in it; drive more slowly than you think is necessary; and know exactly how your car behaves.

Saturday 10 January 2015 09:16:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 8 January 2015

However, with -13°C snow blowing around at—no joke—59 km/h, it looks like this:

I still will never move south of Interstate 80. Never. This is just character-building weather, and it will pass.

See? These guys (Titus and Honey Baked Hamlet) know how to stay warm:

They trotted over to the Euchre Meet-Up last night. Parker didn't, because J's is just far enough from home that Parker would have been too cold. (He usually attends.)

Thursday 8 January 2015 15:30:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 7 January 2015

Chicago is under a hazardous weather outlook this morning because it's -18°C with wind chills around -30°C.

Schools all over the area have closed, prompting our operations manager to declare a work-from-home day. I might have done anyway, because I've caught a chest cold that has gotten worse since Sunday to the point where all I want to do is nap.

All of this will improve soon. Temperatures are expected to rise to more-seasonable (-3°C) levels by Sunday, and I expect to have defeated this invasion of pathogens well before then.

And, of course, all of this builds character, because it's Chicago.

Wednesday 7 January 2015 07:48:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 6 January 2015

Therefore, another link round-up:

There are a couple of other articles on my Kindle too, I just haven't got time to link them.

Tuesday 6 January 2015 13:07:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | London | US | World | Weather#
Monday 5 January 2015

Isn't this pretty?

Yes. Yes it is. But taking the picture almost caused my fingers to freeze off, because it's this bloody cold:

And it's going to be colder this week: -15°C is forecast for Wednesday—as the high.

I expect to have dismal Fitbit numbers for a few days, too. Ordinarily Mondays my schedule allows me to walk quite a distance. Today, as you can see above, I said to hell with it and drove.

Monday 5 January 2015 09:27:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 4 January 2015

Writing in today's Times, Richard Florida explains the long-term costs of red state/blue state differences:

The idea that the red states can enjoy the benefits provided by the blue states without helping to pay for them (and while poaching their industries with the promise of low taxes and regulations) is as irresponsible and destructive of our national future as it is hypocritical.

But that is exactly the mantra of the growing ranks of red state politicos. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a likely 2016 G.O.P. presidential candidate, has taken to bragging that his state’s low-frills development strategy provides a model for the nation as a whole. But fracking and sprawling your way to growth aren’t a sustainable national economic strategy.

The allure of cheap growth has handed the red states a distinct political advantage. ... As long as the highly gerrymandered red states can keep on delivering the economic goods to their voters, concerted federal action on transportation, infrastructure, sustainability, education, a rational immigration policy and a strengthened social safety net will remain out of reach. These are investments that the future prosperity of the nation, in red states and blue states alike, requires.

The article has a chart showing the relationship between affordable housing and the 2012 election. It turns out, San Francisco and New York are the bluest and most expensive cities, while Tulsa, Okla. and Knoxville, Tenn. are the cheap, red cities. Chicago shows up well: more than 2/3 of housing is affordable to the local middle class, and we went pretty strongly for our man Barack.

Sunday 4 January 2015 11:05:20 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | US | San Francisco#
Saturday 3 January 2015

Today's Fitbit numbers will probably not wow anyone, owing to the 2°C rain keeping our layer of slush from solidifying entirely.

Enter next week's forecast to put things into perspective:

Tuesday
A 30 percent chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near -6°C.

Tuesday Night
Partly cloudy, with a low around -18°C. Blustery.

Wednesday
Mostly sunny and cold, with a high near -16°C. Blustery.

Wednesday Night
Partly cloudy, with a low around -20°C.

Thursday
Mostly sunny, with a high near -10°C. Breezy.

Oh, joy. Break out the Aran sweater and long johns...and wait for the warm-up on Thursday.

Saturday 3 January 2015 14:49:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 31 December 2014

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Wednesday 31 December 2014 09:34:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#

We woke up this morning to a brisk -16°C with an even brisker wind chill around -25°C. It hasn't been this cold in Chicago since the -19°C we had on March 3rd, 303 days ago. And still, no measurable snow in December, which has happened only four times in recorded history.

Even Parker didn't want to go for much of a walk this morning. And I'm not confident about my Fitbit numbers for the day...

Also: Happy New Year to Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, and in less than an hour, Singapore.

Wednesday 31 December 2014 09:18:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 30 December 2014

Vacation. It always makes me a little crazy. I need stuff to do. And even though the temperature has plummeted to -12°C overnight, that means going outside and not sitting at my computer.

When Parker and I get too cold, I'll start reading these articles:

And because my (irritated) Euchre coach demands it, I'll review (one more time) Harvey Lapp's Ten Commandments of Euchre.

Tuesday 30 December 2014 09:36:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | Weather#
Monday 29 December 2014

As of Saturday, Chicago set a new record in gloominess by having no sunshine at all for 17 days in December:

Low pressure passed to our north and a cold front swept through our area from the west Saturday. Winter Weather Advisories for 50 to 200 mm of snow were in place from northeast Nebraska through northern Iowa and southern Minnesota into northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, while cloudy skies and widely scattered light rain showers prevailed across the Chicago area. But those clouds cut off the sun – Frank Wachowski’s sunshine recorder measured no sunlight – making Saturday the record 17th day this December with zero percent sunshine – the old record was 16 zero percent sunshine days registered on 4 separate years – the last in 2009.

The clouds have persisted into the nighttime hours as well – trapping the nighttime heat and keeping our overnight lows so far this month 4.7°C, and boosting our overall temperature average to 3.3°C above normal. These relatively mild temperature should be reflected in lower December heating bills.

The sun is peeking out today after being out all day yesterday.

And still no snow this month, nor any in the forecast. Weird. In fact, this December's weather has been much more like a typical November in Chicago: gloomy and cold, but not that cold, and not that snowy.

We'll get snow, though. Oh yes. We will...

Monday 29 December 2014 11:14:20 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 26 December 2014

...I stopped here one more time this morning:

At the moment Chicago's weather isn't too bad. At the moment. But it's still nothing like this.

By the way, I've actually reduced the saturation in this photo a bit. The sun was directly behind me and relatively low on the horizon, so the colors in this shot are very close to what I saw.

Friday 26 December 2014 11:38:26 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Chicago | San Francisco | Weather#

Chicago has had its least snowfall—specifically, just a trace with nothing measurable—in the past 102 Decembers:

Only three Decembers have recorded this little snow since records began in 1884!

1889, 1894 and 1912 hold those numbers.

No snow is forecast through the end of the year, but it will be a chilly -9°C on New Year's Eve.

And I'm pretty sure no one in Chicago wants a repeat of last year.

Friday 26 December 2014 06:55:02 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 24 December 2014

Yesterday, the majority of weather models forecast a major winter storm over Chicago that was going to snarl traffic, ground airplanes, and make life a living hell for several friends of mine. One of the models had a slightly different prediction, however. Looks like the minority opinion was right:

The northbound storm driving Chicago’s Christmas Eve 2014 rainfall is going to have a hard time producing the kind of cooling which would support big snow accumulations. It’s been clear from the range of forecasts covering aspects of the storms development and movement that this system’s ability to generate snow may well be limited by the warm environment in which it springs to life. While bursts of wet snowflakes may well wind up in Wed afternoon and evening’s precipitation mix, it’s hard to see how snowfall of an intensity to do more than just dust the warm ground or produce minor transitory accumulations, expecting more of this storm will be a tough sell.

Because the system part of an environment awash in mild air, Wednesday’s Christmas Eve storm is in a position in which it must generate its own cold air through storm dynamics (i.e. the ascension and resultant cooling of air brought on by the storm’s intensification). Such cooling may well happen to Chicago’s east from sections of Indiana near Valparaiso north into Michigan City, Benton Harbor, Muskegon, etc–regions likely to sit beneath the storm’s strongest dynamics and, therefore, the area most likely to experience the kind of cooling which may take rain over to snow long enough to produce more than the dusting to 2″ accumulations predicted by our team to occur in the greater Chicago area.

In other words, Chicago will be wet and cold, but not snowy. Life goes on.

Of course, none of this would affect me today, because I'm back here for the holiday:

Today it's misty and damp on the peninsula, so I might not hit my Fitbit goal today. But I'm still warmer than I'd be back home.

Wednesday 24 December 2014 10:01:23 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Chicago | San Francisco | Weather#
Tuesday 23 December 2014

I missed this a couple days ago. The Sun-Times stopped by during an Apollo Chorus rehearsal just after Thanksgiving and published a feature on us on the 13th:

Well, Chicago’s Apollo Chorus is that type of choir. The members can sing old classics, modern classics and even new standards, and have performed with everyone from Josh Groban to Jackie Evancho. And since December is the holiday season, the chorus — Chicago’s oldest, having been founded in 1872, just after the Chicago Fire — is in full swing.

Led by music director and conductor Stephen Alltop, also a professor at Northwestern University, the chorus’ 120 members perform Handel’s seminary holiday piece in a unique way — without written music.

“It has a very similar flow to an opera, and we try to emphasis dramatic elements of the piece,” says Alltop, when asked how to keep the piece “fresh” after over a century of performances. “To make the best possible connection to the audience, the chorus performs a majority of ‘Messiah’ by heart. And that’s pretty unusual in that it takes a lot of training and preparation to be able to do that. You can get more eye contact, and there’s something that in a way goes beyond what we can describe about how wonderful that is.”

Our sold-out performance on Saturday went very well. We made a few mistakes—the kind only the chorus and Stephen knew about—and we got tremendous recognition from the audience. Plus, with the Messiah, everyone really does go out humming the tunes.

Here's video the Sun-Times took of our rehearsal:

Tuesday 23 December 2014 07:25:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 21 December 2014

Just in time for Christmas travel, I got three links from one Daily Parker reader over the last 24 hours:

And yes, today is cloudy. Again.

Sunday 21 December 2014 09:00:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Business | Security | Writing#
Saturday 20 December 2014

If you live in Chicago, your gloominess may have something to do with the cloudiest December in 39 years:

The full month [of December 1975] managed just 19% of its possible sun that year–the same lackluster sunshine allotment on the books in 2014 as we move the final days of December. Failure to boost that pitifully limited tally between now and the month’s close at midnight this coming Wednesday, would put the Chicago area in line for a possible new record.

There have been cloudier months. Our veteran Chicago climate guru and official National Weather Service observer Frank Wachowski at Midway Airport since the 1950s, reports Nov 1985 managed just 16% of its possible sun making it this area’s cloudiest month since sunshine records began here in 1893.

We're now in our 13th day without sun. Thirteen days, no sun. And then next week, this:

Big changes again loom. Temps appear poised to tank with arctic air’s reappearance later this coming week extending into the closing days of 2014 in the week which follows. Signaling the change is warming in the arctic. Huge pools of “warmer” than normal air are predicted to assemble through the atmosphere over Alaska and Greenland in the coming 6 to 10 days creating atmospheric “blocking” there. You can see them in the orange-hued areas on this hemispheric forecast generated by the National Weather Service’s GFS global forecast model. That the global models of other national meteorological organizations are producing strikingly similar forecasts reinforces confidence in the forecast of change.

At least, if it's that cold, it will probably be sunny.

Saturday 20 December 2014 09:04:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 19 December 2014

Major announcement coming this afternoon. While prepping for that, however, I have cued up more things to read and one to watch:

And I found this classic Margo Guryan tune from 1968 that I can't get out of my head:

Friday 19 December 2014 09:44:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US#
Thursday 18 December 2014

The trouble with holiday parties on Wednesday is that you have to function on Thursday. So, to spare my brain from having to do anything other than the work-related things its already got to do, here are things I will read later:

All for now.

Thursday 18 December 2014 12:36:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | World | Business | Travel | Weather#
Tuesday 16 December 2014

Very busy today; less so the rest of the week. So after I'm done with this deliverable today I'll read these:

Back to the mines...

Tuesday 16 December 2014 11:15:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Astronomy#
Sunday 7 December 2014

Business travel sometimes presents contradictions. Here are mine today:

  • Good news: I got assigned to do a technical diligence in Paris.
  • Bad news: We'll be at the airport for two days, with only one opportunity to see the city.
  • Good news: Hey, it's an all-expense-paid trip to Europe.
  • Bad news: In coach, which is really grim on an overnight flight such as one from Chicago to Paris.
  • Good news: There's a 9am flight to London and the Eurostar to get me to Paris the next morning.
  • Bad news: I have to get up at 6:30am on a Sunday.
  • Good news: There's no traffic on the Kennedy at this hour on Sunday morning, so I got from my house to the airport and through security in only 30 minutes.
  • Bad news: It's still Sunday, and I'm missing two full days for travel.

On balance, it's worth the trip. But yes, I'm going to be grumpy about some aspects of it.

Updates as the situation warrants.

Sunday 7 December 2014 07:56:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | London | Travel | Work#
Wednesday 3 December 2014

December 2014 opened the coldest in 118 years in Chicago, but all the forecasts point to a huge warm-up over the next two weeks:

he scope of the warming being predicted is really something. The global scope of the milder than normal temps is evident from the depiction at the top of this post. The Weather Service’s GFS model, Environment Canada’s GEM ensemble and the European Center’s deterministic and ensemble model are all on board with the onset of a significantly warmer than normal pattern. This doesn’t mean there won’t be some cool days intermingled with the “warmth”. There actually will be. But, these forecasts speak to the overall pattern. Each of these predictions suggest a major pattern about-face heading through mid-December–a radical change from the arctic chill which has dominated the past three months producing the 11th coldest meteorological autumn (i.e. Sept through Nov period) on the books and the 8th coldest November in 143 years of official observations here.

Are prospects for winter cold dead? Don’t count on it. High latitude blocking, a major factor in the cold with which the current season has begun, has been a factor in almost all of our recent winters producing the high amplified (i.e. “buckled” or “wavy”) jet stream patterns which encourage arctic air to dive into the Lower 48.

But not quite yet, it seems. The next week will be seasonable, with temperatures right around freezing. The warm-up, if it occurs, is more than a week away.

On the other hand, I'm in Louisiana tonight, where it's 12°C—too chilly for a long walk in the light sweater I've got on, but a lot warmer than back home. So I'm going to have a look at the Mississippi, then hustle back inside for a pint of something.

Tuesday 2 December 2014 21:13:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel | Weather | Work#
Sunday 30 November 2014

Their forecast was correct: a cold front has pushed into the Chicago area, dropping temperatures rapidly and turning our sunny morning into a cold and grey last day of autumn. At 11:30 it was 11°C outside my door; now, just over 2 hours later, it's 4°C, and getting cooler yet.

This will not stop me from walking another few kilometers, though. It's still above freezing, after all.

Sunday 30 November 2014 13:49:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Knowing that winter is coming later today motivated me to take Parker on his biggest walk since we went hiking in mid-September: an hour and three quarters, 10 km, 11,000 FitBit steps (which translates to about 60,000 Parker steps).

The 11°C out my door can't last, though. Rockford is down to 1°C; Burlington, Wisc., about an hour northwest of O'Hare, is already below freezing.

With 13,000 steps already behind me today, and being only 7,000 steps away from a 1-day total over 20,000 and a 7-day total over 100,000, I see more walking before day's end...

Sunday 30 November 2014 11:36:18 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#

As reported yesterday, an Arctic high pressure area is moving south into the United States, bringing freezing temperatures with it. The latest surface analysis looks like this:

It's 9°C in Chicago but 3°C in Rockford, just 145 km away.

Conclusion? It's time to take Parker on his long walk of the day. Now.

Sunday 30 November 2014 09:13:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#
Saturday 29 November 2014

It looks like the temperature will get up to 11°C this afternoon, and the sun is still visible. Meteorological autumn ends tomorrow, and apparently so does this weather. The forecast calls for an unseasonably warm evening followed by a cold-front passage tomorrow late morning and temperatures falling to 1°C by noon and -6°C overnight.

This is a long way of saying that Parker and I need to go for another walk pretty much ASAP. We walked about 5 km so far today. Let's see if we can squeeze in another 5 before sundown.

Saturday 29 November 2014 14:57:56 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#

Yesterday morning I performed with the Apollo Chorus at the Art Institute's Lion Wreathing in -8°C cold. Now, less than 30 hours later, it's 10°C and sunny. So if you'll excuse me, Parker and I are going to walk about 20,000 steps so I can blow out my FitBit stats for November.

Video of yesterday's performance:

Saturday 29 November 2014 13:08:19 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 24 November 2014

This morning I commuted to work in drizzle, wind, and 9°C temperatures. In the five hours since then, the rain has turned to snow, the wind has turned to gale, and the temperature has dropped 10°C.

Welcome to Chicago in November.

The biggest casualty of this in my life may be my FitBit. I've hit my goal of 10,000 steps every day for the last nine, and gotten close (>= 9,000 steps) every day this month except one. Today, I may hit 10,000 steps, but only if I really push myself. In the cold. And snow. And win.

Could happen, though. I'm already past 5,000, and my car is parked more than 2 km from my office. So if the wind isn't blasting ice pellets into my face this evening, I'll walk to rehearsal and possibly hit 10,000 steps on the way.

Monday 24 November 2014 13:30:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Weather | Work#
Friday 21 November 2014

Chicago's temperature dropped below freezing last Wednesday morning and has stayed there since. It's -13°C now, the coldest it's been during this period.

Fortunately some warmer, wetter air is pushing in from the south, and should arrive after midnight. The forecast calls for sustained 9°C temperatures (and non-stop rain) from Saturday morning through Monday afternoon, when another cool air mass will slide into the region and freeze us out again.

Welcome to winter in Chicago. Warm rain and frigid dryness, for three months.

Friday 21 November 2014 07:09:47 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Via the Illinois State Climatologist, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center has released the latest outlook for December through February:

First, there are two important notes about the winter forecast. One is that El Niño has not arrived yet, and if it does, it is expected to be mild.

The other point is that the current conditions are not always a reliable predictor of future conditions. In other words, just because we are having a cold November (9 degrees below average), that does not doom us to another cold winter. To give a recent example, November of 2012 was 1.3 degrees below average, while the following winter of 2012-13 was 3.0 degrees above average.

The first panel shows the temperature odds for December-February, our core winter months. Southern Illinois has a slightly elevated chance of colder-than-average temperatures as does most of the southern states. There is a stronger chance that temperatures will be above-average on the West Coast and Alaska.

The El Niño was earlier forecast to be slightly stronger than the current forecast has it, which is disappointing. We're still experiencing frigid temperatures here, and it's not even December yet. El Niño can mitigate the cold in Chicago if it's strong enough. Now it looks like we're going to have the usual amount of chill. Fie.

Thursday 20 November 2014 18:55:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 20 November 2014

Mayor William Ogden inaugurated the Galena & Chicago Union R.R. on this date in 1848:

In the fall of 1848, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad began laying track. On November 20, a group of distinguished citizens boarded Chicago’s first train. They sat on wooden benches in a pair of crude baggage cars, pulled by a wood-burning steam engine. Ogden gave the signal, and they chugged off at a breath-taking fifteen miles-per-hour. In a half-hour they reached the end of track, eight miles out on the prairie, in what is now Oak Park.

Ogden had provided the rides for free, as a publicity stunt. And it worked–the riders were enthusiastic. On the way back to the city, two of the passengers spotted a farmer driving a load of wheat and hides behind a pair of oxen. The passengers were merchants. They had the train stopped, bought the wheat and hides, and hauled in the railroad’s first load of freight.

The railroad evolved into the Chicago & North Western, and then got absorbed into Union Pacific in the 1990s. But it still runs down the same track along Lake Street—the right-of-way first laid out 166 years ago.

Thursday 20 November 2014 10:00:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 18 November 2014

We're joking in Chicago right now that we've skipped November and December and gone straight through to mid-January. Only, it's not really a joke, as temperatures early this morning got down to -12°C, almost 11°C below normal for November 18th—and, in fact, 3°C below normal for January 18th.

Moreover, the Northern Hemisphere today has greater snow cover this early than at any time since 1966. Fully 50% of the Continental U.S. is covered by snow, which is more than 3 times average.

Does this mean we'll have a colder-than-average winter? No. Chicago's forecast calls for above-normal temperatures this weekend followed by seasonal (read: above-freezing) temperatures through the first week of December. That will make Apollo's next performance, the wreath-laying ceremony at the Art Institute the day after Thanksgiving, more bearable.

This week has been barely bearable, though. But we press on; we persevere; we get our FitBit numbers in, even though bits of our bodies have frozen off.

Tuesday 18 November 2014 13:55:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 14 November 2014

While not the Polar Vortex of yore, it's definitely colder in Chicago now, even a little below normal. In any event, Wednesday and yesterday were the first two days that failed to get above freezing since March 4th and 5th, 253 days ago.

And it snowed yesterday. Again, not horribly unreasonable for mid-November, but not entirely common, either. But nothing so far suggests that our mild summer will be followed by a really cold winter; and in fact, the long-range forecasts are pretty normal.

Friday 14 November 2014 09:49:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 11 November 2014

The first wintry cold front of the season has pushed through the Chicago area. Yesterday around this time we had a windy 16°C afternoon. Even as late as 6am the temperature still lingered around 12°C, not warm per se but pretty mild for November.

The cold front's leading edge hit around 7am and has now moved over the lake, leaving us with a chilly and gloomy 3°C evening and a forecast overnight wind chill below -10°C. Record cold temperatures are predicted next Monday and Tuesday.

Does this mean we're going to have another super-cold winter in Chicago? Probably not. Cold snaps happen; the Polar Vortex last year, that made the eastern U.S. the coldest spot in the world (relative to normal temperatures), was an extremely rare event.

Still, it might be time to break out the wool long johns...

Tuesday 11 November 2014 15:19:18 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 6 November 2014

I like traveling to Europe because it reminds me that technology can combine with public services in ways we will not see in the U.S. for 30 years. Yesterday it was a magic button that made a taxi appear in seconds. Today it was a bit of wasted time that led to two discoveries, one of which was that I wasted time.

My business colleague and I, used to very long lines to get paper train tickets as well as some predictions about our cognitive abilities at 5:15 tomorrow morning, decided to swing by the local train station to get our airport express tickets. It turns out, they don't use them. You simply swipe your credit card at a small kiosk and—bam—you have a ticket good for six months.

In other words, we could have simply walked to the train station tomorrow morning, swiped our cards, and climbed aboard, without waiting in line and without getting a paper ticket.

My colleague, having noticed that coming in from the airport no one challenged us for our tickets, asked, "how does that even work?"

I thought about it and realized that in Norway, very few people steal public services. Also the conductors have handheld computers that can read credit cards and match them with pre-payments.

Imagine if Metra did that. It might be convenient. Or if Metra and the CTA could get their asses moving on making Ventra cards good for both. It might wind up being something like the Clipper Card in San Francisco, a transit card that works on most public transport.

The basic point is, how much lost productivity do we have in the U.S. because we under-fund public services to the point where they can't invest in cost-saving technology? And what will it take to get Americans to stop voting for people like Bruce Rauner, who is guaranteed to try starving Chicago-area public transport for four more years?

Thursday 6 November 2014 15:53:01 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Chicago | US | San Francisco | Travel | Work#
Monday 3 November 2014

I don't know why, exactly, but Dutch daredevil Nik Wallenda walked from Marina City to the Leo Burnett building last night the hard way:

Wallenda, 35, began by walking more than two city blocks from the Marina City west tower to the Leo Burnett Building. That first crossing — which took 6:51 minutes and was done at a 19-degree slant across the Chicago River — set the world record for steepest incline for tightrope walking between two buildings.

Wallenda took a Leo Burnett elevator down to the street and returned to the Marina City west tower, where he wore a blindfold as he crossed to the east tower in 1:17 minutes. The feat was completed at more than 500 feet, making it the highest blindfolded walk recorded.

I mean, hey, why not, right?

Monday 3 November 2014 10:06:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago#
Sunday 2 November 2014

The Apollo Chorus of Chicago will perform at 3:30 this afternoon at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, right by the Chicago/Milwaukee Blue Line stop.

We'll perform two movements from Schubert's Mass in A-flat, five choruses from Händel's Messiah, and a few other pieces (including a beautiful soprano duet by Monteverdi).

The church is gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous. Even if you don't hear us perform you should at least poke around the space.

Oh, did I mention the concert is free? You should still subscribe, so you can hear us perform the entire Messiah in December and the entire Schubert in March.

Sunday 2 November 2014 09:37:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 26 October 2014

Following a friend's example, I got a FitBit this week. The same friend has challenged me for the weekend, getting 15,300 steps to my 14,000 yesterday, and going hiking this afternoon. Ah, but I have a dog, you see. And the weather is perfect. So far today I've walked 15,400 steps (11.6 km), almost all of it with Parker, and we're about to go out for another walk.

Here's walk #1, this morning, in Lincoln Park:

And walk #2, at lunchtime, down the Lakefront Path:

I got my 15,000-step badge on Friday, my first full day with the thing. Today I'm aiming for 20,000. My friend is too. This will be close, I'm guessing...

Sunday 26 October 2014 15:36:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker#
Thursday 23 October 2014

The total lunar eclipse two weeks ago required getting up early in the morning and trying to find the moon through trees and Chicago street lights. Late this afternoon, Chicago (and most of North America to the west) will get a much better show from the moon as it partially obscures the sun.

Starting around 16:35 CDT this afternoon, the moon will creep in front of the sun, reaching maximum eclipse right at sunset (17:59 CDT).

Of course, this being Chicago, and despite the crystal-clear blue skies above the city right now, the forecast for this afternoon calls for increasing clouds and showers. Because we won't actually see the eclipse, that just means it will get dark and gloomy an hour before sunset.

And look at that sunset time. That's right, last night was the first sunset since March 8th to occur before 6pm.

Ah, well. If you live west of Chicago, you'll get a good show from the moon this afternoon, with less gloom and more astronomical coolness. Enjoy.

Thursday 23 October 2014 08:33:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Tuesday 21 October 2014

After getting pounded by Uber and Lyft, Hailo has pulled out of its North American markets:

Tom Barr, co-chief executive and president, said Hailo would concentrate on markets in Europe and Asia and enhanced products such as payment technology and a "concierge" service.

"In the next phase of our growth, we have decided to put all of our energy and resources into these areas," Barr said in a statement to AFP on Wednesday.

"We have therefore decided to end our operations in North America, where the astronomical marketing spend required to compete is making profitability for any one player almost impossible."

On the ground, it appeared that Hailo simply wasn't very helpful. The few times I've used it in Chicago, I've had long waits as 3, 4, or more drivers refused (or ignored) the hail and about the same number of empty cabs went by after someone accepted.

In a note to subscribers, Hailo said its last day of operations in Chicago will be Saturday.

I have now downloaded Uber to my phone...

Tuesday 21 October 2014 13:33:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Business | Travel#
Monday 13 October 2014

Via the Illinois State Climatologist, NOAA has put out a two-page brochure outlining the El Niño forecast for this coming winter, and its benefits to the Chicago area:

While no two El Niño events are alike, the typical winter weather pattern brings the polar jet stream farther north than usual, across Canada, while the Pacific jet stream remains in the southern U.S. As a result, the upper Midwest to Great Lakes area can be warmer than normal, with drier-than-normal conditions across the Great Lakes toward the Ohio River Valley, and with less snow than usual in the upper Midwest Confidence in these patterns is higher with stronger El Niño events.

Odds still favor an El Niño forming by mid to late fall, with a 60-70% chance of development. There is a 30-40% chance for neutral conditions to continue through this winter, with a near-zero chance for La Niña to develop.

After last year's brutal winter, the worst we've had in 35 years, the phrase "warmer and drier than normal" sounds great. I vote Yes.

Monday 13 October 2014 13:11:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 12 October 2014

It wasn't the fastest race ever, but at 2:04:11, it was pretty fast:

Eliud Kipchoge didn’t hesitate to press his advantage over Kenenisa Bekele in the news conference before Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

“I have more experience,” Kipchoge said.

And Kipchoge used it to drop first Bekele and then everyone else, as he won the race in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 11 seconds.

Kipchoge, who collected $155,000 for the win and a time bonus, led a Kenyan sweep of the podium. Sammy Kitwara was second in 2:04:28, with Dickson Chumba third in 2:04:32.

But for real speed, the wheelchairs can fly:

Illinois' Tatyana McFadden won the women's wheelchair race in 1:44.50. Joshua George, also of Illinois, won the men's wheelchair race in 1:32.12.

Parker and I just walked over to the course (it's a block away), and already it's like the event never happened. The logistics involved in this race are phenomenal.

Sunday 12 October 2014 15:49:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
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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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