Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
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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#

Parker and I raced the elite men in the marathon this morning. Even with a 10 km head start, we still only got to Addison and Lake Shore at the 35-minute mark before they caught up:

The weather couldn't be better for a marathon. At race time it was 11°C and clear with a south breeze to push the runners along.

The fastest men in the world should cross the finish in about 45 minutes.

Sunday 12 October 2014 09:12:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#
Saturday 11 October 2014

It's sunny and cool, and I have no remaining responsibilities that I know of for the afternoon. So Parker and I are going for a long walk.

Oh, and: Go Giants.

Saturday 11 October 2014 13:55:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | San Francisco | Weather#
Friday 10 October 2014

The Chicago Tribune has been plugging away on the scandal of Chicago's red-light camera program. Yesterday the city's Inspector General weighed in:

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson reported that city transportation officials identified likely causes for just three of the dozen most dramatic spikes cited in the Tribune's 10-month investigation, putting the blame on faulty equipment and inaccurate camera settings.

Ferguson said his office was unable to find reasons for any of the other anomalies, citing missing or destroyed records and his office's desire to quickly respond to public concerns raised by the Tribune's July report. The inspector general relied heavily on work conducted by the city Transportation Department and longtime camera operator Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., which was fired amid charges top company executives paid up to $2 million in bribes to win the Chicago contract.

At the same time, Ferguson said City Hall's oversight "was insufficient to identify and resolve the types of issues identified in the Tribune report."

Yes, that's right. The IG couldn't find anything because the relevant records had been destroyed. Well, except for this:

The inspector general did resolve a more recent controversy involving the red light program — disclosing that the Emanuel administration quietly issued a new, shorter yellow light standard this spring that generated 77,000 tickets that would not have been allowed before the rule change.

The administration defended the $100 tickets as valid but agreed to Ferguson's recommendation to end the new practice of issuing citations with yellow light times below 3 seconds.

Yes, Chicago's yellow lights are only 3 seconds long. That may be fine at a small intersection between two-lane roads, but it's completely inadequate for larger intersections, according to proposed standards.

It's also dangerous. And when intersections become less dangerous, red-light cameras cease to be effective. It's a strange phenomenon.

Friday 10 October 2014 16:36:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics | US#
Sunday 5 October 2014

Yesterday, Chicago had its third earliest snowfall in recorded history. The previous record was 22 September 1995. Yesterday morning's low of 2°C just barely missed the record0°C in 1989—and felt pretty damn cold for October when Parker and I went out first thing in the morning.

The forecast calls for seasonal temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday, but crappy rainy cold November-like weather tomorrow and Thursday. Wonderful. Because what Chicago needs in October is November weather.

On the other hand, we had only two days where the temperature hit 32°C all summer, so as they say in the UK, mustn't grumble. We'll have all winter to moan.

Sunday 5 October 2014 09:55:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 3 October 2014

Yesterday morning I griped about how dark October mornings seem. Today it's raining. This causes a minor additional problem as Parker has a vet appointment in a little more than an hour, and I'm pretty much committed to walking him up there. So I guess we'll both get wet. What can you do? The weather these days.

Actually, all of this is just getting into the spirit of London ahead of my visit in two weeks. The English call this "having a moan." I still need some practice, clearly; a good English moaner would have been able to extend that last paragraph out for half an hour....

Friday 3 October 2014 07:31:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | London | Weather#
Thursday 2 October 2014

There are so many things in life we know intellectually but forget in reality before getting an unhappy reminder. The ever-later sunrises in October, for example, just suck, but we forget.

Since the end of daylight saving time moved from early October to early November in 1986 and 2007, October mornings are just grim, especially when it's overcast and gloomy, like today. The sun rises in Chicago before 7am until October 12th, but even at 6:45 (like today) many people still wake up before dawn.

My second-favorite city in the world has it worse, though. London sees the sun come up around the same time as Chicago in the middle of September, but today the sun came up there well after 7a. The day before the UK goes back to GMT at the end of October, London's sunrise is a depressing 7:43a on the 25th, but it gets worse for them. Boxing Day (December 26th) doesn't see the sun until 8:07a.

Chicago's latest sunrise this year is 7:24a on November 1st. Because Chicago isn't as far north as London, our midwinter sun comes up a few minutes earlier, at 7:19a on January 4th.

So much for quantifying misery. It's all cyclical. October mornings can just be depressing, though.

Thursday 2 October 2014 09:23:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | London | Astronomy#
Tuesday 30 September 2014

Friday's fire at the Air Route Traffic Control Center outside Chicago caused massive disruptions in U.S. aviation, but the FAA handled it pretty well:

O'Hare is among the busiest airports in the world, and a main hub for United Airlines, one of the largest carriers. Hundreds of flights were cancelled, and tens of thousands of passengers delayed or stranded as the wave of flight disruptions spread beyond Chicago.

Yet by early this week, the situation was already improving. One of the FAA's most important facilities may have been badly damaged, but the agency quickly redeployed workers to other air traffic control centres. By Sunday, the agency was bragging that its controllers "safely managed about 60% of typical traffic...at O'Hare and over 75% at Midway." Those numbers continued to improve on Monday, and the FAA said it had "set a target" to return the damaged facility to full operations by October 13th.

My flight today (the one I'm on right now) got off the ground on time, with no problems. That's one of two advantages of early flights: the airplane has to be there the night before, which gives the airline plenty of time to notify passengers of cancellations or delays. (The other advantage is surface traffic. I got from my house, to O'Hare, and through security, in 48 minutes, which I think is a record for me.)

Also, I'm on one of American's brand-spanking-new 737-800s, and it's kind of cool. I wish the monitor at my seat showed something other than a hung "waiting for content to load" screen, but the larger bins, LED lighting, and new seats are all kind of cool.

Tuesday 30 September 2014 08:35:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Travel | Work#
Sunday 28 September 2014

It's a beautiful fall Sunday in Chicago.

Except the Bears lost to the Packers. Oh well.

Sunday 28 September 2014 17:41:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#
Saturday 27 September 2014

Yesterday morning, someone set fire to the Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Aurora, Ill., effectively shutting down half the country's aviation:

Brian Howard, 36, remains hospitalized with self-inflicted wounds following the incident that grounded nearly 2,000 flights in Chicago and wreaked havoc on air travel nationwide. He is expected to survive.

The effects of the fire will continue to be felt at both Chicago airports through the weekend as stranded travelers scramble to find seats on other flights. United Airlines, the biggest carrier at O'Hare International Airport, said it may cancel up to one-third of its 480 scheduled O'Hare departures on Saturday.

The fire caused all radio frequencies to go dead and prompted the center to shift to its back-up system until it was shut down completely by the evacuation, employees said. The stoppage brought both O'Hare and Midway airports to a complete standstill. The FAA halted all flights in the Chicago area as well as flights heading to the region.

Such a scenario - called "ATC Zero,'' short for a complete halt to air traffic - hasn't occurred since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, officials said.

The Aurora ARTCC (called "Chicago Center" over the air) monitors all flights within a couple hundred kilometers of Chicago, including all approaches to and departures from O'Hare and Midway. That one employee can do this suggests there might be some avenues to improving security at the ARTCC...

I'll be interested to learn how much this cost the airlines. Thousands of flights cancelled in one day, at a major hub airport for the two largest airlines in the world? Not going to be pretty.

Saturday 27 September 2014 12:05:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Monday 15 September 2014

We had spectacular weather across the region Saturday and yesterday. For our hike Saturday we had partly-cloudy skies, low humidity, and 14°C—nearly perfect. Here's Parker at the top of the trail, refusing to look at the camera:

Then, yesterday, I had my final Apollo audition up at Millar Chapel in Evanston. Again, perfect weather:

It's a little cloudy today, but otherwise cool and October-like. As far as I'm concerned, it can stay October-like for the next six months. Walking is good for you.

Also, can I just point out that the 16-megapixel camera that's just an add-on to my phone takes better photos than any even serious Pro-Am cameras from five years ago? Yikes.

Monday 15 September 2014 12:09:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Travel | Weather#

No kidding:

“Our study shows that the longer people spend commuting in cars, the worse their psychological well-being,” says Adam Martin from the University of East Anglia. The study, just published in the journal Preventative Medicine, concludes that commuters with “active travel modes” are associated with higher rates of well-being than those who drive or use public transportation. Over an 18-year span, 18,000 British commuters were asked a number of questions to gauge their various levels of “well-being.” The questions ranged from, Have you been feeling unhappy and depressed? to Have you been able to enjoy your day-to-day activities? Responses were then correlated with the type of transportation used to arrive at work. The findings offer additional evidence that active commuters are thought to be happier, more focused workers.

The solution? Walk, even if just for part of the way:

Simply adding ten minutes of walking time to your commute, the study concludes, is associated with a boost in well-being. Importantly, the scientific definition of "well-being" is influenced by work-related traits like problem solving and completing tasks. Therefore, the researchers believe improved well-being also correlates to a more productive worker. The psychological benefits of an active commute appear so significant that driving should be a last resort. Even if you can drive to work in 10 minutes, the study suggests, an hour-long walk may be better for your well-being.

“We conclude that the potential benefits available to car drivers if they switched to active travel, and walking in particular, exceed any potential benefits associated with reducing commuting time,” write the team of researchers.

This is why I get off the bus a few stops early every morning. Oh—and why I live and work in a big city in the first place.

Monday 15 September 2014 11:48:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | Travel#

Yesterday I got accepted into the Apollo Chorus in Chicago.

Apollo performs Händel's "Messiah" every year at Chicago's Orchestra Hall. This year we're also doing Schubert's Mass in A-flat, plus a number of South American works in the spring, plus a performance to celebrate the Auditorium Theater's 125th anniversary.

I'll have more as the season goes on.

Oh, and: subscribe!

Monday 15 September 2014 11:26:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 12 September 2014

Chicago—a lot of the country, in fact—is experiencing the coldest early-fall weather in a century:

Never before over the 143-year term of official Chicago records dating back to 1871 had a September 11th failed to produce a high temp which reached 14°C. Never, that is, until Thursday! The day’s 13°C midnight high set a record for the coolest Sept 11 on the books, effortlessly eclipsing the previous record of 15°C. Yesterday’s 13°C was 12°C below normal and 13°C cooler than the day before and, perhaps most significantly, the chilliest early season daytime high temperature which has occurred in the city over the past 97-years!

Oh, and it snowed in South Dakota yesterday. In September.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Coast continues their worst drought in forever...

Friday 12 September 2014 11:18:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 8 September 2014

Meteorological autumn began last Monday, but as usual in early September we slouched through some sticky heat most of the week. Then Friday the weather broke, and this past weekend's weather was spectacular.

Partially because the lake was so cool from last winter, this summer we had only three 32°C days—fewer than in any year in history except 1979.

It gets better (i.e., cooler). The forecast calls for slightly-above-normal but comfortable days today and tomorrow, followed by a cooling trend taking temperatures down nearly 9°C by Friday. Because this is Chicago, where we go from shorts to jackets in less than a week.

Unfortunately, I'm going to spend tomorrow in Phoenix and Wednesday in Louisville, where it will be ghastly warm. Oh well.

Monday 8 September 2014 08:37:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 7 September 2014

I haven't posted a lot this weekend because the weather has been too nice. Yesterday and today Chicago has had temperatures around 23°C, sunny skies, and gentle breezes. It's hard to stay inside, even with the windows open.

And in the evening, our annual cicadas are finally out. Talk about getting a nice buzz on a late-summer evening...

Yesterday Parker got more than two hours of walks; today he'll get at least an hour, though I'm likely to get a lot more as well. (My phone's pedometer says I got 13.3 km yesterday and only 3.9 km so far today.)

Posting might be slow this week because of an odd travel schedule, too. More on that later.

Sunday 7 September 2014 13:04:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Work#
Saturday 6 September 2014

Birthday dinner last night at Tru followed by burlesque. I have wonderful friends.

Saturday 6 September 2014 11:19:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 4 September 2014

The New Republic's Franlin Foer lays out the case:

These are boom times for provincial autocrats. In many chunks of the country, state and local politics were once a competitive affair; there was an opposing political party ready to pounce on its foe’s malfeasance. That sort of robust rivalry, however, hardly exists in an era in which blue and red states have become darker shades of themselves. Thirty-seven states now have unified governments, the most since the early ’50s. And in many of these places, there’s not even a remote chance that the ruling party will be deposed in the foreseeable future. The rise of one-party government has been accompanied by the evisceration of the local press and the near-extinction of metro-desk muckrakers (14,000 newsroom jobs have vanished in the last six years), crippling the other force most likely to call attention to official misdeeds.

The end of local media hasn’t just removed a watchdog; it has helped to complete a cultural reversal. Once upon a time, Jefferson and Tocqueville could wax lyrical about local government, which they viewed as perfectly in sync with the interests of its yeoman citizenry. Whether this arcadia ever truly existed is debatable. But it certainly hasn’t persisted into the age of mass media. Nowadays, most Americans care much more passionately about national politics than they do about the governments closer to their homes. They may harbor somewhat warmer feelings toward states and localities, but those sentiments are grounded in apathy. Most Americans can name their president. But according to a survey conducted by Georgetown University’s Dan Hopkins, only 35 percent can identify their mayor. The nostrum that local government is actually closer to the people is now just a hollow piece of antique rhetoric.

With so many instances of unobstructed one-party rule, conditions are ripe for what the political scientist Jessica Trounstine calls “political monopoly”officials and organizations who have so effectively defeated any potential predators that they can lazily begin to gorge. She writes: “When politicians cease to worry about reelection, they become free to pursue government policy that does not reflect constituent preferences. They acquire the ability to enrich themselves and their supporters or pursue policies that would otherwise lead to their electoral defeat.”

I wonder, though, whether this will lead to more vigorous intra-party competition. Here in Chicago we've had one-party rule for decades, but usually with an opposing state government. We're now starting to see real competition in the primary races that we didn't have under the Daleys.

Of course, we could become China.

Thursday 4 September 2014 17:52:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Sunday 31 August 2014

When I visit my folks in northern California for short visits, I use the same trick to ward off jet lag that I use in London: I stay on Chicago time. This means, however, that I get up around 5:30 and hike over to the Peet's to work until everyone else wakes up.

Combine that with this being the end of August and it really brings home how short the days are getting. At home I've already noticed how gloomy it is at 6:30; here, I'm leaving the house at 5:45, almost an hour before sunrise. The last time I visited California, in May, I walked to the coffee shop at dawn. Today I thought it prudent to bring a flashlight.

Chicago has lost 74 minutes of daylight since August 1st, and will lose another 100 minutes by the end of September.

We'll also get cooler weather, changing leaves, sweaters, and longer walks with Parker, so it's not all bad.

Sunday 31 August 2014 07:45:38 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Chicago | San Francisco | Astronomy#
Friday 29 August 2014

Jim Angel, the Illinois State Climatologist, wrote yesterday that Chicago-area precipitation seems to have shifted around 1965:

First of all, northeast Illinois (Cook and several surrounding counties – see map below) has experienced a shift in precipitation over the last 120 years. This plot shows the amounts for each year as green dots, and an 11-year running average showing longer periods of dry conditions (brown) and wet conditions (green). There is a pretty remarkable shift from a drier climate between 1895 and 1965 with lots of brown, towards a wetter climate from 1966 to present where green dominates.

If you compare the average annual precipitation between the two periods, you get 836 mm for the earlier period and 935 mm for the later period. That is a 99 mm increase, or about 12 percent.

Of course, we have still experienced drought conditions in this later wet period, as noted in 2005 and 2012. However, the wetter years far outnumber the dry years since 1965. BTW, this pattern is not unique. I have seen this across the state.

So, with slightly warmer weather, milder winters, and more precipitation, it looks like Illinois might suffer less from climate change than other parts of the country. However, those conditions have led to increasing insect populations and more-frequent large precipitation events, with non-trivial costs.

At least we're not in South Florida, which not only faces complete inundation from rising sea levels, but also a climate-denying Congressional delegation.

Friday 29 August 2014 07:22:20 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | US | Weather#
Thursday 28 August 2014

United Airlines and Uber have quietly entered into a partnership to help United passengers get rides out of O'Hare (hat tip RM):

United launched the service Thursday that allows passengers to use the United Airlines mobile app to find UberTaxi information including the types of vehicles available, estimated wait times and prices.

The airline’s passengers can hook-up with the Uber service by using the airline’s mobile app to select a ride, at which point they are either directed to the Uber app to complete the transaction or to sign-up for an Uber account.

Only UberTaxi cars can participate, because they're licensed cab drivers.

Meanwhile, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn vetoed legislation that would have made it more difficult for Uber and its competitor, Lyft, to operate in Chicago, and Uber is coming under fire for poaching drivers from the competition.

Thursday 28 August 2014 10:21:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | Travel#
Wednesday 27 August 2014

Electric bikes that move between bike share stations may solve the bike-rebalancing problem:

The goal of this research is to derive algorithms directing the vans and trucks that bike-share operators use to shuffle bikes from station to station within a city. Trouble is, rebalancing is a moving target with several layers of complexity. You not only need to predict how many bikes a station will need at a certain time, but you need to minimize the (costly and time-consuming) movement of these vans and trucks—and you need to do it all while the system is in use.

Algorithms aren't the only option. Wald reports that at least one researcher is modeling a system in which driverless bike-share trucks could rebalance stations automatically. Of course, an easier way would be for bike-share systems to use electric bikes that shuffled themselves. But the thought of a bike traveling without a rider does bring up the problem of, you know, balance.

Meanwhile, Chicago's Divvy system will add another 100 or more stations next year, all the way up into Rogers Park and down to the far South Side.

Wednesday 27 August 2014 12:50:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago | US#
Monday 25 August 2014

Mainly, since I'm going there soon, I should have mentioned the 6.1 earthquake in Napa yesterday morning.

Also, a few blocks from where I'm sitting, Chicago is building a new river walk for $100 million.

Anyone else looking forward to Rick Perry's next political campaign? It should be fun.

Oh, and I went with the REI duffel.

Monday 25 August 2014 13:23:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | San Francisco#

Someimes—rarely—I disconnect for a couple of days. This past weekend I basically just hung out, walked my dog, went shopping, and had a perfectly nice absence from the Web.

Unfortunately that meant I had something like 200 RSS articles to plough through, and I just couldn't bring myself to stop dealing with (most) emails. And I have a few articles to read:

Now back to your regularly-scheduled week, already in progress...

Monday 25 August 2014 12:25:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Travel#
Sunday 17 August 2014

The Chicago Air and Water Show may not happen today because of rare weather conditions:

[T]he Chicago National Weather Service said "rare low clouds" are impacting the Air and Water show. Low clouds have a ceiling height of 1,000 feet, the weather service said. Only 2 to 3 percent of August days have had low clouds since 1973, the weather service said.

Now, skipping the foggy understanding of weather terms and government agencies the ABC reporter showed in that paragraph, it doesn't look good for the show. Right now conditions the lakefront has low instrument meteorological conditions due to a 125 m ceiling (somewhere around the 60th floor of most downtown buildings) and 6 km visibility. The latest forecast calls for more clouds.

We've had a cool, wet summer, following a record-cold winter, so Lake Michigan is just a huge fog maker lately. Yesterday was warm and sunny, but in the past 12 hours a low pressure system has passed directly overhead bringing northeast winds and draping a cold front across the region. It's 6°C warmer in Aurora and Kankakee than it is in Waukegan or Racine, for example.

So, thousands of people are disappointed today. Still, it's quiet and cool in Lincoln Park right now. That's not a horrible outcome.

Sunday 17 August 2014 13:38:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 11 August 2014

Crain's has a good summary today of new moderate-alcohol beers that craft brewers in the area are making:

In June, Temperance Beer Co. released the first batch of Greenwood Beach Blonde, a creamy ale that checks in at 4 percent alcohol. The beer became the Evanston brewery's second-most popular, and the first batch sold out so quickly at Temperance's taproom that owner Josh Gilbert decided to broaden his focus: When Temperance made a second batch last week, it was immediately canned and sent to distributors.

The session-beer trend isn't limited to upstart microbreweries. Some of the largest craft breweries—including Founders Brewing Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Deschutes Brewery Inc. of Bend, Oregon; and Lagunitas Brewing Co. of Petaluma, California, whose Midwest and East Coast operations are based in Douglas Park—now are making ales with less than 5 percent alcohol content year-round.

Premier local breweries such as 3 Floyds Brewing Co. of Munster, Indiana, and Two Brothers Brewing Co. in Warrenville are marketing session brews, and this summer Half Acre Beer Co. in Chicago's North Center neighborhood collaborated on a session ale with a brewery in Maine. The king of lagers, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, is filling out its line of ballpark beers with Endless IPA from Goose Island, a limited-run ale with a 5 percent alcohol content.

I've had a couple of these, including Lagunitas All-Day IPA and even the InBev Endless IPA. I've also written about English craft beers that fall into the American "session" category because most English beers are 5% or so anyway. Even my go-to Belhaven Twisted Thistle is only 5.3% ABV.

I always knew the hop-and-high-alcohol fetish beers would give way in time to much more drinkable brews. I'm glad the market has responded so quickly and affirmatively.

Monday 11 August 2014 12:16:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Best Bars | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | London#
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David Braverman and Parker
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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