Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
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Thursday 26 March 2015

One of my Canadian friends has a friend who made a shrimp cannon. No kidding:

Thursday 26 March 2015 15:29:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Sunday 22 March 2015

Retail genetic-research company 23 And Me analyzed the genetics of the blue dress phenomenon:

For one, there was no clear genetic association with seeing either a blue and black dress versus seeing white and gold one, according to Fah Sathirapongsasuti, PhD, a computational biologist here at 23andMe.

That doesn’t mean there is no association, it just means that we didn’t find one that met our threshold for a strong association. We did see a small effect size for a genetic variant in the gene ANO6. While this may or may not be significant, it’s interesting because ANO6 is in the anoctamins gene family, which includes the gene ANO2. The gene ANO2 is involved in light perception, so this might be something that warrants further study. But as we said, the association we saw did not show a big effect. Others who’ve looked at the possible genetic influence of how people perceive the color of the dress also did not find a strong genetic association, finding, for instance, that identical twins also reported seeing different colors.

According to 23andMe’s data at around 20 years of age, customers were split evenly between those who saw a white and gold dress versus those who saw blue and black. But as customers get older the proportion of those who see white and gold increased up until the age of 60 when more than three quarters of those surveyed said they see a white and gold striped dress instead of blue and black one. This effect is more dramatic in men where the proportion of men seeing white and gold increases by almost 15% around the age of 40.

Their more detailed conclusions—or lack of conclusions—are pretty interesting.

Also, for those keeping score at home, the dress is really blue no matter what you perceive.

Sunday 22 March 2015 09:38:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Saturday 21 March 2015

In the past week I've gotten almost 100,000 steps (and 73 km ) of walking, including a few relatively long ones today. This also takes into account the 10% hit to my counts from moving my Fitbit to my left hand.

The best part of all this is that I can eat more. Like last night, when I consumed Lao's Sze Chuan in mass quantities.

As this may, in fact, be the most interesting thing I can report this weekend, maybe I need to get out more. Or stay in and read more. But I've got at least another 3,000 steps to walk before I get home.

And I'm really hungry.

Saturday 21 March 2015 18:03:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 12 March 2015

The author of 70 books, including the Discworld series, died this morning at his home in the UK:

Pratchett, who had early onset Alzheimer’s disease, leaves his wife, Lyn, and their daughter, Rhianna.

He continued to write and completed his last book, a new Discworld novel, in the summer of 2014 before succumbing to the final stages of the disease.

He was the UK’s bestselling author of the 1990s and sold more than 85m books worldwide.

After his diagnosis, he urged people to “keep things cheerful”, adding: “We are taking it fairly philosophically down here” and predicting he had time for “at least a few more books yet”.

"God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time."—Good Omens

Thursday 12 March 2015 12:02:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Writing#
Tuesday 10 March 2015

Paul Krugman explains:

[W]hat fitness devices do, at least for me, is make it harder to lie to myself. And that’s crucial. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’ve done enough walking, that shuffling around filing books is a pretty good workout, that you only miss exercise once a week or so — OK, maybe twice. But there’s your Fitbit telling you that you only walked 6000 steps and burned 1800 calories yesterday, that you only did serious exercise three days last week.

You might say that the truth will show up on the scale and your waistline eventually; yes, but that’s too future oriented. You need to guilt-trip yourself in the here and now.

Yes. And since I've started counting steps every day, and making decisions that result in even more steps, I've lost 7½ kilos—one stone two, to my UK friends—and brought my resting heart rate down to 60-65. I've also been able to correlate sleep quality with mental performance and diet, which doesn't mean I always sleep well or long enough, but it at least helps me plan my days better.

Oh, and I bought the Fitbit Surge, which is even cooler than the Flex I've been using.

Tuesday 10 March 2015 11:14:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Monday 9 March 2015

Six and half hours at Rockefeller Chapel, a Euchre tournament (my first—middle of the pack), a dinner party, and yet more rehearsals for an April performance all left my weekend kind of full. Somehow I managed to walk Parker enough times and to do laundry.

So, good weekend, full weekend, not exactly the Daily Parker's finest hour.

Regular posting will resume presently.

Monday 9 March 2015 15:14:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Blogs#
Thursday 5 March 2015

Since the middle of August, before I got my Fitbit but after my Android phone started tracking my steps, I've lost 7.6 kg, finally hitting my goal yesterday. This morning I was only slightly above the goal; and also for the last three weeks I've been barely creeping towards it; so I figure this might be permanent.

I only made two adjustments that I'm aware of: one, I pretty much stopped drinking beer in favor of other things; and two, I'm much more likely now to make detours that add walking distance to whatever I'm doing. I might have gotten more disciplined about food, but I don't think so, as the meals I eat now are pretty close to the meals I ate a year ago.

It does make sense that a small change can, over time, have an effect like this. So I think beer and the Fitbit probably did cause the weight loss.

Of course, if it turns out I have some horrible illness instead, I'll be very annoyed. But a 250-gram-per-week loss is more consistent with tweaks to diet and exercise than it is with, say, tapeworm.

Thursday 5 March 2015 11:31:25 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 3 March 2015

Yeah, when my friend sent me an email about "Spocking the five" yesterday, I read it a couple of times before giving up, too. But the Bank of Canada has no problem with it:

It turns out there's not a lot of logic in the belief that it's against the law to Vulcanize Sir Wilfrid Laurier's likeness on the $5 bill.

The death of Leonard Nimoy last week inspired people to post photos on social media of marked-up banknotes that show Canada's seventh prime minister transformed to resemble Spock, Nimoy's famous "Star Trek" character.

For years, Canadians have doodled Spock's pointy Vulcan ears, sharp eyebrows and signature bowl haircut on the fiver's image of Laurier, the first francophone PM.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal to deface or even mutilate banknotes, the Bank of Canada said Monday -- although the publication of a banknote's likeness is still prohibited, except under certain conditions.

In other words, you're allowed to do this:

Photo: Tom Bagley, The Canadian Press

LLAP, Canada.

Tuesday 3 March 2015 10:58:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | World#
Monday 2 March 2015

Posting might be a bit slower than normal this week given three full rehearsals in advance of our concert at Rockefeller Chapel on Saturday.

Also, we're pretty much sick of the weather here. February tied with 1875 for the coldest ever, at -9.7°C, and third-snowiest, with 681 mm. That last comes with a star as this was one of only 6 Februaries in history in which we had snow on the ground for the whole month.

Oh, and the forecast through our concert calls for significantly below-average temperatures until Sunday, except for Tuesday, when we'll have freezing rain and snow. Yum.

Monday 2 March 2015 09:35:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Weather#
Friday 27 February 2015
Friday 27 February 2015 13:33:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 23 February 2015

Saturday night I attended the Chicago Symphony's performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto #24 and the Requiem, both pieces I know well. I was disappointed, particularly in Riccardo Muti's direction of the Requiem.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus comprise some of the best musicians in the world. The CSC, in fact, had a reputation for being the best chorus in the world when I was growing up. But Saturday, they seemed robotic. Every note, rhythm, cutoff, dynamic, and pronunciation was perfect; and yet, the performance was boring. It was like watching a 1-0 baseball game that goes into extra innings. Every play might be perfect but the overall effect is "so what?"

Chicago Classical Review writer Lawrence Johnson heard the same thing:

Muti used the traditional Süssmayr completion as well as a now-untraditional full complement of the CSO Chorus. While grand in sonic scale, the chorus sounded top-heavy in this repertory, even with dexterous balancing.

Still, everything was technically in place, tempos well-judged and the orchestral playing as refined and responsive as one would expect, with standout turns by the basset horns of John Bruce Yeh and J. Lawrie Bloom, bassoonist William Buchman and a rich and rounded trombone solo from Michael Mulcahy in the “Tuba mirum.”

Yet the overall effect was of an emotionally cool and expressively straitened performance, lacking intensity, energy and an engagement with the spiritual drama of the mass setting. Everything emerged clearly and forcefully yet the roiling drama and interior introspection were only fitfully evident.

The CSO Chorus, directed by Duain Wolfe, performed with customary polish and corporate cohesion, though here too there was little expressive warmth and too much generalized singing in ensemble passages. Perhaps the performance will fill out over the weekend, but Thursday night it felt very much like a firmly drawn outline of the score rather than a deep and probing account of the drama within.

What would have made it better? Vocal lines that went someplace; a smaller group; and in some parts, quicker tempi.

I texted a friend later on: "Epiphany: Apollo can be a better chorus than CSC." We'll prove it a week from Saturday at our spring concert, too. (Saturday March 7th, 7:30pm, Rockefeller Chapel. Buy tickets now!

Monday 23 February 2015 09:50:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 11 February 2015

The Times Wellness blog today reports on fitness tracking devices:

Each volunteer was fitted with a pedometer, two accelerometers, several wristband monitors and, in each pocket, a cellphone, one of which ran three iPhone-based fitness-tracking apps and the other of which featured an Android phone running one tracking app.

The volunteers then began walking on treadmills set to a gentle 3 miles-per-hour pace. A researcher stood nearby and manually counted every step each volunteer took until that volunteer had finished first 500 and then, separately, another 1,500 steps.

The upshot, said Dr. Mitesh S. Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who oversaw the study, is that smartphones could offer “an easy, less expensive, but still accurate” means for people to track their activity.

But my Fitbit is fun. Which brings up an important point buried in the blog post:

But the broader issue, as Dr. Patel and his colleagues pointed out...is that no fitness tracker of any kind has yet proved able to motivate people disinclined to exercise to start moving.

Yup.

I have two hours to get in another 4,500 steps to reach 20,000 today. And now that my Apfelstrudel is mostly digested, I'm motivated.

Wednesday 11 February 2015 21:50:26 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Unfortunately, it's my Canon. So even though I promised photos, I'll have to get an old USB cable tomorrow in order to post any.

Fortunately, I have a phone on my camera, so I was able to photograph this Apfelstrudel goodness that I'll be walking off for the rest of the week:

Wednesday 11 February 2015 21:20:28 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Photography#
Friday 6 February 2015

No, the company isn't hiring a celebrity chef; the Times sent one to review the food:

Mr. Zakarian took one bite of his wrap and then looked inside. It seemed mostly tortilla, with some wan strips of chicken and shreds of iceberg lettuce. It was, in a word, tasteless. “Why would anyone come here for this?” he asked. “You can get a much better wrap at Chipotle. McDonald’s should stick to what it does well.”

“Of course, the food could be better,” he said. “All fast food could be better. McDonald’s has been incredibly successful, and you have to respect that. It only has to be incrementally better.” Some easy options might be leaner beef and a better bun, and maybe a higher-priced option “since all these things come at a cost,” he said.

When I shared these thoughts with McDonald’s, it turned out the company has had some of the same ideas. A McDonald’s spokeswoman, Heidi Barker, said that McDonald’s was renovating several hundred outlets a year to focus on better lighting, design and materials. I checked out two of the new prototypes in Manhattan this week, and they are vast improvements over the Third Avenue branch. There are natural wood slats, softer lighting, better acoustics and a soft neutral color scheme (though there are still touches of bright red and yellow).

Even bolder, McDonald’s is testing what it calls “create your taste” programs in a few locations, and hopes to introduce the concept in 2,000 locations by the end of the year. Customers order from flat-screen computers and can choose a toasted bun or roll, three types of cheeses, various sauces and toppings. Then, they take a number and pick a seat. The order is delivered to their table.

In unrelated news, McDonald's same-store sales have dropped precipitously, which led to the company recently sacking its CEO.

Friday 6 February 2015 13:08:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 1 February 2015

A slow-moving winter storm has moved into the Chicago area. Compared with the truly awful storms we've had over the years, it doesn't seem so bad, so far: only 150 mm so far with another 150 mm predicted through tomorrow morning. This comes, of course, with falling temperatures and increasing winds as the low passes to our south, but again, nothing we can't handle.

As usual, Parker enjoys it:

As usual, my car doesn't:

And new this year, but most likely a usual problem in the future, my Fitbit numbers have not looked great. My daily step average went from 11,700 in December to 10,300 in January—265 km vs. 233 km. One bright spot: I lost 2.3 kg from January 1st through today, so I'm doing something right. (Or I'm dehydrated.)

Parker got a 20-minute walk this morning which included some off-leash time at the park. He'll probably get another pair of walks in as we go over to J's Old Lincoln Park for the Superbowl. As mentioned, today is J's last day open, so there will probably be a good number of Euchre players there to wish the owner well. (Of course, we'll probably see him at the next meetup on Wednesday.)

Sunday 1 February 2015 09:59:55 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker | Weather#
Friday 30 January 2015

There have been interesting developments in two stories I've mentioned recently:

Otherwise, it's just work work work. But fun work.

Friday 30 January 2015 10:50:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | Blogs | Cool links#
Thursday 29 January 2015

I may have time to read these over the weekend. Possibly.

In other news, J's Lincoln Park will close Sunday night, the owner having sold his lease to Bank of America. So our dog-friendly Euchre nights will have to move uptown a bit. I'm happy for the owner, but kind of sad that one of the last dog-friendly bars in my neighborhood is closing.

Back to creating a separate code repository for contractors...and other things...

Thursday 29 January 2015 11:57:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Best Bars | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Travel#
Friday 23 January 2015

On Tuesday of this week, Elan Lee, Matthew Inman ("The Oatmeal"), and Shane Small launched a Kickstarter for their new game "Exploding Kittens." As of last night, it's the 22nd-most funded campaign ever with over $3.3m in pledges from over 84,000 backers (including me).

Well done, guys. I'm looking forward to getting my set (with the NSFW pack) sometime this summer.

Inman previously used Kickstarter to fund the Tesla Museum on Long Island. Eat it, Charles Schultz.

Friday 23 January 2015 08:45:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 14 January 2015

Toystory, a Holstein bull with surprising stamina, died in November. Toystory was

...a titan of artificial insemination who sired an estimated 500,000 offspring in more than 50 countries.

Over nearly a decade, Toystory shattered the record for sales of the slender straws that hold about 1/20th of a teaspoon and are shipped using liquid nitrogen to farmers around the world. A unit fetches anywhere from a few dollars to several hundred.

When he died on Thanksgiving Day, Toystory had surpassed 2.4 million units according to his owner, Genex Cooperative Inc., and had fans from Brazil to Japan. His prowess was celebrated on hats, T-shirts and even his own commemorative semen straws. Recent posts to the Facebook page of Genex included “He was legend” and “Torazo!”—Spanish for super bull.

Nowhere in the Journal article does the author mention how many units are in an average donation. For that we go to Wikipedia, which suggests that a single bull-pull can produce a few hundred to several thousand units. (The article also describes the methods of collection.)

So, hat's off to Toystory, a stud in the truest sense of the word.

Wednesday 14 January 2015 14:45:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 13 January 2015

One more quick note: despite the cold and rain (and traffic), three of us had dinner last night at The Oval Room in the District. Fantastic. We all would recommend it.

After dinner we walked two blocks to my friend Barry's house:

We didn't knock on the door, but one of my colleagues swears someone waved to her from the North Portico.

Tuesday 13 January 2015 13:23:47 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Travel | Work#
Friday 9 January 2015

I may have more time later today. Maybe.

Back to work.

Friday 9 January 2015 13:19:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Security#
Saturday 3 January 2015

At the beginning of 2014, I took a look at some of my personal numbers in the preceding year. I also predicted I'd travel more. Well, here's the update:

  • To last year's 9 trips, this year I took 26 and flew 49 segments, visiting 11 states and 5 countries*. All but the number of states visited is a new record. (I visited 36 states in 1991. That will be tough to beat, ever.)
  • I flew 122,776 km, also a new record.
  • The Daily Parker had 512 posts, so the daily mean dropped to 1.40, a slight decline from 2012 and 2013.
  • I worked 2,112 chargeable hours, which includes vacation, PTO, and holidays. But in my timekeeping system I logged 2,965, which includes a number of other activities that took away free time but were not necessarily work-related (including 138 hours walking Parker).
  • I started 31 books and finished 25. (A few were put away for later reference.) Of them, I'd make the strongest recommendations for Kevin Hearne's Hounded and Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age.
  • I also attended the theater a lot more than last year, but not enough to write home about.

In 2015, I expect much less travel, about the same number of Daily Parker posts, possibly more books, and possibly more live performances.

* Sint Maarten, Canada, the UK, France, Norway; New York, California, Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Louisiana.

Saturday 3 January 2015 09:21:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 2 January 2015

Just passing through Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters after a mini-vacation for the new year...and realizing I haven't posted anything since 2014.

Tomorrow I'll have 2014 end-of-year stats, and possibly one or two other ideas from the 143 unread emails I have in various Outlook folders.

Friday 2 January 2015 15:20:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
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#
Wednesday 24 December 2014

While we're getting ready to celebrate the birth of Baby X this Xmas, links are once again stacking up in my inbox. Like these:

That might be it for The Daily Parker today.

Wednesday 24 December 2014 10:46:35 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US | Cool links | Security#

A friend upgraded my wardrobe. Specifically, I received a real bow tie for my concert tuxedo to replace my ugly clip-on. I am grateful; the clip-on was really ugly.

However, the friend may not have realized that I have never tied a bow tie before. And so, last Saturday before our Messiah concert at the Harris Theater, I attempted to learn:

Fortunately, one of the other singers helped me out before we went on, so the end result didn't suck too badly:

Unfortunately, I had to take it off after the concert. That means I'll have to learn how to do it all over again—I hope before our next concert in March.

Wednesday 24 December 2014 10:27:43 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
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#
Monday 22 December 2014

Andrew Sullivan, the most frequent guest during the entire run of the Colbert Report, has kind things to say:

This was an unprecedentedly sustained act of character improvisation. I wasn’t crazy to doubt he would pull it off. I just didn’t realize how deeply brilliant and able he is. No one interviewed a politician as freshly as he did, or took down a pretentious author with more finesse. His writers were and are the best on television – deeply read, darkly funny. His professionalism was staggering. Nothing was ever phoned in – night after night. I saw him meticulously prepare performances, tweaking props, finessing green screens, hitting every note (he re-taped his final song before we left the studio that night), and almost never flubbing a line – while making sure to compliment you if you got yours right.

I also have to say Colbert remains a Catholic role model for me – a deeply humane and kind man, a generous soul, someone so totally at peace with this modern cacophony, and yet also committed to a way of life that could not be more opposed to it. For so many who regard our faith as a cramped anachronism, he was a real beacon of what a modern Catholic can be: open, funny, decent, humble. He helped keep my faith alive in a dark decade. And made me laugh at the same time. Of whom else on television could I say such a thing?

Monday 22 December 2014 15:17:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
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#
Sunday 14 December 2014

I was a bit overloaded yesterday, so I didn't have time to absorb these articles thoroughly:

Even though I thought the 10 km walk Parker and I took two weeks ago was going to be our last really long one of the year, I didn't predict today's 9°C temperature forecast, so off we go on another one.

Sunday 14 December 2014 08:40:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Parker | US#
Wednesday 10 December 2014

I had a pretty good blog entry to post a couple of hours ago, and I forgot it totally. This is because I was wrestling a virtual machine to the ground because it had gone somewhere HTTP requests could not follow. I'd have posted about that nonsense, too, except the VM hosts The Daily Parker, you see.

I am therefore reduced to a link round-up, though this time I will embed, rather than link to, two of the things that people have sent me in the past day and a half:

  • I had an excellent dinner tonight.
  • Science writer Michael Hanlon thinks innovation peaked in 1973. I disagree, but I haven't got a rebuttal yet.
  • People in L.A. suspect that arsonists burned down one of the most anti-urban development projects ever thrust upon Americans.
  • My flight Sunday got delayed in part because of de-icing. Patrick Smith explains why this happens.
  • Chicago steak houses are suffering because the price of wholesale beef has shot up in recent days. I feel for them, I really do, but I also want to have a Morton's steak before year's end. Anyone want to join me?
  • Talking Points Memo has a timeline of the New Republic's self-immolation. I still mourn.
  • I got some personal news today that will make Daily Parker headlines when it's officially announced next week.
  • I'm staying up until 3am CET (8pm Chicago time) because I don't want to fall asleep at Euchre tomorrow. Just remember: the left bower is trump, you idiot.
  • A propos of nothing, I'm posting one of the best speeches by one of the worst characters in all Shakespeare:
    There is a tide in the affairs of men.
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
    Omitted, all the voyage of their life
    Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
    On such a full sea are we now afloat,
    And we must take the current when it serves,
    Or lose our ventures.

You have been patient, and have earned your reward. Here are your two videos, hat tip to reader MG:

And this, but you have to skip ahead to 37m 53s to get the point:

Wednesday 10 December 2014 02:10:14 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | London | World | Travel | Work#
Friday 5 December 2014

After Jack Conte got an ass-kicking by the Internet this week, he and Nataly Dawn posted two links to their defenders, who I think are correct:

As a tour manager, I have settled shows and handled finances for bands big and small. Some of these bands played the smallest and shittiest venues in the country, and some of them played arenas and the main stage at large festivals. I have slept on people's couches and had bands with big enough budgets to put their crew up at the Ritz. I have read a lot of the rebuttals regarding Pomplamoose and Jack Conte's article, and I have yet to hear from someone that is actually qualified to talk about life on the road. (Fuck you, Lefsetz). It is because of my experience that I feel entitled to say to the nay-sayers: Shut the fuck up.

They could have gone out on the road without a crew; lots of bands do that. But I have never in my life seen a band that headlines mid-level venues go on tour without at least a small crew. I am not talking about the band that goes out for a week to play shitty bar gigs up and down the West Coast. I am talking about an actual tour, where you have to take care of advancing, payroll, settling with promoters, babysitting support acts, and whatever else the day might throw at you. If you happened to be one of the people that thought the crew and band members were too much of an expense, then you likely have no clue what it's like to be on a tour — in which case I say shut the fuck up.

Writer Ari Herstand was more polite, but agrees:

Why did this surprise so many people, aside from the fact that there seemed to be a few expenses that were a bit high? It’s that the old guard is losing their power and prominence. They feel tall standing on these indie bands’ shoulders, chastising them, explaining how they could have done it better. But the thing is, Pomplamoose, and every other band growing up in the digital era, doesn’t need to be told how to ‘do it better.’ They’re figuring out what works for them. And what works for them won’t work for anyone else. Every band’s situation is personal and specific.

The real problem is, the major label system has a very cookie cutter formula for launching a career. They believe it takes at least $500,000 to break an artist. And when anyone challenges this formula (and actually starts to see some success) the old guard gets scared. However, the major label failure rate is 98%. Sure, the 2% become superstars, but what about the others? Instead of going for the lottery, craft a career that sustains. That makes sense for you.

Pomplamoose doesn’t need your approval. They and are making a fine, middle class income. They don’t need to be superstars to call themselves a success.

I'm on Conte's side here. Lots of people hate others' success more than their own failures. Conte's blog post attracted them the way picnics attract ants, and to similar effect.

Friday 5 December 2014 13:54:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#
Wednesday 3 December 2014

We finished our business here in Baton Rouge last night, so I'm already chilling at the airport waiting for my (delayed) flight to Dallas. Had I taken the flight I booked originally, I'd get to our final Messiah rehearsal late, or missed it entirely. That would be bad.

The other problem with spending all day in meetings or airplanes yesterday: my FitBit numbers sucked. I went 27 days in a row getting more than 10,000 steps, and almost 40 days getting more than 9,000, but only got 7,500 yesterday. Pfah. Today at least I have the opportunity to park way over by our rehearsal space, which is almost 2 km from my office, and will get me at least 5,000 steps just walking to and from. There's also DFW Airport, where a simple connection can add 3,000 more steps to your day. I need the exercise, too, especially after last night's shrimp, grits, and Boudin balls, the latter of which I need to learn how to make.

Wednesday 3 December 2014 08:45:19 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 2 December 2014

Pomplamoose front-man and Patreon CEO Jack Conte published a blog post last week discussing the economics of touring musicians. I commented here, both as a fan of Conte's and as a supporter of Pomplamoose (including through Patreon).

Within a few days, music critic Bob Lefsetz accused Conte of fabricating his figures, and also of concealing his role with Patreon. Master click-bater Mark Teo piled on, Conte responded, and it's now a standard Internet catfight.

I don't see the ethical problem here. I do see that musicians and other artists who make it, unless they vault over the middle, hard-working part of their career right into multi-millions, often get accused of selling out.

More later, when I'm not about to board a flight...

Tuesday 2 December 2014 09:35:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Blogs | Business#
Wednesday 26 November 2014

In a revealing post, Pomplamoose's Jack Conte says not much:

Being in an indie band is running a never-ending, rewarding, scary, low-margin small business. In order to plan and execute our Fall tour, we had to prepare for months, slowly gathering risk and debt before selling a single ticket. We had to rent lights. And book hotel rooms. And rent a van. And assemble a crew. And buy road cases for our instruments. And rent a trailer. And….

We built the tour budget ourselves and modeled projected revenue against expenses. Neither of us had experience with financial modeling, so we just did the best we could. With six figures of projected expenses, “the best we could” wasn’t super comforting.

Add it up, and that’s $135,983 in total income for our tour. And we had $147,802 in expenses.

We lost $11,819.

They currently earn $6,371 per song or video through Patreon, the artist-patronage site Conte himself created. So he's not starving. But he and Nataly Dawn work around the clock making music.

I'm glad Conte is so transparent about it. I'm also glad to support him and Nataly on Patreon.

Wednesday 26 November 2014 10:00:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
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#
Sunday 23 November 2014

A couple days ago I reviewed three logical fallacies that had come up with unusual frequency in my life over the preceding weeks. I wanted to add a few to the list.

An argument from authority (argumentum ad verecundiam) relies on the source's reputation rather than on evidence relevant to the argument:

  • "Mike Ditka recommends this product, so I should buy it too." (Mike Ditka knows a lot about how to coach a football team, but there is no evidence that he has any particular expertise around the product he's endorsing.)
  • "This class is valuable because business leaders believe it's valuable." (Even if the business leaders in question have specific knowledge about the class and may even have evidence that, in general, it's useful, they may not have information about you that obviates the class or renders it less valuable.)
  • "The President eats pork rinds, so they must be good for you.” (The speaker presents evidence only of the President's snack choices, not that pork rinds have any value in themselves.)

Also common is the (correct definition of) begging the question (petitio principii), in which an argument relies on itself instead of evidence:

Moe: "I always vote wisely."
Joe: "Why?"
Moe: "Because I always vote Republican."
Joe: "Why is voting Republican the wiser choice?"
Moe: "Because it just is."

Finally, the classic material fallacy of after this, therefore because of this (post hoc ergo propter hoc, also known as "correlation is not causation"):

  • "I know that breaking a mirror brings bad luck, because my cousin broke a mirror one day and had a car accident the next." (There is no clear causal chain between the events; they are essentially random.)
  • Superstitions are often manifestations of this fallacy.

The teaching materials I put together back in the day got a little more advanced, but I'm proud to report that the juniors and seniors who went through the lessons understood it and were able to apply it to the rest of the history class I assisted with. I may post more of them in the next few days.

Sunday 23 November 2014 10:57:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 20 November 2014

Yes, I'm actually in training this week that is required of everyone at my level. This morning we did an exercise on meeting planning. Our table came up with the following responses to the "Meeting Expectations/First Five Minutes" part:

  • Show appreciation for the meeting: "Mr. Wirtz, thank you for taking some time to meet with me today."
  • Confirm available time for meeting: "You mentioned you had about 15 minutes this morning. Is that still the case?"
  • Offer a look back...how did we get here? "As you will recall, yesterday we discussed releasing my godson from the personal service contract he has with you, in exchange for $10,000 in cash."
  • Briefly state the goals / objectives for the meeting: "I was hoping that we could revisit that conversation today, and that you would reconsider your position."
  • Agenda: "To help us meet these goals, I thought the following agenda might help us. First, I will make you an offer you can't refuse, and second, you will sign the release my attorney has prepared."
  • What other areas to be covered? "I assure you, if you do not consider my offer, you will cover the release in a personal and compelling way."
  • Brief introductions of...
    • Your firm's capabilities: "I am not sure you know about my organization, but perhaps I could provide a brief overview."
    • Your team/colleagues in the meeting: "Let me introduce you to my colleague, Luca Brasi."
  • Have a few "Killer Questions" that initiate dialogue: "Now that you understand Luca's role in this meeting, would you please sign this release now?"
  • Listen, be present, and probe; be "sincerely curious" in your follow-up questions: "I insist that this is the best offer you will ever receive from me, and I am eager to learn your position on it immediately."
  • Begin to wrap up with a few minutes remaining: "Thank you for your time. I am pleased that we were able to come to an agreement so quickly."
  • Summarize what you have heard: "I understand that you are also pleased with the outcome, and that $2,000 is a sufficient release fee, as we have just agreed."
  • Define specific next steps and, if appropriate, schedule follow-up meeting: "You will very likely not see me again, but I assure you, if a subsequent meeting is needed, perhaps because you have discussed this meeting with your colleagues or the Attorney General, Mr. Brasi will follow up with you in a timely and decisive fashion."

The other scenarios we batted around the table were more, ah, risqué, to say the least.

Thursday 20 November 2014 10:35:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes | Kitchen Sink | Work#

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#
Wednesday 19 November 2014

Since we can't really see it in the middle of November in Chicago, here's what we're missing, sped up 58 times:

Wednesday 19 November 2014 06:56:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Astronomy#
Tuesday 18 November 2014

A couple of incidents recently got me to look up some teaching materials I created just after college to teach high-school students the basics of logical argument. Specifically, I wanted them to learn the names of basic logical fallacies to arm them against irrational persuasion (e.g., religion, politics, and advertisements).

The two most egregious arguments made in my presence within the past few days used arguments to pity and to the people, and in one case someone made an argument that a prima facie argument to force was, in fact, a meaningful choice. Here is what those terms mean, and how the arguments were made.

An argument to pity (argumentum ad misericordiam) is an appeal to your compassion rather than to your logic. It looks like this:

  • "These children are suffering; give us money to help them." (Giving the person money may not do anything to help the children; the appeal is trying to short-circuit your bullshit detector by making you feel bad for the kids.)
  • "Please don't give me a bad grade for this assignment, because bad grades will trigger my depression." (It's unfortunate that the student will feel down because of the grade; but that's not an argument in favor of a higher grade.)

An argument to the people (argumentum ad populi) is an appeal to your sense of belonging, or not wanting to be left out:

  • "Buy our product because all the cool kids have one." (The merits of the product and the cool kids' decision to buy it are completely separate concepts.)
  • "Four out of five people agree our gum tastes better." (Whether you find the gum tasty has nothing to do with anyone else's opinion.)

An argument to force (argumentum ad baculum) is an appeal to your self-preservation; it's a threat, not an argument:

  • "Clean your room or you're grounded." (There is no evidence about the benefits of cleaning your room, only a threat if you fail to clean it. The kids liked this example the best, I'm told.)
  • "Use our product if you don't want morning breath." (The advertiser shows a link between something he calls “morning breath” and the mouthwash, but does not define “morning breath.” Instead, he plays on the audience’s fear that “morning breath” will harm their social standing. Fear, in this case, is a force.)
  • Your grandmother says, "Eat this or I'll kill you." (She has not made an argument about the value of eating her food; she has made a threat, which is irrational. Also, if she were Jewish, she would have said "Eat this or I'll kill myself," which is also a threat of force.)

So, the person I overheard said, "Even if someone holds a gun to your head, that's still a choice." No, it's not; it's a mortal threat, which completely removes the possibility of choice.

I don't expect that people will refuse to make decisions based on these fallacies, but I have a fantasy that people will at least recognize that they are not rational arguments. Doing something on the basis of an irrational argument is, it follows, irrational. And people who learn to recognize these fallacies have a better chance of making rational choices instead.

Tuesday 18 November 2014 17:41:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 17 November 2014

A pretty Dutch village outside Amsterdam is really a nursing home for dementia patients:

Today, the isolated village of Hogewey lies on the outskirts of Amsterdam in the small town of Wheesp. Dubbed “Dementia Village” by CNN, Hogewey is a cutting-edge elderly-care facility—roughly the size of 10 football fields—where residents are given the chance to live seemingly normal lives. With only 152 inhabitants, it’s run like a more benevolent version of The Truman Show, if The Truman Show were about dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Like most small villages, it has its own town square, theater, garden, and post office. Unlike typical villages, however, this one has cameras monitoring residents every hour of every day, caretakers posing in street clothes, and only one door in and out of town, all part of a security system designed to keep the community safe. Friends and family are encouraged to visit. Some come every day. Last year, CNN reported that residents at Hogewey require fewer medications, eat better, live longer, and appear more joyful than those in standard elderly-care facilities.

There are no wards, long hallways, or corridors at the facility. Residents live in groups of six or seven to a house, with one or two caretakers. Perhaps the most unique element of the facility—apart from the stealthy “gardener” caretakers—is its approach toward housing. Hogeway features 23 uniquely stylized homes, furnished around the time period when residents’ short-term memories stopped properly functioning. There are homes resembling the 1950s, 1970s, and 2000s, accurate down to the tablecloths, because it helps residents feel as if they’re home. Residents are cared for by 250 full- and part-time geriatric nurses and specialists, who wander the town and hold a myriad of occupations in the village, like cashiers, grocery-store attendees, and post-office clerks. Finances are often one of the trickier life skills for dementia or Alzheimer’s patients to retain, which is why Hogewey takes it out of the equation; everything is included with the family’s payment plan, and there is no currency exchanged within the confines of the village.

What are the odds that something like that could happen in the U.S. health-care system? When they're ringing my curtain down, I want to move to the Netherlands.

Monday 17 November 2014 11:58:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World#

And no, I didn't lose a bet.

Monday 17 November 2014 09:26:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Work#
Sunday 16 November 2014

I didn't even realize until just now I failed to post anything yesterday or today. I guess the weekend intervened. (Maybe the 18,000 steps I took yesterday had something to do with it.)

This coming week I'll be in all-day training from Tuesday to Friday, which may have some effect on posting. Or not, depending on how interesting the training is.

Sunday 16 November 2014 16:11:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Work#
Friday 14 November 2014

Damion Searls, writing for Paris Review, finds the link between language and the soon-to-be-extinct penny:

One thing we’ll lose, when the penny eventually goes the inevitable way of the half cent and the Canadian penny (extinct as of 2012), is the last possible link between our language of money and the everyday physical world.

A quarter is a fourth of a dollar, a dime a tenth (Old French dîme, Latin decima), a cent a hundredth or one percent—all math. Anyway, a cent is not a piece of money: a U.S. penny is technically a cent or one-cent coin, but in spoken language, a cent is a value and a penny is a coin. We offer someone our two cents, not two pennies; pennies can clink in your pocket, cents can’t. (When Americans adopted the British term penny in 1793, they took over the distinction, too: in England between pennies and pence.)

As for penny, its etymology is uncertain, though the ending implies a Germanic origin—the word used to be penning, with an -ing, like shilling and farthing, instead of a -y. The root may be Pfand, which turned into the English word pawn meaning “a pledge or token”: in that case, penny basically just means money. Or it may derive from the German Pfanne, “pan,” the round metal thing that you cook in. My head says it’s pawn: the pan pun sounds like classic folk etymology that somebody simply made up. But my heart belongs to Pfanne: surely the original coin goes back to some concrete reality, an object of actual use.

That said, the American penny isn't going anywhere. It's going to keep coming back like a bad...yeah.

Friday 14 November 2014 09:01:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US#
Wednesday 5 November 2014

Except for one minor problem, this has been a good trip. I'll have photos of the super-cute hotel probably this weekend. And the meeting today went surprisingly well, notwithstanding the 10 times I had to leave the room.*

One amazing thing happened: at the end of the meeting, we stopped by reception and asked about getting a taxi. The receptionist pushed a button on a small device, which promptly spat out a receipt, which she handed us. By the time we got outside the building, there was a taxi waiting. Amazing. Why don't we have these things in the U.S.?

* The minor problem seems to have come from a salad I ate Monday for lunch, and has has made it unlikely I'll get to experience any great dining here in Oslo. I am not pleased.

Wednesday 5 November 2014 18:34:52 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Work#
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#
Tuesday 28 October 2014

The New Republic yesterday declared the British men's suit to be the island's greatest invention:

We have to thank the members of the Romantic movement for the sober colors of suits. It was their love of the Gothic that put us in grey and black but the suit stuck. It said something and it meant something to men around the world; it said and meant so much that they would discard their local dress, the costumes of millennia, their culture and their link to their ancestors, to dress up like English insurance brokers. There is not a corner of the world where the suit is not the default clobber of power, authority, knowledge, judgement, trust and, most importantly, continuity. The curtained changing rooms of Savile Row welcome the naked knees of the most despotic and murderous, immoral and venal dictators and kleptocrats, who are turned out looking benignly conservative, their sins carefully and expertly hidden, like the little hangman’s loops under their lapels.

Every man imagines that he will turn his suit like a double agent, that it can be twisted to his will with irony or comedy, that the man can undermine its origins. Every chap thinks he’s a match for his suit and, every year, clever and witty designers offer a twist, a take, a rejig; but for over 200 years, the suit has remained impervious, maintained its bland menace, kept its implacable secrets uncreased. You think you wear the suit: the suit wears you. It is woven magic, necromancy, the black art that hides in plain sight. No one knows or can say what the spell of the suit is, or how it works, but still it exudes its inoffensive writ.

Sure, but hey, I look good in a suit.

Tuesday 28 October 2014 17:20:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | 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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