Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
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Monday 21 July 2014

Since Cabrini-Green came down a couple of years ago, developers have salivated over the possibilities for the Near North area. This morning's Crain's has the latest:

Construction crews recently were busy drilling holes for the foundation of an 18-story, 240-unit apartment building at Division and Howe streets, one of several private developments sprouting just steps from the former Cabrini-Green towers.

“The skyline's going to change really quickly over there,” says Matt Edlen, director of Midwest and East Coast acquisitions at Portland, Oregon-based Gerding Edlen Development Inc., which is building the apartment tower. “There's so many possibilities for that neighborhood and how it comes together.”

It's coming together already. A Target store opened north of Gerding's site last fall, and a developer is negotiating to buy a parcel just northeast of the store and may build apartments there, says Chicago-based Baum Realty Group LLC Vice President Greg Dietz, who's selling the property. He declines to identify the developer. Chicago-based Structured Development LLC and John Bucksbaum are building 199 apartments and 360,000 square feet of retail space on the former site of the New City YMCA at Clybourn Avenue and Halsted Street. And a 190,000-square-foot retail-and-office development and new store for boating retailer West Marine are in the works at Division and Halsted streets.

Crain's, concerned exclusively with business, doesn't ask: what happened to all the previous residents? I guess, once you've gotten rid of all the poor people, they're someone else's problem.

Monday 21 July 2014 07:37:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Friday 18 July 2014

Stuff to read this weekend, perhaps on my flight Sunday night:

Now back to the mines. Which, given the client I'm working on, isn't far from the truth.

Friday 18 July 2014 11:55:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | World | Travel#
Thursday 17 July 2014

I'm still outraged at the Russian thugs who shot down MH17 today. But a couple of other things were noteworthy:

  • Someone, possibly Chinese military, infiltrated the e-QIP database that the Office of Management and Budget maintains to keep security clearance information. Schneier points out, "This is a big deal. If I were a government, trying to figure out who to target for blackmail, bribery, and other coercive tactics, this would be a nice database to have."
  • In a turn of events that should surprise no one whose IQ crests 90, it turns out that Stand Your Ground laws actually increase crime, assuming you think shooting people is a criminal act. In states that have adopted these insane laws, more people are shot to death but the overall crime rate stays the same.
  • Someday, I want to go to the Farnborough air show. So, apparently, does the F-35, which wasn't able to fly there this time.

All right. I've got about two hours until my flight leaves—yay, consulting!—and I actually have work to do. But in case I was distraught at having to stay home for three consecutive days, it turns out I get to come back here Sunday night. Again: yay, consulting!

Thursday 17 July 2014 18:18:24 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | US | World#
Sunday 13 July 2014

On Friday, Paul Wildman at the Washington Post shot back at the President's critics:

Both Republicans and the media have become obsessed with the question of whether President Obama should go to the border for a photo opportunity, with the accompanying and bizarre assertion that this is “Obama’s Katrina.”

In fact, it’s just the opposite. In that case, it was Bush’s failure of competence and his inability to go beyond photo ops that resulted in so much destruction. In this case, the president’s critics are actually demanding a photo op, while refusing to take any immediate practical steps to address the problem.

Republicans actually seem to be under the impression that George W. Bush’s failure during Katrina was just one of impression management. He got photographed doing the wrong things, or gave an insufficient number of hugs to residents. But that wasn’t it at all. The problem was that his administration didn’t take the storm seriously enough, and when the horror became clear, the agency in charge of responding was led by the former Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, who couldn’t successfully manage the cleanup of a messy rec room, much less a natural disaster on the scale of Katrina, which killed somewhere between 1,400 and 3,500 people and did upward of $100 billion in damage.

But the Republicans and their allies at Fox don't want to govern; they want to rule. That's what the Right does, always. So naturally they only understand image, because that, to them, is what makes an effective leader. Not the actual policies.

Sunday 13 July 2014 10:29:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 8 July 2014

The heirs of actor John Wayne, who manage his likeness and other trademarks associated with him, have sued Duke University to resolve a long-running dispute over the name:

Duke University has been fighting with the late actor's heirs over "Duke" trademarks (restaurant services, gaming machines, celebrity licensing services, etc.) for nearly a decade, and last year, the school stepped forward after John Wayne's family attempted to register "Duke" for all alcoholic beverages except beer.

The school told the Trademark Office, "Consistent with its policies and in order to prevent tarnishment of its brand, [Duke University] does not permit use of confusingly similar marks associated with unapproved goods or services, of uncertain quality and/or unregulated by [Duke University]." Duke University, established in 1838, added that what the actor's heirs wanted to grab threatened its own hold on a variety of food products and beverages.

John Wayne Enterprises is now going to federal court over the objection, asserting jurisdiction in the Central District of California because the school actively recruits students there, raises money there, maintains alumni associations there and sells university-related products there.

One thing that the private research university doesn't do? "Duke University is not and never has been in the business of producing, marketing, distributing, or selling alcohol," states the complaint. "On information and belief, the actual and potential customer base of Duke University is vastly different from the customer base of JWE."

The actor's family now is seeking a declaratory judgment that there is no likelihood of confusion and that its attempts to register and use "Duke" alcohol will not dilute Duke University's own rights.

Later, I'll be going to the Duke of Perth to duke this out with my friend Earl.

Tuesday 8 July 2014 15:25:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | US#
Monday 7 July 2014

Via Calculated Risk, the Atlantic cautions people not to freak out about 20-somethings living at home:

More than ever, young people are living in their parents' basements.

You've surely heard that one before. The Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Republic, Salon, and others have repeated it over and over in the last few years. More than 15.3 million twentysomethings—and half of young people under 25—live "in their parents’ home," according to official Census statistics.

There's just one problem with those official statistics. They're criminally misleading. When you read the full Census reports, you often come upon this crucial sentence:

It is important to note that the Current Population Survey counts students living in dormitories as living in their parents' home.

Calculated Risk explains the economics:

This is an important point since there is a long term trend for higher school enrollment (so we shouldn't "freak out" about the reported increase in young people living at home).

And higher school enrollment generally means lower labor force participation (as I've pointed out before, the decline in the overall labor force participation rate is due to several factors, but two of the most important are aging of the baby boomers and more younger people staying in school).

Mission accomplished. I will no longer worry about Milennials living with their parents.

Monday 7 July 2014 09:23:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Friday 4 July 2014

Embattled clothing retailer American Apparel tweeted an Independence Day ad yesterday showing a stylized photo of the 1986 Challenger explosion with the hashtags "#smoke" and "#clouds." (I will not post the image here.)

Shortly after, they tweeted a heartfelt apology blaming the child that somehow they put in charge of social media. Unfortunately, they also have a child, Ryan Holiday (born in June 1987), running their entire marketing department, who threw his social media flunky under the bus to cover his own ignorance and ineptitude. The apology reads as follows:

We deeply apologize for today's Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.

So, Ryan Holiday is an asshat (which one could infer from his writings), and obviously running with scissors in his current job. Note to Ryan: don't blame your subordinates in public for your own screw-up, especially when the purported cause of that person's mistake is a characteristic you share. And note John Luttell (interim CEO of American Apparel): Cleaning up Dov Charney's brand damage should begin with replacing your marketing director.

I wish, I really wish, more Americans knew something about history.

Friday 4 July 2014 09:21:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#
Wednesday 2 July 2014

Ed Kilgore thinks so:

Many fair-minded people look sympathetically at the plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases as people who just want to be left in peace to nourish their eccentric and non-scientific views about the sacred human dignity of zygotes. But it’s impossible, of course, to divorce those views from the consequences for the affected employees. And so long as such companies operate in the secular world, they benefit like other secular entities from the various investments and subsidies our society makes available, even though they seem to be asserting the right to unilaterally disregard laws and policies that allegedly violate their tender consciences.

More to the point, Hobby Lobby’s political and religious allies would if given the power to do so impose their beliefs about zygotes on the rest of us. It’s not as though a Supreme Court decision providing an exemption from the relevant provisions of the Affordable Care Act will create some sort of truce in the culture wars, or convince the Christian Right to live and let live with the wicked citizens of this sinful society. Their extremist position on abortion and contraception is, after all, just a subset of a more generalized hostility to feminism and the very idea of sexual or reproductive rights.

Seriously, I hope these decisions are more like Plessy than Bakke, and are someday (soon) seen as rear-guard actions against a liberalizing society that the extreme right can't ever hope to live in.

Wednesday 2 July 2014 09:45:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 30 June 2014

The Atlantic Citylab blog today had a good item explaining why London's transport system has the best finances, and how other transport systems can learn from them:

In U.S. cities, politicians often defer fare increases until there's a funding crisis too big to ignore. That leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth about the transit agency's ability to manage its finances. It also leads city residents to believe that fare hikes are only something that should rarely occur.

In London, on the contrary, TfL fares rise every year—the only question is by how much. There are loud objections over there just as there are here, but the critical difference is that TfL has set an expectation in the minds of travelers, not to mention politicians, that fares must rise on an annual basis to meet costs. "That's the way we keep the system properly funded year after year," says [Shashi Verma, TfL's director of customer experience].

Other improvements, like pay-as-you-go travel cards (TfL's Oyster and Chicago's Ventra), could also find their ways over to the U.S.

Monday 30 June 2014 14:24:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | US | Travel#

Who could have imagined that the Supreme Court would rule, 5-4 along party lines in both instances, that closely-held corporations don't have to provide birth control and Illinois can't treat certain public workers as unionized employees?

The rear-guard action against women and labor continues.

Some day, I hope in my lifetime, people will look back on this era the way we look back on the late 19th century. I hope that in my lifetime these right-wing, anti-labor decisions are viewed the same way we today view Plessy, to take one example.

Monday 30 June 2014 10:28:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 29 June 2014

Peter Beinert points to an interview the former vice president gave to Charlie Rose this week as a repudiation of George W Bush:

[E]arlier this week, Dick Cheney spent an hour on Charlie Rose and, in the guise of attacking President Obama, ripped his former boss’s foreign-policy vision to shreds. Cheney explained that he had recently traveled through the Middle East meeting with a “lot of my friends going back to Desert Storm days.” By which he meant Sunni tyrants in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Persian Gulf. Their message to him: The United States isn’t supporting them steadfastly enough.

Cheney wholeheartedly agreed. The Obama administration, he declared, “has undermined these relationships, some of which go back 30, 40, 50 years.” By which he meant: When, during the Arab Spring, the peoples of the Middle East did exactly what George W. Bush had urged them to do—rise up against dictators who had oppressed them for “30, 40, 50 years”—the United States did not “ignore” their “oppression and “excuse” their “oppressors” enough.

It’s worth recognizing how directly Cheney is repudiating Bush’s vision. Bush’s core point—repeated by a thousand supportive pundits—was that when Middle Eastern dictators don’t allow democratic dissent, jihadist terrorism becomes the prime avenue for resistance. Egypt today is a textbook example. The Muslim Brotherhood won a free vote. In power, it ruled in illiberal ways. But Egypt was still due for additional elections in which people could do just what Bush had urged them to: express their grievances democratically. Instead, the military seized on popular discontent to overthrow the government, massively repress freedom of speech, and engineer a sham election. And just as Bush predicted, Egypt’s Islamists are responding by moving toward violence and jihadist militancy.

The depths of Cheney's evil continue to amaze me. He was unfit for public office fourteen years ago, and now he's unfit for going out in public without a warning label. And a significant wing of the opposition party are right there with him.

Sunday 29 June 2014 09:37:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Friday 27 June 2014

Via TPM, a funny (!) gun-safety PSA:

Friday 27 June 2014 14:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 25 June 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court announced this morning their decisions in two closely-watched cases.

In Riley v. California, the Court ruled 9-0 that police can't search your cell phone without a warrant:

The court said on a 9-0 vote that the right of police to search an arrested suspect at the scene without a warrant does not extend in most circumstances to data held on a cell phone.

Because technologically sophisticated phones may hold huge amounts of personal data, they may not be searched without a warrant from a magistrate, the justices said.

In an unrelated 6-3 decision (ABC v. Aereo), the Court ruled that rebroadcasting is a performance under copyright law:

In a decision with implications for the television industry, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Aereo, a start-up streaming service, violated copyright laws by capturing broadcast signals on miniature antennas and delivering them to subscribers for a fee.

The 6-3 decision was a victory for the major television networks, which had argued that Aereo’s business model amounted to a theft of their programming.

For now, the judges’ ruling leaves the current broadcast model intact while imperiling Aereo’s viability as a business after just over two years in existence.

Backed by the Barry Diller-controlled IAC, Aereo allowed subscribers who paid $8 to $12 a month for its service to stream free-to-air broadcast television to their mobile devices, laptops and web-connected televisions. The start-up contends that it is merely helping its subscribers do what they could lawfully do since the era of rabbit-ear antennas: watch free broadcast television delivered over public airwaves.

The cell-phone case is probably a lot more important. I'll read it later. I'm surprised that Scalia went with the majority on it. Alito, for his part, wrote a concurrence, so the world isn't completely defying expectations.

Wednesday 25 June 2014 10:18:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 22 June 2014

Not quite, but in today's New York Times he tries to get Republican acceptance that climate change is real:

We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.

This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.

We need to act now, even though there is much disagreement, including from members of my own Republican Party, on how to address this issue while remaining economically competitive. They’re right to consider the economic implications. But we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.

Krugman thinks Paulson is shouting at the wind:

[W]hat’s sad is that he imagines that anyone in the party he still claims as his own is listening. Earth to Paulson: the GOP you imagine, which respects science and is willing to consider even market-friendly government interventions like carbon taxes, no longer exists. The reins of power now rest firmly, irreversibly, in the hands of men who believe that climate change is a hoax concocted by liberal scientists to justify Big Government, who refuse to acknowledge that government intervention to correct market failures can ever be justified.

Given the state of U.S. politics today, climate action is entirely dependent on Democrats, With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there could be more. If Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while still pushing for climate action, he’s just delusional.

It's really depressing that the main opposition party in the most powerful country the earth has ever seen has an institutional rejection of evidence and data. It's part of the right-wing mindset: they're right-wing because they can't accept being wrong.

Sunday 22 June 2014 12:40:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Weather#
Tuesday 17 June 2014

This time it's personal.

I am in London. My bag is still in Orlando. Why? Apparently, even with more than an hour to do so, the Orlando baggage handlers were unable to get my bag from an American Airlines airplane to a British Airways airplane.

Part of that could be related to the unbelievable sprawl of Orlando International Airport. It epitomizes everything I dislike about the state: it takes up a lot of room but has surprisingly poor usability. It's mostly mall, you see, with very small areas to wait for your flight.

I will never voluntarily go to Florida again. And they'd better put my bag on the next flight to London or I'll be really cross.

By the way, this is the first time a bag of mine has gone astray since the mid-1980s. Very few bags actually get lost or mishandled anymore. But the baggage desk at Gatwick admitted that Orlando is a particular problem for them, which reinforces my main point.

Now I get to spend part of my afternoon clothes-shopping instead of going to the Tate.

Tuesday 17 June 2014 14:43:08 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Aviation | US | Travel#
Saturday 14 June 2014

Everyone outside the U.S. use chip-and-PIN credit cards. That we still use magnetic strips explains how the U.S. accounted for half of all fraudulent transactions worldwide in 2012. Come October 2015, we'll get to the worldwide standard:

The switch will cost retailers hundreds of millions of dollars. But credit card companies have pushed for the change for years. Beginning in October 2015, they will start leaning harder on banks and merchants by shifting the legal liability for fraud to the party with the least-sophisticated technology. That will be a powerful incentive for retailers to upgrade their systems.

Those of us who travel internationally for business are already used to the difference between American readers and those used in much of the rest of the world—and the accompanying inconveniences. Many automated machines, which are common at petrol stations and supermarkets, do not accept American swipe-and-sign cards at all. And tell a European cashier that you want to sign for a transaction and you will often be met with a bemused look. For those Americans who don't yet have chip-and-pin cards (and that's most of us, since few banks offered them before last year), the coming change will eliminate that awkwardness once and for all. The bottom line for business travellers: if you're not already using a pin with your credit cards, get used to the idea—and start thinking of a good one.

Yes, one of the annoyances of traveling abroad right now is that when I present my chip-and-sign card overseas, I still have to sign a little chit. My bank says they'll switch to PIN with my next card, coming soon.

Saturday 14 June 2014 10:26:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business | Travel#
Wednesday 11 June 2014

A whole list of interesting articles crossed my inbox overnight, but with only two days left in my job, I really haven't had time to read them all:

I can't wait to see what happens in the Virginia 7th this fall...

Wednesday 11 June 2014 09:48:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | Travel#
Saturday 7 June 2014

The Daily Currant's business model, explained:

[I]n The New Republic, Luke O'Neil argued that such stories "could do actual damage to political discourse and the media in general... Juicing an already true-enough premise with more unbelievability simply adds to the informational noise pollutionwithout even the expected payoff of a laugh." 

All legitimate gripes, but perhaps that's overthinking it for a site that's the product of under-thinking. The Daily Currant is trying to maximize clicks and shares, and has found a niche between The Onion and real news: all the believability of the latter, but all the libel protections of the former. There's a Catch-22 to this approach, though. As more people have become aware of The Daily Currantin December, Mediaite whined, "Just Stop It, Everyone: Internet Falls for Daily Currant Fake Story Once Again"suckers have become increasingly rare. The site is a victim of its own success.

No matter. The formula is easily replicable, as other web entrepreneurs and hucksters have discovered. This poor imitation of The Onion has itself spawned a legion of poor imitations, websites so devoid of infotainment value and so cynical in their click-baiting that they make the likes of Viral Nova and Upworthy look staid.

The author goes on to compare the Currant to "a potentially lucrative con predicated on exploiting the worst habits of social media driven news content."

Saturday 7 June 2014 08:42:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Blogs#
Thursday 5 June 2014

What's the ugliest thing you can do to a downtown city? Cut down all the buildings and put up a parking lot:

This seems kind of obvious, doesn't it? But then again, about 800 years ago someone cut down the last tree on Easter Island, so it's hard to underestimate the ability of people to make good decisions about land use.

Thursday 5 June 2014 13:14:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Monday 2 June 2014

This is overdue, but I'm very happy about it:

When Santa Barbara startup FindTheBest (FTB) was sued by a patent troll called Lumen View last year, it vowed to fight back rather than pay up the $50,000 licensing fee Lumen was asking for. Company CEO Kevin O'Connor made it personal, pledging $1 million of his own money to fight the legal battle.

Now the judge overseeing the case has ruled (PDF) that it's Lumen View, not FindTheBest, that should have to pay [FTB's $200,000 legal] expenses. In a first-of-its-kind implementation of new fee-shifting rules mandated by the Supreme Court, US District Judge Denise Cote found that the Lumen View lawsuit was a "prototypical exceptional case."

These guys are extortionists, and I am overjoyed that the law finally recognizes them as such. FTB has a pending appeal on a RICO action against Lumen, which the district court denied. That would be even sweeter.

Monday 2 June 2014 17:57:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#
Sunday 25 May 2014

One of the most dangerous parts of the Republican Party's strategy over the last thirty years has been its hostility towards institutions of government. The strategy seems to be that by de-funding or otherwise de-ligitimating the government, the government performs badly, causing people to lose faith in government and demand it be de-funded further. With no institutional options, people seek services from private companies instead, enriching the owners of those companies.

Take schools, for example. Urban schools suck in the U.S. But rather than debate the funding formulas that divert resources from the schools needing it most to the schools needing it least—just compare schools in exclusive New Trier Township with the Chicago Public Schools, for example—conservatives attack teachers, saying they're to blame. Never mind this is completely inconsistent from their reasoning on exorbitant CEO salaries, which they say have to be two orders of magnitude higher than in the 1970s because otherwise the companies can't attract talent, but somehow raising teacher salaries encourages laziness. (I mean, just look at the way Ayn Rand fanboy Eddie Lampert turned Sears around, totally justifying his $3.15 bn net worth, right?)

From the Times this weekend comes a depressing reminder about a historical process that will no doubt reduce the public's faith in an entire branch of government. This time it's the Supreme Court, which not only has issued a series of 5-4 decisions containing blatant Republican partisan hackery (which reduces their precedential value and makes the cases likely to be re-litigated in a generation), but it turns out they re-writing their opinions, sometimes five years after the fact:

[M]ost changes are neither prompt nor publicized, and the court’s secretive editing process has led judges and law professors astray, causing them to rely on passages that were later scrubbed from the official record. The widening public access to online versions of the court’s decisions, some of which do not reflect the final wording, has made the longstanding problem more pronounced.

Unannounced changes have not reversed decisions outright, but they have withdrawn conclusions on significant points of law.

In an internal memorandum in 1981, Justice Harry A. Blackmun offered reasons that the court operated “on a strange and ‘reverse’ basis, where the professional editing is done after initial public release.” Once an opinion has garnered the five votes needed to have it speak for the court, he said, the author wants to issue it immediately to guard against defections and “get ‘on the scoreboard.’ ”

There are four generations of opinions, and only the last is said to be final. So-called bench opinions, in booklet form, are available at the court when decisions are announced. Slip opinions are posted on the court’s website soon after. They are followed by preliminary softcover prints and then by the only official versions, which are published in hardcover volumes called United States Reports. The official versions of opinions from 2008 were published in 2013.

Now, as a JD, I understand that common law can be slippery sometimes. It still saddens me to hear about things that make sense in ways more nuanced than most people will understand. Even smart people blow off nuances they don't want to hear, as anyone who's ever given an cost estimate to a sales guy understands ("we have a 10% chance of finishing in 8 days and a 90% chance of finishing in 16" lodges in the sales brain as "they'll be done in a week").

Someday I'll expound on my wish for defined terms of office in the Federal judiciary*. For now, I'll just be sad.

* Nine years for district courts (renewable), 13 for courts of appeal and 17 for justices (non-renewable). This prevents any president from reappointing the same judge, so the judges are still free to defy the person who appointed them, but still keeps a certain amount of churn that keeps them honest. At least we'd be done with Scalia and Thomas already.

Sunday 25 May 2014 06:43:59 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 14 May 2014

Actually, there are two scandals: first, red light cameras in general, and second, an alleged $2m bribe:

The former City Hall manager who ran Chicago’s red-light camera program was arrested today on federal charges related to the investigation of an alleged $2 million bribery scheme involving the city’s longtime vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems.

A federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court today accused John Bills of taking money and other benefits related to the contract with Redlfex. Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the company amid the bribery scandal.

The Tribune first revealed questions about a questionable relationship between Bills and Redflex in the fall of 2012, triggering a scandal that has shaken the foundation of the company and its Australian parent, Redflex Holdings Ltd., which acknowledged last year that its Chicago program was built on what federal authorities would likely consider a $2 million bribery scheme involving Bills. Six top Redflex officials were jettisoned, and the company has come under scrutiny for its procurement practices across the country.

Now, it's not hard to believe there was some "where's mine?" in a City of Chicago contract, but $2m seems a bit much. That's nothing to the $300m in fines the city has racked up using the things.

So, did Mayor Daley know about this? Is he going to be charged?

Wednesday 14 May 2014 15:13:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Tuesday 13 May 2014

Ten days until I get a couple days off...

Tuesday 13 May 2014 15:17:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Cool links | Weather#

Security expert Bruce Schneier is not an alarmist, but he is alarmed:

In addition to turning the Internet into a worldwide surveillance platform, the NSA has surreptitiously weakened the products, protocols, and standards we all use to protect ourselves. By doing so, it has destroyed the trust that underlies the Internet. We need that trust back.

By weakening security, we are weakening it against all attackers. By inserting vulnerabilities, we are making everyone vulnerable. The same vulnerabilities used by intelligence agencies to spy on each other are used by criminals to steal your passwords. It is surveillance versus security, and we all rise and fall together.

Security needs to win. The Internet is too important to the world -- and trust is too important to the Internet -- to squander it like this. We'll never get every power in the world to agree not to subvert the parts of the Internet they control, but we can stop subverting the parts we control. Most of the high-tech companies that make the Internet work are US companies, so our influence is disproportionate. And once we stop subverting, we can credibly devote our resources to detecting and preventing subversion by others.

It really is kind of stunning how much damage our intelligence services have done to the security they claim to be protecting. I don't think everyone gets it right now, but the NSA's crippling the Internet will probably be our generation's Mosaddegh.

Monday 12 May 2014 21:06:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Security#
Monday 12 May 2014

I'm uploading a couple of fixes to Inner-Drive.com right now, so I have a few minutes to read things people have sent me. It takes a while to deploy the site fully, because the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ documentation (reg.req.) is quite large—about 3,000 HTML pages. I'd like to web-deploy the changes, but the way Azure cloud services work, any changes deployed that way get overwritten as soon as the instance reboots.

All of the changes to Inner-Drive.com are under the hood. In fact, I didn't change anything at all in the website. But I made a bunch of changes to the Azure support classes, including a much better approach to logging inspired by a conversation I had with my colleague Igor Popirov a couple of weeks ago. I'll go into more details later, but suffice it to say, there are some people who can give you more ideas in one sentence than you can get in a year of reading blogs, and he's one of them.

So, while sitting here at my remote office waiting for bits to upload, I encountered these things:

  • The bartender's iPod played "Bette Davis Eyes" which immediately sent me back to this.
  • Andrew Sullivan pointed me (and everyone else who reads his blog) towards the ultimate Boomer fantasy, the live-foreverists. (At some point in the near future I'm going to write about how much X-ers hate picking up after both Boomers and Millennials, and how this fits right in. Just, not right now.)
  • Slate's Jamelle Bouie belives Wisconsin's voter rights decision is a win for our cause. ("Our" in this case includes those who believe retail voter fraud is so rare as to be a laughable excuse for denying a sizable portion of the population their voting rights, especially when the people denied voting rights tend to be the exact people who Republicans would prefer not to vote.)

OK, the software is deployed, and I need to walk Parker now. Maybe I'll read all these things after Game of Thrones.

Sunday 11 May 2014 21:15:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Software | Business | Windows Azure#
Wednesday 7 May 2014

I almost forgot, even though Illinois Climatologist Jim Angel blogged it earlier today. The new NCA is here. Highlights—with a distinctly Illinois-centered view—via Angel:

  • In the next few decades, longer growing seasons and rising carbon dioxide levels will increase yields of some crops, though those benefits will be progressively offset by extreme weather events. Though adaptation options can reduce some of the detrimental effects, in the long term, the combined stresses associated with climate change are expected to decrease agricultural productivity.
  • Increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase public health risks.
  • Climate change will exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes, including changes in the range and distribution of certain fish species, increased invasive species and harmful blooms of algae, and declining beach health. Ice cover declines will lengthen the commercial navigation season [this winter was the exception to the rule - Jim].

If you don't mind using 170 megabytes of bandwidth, you can download the whole thing (or just the parts you want).

Wednesday 7 May 2014 14:41:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | World | Weather#
Monday 5 May 2014

...these:

More later.

Monday 5 May 2014 13:24:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | US | Religion#
Saturday 3 May 2014

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD reported this week that atmospheric carbon dioxide averaged more than 400 ppm in April, a new milestone:

Every single daily carbon dioxide measurement in April 2014 was above 400 parts per million. That hasn’t happened in nearly a million years, and perhaps much longer. Climate scientists have proven that the rise in human-produced greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are “extremely likely” to be the dominant cause of global climate change. The likelihood of dangerous impacts—like sea level rise, hotter heat waves, and certain types of extreme weather—increases with each incremental annual rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 40 percent since humans first started burning fossil fuels in large quantities about 250 years ago. Once released, the carbon dioxide from coal, oil, and natural gas burning can remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Thus, the crux of the problem: There just hasn’t been enough time yet since those first coal-powered factories in Europe for the atmosphere to return to equilibrium. What’s more, the pace of fossil fuel burning has since dramatically quickened—there’ve been more greenhouse gas emissions in the last 40 years than over the previous 200—so carbon dioxide buildup keeps accelerating.

So what about the hockey stick? If you look at the last 800,000 years, the chart of CO2 concentration looks more like a brick wall:

Scary.

Saturday 3 May 2014 08:11:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Weather#
Wednesday 30 April 2014

If so, these are queued up:

More later...

Wednesday 30 April 2014 09:38:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | US | Security#
Tuesday 29 April 2014

Here:

More later.

Tuesday 29 April 2014 17:08:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Software#
Monday 28 April 2014

Or, a few reasons why the "Send to Kindle" button helps me get through the day:

Monday 28 April 2014 12:35:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Travel | Work#
Thursday 24 April 2014

Busy day, so I'm just flagging these for later:

Back to the mines...

Thursday 24 April 2014 16:20:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | London | US | Cool links | Windows Azure#
Thursday 17 April 2014

As of today, 8 million people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Krugman puts it in perspective:

[T]he benefits of Obamacare, for all its imperfections, are immense. Millions of people who lived extremely anxious lives now have far more security than before. Compared with those benefits, the complaints of some already insured people that they have less choice of doctors than before, or that they’re no longer allowed to retain minimalist plans, look like whining. (And of course not one of the more serious-sounding stories about soaring premiums and all that has held up under scrutiny.)

And speaking of whining, the GOP response seems to be to make every possible insinuation to the effect that the numbers are somehow fraudulent. I actually don’t think there’s a game plan here; their whole position was premised on the inevitable collapse of health reform, and they have no plan B.

Winning.

Thursday 17 April 2014 17:15:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Politics | US#
Thursday 10 April 2014

Right on time—i.e., six months after screwing up worse than any HHS secretary in history—Kathleen Sibelius has resigned:

Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning, U.S. officials told NBC News on Thursday.

U.S. officials told NBC News that President Barack Obama would nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently director of the White House Office and Management and Budget, to succeed Sebelius, 65, the former governor of Kansas, who was an original member of the Cabinet that Obama appointed when he took office in January 2009.

No reason for Sebelius' departure, was immediately available, but she came under sustained criticism as head of the agency in charge of the controversial rollout of Obama's health care reform initiative.

For those of you reading overseas, particularly in the U.K., we do things differently than most other democracies. In the U.K., when a minister completely fails at his job, he resigns more or less immediately, and gets back in government (or shadow government) usually at the next election. In the U.S., when a cabinet secretary completely fails, she waits six months, resigns, and never holds that level of responsibility again.

Now, contrast British and American bankruptcy laws and you will see how completely backwards these things are. British bankruptcy ruins a person; it's really the very-last-ditch thing you can do before living on the street. American bankruptcy is a chance to start over, and usually done just at the point where a person is in serious default but not yet destitute.

So it's interesting how our government resignations are just the opposite. Then again, someone like Sibelius will usually has no trouble earning millions on the lecture-and-book circuit, which I believe isn't an option in the U.K.

Anyway, Sibelius has resigned pretty much six months to the day that her epic failure became public knowledge. It's the American way, after all.

Thursday 10 April 2014 18:20:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 12 March 2014

First, we get the worst cold and the most snow of any winter in the last 32 years. It even alienates many of its allies with its stubbornness in the face of popular (and meteorological) opposition, refusing to give up a fight it can't win. Finally, warm weather finally prevails, ending the snow's doomed effort to hold ground it will never be able to keep. This is Monday morning:

Then, just when we were loosening our scarves, Arizona hit this morning:

Winter, you're just making people despise you more. It's the middle of March already. Not only will you be gone and forgotten in two months, but an ENSO event is forming in the Pacific right now, so you won't even be back next season.

Go away, winter. You're obsolete, losing even your friends, and damaging the country.

Wednesday 12 March 2014 08:47:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Weather#
Tuesday 11 March 2014

One of the funnier things I've seen recently:

Tuesday 11 March 2014 11:47:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes | US#
Saturday 1 March 2014

Parker, 14 weeksI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 7½-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in September 2011, more than 1,300 posts back, so it's time for a refresh.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than 13 years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago (the greatest city in North America), and sometimes London, San Francisco, and the rest of the world.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until early 2011 when I finally got the first digital camera I've ever had whose photos were as good as film. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.

I also write a lot of software, and will occasionally post about technology as well. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got more than 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

Saturday 1 March 2014 14:27:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Biking | Cubs | Geography | Kitchen Sink | London | Parker | Daily | Photography | Politics | US | World | Religion | Software | Blogs | Business | Cloud | Travel | Weather | Windows Azure | Work | Writing#
Thursday 27 February 2014

Security guru Bruce Schneier wonders if the iOS security flaw recently reported was deliberate:

Last October, I speculated on the best ways to go about designing and implementing a software backdoor. I suggested three characteristics of a good backdoor: low chance of discovery, high deniability if discovered, and minimal conspiracy to implement.

The critical iOS vulnerability that Apple patched last week is an excellent example. Look at the code. What caused the vulnerability is a single line of code: a second "goto fail;" statement. Since that statement isn't a conditional, it causes the whole procedure to terminate.

If the Apple auditing system is any good, they would be able to trace this errant goto line not just to the source-code check-in details, but to the specific login that made the change. And they would quickly know whether this was just an error, or a deliberate change by a bad actor. Does anyone know what's going on inside Apple?

Schneier has argued previously that the NSA's biggest mistake was dishonesty. Because we don't know what they're up to, and because they've lied so often about it, people start to believe the worst about technology flaws. This Apple error could have been a stupid programmer error, merge conflict, or something in that category. But we no longer trust Apple to work in our best interests.

This is a sad state of affairs.

Thursday 27 February 2014 08:27:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Software | Business | Security#
Wednesday 26 February 2014

I shouldn't have done it, but I just smacked someone down on Facebook. The exchange started when a college friend posted this photo (click for full size):

You will recall that Connecticut passed a firearms law about a year ago in response to the horrific mass-murder of children at Newtown in December 2012. Connecticut's law prohibits certain assault weapons and larger magazines in an effort to make it harder to kill 26 children with one weapon at one sitting.

I happen to think this law doesn't go far enough, preferring Australia's response to a similar event. Unfortunately, too many Americans prefer more guns and more murders to fewer guns and "less liberty."

So, after I posted a gently sarcastic response to someone's line about Connecticut's "tyranny," the guy fired back, and then I unloaded in a six-point, well-reasoned response. I know, it was a futile waste of time.

Click through for the whole exchange.

Wednesday 26 February 2014 13:37:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Mother Jones' Climate Desk takes a look at the (actually scientific) argument between climatologists Jennifer Francis and Kevin Trenberth over whether the mid-latitude jet stream is changing permanently, making winters more intense:

Jennifer Francis, of Rutgers University, has advanced an influential theory suggesting that winters like this one may be growing more likely to occur. The hypothesis is that by rapidly melting the Arctic, global warming is slowing down the fast-moving river of air far above us known as the jet stream—in turn causing weather patterns to get stuck in place for longer, and leading to more extremes of the sort that we've all been experiencing. "There is a lot of pretty tantalizing evidence that our hypothesis seems to be bearing some fruit," Francis explained on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast. The current winter is a "perfect example" of the kind of jet stream pattern that her research predicts, Francis added (although she emphasized that no one atmospheric event can be directly blamed on climate change).

Francis's idea has gained rapid celebrity, no doubt because it seems to make sense of our mind-boggling weather. After all, it isn't often that an idea first published less than two years is strongly embraced by the president's science adviser in a widely watched YouTube video. And yet in a letter to the journal Science last week, five leading climate scientists—mainstream researchers who accept a number of other ideas about how global warming is changing the weather, from worsening heat waves to driving heavier rainfall—strongly contested Francis's jet stream claim, calling it "interesting" but contending that "alternative observational analyses and simulations have not confirmed the hypothesis." One of the authors was the highly influential climate researcher Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who also appeared on Inquiring Minds this week alongside Francis to debate the matter.

What's going on here? In climate science, too many of the "debates" that we hear about are fake, trumped up affairs generated by climate skeptics who aim to sow doubt. But that's not the case here: The argument over Francis's work is real, legitimate, and damn interesting to boot. There is, quite simply, a massive amount at stake. The weather touches all of us personally and immediately. Indeed, social scientists have shown that our recent weather experience is a powerful determinant of whether we believe in global warming in the first place. If Francis is right, the very way that we experience global warming will be vastly different than scientists had, until now, foreseen—and perhaps will stay that way for our entire lives.

Skepticism underpins scientific inquiry, so this should be a great and healthy debate. We'll also get more data in the next few years that may support or dispute Francis' position.

Meanwhile, here in Chicago, the temperature plunged overnight to -17°C (also know as "minus fuckall"), and will stay down there at least through next week. This means that for the entire meterological winter season, from December 1 to February 28, Chicago will have had only six low temperatures above freezing, and since January 1st only 5 days above freezing.

Go home, Arctic. You're an asshole.

Wednesday 26 February 2014 11:53:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Weather#
Monday 24 February 2014

A person was removed from a commuter train this morning and taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Why? It could have to do with where he was standing:

Passengers on the Metra Union Pacific North line train heading out of the city witnessed a person jumping from the top of the outbound train to the inbound train that was headed to downtown Chicago.

"We can see his shadow," passenger Mike Pastore told RedEye. "There's a building next to the train and we can see the shadow of the man on top of the train. We can't see him directly, but we can hear him running back and forth on top of the train."

In another story about a man being removed from somewhere he should never have been, CNN has fired Piers Morgan. Don't let the door hit your ass, Piers.

Monday 24 February 2014 11:25:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | World | Travel#
Tuesday 4 February 2014

While the eastern United States continue to freeze in between snowfalls, Alaska is experiencing an astounding heat wave:

To give people an idea how freaky an event this was for the 49th State, NASA has put together a visualization of phenomenal temperatures from January 23 to the 30th. Based on satellite readings, the map shows warm-weather abnormalities spreading in red all across the region. Areas of white were about average, meanwhile, and blue spots show cooler-than-normal temps:

One of the most jarring things about this weather has been its effect on the snowpack. Widespread melting triggered a number of January avalanches, with one of the worst flinging a 100-foot-high pile of snow onto the Richardson Highway. The blockage stretched for hundreds of feet and completely sealed off land access to Valdez, a fishing port of about 4,000 people.

The cause? NASA says:

A persistent ridge of high pressure off the Pacific Coast fueled the warm spell, shunting warm air and rainstorms to Alaska instead of California, where they normally end up. The last half of January was one of the warmest winter periods in Alaska’s history, with temperatures as much as 40°F (22°C) above normal on some days in the central and western portions of the state, according to Weather Underground’s Christopher Bart. The all-time warmest January temperature ever observed in Alaska was tied on January 27 when the temperature peaked at 62°F (16.7°C) at Port Alsworth. Numerous other locations—including Nome, Denali Park Headquarters, Palmer, Homer, Alyseka, Seward, Talkeetna, and Kotzebue—all set January records.

That's the same phenomenon sending frigid Canadian air down into the eastern U.S. So when people wonder how to square their perceptions of winter with the reality of antrhopogenic climate change, tell them to go to Alaska. They might not understand but at least they'll be far away.

Tuesday 4 February 2014 14:39:26 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Thursday 30 January 2014

Yesterday the world watched in horror as Atlanta shut down completely because of a little snow. Atlanta's politicians promptly blamed everyone else, even though they were elected to take responsibility for these kinds of things. Today, professional meteorologists fired back:

"The mayor and the governor got on TV yesterday and said all this wasn't expected, and that's not true," [meteorologist Al] Roker said Wednesday on [NBC's] TODAY [Show].

Roker and other meteorologists pointed out that the weather service issued its warning for metro Atlanta at 3:38 a.m. Tuesday — meaning "they were warned about it, and they should have been prepared for it," Roker said. "It's a shame. It really is."

"It absolutely breaks my heart," said Jim Cantore, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel.

"There are certainly chances that you take with this inexact science of forecasting a winter storm warning," Cantore said Wednesday. But this time, "the National Weather Service was absolutely spot-on with this."

In other words, Georgian politicians tried the Bilandic Defense and failed. (So did Bilandic, if you recall.)

Note to the South: this is one of those occasions when government could have helped, if you'd funded it.

Thursday 30 January 2014 12:49:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Wednesday 29 January 2014

"Mister Speaker, the President of the United States."

My live-blogging of the State of the Union this year turned out to be NSFW. Click through for the result.

Tuesday 28 January 2014 20:00:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World#
Thursday 23 January 2014

Why? Because as the value of currency goes down, it becomes easier to pay off fixed debts. As a compensation, interest rates tend to rise with inflation, because the cost of money—if I give you a dollar today, I want more tomorrow—goes up with it.

The flipside is that creditors hate inflation. Raising interest rates kills inflation dead. In fact, raise interest rates at the wrong time, and you get deflation, which makes it harder to pay off debts.

This tells you everything to know about why the very, very rich want to raise interest rates right now, even though we have the lowest inflation rate in history. Paul Krugman fills in the lines:

Keynes describes...a condition of secular stagnation — of persistently low returns on investment, in which there is a chronic oversupply of saving. He believed, in 1936, that this would be the state of affairs in the decades ahead, and was of course wrong in that belief. But he wasn’t wrong about the possibility of such a state of affairs, and since Larry Summers came out as a secular stagnationist, the view that we may well be there now has gone mainstream.

[L]ow rates of interest, he suggested, "would mean the euthanasia of the rentier, and, consequently, the euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the scarcity-value of capital."

What Keynes didn’t say, but now seems obvious, is that the rentiers are unlikely to accept their euthanasia gracefully. And therein, I’d argue, lies the ultimate explanation of the persistent clamor for monetary tightening despite weak economies and low inflation. I’ve described on a number of occasions how tight-money advocates are constantly shifting their arguments — it’s about inflation; no, it’s about sound market functioning; no, it’s about financial stability — but always with the same bottom line: rates must rise now now now.

This is why don't we have higher employment, more growth, and rising standards of living right now. And yet mortgage rates are going up—in a housing slump. At some point, the bottom 99% are going to notice, don't you think?

Wednesday 22 January 2014 19:07:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Monday 20 January 2014

I've got outside meetings every day this week, and those tend to compress my days. So there might be more link lists like this one coming up:

Back to the mines.

Monday 20 January 2014 13:51:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Friday 17 January 2014

In two and a half weeks, I'll be on a beach doing nothing of value to anyone but myself. Meanwhile, here are all the things I won't have time to read until someday in the future:

Now my long day continues...

Friday 17 January 2014 14:11:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | US | Weather#
Wednesday 15 January 2014

Tomorrow will be quieter than today, I hope, or I might not get time to think until next week. I didn't miss these meanwhile:

Next meeting...

Wednesday 15 January 2014 14:28:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Weather#
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Why governing isn't just a photo op
The Duke sues Duke
Definitions are important
Public display of historical illiteracy
Is the Hobby Lobby decision the camel's nose?
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Depressing, predictable, reactionary decisions from the Court
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Corruption charges in red light camera scandal
Another list of things to read
Schneier on why the NSA has made us less safe
Waiting for software to deploy...
National Climate Assessment released
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How Chicago weather is like the Republican party
President Obama Between Two Ferns
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Unnecessary roughness? Asymmetric warfare? Just stupid?
Go home, Arctic. You're drunk
Not the usual way to take the train
Global warming? Yes. Alaska
Jim Cantore will not lie down
The State of the Union
Inflation is good for debtors
Busy week, quiet blog
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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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