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Thursday 14 May 2015

Fortunately, I have a couple of long flights coming up in two weeks. Unfortunately, not all of this will be relevant then:

Tonight I'm taking a short break to go to the Wait! Wait! Don't tell me taping, which is conveniently located two blocks from my office. And tomorrow I might have some time to think.

Thursday 14 May 2015 16:19:47 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Cool links | Weather#
Wednesday 6 May 2015

The USGS has put all of their topographic maps online. All of them. Back to 1880.

Enjoy.

Wednesday 6 May 2015 15:45:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Cool links#
Tuesday 21 April 2015

The ancient spreadsheet package Lotus 1-2-3 set "0 January 1900" as its day zero. Whenever you entered a date into a Lotus spreadsheet, the program actually stored the number of days before or since that mythical date. Microsoft Excel needed to maintain compatability with Lotus early on, so it set 30 December 1899 as its day zero, which worked very well except for dates between 30 December 1899 and 1 January 1900, and it added the other mythical date 29 February 1900 because Lotus had that bug as well.

Flash forward a few decades, and today brings us a little bit of weirdness that only shows up in the American Month-Day-Year format.

Today is 4/21/15 in the U.S., and also day 42115 in Excel.

This bit of nerdiness brought to you by the Daily Water Cooler and one of The Daily Parker's readers.

Tuesday 21 April 2015 11:35:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Cool links#
Friday 10 April 2015

The Inner Drive Extensible Architecture (IDEA) is now on NuGet.org. This means anyone, anywhere can download it and install it into their own .NET project.

I'll publish the Inner Drive Azure Tools at some point after I figure out a cool acronym.

This was actually forced on me by a new requirement to share the code with overseas partners. They would be unable to use the software I wrote for work if I hadn't done this.

Friday 10 April 2015 13:32:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Tuesday 31 March 2015

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

OK, time for a vendor phone call...

Tuesday 31 March 2015 15:22:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Religion | Business | Cool links#
Saturday 28 March 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 27 March 2015 20:02:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
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#
Tuesday 24 March 2015

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

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

Tuesday 24 March 2015 16:32:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Cool links | Windows Azure#
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#
Friday 20 March 2015

Things I will read or explore more this weekend:

Must run.

Friday 20 March 2015 16:04:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | US | World | Cool links#
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

Via Jeff Atwood, this is very cool:

Algorithms are a fascinating use case for visualization. To visualize an algorithm, we don’t merely fit data to a chart; there is no primary dataset. Instead there are logical rules that describe behavior. This may be why algorithm visualizations are so unusual, as designers experiment with novel forms to better communicate. This is reason enough to study them.

But algorithms are also a reminder that visualization is more than a tool for finding patterns in data. Visualization leverages the human visual system to augment human intellect: we can use it to better understand these important abstract processes, and perhaps other things, too.

Monday 9 March 2015 15:30:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#
Sunday 8 February 2015

After a nearly two days with above-freezing temperatures, our sidewalks have become passable and our faces have stopped falling off from the cold. Consequently I've spent a good deal of time today walking places. Consequently, though it's just 3pm, I've gotten better Fitbit numbers (15,000 steps, 11 km) than on any day since January 3rd (16,800 steps, 12.1 km).

From January 3rd you have to go all the way back to November 30th (23,500 steps, 18 km) to find better results. I'm not going to do that today; but I am going to walk Parker more than he's been walked in a couple of weeks, and try to hit 18,000 steps or so.

I also discovered that Google knows everywhere I've been since I got my Android phone. (If you have an Android phone, go to https://maps.google.com/locationhistory/b/0 to see your history.) That's creepy. And so interesting. For a while I've been outlining an app that would aggregate all of this kind of information and form a searchable tick-tock record going back as far as I have data. That might be cool—or it might be scary. Haven't decided yet.

Sunday 8 February 2015 15:07:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Cool links#
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#
Wednesday 28 January 2015

The Kickstarter campaign I mentioned Friday (and that I've backed) has become the most-backed campaign ever with 112,250 backers raising $4.4 million. Their original goal, mind you, was $10,000.

I think "Exploding Kittens" might succeed, y'know?

Wednesday 28 January 2015 16:08:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#
Tuesday 20 January 2015

Interesting things to read:

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

Tuesday 20 January 2015 12:30:14 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | Cool links | Weather | Windows Azure#
Wednesday 7 January 2015

Via Tech Cocktail, Jason Scott has added 2,388 MS-DOS video games to the Wayback Machine. Says Scott:

The Archive introduced v2, or “the Beta Interface” late last year. It was slow, stocky, and freaked people out. But folks got the idea, mostly – it was taking a site that had only incremental changes for 13 years, shaking the whole story up, and re-imagining the whole thing as a visual and browsing collection, as well as a way to dig deep into the materials.

Since last year, it’s gotten faster, slimmer, has added a bunch of features, and continues to become better to use. But it needs feedback, which is why I’m pushing you at it.

Enjoy the games, and check out all those beautiful screenshots! Play a few programs, note how you get around to things, and talk about what works and what doesn’t work for you. There’s a feedback button – use it. The goal is that you will be able to do everything you can do with the old interface with the new, but that you’ll have so much more happening on the new one. And remember, v2 works across all of the Archive… all the collections are out there, be they movies, books or audio, and the new interface has cool ways to interact with them as well.

Good thing I'm not working from home today where I'll be distracted by, say, Castle Wolfenstein...oh.

Wednesday 7 January 2015 08:12:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#
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#
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#
Wednesday 12 November 2014

The Redmond giant stunned the software development world this week by opening up several core technologies, including the entire .NET platform, to the public:

We are building a .NET Core CLR for Windows, Mac and Linux and it will be both open source and it will be supported by Microsoft. It'll all happen at https://github.com/dotnet.

Much of the .NET Core Framework 4.6 and its Reference Source source is going on GitHub. It's being relicensed under the MIT license, so Mono (and you!) can use that source code in their .NET implementations.

Dr. Dobbs is impressed (as am I):

Of these platforms, Linux is clearly the most important. Today, Microsoft earns much of its (record) profits from enterprise software packages (SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange, etc.). By running .NET on Linux, it now has the ability to run those apps on a significant majority of server platforms. Except for Solaris sites, all enterprises will be able to run the applications without having to add in the cost of Microsoft Server licenses.

But perhaps more important than the pure server benefit is the cloud aspect. VMs on the cloud, especially the public cloud, are principally Linux-based. Windows VMs are available, too, but at consistently higher pricing. With this move, .NET apps can now run anywhere on the cloud — or said another way, between servers and the cloud, the apps can run anywhere IT is operating.

The big winners of all this goodness are C# developers. In theory, .NET portability favors all .NET languages equally, but it's no secret that C# is the first among equals. (It is, in fact, the only language that Xamarin supports currently.) Microsoft has been an excellent steward of the language, evolving it intelligently and remarkably cleanly. Among developers who use it regularly, it is uniformly well liked, which distinguishes it from most of the other major development languages today, where an appreciation that borders on ambivalence is the more common experience.

The big loser is certainly Java. Java's stock in trade has been its longstanding ability to run without modification or recompilation on all major platforms. In this valuable trait, it has had no major competition. If Microsoft's port of .NET provides a multi-platform experience that is as smooth and seamless as Java, then the JVM will have some very serious competition.

Once I'm done with the deliverable that's due tomorrow, I may download the .NET Framework and take a look. I'll also spin up an Azure VM and play around with Visual Studio 2015 before the end of the week.

Wednesday 12 November 2014 17:27:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud | Cool links | Work#
Tuesday 14 October 2014

Microsoft's Scott Hanselman provides a list:

"Knowing computers" today is more than just knowing Office, or knowing how to attach a file. Today's connected world is way more complex than any of us realize. If you're a techie, you're very likely forgetting how far you've come!

The #1 thing you can do when working with a non-techie is to be empathetic. Put yourself in their shoes. Give them the tools and the base of knowledge they need.

  • Backup everything. Is your entire company on your 10 year old computer’s desktop? Look for Backup options like CrashPlan, DropBox, OneDrive, etc. Literally ANYTHING is better than leaving documents on your computer’s desktop.
  • Learn to use search to find your files. Press the Windows key and just start typing on Windows, or use Spotlight (Command-Spacebar) on Mac.
  • Don’t CC more than 10 of your friends or neighbors. At that point, consider another way to talk to them. Some of your friends may not want their email given to the world. Perhaps this is a time to use BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) so you don't expose everyone's email address to each other?

Techies should read this post to understand what their non-techie friends don't understand. Everyone else should just read it.

Tuesday 14 October 2014 07:57:28 MDT (UTC-06:00)  |  | Blogs | Cool links#
Tuesday 2 September 2014

My new Android phone has a built in-GPS and a fairly large Google Maps cache. I'm sure this is true of other phones, but not of my old Windows phone, so until this past trip I couldn't do this:

And then, a few seconds later, I could do this:

I love this phone.

Tuesday 2 September 2014 15:48:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Cool links#
Tuesday 19 August 2014

I had planned to write today about aviation weather radar, being an accidental landlord in Chicago, or the latest plan to replace a burned-down grocery in my old neighborhood. Instead, I'm going to gush a little about my new phone.

I've used a Windows HTC-8 for almost two years now, and I've been frustrated with it nearly the whole time. Today, while waiting out a thunderstorm at the local T-Mobile store, I decided to pick up a Samsung S5.

Instead of complaining about the HTC-8, I'll link to a comparison, and then list these things that made me giddy earlier today:

  • I have all the applications I've been missing again.
  • Android has a new, combined inbox for email they didn't have before, so I still get all my mail in one place. (This was the best feature of the Windows 8 phone.)
  • Wi-Fi calling.
  • Combined SMS and Google Hangouts.
  • An app to archive SMS. I've lost all my SMS messages for the past two years because Windows 8 doesn't have any way of extracting them.
  • Google Maps.

I could go on, and no doubt I will, but it's late in the day and I have to play with my phone some more.

Tuesday 19 August 2014 17:00:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Thursday 14 August 2014

I mentioned over a month ago that, given some free time, I would fix the search feature on Weather Now. Well, I just deployed the fix, and it's kind of cool.

I used Lucene.NET as the search engine, incorporating it into the Inner Drive Gazetteer that underlies the geographic information for Weather Now. I won't go into too many details about it right now, except that I was surprised at how much the index writer was able to crunch and store (in Azure blobs). The entire index takes up 815 MB of blob space. That's so small a fraction of a cent per month I can't even calculate it right now.

The indexing process took about 6 minutes per 500,000 rows. (The entire database has 7.25 million rows.) It helped that I ran the indexing process on an Azure virtual machine, because at one point during index optimization I clocked the data throughput at 200 Mbps. Yes, two hundred megabits per second. The entire index ran in a little less than two hours on a VM while I was doing other things. And once the index initializes in the Weather Now app, searches only take a second or so.

Go ahead. Try a search. Put in your ZIP code or the name of a prominent building near you.

I still have a lot I want to do with the application, including updating it to a responsive theme and MVC, but this is a pretty big leap.

Thursday 14 August 2014 16:23:11 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Cloud | Cool links | Weather | Windows Azure#
Monday 2 June 2014

My dad just sent me this. His comment: "This was done by somebody who either has Asperger's or way, way too much time on his hands."

Yah, but it's cool, right?

What is not so cool is that the Kings are up 4-3 with 17 left in the 3rd. If none of that makes any sense to you, clearly you don't care about hockey or Chicago sports.

Sunday 1 June 2014 21:14:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
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#
Wednesday 7 May 2014

Actually, it's a live feed from the ISS:


Live streaming video by Ustream

IFLS explains:

One of the latest missions from the ISS is kind of amazing. The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment consists of four cameras that have been attached outside of the ISS. Though temperature is controlled, the cameras are exposed to the radiation from the sun, which will allow astronauts to understand how radiation affects the instruments.

The cameras point down at Earth at all times, which makes for some breathtaking images. The feed will sometimes go down as the signal switches between the cameras, and it is hard to see when the ISS is on the dark side of the planet. If the cameras are down, the screen will be grey.

As I'm posting this, the ISS was just past the morning terminator, near the Philippines. It should fly almost directly over Chicago in 20 minutes or so. (The ISS orbits once every 92 minutes.)

Wednesday 7 May 2014 14:26:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links | Astronomy#
Saturday 3 May 2014

Via WGN's weather blog, here is the coolest climate visualizer I've seen:

The site also has forecast maps and animation, climate information, and (of course) a blog.

Saturday 3 May 2014 08:25:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links | Weather#
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#
Sunday 20 April 2014

I just returned from Outer Suburbistan in record time, in under an hour, which was pure dumb luck. As soon as I change I'm going out into the 25°C afternoon. We still haven't hit the 28°C we last saw November 7th, but this is close enough for me.

More later, including possibly some interesting stuff about how I've started (slowly) refactoring the 10-year-old Inner Drive Extensible Architecture to use modern inversion-of-control tools including Castle Windsor and Moq. First, I need to walk the dog. A lot.

Sunday 20 April 2014 16:04:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cool links | Weather#
Wednesday 18 December 2013

The Chicago Transit Authority cleaned out its attic recently and put a bunch of artifacts up for auction. The auction just ended, and I'm sorry to say I did not win anything.

I bid on a couple of 1990s-era station signs, one from Main and one from Davis. I didn't want to risk getting both so I dropped off the Davis auction once it hit $50. Because, rusty 30 x 45 cm sign with the paint chipping? Yeah, $50 sounds right.

But I kept going on the Main St. sign, using the ancient eBay technique of waiting until the last few seconds to make my last bid.

So, the first day of bidding, I put in $25. Auto-bids pushed right past me. Then I waited. Just now, with the bidding at $95, I put in what I thought was a ridiculous (but still acceptable) number: $130. Bam! Bidder #37522 auto-bid right past me!

Now, I'm thinking, as attractive an artifact as the sign might be, is it really worth $150? Oh, the pain, the pain...yes. All right. It's a unique part of history, part of my history in fact, so it's worth $150 to me. Bid.

D'oh! Bidder #37522 thinks it's worth more than $150, and his auto-bid won.

Well, I'm glad the sign is going to a good home. I hope Bidder #37522 finds a nice place on his wall for it.

But I have no idea what Bidder #37961 is going to do with the rail car he bought for $13,150...

(Fun fact: the CTA Gift Store sells signs.)

Update: Looking through the closed lots, I discovered that someone bought two sticks of rail for $50. Let's do the math here. The sticks are each 11.8 m long, and the description says they're 115-lb rail. That means the rail weighs 115 lbs per foot, so the two sticks together contain 4,068 kg of steel. I don't know scrap prices, but it seems to me that 4 tons of steel scrap might be worth more than $50. So assuming the costs of removing the rails aren't too high, someone may have just made a tidy profit on the auction.

Update: It turns out, scrap steel goes for about $350 a ton. So that $50 investment could bring the buyer a tidy $1300 profit. But then one has to ask, why didn't the CTA just sell the surplus rail for scrap in the first place?

Wednesday 18 December 2013 11:13:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Cool links | Travel#
Sunday 15 December 2013

This weekend's cover story in New York Times Magazine looks in detail at Google's grand plan to map everything:

Street View cars have already mapped six million miles. Depending on your perspective, that’s either a quite a lot (equivalent to 12 trips to the moon and back) or not much at all (only one-tenth of the world’s estimated 60 million miles of road). Either way, Google’s huge investment in the camera-equipped cars — not to mention trikes, boats, snowmobiles and, yes, rafts — has yielded the most detailed street atlas on earth.

Early last year, Google’s United States market share for where-type queries topped 70 percent, and Google started to get serious about recouping the fortune it has been sinking into making its map, putting a tollbooth in front of its application programming interface. Henceforth, heavy users would be charged for the privilege.

Today, Google’s map includes the streets of every nation on earth, and Street View has so far collected imagery in a quarter of those countries. The total number of regular users: A billion people, or about half of the Internet-connected population worldwide. Google Maps underlies a million different websites, making its map A.P.I. among the most-used such interfaces on the Internet. At this point Google Maps is essentially what Tim O’Reilly predicted the map would become: part of the information infrastructure, a resource more complete and in many respects more accurate than what governments have. It’s better than MapQuest’s map, better than Microsoft’s, better than Apple’s.

The article also looks at Open Street Map, the Wikipedia of GIS, and wonders whether Google's proprietary database will ultimately win.

Sunday 15 December 2013 09:07:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Business | Cool links#
Saturday 2 November 2013

Gulliver harrumphs:

For this observer, it's too long (around 90 seconds longer than Air New Zealand's "Bare essentials", for example) and actually quite annoying. Also, I don't think it does a particularly good job of fulfilling its primary purpose, which is to explain the safety-related features of the plane. With all the pizzazz and robot rappers, passengers will end up watching the dancing and admiring the production values, without actually digesting the message. It tries so hard to entertain the many flyers who are over-familiar with safety videos that it fails to explain clearly and simply to new flyers what they can expect. To top it all, Virgin America will have to change various scenes in the next few months now that the Federal Aviation Administration has decided to allow the operation of electronic devices on planes from departure gate to landing gate.

Well, fine, but you have to admire their spunk.

Saturday 2 November 2013 08:43:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Cool links#
Wednesday 30 October 2013

This rocks:

The so-called "Starpath" is a type of solar-enhanced liquid and aggregate made by Pro-Teq Surfacing, a company headquartered southwest of London near the awesomely titled town of Staines-upon-Thames. It's in the prototype phase, with a test path running 460 feet in a Cambridge park called Christ's Pieces. (The British and their delightful names!) The material works by absorbing UV rays during the day and later releasing them as topaz light. In a weird feature, it can somehow adjust its brightness levels similar to the screen of an iPhone; the path gets dimmer on pitch-black nights "almost like it has a mind of its own," says Pro-Teq's owner, Hamish Scott.

Pro-Teq is hoping that governments will embrace its self-aware, supernatural-looking pathway for its energy-saving elements and the ease in which it goes down. The installation is fairly quick (the Cambridge job took about 4 hours), and because it's a resurfacing technique doesn't involve the burdensome disassembly and disposal of existing pathways. "The main bulk of the U.K. path network is tarmac, where perhaps it's coming toward the end of its useful life," says Pro-Teq pitchman Neil Blackmore in the below video. "We can rejuvenate it with our system, creating not only a practical but a decorative finish that's certainly with the Starpath also very, very unique."

From the company's press release:

This product has recently been sprayed onto the existing pathway that runs through Christ’s Pieces open space, Cambridge between the city centre and the Grafton Centre, and is used by pedestrians and cyclists during the day and night.

The Cambridge pathway measures 150 square metres, took only 30 minutes to spray the material on, and the surface was ready for use less than four hours after the job commenced. This short installation time allowed minimal disruption to the public.

Bike hike to Cambridge, anyone?

Wednesday 30 October 2013 11:36:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | London | Cool links#
Monday 21 October 2013

I found another batch of tapes including a mix tape I made in the WRHU two-track studio in May 1990. Yes, two-track: we recorded two audio tracks onto 1/4-inch tape at 7.5 inches per second (or 15 ips if we needed to do some music editing). We then cut the tapes with razor blades and spliced them together with splicing tape.

Eventually I graduated to the misnamed 4-track studio, which by then not only had a 4-track quarter inch deck but also a 1-inch, 16-track system that only the General Manager was allowed to play with.

Now that you know the technical limitations, listen to this teaser promo from May 1990. As a bonus, here is the Uh-Uh Oral Contraceptives spot that my predecessors created in 1984 or 1985.

Enjoy.

Monday 21 October 2013 17:44:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Sunday 20 October 2013

On Thursday afternoon, Amazon delivered a USB cassette player. Yesterday I dug out an aircheck—a recording made in the radio station's master control room of what actually went over the air—from my broadcast on WRHU-FM exactly 23 years earlier.

Here is the 9pm newscast. Trippy. (And scarily similar to the newscast you might have heard last night.)

Sunday 20 October 2013 11:29:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#
Monday 16 September 2013

Just a brief note, when I should be sound asleep. I caught up on Aaron Sorkin's Newsroom tonight, and realized that the episode ended the story.

I could be wrong. I called my dad immediately, asking for some assurance that I wasn't insane about it ending all three* of the basic conflicts that make up the story, but he hadn't seen it yet, as he's two time zones west of me.

So, all you've got until I get his reflections, dear readers, is an amateur opinion. But as far as I can see, the story has nowhere to go after tonight.

I'll very likely address this later in the week with spoilers. For now, I welcome—I encourage—arguments against my hypothesis.

Tonight's show was the season finale. But for expletive's sake, was it also the series finale? Maybe my confusion was I didn't realize it was a season finale. So all the threads coming together seemed like the end to me—but I could be wrong.

My aforementioned dad reminds me that show business is best expressed thus:

Show

business

Of course. Yet I like stories, and I like good writing, and I like getting carried away. From tonight's Newsroom, I worry that it's another four years until I get to watch Aaron Sorkin's writing again.

I would have hoped the business let the show go on for another season. Except...I think the story ended tonight. And no matter what Sorkin might do for a third season, it will have to be a different story. I'm sure the suits know that. They may not have a fiber of creativity to share amongst them, but they know damn well when the party's over.

All I can conclude from this is that Sorkin needs to write features. Not TV; features. He can't keep doing this to his fans in 20 episodes. (Disclosure: I really liked Studio 60. But he really ended it after one season. Is that what happened tonight?)


Will-Mac; Maggie-Jim; Everyone-Reese.

Sunday 15 September 2013 23:32:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Saturday 14 September 2013

Via Sullivan, the Phoneblok:

Saturday 14 September 2013 14:50:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#
Thursday 15 August 2013

The friend who posted this roundup said simply, "Nerdgasm:"

Writing Systems of the World

By Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Take a look.

Thursday 15 August 2013 11:43:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Monday 5 August 2013

James Deen tries Google Glass and...well...don't play this at work:

That has to be one of the only porn trailers I've ever laughed through.

Sunday 4 August 2013 22:12:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#
Friday 26 July 2013

Via TPM Media, NASA has something to make you smile. Take a ride:

Friday 26 July 2013 18:25:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#
Friday 21 June 2013

Via the Atlantic Cities blog, this is pretty awesome:

World domination is all well and good, but sometimes taking over a city is more than enough for one night. That's the feeling that Luke Costanza and Mackenzie Stutzman had a few years back while playing the board game Risk in Boston. So they sketched out a rough map of the metro area, split neighborhoods into six distinct regions, and laminated the pages. Then they invited over a few more friends to test it out — and discovered it was a rousing success.

"That's when it kind of clicked that we could maybe make these for other cities," says Costanza. "It's just tons of fun to be able to play this classic game in a place that you know."

That initial urge to conquer the Bay has since expanded into Havoc Boards: a series of 15 Risk-style games that Costanza and Stutzman are funding through a Kickstarter campaign. Instead of limiting the action to the global stage, Havoc Boards offer a variety of territories for conquest. To date they've created boards for ten cities —Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles among them — as well as two countries, a continent, a college campus, and even the solar system.

Check it out:

Friday 21 June 2013 11:49:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | Cool links#
Sunday 16 June 2013

Via Sullivan, scholar John Suiter discovered a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl" at Oregon's Reed College in 1956:

It’s also easy to forget that Allen Ginsberg’s generation-defining poem “Howl” was once almost a casualty of censorship. The most likely successor to Walt Whitman’s vision, Ginsberg’s oracular utterances did not sit well with U.S. Customs, who in 1957 tried to seize every copy of the British second printing. When that failed, police arrested the poem’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and he and Ginsberg’s “Howl” were put on trial for obscenity. Apparently, phrases like “cock and endless balls” did not sit well with the authorities. But the court vindicated them all.

The recording [linked above] sat dormant in Reed’s archives for over fifty years until scholar John Suiter rediscovered it in 2008. In it, Ginsberg reads his great prophetic work, not with the cadences of a street preacher or jazzman—both of which he had in his repertoire—but in an almost robotic monotone with an undertone of manic urgency. Ginsberg’s reading, before an intimate group of students in a dormitory lounge, took place only just before the first printing of the poem in the City Lights edition.

That's almost sixty years ago; the poet was 30. For what it's worth, I bought my copy at City Lights many years ago.

Sunday 16 June 2013 11:44:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Tuesday 28 May 2013

Yeah, one of those days:

I'll get to these eventually...

Tuesday 28 May 2013 13:02:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US | Cool links#
Thursday 23 May 2013

National Public Radio has created an interactive map that uses Google Maps and new satellite images Google obtained yesterday to show 10-meter images of the Oklahoma tornado's destruction:

This may be the best, most timely use of geographic information in a news presentation I've ever seen.

The images are stunning. I can only imagine what life must be like in Moore right now—and with the NPR app, it's a lot easier to understand.

Thursday 23 May 2013 10:27:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Cool links | Weather#
Thursday 21 March 2013

Odd that I'm finding this out through the Chicago Tribune:

Amazon.com has introduced a way for users to quickly save and send news articles as well as other items to their Kindle devices for later, off-line reading.

The new feature can be added by users in a variety of ways. Amazon has made it possible for users to send items to their Kindles through Web browser extensions for Google Chrome and Firefox, as a feature that can be installed on Macs or PCs, from Google Android mobile devices, or from users' emails.

Cool. Look for the button to appear on The Daily Parker very soon.

Now that I can send directly to Kindle, and after having Instapaper crash frequently on my Android device, I might switch. Though this does underscore the risks start-ups take when they develop relatively simple ideas into software. Other, larger companies can kill you.

Thursday 21 March 2013 07:25:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Sunday 24 February 2013

From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

From this week's news:

If calculations of the newly discovered Higgs boson particle are correct, one day, tens of billions of years from now, the universe will disappear at the speed of light, replaced by a strange, alternative dimension, one theoretical physicist calls “boring.”

“It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out. This has to do with the Higgs energy field itself,” [theoretical physicist Joseph] Lykken [of Fermilab] added, referring to an invisible field of energy that is believed to exist throughout the universe.

“Essentially, the universe wants to be in different state and so eventually it will realize that. A little bubble of what you might think of an as alternative universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us. So that’ll be very dramatic, but you and I will not be around to witness it,” Lykken told reporters before a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston this week.

And...has this happened already? We can't possibly know...but Douglas Adams might have known all along.

Sunday 24 February 2013 11:39:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#
Monday 18 February 2013

Via Sullivan, a catalog of strange things we do with gadgets:

You’re on your cell phone, talking to a friend, pacing in circles, fidgeting with your hands, checking your cuticles–whatever it is you do while you’re on the phone. They’re odd, pointless behaviors, but we do them nonetheless, and a group of designers from the Art Center College of Design has taken it upon themselves to illustrate and document all of them (sort of like that Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology).

There’s the “Security Blanket” (checking your smartphone for no particular reason when faced with the slightest discomfort in a social situation), the “Halfway Courtesy” (taking one earbud out in order to show a person you’re listening to them), the “Haunted Interface” (performing actions an interface can’t react to, like shaking a video game controller), and many others. All of the actions are collected in a free ebook called Curious Rituals. Researcher Nicolas Nova explains in the book’s introduction.

Meanwhile, I'm doing my strange ritual of camping at Peet's Coffee before dawn to make sure I stay reasonably close to Chicago time for the weekend. Otherwise, Wednesday will be hell.

Monday 18 February 2013 06:40:47 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
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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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