Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
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Friday 25 July 2014

I'm back in Chicago today, but catching up on all the things I couldn't do from Cleveland. Regular posting should resume tomorrow.

Also, at 6 hours and 15 minutes to get from the client site to my house door-to-door, plus renting a car in Cleveland and having to schlepp bags hither and yon, I'm wondering if I should just drive next time.

Friday 25 July 2014 12:37:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 22 July 2014

Business travel has certain built-in costs. All we business travelers really want in a hotel is a decent night's sleep. Alas, alas. Here's the review I just submitted to TripAdvisor about how one engineering decision can make someone want to leave and never come back:

I'm now in my second stay at the Aloft Beachwood in as many weeks. As a traveling professional, I often spend time in places without cute bistros or even sidewalks to put them on, where four nights out of seven I'm surrounded by decor I can't even describe to my gay friends without making them cry, where—just a second, I have to wave my arms in front of the thermostat.

Welcome to the Aloft, where the thermostats are programmed to destroy your sleep. I imagine this saves the hotel money. You may imagine that this choice stands proxy to innumerable others that will make you wish for the luxury of a Hyatt Place or Marriott Courtyard.

(Hold on, I have to throw something at the thermostat again.)

On my first night here, last Monday, I discovered that the hotel put motion sensors in the thermostats to save money. I discovered this because, last Monday, the A/C would turn off just as I was almost, but not quite, asleep. Like tonight, the room was too warm to turn the A/C off completely; but last Monday, I didn't discover this until Midnight, so I didn't jam the A/C down to 65 and stack pillows next to the desk.

But the staff here are great, every one of them. They're the only reason I'm giving this sleep-deprivation-chamber 3 stars. Everyone who works here has been helpful, good-natured, and truly concerned that between the A/C and the master light switch controlling all of the lights in the room (including the reading lamps), Aloft has some changes they need to make. And if I ever meet the person who made the decision to put 3-minute timers on the thermostats, I'm going to—

Dang. A/C stopped again.

I wish I were exaggerating. The hotel opened eight months ago, so they've had time to fix this. That means this is a deliberate engineering choice, like Clippy or the Ctrl-F fail in Outlook.

Also, I'm a big believer in second chances, and in travel loyalty programs. But if I can't get this solved to my satisfaction in the next hour (meaning, if I can't get my room cool enough that I can turn the A/C off so it doesn't keep waking me up), I'm out of here in the morning. There's a perfectly serviceable Marriott walking distance away.

Monday 21 July 2014 22:43:27 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Travel | Work#
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

The Atlantic's CityLab blog, of course:

For all the monorail enthusiasts out there just now learning that New York once had its own single-track wonder, put your excitement on hold. For on this date in 1910, during its inaugural journey, the monorail lurched over, sending scores of people to the hospital.

The painful incident can be traced to the slick salesmanship of one Howard Tunis, who did so well demonstrating his novel design for an electric monorail at a 1907 exposition in Virginia that he gained the attention of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. The IRT, the original operator of New York's subway line, asked Tunis if he could assemble a similar prototype for use up north. That the inventor did, and soon enough it was ready on a track stretching from a railroad station on the borough's mainland a short distance down to City Island.

Now, if I only had time to read the article...

Thursday 17 July 2014 06:31:22 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Monday 14 July 2014

I didn't sleep terribly well last night because, let's face it, the Cleveland Airport Sheraton is neither my own house nor the Ritz-Carlton on Park Ave. It is, however, in Cleveland, where my current client is also.

There are essentially two options for traveling: fly out the night before your meetings, or the morning of your meetings. And for me it comes down to one thing: Is the trade-off for one night at home going to be getting up at 4:30am to get a 7am flight from O'Hare?

That's not a trade-off I'm likely to make without serious counter-incentives.

So, expect lighter-than-usual posting this week. I hope nothing interesting happens in U.S. politics while I'm here...

Monday 14 July 2014 08:48:27 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Thursday 3 July 2014

I love the night buses in London. Given my habit of staying on Chicago time, I've ridden my share of them. (If American 90 arrives after 11:30pm, I'm guaranteed to do so.) So today's story in the Atlantic's CityLab blog about the phenomenon made me smile:

You see, London’s night buses are actually the great, unsung glory of the city’s travel network. Compared with cabs, they’re dirt cheap (they cost the same as a regular daytime bus), come extremely frequently and cover a wide area, and go quickly through the mainly car-free nighttime streets. This could be why they’re so popular, carrying 42 million passengers a year. There’s more to them than even all that: Night buses have played a huge role in opening up London’s nightlife to everyone, especially to people whose modest means or far-flung suburban homes make cab fares seem exorbitant.

It is true that night buses often smell of kebabs, London's alcohol-sponge of choice, and they can be noisy and crammed. They’re popular with a certain group of British exhibitionists that can only really enjoy themselves by seeing their revels reflected in other people’s eyes. “I exist! I’m fun!” their behavior screams, making fellow passengers disbelieve the latter and wish the former wasn’t true. You also rub up against people you might not choose to. I was part of one ugly incident in which some guys apologized for flicking ketchup sachets at my sleeping friend, explaining that they’d only done so because they “thought he was homeless." Still, the party-on-wheels thing can be fun, and almost cozy at times. A fellow passenger once sewed up the ripped hem of my friend’s 1950s ballgown, and I’ve been not-disagreeably hit on with the immortal opener, “Would you like a chip?” Most of the time, I’ve just sat down, not been bothered by anyone, then hopped off at my destination.

Meanwhile, over at the Economist's Gulliver blog, a reminder that it can be cheaper to take Eurostar to Paris and fly from DeGaulle than to fly out of London, and what an independent Scotland might do about this:

It is a complicated issue. Although British airlines hate APD, especially as tough competition from continental European carriers for transatlantic passengers means they find it hard to pass on the whole cost to customers, there is not much evidence that low airline taxes are correlated with broad economic success. My colleague has called for a rethink of the tax; I would like to see some more evidence of its impact before joining that campaign.

Nevertheless, Alex Salmond, Scotland's nationalist first minister, clearly thinks cutting APD is a winning issue. And Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways, seems to agree. He has warned that English travellers will simply drive across the border to avoid the tax if Scotland becomes independent. Perhaps the real question is whether Mr Salmond's campaign promise, and pressure from airlines and travellers, will force David Cameron's government to reconsider its own support for Britain's high air travel taxes. I wouldn't bank on it.

London transport: always an adventure. And still better than anything in the U.S.

Thursday 3 July 2014 15:04:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel#
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#
Tuesday 24 June 2014

Maryland dentist Edward Gramson got taken for a ride by British Airways:

When a North Bethesda, Maryland, dentist planned a trip to Portugal for a conference last September, he decided he'd quickly swing by Granada, Spain, to see the famed Alhambra and other historical sites.

But carrier British Airways had other ideas, and instead sent Edward Gamson and his partner to Grenada — with an E — in the Caribbean, by way of London, no less.

Gamson, who said he clearly told the British Airways agent over the phone Granada, Spain, didn't notice the mistake because his e-tickets did not contain the airport code or the duration of the trip. It was only 20 minutes after departure from a stopover in London that he looked at the in-flight map and asked the flight attendant, "Why are we headed west to go to Spain?"

I'm scratching my head over this one. I travel a lot, through Heathrow sometimes, on BA other times, and I'm just not sure how so many things could go wrong no matter how many letters are different. What about the flight schedule? Departure briefing from the pilot? Passport control? Size of the bloody plane? (You don't take an A320 to the Caribbean and you don't take a 747 to a regional Spanish airport.) This guy had at least 350,000 frequent-flier miles; how did he not notice any of these things?

Gramson has sued BA pro se for $34,000, which he estimates to be the losses from hotel and travel reservations. I can't wait to hear the disposiiton.

Tuesday 24 June 2014 13:03:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | London | Travel#
Saturday 21 June 2014

The flight from New York to Chicago takes two hours in the air, and is on-time if it takes three hours from gate to gate. Yesterday my flight was not on time:

  • Late crew arrival: boarding starts at the scheduled departure time.
  • APU inoperative: mechanic inspection and sign off takes 40 minutes.
  • JFK on a Friday evening: 55 minutes from push-back to take-off.
  • ILS inoperative on one of O'Hare's runways: take a 10-minute holding loop over Michigan.
  • Landing runway 9L: spend 17 minutes taxiing to the gate.
  • Friday night at O'Hare: 35 minutes from gate arrival to bag delivery.
  • Friday night at O'Hare: taxi line takes 20 minutes.
  • Cabbie forgets the biggest traffic news in Chicago: miss two available exits because the Ohio ramp is closed.

Total time from leaving my hotel in New York to arriving at dinner an hour late: 8 hours, 28 minutes. (On average, my door-to-door time from New York is just over 5 hours.)

And none of it was American's fault, except for the bit about being one of 40 airlines to schedule a 5pm departure from Kennedy.

I chose the departure from JFK because, using miles, my options were limited, and spending 20 hours in my third-favorite city in the world seemed like a good end to the week. It wasn't until I tried to leave that random events started conspiring against me.

Still, it was a fun trip. I read four books entirely, got most of the way through one and started a sixth. And I had two new beers at Southampton Arms: Jones the Brewer's Abigail's Party Ale and a special pale whose name I forgot to write down, apparently.

Saturday 21 June 2014 17:30:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | London | Travel#
Friday 20 June 2014

It certainly felt like I was playing hooky this morning when I spent an hour here:

...looking at this:

New York weather today will be clear and 27°C. I'm about to check out of my hotel, take a subway downtown, and do some intense nothing at a cafe.

Friday 20 June 2014 09:54:17 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Travel | Work#

When I get home I'll post a screen-shot from my phone showing how, at exactly the time I arrived in Manhattan tonight, the only rain cloud within the tri-state area was dumping its contents on Midtown. It felt like being at a Cubs game.

However, the little cloud either dissipated or moved out over the Atlantic in short order, so I discovered that Hotwire had put me in a hotel only two blocks from the airport express bus stop, and within one block of hot, greasy, New York pizza. If I only have one night in New York, that's dinner. Always.

And now, getting up at 3:30 New York time this morning is backing up on me a bit, and the hotel apparently has a 300-baud modem handling its internet[1], so I think I'll crash now.

*plotz*

[1] Seriously, it took several attempts and 25 minutes to post this entry. Google is slow, too, so it's not the Daily Parker—though I am checking the VM right now.

Thursday 19 June 2014 22:49:37 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Thursday 19 June 2014

(I never get that last word, nor do I suspect Billy himself knows what it is.)

It's a beautiful day in northern France, just 20°C and partly cloudy, with 19 or so hours of sunlight. And yet I'm in the airport club at Charles de Gaulle staring at my plane just below. I didn't have as much opportunity to explore Lille as I'd hoped, either. Why? This:

A week into a nationwide train strike that has tangled traffic and stranded tourists, police fired tear gas Tuesday at protesting rail workers. Two polls suggest passengers have little sympathy for the train workers' lament. Even the labor-friendly Socialist government is breaking a long-held French taboo and is openly criticizing the striking unions.

The strike has caused some of the worst disruption to the country's rail network in years — and heated up as the reform bill went to the lower house of Parliament for debate Tuesday. The bill would unite the SNCF train operator with the RFF railway network, which would pave the way to opening up railways to competition.

You have to love the Daily Mail, talking about "paving the way" to competition with rail, without mentioning that trucking and aviation—both of which have more to do with paving—already compete heavily against it. Still, I worry that France is slipping into the privatization illness that the U.S. and U.K. have suffered since Reagan and Thatcher took power. Passenger railroads provide public benefits out of proportion to their direct economic costs; that's why governments need to prop them up.

For example, several hundred people got on the TGV with me at Lille and arrived at De Gaulle just 50 minutes later. This took hundreds of private cars off the highways, or dozens of buses, or even planeloads of people if you like.

Moving back down the ladder of abstraction, however, those hundreds of people had been scheduled to take any of the 10 trains cancelled this afternoon because of the strike (mine included). So, yes, I was on a train that crossed the French countryside faster than the Cessna 172s I usually fly could have done. But I was standing mid-carriage leaning on someone else's luggage while fatigued students sat in the aisle.

That is why I'm staring out the window watching planes land and writing in my blog instead of just getting off the TGV about now. But in a few hours, I'll be in my third-favorite city in the world, hunting down a greasy slice of pizza from a random deli in the east 30s.

Gare Flanders, Lille, France

Thursday 19 June 2014 08:18:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World | Travel#
Wednesday 18 June 2014

...but it's really tasty. I ate tonight at Estaminet Chez la Vielle, in Lille, France. The name translates literally to "Little Flemish restaurant at the old woman's house." (An estaminet is like a restaurant, but Flemish. Lille borders Belgium and was, at one point, the biggest city in Flanders. QED.)

It's cute:

And the vol a vent with chicken and mushrooms in a béchamel sauce made my arteries freeze on sight:

Tomorrow I'll have one or two more photos of Lille, as well as an explanation why I get to spend three hours at De Gaulle tomorrow. (Hint: it has nothing to do with aviation.)

Wednesday 18 June 2014 22:18:36 CEST (UTC+02:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

My bag has arrived at Gatwick. This means, instead of sleeping in, getting a leisurely brunch, and hopping on the Eurostar at St. Pancras (just a few blocks away), instead I have to get up now, hop the Victoria line from St. Pancras to Victoria, spend £40 on a needless trip to Gatwick, then reverse the process back to St. Pancras. And brunch will be some kind of pastry and some tea on the run.

My friends assure me this is why they hate traveling. I don't think this has anything to do with traveling per se, simply because it hasn't happened to me in 30 years. I do think this has something to do with MCO.

Wednesday 18 June 2014 09:45:03 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel#
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#
Monday 16 June 2014

I am here:

Actually, despite being content to read on most flights, and despite being without a full-time job until Monday, I actually have some work to do for my oldest surviving and most loyal client. If I'm lucky, Orlando has WiFi, and I can upload the changes I'm making right now. If not, I'll have to do it tomorrow night in London.

This will be an unusual trip for me. Because I didn't know for sure if I'd have this week off until just a few weeks ago, it was challenging to book this trip on miles. I wound up booking two one-way trips, with indirect routes and with the return trip originating in a different country than the outbound arrival city. So today I'm going to London's Gatwick airport via Orlando, then Wednesday I'm taking the Eurostar to Lille, France, Thursday on the TGV to Paris–De Gaulle thence New York's JFK, finally returning Friday, again through JFK.

This will be the first time I've traveled through Gatwick since 11 June 1992, my first visit ever to Europe. American no longer travels there, and British Airways doesn't fly many North American routes from there. In fact, my flight tonight will be on the rare 3-class 777—so rare that SeatGuru doesn't even have the right seating plan for it.

Other than this patch that my client needs this week, I plan to do nothing of value for the next three days except read and ingest. (Writing blog entries counts as "nothing of value.") Allons-y!

Monday 16 June 2014 16:59:55 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel | Work#
Sunday 15 June 2014

Apparently, extroverts will have to sit out the initial exploration of Mars:

[E]xtroverts tend to be talkative, but their gregarious nature may make them seem intrusive or demanding of attention in confined and isolated environments over the long term, the researchers say.

"You're talking about a very tiny vehicle, where people are in very isolated, very confined spaces," said study researcher Suzanne Bell, an associate professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. "Extroverts have a little bit of a tough time in that situation."

In one study of a spacecraft simulation, an extroverted team member was ostracized by two other members who were more reserved, Bell said. "They thought he was too brash, and would speak his mind too much, and talk too much," Bell said.

The new findings don't mean that extroverts can't go to Mars. More specific studies are needed to look at how extroverts fare on these teams, and whether certain kinds of training could help prevent problems, Bell said.

Seriously, though. Imagine six people confined in an El car for nine months. Forgetting how Sartrian that situation is on its face, it seems obvious that if there were more introverts than extroverts, the extroverts would be sent to play outside. Reverse the demographics and the introverts would kill themselves.

All right, perhaps it wouldn't be that dire. But one can see the difficulties.

Sunday 15 June 2014 09:37:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | 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#
Sunday 25 May 2014

When I go anywhere for only a couple of days, I try not to shift my body clock. It prevents jet lag, mostly.

This weekend I'm at my folks' house outside San Francisco, which has a two-hour time difference from Chicago. That is why I woke up at 5am and walked to the local Peet's Coffee, as I usually do.

This trip I may allow my clock to drift westward, though. I'm going to Tuesday night's Cubs game at AT&T Park at 7:05pm—9:05pm Central time—and would like to see the whole game. The Cubs might even win. I mean, they have a 1-in-3 shot, right?

I do like getting to the Peet's this early, though. First, the just-before-dawn walk is quiet and even a little spooky down the local bike trail, but today I got a tremendous view of the crescent Moon and Venus, which are passing just 2° from each other this morning. I'm never up this early at home unless I'm still up, which hasn't happened in years anyway.

Second, the Peet's is quiet right now. In two hours it'll be packed with families and locals (the fishermen who stay here for hours at a time most mornings are more colorful than any of the characters at the Alibi Room). Time to write for a bit, and wait for the rest of my family to wake up.

Sunday 25 May 2014 05:57:25 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Cubs | San Francisco | Travel | Astronomy#
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#
Monday 21 April 2014

CTA service on the Skokie Swift (now Yellow Line) began 20 April 1964:

The five-mile-long Niles Center branch of the ‘L’ had opened in 1925. Using the tracks of the North Shore electric interurban line, trains ran from Howard-Paulina station to Dempster Street in the suburb of Niles Center (today’s Skokie). There were seven stops between the terminals. North Shore continued to run trains after CTA service was discontinued in 1948.

In 1963 North Shore itself went out of business. During the fifteen years since CTA had eliminated the Niles Center branch, Skokie and other nearby towns had enjoyed a population boom. Perhaps the old ‘L’ line could now earn some money.

CTA’s new plan was to make the line a feeder to the mainline North Side ‘L’. Trains would run express between Dempster and Howard, with no intermediate stops. In a savvy bit of marketing, the re-born service was named the Skokie Swift.

Service officially began on April 20, 1964. Ridership surpassed all expectations, and CTA soon increased the number of trains. Today the route is known as the Yellow Line.

Before 1963, the North Shore Line actually ran trains all the way up to Mundelien.

Monday 21 April 2014 07:04:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Friday 18 April 2014

After years of doing whatever they were doing, the CTA has released details of its planned Red and Purple Line renovations north of Belmont:

We already know the first phase of the project, set to begin in 2017, will involve rehabbing the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations and replacing tracks for the Red and Purple Lines at those stations to reduce slow zones. CTA has started the process of securing federal funding to extend the Red Line from its current southern endpoint at 95th Street to 130th Street, using existing freight rail tracks. That project would cost $2.3 billion.

The aspect of the Red/Purple Line rehab we’re most impressed by is a “Belmont bypass” allowing the Brown Line to continue along its route by riding above the existing Red and Purple Line rails. Currently the Brown Line has to negotiate its route by crossing those rails, resulting in 40 percent of weekday trains being delayed by up to three minutes.

In order for the bypass to be built CTA will have to buy 16 buildings between Belmont Avenue and Addison Street in order to make room for the project. The total cost of the Belmont bypass is included in the $1.7 billion cost the first phase of Red and Purple Line rehab is expected to cost.

The CTA says the bypass project will save 500,000 passenger-hours per year.

Friday 18 April 2014 08:28:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Wednesday 16 April 2014

So, Sunday's car problem is decidedly non-trivial. As I suspected, the water pump failed. I got lucky yesterday because the cold air allowed me to get the car all the way to the nearest dealer (barely 2 km away), but the car is essentially undriveable.

This is a $1400 repair.

I am selling a kidney. Any takers?

Wednesday 16 April 2014 10:20:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Monday 14 April 2014

After a last-minute offer was rejected by a Quebec court, Montreal-based Bixi (who make the bikes Divvy uses) was bought for C$4m by Canadian adventurer Bruno Rodi:

At the last minute, the New York company REQX Ventures – a project of Equinox Fitness and luxury real estate behemoth Related Companies – countered with an offer for $5.5 million. Both Rodi and REQX were willing to pay cash for the international arm of Bixi, which is $44 million in debt.

REQX’s sally came too late, a Quebec Superior Court justice decided on Friday after hearing lengthy arguments. Rodi’s $4 million carried the day, and all of it will go to the city of Montréal, which is Bixi’s major creditor and has shelled out an estimated total of $40 million on the bike-share innovator since it was founded in 2008.

Rodi is quite possibly the most interesting man in the world, though it's not clear he drinks Dos Equis.

Monday 14 April 2014 14:10:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel#
Sunday 13 April 2014

Near Lincoln and Bryn Mawr, 4pm:

The 9 km tow to my house was $150. It appears as if the water pump has failed. The car is driveable for short distances, so I hope that Tuesday morning I can get it to the nearest dealer, 2 km away.

I am not happy about this.

Sunday 13 April 2014 17:21:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Friday 11 April 2014

Forget the Kennedy Expressway during rush hour; Chicago's railroads are worse:

Come to the west side of Chicago to find out why a power plant in Michigan is short of coal and a biodiesel maker in Brewster, Minnesota, can’t get enough grain.

The answer is found near Western Avenue, where rail cars from Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM), the largest U.S. publicly traded ethanol producer, rest idle on the track above the Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway. A short drive away a burnt orange, yellow and black locomotive from Warren Buffett’s BNSF railway sits on an overpass as motor traffic is snarled below.

They can’t move because increasing oil production from North Dakota’s Bakken field, a record grain crop and unprecedented cold weather overwhelmed the U.S. railroad system. In part because of transport delays, coal inventories were down 26 percent in January from a year ago. A quarter of all U.S. freight rail traffic passes through Chicago, or 37,500 rail cars each day. The trip through the city can take more than 30 hours.

This has pushed up coal prices and cut coal consumption, which Bloomberg sees as a problem but I'm not so sure actually is. Also, BNSF is spending $5 billion on service upgrades near the oil fields, including adding 500 locomotives, 5,000 rail cars, and 300 crew members.

Friday 11 April 2014 11:52:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Sunday 30 March 2014

The O'Hare CTA station closed after Monday's train crash, and just re-opened.

Sunday 30 March 2014 14:24:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Tuesday 25 March 2014

I got home with no difficulty and bypassed the dead El train at O'Hare through the simple expedient of taking a taxi.

I'm catching up on work right now, so further comments will issue later. It also turns out, apparently, that a virus had made a beachhead in my nose, so I will have to fight that off before my wit and verve returns.

In totally unrelated news, today is the 30th anniversary of the fictional Breakfast Club.

Tuesday 25 March 2014 15:54:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | London | Travel#
Monday 24 March 2014

I'm now at Heathrow where I've got a really great perch overlooking the approach end of runway 9L. A JAL 777 has just floated down to the runway and a BA 747 is taxiing past the window. It's a little piece of aviation heaven in Terminal 5 as I wait for the 787 to Toronto.

As I mentioned earlier, however, my trip home tomorrow morning may end a little differently than usual because of this:

(Photo credit.)

Fortunately, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, the El still missed its flight. Never try to carry too much baggage up the stairs; use the elevator instead.

Boarding starts in a few minutes. Time to boogie. But I'll wait for this BA 777 to land. They're really amazingly graceful when they touch down.

Monday 24 March 2014 15:27:53 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | London | Travel#

Just checking the local news in Chicago a moment ago I see a weather forecast of -2°C and blowing snow for Tuesday, rain for the rest of the week, and a crash at the O'Hare subway station:

Thirty people were injured after a CTA Blue Line train derailed and hit a platform at O'Hare International Airport about 2:55 a.m. Monday.

The injuries are not life threatening, according to early reports from the scene to Chicago Police Department headquarters, Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said.

It's not clear how fast the train was moving but it jumped a bumper at the end of the line and moved up an escalator, according to Chicago Fire Department Spokesman Larry Langford.

The CTA posted to its Twitter page that trains were stopped at O'Hare but running between the Logan Square and Rosemont stops.

Yeah, I'm in a hurry to get back.

Monday 24 March 2014 11:06:17 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Travel | Weather#
Sunday 23 March 2014

It's 11pm on Sunday and everything is closed, so I'm taking a break from my break. My body still seems to think it's on Chicago time, which will help me rejoin American civilization on Tuesday, though at the moment it means my body thinks it's 6pm and wonders what it will do for the next three and a half hours or so.

I have accomplished what I set out to do this weekend. I visited the British Museum, the Southampton Arms, and another pub a friend recommended, The Phoenix. I've also finished Clean Coder, read Snow Crash cover to cover, and have gotten mostly through High Fidelity. The last book in the list connects Chicago and London—specifically, Camden and Gospel Oak, two neighborhoods I spent time in this weekend—more completely than any other book I can think of.

Tomorrow evening (morning? it's hard to tell) I'm flying out on a 787, about which I will certainly have something to write. I'm quite jazzed about it.

Now, back to Nick Hornby...

Sunday 23 March 2014 23:11:47 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | Best Bars | London | Travel#
Saturday 22 March 2014

Thursday morning:

Thursday evening:

More photos tonight.

Saturday 22 March 2014 14:05:10 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | London | Travel#
Thursday 20 March 2014

I believe I made record time from my house to my final stopping point in the Ancestral Homeland. Most importantly: I got here before all the curry places closed.

More later.

Thursday 20 March 2014 23:54:52 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel#
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#
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#
Wednesday 12 February 2014

So how do people at Maho Beach know when planes are landing? They check the surfboard:

And now my final Maho Beach photo for this trip, a US Airways A330 coming in from Charlotte:

We now return to your regularly-scheduled winter, already in progress...

Wednesday 12 February 2014 14:17:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Tuesday 11 February 2014

First, to give you a better sense of what it actually looks like, here's a Delta 737 approaching SXM normally:

And here's a (gorgeous) Air France A340 landing normally:

And here's an American 757 landing two meters above people's heads:

Sorry about the image quality—I had a long lens on the camera, and it was set for a different kind of photo than this. We didn't realize how low he was until just a few seconds before this happened. The entire beach yelled "Whooooooaaaaa!" and then broke into applause.

I love a place where people appreciate a good landing.

Tuesday 11 February 2014 12:00:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Saturday 8 February 2014

I've figured out the hotel's WiFi. It's not the slowest Internet connection in the world; it's the slowest SSL in the world. In other words, they're not really throttling the Internet per se. But somewhere between here and the U.S., someone is only letting through a very few secure packets.

The genius of this is that things like restaurant reviews (think: TripAdvisor.com) come up normally. But just try to get your email, check your airline reservations, or heaven forbid, get to your bank's website. It's excruciating.

Normal port-80 traffic is running about 500 kbps. That's not especially fast, but it's not painful. But SSL traffic is getting to my laptop at 100 kbps peak speeds and 30 kbps average speeds. Let's party like it's 1999! W00t!

Further, I can't tell where the bottleneck is. Anyone from here to Miami could be throttling SSL: the local Sint Maarten ISP, the hotel, the government of Sint Maarten, the government of the U.S....there's no way to tell. It's just like the Chinese firewall, maddening, inefficient, almost certainly deliberate, but too difficult to diagnose to ever find the right face to punch.

I have a very simple problem to solve that my hotel's WiFi is preventing me from solving. That makes me very annoyed. This will, I assure you, go on my Trip Advisor review.

Saturday 8 February 2014 19:45:29 AST (UTC-04:00)  |  | Security | Travel#

When I last visited St. Martin five years ago, I struggled a bit to get through the heavily-defended border between the French and Dutch sides. I am happy to report that the two countries have made significant improvements to the border since then. For starters, they've put up a brand-new sign:

Unfortunately, it appears that an aggressor nation has taken over part of the French side:

All right, I'm wasting time writing a blog post when I could do it with something else. If only this Internet connection were faster, I could be offline a lot faster.

Saturday 8 February 2014 10:49:42 AST (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | Photography | Travel#
Friday 7 February 2014

This is why I love Sint Maarten:

Friday 7 February 2014 17:53:24 AST (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Travel#

According to FlightAware, KLM 785 is over the central Atlantic and will land in just under 2½ hours. I've already showered and eaten, so it's likely I'll have time to make the 15-minute walk along the beach to the Sunset Bar & Grill to see it come in. The weather is -19°C and windy—sorry, that's back in Chicago. The weather here is 27°C with a gentle breeze from the east, same as the last 48 hours. (It did get all the way down to 24°C last night. Brr.)

After the 747 lands, I'm not exactly sure what I'll do, but it will probably involve lots of walking. And photos. Maybe a book; who knows? It's irie, mon.

Friday 7 February 2014 10:28:08 AST (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Weather#
Thursday 6 February 2014

Here you go:

This Internet connection, though. It's almost like I really shouldn't try, right?

Thursday 6 February 2014 19:50:38 AST (UTC-04:00)  |  | Travel#

It turned out that I had an actual task today. Two, in fact. Both were pure stupidity on my part. And both completely scotched my goal of doing nothing worthwhile for four days.

First, I had promised something to my team at work before I left, but didn't realize until I checked email this morning that, well, the task was not completed. (Notice the subtle use of passive voice there.) So I had that task, which took half an hour.

Second, mentioned forgetting a few vital items in my luggage, so I had to buy them. And I paid a stupidity tax. The cost of one hat, two pairs of shorts, one pair of sandals (which I didn't already own and therefore had planned to buy here anyway), and one bottle of sunscreen was two hundred bloody dollars. In other words, I paid a 100% tax on bad packing.

So to compensate for having to do things today, after accomplishing both tasks I put on my new shorts, sunscreen, and sandals, then walked the 800 meters from my hotel to the opposite side of Maho Beach and watched planes land for three hours. I need to point out that along the way, I walked through the Caribbean Sea. My new shorts got seawater on them. I think this is exactly what they're for. Especially since the seawater was about the same temperature as the air (27°C), and unlike walking through Lake Michigan on any day except that one day in the beginning of September when everything lines up perfectly, it felt really good. (My feet are, in fact, still wet.)

I also met a few good people, had a few good drinks, and learned that the best airplane landing of the week occurs tomorrow around lunchtime when KLM flight 785 lands. It's a 747-400, the largest plane that flies here. If I have to stand out in the rain, I'm going to see this thing land.

Of course, this means I now have a plan. Even though I came to this island with the explicit goal of not accomplishing or planning anything, except maybe reading a book or two, I just can't help myself. The Dude is onto something...I just can't get there yet...

My plan is:

  • Tomorrow: sleep late, eat something, walk across Maho Beach, take photos of the 747 landing, walk back to my hotel, change my shoes, walk somewhere else (possibly Marigot or Phillipsburg), have some drinks.
  • Saturday: sleep late, walk somewhere (maybe even take a bus and then walk), read something, walk somewhere else, read some more, have some drinks.
  • Sunday: sleep late, shove things into my suitcase, walk somewhere, retrieve my suitcase, go to New York, have some drinks.

Understand that "have some drinks" is an ongoing activity. And the happy accident is that the room I got for cheap through Bookings.com includes free drinks.

Someday, and that day may never come, I will do nothing for an entire week. Meanwhile, this is the least I can do right now. Baby steps.

Thursday 6 February 2014 17:12:37 AST (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

I'm sitting in the only spot in my hotel that has free WiFi, with a dozen or so other people doing the same thing. Plus, it's possible this is the slowest WiFi in the world (I'm getting 150 kbps). These things make it easy to get out of the building, into island air that's currently 27°C.

I know, I said to people I wouldn't use the internet, but I actually needed a map and some local info that the giant book of wristwatch advertisements guidebook didn't actually tell me.

Plus, I forgot three somewhat useful things, so I'm waiting for the shops to open. Which I think they are now. So I can get the shorts, sunscreen, and hat I need to go for a hike, as the shorts, sunscreen, and hats I have back in Chicago (current temperature: -17°C) are kind of useless here.

Since I intend to be useless here, but I don't want to overheat or get sunburned, and all 300 emails that came in overnight have finished downloading, off I go.

Thursday 6 February 2014 11:13:06 AST (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Weather#
Wednesday 5 February 2014

I'm all set to go to a warm little island this afternoon, except for this:

Light snow continues to fall across the Chicago area with more moderate bands of snow close to and along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Moderate snowfall in the past hour has brought the Midway Airport total up to 148 mm.

Winter Storm Warnings and Advisories across the Chicago area continue in effect until noon today. Snowfall is slowly diminishing here as the center of low pressure has already tracked up the Ohio River valley into southwestern Pennsylvania.

Snowfall reports are rolling in early this morning – it looks like totals will range from 50-75 mm along the Illinois-Wisconsin border to 125-175 mm south of Interstate-80. Chicago’s official observation site at O’Hare had recorded 125 mm so far at 6AM with Midway closing in on 114 mm. Across central Illinois snowfall totals are running 150-225 mm.

When I took Parker out a few minutes ago, we practically sledded down the back stairs, then I just let him porpoise through the snow drifts in our back alley. Three minutes later, my cuffs and gloves were damp, and my hat had proved inadequate against the whistling, windy snow.

I do not want to spend the night in Miami. I really don't. All I want is for my flight out of Chicago to leave close to on-time. I'll deal with walking into my Caribbean hotel room in winter boots.

Wednesday 5 February 2014 07:46:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel | Weather#
Tuesday 4 February 2014

If most of what Jason Harrington wrote in Politico last week is true, I'm disappointed to have my suspicions confirmed:

Each day I had to look into the eyes of passengers in niqabs and thawbs undergoing full-body pat-downs, having been guilty of nothing besides holding passports from the wrong nations. As the son of a German-American mother and an African-American father who was born in the Jim Crow South, I can pass for Middle Eastern, so the glares directed at me felt particularly accusatory. The thought nagged at me that I was enabling the same government-sanctioned bigotry my father had fought so hard to escape.

Most of us knew the directives were questionable, but orders were orders. And in practice, officers with common sense were able to cut corners on the most absurd rules, provided supervisors or managers weren’t looking.

[T]he only people who hated the body-scanners more than the public were TSA employees themselves. Many of my co-workers felt uncomfortable even standing next to the radiation-emitting machines we were forcing members of the public to stand inside. Several told me they submitted formal requests for dosimeters, to measure their exposure to radiation. The agency’s stance was that dosimeters were not necessary—the radiation doses from the machines were perfectly acceptable, they told us. We would just have to take their word for it. When concerned passengers—usually pregnant women—asked how much radiation the machines emitted and whether they were safe, we were instructed by our superiors to assure them everything was fine.

In one of his blog posts, Harrington points to "the neurotic, collectively 9/11-traumatized, pathological nature of American airport security" as the source of all this wasted effort and money.

I've always thought TSA screeners are doing the best they can with the ridiculous, contradictory orders they have. It's got to be at least as frustrating for them as it is for us. Harrington pretty much confirms that.

Tuesday 4 February 2014 09:23:43 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Security | Travel#
Tuesday 21 January 2014

As feared, Montreal-based Bixi, who supply many cities including Chicago with bike-share systems, has filed for bankruptcy protection:

The development was announced Monday by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Company and the Montreal Gazette.

Three years ago, the Montreal City Council rode to the rescue of Public Bike System, also known as Bixi, by approving a $108 million bailout package.

It included a $37 million loan to cover the company’s operating deficit and $71 million in loan guarantees Bixi hoped to use to expand into other cities.

On Monday, the CBC quoted Coderre as saying his city would seize control of the troubled company’s $11 million in local assets, rather than sink even more money into it.

Peter Scales, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said in the statement: “Divvy, Chicago’s bike share system, continues to operate as normal, and current operations will not be impacted by the announcement that Public Bike System (PBSC) has filed for bankruptcy.

The Divvy Bikes website has no information yet.

Oh, don't die, Divvy. Don't die.

Tuesday 21 January 2014 14:11:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
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Kennedy Airport on a Friday evening: never again
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CTA Red/Purple renovation announced
Pumping out my bank account
Bixi bikes bought
And how was your day?
Chicago's other traffic nightmare
O'Hare El station re-opens
Back in Chicago, drinking tea
Minor delays on the El this morning
Can't wait to get home
Week ending in London
Modern travel in two photographs
Smooth sailing flying
About this blog (v 4.2)
Not the usual way to take the train
Two last photos from Maho Beach
More planes landing at SXM
How to really irritate Internet users
Two nations, one tiny island
It hung in the sky much the way bricks don't
Long-range planning for the day
Could be worse
Taking a break from nothing
Doing nothing is harder than it seems
Four hours, 39 minutes...I hope
Confessions of a TSA agent
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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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