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Saturday 20 September 2014

My friend is getting married in just over four hours, right around the time some weather is due to move in. So I'm going for a walk while I can.

Yesterday I took the hotel desk clerk's recommendation for lunch at Greenbush Brewery in Sawyer, Mich. Yum, both to the food and to the beer. I'm looking forward to having more of the latter back home.

Saturday 20 September 2014 11:54:52 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Best Bars | Geography | Travel#
Thursday 18 September 2014

One of my oldest surviving friends is getting married this weekend in the southwestern corner of Michigan. Fortunately they have WiFi. Also fortunately I won't be stuck inside doing work tomorrow, because we ran flat-out today to finish a deliverable.

I'll get photos and such up when I can. I forgot my real camera, but my phone does fine in a pinch.

Thursday 18 September 2014 18:21:41 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Tuesday 16 September 2014

As the summer has turned into fall the last couple of years, I've carefully monitored my air travel to ensure that I keep my elite status on American Airlines. One technique, which I may have used this year if I didn't work for West Monroe, is a mileage run: flying one or more low-cost legs to boost your mileage. Via the Economist's Gulliver blog, the Times' Josh Barry says mileage runs are going away:

In the last year, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have made two major changes to their reward programs that make mileage running a lot less useful. First, they imposed a minimum spending requirement to obtain elite status. Previously, you became a “silver” or “gold” or “diamond” flier by traveling a minimum number of miles or segments in a year. Now, to qualify you must also spend a minimum amount on airfare; for example the status tier for traveling 25,000 miles also requires $2,500 in airfare spent, or 10 cents per mile.

Then, the airlines blew up the definition of “frequent flier mile” so it no longer has anything to do with distance. Starting in 2015, fliers on each airline will earn five “miles” for every dollar they spend on airfare, regardless of where they go. A $537 ticket from Washington to Amsterdam via Istanbul will earn the same number of reward “miles” as a $537 ticket from Washington to Chicago.

The logic of these changes is to reward passengers for generating profits for the airline, not simply for traveling a lot of distance. Business travelers who buy a lot of high-price tickets at the last minute will be rewarded more; bargain hunters will get less. And these changes come after a decade of shifts that have already made it harder to get ahead by taking mileage runs.

American hasn't made these changes yet, and has promised not to do so until their operational merger with US Airways is finished late next year. But of course they're going to do it. Fortunately, I now work for a company that will actually get me to elite status faster than I could do it on my own.

Tuesday 16 September 2014 11:21:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Monday 15 September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

No kidding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my first trip to New York, August 1984:

Thursday 11 September 2014 08:51:18 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | US | World | Religion | Travel#

We live in a wondrous age of travel. The mobile phone has revolutionized it: You can get travel alerts, boarding passes, taxis, delay notifications—everything you need.

Against that you have the state of the human brain at 5 in the morning.

According to my mobile phone, I actually woke up at 6. But I'm not in my home time zone. Nor have I exactly gotten enough sleep this week. So when I woke up at 6, I started executing the Leave Louisville Plan, which did not, unfortunately, include checking my mobile phone for flight delays.

It's only a one-hour delay. But it's an hour I could have stayed in bed.

Smart phone, dumb guy.

Thursday 11 September 2014 07:56:45 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Software | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 9 September 2014

West Monroe Partners (my employer, who have no editorial control over this blog, nor do they endorse anything I write here) has a thriving mergers and acquisitions practice. In order to provide appropriate advice to our private equity clients, we perform "diligences," which are thorough investigations of a company's strengths and weaknesses. Almost always, the target companies have technology assets that we evaluate as part of the diligence. Which is why I'm up at the crack of dawn in a hotel outside Phoenix.

Obviously I can't disclose anything about a diligence effort, or what kind of transaction is contemplated, or even what industry the company is in. In fact, sometimes I won't even know who the target is until I get there, as is the case today. So I am able to say nothing more about today's work than I'm in Arizona.

Still, the work is really interesting. We get pretty deep into the target's processes, methodologies, even sometimes their actual code and infrastructure. As a technology professional, it gives me exposure to different ways of doing things, especially what works and what doesn't. And it gets me out of the house for a day or two.

Of course, this will slow down posting a bit this week...

Tuesday 9 September 2014 06:38:02 MST (UTC-07:00)  |  | Software | Business | Travel | Work#
Wednesday 3 September 2014

The Atlantic's CityLab blog looks at American streetcars and finds that infrequent service and slow speeds are their main problems:

Very few next-generation streetcar lines run with the sort of frequency that might counterbalance slow speeds or short distances. In a very smart post at his Transport Politic blog a couple weeks back, Yonah Freemark lamented that many U.S. streetcar (and, to be fair, light rail) systems built since 2000 fail to meet minimal service standards—often running just a few times an hour.

Good public transportation requires trains or buses to run every 10 or 12 minutes, five or six times an hour. Only two streetcars (Tacoma and Tucson) hit this mark. It's perhaps no coincidence that the brand new Tucson line also met its early ridership projections, even after ending a brief free-ride campaign and even before University of Arizona students were back on campus.

It's almost cargo-cult urban planning. Some streetcar systems—notably New Orleans'—work very well. So naturally urban planners saw streetcars as a way to improve central cities. But through lack of funding or lack of comprehension, they implemented the systems inadequately.

Of course, much of this comes from an inability to address the biggest issue with modern American infrastructure: we beatify cars. Maybe thinking about how to get people from one place to another without cars might help.

Wednesday 3 September 2014 11:34:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Travel#
Monday 1 September 2014

I walked about 17 km yesterday, including through here:

Yes, Northern California has its good bits.

Monday 1 September 2014 07:50:04 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | San Francisco | Travel#

Good morning. It's the 1st day of September, 2014, and meteorological summer is over. School is back, Labor Day is upon us (but only in the U.S., where it doesn't remind anyone of actual labor struggles), and I've had Parker for 8 full years. (The annual Parker Day photo will have to wait until he and I are both back home. I know, this is the second year running that I've missed the day itself. I hope he forgives me.)

On the whole, summer wasn't bad. Autumn should be fine as well: I'm attending a dear friend's wedding this month, going to London next month, and in between, aiming to walk Parker as much as our legs can carry us. Cleveland will be involved as well, though to what extent, I don't yet know.

Still, I'm not sure where summer actually went. May doesn't seem that long ago.

Monday 1 September 2014 07:20:28 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Parker | Travel | Weather | Astronomy#
Thursday 28 August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 28 August 2014 10:21:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | Travel#
Monday 25 August 2014

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

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

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

Monday 25 August 2014 12:25:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Travel#
Friday 22 August 2014

Crain's has the story this morning about how the airline is adapting to reduced travel expense accounts:

Waning customer interest in the costliest tickets prompted American Airlines to drop first class as it adds seats to its 47 long-haul Boeing Co. 777-200s. The aircraft will get new lie-flat business seats — plusher than coach, but lacking first- class flourishes such as pajamas, slippers and an amuse bouche.

“We're responding to what demand is,” Casey Norton, an American spokesman, said yesterday. “We've looked at what the demand level is for business and also what we need in the main cabin as well. That's where we think we've hit the sweet spot.”

The changes will leave American with international three-class service — first, business and economy — only on the 777-300ER, the carrier's biggest aircraft. Fort Worth, Texas- based American has 14 of those planes flying on some of its most-lucrative overseas routes, such as Miami-Sao Paulo, while using the 777-200 for city pairs including Chicago-Beijing.

There are some other factors here. Intense competition for business-class passengers—but not for first-class—has driven most airlines to build business classes that would be incomprehensibly luxurious to passengers who flew first class as recently as 1995. The last time I flew first class overseas on American was Tokyo to Chicago in December 2011. I didn't pay the $12,000 for the seat the airline charged other people on the plane; I paid $400 for a fare-class adjustment to my coach ticket and used frequent-flier miles for the upgrade.

If you want to travel Chicago to London next week on American, you'll pay $7,700 to fly American or BA in business class and $10,600 to fly in first class. Four weeks out the business class price remains the same but first-class seats dry up as the airline moves the refitted 777-200s onto the route.

I love flying in American's business class overseas. But like most people who do so, I'll probably never pay full price for it. And this is the root of the airline's problems with first class.

Friday 22 August 2014 10:08:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Wednesday 20 August 2014

I'm waiting for Azure to provision a virtual machine for me, so I thought I'd solve a nagging annoyance.

Even though I travel a lot, I don't have a good carry-on-sized bag. My medium-sized travel bag, which has been around about ten years, goes into the hold of the airplane and sometimes I don't see it again for an hour after landing at my destination. This is especially irksome when I go on a 3-day business trip.

So I've been thinking about replacing my medium-sized bag with a smaller one. I've got it nailed down to two: the REI Wheely Beast Duffel and the Travelpro Luggage Crew 9. Both are about the same size, have good (independent) reviews, cost about $150, and would allow me to donate my current medium-sized travel bag to whomever wants it. (That last bit is because the bag actually belonged to an ex.)

This isn't the biggest decision I'll make all year, but the reduction in irritation it brings will be welcome, especially given the number of 3-day business trips I expect to take this fall.

Wednesday 20 August 2014 10:47:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Friday 15 August 2014

Two of my favorite authors, Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan, recently had a long phone conversation (which Harris transcribed) about Israel. I haven't finished reading it, but as I respect both men, I consider this a must-read.

Also, I'm back in Chicago, possibly for two whole weeks. That said, the Cleveland Client was pretty happy with our work and may move to the next phase, so I may be going back there soon.

Friday 15 August 2014 10:46:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Travel | Work#
Wednesday 13 August 2014

Yep. As I feared, the Indians game last night got postponed, but not before the Tribe got ahead by one. And then:

In the moments shortly before the Tribe's game against the D-backs was postponed, [Cleveland players] Aviles, Kipnis and Chisenhall sprinted from the dugout, ran across the tarp and slid headfirst through the puddles and raindrops to the delight of the fans who remained. It was an entertaining ending to a game that was wiped out following a delay that lasted three hours and 40 minutes.

Cleveland's lone run came courtesy of an RBI double in the third inning by Kipnis, who no longer has that hit on his statistical record.

That may or may not have made him easily swayed by Aviles.

"I lost my double, so I was emotional. And an RBI," Kipnis said with a smirk. "I didn't know which way was up. I was easily influenced."

So, everything that we saw there yesterday...didn't count. Because in baseball, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes...it rains.

Regardless, thanks to the Cleveland Client for taking us to Progressive Field. And in no small irony, the tickets we used were from a previous rain-out, so if they want, the people who took us can go to the game today at 4:05 pm. Which—wait for it—might be rained out.

Wednesday 13 August 2014 08:51:56 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Baseball | Travel | Weather | Work#
Tuesday 12 August 2014

(Hm. That didn't quite work, did it?)

We're now in our final weekend (for the time being) in Cleveland, and another person from the client has offered to take us to another Indians game. Two things:

1. I hope they play. Tonight's forecast calls for thunderstorms and rain.

2. If they do play, I hope they do better than last week.

The Indians are at .500, dead-center in the league, the division, and in all of baseball. Tonight they're (scheduled) to play the Diamondbacks, who are just one game ahead of the Cubs and so not a particularly threatening opponent.

Come on, rain. Go away.

Tuesday 12 August 2014 13:05:18 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs | Travel | Work#
Saturday 9 August 2014

As a city boy, the country occasionally surprises me. The Cleveland client has an office well outside Cleveland in rural Geauga County where we've spent some time over the last few weeks. One of the senior guys there hunts. And this is how I got to taste fresh, smoked pheasant last week—complete with a warning about birdshot:

Saturday 9 August 2014 09:29:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Work#
Thursday 7 August 2014

He thinks we should all use GMT instead:

[W]ithin a given time zone, the point of a common time is not to force everyone to do everything at the same time. It's to allow us to communicate unambiguously with each other about when we are doing things.

If the whole world used a single GMT-based time, schedules would still vary. In general most people would sleep when it's dark out and work when it's light out. So at 23:00, most of London would be at home or in bed and most of Los Angeles would be at the office. But of course London's bartenders would probably be at work while some shift workers in LA would be grabbing a nap. The difference from today is that if you were putting together a London-LA conference call at 21:00 there'd be only one possible interpretation of the proposal. A flight that leaves New York at 14:00 and lands in Paris at 20:00 is a six-hour flight, with no need to keep track of time zones. If your appointment is in El Paso at 11:30 you don't need to remember that it's in a different time zone than the rest of Texas.

Sigh.

It's even easier to get people to use International System measurements than to get them to understand the arbitrariness of the clock, but let's unpack just one thing Yglesias seems to have missed: the date.

Imagine you actually can get people in Los Angeles to use UTC. Working hours are 16:00 to 24:00. School starts at 15:45 (instead of ending then). In the summer, the sun rises at 12:30 and sets at 02:00.

Wait, what? The sun sets at 2am? So...you come home on a different day? That makes no sense to most people.

Yes, in a world where people are unwilling to give up their 128-ounce gallons and 36-inch yards in favor of 1000-milliliter liters and 100-centimeter meters, a world where ice freezing at 32 and boiling at 212 makes more sense than freezing at 0 and boiling at 100, a world where Paul Ryan is thought to be a serious person, we're not moving away from the day changing while most people are asleep.

And don't even get me started on the difference between GMT and UTC.

Thursday 7 August 2014 09:35:35 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | US | World | Travel | Astronomy#
Wednesday 6 August 2014

From yesterday's game—with its 22,000 paid attendance:

Progressive Field holds 43,500 people (compared with Wrigley's 41,100) and yet has worse attendance this year. The Cubs are averaging 32,000 fans per game, with no game coming in under 25,000 paid; Cleveland is getting 18,600 per game with some early spring games pulling in fewer than 10,000. This, despite the Cubs holding onto last place like they're afraid to fall off the chart, and the Indians actually being the wild card at the moment.

Progressive Field isn't a bad ballpark. The Indians aren't a bad team. I guess Cleveland just isn't a huge baseball town.

Wednesday 6 August 2014 08:40:11 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Baseball | Chicago | Cubs | Travel#

Score one for the client. We got to go to tonight's Indians game at Progressive Field. Nice seats, too.

Sadly, the Reds won 9-2, and we got rained on. And the Indians kind of played like Cubs.

Nice client, though.

Tuesday 5 August 2014 22:24:04 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Baseball | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 5 August 2014

One hundred years ago today, just a few kilometers from where I'm now sitting, Cleveland installed the first electric traffic signal at corner of Euclid and East 105th:

Various competing claims exist as to who was responsible for the world's first traffic signal. A device installed in London in 1868 featured two semaphore arms that extended horizontally to signal "stop" and at a 45-degree angle to signal "caution." In 1912, a Salt Lake City, Utah, police officer named Lester Wire mounted a handmade wooden box with colored red and green lights on a pole, with the wires attached to overhead trolley and light wires. Most prominently, the inventor Garrett Morgan has been given credit for having invented the traffic signal based on his T-shaped design, patented in 1923 and later reportedly sold to General Electric.

Despite Morgan's greater visibility, the system installed in Cleveland on August 5, 1914, is widely regarded as the first electric traffic signal. Based on a design by James Hoge, who received U.S. patent 1,251,666 for his "Municipal Traffic Control System" in 1918, it consisted of four pairs of red and green lights that served as stop-go indicators, each mounted on a corner post. Wired to a manually operated switch inside a control booth, the system was configured so that conflicting signals were impossible. According to an article in The Motorist, published by the Cleveland Automobile Club in August 1914: "This system is, perhaps, destined to revolutionize the handling of traffic in congested city streets and should be seriously considered by traffic committees for general adoption."

Only 100 years later, the traffic lights have minds of their own.

Tuesday 5 August 2014 08:42:31 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | Travel#

Two housekeeping items.

Number 1: Walking to the airport. I finally found a path through the parking garage that looks intentionally constructed. It took me about a city block out of my way, but also prevented me getting run over by cars.

Number 2: Suburbistan dinner options. Thanks in part to Yelp, I wound up at Taza Lebanese Grill in Woodmere, Ohio. I'll write a Yelp review later this week. In sum: very good hummus, tasty kifteh, and bold-as-brass sparrows that actually took pita right off my table. Because honey sparrow don't care.

Tuesday 5 August 2014 08:37:15 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Work#
Monday 4 August 2014

We put in ridiculous hours last week on my Cleveland project so that today we only had to polish and sand a few spots to feel like we're in a good place for a client presentation first thing tomorrow. So tonight my PM is heading to a workout class and I'm having a good dinner.

To that end, though: what in the world did people do before Yelp?

I'll tell you what we did: we had lots of bad meals while traveling. Even out here in the buttskirts of Cleveland, Yelp has located at least three restaurants worth trying. And I will.

Meanwhile, walking distance from my hotel—that means, within this shopping center, because I'm surrounded on four sides by unwalkable roads—are Chipotle, Abuelos, Chik-fil-A, and Olive Garden. So: thank you, Yelp. I mean it.

Monday 4 August 2014 18:07:12 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Work#

From my hotel room right now I can see the A-concourse at Cleveland Hopkins Airport about 500 m away. Between here and there is a parking lot and the terminal access road. The setup isn't fundamentally different from the location of the O'Hare Hilton, except a few trees and traffic levels. Oh, and the walkway.

The O'Hare hotel connects directly to all three terminals via underground walkway as well as surface paths through or around the parking structure. In other words, a traveler can walk from his plane to the O'Hare Hilton directly, without taking his life into his hands.

Not so here. Look (click for full size):

If you walk along the terminal access road, you run out of sidewalk by the first curve. Somehow there's a path through the parking structure, but again, once you get to the edge of the parking lot southeast of the structure, you're climbing through sod and ground cover to get to the hotel's ring road.

Still, I did it last night, and from my gate to the hotel took 17 minutes. Last time, when I waited for the hotel shuttle bus, it took twice as long. Fortunately it didn't rain either time, but if it had rained, waiting for the shuttle bus would have been damper.

Now I've got to catch the rental car shuttle, which picks up back at the terminal, so I'll have to pick my way across the parking lot and parking structure until I find a way though to the pick-up spot. Because no one wanted to build a sidewalk to bridge the one-block chasm between the hotel and the airport.

Related: NPR reported this morning that our food intake hasn't changed in 10 years; we're all getting fat because we don't walk enough.

Monday 4 August 2014 08:15:07 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Monday 28 July 2014

Keep your pants on. I'm referring to the London Underground, which last week got "journalists" to copy and paste a story they ran five years ago. It turns out, the Tube is too hot:

It’s not fair to compare London’s cramped commuters to cattle; right now, livestock actually get the better deal. As temperatures in the U.K.’s capital push towards 32°C for the second week running, heat levels in London’s Tube and bus system have now risen above the EU limit at which it is legal to transport cows, sheep, and pigs. The highest recorded temperature on the network so far this year is 35°C, 5°C above the permissible 30°C for livestock.

I thought that sounded familiar. For comparison, here's the story from August 2009:

A map which reveals the hottest spots on London's underground system has been revealed to commuters.

The map of zones 1 and 2 shows temperatures over above 35°C have been recorded in some areas - making the trains officially unfit for transporting cattle.

The Central line had some of the worst spots, while the Bakerloo line also felt the heat when the map was compiled.

It turns out, I was in London in August 2009, and I remember really hating the temperature as the Circle Line got round to Tower Hill. Glad to see the city have kept some traditions going.

Monday 28 July 2014 17:48:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | Travel | Weather#
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#
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Windy in Michigan
Slower postings this weekend
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Commuting by car makes you sad: British Journal of Obvious Medicine
Reposting
Moments in travel derpitude; or, check your phone first
Cool part of my job
A failed implementation is not a failed concept
Walk with the Ps
September already?
United Uber Chicago?
Plugged back in
American drops first class from long-haul routes
In the bag
Harris and Sullivan talk about Gaza
Indians take the lead, and the skies open up
The rain in Ohio lands mainly on the bayou
Not a foul client
Matthew Yglesias trolls the IANA Time Zone list
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Unexpected baseball game
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Pro tip: business travel
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Lessons from Transport for London
Another reason to take Eurostar
Kennedy Airport on a Friday evening: never again
A good day to skip work
One night in Bangkok New York
Me revoici dans se bar enfumé avec mes yeux tirés
Flemish food can make you phlegmish
Really pissed at Orlando's baggage handlers
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This never gets old
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Chip and pin is set to arrive in 15 months
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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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