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Friday 23 January 2015

In other news, American Airlines took delivery of its first Boeing 787-8 yesterday:

The airplane, N800AN, is scheduled to leave Paine Field at 10 a.m. and arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport at 4:21 p.m.. It’ll be parked at an American hangar there.

“Once the plane arrives, the Tech Ops team at our DWH maintenance base at DFW will begin the acceptance process and prepare the airplane for flight training and other readiness activities, including putting the final touches on the interior and getting it ready for prime time,” American told employees in its weekly “Arrivals” newsletter.

American has 42 Boeing 787s on firm order, with options for another 58. The original October 2008 order called for all 42 to be the larger Boeing 787-9 version. However, the order was later modified to covert some into the smaller 787-8 version, and Friday’s arrival is a 787-8.

I am very much looking forward to flying in one. I flew in a British Airways 787-8 back in March; I hope that American packs in slightly fewer people in Coach, or that I get upgraded.

Friday 23 January 2015 11:03:52 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Thursday 22 January 2015

The Economist has a new Big Mac Index out today, reflecting the gyrations in currency exchange rates that will (I hope) make my trip to Berlin next month a lot less expensive:

The Economist whipped up the Big Mac index in 1986 as a bun-loving way of explaining currencies’ relative values. It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity, which posits that over the long run, currencies should adjust so that a basket of identical goods costs the same everywhere. We fill our basket with just one item: the Big Mac, which is made to the same recipe in almost all countries (India’s Maharaja Mac, a chicken sandwich, is an exception). Buying a Big Mac in Denmark, for example, costs $5.38 at market exchange rates compared with $4.79 in America, so our index suggests the Danish krone is 12% overvalued (see chart). No wonder Denmark’s central bank cut rates this week.

On average, Americans abroad get more burger for their buck than they did last summer. Relatively beefy growth in America has helped to fatten the greenback. Elsewhere, however, central bankers are still trying to add sauce to their economies, in part by encouraging their currencies to fall. In Japan, for instance, a belt-busting bond-buying scheme has caused the yen to waste away. The expectation that the European Central Bank would serve up a hearty dose of QE seems to have prompted Switzerland’s stomach-turning scrapping of the franc’s peg to the euro. Last week a Swiss Big Mac cost $6.38, but now it gobbles up $7.54.

Yes, they really super-sized the food and burger puns this year...

Thursday 22 January 2015 12:38:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Travel#
Wednesday 21 January 2015

Today is the last day the CTA will run 1970s-era trains from the 2400 Series:

With their traverse-style seating, return to sliding doors and bicentennial trim, Chicago Transit Authority’s 2400-series rail cars proved popular with riders when they first debuted in 1976. CTA also got more than their money’s worth from the 200 cars they ordered from Boeing-Vertol, as they were only phased out of use once CTA began adding the Bombardier 5000-series rail cars to its fleet.

Over the next four decades the 2400-series cars provided thousands upon thousands of rides and arguably as many “hobo corner surprises” while the last of the cars were eventually pulled from the Orange and Brown lines. To commemorate their service, CTA is saying C-YA to the 2400 series cars with a fanfare-studded “final ride” Wednesday, Jan. 21. A train of eight 2400-series cars will roll along the tracks in the Loop, on the Brown Line, the North Side Red Line and South Side Green Line, to and from the Ashland/63rd Street station. The cars will be decorated in their original bicentennial detail, follow their original routes and contain interior map and advertising cards from the period when they first launched. CTA also plans on having shuttle bus service to pick up riders to board the trains in the Loop at Washington and Wells.

This doesn't mean a lot outside the city, but for we who take the El often, it's a good thing. The 40-year-old cars will not be missed by the average commuter.

Wednesday 21 January 2015 12:12:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Monday 19 January 2015

If you're a frequent flier in the U.S., test your knowledge of terminal layouts. I got 10.

Monday 19 January 2015 11:46:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Travel#
Sunday 18 January 2015

Tuesday:

Friday:

This morning:

Home in just a couple of hours.

Sunday 18 January 2015 18:33:07 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel#
Tuesday 13 January 2015

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

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

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

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

I had nothing to do with this:

It was a commuter’s worst nightmare: a Metro train abruptly stops, goes dark and fills with smoke in a tunnel in downtown Washington. Before it was over, one woman was killed and more than 80 passengers were suffering from respiratory problems and other health issues.

[A]uthorities now believe they know why the train, which had just left the L’Enfant Plaza station, came to a halt about 800 feet into the tunnel. The National Transportation Safety Board said “an electrical arcing event” occurred about 1,100 feet in front of the train. The event filled the tunnel with smoke, the NTSB said.

The agency said the arcing involved cables that power the third rail. Arcing is often connected with short circuits and may generate smoke. There did not appear to have been a fire.

Train service has been mostly restored, except for Yellow and Blue line service to L'Enfant Plaza.

Tuesday 13 January 2015 11:00:21 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel#

Yesterday I only logged 4,447 steps for 22.4 kg, my least-active day ever since getting a Fitbit on October 23rd. It's galling, too, because at this writing I have 994,008 lifetime steps—which would have gone over 1 million yesterday had circumstances been different.

Today I should hit that mark, if only because I'll have to navigate to and from the DC Metro, around Reagan and O'Hare, and...huh. No, it's not a sure thing.

At least it's not raining in either DC or Chicago today. That will help.

But wow, less than 4,500 steps? This is why I don't like the suburbs.

Tuesday 13 January 2015 07:56:39 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel | Work#
Monday 12 January 2015

Even if it weren't rainy and getting dark outside, this isn't the most appealing view I've ever had from a hotel window:

At least I've managed to convince some of my team to head into the District for dinner tonight.

Monday 12 January 2015 17:11:48 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel | Work#

Back in July, I turned off the motion sensor on a hotel thermostat so that it would cease cycling the A/C and waking me up whenever I stopped moving (which one does when one falls asleep).

Now I'm at a Hilton Garden Inn outside Washington and the thermostat may have a motion sensor, but it's not clear. It has an all-or-nothing understanding of how to heat or cool a room, and it's paired with a very loud HVAC unit.

Fitbit says I got more than 6 hours of sleep last night because the Fitbit device doesn't sense when something wakes you up and you lie still, silently curse mechanical engineers everywhere, without actually moving your arm. (It did log 15 "restless" incidents spaced at regular intervals, however.)

Must...get...caffeine...

Monday 12 January 2015 07:21:33 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel | Work#

One of the consequences of being willing to jump on an airplane to take care of a client matter is, of course, one gets sent places to take care of client matters. And this is how I find myself, not yet a full week into my new job, in Northern Virginia.

At least it's above freezing here, so I got my Fitbit goals for the day. Plus, it looks like I'll hit 1 million lifetime steps either tomorrow or Tuesday—"lifetime" counted from when I joined Fitbit in October. So that's kind of cool.

Also, I once again have to say how much I like flying in American's new 737-800 planes.

Sunday 11 January 2015 22:26:41 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel | Work#
Saturday 3 January 2015

Simple: Go down to Amundsen-Scott Station and walk around the pole.

But if you don't want to cheat, get a very fast airplane:

Jeremy Newton is an Air Force veteran who flew F-18s, but, when contacted by e-mail, suggested the F-22 for a variety of reasons. First, it can fly at 1.5 Mach (about 1,000 mph) without using its afterburner, meaning it burns much less fuel. It tops out at 2 Mach, though that burns more fuel. Second, it can refuel in 10 minutes -- in mid-air while traveling at 400 mph. And third, as the video shows, it can go from full speed to full stop in under four minutes, and to top speed at 30,000 feet in under 5 minutes.

If you don't have access to military hardware, you can still probably hit the four time zones in the United States in that Gulfstream, although you'd be touching down in less exciting locales. (Unless you love the Upper Plains, in which case: go for it.)

The maximum number of time zones you can hit by plane depends on the plane, of course, and on how much you're willing to push it. It seems as though the Gulfstream could get you from GMT+11 to Greenwich Mean Time -- on one tank of gas. The Raptor can do a little better, from GMT+12 to GMT-1, as on the map below.

This is, of course, silly. But it's close to a plan I have on my bucket list: on the June solstice, see the sun rise over Passamaquoddy Bay near Lubec, Maine, and see it set over the Pacific Ocean near the Makah Indian Reservation in Washington. I'd bet you can even do that taking commercial flights.

Saturday 3 January 2015 12:55:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Travel | Astronomy#
Friday 26 December 2014

The brilliant Central Coast morning that produced the photo I posted earlier gave me a hell of a view climbing out of SFO an hour ago:

Home in four hours...

Friday 26 December 2014 13:18:22 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Tuesday 23 December 2014

You may have noticed that the photos I've posted lately have unusual aspect ratios and sizes. This is because I have been lazy.

Usually, I upload photos from my camera or phone to my laptop, process them with Adobe Lightroom, and crop them to a pleasing 2:3 aspect ratio. Lately, though, I've just shot them through Google Hangouts from my phone. I have little understanding of Google's choices but they seem to be around the byte count and not around the dimensions.

Here, for example, is a shot of O'Hare Terminal 3 from this morning:

Google did that one at 1236 x 695, at 249 kB. The original is much larger (4 MB), but the same aspect ratio.

I may re-edit the photos later, after landing.

Update: here's the same photo after going through Lightroom:

Tuesday 23 December 2014 11:26:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Photography | Software | Travel#
Monday 22 December 2014

My vacation officially began at 12:20 this afternoon when I turned in my laptop and badge to West Monroe. I have exactly one day of vacation more than required to burn down PTO until the end of the year, plus I have some final Christmas shopping to do, so I have returned to my old remote office for a moment:

In reality, I'm not going to do nothing on my vacation. Someday I'll have two weeks off with pay and no responsibilities, but starting a job as CTO isn't like starting other jobs. I'm already working with my staff and CEO to start 2015 at full throttle. At least with the holidays, and going out to see the nephews, and a 2½-day week leading up to New Year's Eve, I can warm up behind the pace car before gunning it on the 5th.

I'm still formulating my 2015 resolutions. That said, the forecast out by the P's this week lets me state one goal out loud: 25,000 Fitbit steps Wednesday or Thursday. And a ton of food.

Monday 22 December 2014 14:55:14 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Best Bars | San Francisco | Travel | Work#
Thursday 18 December 2014

The trouble with holiday parties on Wednesday is that you have to function on Thursday. So, to spare my brain from having to do anything other than the work-related things its already got to do, here are things I will read later:

All for now.

Thursday 18 December 2014 12:36:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | World | Business | Travel | Weather#
Thursday 11 December 2014

Since the client on the Paris thing for some reason declined to spend $9,000 per person for us to fly business class, I decided to take American 90 to London and then take Eurostar under the Channel. The strategy worked; I got sleep on a real bed Sunday night, and was coherent and lucid Monday afternoon at the job site.

This time, I put a clock on the train. Here's what my phone GPS showed about 30 minutes outside London:

The screen shot above (click for full size) shows that about here the train was moving 281 km/h, which is how it gets from London to Paris with two stops in under two and a half hours. Flying from London City to Orly would take about that long, and I'd still have had to take the RER up to the job site. At one point I clocked it at 297 km/h, which is still not the fastest train in France. SNCF's TGV-320 goes—wait for it—320 km/h. (Then there's the Shanghai Maglev...)

This is why I love Europe.

Thursday 11 December 2014 17:05:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | London | Travel | Work#
Wednesday 10 December 2014

Because I stayed in the Airport Sheraton, had only carry-on bags, and got my boarding pass last night, I got on my flight home less than half an hour after leaving my hotel room this morning. Then, at O'Hare, because of the aforementioned lack of checked baggage, a New York-style walking speed, and Global Entry, I got from the airplane to my car in exactly half an hour. Parker was in the car half an hour after that.

Compare that to the trip out, when I left my house at 7, the plane finally left the gate at 10:30, and—oh, right, it only took me 55 minutes to get from the airplane to my hotel in London, including the ridiculously long walk from Terminal 3 to the Heathrow Express and flagging down a taxi at Paddington.

Anyway, dog and man are home, I've completed my deliverable for tomorrow, and I will now get a nap before Euchre Club meets at 7:30.

Wednesday 10 December 2014 16:51:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | London | Travel | Work#

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 10 December 2014 02:10:14 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | London | World | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 9 December 2014

It's 7:35, and pitch black outside. When people talk about permanent daylight saving time, because they don't want to switch clocks twice a year, they should consider that France is an hour ahead of the "correct" time zone for its longitude and therefore has sunrises at 8:30 in the morning this time of year.

If there were daylight right now, I'd upload a photo of all the airplanes taxiing past my hotel window. It's kind of cool. Tomorrow, when I can sleep in.

Tuesday 9 December 2014 07:37:50 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Travel | Astronomy | Work#
Sunday 7 December 2014

Business travel sometimes presents contradictions. Here are mine today:

  • Good news: I got assigned to do a technical diligence in Paris.
  • Bad news: We'll be at the airport for two days, with only one opportunity to see the city.
  • Good news: Hey, it's an all-expense-paid trip to Europe.
  • Bad news: In coach, which is really grim on an overnight flight such as one from Chicago to Paris.
  • Good news: There's a 9am flight to London and the Eurostar to get me to Paris the next morning.
  • Bad news: I have to get up at 6:30am on a Sunday.
  • Good news: There's no traffic on the Kennedy at this hour on Sunday morning, so I got from my house to the airport and through security in only 30 minutes.
  • Bad news: It's still Sunday, and I'm missing two full days for travel.

On balance, it's worth the trip. But yes, I'm going to be grumpy about some aspects of it.

Updates as the situation warrants.

Sunday 7 December 2014 07:56:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | London | Travel | Work#
Thursday 4 December 2014

Well, little time today. Since I'll be on an airplane for 8 hours on Sunday, I will probably have time to catch up on these:

Thursday 4 December 2014 10:32:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | US | World | Software | Travel | Windows Azure | Work#
Wednesday 3 December 2014

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

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

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

December 2014 opened the coldest in 118 years in Chicago, but all the forecasts point to a huge warm-up over the next two weeks:

he scope of the warming being predicted is really something. The global scope of the milder than normal temps is evident from the depiction at the top of this post. The Weather Service’s GFS model, Environment Canada’s GEM ensemble and the European Center’s deterministic and ensemble model are all on board with the onset of a significantly warmer than normal pattern. This doesn’t mean there won’t be some cool days intermingled with the “warmth”. There actually will be. But, these forecasts speak to the overall pattern. Each of these predictions suggest a major pattern about-face heading through mid-December–a radical change from the arctic chill which has dominated the past three months producing the 11th coldest meteorological autumn (i.e. Sept through Nov period) on the books and the 8th coldest November in 143 years of official observations here.

Are prospects for winter cold dead? Don’t count on it. High latitude blocking, a major factor in the cold with which the current season has begun, has been a factor in almost all of our recent winters producing the high amplified (i.e. “buckled” or “wavy”) jet stream patterns which encourage arctic air to dive into the Lower 48.

But not quite yet, it seems. The next week will be seasonable, with temperatures right around freezing. The warm-up, if it occurs, is more than a week away.

On the other hand, I'm in Louisiana tonight, where it's 12°C—too chilly for a long walk in the light sweater I've got on, but a lot warmer than back home. So I'm going to have a look at the Mississippi, then hustle back inside for a pint of something.

Tuesday 2 December 2014 21:13:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel | Weather | Work#
Tuesday 25 November 2014

I'm dealing with two instances of developer laziness (or stupidity).

The proximate cause of my annoyance this morning comes from les espèces d'idiots at Eurostar who included local references to images in a confirmation email template. In non-technical terms, they put the images they want displayed on an email behind their own firewall, so they only show up when you look at the email behind their own firewall. So, some idiot developer, tasked with creating a confirmation email, put images on it that worked for him (because he was inside the firewall) but didn't have the mental faculties to predict that no one else would see them. Somehow this got past Eurostar's QA as well—presumably because they, too, are behind the firewall.

This set up a flaw in Microsoft Outlook that will render the program mostly unusable until I get rid of the email using my phone. Because Outlook is too stupid to realize that, if it can't download an image from a particular local path because the path is not mappable, then it should still try all the other images on that path one at a time, blocking the UI thread as it goes. This means, for each image on the Eurostar email, I see something like this:

See how the URL doesn't begin with "http://" but instead begins with a double backslash ("\\")? Yeah, that's a local path to some server at the company who designed the email. Great work, guys. And great work, Outlook, for forcing users to wait for all the images to download before returning control of the UI. Because why wouldn't we want to stop everything in order to see the Eurostar corporate logo?

Tuesday 25 November 2014 09:37:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Travel | Work#
Sunday 23 November 2014

Only a little, it turns out. I'm in the second of three weeks without travel, but I'm back on the road for the first two weeks in December. I even have to miss a concert, which is a bad thing, but it's because I'll be doing a technical diligence in freakin' Paris, which est pas mal. I'm also going to see about taking a quick side-trip to London, which, given the agenda for the diligence and flight schedules back to the U.S., might not make a difference as far as my work schedule goes.

I've also noticed that I keep missing posts on Saturdays. Not sure why; possibly because I've had a lot going on during the week, and Saturdays have been a little more vegetative than expected.

Sunday 23 November 2014 10:33:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Blogs | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 11 November 2014

This is the airplane that took us from London to Chicago last Friday:

That's one of the remaining British Airways 747-400s, which they still use on some long-haul routes. They carry more cargo than A380s and B777s, which explains why they're still economical for BA to fly. But since Boeing no longer makes them, and since the B777 carries almost as much cargo with lower operating costs, BA is phasing the planes out.

My favorite plane in either BA's or American's fleets is the B767 that American still flies every morning from Chicago to London. American has made no secret of wanting to phase them out, too, but only a couple of weeks ago I found out they're going to phase in the B787s they've got on order. I can't wait—and I'm hoping they put the 787s on the same Chicago-to-London early-morning route that I love.

Tuesday 11 November 2014 11:37:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Monday 10 November 2014

From last week's trip, here's Oslo Harbor at sunset:

The Nobel Peace Center:

Our hotel, a well-known meeting-place for literary types for some reason:

I didn't have a lot of time to take photos, so there won't be too many others.

Monday 10 November 2014 12:42:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Travel | Work#

Lots more travel this weekend, including Parker and me spending two days in a place without Internet. (My phone at least had a little from time to time.)

Now back home, I have to figure out the rest of my day before rehearsal. Parker, for his part, is sleeping on his own bed right now for the first time in more than a week.

Monday 10 November 2014 10:38:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Parker | Travel | Work#
Friday 7 November 2014

Well, we made it to Heathrow only an hour late, and scrambled to get our initial findings out to our director in the 45 minutes we had available in the lounge...until our flight to Chicago was also delayed an hour and fifteen minutes. Really I just want to get on the plane and sleep. But then I also want to get home with enough time to nap before an event I've been looking forward to. So, here's hoping the published delay right now is the real delay, and I still have a couple of hours to unpack and change.

Also, I was off just a bit in my surmise how the credit card transit tickets worked. It's not that Norway has less transit theft than other countries (though I suspect this is true anyway), it's that you have to swipe your credit card to get out of gates when you arrive. Still, we left the hotel at 5:20 and got to the airport by 6. That's pretty impressive.

Friday 7 November 2014 12:03:34 GMT (UTC+00:00)  |  | London | Travel | Work#
Thursday 6 November 2014

I like traveling to Europe because it reminds me that technology can combine with public services in ways we will not see in the U.S. for 30 years. Yesterday it was a magic button that made a taxi appear in seconds. Today it was a bit of wasted time that led to two discoveries, one of which was that I wasted time.

My business colleague and I, used to very long lines to get paper train tickets as well as some predictions about our cognitive abilities at 5:15 tomorrow morning, decided to swing by the local train station to get our airport express tickets. It turns out, they don't use them. You simply swipe your credit card at a small kiosk and—bam—you have a ticket good for six months.

In other words, we could have simply walked to the train station tomorrow morning, swiped our cards, and climbed aboard, without waiting in line and without getting a paper ticket.

My colleague, having noticed that coming in from the airport no one challenged us for our tickets, asked, "how does that even work?"

I thought about it and realized that in Norway, very few people steal public services. Also the conductors have handheld computers that can read credit cards and match them with pre-payments.

Imagine if Metra did that. It might be convenient. Or if Metra and the CTA could get their asses moving on making Ventra cards good for both. It might wind up being something like the Clipper Card in San Francisco, a transit card that works on most public transport.

The basic point is, how much lost productivity do we have in the U.S. because we under-fund public services to the point where they can't invest in cost-saving technology? And what will it take to get Americans to stop voting for people like Bruce Rauner, who is guaranteed to try starving Chicago-area public transport for four more years?

Thursday 6 November 2014 15:53:01 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Chicago | US | San Francisco | Travel | Work#
Wednesday 5 November 2014

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

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

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

Wednesday 5 November 2014 18:34:52 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 4 November 2014

It's coming up on 11:30 am back home, so it's 18:30 here in Oslo, and I'm finally settled and unpacked. The bed looks so tempting. I have to stay up until 9pm, I really do.

Photos and stuff eventually. Right now I really, really need a shower.

Tuesday 4 November 2014 18:27:54 CET (UTC+01:00)  |  | Travel | Work#
Monday 3 November 2014

Posting will be sporadic the next couple of days, to say the least. At least Norway is a more advanced country than ours, with ubiquitous WiFi, so there will be some new items here.

Monday 3 November 2014 16:46:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Travel | Work#
Sunday 2 November 2014

Ah, FitBit. I'm guessing the device only stores time stamps and not time-and-date stamps. I'm also guessing they haven't worked out daylight saving time, either. Because apparently going to bed before 1am CDT and getting up at 7:30 CST was only 5½ hours. (It was actually 7½.)

This seems related to a problem I saw Wednesday. I got to Atlanta just past midnight and synced my FitBit to my phone—which had already switched to Eastern time. Since the device never got past midnight, it's daily summary value started at the total step count for Tuesday, so my total steps for Wednesday and for the week were overstated by 16,000.

Look, I get that time zones are hard, but they're not that hard. It's also not hard to use date-time stamps with unambiguous values—for example, always using UTC internally and only using local time to display and calculate things that depend on local time.

I've got a support incident open with them. I hope I can help them fix this problem, but it may be a hardware issue. That's disappointing.

Meanwhile, I'll make my first attempt at a workaround on Tuesday morning after I land at Heathrow. (The flight crosses local midnight in Chicago but not London.) I'll sync the device in Central time before changing my computer's time zone to GMT, so that it will have experienced midnight in its local time zone. Then I'll re-sync in GMT and see what happens. At the very least I'll get some data on what is causing this defect.

Sunday 2 November 2014 08:52:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Software | Travel#
Saturday 1 November 2014

It's hard to overstate how much we live in a sci-fi world. In 24 hours, I've booked a trip to Oslo, Amazon has delivered an inexpensive guidebook, and Weather Underground has already forecast the weather through next weekend. (Oslo will have very similar weather to Chicago, owing in part to the record heat they're having in Europe recently.)

But where's my flying car?

Saturday 1 November 2014 15:07:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Friday 31 October 2014

Well, the travel ambiguity resolved just a couple of minutes ago, and I'm now booked to Oslo, Norway next week. We're doing a site visit and writing the technical diligence report before we land back in Chicago about a week from right now.

This is unusual, but not unprecedented. We do technical diligences all over the world. And it's not really a problem for me personally, because I'd already planned to be in Los Angeles next week anyway. It's just rather farther than California.

Oh, and our site visit Wednesday starts at 8:30 am local time—which is 1:30 am in Chicago. I'm going to start banking my sleep in just a few minutes...

Friday 31 October 2014 15:48:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel | Work#

I mentioned yesterday that I may travel next week for a technical diligence. We've got our team ready to travel Monday, we've got our flights picked out (but not bought), we've got our agenda and our hotel, but we haven't got a signed work order. If that doesn't come by noon today, it's going to be very difficult to do this work.

I don't actually mind last-minute travel orders. But hearing a week out "be ready to travel" and then not knowing for certain makes it hard to schedule anything else.

Updates as the situation warrants.

Friday 31 October 2014 09:40:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel | Work#
Thursday 30 October 2014

For the record, I hate Hartsfield-Jackson airport. More specifically, I hate the people who are responsible for signage here.

Mostly, they forget to put up the last sign in a sequence, both inside and outside the airport. Say there's a turn, followed by a straight path, then a Y-shaped fork, then another straight path to the destination. At ATL, they'll have a sign telling you which way to make the first turn, a sign along the straight path, and then...nothing.

I know now what lies along every fork at the airport.

In other news, the diligence effort for next week looks extremely likely to take off. But yesterday at this time, I'd have said I was 95% certain of going to L.A. next week. So, you know, consulting.

Thursday 30 October 2014 08:39:00 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | Travel | Work#
Wednesday 29 October 2014

I did another technical diligence today. Obviously I can't comment on what company we looked at, why we looked at it, or even precisely where it is (though I can say I'm in Atlanta right now). I can say that this guy observed the whole process:

Also, I may have another diligence effort next week that is too cool to jinx by writing about. I'll find out in a couple of hours if it's going forward. Stay tuned.

Wednesday 29 October 2014 17:32:23 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 28 October 2014

American Airlines announced today the details of how it will absorb US Airways' Dividend Miles program into their A'Advantage program. Cranky Flyer calls it a smart hybrid:

American announced the details of the 2015 AAdvantage frequent flier program today, and I was given a sneak peek yesterday. The details of the new program are a big deal because it’s the first one that combines the old US Airways Dividend Miles and American AAdvantage programs. As expected all along, AAdvantage is the surviving program. While there are many things that will probably be addressed in future years, it’s the changes to the upgrade program that really caught my eye.

Earning and redeeming miles won’t change at this point, though I was told the usual “we’re always monitoring the market” line that means there could be future changes. The big changes here are around the elite program since US Airways and American had fairly different philosophies. Here’s a fairly useless chart I created to explain what’s happening.

The biggest actual change involves elite upgrades, and that is worth talking about.

US Airways today has a system like United’s and Delta’s. Elites all get unlimited domestic upgrades. That means the highest tier elites generally have good luck while the entry level elites struggle. This program will continue on US Airways until the airline joins American’s reservation system in late 2015. After that, we’ll see a hybrid approach.

The biggest non-change will be the passing of US Airway's 75,000-mile tier, which sucks for travelers like me. It's quite possible I'll hit about that level next year. On US Airways, that would bring new benefits. On American, nothing changes until you fly 100,000 miles. Since even with my appetite for aviation I'm still almost at my personal limit of traveling right now, I really don't want to fly enough to get to Executive Platinum.

In fact, I'm about to add another 1,200 miles to my account with a one-day trip to Atlanta, leaving...now.

Tuesday 28 October 2014 17:40:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Tuesday 21 October 2014

After getting pounded by Uber and Lyft, Hailo has pulled out of its North American markets:

Tom Barr, co-chief executive and president, said Hailo would concentrate on markets in Europe and Asia and enhanced products such as payment technology and a "concierge" service.

"In the next phase of our growth, we have decided to put all of our energy and resources into these areas," Barr said in a statement to AFP on Wednesday.

"We have therefore decided to end our operations in North America, where the astronomical marketing spend required to compete is making profitability for any one player almost impossible."

On the ground, it appeared that Hailo simply wasn't very helpful. The few times I've used it in Chicago, I've had long waits as 3, 4, or more drivers refused (or ignored) the hail and about the same number of empty cabs went by after someone accepted.

In a note to subscribers, Hailo said its last day of operations in Chicago will be Saturday.

I have now downloaded Uber to my phone...

Tuesday 21 October 2014 13:33:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Business | Travel#
Monday 20 October 2014

Waiting at Heathrow for the flight home has only one consolation: the lounge and its open bar. Still, I've just spent four days doing essentially all of my favorite things to do in London, so it's a little melancholic being back at the airport.

I also didn't take a lot of photos. Once I'm back in Chicago and can tell what time of day it is (tomorrow, most likely), I'll extract them from my phone.

Regular blog postings should resume in the morning.

Monday 20 October 2014 15:52:49 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | London | Travel#
Sunday 19 October 2014

And still in London. Postings should resume tomorrow.

Sunday 19 October 2014 14:11:04 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | London | Travel#
Thursday 16 October 2014

This is only my 7th time at O'Hare in the past month, but since two of those times were yesterday and the day before, it feels like I just never left. Today, though, I'm going to the Ancestral Homeland. That makes it all better.

Well, almost. I mean, it's still O'Hare. And Heathrow isn't exactly the jewel in the British crown, either. And so far this week I've flown the equivalent of a trans-Atlantic trip already.

No matter. Boarding in 20 minutes; dinner in London tonight. Mustn't grumble.

Thursday 16 October 2014 08:06:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | Travel#
Wednesday 15 October 2014

Ubiquitous WiFi is of the benefits of flying on American's new 737-800s, especially on 4-hour flights between the West Coast and Chicago. And early-morning flights have a large proportion of business travelers. So imagine the collective despair of all the laptop-toting worker bees on my flight this morning when the entire entertainment system (which includes WiFi) was dark and inert.

Then, suddenly, the entertainment system rose like Frankenstein's monster and a wild hope leapt into our hearts.

Yes! We can post to Facebook from this airplane.

Oh, and we can work on our PowerPoint presentations, too. Yay.

Wednesday 15 October 2014 11:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 14 October 2014

I'm on my first of four flights over the next week. I expected the trip I'm on right now (to L.A.), but didn't have any confirmation until Friday. The trip Thursday, to the Ancestral Homeland, was planned in late August.

Despite the efficiency of getting from home through the TSA checkpoint at O'Hare in under 45 minutes, I still really would rather have slept another two hours this morning.

One other thing: the 7am flight is popular with business travelers, as evidenced by the 26 people on the upgrade waiting list. I have never seen an upgrade waiting list that long. The only people in first today either paid for their tickets or paid for lots of others to get Executive Platinum status. I don't anticipate—nor do I especially want—that level. But it would be nice, occasionally, to get bumped up when I have work (or serious napping) to do.

Time for more caffeine...

Tuesday 14 October 2014 08:31:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Monday 13 October 2014

The Cranky Flyer took note of an application American Airlines filed last week requesting the Department of Transportation force Delta to give up one of its Tokyo Haneda slots:

Haneda is just much closer to Central Tokyo and is generally the preferred airport if you can get there. Plus, you avoid having to deal with Godzilla. For years after Narita opened, however, only Narita was allowed to handle international traffic. Haneda was still an incredibly important airport with 747s packed to the gills flying around Japan, but it wasn’t until the last few years that international flights were allowed to start creeping in to Haneda.

The crux of the argument is that Delta isn’t really using its [Seattle-to-Haneda] slot.... American calls it “near-dormant,” and that is true. This winter, Delta is doing the bare minimum. It’s flying one week every 90 days on the route and that’s it. In other words, between now and March 29, Delta will fly from Seattle to Haneda only 17 times. That’s nuts, but it’s technically enough to consider the slot active. What American is saying is that even if it meets the rules, we only have 4 slots and the feds should think about how to get the most value out of them.

This doesn't affect Chicago, from which American, JAL, United, and ANA all have daily non-stops to Narita. Getting to Haneda from Chicago requires a lengthy or retrograde connection that obviates the time savings in Japan. (By "retrograde," the fastest routing to Haneda from Chicago goes through Toronto.)

Speaking of Chicago aviation, as of this morning the Aurora ARTCC is back to full operations after the arson attack last month.

Monday 13 October 2014 12:13:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World | Travel#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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