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Thursday 10 July 2014

Imagine you're sitting on your front stoop, strumming your guitar, and Eric Clapton comes out of nowhere to give you some pointers.

That's about what happened to me today. Earlier this week, Jon Skeet (described by Scott Hanselman as "the world's greatest living programmer) noticed something I posted on the IANA Time Zone list, and asked me about the Inner Drive Time Zone library.

So I sent him the package.

And this afternoon, he sent me a benchmark that he wrote for it. Just like that.

Of course, the benchmark showed that my stuff was about 10% as fast as the Noda Time library, an open-source project he curates. So, having a couple of hours for "personal development time" available, I optimized it.

The specific details of the optimization are not that interesting, but I managed to more than double the library's performance by changing about ten lines of code. (It's now 20% as fast as Noda.) Along the way I exchanged about 10 emails with Skeet, because he kept making really crack suggestions and giving me valuable feedback about both my design and his.

That was cool.

Thursday 10 July 2014 17:52:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Astronomy#
Sunday 6 July 2014

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart . (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx .)

In the early part of July, we hardly notice sunrises and sunsets. Days are long, it's still light out at 9pm (in Chicago), and we commute to work in broad sunlight. About a month from now we'll get a twinge when the sun sets at 8pm, and then, faster and faster, we'll notice the days getting shorter and our morning commutes getting darker.

Meh. That's in a month. Let's just enjoy the daylight we have now.

Date Significance Sunrise Sunset Daylight
2014
2 Jul 8:30pm sunset 05:20 20:30 15:10
16 Jul 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:24 14:54
9 Aug 8pm sunset 05:53 19:59 14:06
16 Aug 6am sunrise 06:00 19:50 13:50
29 Aug 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:16
14 Sep 6:30am sunrise 06:30 19:02 12:32
15 Sep 7pm sunset 06:31 19:00 12:22
22 Sep Equinox , 21:29 CDT 06:38 18:48 12:10
25 Sep 12-hour day 06:42 18:43 12:01
3 Oct 6:30pm sunset 06:50 18:29 11:39
12 Oct 7am sunrise 07:00 18:14 11:14
21 Oct 6pm sunset 07:10 18:00 10:50
1 Nov Latest sunrise until 1 Nov 2016
Latest sunset until Mar 5th
07:24 17:45 10:21
2 Nov Standard time returns
Earliest sunrise until Mar 2nd
06:25 16:44 10:19
6 Nov 6:30 sunrise 06:30 16:39 10:09
15 Nov 4:30pm sunset 06:41 16:30 9:49
2 Dec 7am sunrise 07:00 16:21 9:20
8 Dec Earliest sunset of the year 07:06 16:20 9:13
21 Dec Solstice , 17:03 CST 07:15 16:23 9:07
2015
4 Jan Latest sunrise until Oct 29th 07:19 16:33 9:14
28 Jan 5pm sunset 07:08 17:00 9:53
5 Feb 7am sunrise 07:00 17:11 10:11
20 Feb 5:30pm sunset 06:40 17:30 10:50
27 Feb 6:30am sunrise 06:29 17:39 11:09
7 Mar Earliest sunrise until Apr 12th
Earliest sunset until Oct 30th
06:17 17:48 11:31
8 Mar Daylight savings time begins
Latest sunrise until Oct 25th
Earliest sunset until Sep 22nd
07:15 18:49 11:34
17 Mar 7am sunrise, 7pm sunset
12-hour day
06:59 19:00 12:00
20 Mar Equinox 17:45 CDT 06:54 19:03 12:08
4 Apr 6:30am sunrise (again) 06:29 19:20 12:50
13 Apr 7:30pm sunset 06:14 19:30 13:15
22 Apr 6am sunrise 06:00 19:40 13:39
11 May 8pm sunset 05:35 20:00 14:25
16 May 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:05 14:35
14 Jun Earliest sunrise of the year 05:15 20:28 15:12
20 Jun Solstice 11:38 CDT
8:30pm sunset
05:16 20:30 15:14
27 Jun Latest sunset of the year 05:18 20:31 15:12

You can get sunrise information for your location at wx-now.com.

Sunday 6 July 2014 08:55:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
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#
Wednesday 7 May 2014

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


Live streaming video by Ustream

IFLS explains:

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

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

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

Wednesday 7 May 2014 14:26:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links | Astronomy#
Sunday 2 February 2014

Via the IANA Time Zone Database mailing list, through Randy Olson, comes this map showing the difference between local solar time and what wall clocks show throughout the world:

At the time I’m writing, near the winter solstice, Madrid’s sunset is around 17:55, more than an hour later than the sunset in, for example, Naples, which is at a similar latitude. The same difference holds at the summer solstice and around the year. Just because it applies to most places I’ve been, a time like that in Naples feels more natural to me, and probably to most non-Spanish people. But is it?

Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01.

If you live in the green areas of the map, the sun tends to rise and set earlier than in the red zones. Not coincidentally, the places that set time policy tend to be neutral: London, Washington, Sydney, Beijing, Ottawa...they're all nearly dead-center in their respective zones. The notable exception is Moscow, where time policy goes back and forth and may even change once more this year.

Finally, a commenter on the Reddit MapPorn post where this also appeared points out: "Fun fact: The small Afghan-Chinese border is the largest jump in timezone in the world. (3 and a half hour difference on each side) You'd get jet lag crossing that border."

Sunday 2 February 2014 10:05:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Astronomy#
Thursday 9 January 2014

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart . (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx .)

Sunrises are just starting to get earlier, but today's (7:18 CST) is only a few seconds earlier than the latest sunrise of the year on January 3rd. Even though the sunrise times creep earlier by seconds every day, sunsets start to get noticeably later: 16:39 today, 7 minutes later in a week, 25 minutes later in three weeks. January is cold and dark, but (on average) a few degrees warmer and 48 minutes longer when it ends than when it begins.

Click through to see a full chart of Chicago sunrise and sunset times.

Thursday 9 January 2014 08:38:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Monday 9 December 2013

It's cold in Chicago right now: -7°C with a wind chill of -13°C and gradual cooling predicted towards a low of -16°C Wednesday night. This is only the second time in 30 years it's been so cold, so early.

Two things: first, though I don't have time to link to anything right now, it turns out this cold in Chicago is caused by abnormally warm temperatures in the North Pacific. So, yeah, aggregate global warming causes localized cold snaps.

Second, thanks to celestial mechanics, tonight's sunset will be later than last night's for every point on earth that has a sunset. (Inside the Arctic and Antarctic circles, there are no sunsets today.) Sunsets continue to get later everywhere until well past the March equinox, even though sunrises in the Northern Hemisphere will also get later until January 6th. (See the Chicago sunrise chart for details.)

So, despite this really unpleasant weather, there are definite signs it will get warmer soon. Relatively soon, anyway.

Monday 9 December 2013 13:26:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Astronomy#
Sunday 3 November 2013

Since we moved the end of Daylight Saving Time to the first week of November, sunrises at the end of October are later than those in mid-December. Yesterday's sunrise was the latest sunrise in a year, and will be the latest until 2016. (The sunrise on 6 November 2010 was the latest until 2021, so it really could be worse.)

In Chicago this morning, the sun rose at 6:26, the same time it rose on September 12th. It won't rise this early again until March 3rd—but then a week later we shift the clocks again so we get another 6:26 sunrise on April 6th.

National Geographic had not one but two articles on DST this weekend. Any conclusions? Some people don't like it and others do. The only conclusion I draw from reading both is whether DST benefits you depends on a lot of factors, geography preponderating.

I still don't know why we moved the fall switch from end of October to beginning of November in 2007. We want daylight for Hallowe'en? I really, really hate getting up before dawn, which wouldn't happen before Thanksgiving if we still used the pre-1986 (1st Sunday in October) rules; even the 1986-2006 regime (4th Sunday in October) would minimize it. Europe, including the UK, change their clocks the last Sunday in September and the last Sunday in March. That seems to work best for northern, cool climates—like Chicago. Maybe Illinois should go its own way, then?

Sunday 3 November 2013 09:40:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Monday 28 October 2013

The week between when we used to switch back to Standard Time and when we do so now (since 2007) makes me want to stay in bed.

This morning sunrise happened at 7:18 and will slouch out to 7:25 on Saturday morning. It's the latest sunrise we'll have for three years, and it's 45 minutes after I usually get up in the morning.

I know a lot of people prefer more light in the afternoon. I don't care, really. Sunday the sun sets at 16:42; but it rises at 6:26, and gives me another month before the sun rises after 7 again. Then, of course, there's the slog from December 2nd to February 4th...but what can you do?

Just having a moan. You can ignore this post.

Monday 28 October 2013 08:49:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Sunday 7 July 2013

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Sunday 7 July 2013 09:57:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Sunday 27 January 2013

Even though we've just gotten our first snowfall, and today has started giving us snow, freezing rain, sleet, and icy roads, there is good news.

January 27th is when things officially start looking brighter in Chicago every year. Tonight, for the first time in almost two months, the sun sets at 5pm. Then things start to become noticeably brighter: a 7am sunrise next Monday, a 5:30pm sunset two weeks after that, then a 6:30am sunrise less than a week later.

Yes, this is dorky, but trust me: you'll notice it now.

Sunday 27 January 2013 13:52:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Saturday 5 January 2013

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Saturday 5 January 2013 10:50:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Saturday 29 December 2012

Late next year, Earth could get the best show from a comet in decades:

By the end of summer [Comet Ison] will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.

Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun. Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.

By late November it will be visible to the unaided eye just after dark in the same direction as the setting Sun.

I expect we'll hear more about this as it gets closer.

Saturday 29 December 2012 10:40:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Thursday 19 July 2012
Thursday 19 July 2012 09:54:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Saturday 14 July 2012

The aurora borealis could be visible as far south as Chicago, Belfast, and Seattle tonight and tomorrow:

A significant event located on the Sun facing Earth took place on July 12. The effects of this event will begin to reach Earth early on the 14th of July GMT.

Observers in North America should watch for aurora on the nights of the 14th and 15th local time. Depending on the configuration of the disturbance, auroras may be visible as far south as the middle tier of states.

Activity may remain high also on the 16th. Auroras should be visible Southern New Zealand, Tasmania, and of course, Antarctica.

I've only seen aurorae from airplanes in flight over the polar regions. Obviously they're invisible from within the city of Chicago, but if I had a boat, tonight would be great for going out on the lake and looking for them.

Saturday 14 July 2012 11:48:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Monday 21 May 2012

This evening's eclipse, through clouds:

Also visible in the shadows:

An hour later, it's a lot brighter out.

Sunday 20 May 2012 19:29:33 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | San Francisco | Astronomy#
Friday 18 May 2012

But only if you're near the Pacific:

The midwest might not have the best view but the annular solar eclipse will at least be partially visible from here. The southwest will have the best vantage point when the sun appears as a "ring of fire" when the moon passes between it and the earth on Sunday. The moon will cover about 95% of the sun's diameter during this event. The eclipse will follow a path 8500 miles long for about 3 and a half hours. The "ring of fire" spectacle will last up to 5 minutes depending on the vantage point. Six national parks in the west, including Redwoods National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah, are enticing visitors by offering some of the best views since the eclipse track will drift right over the parks.

The eclipse starts in San Francisco at 17:16 PDT, reaches its maximum at 18:33, and ends at 19:40. Here's a map from the University of Manitoba:

Remember, don't look at the eclipse directly. It's an annular eclipse, so it will be dangerously bright if you look straight at it.

Update: NASA has an information page about this event.

Friday 18 May 2012 08:42:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | San Francisco | Astronomy#
Thursday 22 March 2012

Researchers at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station have been watching the sun set for weeks. At the poles, the sun traces an excruciatingly slow corkscrew between equinoxes, first spiraling up to a point 23° above the horizon (only about as high as the sun gets in Chicago around 10am on December 21st) on the solstice, then slowly spiraling back down to the horizon over the next three months.

In about an hour from now, the last limb of the sun will slip below the south polar horizon, the twilight gradually fading for another three weeks. The sun won't appear again until September 20th.

Fourteen people will spend the next five months at Amundsen-Scott, with no possibility of leaving until the end of August.

Thursday 22 March 2012 11:45:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Astronomy#
Sunday 11 March 2012

I've never felt great about the Daylight Saving Time switch happening in the beginning of March, but here it is. Oddly, I have no trouble changing eleven or twelve time zones, but the one-hour change in the spring (but not the fall) always messes me up.

Anyway, if you live in the U.S. or Canada (excluding Arizona and Saskatchewan), it's probably an hour later than you think it is.

Sunday 11 March 2012 10:47:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Friday 9 March 2012

In general, people using words they don't understand, presumably to sound smart, drives me up a tree. In specific, I wish against reason that more people knew how time zones worked. Microsoft's Raymond Chen agrees:

One way of sounding official is to give the times during which the outage will take place is a very formal manner. "The servers will be unavailable on Saturday, March 17, 2012 from 1:00 AM to 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time."

Did you notice something funny about that announcement?

On March 17, 2012, most of the United States will not be on Standard Time. They will be on Daylight Time. (The switchover takes place this weekend.)

Now, I'm one of the few people in the world who has implemented a complete time zone package for Windows systems, and regular readers will already know about my vocal defense of the Olson/IANA time zone database. So I don't expect most people to know the ins and outs of time zone abbreviations. But this is the point Chen makes, and I would like to make: if you don't know what you're writing, don't write it. Say "Central time" or "local Chicago time" instead of "Central Standard Time," if for no other reason than you'll be wrong about the latter 8 months out of the year.

Friday 9 March 2012 13:33:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Astronomy#
Saturday 25 February 2012

At this time of year, people from the tropics to the poles really become aware of changes in the lengths of the days. Yesterday Chicago had 11 hours of daylight for the first time since October 18th; we get 12 hours of daylight less than three weeks from now. Tuesday the sun set at 5:30pm for the first time since standard time returned on November 5th; it sets at 7pm on March 16th.

From the solstice through February 1st we only get about one additional hour of daylight (though, because of the Earth's orbit, most of it comes in the evening). But the really dramatic changes are now: from February 20th to April 20th, we get 3 more hours of daylight—an average of 3 minutes per day. Plus, the second weekend of March puts us into Daylight Saving Time, so sunsets occur more than two hours later in April than in February.

A direct result of lengthening days is increasing temperatures. It turns out that summer temperatures don't predict winter temperatures at all, but winter temperatures predict summer temperatures quite well. With only 12 days of snow on the ground this year, the warmest winter since the 1920s has felt more like Raleigh, N.C., than Chicago. This means, of course, next summer will feel like Raleigh as well. I can't wait.

Saturday 25 February 2012 11:19:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Astronomy#
Friday 17 February 2012

The judge responsible for the case against the time zone database filed back in September issued an order yesterday demanding that the plaintiffs actually pursue the case. Under the Federal rules of civil procedure, the plaintiffs now have 21 days to show they've served the defendants, or the case will be dismissed.

I'm asking my attorney friends how common this kind of negligence is.

Friday 17 February 2012 13:44:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Thursday 2 February 2012

Sure, I've posted photos of the moon before, but it never gets old to me:

Well, all right, at 4½ billion years it is old to me, but you know what I meant.

On a side note, I just Googled "age of the moon" and discovered that many of the top results are from outside the reality-based community. For example, the second item on my results came from the Institute for Creation Research ("Biblical. Accurate. Certain."), in which one Thomas G. Barnes, D.Sc., begins with the assertion: "It takes but one proof of a young age for the moon or the earth to completely refute the doctrine of evolution." If you're a science teacher, you might want to have a look at this article, because it could be a great way to introduce kids to the meanings of theory, hypothesis, and fallacy.

And could someone please tell me what the credential "D.Sc." purports to be?

Thursday 2 February 2012 08:59:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion | Astronomy#
Wednesday 1 February 2012

The thing I like most about February: at the end of it, Chicago has an hour and a quarter more daylight than at the beginning of it. Today we have 10 hours of daylight, the most since November 10th, and on the 29th we have 11 hours and 14 minutes.

I notice this every year around now, just as I forget every year how grim December can be.

Wednesday 1 February 2012 16:50:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Friday 27 January 2012

Two items I haven't had time to read fully, and intend to do over the weekend:

That is all.

Oh, except: tomorrow the sun sets in Chicago at 5pm for the first time since November 5th.

Friday 27 January 2012 12:05:42 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US | Astronomy#
Thursday 19 January 2012

A couple of things have happened on two issues I mentioned earlier this week:

That is all for now. We in Chicago are bracing for 15 cm of snow tomorrow, so there may be Parker videos soon.

Oh, and: Kodak actually did file for bankruptcy protection today.

Thursday 19 January 2012 13:57:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Software | Business | Astronomy#
Monday 9 January 2012

This looks a lot like a shot from last February:

It's still cool. And it's only about five minutes old.

It suggests, however, that I might want to rent a really cool lens sometime. I used the same equipment (Canon 7D, 200mm), but shot hand-held at ISO-400, f/5.6 at 1/1000, then developed it differently than the one from 11 months ago. I also shot this one raw instead of as JPEG, which gave me a lot more flexibility in post.

Mostly, though, we have clear skies and a full moon, so what more reason do I need?

Sunday 8 January 2012 23:06:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Friday 6 January 2012

The Paris Observatory has announced a leap second between June 30th and July 1st this year:

A positive leap second will be introduced at the end of June 2012. The sequence of dates of the UTC second markers will be:

   2012 June 30, 23h 59m 59s
   2012 June 30, 23h 59m 60s
   2012 July  1, 0h  0m  0s

... Leap seconds can be introduced in UTC at the end of the months of December or June, depending on the [available rotation data].

Leap seconds occur from time to time because the earth's rotation on its axis doesn't stay exactly the same from year to year. Most years it loses about half a second; the last couple of years it hasn't lost as much, so the last leap second came just before 1 January 2009. Eventually, the earth will stop rotating on its axis relative to the sun, in much the same way the moon rotates once on its axis every time it orbits the earth. You've been warned.

This has an interesting side effect, by the way: UTC is now 34 seconds behind the earth, so clocks on things like orbiting satellites—think GPS—have "incorrect" values. Your hand-held GPS receiver will probably be a second slow after June 30th. Your computer, if it syncs up to an authoritative time service, won't.

Thursday 5 January 2012 21:41:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Monday 2 January 2012

Welcome to the semi-annual update of the Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Continue on to see the chart...

Monday 2 January 2012 15:00:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Thursday 29 December 2011

There is no tomorrow for the island nations of Samoa and Tokelau:

At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 29, time in Samoa and Tokelau will leap forward to Dec. 31 — New Year's Eve. For Samoa's 186,000 citizens, and the 1,500 in Tokelau, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, will simply cease to exist.

[Samoan] Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi earlier said it would strengthen trade and economic links with Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

Being a day behind the region has meant that when it's dawn Sunday in Samoa, it's already dawn Monday in adjacent Tonga and nearly dawn Monday in nearby New Zealand, Australia and increasingly prominent east Asian trade partners such as China.

"In doing business with New Zealand and Australia, we're losing out on two working days a week," Tuila'epa said in a statement. "While it's Friday here, it's Saturday in New Zealand, and when we're at church on Sunday, they're already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane."

The islands move from UTC-10:00 to UTC+14:00, and will therefore be the first places on earth to enter 2012.

Thursday 29 December 2011 15:32:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Astronomy#
Thursday 8 December 2011

Finally. In Chicago, anyway. The farther north you go, the more likely your latest sunset is...earlier.

I explained why this happens December 8th a few years ago. And yet, I feel the need to comment on it yet again...

Thursday 8 December 2011 14:26:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Sunday 6 November 2011

No, not my student loan; my horological one. I might be alone here, but the return of standard time means I get the hour back that I loaned out in March. It also means I don't have to wake up before dawn any more—at least for a couple of weeks. Even Parker seems to like the "fall back." At least, he had the decency not to wake me up until 7:30am.

For most of the U.S. and Canada, today's was the earliest sunrise until February 28th. Unfortunately, today's sunset will the earliest since January 10th, as we enter the 12 or so weeks of afternoon gloom.

On the third hand (I missed my calling as an economist), Chicago's weather today is crisp and sunny, and Parker needs some walks.

Sunday 6 November 2011 09:23:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Astronomy#
Friday 4 November 2011

Apparently the aurora borealis came all the way down to the middle of the U.S. earlier this week. With a little probing, I found the University of Alaska aurora forecast page. Tonight, we probably won't see the aurorae in Chicago. But there's a huge sunspot right now, so possibly we'll see one later in the week.

Here's the self-updating NOAA map. The bright area shows the current aurora; the red line points to the sun.

Friday 4 November 2011 13:45:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Thursday 3 November 2011

I'm not the only one watching sunrise times these days. Naomi the Nature Nerd also wishes we'd end Daylight Saving Time earlier:

I know that this weekend's Fall Back means I'll be coming home in the dark, instead. I'd rather just have longer days :) but given the latitude... If I have to choose, I'd choose to leave work at night, not arrive there at night!

At least this weekend won't be the latest sunrise ever in Chicago. That honor goes to 6 January 1974, when the U.S. went on Daylight Saving Time several months early in response to the 1973 oil crisis. That morning the sun rose in Chicago at 8:18.

This Saturday's sunrise will be the latest until 2016. Last year's November 6th sunrise, at 7:30am, was the latest since 1974 and will be the latest until 2021.

Of course, it could be worse. In Barrow, Alaska, the United States' northernmost city, the sun rises on Saturday at 11:37am. Barrow's latest sunrise will be November 19th, at 12:59pm—26 minutes before it sets again, not to return until January 23rd.

Perspective.

Thursday 3 November 2011 13:02:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Monday 24 October 2011

Reader AT actually met Tom Shanks, the chief programmer behind the ACS Atlases, and corrects my understanding of how the ACS team put it together:

Contrary to what you assume in your post, Tom Shanks did not hack his atlas into an Apple II. ACS was rather professional in their IT. The worldwide city database with longitude and latitude they had licensed from on of the big atlas (map atlas) publishers, if I remember correctly Rand McNally. The timezone history data they had collected from numerous published sources..., and partly also from field research and grass root contributions by their own astrology service clients.

The reader also gave me the story about an ongoing effort to extend the tzinfo database, and the provenance of Astrolabe's alleged copyrights. (Note that this is the precise, legal meaning of "alleged:" in a civil complaint, just as in a criminal complaint, the parties "allege" each fact in their filings.) If the reader gives me permission, I'll post some of this information.

Monday 24 October 2011 12:26:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Astronomy#
Saturday 22 October 2011

To better understand the facts behind Astrolabe’s stupid trolling quixotic lawsuit against the guys who coordinated the worldwide time-zone database (tzinfo), I bought copies of the Shanks Amercian and International atlases that Astrolabe claims to own. (I went through the secondary market, so I didn’t actually give Astrolabe any money.)

First, an update. According to Thomas Eubanks of the IETF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken over Arthur Olson’s legal defense. Mazel tov. I expect to see a response to the complaint against him in a few weeks that includes a motion to dismiss which, I think, may be granted. (I’m thinking about drafting a response myself, just to exercise my legal muscles properly. Watch this space.)

Now to the main post. The Shanks books, rather than containing maps, contain pages and pages of tabular data showing three things...

Read the whole analysis at The Daily Parker.

Saturday 22 October 2011 11:21:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business | Astronomy#
Monday 17 October 2011

The AP has picked up the story about the tzinfo database moving to ICANN:

The organization in charge of the Internet's address system is taking over a database widely used by computers and websites to keep track of time zones around the world.

The transition to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, comes a week after the database was abruptly removed from a U.S. government server because of a federal lawsuit claiming copyright infringement.

Without this database and others like it, computers would display Greenwich Mean Time, or the time in London when it isn't on summer time. People would have to manually calculate local time when they schedule meetings or book flights.

Ah, I do love the popular press, trying to explain things. AP writer Anick Jesdanun generally did all right explaining the problem and the move, except the story has no information about the tzinfo community's response to the mess. (I'm just sad they didn't mention The Daily Parker.)

Monday 17 October 2011 10:51:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Software | Astronomy#
Friday 14 October 2011

This morning The Daily Parker received a press release from Gary Christen, responding to my analyses of their lawsuit against the guys who maintain the Posix time zone database (here, here, and here).

Unfortunately for Christen, Astrolabe's response fails to rebut my central assertions. I said, essentially, they have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted by a Federal court (or, as one of my colleagues who actually practices law suggested, their complaint is actionable in itself). Their response doesn't make their original claim any stronger.

Christen seems at pains to make non-technical people feel better about the alarm we technical people raised regarding the likely effects of shutting down the tzinfo project. "Astrolabe has now done a careful reading of ... the various industry publications that broke this story on October 7," Christen claims, but if so it was a reading without comprehension. We technical folks got over our panic in about thirty seconds, in favor of outrage and scorn. And with their detailed, bullet-pointed release, Astrolabe systematically reinforces this writer's outrage and scorn.

Taking each of Christen's points in turn:

1. Astrolabe’s lawsuit is in no way intended to interfere with compilation of current time-zone information maintained by Mssrs. Olson and Eggert, or any other persons.

Read in the light most favoring the plaintiff, this is irrelevant. Read in the light of my office, it's false. Astrolabe's intent is irrelevant in any case; the tzinfo database contains historical and prospective time zone data because computers on occasion need to represent times and dates in the past. For that, and other technical reasons I'll get into in another post, "past" and "future" data can't be separated. Shutting down the tzinfo project shuts down the whole thing.

You can experience more of my outrage at The Daily Parker.

Friday 14 October 2011 08:41:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Religion | Business | Astronomy#
Friday 7 October 2011

After the shocking disappearance of the Olson time zone database yesterday (described here and here), some things have become clearer overnight.

o The wonderful land of Oz has stepped up. Robert Elz, an Australian computer scientist who has actively supported the tzinfo project throughout, has revived the time zone mailing list maintained at the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). My, but the list was active overnight, with dozens of people volunteering to host the database, move it to non-U.S. servers, and continue to research and develop it.

o The current database is available from an Australian site at ftp://munnari.oz.au/pub/tzdata2011k.tar.gz. (This is the version running on Weather Now.)

o Astrolabe, Inc., the mom-and-pop Cape Cod outfit responsible for this insanity, has a suddenly-popular Facebook page upon which hundreds of people have expressed themselves. (I wonder if the company will figure out how to disallow wall postings? Oopsi.)

o Software developer Curtis Manwaring, CEO of Zodiasoft Technologies in Las Vegas, claims that he and Astrolabe have had a running fight for years about ownership of various software implementations of time zone data. Says Manwaring:

Gary Christen (CEO of Astrolabe) tried to hire me on three separate occasions and I refused. When Astrolabe obtained the ACS Atlas (when ACS went bankrupt in July 2008), I was concerned that I wouldn't have an atlas for my software anymore. The last time that they tried to hire me, the ACS Atlas became leverage to coerce me into working for them because I had no guarantee that they would give me access to the ACS Atlas. When I refused the last time, I managed to obtain a verbal agreement that I would send my customers to them for a special discount on the ACS Atlas and was relieved for a while. But over the next several months, my customers started complaining about the run around they were getting on the special deal that Gary promised my customers. Eventually one of my customers said that he thought that Astrolabe was trying to make me look bad and disadvantage my business by making it difficult to obtain the stand alone version of the ACS Atlas which is required by my software (but not Solar Fire which has the ACS Atlas bound with it). He was so fed up with the run around Astrolabe gave him that he formatted a database of latitudes and longitudes for me and asked me to add it to my software. That got me back on the issue of researching time zones after which I found the Olson time zone database. I subsequently found from the Olson sources that the ACS data was extremely unreliable, much more than I previously thought.

Note to Curtis, Gary, and everyone else involved in this nonsense: there's a difference between software, which enjoys copyright protection, and data, which does not. This is established, black-letter law in the U.S. (and in most other countries). The fact that both of you produce products that use the same data does not in itself constitute copyright infringement.

What this sounds like—and I'm sorry, Curtis, but you're in it up to your neck—is that you're both amateurs, and your narcissistic dispute has started claiming innocent lives. Arthur Olson and Paul Eggert were trying to help people, as part of the open, collaborative effort we in the software community like to call "open collaboration."

Now, I write software for money, and in fact I have a time zone factory written in .NET, that reads and parses the entire tzinfo database so you can use it in .NET applications. (Send me an email if you want to license it!)

But here's the thing: I know it's a lot less expensive for someone to license my tzinfo parser than to roll their own. Like, two or three orders of magnitude less expensive. And if someone else writes a better parser, they might take my customers away—but that's not copyright infringement (unless they actually use the same C# code or documentation), that's creation.

Speaking of professional software development, I have to start billing now. I'm glad Robert Elz has stepped up, along the dozens of other volunteers, to keep this hidden but vital software project going.

Friday 7 October 2011 09:32:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Business | Astronomy#
Thursday 6 October 2011

The National Institutes for Health, through a quirk of history, maintainsed the worldwide-standard time zone database until today. A Massachusetts-based company, Astrolabe, Inc., has sued the people who maintain the database for copyright infringement. The company claims to have purchased the rights to The American Atlas, from which the time zone database derived some of its data. From the complaint:

Defendant Olson’s unauthorized reproduction of the Works have been published at ftp://elsie.nci.nih.gov/tzarchive.qz, where the references to historic international time zone data is replete with references to the fact thatthe source for this information is, indeed, the ACS Atlas.

Here are a couple of examples from the database:

# From Paul Eggert (2006-03-22):
# A good source for time zone historical data in the US is
# Thomas G. Shanks, The American Atlas (5th edition),
# San Diego: ACS Publications, Inc. (1991).
# Make sure you have the errata sheet; the book is somewhat useless without it.
# It is the source for most of the pre-1991 US entries below.

Here's an example from the data itself, in the Newfoundland section:

# Rule	NAME	FROM	TO	TYPE	IN	ON	AT	SAVE	LETTER/S
Rule	StJohns	1917	only	-	Apr	 8	2:00	1:00	D
Rule	StJohns	1917	only	-	Sep	17	2:00	0	S
# Whitman gives 1919 Apr 5 and 1920 Apr 5; go with Shanks & Pottenger.

I don't think anyone will deny that Arthur Olson, Paul Eggert, not to mention the hundreds of other people who have maintained the database for years, have used the book in question as a key reference. So here are the questions which, unfortunately, will take the court a couple of years to work out:

  1. Is data about when time zone rules changed throughout history protected under copyright?
  2. If so, who owns it?
  3. If someone owns it, is the Olson database a derivative work under copyright law?
  4. If the Olson database does, in fact, derive from the work in question, is it a fair use?
  5. Just how stupid are these astrologists, anyway?

Because what you may not know, dear reader, is that almost every Unix-based computer in the world uses this database to set its clock to local time. (All of the applications I've written, starting with Weather Now, use the database as well.) Shutting down the database project will require individual system administrators to update their local copies when rules change. It's not onerous, but it will lead to gaps, particularly in global applications like Weather Now.

What's even stupider about this lawsuit is that comments in the database encourage people to buy the book. So even if Astrolabe owns the copyright to the facts about time zone rules—a troubling proposition—their republication in the Olson database increases the likelihood that they'll make money off it.

Only, facts as such are not protected, so I can't see how Astrolabe can possibly win this suit. I will be contributing to Olson's and Eggert's legal defense fund once they get it set up.

Astrolabe doesn't need to look to the heavens to see how this will turn out.

Update: More here and here.

Thursday 6 October 2011 12:00:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business | Astronomy#
Friday 16 September 2011

ParkerI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 5-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in February, but some things have changed. In the interest of enlightened laziness I'm starting with the most powerful keystroke combination in the universe: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

Twice. Thus, the "point one" in the title.

The Daily Parker is about:

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

I've deprecated the Software category, but only because I don't post much about it here. That said, I write a lot of software. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got about 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

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

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

Another, non-trivial point. Facebook reads the blog's RSS feed, so many people reading this may think I'm just posting notes on Facebook. Facebook's lawyers would like you to believe this, too. Now, I've reconnected with tons of old friends and classmates through Facebook, I play Scrabble on Facebook, and I eagerly read every advertisement that appears next to its relevant content. But Facebook's terms of use assert ownership of everything that appears on their site, regardless of prior claims, which contravenes four centuries of law.

Everything that shows up on my Facebook profile gets published on The Daily Paker first, and I own the copyrights to all of it (unless otherwise disclosed). I publish the blog's text under a Creative Commons attribution-nonderivative-noncommercial license; republication is usually OK for non-commercial purposes, as long as you don't change what I write and you attribute it to me. My photos, however, are published under strict copyright, with no republication license, even if I upload them to other public websites. If you want to republish one of my photos, just let me know and we'll work something out.

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

Friday 16 September 2011 18:36:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Biking | Chicago | Cubs | Duke | Geography | Jokes | Kitchen Sink | Parker | Daily | Photography | Politics | US | World | Raleigh | Religion | San Francisco | Software | Blogs | Business | Cool links | Security | Weather | Astronomy | Work#
Monday 12 September 2011

It happens every year, and every year it surprises me: from mid-August to mid-October, the days get shorter quickly. Three weeks ago I was waking up to daylight; this morning, I realized I was waking up to twilight. In three weeks it'll be dark at that hour. Right now, every day, the sun rises a minute later an sets a minute earlier.

Nothing profound or particularly surprising here. Just an observation.

Monday 12 September 2011 17:07:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Sunday 24 July 2011

Welcome to the semi-annual update of the Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

For the full chart, go to the Daily Parker.

Sunday 24 July 2011 16:08:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Wednesday 2 February 2011

First, a report out of Punxsutawney, Penn., that Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) did not see his shadow:

Punxsutawney Phil emerged from a tree stump at dawn and, unusually, did not see his shadow, signaling that spring is just around the corner, according to tradition.

"He found that there was no shadow," said Bill Deeley, president of a club that organizes Groundhog Day in the western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney. "So an early spring it will be."

Ah, but there's a catch:

"There is no question that Phil is capable of feeling empathy," Johnston said in an interview. "But he is absolutely incapable of error."

The rodent's predictions are "not burdened by being site-specific" and so can be sure to predict an early spring in some part of the world, Johnston added.

Who knew Phil was a lawyer? Also—wasn't there, you know, a blizzard last night?

While western Pennsylvania was spared the worst of the storm, many central and northern areas of the U.S. were hit by snow and ice that closed roads, shut down businesses, and grounded flights.

But the Punxsutawney crowd, which started arriving on Gobbler's Knob at 3 a.m., braved some of the worst weather in the last 20 years of Groundhog Day, said [Mike Johnston, vice president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, or board of directors].

Looking outside at the weather in Chicago, I hope Phil was thinking of the north-central U.S....

Update: The Tribune has video, and allows sharing, so:

 
Wednesday 2 February 2011 11:15:39 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Weather | Astronomy#
Friday 21 January 2011

Should they go to year-round Daylight Saving Time? Scotland says no:

Britain currently sets its clocks at Greenwich Mean Time in fall and an hour ahead of that in spring. (New York is generally five hours behind Britain; Western Europe is an hour ahead).

The problem is that while a clock change might bring afternoon joy to London, it would condemn Inverness in the far reaches of Scotland — in relative terms, about 700 miles north of Montreal — to long, dark winter mornings with sunrises as late as 10 a.m.

Even worse, many Scots feel, it would mean giving in to English politicians. Though the devolution of British politics has given Scotland its own legislature and responsibility for many of its own affairs, the clock is still controlled by Parliament in London.

(You can see what sunrises and sunsets would look like up there at Weather Now.)

Daylight Saving Time has generated controversy for almost a century now, with good and bad arguments on both sides. I'm almost indifferent, though I do get annoyed waking up in the dark at the beginning of November.

Friday 21 January 2011 08:13:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Wednesday 29 December 2010

Welcome to the semi-annual update of the Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

See the chart at The Daily Parker.

Wednesday 29 December 2010 13:57:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Sunday 19 December 2010

The earth will cast its shadow on the moon Monday night:

But on the longest night of the year, a full moon will disappear at 1:40 a.m. behind the Earth's shadow. There won't be another total lunar eclipse on the night of the winter solstice for 84 years.

Weather permitting — and the forecast isn't favorable in the Chicago area, calling for clouds building Monday and snow overnight — the eclipse will be visible everywhere in the continental United States, and at its darkest, the moon will be halfway up from the horizon in the south-southwest sky.

We'll be able to see the moon start to disappear around 12:30 am Central time, with a total eclipse from 1:40 am until 2:53 am.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast calls for snow, which in Chicago just makes everything look yellow. (Chicago uses sodium-vapor streetlights that cast banana-yellow light.) But if you're up, or you live west of here and have better weather, go out and look.

Sunday 19 December 2010 09:50:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Saturday 6 November 2010

It's getting on toward 7:30 in Chicago, and the sun still hasn't risen yet. We return to standard time tonight, meaning the sun will rise at 6:30 tomorrow. Today, however, will be the latest sunrise in Chicago (and in the rest of those parts of the U.S. that observe daylight saving time) until 2021.

What's wrong with the last weekend in October? Or, as they do in parts of Europe, the last weekend in September? The "extra" hour of daylight in the evening has to come from somewhere. I, for one, prefer staying out after dark to waking up before dawn.

Saturday 6 November 2010 07:22:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#
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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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