The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Forget about who will bell the cat

Put a camera on him instead:

In the beginning there is one big question and a lot curiosity: that is the cat doing all day long ? The solution and answer is the CatCam. The small digital camera is attached to the collar of the cat. It features a user programmable timer function. Based on the interval time it takes automatically pictures or video clips (based on version). The unit is protected against shock, dirt and humidity in order to survive the cats lifestyle.

Quick hits

Lots to do for the next, oh, 17 months, so I thought I'd get started. My first Duke box arrived today, containing 6 kg of books, course packets, handouts, and more books, all of which have to be read by August 15th. Fortunately I have a few extra hours each day to do all this (I use them to sleep right now, so they're kind of wasted).

Just a couple news stories of note today:

  • President Obama gave an hour-long press conference yesterday in which he spent 50 minutes discussing the single most important domestic-policy issue in the U.S. right now, health care. Since health care policy is complex, full of compromises, difficult to understand, and absolutely imperative to fix, the network talking heads spent all their time today discussing a stupid Cambridge, Mass., police officer who made an ill-advised arrest Monday. This, in turn, is why network talking heads are useless. I can't wait to see Jon Stewart's take.
  • Mark Buehrle, who plays for the other Chicago baseball team, threw a perfect game this afternoon, the 2nd club history and only the 16th time ever in the major leagues. (A perfect game is one in which none of the offensive players gets on base by any means.)
  • Finally, Gidget the Chihuahua, aka the Taco Bell dog, died yesterday at 15.

Back to work...

Morning round-up

A few things of note happened while I was en route to San Francisco yesterday:

  • The Cubs continued winning, taking their second in a row after the All-Star break and moving up to second place, though only because they've beaten up the hapless (25-63) Nationals to do it.
  • Wisconsin officials announced a deal to buy new 320 km/h train sets for the Chicago to Milwaukee route. Initially plans call for allowing the trains to run at 176 km/h (40% faster than today) while a new, dedicated high-speed line is studied.
  • In San Francisco, BART, the light-rail agency, averted a strike that could cripple the area's transportation system. The agency's employees unanimously rejected management's last contract offer and walked away from negotiations, but the two sides have since resumed talks.
  • Finally, Walter Cronkite died last night at 92.

And that's the way it is.

Update: One more from my dad: a big weenie drove into a house in Wisconsin yesterday, no doubt because the driver was in mourning.

Where the name change really came from

Even though there are more important things going on in the world, there are also better bloggers out there, so I trust sticking with entirely petty and parochial issues won't offend anyone. Like this, for instance:

Prying the Sears name off North America's tallest building was as simple as asking the leasing agent from U.S. Equities Asset Management to do it.

"I kept saying, 'Sears Tower, Sears Tower. I'd rather have it be Kmart Tower,'" said Carmine Bilardello, the Willis executive who negotiated the lease. "Then I asked them what it would take to put our name on the building, and they said that could be arranged."

Well, then, I guess that's as good a reason as any. I'm still not calling it Willis Tower. Or "Big Willie," for the love of dog.

Frangos come home

Frango Mints, the historic Chicago mint-chocolate candy, have returned to Chicago:

South Side candymaker Cupid Candies has started producing the No. 1-selling Frango product — one-pound boxes of the mint chocolates — in the past several days for local Macy's department stores.

The start of production, to be announced today by Macy's and Cupid Candies executives, comes a year and a half after production was expected to start.

... The production is meaningful to Chicagoans outraged by the 1999 outsourcing of Frango production to Pennsylvania under then-Marshall Field's corporate parent Dayton Hudson, and then outraged again when Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren jettisoned the Marshall Field's brand and replaced it with Macy's in September 2006.

It's about time, too.

Incidentally, I discovered when I worked in Lisbon, Portugal for a few months in 2000-2001, that "frango" means chicken in Portuguese. People in Europe already think we Americans eat crappy food (can't think why); the "chicken mints" I brought caused some commotion in the Lisbon office until people got up the nerve to try them. Ah, international business.

Anxiety-provoking intersection now less so

Whole Foods recently opened its new, enormous Chicago store at 1550 N. Kingsbury St., on an old brownfield lot. The old industrial infrastructure surrounding the site—including a still-active spur line railway running down the center of Kingsbury St.—still has some, ah, quirks from the days before tens of thousands of shoppers went there every week. The intersection of Weed, Kingsbury, and Sheffield, for example, goes off in five directions, not including the three parking entrances:

The store occupies the vacant patch in the lower-left quadrant of this image from Google Maps. The store parking lot has entrances near where Weed meets the river, and also near the "A" marking on this photo. North Ave., Clybourn St., and Halsted St., the largest streets in the area, are just beyond the top and right sides.

So a lot of traffic now goes past that intersection. Not just cars, either; with two major bus routes and a Red Line station right there, the store attracts lots of pedestrians. (Parker and I often go there, for example; it's about 3 km from home, so the round-trip makes for a good hour of walking.)

Until this week, the intersection only had two stop signs, one on the southbound Kingsbury corner, the other on the westbound Weed corner.

Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic, and Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck, the authors of Suburban Nation, would argue that this is probably less dangerous than it sounds. Everyone approaching the intersection instantly realizes that he has no idea where anyone is coming from or going to, no idea who's going to stop or go, and no idea where the guy with the dog will choose to cross. Consequently, he slows down and starts paying attention.

I am surprised that it took two months for the city to respond. Clearly we can't have people thinking for themselves at a dangerous intersection. So now the intersection has stop signs all around. My prediction: drivers will pay less attention, except to struggle with remembering who goes first when you all arrive at an intersection simultaneously,[1] with no effect at all on accident rates. As long as Parker and I can get across the street, we're fine.

[1] In Illinois, there is no rule. Probably you should observe the majority rule and wait for the person to your left to go before you.

What's with all the celebrities?

Oscar Mayer, perhaps not a celebrity but certainly a household name in the U.S., has left us:

Oscar G. Mayer, retired chairman of the Wisconsin-based meat processing company that bears his name, has died at the age of 95.

Mayer's wife, Geraldine, said he died of old age Monday age at Hospice Care in Fitchburg.

He was the third Oscar Mayer in the family that founded Oscar Mayer Foods, which was once the largest private employer in Madison. His grandfather, Oscar F. Mayer, died in 1955 and his father, Oscar G. Mayer Sr., died in 1965.

Photo: Kraft Foods, Inc.

The other Ribfest

Ribfest Chicago, with its 10 (mostly-)local vendors, its dog-friendliness, and its proximity, is one of my favorite Chicago street festivals of the year.

Then there's Naperville's Ribfest, which, in the tradition of suburbs everywhere, dwarfs Chicago's festival in every way except accessibility. Chicago's takes over a city block; Naperville's, a huge park. Chicago has booths and people crammed in at maximum density; Naperville has a huge park. Chicago has 10 rib vendors, 8 of which are local restaurants; Naperville has 17, most of them just festival vendors (they travel the U.S. going to outdoor events everywhere). Parker and I walk to Chicago's, while I had to take an hour-long train (to avoid a 90-minute drive) to get to Naperville.

Another thing: Where Chicago had standard-size, 3-bone taster portions for $6, Naperville left it up to the individual vendors. All four that I tried were more expensive and larger than in Chicago, so much so that I split three of them with the friend who met me there. (Thus, the limit of 4.) All of them were good; only one was really great, but I have no idea how to get them again. I sampled (in descending order of satisfaction):

  • Texas Outlaws BBQ, Elizabethtown, Ky. Someday, I may take a road trip to Central Kentucky. If so, I'll make a point to stop in Elizabethtown. At the very least, I'll look for this vendor again next year. They gave me 4 big baby back bones with some tug and a nice char. They explained that they grill them over smoke chips with their hot sauce and then glaze them on the way off the grill with (too much) honey BBQ. After scraping off the excess sauce, I thought they were some of the best ribs I'd ever had, almost as good as my brother's.
  • Desperados, Huxley, Ohio. Festival-only vendor. OK ribs: fall-off-the-bone style, just a light glaze in grilling with a pretty decent traditional sauce on the side. (I also tried the sweet smoky sauce, but found it too sweet.)
  • Uncle Bub's, Westmont, Ill. The only local, non-chain vendor I found (right off the Westmont Metra stop, it turns out). They had cherry-smoked, St. Louis-style ribs, with a sweet-smoke sauce that wasn't bad. I might stop in to try a full slab, and I'd recommend them to people who live out in the suburbs.
  • Porky-n-Beans, Parma, Ohio. Another festival-only vendor. They had St. Louis-style spareribs with a sweet, sweet sauce. Too sweet, in fact. The meat was good, a little pull of the bone, good but not great.

In all, a good day, aided by nearly-perfect weather and the proximity of the festival to Metra.