The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

What I did on my summer vacation

A friend called me up Friday night and asked if I wanted to go on a brewery tour of Southern Wisconsin the next morning. Here's the result: 578.5 km in a little under 7 hours, with Parker, and four breweries (plus a Heidi Festival).

We started around 9 in the morning from Lincoln Park, and by noon we'd arrived at the New Glarus Brewing Co.. For $6 each we got three, 90 mL samples, a self-guided (i.e., wander and look) tour of the brewery, and (for another $5 each) pint glasses. We kinda-sorta liked the beer (I preferred the Fat Squirrel, my friend the Hop Hearty), but we weren't in awe, so we ambled off to the town of New Glarus just down the hill.

Did you know it was Heidi Festival time? As in, Heidi? After a quick snack of bread and cheese for the humans (and half of a charred hotdog that someone dropped on the sidewalk for Parker), we decided to go. We hope the annual play went well for the kids.

We drove a quick 50 km up the road to Madison and the Capital Brewery, where an actual person gave a group of 25 a 15-minute tour of the facility. Plus samples, some free, some not. The brewery is most proud of its Island Wheat right now, but my friend and I both preferred the Pale Ale, for the simple reason that we both have a hop bias[1].

Next stop: Whole Foods in Madison, where the beer distribution cartels of Illinois have no power. Four six packs and much swapping later, we trundled on to Ale Asylum where we heard they might have dinner. And beer.

It was at this point that Parker regressed about two years and, in the oddest canine freak-out I've ever seen, attacked the hop vine growing along the brewery's patio fence. I think he was just anxious that I was on one side of the fence and he was on another, but at the time he started eating hop leaves I was standing next to him wondering why he was eating hop leaves[2].

Again, my friend and I liked the beers we sampled—Ambergeddon and Hopalicious—and again we liked them differently. What to do? Buy one six-pack of each and swap two of them. Problem solved.

By now it was 7pm, Parker was beyond tired and behaving like a beyond-tired 3-year-old, we were tired, and a thunderstorm loomed to the west. So we headed east down I-94 and got about ten minutes from Madison before deciding, what the hell, Tyranena is just off the highway in Lake Mills, so why not do one more?

Talk about the last shall go first. Mmmm.

For $10, we got a 9-beer sampler of everything they make. We sat outside in a big tent, big enough to shield us from the rain when it finally found us, sipping these delightful beers, while Parker slept almost soundly[3] on the grass next to our table.

We're probably going to go to Tyranena again. They have a do-it-yourself attitude towards everything but the beer, including a grill patrons are welcome to use and a laissez-faire attitude towards dogs and food.

Which beers, though? Bitter Woman Ale, certainly; and Bitter Woman in the Rye, their current "Brewers Gone Wild" selection. We both really liked the Chief Blackhawk Porter and Rocky's Revenge brown ale, with the usual caveats about my friend's IBU floor lying just a scooch below my IBU ceiling. The Stone Tepee left us confused, the Fargo Brothers Hefeweitzen didn't get finished somehow, and we agreed that the Three Beaches Honey Blonde exists only so that people who think Coors Light is beer will have something to drink when they get dragged to Tyranena[4].

So: sometime in July, we're going back on the road. If to Wisconsin, we may again plan to end the day in Lake Mills. Otherwise, it turns out that Western Michigan has a bucket load of breweries....

[1] Actually, I have a bias, she has a fetish. But don't tell her I said this.

[2] Hop leaves aren't harmful per se, but actual hops themselves are very dangerous to dogs. If your dog ever gets into your brewing supplies, make sure you call your local emergency vet line or poison control. If your dog goes on a rampage and eats a few dozen hop leaves without eating any buds, just bring an extra bag on your walk the next morning.

[3] Somehow, though, he managed to notice every bit of pretzel that landed near his nose, almost as if he had an automatic tongue. He wouldn't even twitch his ears or open his eyes when one landed near him, he'd just extend his tongue and the pretzel would disappear. Dogs are amazing that way.

[4] Three Beaches is, however, a real beer, so we did finish the entire sample. It just wasn't our favorite of the nine we tried.

Where's Paul Simon when you need him?

Kodak is discontinuing Kodachrome:

[T]he Rochester-based company announced today, it has ceased production of a household name, Kodachrome, its oldest color film, that it manufactured for 74 years.

... Photojournalist Steve McCurry's portrait of an Afghan refugee girl, shot on Kodachrome, appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. At Kodak's request, McCurry will shoot one of the last rolls of Kodachrome and donate the images to the George Eastman House museum, named for the company's founder, in Rochester.

I have about 3,000 Kodachrome slides. They still look great; here's one:

Of course, you're looking at it on a computer. And I haven't shot anything on Kodachrome since 1999. That's the problem. It's a sad milestone, but business is business.

Ribfest

Parker has slept soundly most of the day after he and I walked up to Ribfest yesterday. The round-trip took us about 2 hours (not including stops) and 12.8 km.

We sampled five restaurants. Parker didn't give me any notes, so these are all mine, in descending order of enjoyment:

  • Lincoln Restaurant, 4008 N. Lincoln. Tasty. Tug-off-the-bone, not too much sauce, tangy KC-style, good lean ribs.
  • Irish Bistro, 3905 N. Lincoln. An Irish pub with ribs? Yes. And not too bad. Fall-off-the-bone style, with a "whiskey marmalade" sauce that had a good bite.
  • Chicago BBQ (no address) certainly had the most entertaining sign (see below). Parker kept trying to bolt out of line because of the smoke their cookers put out. Tehir meat tasted good, and I liked both their "sweet and sassy" and chipotle sauces. Good smoke flavor. Apparently, though, I'll just have to wait for the next rib festival (Naperville this summer?) to try them again.
  • Fireplace Inn, 1448 N. Wells. This was my favorite last year. This year, though, they phoned it in. I still liked their sauce the best, but this time the dazed-looking kid at the booth just gave me some random meat and bones with way too much sauce.
  • Hickory's BBQ, 1234 N. Halsted. Not bad, but nothing special: tender but just OK meat, grilled dry with sauce added after. The sauce was tangy but not interesting. I couldn't tell what it needed, but somehow it just fell a little short.

Unfortunately, both Parker and I experienced some discomfort in fairly short order after leaving the festival. He had a tiny bit of every sample I had, so I'm pretty confident either one of the ribs wasn't all right or possibly a sauce was off. We are both undeterred, however, and we'll be back next year.

Baffling usability

The following photo shows a programmer, a usability expert, and an IT manager struggling to figure out how to add players to a bowling game using AMF's scoring software. I don't even remember the sequence we had to go through, but I do remember thinking (a) on average, we were sober; and (b) software that makes something so simple take so long should be punishable...in some appropriate way.

On the other hand, one doesn't go to a bowling alley because of the software they use. On the first hand, however, bad software makes everything less fun.

And yes, Virginia, Bengt (right) is wearing a custom-made bowling shirt. One of the other bowlers gave it to him for his birthday, which is how I came to be at a bowling alley, and sometime later that evening, at a seriously hard-core karaoke bar. Tambourines were involved, I recall...