Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 20 March 2009

It turns out, the privatization of Chicago's parking meters is becoming a total cluster:

During spot checks around the city, the Tribune found:

  • Outdated fee and violation-enforcement information still posted on many meters since the city switched from six parking zones to three.
  • Meters that, regardless of what the stickers indicate, charge the wrong hourly rates for the zone in which they are located, increasing the chance of vehicles being ticketed. For example, in the 1800 block of North Clybourn Avenue, an area where 25 cents is supposed to buy 15 minutes of parking time, meter No. 279089 provides only seven minutes for a quarter. A black marker was used to cover up the "15" on the meter's rate sticker with "7."
  • A surge in broken meters, many overstuffed with coins.
  • Stepped-up writing of tickets for parking-meter violations.

The parking-meter companies last weekend exercised an option in the contract that allows them to ticket vehicles parked at expired meters, Walsh said. Chicago police officers and parking enforcement aides also continue to write tickets, and the city will keep all fines collected.

Asked why the concessionaire would spend resources on ticketing even though it cannot keep any fines, Pete Scales of the Chicago Department of Budget and Management said, "That extra enforcement is an added incentive to fill the meters."

So, pop quiz for anyone who's taken Intro to Microeconomics: what are the incentives for either the parking meter company or the city to provide fair and accurate parking meters, or to keep them in good repair?

Pop quiz for second-year law students: Is a class action suit warranted, and if so, for what relief, and in which court?

Friday 20 March 2009 09:06:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics#

The vernal equinox happened about two hours ago. Typical of this time of year, though, it's below freezing this morning in Chicago. Nature nerd Naomi has more from the wilds of northern Lake County.

Of interest to possibly no one, for the last two years I've worked on the innards of my flagship demo project, Weather Now. I'm now putting together a new user interface for it. The new version 3.5 UI, which you can see at http://beta35.wx-now.com/, looks a lot like the old one—for now.

So what's new? I've rewritten from scratch the core framework, geography and weather code, and the basic UI framework. The beta (version 3.5) looks nearly identical to the current (version 3.1) application, except that the trained eye will notice new features where the ground-up re-write peeks out.

Sometime before the end of July, I hope to finish the next version (4.0), which will have an entirely different database structure. (Version 3.5 uses the same database as the current version through a façade.)

Exciting? Probably not. But it's how I keep my saw sharp.

Friday 20 March 2009 08:52:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Weather#
Thursday 19 March 2009

The Iraq war began six years ago today. Do you feel victorious yet?

Thursday 19 March 2009 10:22:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

So I'm watching the opening moments of Lost, and my immediate thought is: That little 737-400 can't fly the way from Hawaii to Guam, it's only certified for ETOPS 120! And even if it were, it's only got a range of about 3500 miles at zero weight, and Hurley's on board....

Then my small intestine reaches up to strangle me, and I come to my senses, and think: Ooh, Eve Lilly....

All this proves that once a nerd, always a nerd, in so many ways.

Wednesday 18 March 2009 21:18:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 18 March 2009

ParkerI'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 3-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page two years ago, so I thought it's time for a quick review.

Wednesday 18 March 2009 10:41:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Politics | Software#

I still haven't committed to buying a Kindle, and Mark Morford echoes of the reasons:

[M]any creators loathe the beige slab because of how ruthlessly Amazon owns every aspect of the experience. Authors and publishers have little control. Readers -- that is, you -- have even less. Want to share a book you finished with someone else? Too bad. Want to upload and circulate your own text without using Amazon's system? Screw you. Want to, well, do anything at all that's not 100 percent within the company's power and revenue stream because you don't actually own any of the books you buy? Amazon says: Bite me.

I like having paper books. I have a sinking feeling that having a Kindle would result in me buying books twice, once for my bookshelf and once to read on a plane.

Wednesday 18 March 2009 09:34:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#

All right, this is cool. Instead of worrying about how to get home from the airport, why not just take your car with you?

The Terrafugia Transition, the "roadable aircraft" that's attracted considerable attention at aviation shows in the last year, flew for the first time on March 5, and its makers say they've changed aviation as a result. "This breakthrough changes the world of personal mobility. Travel now becomes a hassle-free integrated land-air experience. It's what aviation enthusiasts have been striving for since 1918," said Carl Dietrich, CEO of Terrafugia. While most "flying car" concepts to date have incorporated detachable or trailerable wings, the Transition has electromechanical folding wings that convert the vehicle in 30 seconds. The company says production models will meet Light Sport specifications and be street legal.

It's important to note that "Light Sport" classification. If the pilot only has a light sport certificate, he or shee will be limited to daytime, VFR flying (though private or higher certificates with IFR endorsements are possible). And light sport aircraft are limited to 120 kts, though as a Cessna 172 pilot I have to say that's not a huge limitation.

Anyway, my first reaction to seeing this was: where can I get one?

Wednesday 18 March 2009 08:34:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Tuesday 17 March 2009

Spring officially begins Friday at 6:44 CDT, but today we're getting a little hint of it. Right now it's 19°C in Chicago; if it can squeak up to 22°C it will be the warmest day since October 12th.

Another trivial tidbit: because the earth's atmosphere bends the sun's rays a little, today, and not the official equinox Friday, is the day when we have 12 hours of daylight. From tomorrow until September 25th, days are longer than nights just about everywhere between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle.

Update, 14:05 CDT: Yep, we just hit 22°C, warmest temperature in Chicago for 156 days. Why am I inside?

Tuesday 17 March 2009 12:13:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather | Astronomy#
Monday 16 March 2009

The FAA has pulled a San Diego commercial pilot's certificate for the third time because of what we may charitably call "willful passenger interference:"

The video shows David Keith Martz, a professional pilot with a history of FAA violations, at the controls of his chopper over San Diego while fondling a porn actress, who then performs a sex act on him while he's flying.

The video, shot in 2007, first appeared Feb. 3 on the entertainment website TMZ.com and has gone viral since.

Along with the video, TMZ reported that someone had sent the FAA an e-mail about the episode, including photos of Martz fondling the porn actress – who goes by the name Puma Swede – in flight.

Um. Well. Speaking as a private pilot, I can say that sort of thing doesn't happen in my experience. Maybe I should start flying helicopters.

As to what violation he committed—the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) don't seem to address this particular set of circumstances, after all—"the FAA claims [the video] shows the pilot was blocked from the helicopter's controls by the woman's body" which, I think we have to say, is covered by FAR 91.13, "Careless or Reckless Operation." The moral is, of course, take care not to endanger the life or property of another while operating an aircraft with Puma Swede in the cockpit.

Monday 16 March 2009 16:27:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen takes a look at Kindle 2 usability in his column today:

[T]he device is best for reading long linear material, such as novels and some non-fiction. Kindle's best user interface feature is turning the page; the reading experience you design should require no other interactions.

Writing linear books simply requires a skill that all good authors already possess: the ability to keep readers immersed in the plot.

Kindle also works well for the long, narrative articles common in certain literary magazines and Sunday newspaper supplements. No surprise that The New Yorker is currently the best-selling magazine for the device.

... [But] it's awkward to interact with the device through its 5-way controller. Also, after every selection, you're doomed to wait for a sluggish response. And, once you finally get something, you get very little because of the small screen. Setting aside the header and footer areas, Kindle 2's content area is 525x650 pixels, or 341 kilo-pixels. In contrast, a mid-sized PC screen is 1280x1024, offering 999 KP of content, or the equivalent of three Kindles.

Given these constraints, navigating non-linear content on Kindle feels much like navigating websites on a mobile phone. Kindle content designers should therefore follow mobile usability guidelines for many user interface issues, including the presentation of article pages.

Monday 16 March 2009 09:26:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software#

Not to libel ostriches, or suggest mass killings of the birds, I think McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants prefer customers who stick their heads in the sand. This may result from McDonald's execs sticking their own heads—never mind. Apparently the laws in New York, Philadelphia, and California requiring calorie and nutrition information be on fast-food restaurant menus are causing customers to buy salads instead of triple-bacon-lardburgers-with-extra-goo, so McDonald's wants a Federal law instead:

The measure would create a single standard, allowing McDonald's and even sit-down chains like Applebee's to avoid stricter laws in places like New York, Philadelphia and California. Instead of being forced to post nutritional information on menus, the restaurants want to put it somewhere nearby.

... Proponents disagree. "Not only do we think their bill creates a weak standard, it would preempt some of the positive things we have already accomplished across the country," says Derek Scholes, a lobbyist for the Dallas-based American Heart Assn.

How about this instead: McDonald's no longer has to divulge any nutrition information, but it has to donate 1% of its net income (which was $23.5 billion in 2008) to the American Heart Association. Given the success of California's anti-smoking campaign, that might actually benefit people more than just publishing calorie counts.

Monday 16 March 2009 08:35:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US#
Sunday 15 March 2009

I had a conversation with Joe over at Urban Outsitters this morning when I picked Parker up. It seems he's had run-ins with Yelp as well. He mentioned a ratings service that, he thinks, actually works: Angie's List.

The difference? Angie's List members have a reputational risk of their own when posting. The members may be anonymous to the vendors they're rating, but they're authenticated, and can be held accountable for their content. Also, the List, being member-financed rather than advertiser-financed, has no potential conflicts of interest. Yelp and other advertiser-supported media always have a potential for payola. Always.

Sunday 15 March 2009 10:43:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Friday 13 March 2009

Having already admitted to frequent flying, and looking at an enormous amount more in 2009 and 2010, I've started thinking about getting a Kindle.

So, I'm blegging for opinions.

I'm almost entirely sold because you can email PDF files and Word documents to a Kindle, to go along with the up to 1,500 books it can store in its 290-gram innards. Given the volume of reading I'll have in the week before each Fuqua residency, and given that much of it will be electronic anyway, it's starting to make more sense.

So, thoughts? Or, more concretely, why shouldn't I buy a Kindle?

Friday 13 March 2009 15:51:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#

I fly frequently, more often as a "revpax" (revenue passenger) than as pilot. And I've mentioned before, given the two full-service options in Chicago (American and United), I long ago chose American as my preferred carrier. I have, in fact, been a member of their frequent-flyer program since 1988.

American is one of the two lynchpins of the oneworld alliance (typography and letter casing theirs), the other being British Airways. Only, they seem to hate each other's customers.

Exhibit: neither's customers can use or earn miles on the other's trans-Atlantic routes. Chicago to London? No choice, if you want your 3,953 elite-qualifying miles each way. Because miles are reedemable for travel and upgrades at up to 2c per (e.g., 25,000 miles for a round-trip domestic ticket that would otherwise cost $500), and elite miles are particularly valuable, BA's fare needs to be almost $100 less, all things equal, to make it worthwhile to fly the other airline.

OK, so I get that there are regulatory issues and other things they're taking into account. But I can hop a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo and earn the same number of miles I can earn on a competing AA flight. So what gives?

It's even more peculiar when you start flying on BA flights on "domestic" European routes. Now it starts to annoy me.

Later this spring I'm flying to a European city to which the only reasonable connection is through Heathrow, and because it's a discount ticket, I'm only earning 25% of the miles flown for the trip. I could, of course, upgrade to a full-fare economy ticket for, oh, £200; but that's really not cost-effective, now, is it? I only discovered this by reading the fine print yesterday.

My conclusion will have to be, avoid BA flights when an alternative routing exists on another oneworld carrier. For example, to the place I'm going this spring, I could have flown American to another major European city and flown on Malév, Finnair, or Iberia, and gotten 100% mileage credit—and more miles to boot, because the routing is farther.

So again, why does British Airways not want American Airlines customers? Or is it American that doesn't want me flying BA?

Friday 13 March 2009 14:29:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Kitchen Sink#

Is nothing sacred? Not when your company implodes:

Willis Group Holdings, a London-based insurance broker, announced Thursday that it will consolidate its area offices to Sears Tower and as part of the deal, gets to put its own name on the 36-year-old skyscraper.

Willis will move nearly 500 associates into Willis Tower, at 233 S. Wacker, initially occupying more than 140,000 square feet on multiple floors. The company said the move to the new space, at $14.50 per square foot, will result in significant real estate cost savings, and that there is no additional cost to the company associated with renaming the building.

And really, enough with the "Diff'rent Strokes" jokes. Fooey.

Thursday 12 March 2009 20:56:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#
Thursday 12 March 2009

Bristol Palin and whosit have split.

Didn't see that one coming. (Probably because I wasn't looking.)

Thursday 12 March 2009 10:47:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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