Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 26 March 2009

Last night, while studying for an economics exam, I took a moment to execute the following SQL against a client's production database:

UPDATE table_name
SET column_a = 'Equipment', column_b = 'Equipment'
WHERE column_a = 'Boojums'

UPDATE table_name
SET column_a = 'Borfins', column_b = 'Equipment'
WHERE column_a = 'Nerfherders'

The client called this morning to ask why the application suddenly had two different types of equipment, one which looked suspiciously like a collection of borfins.

You can see what I did, of course. I copied the first statement and forgot to change the copy's second argument. And I quite deservedly looked stupid.

What makes this even funnier: I executed the statement against a staging server first, carefully (I thought) checked the results, and then executed it against the production server. This is why having someone else do quality assurance is a good thing for most programmers.

Thursday 26 March 2009 12:38:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

The city of Chicago, apparently responding to citizen complaints, has started fixing broken parking meters on its own and billing the company:

Indications of a more urgent approach to fixing the problems became apparent Monday morning when the Tribune observed meter inspectors and repair personnel working downtown.

It followed a Tribune story on Friday that exposed the broad scope of the problems and how drivers and business owners are angry at the city, which watched rates quadruple this year as part of a 75-year deal to lease 36,000 meters to Chicago Parking Meters LLC for almost $1.2 billion.

There's not much more in the article. But I have to wonder, will the city actually collect the money it bills? And if not, will the city boot the company's office building?

Thursday 26 March 2009 10:34:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics#
Wednesday 25 March 2009

Via the New York Times Freakonomics blog, Germany's Der Spiegel reports an unusual acquittal:

German police say at least one of the identical twin brothers Hassan and Abbas O. may have perpetrated a recent multimillion euro jewelry heist in Berlin. But because of their indistinguishable DNA, neither can be individually linked to the crime. Both were set free on Wednesday.

... DNA [found at the crime scene] led to not one but two suspects -- 27-year-old identical, or monozygotic, twins with near-identical DNA.

German law stipulates that each criminal must be individually proven guilty. The problem in the case of the O. brothers is that their twin DNA is so similar that neither can be exclusively linked to the evidence using current methods of DNA analysis. So even though both have criminal records and may have committed the heist together, Hassan and Abbas O. have been set free.

Of course, society's to blame, but this is kind of cool.

Wednesday 25 March 2009 16:54:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Though, as Mark Morford explains, you need to choose one first:

Communists had their turn. Feminists. Hippies. Then came the evil homosexual people, with their famous, much-lauded agenda to destroy the holy sanctimony of Christian marriage via encouraging girls to smoke and listen to punk rock, teaching interior decorating to straight boys and convincing innocent church pastors and Republican senators to fellate them in cheap motel rooms. The horror!

But no longer. Proposition 8 and The Ugly Mormon Uprising of 2008 notwithstanding, the gays have nearly completed their vile mission. They are everywhere. They are almost normal. ...

Which leaves us a gaping hole, an urgent question in need of an answer. Who's next? Whom will the pseudo-moralists in America accuse of trying to convert our innocent children to their depraved ways? ... Will it be, say, the polyamorists? Vegetarians? Yoga teachers? Polyamorist vegetarian yoga teachers who like anal sex and Ecstasy and really strong coffee? We must ponder. We must find out.

I less-than-three Morford.

Wednesday 25 March 2009 08:27:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 24 March 2009


Alaska's disasters, natural and man-made, are front and center today. First, today is the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Who can forget?

An estimated 11 million gallons of oil eventually spilled into the water. Attempts to contain the massive spill were unsuccessful, and wind and currents spread the oil more than 100 miles from its source, eventually polluting more than 700 miles of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of birds and animals were adversely affected by the environmental disaster.

Today, however, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's mockery of volcano monitoring last month has taken an annoying turn for his Alaska counterpart Sarah Palin:

As a slew of observers -- from local officials to geologists to bloggers to Paul Krugman ("the intellectual incohernence is stunning") -- pointed out at the time, volcano monitoring is crucial work. At the risk of stating the obvious, using advanced technology to predict when a volcano might erupt, at the most basic level, allows local officials to, um, save people's lives by evacuating them. It's hard to think of a better use of government money.

Why is Jindal's line looking even worse now? Because, as you've likely heard, Alaska's Mount Redoubt, 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, erupted [Monday] night. And a USGS geologist confirmed to TPMmuckraker that a portion of the stimulus spending for volcano monitoring that Jindal lampooned has been slated to go to USGS monitoring Redoubt.

Simple economics might suggest that the expense of double-hulled tankers and of volcano monitoring equipment might be lower than the expense of cleaning up Alaska. But that's for us in the reality-based community, I guess; the GOP didn't get it in the 1980s, and doesn't get it now.

Tuesday 24 March 2009 10:55:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Via Krugman, a clear and convincing description of why the Geithner plan may save the economy and make a few bankers even richer, at the modest expense of a few dollars per family:

Half of the [iunvestments of $100] wind up worthless, so the investor loses $300 total on those. But the other half wind up worth $100 each for a $16 profit. $16 times 50 pools equals $800 total profit which is split 1:1 with the Treasury. So the investor gains $400 on these winning pools. A $400 gain plus a $300 loss equals a $100 net gain, so the investor risked $600 to make $100, a tidy 16.7% return.

The bank unloaded assets worth $5000 for $8400. So the private investor gained $100, the Treasury gained $100, and the bank gained $3400. Somebody must therefore have lost $3600…

...and that would be the FDIC[...].

Warms the heart, it does. And it convinces me I'm in the wrong profession.

Monday 23 March 2009 22:11:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 23 March 2009

Metra, which runs Chicago's heavy-rail commuter lines, hasn't changed much at all since the 1970s, as today's Chicago Tribune describes in sad detail:

Metra runs on paper, as in paper tickets. Although the majority of riders use monthly passes, passengers in January still bought more than 666,000 one-way tickets or used 10-ride tickets, which conductors have to punch individually.

... Other open rail systems have done away with punching and checking individual tickets. For example, conductors on Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority check tickets with hand-held electronic devices. ... On Caltrain, a commuter rail line operating between San Francisco and San Jose, passengers buy tickets from vending machines and conductors make random checks. Anyone without a ticket faces a $250 fine.

[And] it's cash or checks only on Metra. The line doesn't take plastic because of the processing fees that credit-card companies impose, Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

The article also mentions a lack of information about train whereabouts that even our CTA buses provide.

I think the article makes Metra sound better than it really is, simply by comparing it only to its American analogues. The authors ignore, presumably out of pity for Metra, the Shanghai Maglev at one extreme, or even more typical European rail systems like Berlin's S-Bahn and the UK's Oyster Card scheme as examples of how to modernize at the very least how people pay for transit.

All right, maybe Transport for London isn't the best example. Still, when Boston has free Wi-Fi and we can't even pay with credit cards, something is wrong. At least TfL has a dedicated express train running from Heathrow to central London (on which you can use your Oyster Card), and we have...the Blue Line. Sad, really.

Monday 23 March 2009 08:57:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | World | San Francisco#

I've finally gotten around to producing a .kml file from my last flight, on the 14th. And here's the obligatory airplane-on-little-airport-tarmac photo:

Sunday 22 March 2009 21:14:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Saturday 21 March 2009

Sunny and 13°C in Chicago today. Result: Parker got almost two hours of walks. Other result: Pithy, pointless blog entry. Everyone wins!

Saturday 21 March 2009 17:48:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Blogs | Weather#
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#
On this page....
The dangers of cut-and-paste coding
Again with the broken parking meters!
The perfect crime?
Know your enemy
Does she know what day it is? I dunno. Alaska.
Heads I win, tails the Fed loses
Metra: Party like it's 1979
Only a week late
It's really Spring after all!
Who didn't see this coming? Really?
Spring into the Weather Now beta
Is our children safer?
About this blog
Another argument about the Kindle
Alternative to renting a car at the airport
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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