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

As usual, the primary color is gray:

There's a rumor we will have sunlight tomorrow. Unconfirmed.

Thursday 26 November 2009 14:55:39 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Pilot and author James Fallows is thankful for the reasonable and minimal changes to New York City airspace the FAA announced last week:

When regulators and security officials address a problem through minimal rather than excessive rule-setting and interference or panicky over-reaction, that is worth our thankfulness too. Building toward a crescendo of things to be thankful for at this time of year.

By the way, it's a very fun trip for private pilots:

(From a flight I took in March 2000.)

Thursday 26 November 2009 08:57:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography#
Tuesday 24 November 2009

Not Always Right, vigniettes that demonstrate how customer stupidity is an absolute limit on customer service:

Me: "Thank you for calling ***. How may I help you today?"

Caller: "I'm having problems with my computer and–"

(Suddenly, what sounds like an air raid siren sounds off in the background.)

Me: "Ma'am, I apologize. I was unable to hear what you said."

Caller: "Stupid tornado warnings! They always make it hard to talk on the phone."

Me: "Oh...should I let you go?"

Caller: "Nah. This happens all of the time."

(In addition to the siren, I hear a door slam and the sound of someone else entering the room. I hear a male voice who I guess is the caller's husband.)

Caller's husband: "D*** it woman, are you crazy?! Get to the basement!"

Caller: "Oh, I guess I should go..." *hangs up*

There are 275 more pages of them. Lovely.

Tuesday 24 November 2009 13:07:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 23 November 2009

Carl Kasell is retiring December 30th:

Kasell will, however, continue as official judge and scorekeeper of the Chicago Public Radio-produced quiz program, "Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me!," "the show that turned him from a newsman into a rock star," as noted in a memo to staff Monday from David Sweeney, NPR's managing editor for news, and Margaret Low Smith, its vice president of programming.

Sigh.

Monday 23 November 2009 10:53:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

The Chicago Tribune today has an in-depth article about the misuse of autism research in therapy:

In his letter, obtained by the Tribune, [Florida family physician Dr. Dan] Rossignol justified the unorthodox treatment in part by writing that "a recent study out of Johns Hopkins has shown that children with autism have evidence of neuroinflammation on autopsy and (cerebral spinal fluid) evaluations."

It was [Dr. Carlos] Pardo's study.

Rossignol did not mention that Pardo's team had written in its online primer, using capital letters for emphasis, that intravenous immunoglobulin "WOULD NOT HAVE a significant effect" on what they saw in the brains of people with autism.

"THERE IS NO indication for using anti-inflammatory medications in patients with autism," the team wrote.

There's a word for doctors who offer treatments to desperate people without any evidence that the treatments will work. Or, to put it another way, if it walks like a duck...

I have some experience dealing with the allure of long-shot treatments for diseases that no one actually understands. Fortunately my mother was a solidly rational person, so when she volunteered for an experimental treatment, she understood the possibility—one in three, in fact—that she would only get a placebo, and the bigger possibility that the drug wouldn't work anyway. And the experiment was conducted by an actual science team with actual experimental methods and an actual study-review board.

Quacks are dangerous because desperate people don't usually think rationally. Undergoing dangerous, not to mention costly, treatments that come from shaky foundations and incomplete research do far more harm than good. The hope these treatments bring has a cost that many families don't understand until, much later, they regain their rationality. Then they find that only the quacks have really benefitted.

Monday 23 November 2009 10:40:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 22 November 2009

From reader DW, a Durex commercial not likely to run in Alabama (obviously after the jump)...

Sunday 22 November 2009 16:39:42 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes#

Field trip to Noethling Park (a.k.a. Wiggly Field) today, with a ball and a Chuck-It:

Sunday 22 November 2009 16:08:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Daily#
Saturday 21 November 2009

IBM has created a supercomputer with more cerebral capacity (as measured by neurons and synapses) than a housecat:

The simulator, which runs on the Dawn Blue Gene /P supercomputer with 147,456 CPUs and 144TB of main memory, simulates the activity of 1.617 billion neurons connected in a network of 8.87 trillion synapses. The model doesn't yet run at real time, but it does simulate a number of aspects of real-world neuronal interactions, and the neurons are organized with the same kinds of groupings and specializations as a mammalian cortex. In other words, this is a virtual mammalian brain (or at least part of one) inside a computer, and the simulation is good enough that the team is already starting to bump up against some of the philosophical issues raised about such models by cognitive scientists over the past decades.

...[B]uilding a highly accurate simulation of a complex, nondeterministic system doesn't mean that you'll immediately understand how that system works—it just means that instead of having one thing you don't understand (at whatever level of abstraction), you now have two things you don't understand: the real system, and a simulation of the system that has all of the complexities of the original plus an additional layer of complexity associated with the models implementation in hardware and software.

On the other hand, I've met a number of cats in my day, and as cute as I think they are...do your really need that much computing power to outsmart one? I've seen gerbils do it.

Saturday 21 November 2009 13:59:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#

After two hours of classes this morning, both of which reminded me I need to study more, what better way to recover than with another Parker puppy video?

The bed, by the way, lasted about four days. He shredded the thing like a Cuisinart.

Saturday 21 November 2009 11:24:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Daily#

My cousin sent me this example of...something...but I couldn't stop laughing:

Friday 20 November 2009 23:13:54 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cubs#

You think he's cute now? This is Parker at 12 weeks, just a couple days after I adopted him:

Friday 20 November 2009 22:14:56 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Daily#
Friday 20 November 2009

I don't know where this came from originally, but...well, look:

(Full size after the jump.)

Friday 20 November 2009 17:17:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes | Security#

From the Economist's Gulliver blog:

The Germans said in a letter to the Dubai-based carrier that under European law it was not allowed “to engage in price leadership” on routes from Germany to non-EU locations. Emirates, which condemned the decision as “commercially nonsensical”, responded by raising prices by 20% on some routes.

Andrew Parker of Emirates told the Financial Times, "We are adamant this is selective and clearly an attempt by Lufthansa [Germany's national carrier] to pursue Emirates versus a legitimate policy."

Yes, but on the other hand, it would not surprise me to learn that Emirates had priced the seats as a loss-leader to undercut its competitors, including Lufthansa. Regardless, this seems a good example of the African proverb, "When elephants wrestle, the grass suffers."

At this writing, a 7-day advance, Saturday-to-Thursday (discount) business class ticket from Frankfurt to Dubai was €2,245 on Emirates and €2,954 on Lufthansa. I can see why Lufthansa (and the German goverment) might suspect anti-competitive behavior...but still, raising prices for everyone doesn't seem sporting.

Friday 20 November 2009 16:08:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Thursday 19 November 2009

Of course we knew Bill O'Reilly didn't care about the Constitution, but it's refreshing to hear him admit it:

Thursday 19 November 2009 10:15:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 18 November 2009

Silly me for forgetting that U.S. citizens need visas to visit India. (I'm usually more up on those things.) So yesterday I got mine, for the CCMBA Delhi residency.

Color me impressed. Travisa, the company that the Indian government employs to handle their visa processing, had me in and out in 15 minutes to drop off my application, then sent me a text the same afternoon letting me know my passport had come back, then had me in and out in 90 seconds in the afternoon. Total time spent getting the visa, including filling out the application: about 2½ hours, of which almost 2 hours was spent on buses getting to and from the Travisa office.

I sincerely hope (without much confidence) that China and Russia make it similarly easy.

Wednesday 18 November 2009 13:26:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Duke | Geography#

You should see him after I've been gone a week. This is Parker after three days of boarding:

Wednesday 18 November 2009 11:49:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Parker | Daily#
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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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