Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 11 August 2011

Last night, after getting back from San Antonio, I opened the windows for the first time in nearly six weeks. We had, I believe, one of the hottest and stickiest Julys I've ever experienced. But yesterday when I got home the temperature was 23°C and dropping—finally cooler outside my air-conditioned apartment than inside it.

Unfortunately for my colleagues down in Texas, it's no cooler there:

DaySan AntonioChicago
Sun Aug 738°C30°C
Mon Aug 838°C27°C
Tue Aug 9 39°C27°C
Wed Aug 1039°C25°C
Thu Aug 11*40°C24°C

* forecast

I understand, however, that they have beautiful winters....

Thursday 11 August 2011 10:44:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 10 August 2011

Since I last mentioned an annual study that reports which countries allow visa-free visitors from which other countries, the U.S. has fallen out of second place:

Scandinavians and Finns, by contrast, can travel to 173 countries or territories (out of a possible 223) without the need to fill in forms with curious questions dreamt up by bureaucrats.

The law firm Henley & Partners, which compiles the list, now has the U.S. tied at 5th with Ireland. The other top-5 countries are as follows:

RankCountriesCan visit
1Denmark, Finland, Sweden173
2Germany172
3Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, UK171
4Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain170
5Ireland, US169

When I have time, I'll try to chase down the raw data to find out, again, which countries we need visas to visit that our European and Japanese friends don't.

Wednesday 10 August 2011 11:46:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#

Slate's Farhad Manjoo examines the phenomenon:

The rest of the Web long ago did away with auto-playing music, Flash buttons and menus, and elaborate intro pages, but restaurant sites seem stuck in 1999. The problem is getting worse in the age of the mobile Web—Flash doesn't work on Apple's devices, and while some of these sites do load on non-Apple smartphones, they take forever to do so, and their finicky navigation makes them impossible to use.

When you visit many terrible restaurant websites in succession, it becomes obvious that they're not bad because of neglect or lack of funds—these food purveyors appear to have spent a great deal of money and time to uglify their pages. Indeed, there seems to be an inverse relationship between a restaurant's food and its site. The swankier the place, the worse the page. Chez Panisse, Alice Waters' Berkeley temple of simple, carefully sourced local cuisine, starts with a pointless, grainy five-second clip of what looks like a scene from a Fellini movie. Alinea, the Chicago molecular gastronomy joint, presents you with a series of menu buttons that aren't labeled; you've got to mouse over each one to find out what you're about to click on.

Not all is lost. I spoke to a few restaurateurs who've created great, easy to use, elegant sites, and they all said they were motivated by one thing: They were missing out on traffic from mobile devices. The steakhouse chain Morton's, for instance, has a mobile site that uses your GPS location to get you information on the restaurant closest to you. The site loads up quickly, and lets you make a reservation in a matter of seconds. "We wanted to keep the bells and whistles at a minimum," Roger Drake, the company's head of marketing, told me.

Not only did I agree with Manjoo wholeheartedly, but I also started thinking about steak...

Wednesday 10 August 2011 10:37:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

Democrats in Wisconsin picked up two state senate seats in an unprecedented recall election:

Democrats defeated Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke, who represented the most Dem-leaning seat of any Republican in the chamber, by a 55%-45% margin. They also won a 51%-49% victory over state Sen. Randy Hopper, whose campaign was also damaged by a messy divorce, and allegations by his estranged wife that he "now lives mostly in Madison" after having an affair.

This would get Democrats from their previous 19-14 minority, following the 2010 Republican wave, to a 17-16 margin. In two more safe Republican districts, incumbents Robert Cowles and Sheila Harsdorf won by margins of 60%-40% and 58%-42%, respectively

At the very least, this might signal to the Wisconsin GOP that a good chunk of the electorate believes they lurched too far right since being elected:

All six of these districts were, on paper, serious uphill climbs for Democrats. The incumbents were last elected in 2008, winning their districts even in the middle of the huge Democratic wave that year.

After this near-miss, the next question becomes: How will this result impact the Democrats' declared intentions to recall Gov. Scott Walker some time next year? Will the Dems' grassroots energy flatten out -- or can it keep going, towards the lofty goal of collecting over half a million signatures, plus a buffer, to trigger a recall election?

It also means, for the next 15 months or so, Wisconsin politics might be the most divisive and vicious in the country. Thanks for all your help, Koch brothers!

Wednesday 10 August 2011 08:00:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 8 August 2011

From today:

It’s not the whole story, but something like this threatens to develop:

1. US debt is downgraded, sparking demands for more ill-advised fiscal austerity

2. Fears that this austerity will depress the economy send stocks down

3. Politicians and pundits declare that worries about US solvency are the culprit, even though interest rates have actually plunged

4. This leads to calls for even more ill-advised austerity, which sends us back to #2

Behold the power of a stupid narrative, which seems impervious to evidence.

Sounds about right.

Monday 8 August 2011 15:05:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

This is actually a scan of a print, from July 1991:

That's available light on Kodacolor 100, in Balboa Beach, Calif., about here.

Monday 8 August 2011 12:45:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#
Sunday 7 August 2011

From the New Yorker:

UPDATE: Pretty pleased with what I’ve come up with in just six days. Going to take tomorrow off. Feel free to check out what I’ve done so far. Suggestions and criticism (constructive, please!) more than welcome. God out.

COMMENTS (24)

Beta version was better. I thought the Adam-Steve dynamic was much more compelling than the Adam-Eve work-around You finally settled on.

Adam was obviously created somewhere else and then just put here. So, until I see some paperwork proving otherwise, I question the legitimacy of his dominion over any of this.

Heh.

Sunday 7 August 2011 13:04:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes | Religion | Blogs#

Two more photos from yesterday. First, my hat's off to this guy, who has suffered more than most of us will ever know:

See more photos at The Daily Parker.

Sunday 7 August 2011 09:57:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#

Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano warms up before yesterday's game at Wrigley Field, Chicago:

Canon 7D at ISO-400, 1/800 at f/5.6, 171mm, exactly here.

In this shot, I corrected the color to 7500K (based on a gray card reading), pushed the contrast, and desaturated. Later today I'll have another shot of Zambrano in which I did almost the opposite.

Sunday 7 August 2011 09:03:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs | Photography#
Saturday 6 August 2011

I like afternoons like this one. Yes, it was a little warm, and yes, a little sticky. But I had seats in aisle 10, row 6 at Wrigley, which failed to suck:

Zambrano pitched, with a few walks here and there but mostly nothing for Cincinnati to hit:

And you know? I always like seeing things like this:

More photos later. Right now, I need about five showers, three for the sunscreen and two for the hot weather.

Saturday 6 August 2011 17:13:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Friday 5 August 2011

Six months ago, at North Avenue Beach in Chicago:

2 February 2011, Canon 20D at ISO-100, 1/250 at f/11, 27mm, near here.

I should have posted this photo a couple of days ago, when Chicago baked in near-40°C heat. Today's forecast calls for a mostly-pleasant 27°C under sunny skies.

Go back and relive those few days last February when it gets hot again.

Friday 5 August 2011 07:48:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Photography | Weather#
Wednesday 3 August 2011

Yesterday, when I talked about American's new pricing tool, it didn't produce any results for me. Today, it seems to be working.

Chicago to San Francisco, August 20-24, costs 26,000 miles using the dynamic tool but 32,500 miles using the regular tool. Searching September 3-7 got me to 25,000 miles through a regular award and 24,000 miles dynamically.

So, no really huge savings (at least with my pathetic sample size), and you have to use both tools simultaneously to see the deals. Also, their regular tool allows you to look at an entire month of prices at once.

I hope the tool improves. It's a great idea, but it's not really ready for the world yet.

Wednesday 3 August 2011 14:34:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Tuesday 2 August 2011

This is cool. American Airlines now offers frequent-flyer trips to U.S. elite members (those who fly more than 40,000 km per year) at demand-based costs. This means, instead of costing a flat 25,000 miles per round-trip, elite members will be able to book trips for less if the flights have lower demand—or more, if there's more demand:

Dynamic Air awards are an enhancement to our existing flight award offerings, providing AAdvantage® elite status members with a range of flight redemption options below the AAnytime® award level. The amount of miles required for a Dynamic Air award is based on published fares, so award levels will vary as fares vary. MileSAAver® and AAnytime® awards are still available at AA.com.

I poked around. The Dynamic Air awards go through a different Web application than their main reservations system, so it's hard to compare directly. And there are some annoyances. Well, one big annoyance: there doesn't seem to be any flights.

For Chicago to San Francisco the weekend of September 3rd, flying out Saturday and back on Tuesday, there were no flights with dynamic pricing. Nor for the next weekend. Nor the next. Chicago to Raleigh? Nope. Des Moines? Nope. LaGuardia? Uh-uh.

What about short-notice flights? LaGuardia, the weekend after next? Nada.

Using the main reservations system, which displays a grid of dates and award types, showed ordinary 25,000-mile awards for most of the options above—even for Chicago to LaGuardia leaving today.

I'll play with this new system a bit more, but at the moment it looks like it's in late Beta. Pity, it sounds like a really cool idea.

Tuesday 2 August 2011 13:46:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography#

Lonely Planet has a lighthearted wish list based on tons of passenger surveys:

Article I: The right to remove shoes
Passengers shall be allowed to remove shoes from their feet, but only if the aforementioned feet don’t stink or present health risks to other passengers. The right of the passenger to go to the lavatory without shoes shall not be infringed, as it is really your own business should you want to stand in the urine of others.

Article II: Freedom from unreasonable aromatic assault
No passenger shall, in the time of flight, be subjected to unreasonable aromas, be it from powerful perfume, foods redolent of onion, or other fragrance wholly unnecessary whilst on an airplane.

They go on to list another 12, plus show the data used to derive them.

Tuesday 2 August 2011 13:08:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

This evening I found myself getting off the El here [1]:

A friend, you see—an old, old friend—brought her son and his friend to Chicago this week, and they got tickets to what passes for baseball south of Madison St. Fortunately, the Yankees were in town, and even with Jeter sitting tonight out, the Sox were darned.

The home team got both their runs from this fourth-inning homer by Alexei Ramirez:

The Yankees still beat them 3-2.

The Cubs won tonight, lifting themselves back above .400 (ouch), while the Sox' back-to-back losses have them three games out of .500. As we all sweltered in the 28°C heat (and 22°C dewpoint), we wished it were October, until we realized that no one will be playing baseball in Chicago in October. The Yankees, though, they probably will still have a few games left.

[1] Yes, Wikipedia really has an entry on each El stop in Chicago.

Monday 1 August 2011 22:35:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Chicago#
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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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