Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 13 December 2011

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, our friend in the Middle East, has beheaded one of its citizens on the charge of witchcraft:

Amina bint Abdel Halim Nassar was executed Monday for having "committed the practice of witchcraft and sorcery," according to an Interior Ministry statement. Nassar was investigated before her arrest and was "convicted of what she was accused of based on the law," the statement said. Her beheading took place in the Qariyat province of the region of Al-Jawf, the ministry said.

The London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat quoted a source in the country's religious police who said authorities searched Nassar's home and found books on sorcery, a number of talismans and glass bottles filled with liquids supposedly used for the purposes of magic. The source told the paper Nassar was selling spells and bottles of the liquid potions for about $400 dollars each.

"So far at least 79 people -- including five women -- have been executed there, compared to at least 27 in 2010," [Amnesty International] said.

It's tempting to wonder whether they weighed her against a duck first, but really, this isn't funny. What is it really worth to us to support this 7th-century regime?

Tuesday 13 December 2011 17:24:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#

People in the UK travel much more by train than we in the US. Still, I think office centers at train stations would be great here:

Sitting in a proper office space after missing your train would certainly beat propping a laptop on your knees outside WH Smith as the pigeons wander round your feet. Regus has initiated a similar programme in France, where it is opening drop-in business centres in six stations, and it has plans for more developments in the Netherlands.

It sounds like a reasonable deal for business travellers—depending on the price charged for access.

Sadly, we in the US don't use rail services nearly enough to make this profitable. I can't imagine Metra spending any money on these services here in Chicago, for example, and even if they did, where would they put the office centers?

Tuesday 13 December 2011 11:57:26 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Monday 12 December 2011

A client visit up in Manitowoc, Wis., ended a little earlier than planned today, so I was able to:

  1. Avoid rush-hour traffic in both Milwaukee and Chicago;
  2. Pick Parker up tonight instead of tomorrow; and
  3. Snap this photo from the roof of the Lincoln Park Whole Foods:

Monday 12 December 2011 17:00:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker#
Sunday 11 December 2011

The loony right (and some on the loony left) have claimed recently that the Federal Reserve has made trillions of dollars of secret loans to banks in the last few years. Fortunately, this has not happened; the Fed has made thousands of overnight billion-dollar loans that everyone knows about.

First, you have to use different rules of math than those of us in the reality-based community to get to the amounts anti-Federal Reserve folks have bandied about recently. Then you have to forget the salient fact that all the loans got paid back:

For example, [Economist James] Felkerson takes the gross new lending under the Term Auction Facility each week from 2007 to 2010 and adds these numbers together to arrive at a cumulative total that comes to $3.8 trillion. To make the number sound big, of course you want to count only the money going out and pay no attention to the rate at which it is coming back in. If instead you were to take the net new lending under the TAF each week over this period—that is, subtract each week's loan repayment from that week's new loan issue—and add those net loan amounts together across all weeks, you would arrive at a cumulative total that equals exactly zero. The number is zero because every loan was repaid, and there are no loans currently outstanding under this program.

But zero isn't quite as fun a number with which to try to rouse the rabble.

In unrelated news, the temperature in Chicago jumped 10°C in the last six hours, so it's time to walk the dog.

Sunday 11 December 2011 14:04:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 10 December 2011

So I thought I'd take another look at Sebastian Gutierrez' film Girl Walks Into a Bar the other day. But before the film started I saw this:

Not knowing what to make of these options, I chose the two minutes of proselytizing and went to make my lunch. When I got back, the movie was on its way without interruptions, as promised.

What the LDS church hopes to accomplish through this PR campaign escapes me for the moment.

Saturday 10 December 2011 12:17:06 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Religion | Business#

If you don't know Hyperbole and a Half, set aside an hour and read every one of Allie Brosh's posts. Since it's December, though, start with this one:

By the time I was done reinventing her, Mary carried a cane, walked with an exaggerated limp and was completely covered in BandAids.

She was also blind.

I started reading the blog last night when I got home for dinner and finally stopped 90 minutes later because my face hurt from laughing.

Saturday 10 December 2011 08:54:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Blogs#
Friday 9 December 2011

We finally got our first measurable snowfall of the 2011-12 winter:

It's official. We got our first measurable snow early this morning. O'Hare reported 13 mm of fresh snow. 2011 now ties 1948 as the year with the 5th latest first measurable snow for a winter season. We now join more than a third of the country with snow cover. The National Snow Analysis from the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center reports that as of yesterday, 37.3% of the US had snow cover with an average depth of 45 mm.

I like how almost all of Illinois is snow-free, except for that tiny bit around Chicago. Hm. Anyway, it looks like La Niña is doing its thing this year, so we will probably have a warmer, wetter winter than usual. As long as it doesn't look like this.

Friday 9 December 2011 15:25:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 8 December 2011

It turns out Air France 447 may have crashed mainly mainly because of pilot error:

Almost as soon as [the flying pilot, 32-year-old Pierre-Cédric] Bonin pulls up into a climb, the plane's computer reacts. A warning chime alerts the cockpit to the fact that they are leaving their programmed altitude. Then the stall warning sounds. This is a synthesized human voice that repeatedly calls out, "Stall!" in English, followed by a loud and intentionally annoying sound called a "cricket." A stall is a potentially dangerous situation that can result from flying too slowly. At a critical speed, a wing suddenly becomes much less effective at generating lift, and a plane can plunge precipitously. All pilots are trained to push the controls forward when they're at risk of a stall so the plane will dive and gain speed.

The Airbus's stall alarm is designed to be impossible to ignore. Yet for the duration of the flight, none of the pilots will mention it, or acknowledge the possibility that the plane has indeed stalled—even though the word "Stall!" will blare through the cockpit 75 times. Throughout, Bonin will keep pulling back on the stick, the exact opposite of what he must do to recover from the stall.

The article includes a good portion of the CVR transcript in both French and English, including the moment seconds before the crash when the plane's captain—who was sitting in the jumpseat and not at the controls—finally realizes what Bonin is doing wrong.

It's a startling example of a pilot forgetting basic flying principles and a crew that fails to manage its own communications.

Thursday 8 December 2011 17:17:39 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#

Finally. In Chicago, anyway. The farther north you go, the more likely your latest sunset is...earlier.

I explained why this happens December 8th a few years ago. And yet, I feel the need to comment on it yet again...

Thursday 8 December 2011 14:26:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#

Chicago might get measurable snowfall tonight, which would be the fourth-latest first fall in history and the first since April 18th:

Though flurries have been observed within the city limits four times this month and seven times since the snow season began this year on Nov. 9, the only "measurable snow" which has fallen has been across the northern suburbs.

That may change as a light-snow-generating disturbance swings across the metro area Thursday night. The system's approach will become more and more evident Thursday as sunshine is filtered by an influx of clouds out ahead of the disturbance's light snow, particularly Thursday afternoon and evening.

But:

If there's a snowstorm in Chicago's future the next two weeks, there is NO computer model consensus on it at this point. That can change fairly quickly this time of year. But for now, Thursday night's wave of light snowfall is the only definitive snow threat the metro area faces in the short term.
Thursday 8 December 2011 13:34:00 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 7 December 2011

The Atlantic's Cities blog points an energy conservation problem caused by people having trouble with math:

A significant – and seldom noticed – part of the solution lies with some fairly low-tech infrastructure: our houses, and the relationship they have to each other and where we want to go. A growing body of data has mapped the carbon footprint in sprawling suburbia of a single-family home, which is located nowhere near the grocery store, the job center or the shopping district. We can now compare that footprint to a multi-family home in a walkable urban neighborhood. And it turns out the gap between those two models may offer a serious – and perhaps more palatable – place to start thinking about the problem of climate change.

It doesn’t solve the problem to buy a hybrid and retrofit your house if all of that takes place 20 miles from your job. You’d still consume more energy (“suburban single family green”) than an urban household without the latest green tech (“urban single family”). And that has as much to do with associated transportation emissions as the size and efficiency of your home.

Unfortunately, without adequate gasoline taxes, adequate public transit spending, adequate land use legislation, or adequate acceptance in the U.S. that we can't sustain our way of life much longer, people will still buy houses in the exurbs and use half a tank of gas driving to work every day.

Wednesday 7 December 2011 16:59:55 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Wow. I mean, rapists don't get that much time in jail. Maybe being from Illinois has made me less outraged by our stupid ex-governor's felonies than it should, but: 14 years?

Here's the Trib:

Standing next to a teary-eyed [wife] Patti, Blagojevich said they had to get home "to their babies" and explain "what all this means."

Blagojevich will have to serve just under 12 years under federal rules that say defendants must complete 85 percent of their sentence. Blagojevich doesn’t have to report to federal prison until Feb. 16.

The sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge James Zagel is more than double the prison term given in 2006 to former Gov. George Ryan, who is serving a 6 ½-year sentence in a federal prison in Terre Haute.

Before pronouncing sentence, Zagel told Blagojevich he had abused the public trust. "When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired," Zagel said.

The fabric of Illinois is pretty tough, Judge Zagel. Blagojevich couldn't possibly have damaged it more than, say, Walker, Ryan, or for heaven's sake, Kerner, who actually took bribes.

Fourteen years seems excessive. Jail, yes; but I hope the actual sentence gets reduced on appeal.

Wednesday 7 December 2011 14:29:43 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Tuesday 6 December 2011

I just stumbled upon an article from last March by Michael Lewis, in which he explains how thoroughly Irish banks screwed themselves:

A single bank, Anglo Irish, which, two years before, the Irish government had claimed was merely suffering from a “liquidity problem,” faced losses of up to 34 billion euros. To get some sense of how “34 billion euros” sounds to Irish ears, an American thinking in dollars needs to multiply it by roughly one hundred: $3.4 trillion. And that was for a single bank. As the sum total of loans made by Anglo Irish, most of it to Irish property developers, was only 72 billion euros, the bank had lost nearly half of every dollar it invested.

[W]hile Icelandic males used foreign money to conquer foreign places—trophy companies in Britain, chunks of Scandinavia—the Irish male used foreign money to conquer Ireland. Left alone in a dark room with a pile of money, the Irish decided what they really wanted to do with it was to buy Ireland. From one another. An Irish economist named Morgan Kelly, whose estimates of Irish bank losses have been the most prescient, made a back-of-the-envelope calculation that puts the losses of all Irish banks at roughly 106 billion euros. (Think $10 trillion.) At the rate money currently flows into the Irish treasury, Irish bank losses alone would absorb every penny of Irish taxes for at least the next three years.

Fascinating reading. Given its growth and prosperity ten years ago, it's staggering how a few dozen stupid people could have derailed the country entirely.

Tuesday 6 December 2011 10:57:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
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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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