Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 13 January 2012

...at least for a few days. From last night in Chicago:

And:

Friday 13 January 2012 16:22:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Photography | Weather#

Reader Curtis Manwaring alerted me this morning to movement in the copyright infringement case against Arthur David Olson, late of the Posix time zone database. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken up Olson's (and Paul Eggerts') defense, and yesterday threatened a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiff's attorney if they don't withdraw the case within 21 days:

If there were ever a pleading that invited Rule 11 sanctions, Plaintiff Astrolabe, Inc.'s Complaint is it. ... Astrolabe's frivolous and unfounded Complaint has already caused harm, and not only to Mr. Olson and Dr. Eggert. ... Perhaps realizing the folly of filing such a Complaint, Astrolabe has not yet served Defendants. Yet Astrolabe refuses to voluntarily dismiss its baseless Complaint, and thus the threat of full-blown copyright litigation looms, to the detriment of Defendants and the public interest in obtaining accurate time zone information on the Internet.

Astrolabe's Complaint illustrates the harm that frivolous claims of copyright infringement can cause to a public, collaboratively maintained factual resource. Under Rule 11, the Court should remedy this abuse of the legal system and deter future abuses by striking the Complaint and awarding defendants their costs and attorney fees.

I predicted this motion back in October. I can't wait to see how Astrolabe and their attorney respond.

Friday 13 January 2012 07:45:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | US | Religion | Business#

After having a good rant about Labour Party leader Ed Milliband asking one of the stupidest and most poorly-timed questions I've ever heard during Question Time, I returned to my DVR, and watched him...sit down. Which was odd. Because throughout this Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition has gotten five questions at a time, as a way of making up for the Liberal Democrats giving up their two questions during the previous Parliament. (Trust me—the Labour Party gets five, and he only asked three.)

And then we get to this exchange, fourteen minutes in, which...well, here are Milliband's fourth and fifth questions:

Edward Miliband: I want to ask the Prime Minister about Scotland. We on this side of the House believe that the United Kingdom benefits the people of Scotland and the people of the rest of the United Kingdom in equal measure. We are stronger together and weaker apart. Does he agree that we must make the case for the Union—not simply a case against separatism, but the positive case about the shared benefits to us all of Scotland’s part in the United Kingdom: the shared economic interests, the shared institutions such as the NHS, the defence forces and the BBC, and above all the shared values we hold together?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to say that this is an area where the right hon. Gentleman and I will be in 100% agreement. I passionately believe in the future of our United Kingdom, and passionately believe that we are stronger together than we would be by breaking apart. Frankly, I am sad that we are even having this debate, because I support the United Kingdom so strongly, but we have to respect the fact that Scotland voted for a separatist party in the Scottish parliamentary elections, so the first thing that it is right to do is make clear the legal position about a referendum, which is what my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary has been doing. We have made the offer to devolve the power to hold that referendum so that it can be made in Scotland and held in Scotland. Frankly, I look forward to having the debate, because I think that too many in the Scottish National party have been happy to talk about the process but, do not want to talk about the substance. I sometimes feel when I listen to them that it is not a referendum they want, but a “neverendum”. Let us have the debate, and let us keep our country together.

Edward Miliband: May I agree with the Prime Minister? This is not a fight about process between the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government, or between the British Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister. The way to tackle this issue is to have immediate cross-party talks in Scotland about the timing of the referendum, the nature of the single-question referendum and the vital involvement of the Electoral Commission. Does the Prime Minister also agree with me that we need as soon as possible, as he said, to get beyond process and have that discussion about the substantive issues? This is a momentous decision that our children and grandchildren will have to live with if we get it wrong, so we need a serious, thoughtful and inclusive debate about the choices and the benefits to Scotland of staying in the United Kingdom. On this important issue, the people of our country deserve nothing less than that serious debate about the benefits of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is right on those three points. On the process of negotiation, which is very important now, particularly given that the SNP has come out and made more clear what it wants to do, I am very happy for the UK Government and the Westminster Parliament to speak directly to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and let us come to a conclusion about the best time and the best way to hold the referendum. But it must be clear, it must be legal, it must be decisive and it must be fair. Those are the absolute keys. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman: as soon as those process questions are settled, we need to get on to the substance. [ Interruption. ] The only point I would make about the timing—[ Interruption. ] As SNP Members, who cannot seem to keep quiet, are so keen to leave the United Kingdom, I do not quite understand why they want to put off putting the question for so long.

Wow.

Let us imagine for a moment the President and Speaker Boehner taking time out from slugging one another to choreograph so nicely a joint address about anything. This set-piece required both Milliband and Prime Minister Cameron to agree on it, and required Speaker John Bercow to agree (since he controls the order of questions). I'm not sure how to reconcile the earlier exchange I mentioned with this one, except to say, everyone seems to agree on the existential issues.

For more on the likelihood of Scotland's independence, here are The Economist and The Guardian.

Friday 13 January 2012 00:11:19 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#

Just catching up on my connection with the outside world this evening, I played back yesterday's questions to the Prime Minister, and within three minutes banged hand to forehead as Ed Milliband disappointed the entire Labour Party one more time within seconds of opening his mouth. From the official record:

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Tom Jennings from the Royal Marines, Squadron Leader Anthony Downing from the Royal Air Force, Private John King from 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, and Rifleman Sachin Limbu from 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles? All of them showed enormous courage and bravery. They have made sacrifices on our behalf, and our deepest condolences go to their families and friends.

In the autumn statement the Chancellor said that train fares would rise by only 1% above inflation. Can the Prime Minister therefore explain why rail companies this month on some of the busiest commuter routes have increased their fares by up to 11%?

The Prime Minister: The power to do that was given to them by the last Labour Government.

Look, one doesn't need to be an expert in British politics to know the following:

  • A six percentage-point rise in rail fares does not seem to be the most weighty issue of the day in the United Kingdom;
  • If it were truly significant, but one might have a perception coming to it cold that it's a somewhat trivial issue, one might expect the Leader of the Opposition to, you know, work up to it;
  • Given that the Leader of the Opposition has as much time as he wants to ask questions during PMQs, he certainly had time to segue between, you know, mourning the deaths of four British soldiers and a complaint that trains cost more; and
  • Wait, did he go from acknowledging the deaths of the brave men who have made sacrifices on the country's behalf and a £10 hike in the fare to Milton Keynes without as much as a "Mr. Speaker, as you will no doubt be aware..." ?
  • Harriet Harman is sitting right next to him and doesn't kick him in the fork for scoring an own-goal within the first three minutes?
  • Doesn't this guy have staff that can say, "Ed, our lot passed that one, best leave it alone?"
  • ...

Sorry, I degenerated into a rant there. It's just that I am naturally inclined towards the left, and the Labour Party represents the left in the UK, and I think the Conservative Party is dead wrong about how to get the UK out of recession...and my guy is up there squandering his opportunity to ask the Prime Minister about...well, anything other than rail fares.

It gets worse. A few minutes later we hear this exchange:

The Prime Minister: It is time for the Leader of the Opposition to listen to his shadow Defence Secretary, who wrote very candidly over Christmas: “There is a difference between populism and popularity”— and that difference is called credibility. Time to have some, I think.

Edward Miliband: Instead of his pre-prepared lines, the right hon. Gentleman should get his facts right about his own policy.

"Pre-prepared lines"? My forehead hurts from where my desk just rose up to meet it.

Look, I'm not a UK voter, I'm just a fan. But please, Labour Party, please, I beg you, please get this guy away from microphones. I'm sorry Harriet Harman doesn't want the job, because as boring as she may seem on TV, she's actually a foot smarter than her boss. I'm beginning to think the party took a collective step back the moment someone asked for a volunteer while Milliband was too stupid to realize what was going on and so stayed put. (Think about that for a moment, it will come to you.)

Oh well. The Lib Dems may bolt the coalition in a few months and give Labour another chance. Or not. It's possible we have this clown until the next election, whereupon I hope his own large intestine reaches up to strangle him so Labour actually have another chance at Number 10 in my lifetime.

Thursday 12 January 2012 23:29:06 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
Thursday 12 January 2012

Here's the view at 11:30. Contrast with an hour earlier:

And here's 2pm:

4pm:

Thursday 12 January 2012 11:42:50 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

The first significant snowfall of Winter 2012 has started:

The National Weather Service says:

A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 9 AM CST /10 AM EST/ THIS MORNING TO 9 AM CST /10 AM EST/ FRIDAY.

* TIMING...SNOW WILL BEGIN BETWEEN 9 AM AND NOON AND CONTINUE INTO FRIDAY MORNING.

* ACCUMULATIONS...SNOWFALL TOTALS OF 100 TO 200 MM ARE LIKELY WITH LOCALLY HEAVIER TOTALS POSSIBLE.

* HAZARDS...IN ADDITION TO THE FALLING SNOW...WINDS WILL INCREASE TO 25 TO 40 KM/H WITH GUSTS UP TO 55 KM/H BY AFTERNOON RESULTING IN BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW...ESPECIALLY IN OUTLYING AND OPEN AREAS. WIND CHILLS ARE ALSO FORECAST TO DROP TO -17°C TO -24°C BY FRIDAY MORNING.

* IMPACTS...ACCUMULATING SNOW AND REDUCED VISIBILITIES WILL LIKELY MAKE TRAVEL DIFFICULT FOR THE AFTERNOON COMMUTE TODAY...WITH TRAVEL CONDITIONS BECOMING TREACHEROUS AND EVEN DANGEROUS IN OPEN AREAS TONIGHT INTO EARLY FRIDAY MORNING.

As bad as that sounds, the NWS also predicts it'll be gone by Monday.

Hey, it's Chicago in January, and yesterday it hit 12°C. One or two days of snowfall is no big deal.

More photos as the snow accumulates...

Thursday 12 January 2012 10:55:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 11 January 2012

Charles Mahron at Strong Towns has the step-by-step description:

As the transformation from traditional to auto-centric continues, parking becomes more valuable for those establishments that remain. Commercial businesses that in another era would have been expanded or rebuilt at a grander scale as the community grew are now more valuable being demolished for parking. The same thing is happening to the homes throughout these neighborhoods. They are being taken down in favor of garages and "buffering". Neighborhoods originally designed to define space are now becoming space.

These changes are devastating to the tax base. Where the public has made the greatest investments in infrastructure (and has the greatest obligations for maintenance) the neighborhoods stagnate. But nobody has the job of worrying about the tax base throughout the existing neighborhoods. The traffic engineer worries about moving cars. The public works director runs the utilities and is primarily concerned with new connections. The planner administers the zoning code and is particularly zealous about parking ratios.

This all devolves into a farcical feedback loop. More people driving means that more transportation improvements are needed. There is a greater need to channel cars, to control the flow, to improve the capacity of the transportation system. The more the public realm is given over to cars, the more people must drive. The more people that drive, the more cars on the road. Etc. Etc. Etc. Nobody realizes that we're not actually adding cars. We're all just making more trips.

The whole article is worth a read, and if you like livable cities, will make you sad. There is hope, though: many cities—Chicago, for example—have avoided or reversed the spiral.

Wednesday 11 January 2012 11:11:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Tuesday 10 January 2012

Apparently the flight was unprofitable:

"The historical financial performance of the route and its future outlook given the global economic climate and high oil prices has resulted in a decision by American to cancel its New Delhi-Chicago O'Hare service," the airline said in a memo to American managers.

The last flight to leave for India from Chicago will be on Feb. 28, while the last return flight from India to Chicago will be on March 1.

The flight from New Delhi to Chicago had been problematic during winter and early spring. The flight would often arrive at O'Hare earlier than 5 a.m., the time that O'Hare's customs agents start work, stranding passengers on the plane for an additional half hour to an hour.

Oddly, AA292 is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 5am, so the possibility of it arriving before Customs opened must have occurred to someone. This unfortunate schedule probably comes from Delhi's odd penchant for launching international flights at midnight. AA292 takes off at 00:55 IST, about an hour before Cathay's flight to Hong Kong and two hours before a British Airways flight to London. The takeoff time certainly isn't dictated by the O'Hare arrival slot, as O'Hare, to my knowledge, doesn't require reservations between 11pm and 6am.

Tuesday 10 January 2012 14:52:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#

The forecast for Chicago today calls for 13°C temperatures and sunny skies. This is the normal high temperature April 10th, not January 10th—that would be -1°C—and would be only a bit shy of the record (16°C).

Don't worry, January will arrive this weekend. The same forecast calls for -9°C Friday night.

Tuesday 10 January 2012 10:26:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 9 January 2012

Via Gulliver, a Chinese company has built a 30-story hotel in Hunan Province from prefabricated, energy-efficient parts:

From Next Big Future:

The buildings are five times more energy efficient in operation and use about 6 times less cement.

They plan to build one hundred and fifty 30-story apartment building, hotel, office plans using the new system. They have started building a 1.33-million-square meter “NO.1 Sustainable Building Factory” and it will be able to produce 10 million square meters of mass produced skyscrapers each year. The 30 story building is 17,000 m² so the factory can produce about 500 of the 30 story building each year and many more factories will be built.

It did take a while to build the parts that they assembled at the building site, of course. But even then, the building cost 2/3 less than similar buildings to construct.

Monday 9 January 2012 13:20:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography#

This looks a lot like a shot from last February:

It's still cool. And it's only about five minutes old.

It suggests, however, that I might want to rent a really cool lens sometime. I used the same equipment (Canon 7D, 200mm), but shot hand-held at ISO-400, f/5.6 at 1/1000, then developed it differently than the one from 11 months ago. I also shot this one raw instead of as JPEG, which gave me a lot more flexibility in post.

Mostly, though, we have clear skies and a full moon, so what more reason do I need?

Sunday 8 January 2012 23:06:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Saturday 7 January 2012

The Red Rooster, Chicago:

Canon 7D, 37mm, ISO-400, f/5.6 at 1/60, here.

Saturday 7 January 2012 17:09:54 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Photography#

Via Strange Maps, malts.com has a free handy whisky chart everyone should bring to Duke of Perth this week:

Saturday 7 January 2012 14:25:43 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Via Microsoft guru Raymond Chen, news that tourists continually block traffic outside Abbey Road Studios:

Apparently the studio also has a webcam.

The famous zebra crossing is here.

Saturday 7 January 2012 11:47:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#

Brilliant:

Saturday 7 January 2012 11:39:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes | US | World#
Friday 6 January 2012

The Paris Observatory has announced a leap second between June 30th and July 1st this year:

A positive leap second will be introduced at the end of June 2012. The sequence of dates of the UTC second markers will be:

   2012 June 30, 23h 59m 59s
   2012 June 30, 23h 59m 60s
   2012 July  1, 0h  0m  0s

... Leap seconds can be introduced in UTC at the end of the months of December or June, depending on the [available rotation data].

Leap seconds occur from time to time because the earth's rotation on its axis doesn't stay exactly the same from year to year. Most years it loses about half a second; the last couple of years it hasn't lost as much, so the last leap second came just before 1 January 2009. Eventually, the earth will stop rotating on its axis relative to the sun, in much the same way the moon rotates once on its axis every time it orbits the earth. You've been warned.

This has an interesting side effect, by the way: UTC is now 34 seconds behind the earth, so clocks on things like orbiting satellites—think GPS—have "incorrect" values. Your hand-held GPS receiver will probably be a second slow after June 30th. Your computer, if it syncs up to an authoritative time service, won't.

Thursday 5 January 2012 21:41:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Wednesday 4 January 2012

A couple of us have come to Brown Deer, Wis., to work with a vendor on an upcoming software release. (Brown Deer is about 160 km north of Chicago.) The vendor has been über-cooperative, the trip up (for me, anyway) took less than two hours, and we're getting everything done we weren't able to do from our respective offices in other states.

Two of the guys are from Texas, one is from Delhi, and I'm from the Greatest City in North America. So the only thing we're having any difficulty negotiating is food.

At lunch today we scouted Google Maps rigorously for anything other than Applebee's, and found the only place better within a 20-minute drive: Olive Garden. Between discussing the project and other stuff about work, we decided that Brown Deer is a food desert. So tonight, after scanning Yelp and getting other recommendations, we're heading into downtown Milwaukee for some real food.

Unfortunately, that means tomorrow night we'll have Applebee's. But at least we'll make the effort.

Wednesday 4 January 2012 17:49:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
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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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