Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 25 January 2012

Chicago is experiencing the mildest winter in 78 years, which means anyone complaining about the weather lately needs serious mocking:

Though this season has produced some wintry moments, last Friday's snowstorm among them, the vast majority of days---82 percent of them---have posted above normal temperatures. What's more, we could find only 11 winters of the past 141 for which official weather records exist, which have been milder up to this point in time.

Chicago's average temperature since Dec. 1 is running 0.2°C, well above the 141-year average of -2.9°C and a stunning 6.3°C warmer than the same period a year ago. That's a difference which suggests many Chicago area residents have required 17 percent less home heating.

A multi-day burst of frigid arctic air heads into the area in waves late this week into the coming weekend. Any one of them, if fully developed, could produce several inches of snow. The first is due later Friday into Friday night---a second swings into the area just ahead of sharp cooling predicted Saturday into Saturday night.

The arctic chill will come and go fairly expeditiously, as has been the case with previous cold spells all season.

The mild disappointment Parker might feel about our weather this winter does not bother me at all. In Chicago, we say our weather builds character. After [redacted] Chicago winters in my lifetime, with a few in New York, Lisbon, and Raleigh for comparison, I'll take one year off from character-building happily.

Wednesday 25 January 2012 08:25:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 24 January 2012

I've wanted to hike the New York Highline since I first heard about it. I should go back when it's warmer, of course, but I still thought it pretty cool:

The Highline shows that an elevated urban park can work, both as public space and as a great way to preserve historical (or expensive-to-remove) infrastructure. I hope Chicago's Bloomingdale Trail follows the same model, once the city sees fit to authorize it. (The Bloomingdale Trail umbrella organization has comparison of the two projects, about half-way down.)

Tuesday 24 January 2012 13:51:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Travel#
Monday 23 January 2012

I love weekends like this past one. I went to New York ($150 round-trip, including taxes), saw a couple of friends, and did something fun I would never have done without being taken along by people who refused to tell me what it was all about (more on that later).

I also managed to get from Grand Central Terminal in New York to the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, Chicago, in just over four hours, in part because American Airlines and I like each other so much.

Details later.

Monday 23 January 2012 17:29:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Saturday 21 January 2012

I'm at O'Hare for the first time this year, wicked early for my flight. This happened because I left lots of time to dig my car out, get Parker sorted, get to the airport, etc. As it turns out, the howling wind cleared my car overnight; there was no traffic; the main roads are already clear because, really, it wasn't that much snow; and when I got to remote parking, an enormous pickup truck pulled out of a parking space, leaving a patch of cleared ground the size of Connecticut. So...I brought a Kindle, and my flight is on time. No stress, no worries, no checked baggage.

Saturday 21 January 2012 10:33:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel | Weather#
Friday 20 January 2012

Working at home today (thus the earlier post with the dog). This is why:

The National Weather Service says it might melt on Sunday.

Friday 20 January 2012 15:48:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

If Parker could have read this, he'd have been looking forward to this all day:

Yes, I know, I've posted remarkably similar videos before. Who cares? It's a dog having fun in the snow, which I think has universal appeal.

Friday 20 January 2012 15:15:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#

My team are all working from home today because we have the technology to do so, and we saw this:

A WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 9 AM THIS MORNING TO MIDNIGHT CST TONIGHT.

* TIMING...SNOW WILL DEVELOP DURING THE MID TO LATE MORNING HOURS AND CONTINUE THROUGH THIS AFTERNOON...ENDING TONIGHT. THE HEAVIEST SNOWFALL WILL OCCUR THIS AFTERNOON.

* ACCUMULATIONS...SNOWFALL TOTALS OF 5 TO 8 INCHES CAN BE EXPECTED.

* HAZARDS...SNOW WILL FALL HEAVILY AT TIMES RESULTING IN REDUCED VISIBILITIES AND SNOWFALL RATES OF AROUND ONE INCH PER HOUR AT TIMES.

* IMPACTS...ACCUMULATING SNOW WILL CAUSE SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASED TRAVEL TIMES...RESULTING IN A PARTICULARLY TREACHEROUS COMMUTE THIS AFTERNOON. IN ADDITION...VERY COLD TEMPERATURES IN THE TEENS WILL MAKE SALT LESS EFFECTIVE AND COMBINE WITH HEAVY SNOWFALL RATES TO MAKE IT HARDER FOR ROAD CREWS TO KEEP ROADS CLEAR OF SNOW AND ICE. THE SNOW WILL ALSO RESULT IN SIGNIFICANT DISRUPTIONS TO AIR TRAVEL AS WELL.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A WINTER STORM WARNING FOR HEAVY SNOW MEANS SEVERE WINTER WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED OR OCCURRING. SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS OF SNOW ARE FORECAST THAT WILL MAKE TRAVEL DANGEROUS. ONLY TRAVEL IN AN EMERGENCY. IF YOU MUST TRAVEL...KEEP AN EXTRA FLASHLIGHT... FOOD...AND WATER IN YOUR VEHICLE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY.

Parker is also working from home. If he could read, his attitude toward the weather warning might differ slightly from mine. On the other hand, we're both in the same room, which I think makes him happy anyway.

Updates and photos as events warrant.

Friday 20 January 2012 09:14:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#
Thursday 19 January 2012

A couple of things have happened on two issues I mentioned earlier this week:

That is all for now. We in Chicago are bracing for 15 cm of snow tomorrow, so there may be Parker videos soon.

Oh, and: Kodak actually did file for bankruptcy protection today.

Thursday 19 January 2012 13:57:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Software | Business | Astronomy#

Via reader HF, the Supreme Court today decided Golan v Holder (pdf), in which the court held 6-2 that Congress was within its authority to restore copyright protection to some foreign works that had formerly lapsed into the public domain in the U.S.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ginsburg said: "Neither the Copyright and Patent Clause nor the First Amendment, we hold, makes the public domain, in any and all cases, a territory that works may never exit."

I'm still digesting the opinion, but let me say on first reading that it does not give Congress blanket authorization to restore copyright to works in the public domain, despite Wired's alarmist article. The circumstances of this case seem clear, well-defined, and narrow. Only works that never left copyright protection in the country where the work or the author came from, but lapsed into public domain in the U.S., are covered. Also, the decision only applies prospectively, so that authors whose works were copied or performed here during the lapse period will not require retroactive royalty payments. And the works will, in due course, return to the public domain, in most cases 70 years after the author's death.

To give an example: the works of Sergei Prokofiev, which generally went into the public domain in the U.S. 28 years after he wrote them, will return to copyright protection until 70 years after his death; i.e., at the end of 2023. But none of the recordings of his music made before today are affected. (Clarification: copies that exist as of this morning are not affected; any copies made from today forward are.)

Also, with the merciful strangling of SOPA this afternoon, the Copyright Police aren't going to block the iTunes store on suspicion of harboring "Peter and the Wolf." (Youporn, on the other hand, probably shouldn't have that one to begin with.)

Congress enacted the law in question to ensure that U.S. copyright holders get the same protection from other WTO members that other countries' authors get from us. Of course, who many of those copyright holders are, and the way they cling pathetically to an obsolete business model the way rats cling to flotsam in the ocean, is a different matter entirely. I recommend Lawrence Lessig's thoughts on SOPA to get you riled up about that problem.

Wednesday 18 January 2012 21:32:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Business#

The Economist this week examines the imminent death of Kodak, which in the 1970s commanded 90% of the film market:

Then came digital photography to replace film, and smartphones to replace cameras. Kodak’s revenues peaked at nearly $16 billion in 1996 and its profits at $2.5 billion in 1999. The consensus forecast by analysts is that its revenues in 2011 were $6.2 billion. It recently reported a third-quarter loss of $222m, the ninth quarterly loss in three years. In 1988, Kodak employed over 145,000 workers worldwide; at the last count, barely one-tenth as many. Its share price has fallen by nearly 90% in the past year (see chart).

Despite its strengths—hefty investment in research, a rigorous approach to manufacturing and good relations with its local community—Kodak had become a complacent monopolist. Fujifilm exposed this weakness by bagging the sponsorship of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles while Kodak dithered. The publicity helped Fujifilm’s far cheaper film invade Kodak’s home market.

Another reason why Kodak was slow to change was that its executives “suffered from a mentality of perfect products, rather than the high-tech mindset of make it, launch it, fix it,” says Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School, who has advised the firm. Working in a one-company town did not help, either. Kodak’s bosses in Rochester seldom heard much criticism of the firm, she says. Even when Kodak decided to diversify, it took years to make its first acquisition.

Management matters. And all things end. It's still sad.

Wednesday 18 January 2012 18:01:57 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Photography | Business#
Wednesday 18 January 2012

Welcome back. We were dark today to protest two flawed legislative proposals, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act.

The administration today hinted at a threat to veto SOPA, while several senators have withdrawn support for PIPA in response to the blackout protests around the Internet:

Co-sponsors who say they can no longer support their own legislation include Senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, and Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. Republican Representatives Ben Quayle of Arizona, Lee Terry of Nebraska, and Dennis Ross of Florida also said they would withdraw their backing of the House bill.

Rubio said he switched his position on the Senate measure, the Protect IP Act, after examining opponents’ contention that it would present a “potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government’s power to impact the Internet,” according to a posting today on Facebook. Blunt said in a statement today he is withdrawing as a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

The Washington Monthly explains the administration's volte face on SOPA:

The White House didn’t issue a veto threat, per se, but the administration’s chief technology officials concluded, “We will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” The statement added that any proposed legislation “must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet.” The White House’s position left SOPA and PIPA, at least in their current form, effectively dead.

The state of play in the Senate is a little different — a PIPA vote is likely next Tuesday — but even in the upper chamber, the bill is quickly losing friends. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced his opposition yesterday, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a former co-sponsor of PIPA, is also now against it.

The President did, however, shut down the Keystone XL pipeline (at least for now).

So, in all, this was a pretty good day for the people.

Update: Via Coding Horror, Mozilla Foundation Chair Mitchell Baker has a great description of why PIPA and SOPA are so awful.

Wednesday 18 January 2012 17:36:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Business | Security#
Tuesday 17 January 2012

To counter SOPA, a Swedish group has gotten official recognition as a religion on the idea of Holy Information:

The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.

It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.

"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement.

I can't wait to see which angels help them decipher their silicon tablets...

Tuesday 17 January 2012 15:08:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World | Religion#

The largest encyclopedia ever assembled will go offline tomorrow to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act, currently working its way through Congress's collective bowels. From Wikipedia's public statement:

[T]he Wikimedia Foundation is asked to allocate resources and assist the community in blacking out the project globally for 24 hours starting at 05:00 UTC on January 18, 2012, or at another time as determined by the Wikimedia Foundation. This should be carried out while respecting technical limitations of the underlying software, and should specifically prevent editing wherever possible. Provisions for emergency access to the site should be included in the blackout software. In order to assist our readers and the community at large to educate themselves about SOPA and PIPA, these articles and those closely related to them will remain accessible for reading purposes if possible. Wikipedians are urged to work with WMF staff to develop effective messaging for the "blackout screens" that directs readers to suitable online resources. Sister projects, such as the German and Italian Wikipedias and Wikimedia Commons, have indicated an intention to support the same principles with banners on those sites, and the support of other projects is welcome and appreciated.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is unimpressed: " 'That's just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish,' Costolo [said]."

For what it's worth, my U.S. Senators are split: Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) claims to be opposed to it, while Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is a co-sponsor of the Senate's version. Neither has any material on his website about it. I have written to Senator Durbin and to Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL) for comment.

Tuesday 17 January 2012 13:47:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Business | Security#
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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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