Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Monday 20 February 2012

The term "brainstorming," conjured up by BBDO partner Alex Osborn in the 1940s, conjures up images of creative people in a creative meeting creatively coming up with great ideas. Only, it doesn't actually work that well:

The first empirical test of Osborn’s brainstorming technique was performed at Yale University, in 1958. Forty-eight male undergraduates were divided into twelve groups and given a series of creative puzzles. The groups were instructed to follow Osborn’s guidelines. As a control sample, the scientists gave the same puzzles to forty-eight students working by themselves. The results were a sobering refutation of Osborn. The solo students came up with roughly twice as many solutions as the brainstorming groups, and a panel of judges deemed their solutions more “feasible” and “effective.

And yet Osborn was right about one thing: like it or not, human creativity has increasingly become a group process. “Many of us can work much better creatively when teamed up,” he wrote, noting that the trend was particularly apparent in science labs. “In the new B. F. Goodrich Research Center”—Goodrich was an important B.B.D.O. client—“250 workers . . . are hard on the hunt for ideas every hour, every day,” he noted. “They are divided into 12 specialized groups—one for each major phase of chemistry, one for each major phase of physics, and so on.” Osborn was quick to see that science had ceased to be solitary.

Lehrer continues to examine the success of Broadway musicals and the story of MIT's Building 20, "one of the most creative spaces in the world" from the 1940s until its demolition in 1998.

Monday 20 February 2012 10:58:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | Business#
Saturday 18 February 2012

Via Atlantic Cities, a description of Baarle-Nassau, which not only straddles the Belgian-Dutch border, it appears to have run into the border at great speed and splattered:

[T]he Belgian town consists of 24 non-contiguous parcels of land. Twenty-one of them are surrounded by the Netherlands. while three are on the border between the two countries and thus share a jurisdictional boundary with the rest of Belgium, if also with the Netherlands and if not with each other.

And get this: there are Dutch enclaves within the Belgian enclaves that are within the Netherlands. And, actually, the main part of Baarle-Hertog is about five miles southwest of the portions you see here, and completely in Belgium.

...[B]uildings sitting within both countries pay taxes according to where their front doors are located. Some shops have apparently moved their doors "as a tax dodge of sorts." Indeed, there was a complicated legal case in which a bank engaged in money laundering had a front door in the Netherlands, but a vault in Belgium.

Road trip! And to Point Roberts, Wash., a little town attached to the underbelly of British Columbia.

Saturday 18 February 2012 09:02:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography#
Friday 17 February 2012

The judge responsible for the case against the time zone database filed back in September issued an order yesterday demanding that the plaintiffs actually pursue the case. Under the Federal rules of civil procedure, the plaintiffs now have 21 days to show they've served the defendants, or the case will be dismissed.

I'm asking my attorney friends how common this kind of negligence is.

Friday 17 February 2012 13:44:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Astronomy#

Is anyone else just a little nervous that a man who could be the nominee of a major Western political party in the 21st Century appears like he came from the 17th? In 2008, Rick Santorum gave a speech to a little-known religious college in Florida that...well, here:

This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country - the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age. There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America's preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.

... He was successful. He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they're smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell.

Combine that with his principal donor's idiot remarks and Darrel Issa's atrocious visual yesterday, and this looks like a party that wants to take us back to the '50s. The 1650s.

Friday 17 February 2012 13:03:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
Thursday 16 February 2012

If you're driving in San Francisco, don't block the MUNI:

By early next year the city's entire fleet of 819 buses will be equipped with forward-facing cameras that take pictures of cars traveling or parked in the bus and transit-only lanes. A city employee then reviews the video to determine whether or not a violation has occurred — there are, of course, legitimate reasons a car might have to occupy a bus lane for a moment — and if so the fines range from $60 for moving vehicles to more than $100 for parked cars.

City officials consider the pilot program a success. "Schedule adherence" has improved, according to that update, as has general safety, since access to proper bus-stop curbs is impeded less often. In addition, the number of citations issued has risen over the past three years — from 1,311 in 2009 to 2,102 in 2010 and 3,052 last year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

At the root of the problem is a disconnect between the automobile and transit worldviews, transit planner Jarrett Walker explains in his excellent new book, Human Transit. (More on this in the coming days.) While an empty bus lane is actually a functional bus lane, an empty car lane is a wasted car lane, so drivers are quick to capitalize on what they view as a transportation inefficiency.

That's pretty cool. In principle, I approve of automated parking enforcement, such as Chicago's street sweeper cameras, even though I've had to pay fines as a result. Fair enforcement is all right with me. (But don't get me started on how Chicago puts up street-sweeping signs the day before...)

Thursday 16 February 2012 15:06:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Politics | San Francisco | Cool links#

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel predicts our unusual warmth will continue through May:

One of the key things to come into play is the status of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean. A La Niña event occurs when ocean temperatures are colder-than-normal along the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean basin. The associated ocean and atmospheric pattern tends to give us a wet spring in states along the Ohio River Valley. [The National Climate Prediction Center] states that “La Niña is likely to transition to ENSO-neutral conditions during March-May 2012.” That’s government-talk for saying that the La Niña event is fading fast and will be gone before the end of spring.

The outlook for March in Illinois calls for an increased chance of above-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation. The outlook for March-May calls for an increased chance of above-normal temperatures throughout the state. However, it shows an increased chance of above-normal precipitation in the eastern half of the state while the western half has “equal chances” of above-, below-, near-normal precipitation.

And, of course, they have art (click for full size):

Thursday 16 February 2012 14:54:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 15 February 2012

My schedule this week has been: SFO to ORD, sleep, client in Suburbistan, dinner with friend, sleep, work, and in a few minutes, ORD to MSP. If I have time at the hotel tonight—and I can remain conscious—I'll silence the critics.

Wednesday 15 February 2012 16:01:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 13 February 2012

The Illinois State Climatologist is wondering if 2011-12 qualifies:

The folks at the Chicago NWS office raised the following question. I would add to this that last winter Chicago O’Hare reported 1,470 mm of snow and 67 days with an inch or more of snow on the ground. This winter, through February 13, O’Hare reported 391 mm of snow and only 10 days with an inch or more of snow on the ground.

Plus, 78% of the days from December 1st until now have been above average, with more than half of those days almost 6°C above average. It's the 8th warmest winter in history, and the warmest since 1921.

There are still 15 days left in meteorological winter. We might actually move up in the ranks this year. We'll see.

Monday 13 February 2012 10:46:45 PST (UTC-08:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#

Author Sam Harris likens our love of wood fires to other unshakable beliefs:

The case against burning wood is every bit as clear as the case against smoking cigarettes. Indeed, it is even clearer, because when you light a fire, you needlessly poison the air that everyone around you for miles must breathe. Even if you reject every intrusion of the “nanny state,” you should agree that the recreational burning of wood is unethical and should be illegal, especially in urban areas. By lighting a fire, you are creating pollution that you cannot dispose. It might be the clearest day of the year, but burn a sufficient quantity of wood and the air in the vicinity of your home will resemble a bad day in Beijing. ...

Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts. To try to convince them that burning wood is harmful—and has always been so—is somehow offensive. The ritual of burning wood is simply too comforting and too familiar to be reconsidered, its consolation so ancient and ubiquitous that it has to be benign. The alternative—burning gas over fake logs—seems a sacrilege.

The entire essay is worth reading. And when you dig into it, given how few people have ever tried to annihilate their neighbors over wood smoke...well, you can see where Harris is going.

Sunday 12 February 2012 20:45:38 PST (UTC-08:00)  | Comments [0] | Religion#
Sunday 12 February 2012

I've spent the morning working at the Peet's Coffee in Half Moon Bay, Calif.. For some reason, this location has blocked HTTP access to most Google addresses.

The most obvious symptom is that browser requests to Google, Youtube, and other Google properties (including GMail) simply don't go through. Chrome reports "connection reset" after timing out; IE simply spins into oblivion. Another symptom, which took me a few moments to figure out, is that sites that have Google Analytics bugs (like this one) sometimes, but not always, fail to load. Reading the page source shows that the entire page has loaded, but the browser doesn't render the page because part of it is being blocked.

Using nothing more sophisticated than Ping and Tracert, I've determined that the block occurs pretty close to my laptop, possibly even in the WiFi router or in Peet's proxy server. Pinging Google's public DNS service (8.8.8.8) works fine, as does making nslookup requests against it. But pinging www.google.com, www.youtu.be, and www.gmail.com all fail. Tracerts to these URLs and directly to their public IPs also fail at the very first hop.

Google IPs appear to start with 74.125.x.y. Tracert to 8.8.4.4 passes through 74.125.49.85 a few hops away; www.google.com resolves to 74.125.224.84; etc. However, reverse DNS lookups show something slightly different. 8.8.4.4 resolves back to google-public-dns-b.google.com; however, 74.125.224.84 resolves back to nuq04s07-in-f20.1e100.com. 74.125.224.69 (www.youtu.be) resolves back to another 1e100.com address.

All other sites appear to work fine, with decent (megabit-speed) throughput.

So, the mystery is: who has blocked Google from this Peet's store, and why? I have sent Peet's a request for comment.

Sunday 12 February 2012 11:54:07 PST (UTC-08:00)  | Comments [0] | Security#

There are a few examples of public transportation in the world that double as fun things for tourists over and above their practical uses for commuters. The Chicago El's Loop section, for example, or New York's Roosevelt Island Tramway.

In San Francisco, tourists mob the cable cars, pushing regular commuters aside, and removing them from this category. Same, to some extent, with the Muni F-line streetcars. but near the convergence of the F and California St. Cable Car is the Ferry Terminal Building, which, despite its transformation in the last 20 years into an urban market, actually has ferries. I took one of them yesterday.

I had to get from the city to Sausalito. The Sausalito Ferry is, it turns out, the best way to do that. The $4.85* fare not only gets you to Sausalito, but it also gives you this view:

The whole trip is like that. In fairness to the city, it wasn't as gloomy as it appears in the photo; I just caught it at a particularly dramatic moment.

Upon disembarking in Sausalito, however, this sign greeted me:

I have no idea what that means, especially since without cholesterol, animals die. But, hey, it's California, and no one from the Sausalito Police came to steal my cholesterol.

----

* It's $4.85 if you have a Clipper Card. Otherwise it's $9. If you regularly travel to a particular city, I recommend getting a transit card.

Sunday 12 February 2012 08:27:50 PST (UTC-08:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | San Francisco#
Saturday 11 February 2012

Krugman adds his voice to the chorus slamming Charles Murray's new book positing that declining morals are responsible for white, working-class problems. Bull:

Mr. Murray and other conservatives often seem to assume that the decline of the traditional family has terrible implications for society as a whole. This is, of course, a longstanding position. Reading Mr. Murray, I found myself thinking about an earlier diatribe, Gertrude Himmelfarb’s 1996 book, “The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values,” which covered much of the same ground, claimed that our society was unraveling and predicted further unraveling as the Victorian virtues continued to erode.

Yet the truth is that some indicators of social dysfunction have improved dramatically even as traditional families continue to lose ground. ...

Still, something is clearly happening to the traditional working-class family. The question is what. And it is, frankly, amazing how quickly and blithely conservatives dismiss the seemingly obvious answer: A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.

This is obvious, which means the right has to change the conversation to something else. They do post hoc ergo propter hoc better than anyone in history, so it's almost a children's game for them to shift the blame for people's anger from rich white guys to poor white guys. And if you dig a little deeper, it turns out the things the right blames on the poor aren't actually there.

Shorter Republican: "Barack Obama is to blame for the monster under your child's bed!"

Do they even believe themselves any more? (Side note: this is the question Paul Suderman at reason.com raises about Romney.)

Saturday 11 February 2012 09:45:37 PST (UTC-08:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

I'm back in San Francisco for a couple of days, narrowly escaping Chicago's lake-effect nightmare yesterday. I enjoyed walking around without a coat last night, until the rain started. (Did you know it rains here in February? Yes? You're ahead of me, then.) A friend and I wanted to check out a bar over by Civic Center, Smuggler's Cove, which I might Yelp later today. I must say, waiting outside in the rain for 35 minutes to go into a bar has lost its appeal for me over the years. Fortunately, the bodega right on the corner had umbrellas. This, by the way, is why I love San Francisco and New York: you can get what you need with a minimum of fuss.

Today will see me ferrying across the bay for lunch in Sausalito, then heading down to the Ps. Apparently there are ribs in the future for me. I might skip food at lunch, just in case.

Saturday 11 February 2012 09:31:57 PST (UTC-08:00)  | Comments [0] | San Francisco#

Earlier I mentioned how technology makes aviation easier. Now here's how it makes aviation cooler: For the first time in Daily Parker history, I'm writing about a flight in real time.

I am approximately here:

FlightAware adds the third dimension, putting me at FL360.

Of course, I have actual work to do, which is really why I bought Internet access for this flight. I still think this is incredibly cool.

(For the record, my flight didn't leave on time, but it did leave. At takeoff, O'Hare conditions were 1600 m visibility with 400 m indefinite ceiling, blowing snow, and 48 km/h wind gusts. Had my plane not gotten to O'Hare when it did, it might still be holding over Janesville. Also for the record, the picture above shows my location when I started this post; the little globe icon below right will show you where I was when I posted it.)

Friday 10 February 2012 18:22:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Cool links#
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On this page....
Brainstorming and data
The most complicated border in the world
Judge threatens to dismiss time zone case
Santorum's war on Satan
San Francisco MUNI buses issue tickets
La Niña ending; warmer, wetter spring coming to Chicago
Time to breathe tonight, maybe
Year without winter?
How fireplaces explain religion
Google blocked at Peet's Coffee in HMB
Public transportation as amusement-park ride
The decline of morals? Not so much
Third-favorite city in the world (tied)
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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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