Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 22 February 2012

Nature Nerd Naomi observed ice-free ponds up near Gurnee about three weeks earlier than normal:

Finally, there is no ice at all on the lakes today... late last week, some kids in my neighborhood fell through the ice... meaning that it wasn't thick, but there was an ice cover. Yesterday about half the water area was covered on most lakes, and today, nothing. This is an early ice-off, as you can see if you look at the dates below. (The kids were rescued, btw.)

2006 -- Mar 10
2007 -- Mar 18
2008 -- Mar 31
2009 -- Mar 9
2010 -- Mar 18
2011 -- Mar 18
2012 -- Feb 22!

Wednesday 22 February 2012 17:50:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#

The astrology nutters who sued the time zone database for copyright infringement have withdrawn the suit.

Plaintiff's attorney Julie Molloy filed the notice of voluntary dismissal today in the District of Massachusetts under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1).

So, reason prevailed. Good.

Wednesday 22 February 2012 15:57:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | US | Religion | Business#

With only a week left in meteorological winter, Chicago's weather continues its near-record mildness:

With 4°C+-degree highs predicted the next two days, the tally of 40s (°F) will grow to 46 by Thursday's close. That's nearly twice the 141 year average of4°C or milder temperatures through Feb. 23 and just shy of six times last winter's total of 8 days in the 40s over the same period.

In only 6 other winters----all but one of them occurring prior the beginning of the last century in 1900---have as many or more 40s been logged through Feb. 23. The most recent winter with a comparable number of 40s occurred in 2001-02 when 47 were on the books.

But: "An in-house analysis of a series of mild winters---not unlike this one---continues to indicate a bias toward warmer than normal summer weather, including more 90s (°F) than usual. In 7 of 10 years we examined, summer (June through August) temperatures and 32°C tallies each finished above normal."

Apparently summer temperatures don't influence winter temperatures as much as the other way round. I like warm winters; warm summers, not so much. We'll see.

Wednesday 22 February 2012 13:37:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 21 February 2012

Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, someone who expects to be taken seriously as a potential leader of a 21st-century republic, has taken yet another step back from the reality-based community:

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told a Colorado crowd earlier this month.

“When you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate — this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government,” Santorum said.

This illustrates two common tactics of the religious right. The first is to blow a dog whistle; that is, to use a word or phrase indicating support of a fringe idea without actually saying explicitly that he's a supporter. In this case, Santorum's use of the word "dominion" suggests he believes in Dominionism, which is essentially that the U.S. should become a Christian theocracy.

The second is to make a frightening accusation about the opposition (i.e., the rational people making up a majority of the Western world) that actually applies to the person making the accusation. In this case, "an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government." It's a stretch to see how saying "these observations of empirical data lead all but the most obtuse to see that humans are changing the climate, so we should perhaps take steps to mitigate that problem" is radical centralization. It's less of a stretch, however, to see how saying "I want the government to adhere to the theology I believe in and criminalize everything that disagrees with that theology" is anything but.

Dog whistles and accusing your opponents of exactly what you're doing: this is what Lincoln meant in the Cooper Union speech when he said, "A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'"

That is cool indeed.

Tuesday 21 February 2012 14:01:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US | Religion#
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#
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On this page....
Early ice-off in the northern suburbs
Time zone case withdrawn by plaintiff
Winter weirdness continues
Climate denial and dog whistles
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
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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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