Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Monday 12 March 2012

The United Kingdom has no Constitutional prohibition against established religion; in fact, the head of state is also the head of the church. But the UK has a much deeper secular grain than we have, to the extent that many people in the country get quite exercised about even public prayer. The Washington Post explains the latest row:

Local lawmaker Clive Bone, an atheist, was backed by four of his peers in challenging the long-standing tradition of opening public meetings with blessings by Christian clergy. After losing two council votes on the prayer ban, Bone took the town to court — winning a ruling last month that appeared to set a legal precedent by saying government had no authority to compel citizens to hear prayer.

Bone, a transplanted Londoner and retired management consultant who has given up his seat on the council, said: “This isn’t about freedom of religion. I will defend their right to pray in their churches to my dying breath. Just don’t make us listen to it anymore. It is a backwards tradition that alienates people in this country.”

Most people I know in the UK say religion is entirely private, and would likely be offended at having to listen to prayers at minor public meanings. It's yet another example of how really out of step the rest of the Western world are with us.

Monday 12 March 2012 18:23:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World | Religion#

As I mentioned last night, the U.S. Census Bureau uses a different algorithm to estimate world population than the U.N. So despite all the stories last October about the U.N.'s population estimate hitting 7 billion, the Census estimate hit 7 billion...about 20 seconds ago:

Thanks for playing. Check back in about 12 years for the 8th billion mark.

Monday 12 March 2012 07:51:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | World#

Back in October, the United Nations declared that the world population had hit 7 billion. The U.S. Census Bureau, however, believes differently. Here are the World and U.S. population clocks from a moment ago:

So, as far as the Census is concerned, we'll hit 7 billion tonight sometime.

That the Census didn't update its estimates to match the U.N.'s suggests they're confident of their more conservative model.

Sunday 11 March 2012 22:08:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | World#
Sunday 11 March 2012

I've never felt great about the Daylight Saving Time switch happening in the beginning of March, but here it is. Oddly, I have no trouble changing eleven or twelve time zones, but the one-hour change in the spring (but not the fall) always messes me up.

Anyway, if you live in the U.S. or Canada (excluding Arizona and Saskatchewan), it's probably an hour later than you think it is.

Sunday 11 March 2012 10:47:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Astronomy#
Friday 9 March 2012

In general, people using words they don't understand, presumably to sound smart, drives me up a tree. In specific, I wish against reason that more people knew how time zones worked. Microsoft's Raymond Chen agrees:

One way of sounding official is to give the times during which the outage will take place is a very formal manner. "The servers will be unavailable on Saturday, March 17, 2012 from 1:00 AM to 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time."

Did you notice something funny about that announcement?

On March 17, 2012, most of the United States will not be on Standard Time. They will be on Daylight Time. (The switchover takes place this weekend.)

Now, I'm one of the few people in the world who has implemented a complete time zone package for Windows systems, and regular readers will already know about my vocal defense of the Olson/IANA time zone database. So I don't expect most people to know the ins and outs of time zone abbreviations. But this is the point Chen makes, and I would like to make: if you don't know what you're writing, don't write it. Say "Central time" or "local Chicago time" instead of "Central Standard Time," if for no other reason than you'll be wrong about the latter 8 months out of the year.

Friday 9 March 2012 13:33:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Software | Astronomy#
Thursday 8 March 2012

Two days each week I have to go out to a client's office about 40 km from home. Only one route works to get me there, and that route includes the infamous Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) leading to the west from the Chicago Loop.

In the last few years, though, the Illinois Dept. of Transportation and neighboring agencies have created Travel Midwest, which has vast stores of traffic data. This has helped me stay sane. The site allows you to query the database to find out, in simple visual charts, when traffic is worst.

This chart compares my morning commute from the Circle Interchange to Wolf Road (22½ km). The red line shows travel times Monday through Thursday; blue line shows Friday times. (The data are from the last 12 months.) This shows why I hit the road around 8:30, instead of earlier, which gets me to the Eisenhower around 9 and here by 9:30:

But here's the return trip; again, Monday-Thursday is red and Friday is blue:

Then there's the chart going the opposite direction right now:

In the chart above, the thick red line shows the mean travel time, and yellow area shows 1 standard deviation on either side of the mean. The lines at 15, 23, and 56 minutes represent 88 km/h (full legal speed), 56 km/h, and 24 km/h. At the moment, the 65-minute travel time means traffic is moving at the breakneck speed of 20.6 km/h, which most bicyclists would find a relaxing speed.

I think I'll stay put for a while. Damn.

Having this information makes it relatively easy not to travel when everyone else is on the road. Yeah, I get home a little later, but the cost to me of spending 30 minutes in slow traffic is higher than the cost of shifting my commutes an hour forward.

Thursday 8 March 2012 17:30:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Travel#
Wednesday 7 March 2012

Atlantic Cities contributor Feargus O'Sullivan reports from London on the city's preparations for, and apprehension about, this summer's games:

As a recent survey by pollsters ComRes showed, public ambivalence still reigns, with only a third of respondents agreeing that the Olympics were worth the money. Londoners in particular are anticipating the games with more dread that excitement. With a heavy tax bill and an already stretched transport system, it’s easy to see why they’re feeling curmudgeonly. The city’s roads are routinely clogged as it is, and many fear planned Olympic lanes for athletes and VIPs on major routes will make congestion unmanageable, driving people out of cars and into a temperamental subway system that already makes the average sardine can look roomy. Add to this London’s role as a prime target for international terror and you’re looking at a long hot summer of tension and stress.

But while some fear that the games will make the city a living hell, others are predicting the opposite – that Olympic price hikes will leave London empty and that tourist revenues will plummet. In December, the European Tour Operators Association warned that the games are already deterring regular sightseers, with hotel bookings down by a fifth compared to the same period last year. Musical theater composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, meanwhile, has said advanced bookings for London’s theaters are so bad for the summer that the sector “faces a bloodbath." Given these two contradictory extremes of anxiety, it’s hardly surprising that the official response to such pre-games jitters has been one of bullish confidence, with London’s eccentric mayor Boris Johnson memorably dubbing Olympic skeptics “Gloomadon poppers."

I, for one, plan to avoid London from June to September this year. But I'm going next week, and while there I'll check out the stadium and the public's mood. Remember, many of us Chicagoans didn't want to bid on 2016 because of the mess we thought it would bring to our city. Let's see how London does.

Wednesday 7 March 2012 12:45:54 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#

From a co-worker:

Wednesday 7 March 2012 11:57:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | World#

I refer here to the brilliant David Mamet line, delivered by Sean Connery: "He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue." This is tonight's result in Ohio.

Ultra-conservative Republican representative Jean Schmidt lost her primary against an even crazier candidate, Brad Wenstrup. This makes the Ohio 9th a contested district this year, for the simple reason that Cincinnati isn't as far to the right as the Republican nominee.

But one of our guys is out, too. Dennis Kucinich got squeezed out in a forced primary against his colleague in the House, Rep. Marcy Kaptur. The Ohio legislature's redistricting after the 2010 Census pitted the two against each other, in the same way that Illinois' redistricting will pit two Republicans against each other later on this year.

I've always liked Kucinich, though I thought he was a bit on the edge. This election means that the Democratic Party has a stronger candidate (and a likely win) in November, while the Ohio 9th has a weaker candidate and a possible upset. The net result may be a more-Democratic Ohio, and a more-Democratic House. Here's hoping.

Tuesday 6 March 2012 23:54:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
Tuesday 6 March 2012

We have our first really great spring day—it's 18°C and sunny—and I'm inside. It's also the warmest day we've had since November 13th (21°C).

That is all. Back to the mines.

Tuesday 6 March 2012 13:35:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#

Via Sullivan, an awesome TV ad from The Guardian:

Tuesday 6 March 2012 08:48:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Cool links#
Monday 5 March 2012

I'm close to naming the new baby ("Lena" is the front-runner). Meanwhile, I took it to the local dealer so I could get a full inspection, and so they could update the navigation software. It turns out, the car's still under warranty, so (a) the inspection was free and (b) so was the scheduled service they did for me.

So at least for the next few months, until the warranty runs out, I'm not going to have to sell Parker to pay for car maintenance. Whew.

Monday 5 March 2012 17:56:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Sunday 4 March 2012

Two more views of my new car, with accurate color corrections:

(Yes, that's Parker in the background.)

I'll do proper photos when I get the right combination of light and location. Also, because we've had some rain and snow, she already needs a bath before we can do it right.

So, what to call her? She's 3 years old, born in München, very German. A friend suggested Brigitta, Brigid, and Mädchen, but that none of those seems right to me. Freya? Hanna? Lena? I think I'll have to live with her for a bit to figure it out.

Sunday 4 March 2012 14:04:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

The City of Chicago received its first city charter 175 years ago today:

Chicago's earliest charters reflected its small population, restricted geographic area, and limited governing needs. These first town charters were conferred in 1833 and 1835, when only a few hundred settlers clustered on a small site along Lake Michigan. Under its town charters, Chicago was governed by an elected Board of Trustees which wielded little political or financial power. In 1837 Chicago received its first city charter, which divided the city into six wards, allowed for a mayor elected to a one-year term, and legally incorporated Chicago as a municipality. The city grew so rapidly thereafter that new charter legislation was constantly needed. In 1847 charter legislation increased the wards to nine and designated annual elections for a city attorney, treasurer, tax collector, and surveyor. Still another charter was granted in 1851, followed by more charter legislation in 1853, 1857, and 1861.

On 4 March 1837, Chicago had 4,170 people spilling out of 250 Ha; today, with 2.6 millions in 567 km², we're the 3rd largest city in the U.S. and the 53rd largest in the world. (The metropolitan area, with 9½ million people, is 29th largest in the world.)

On the day Chicago became a city, the spot where I'm sitting was a few meters above a marshy beach, 4 km outside of town. Today it's considered "downtown" in one of the most vibrant and well-balanced cities in the world. And it's my home.

Sunday 4 March 2012 09:31:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago#
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Separation of Church and State in the UK
Update: 7 billion, officially
World population at 7 billion
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Time zone pet peeves
Better information leads to happier commuters
London bracing for the Olympics
Binyamin Netanyahu on ornithology
That's the Chicago way
Why am I inside?
The Three Little Pigs in the Guardian
Surprised by the warranty
Now, what to name her?
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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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