Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 3 April 2012

Raganwald yesterday posted a facetious resignation outlining the dangers to employers of asking prospective employees to disclose social media information:

I have been interviewing senior hires for the crucial tech lead position on the Fizz Buzz team, and while several walked out in a huff when I asked them to let me look at their Facebook, one young lady smiled and said I could help myself. She logged into her Facebook as I requested, and as I followed the COO’s instructions to scan her timeline and friends list looking for evidence of moral turpitude, I became aware she was writing something on her iPad.

“Taking notes?” I asked politely.

“No,” she smiled, “Emailing a human rights lawyer I know.” To say that the tension in the room could be cut with a knife would be understatement of the highest order. “Oh?” I asked. I waited, and as I am an expert in out-waiting people, she eventually cracked and explained herself.

“If you are surfing my Facebook, you could reasonably be expected to discover that I am a Lesbian. Since discrimination against me on this basis is illegal in Ontario, I am just preparing myself for the possibility that you might refuse to hire me and instead hire someone who is a heterosexual but less qualified in any way. Likewise, if you do hire me, I might need to have your employment contracts disclosed to ensure you aren’t paying me less than any male and/or heterosexual colleagues with equivalent responsibilities and experience.”

Three things:

  • He's right on the main point. Looking through employees' Facebook pages uninvited is tricky enough. Determining whether or not to hire someone based on a Facebook page is closer to the line. Forcing the disclosure crosses the line, surveys the land, plants a flag, and invites the natives to kill you in your sleep.
  • Disclosing a password to anyone for any reason is, almost always, a bad idea. Authentication is half of security (the other is authorization, which depends on you being who you say you are). The corollary to authentication is deniability. If you lose control over your Facebook password, you expose yourself to identity theft. To emphasize this point, in our office we routinely prank developers who leave their keyboards unlocked when they leave the room. Walking away at a client site could let clients see other clients' materials, for starters, but it also could allow someone to send email or make Facebook posts in your name.
  • I am proud to report that Illinois is right now passing a law to prohibit this practice. It will probably be signed later this month.
Tuesday 3 April 2012 08:55:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Security#
Monday 2 April 2012

The Atlantic Cities today examines the retro ballpark trend, of interest to anyone following my 30 Park Geas:

The retro style quickly split into two schools; one, like Camden Yards, that strictly embraced classical design elements and the other that used more progressive forms (i.e. curtain walls, retractable roofs) while still implementing postmodern idiosyncrasies.

The historical references and unique site configuration that makes Camden Yards successful was eventually re-imagined in other cities through forcibly quirky stadiums surrounded by seas of parking. The best example of that, and what fittingly could be the last retro-classic ballpark, would be Citi Field.

The more modern half of the movement, meanwhile, has pushed along to an almost unrecognizable point. Since the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati opened in 2003 with its contemporary, glass-wrapped facade, newer stadiums are more willing to embrace less familiar forms.

The anti-Camden trend takes its next step when Marlins Park officially debuts next Wednesday. Similar in form to the spaceship and entertainment palace known as Cowboys Stadium, Miami's new facility moves baseball stadium design even further from the nostalgia-drenched movement.

Next up for me: Miami and Tampa Bay in two weeks.

Monday 2 April 2012 14:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball#
Sunday 1 April 2012

Yesterday, the forecast for tomorrow's Chicago weather called for—no April Fool's joke here—32°C. Just a few hours ago the forecast had changed to a more comfortable 25°C, which is about as close to ideal as I can imagine. Just now, though, the National Weather Service says to expect nothing better than 13°C. Aw, come on.

On the other hand, Chicago had its warmest March in history, at 11.9°C, which beat the previous record (set in both 1945 and 1910) of 9.2°C. So, you know, the weather hasn't been that awful lately.

Sunday 1 April 2012 17:58:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

The Economist reported this morning that engineers have developed a machine to create bespoke pets:

[A] small Californian company, the Gene Duplication Corporation, based in San Melito, proposes to push the technology to its limits. On Sunday it will announce plans to use 3D printing to make bespoke pets.

GeneDupe, as the firm is known colloquially, has previously focused on the genetic engineering of animals. However Paolo Fril, the company’s boss, is keen to expand into manufacturing them from scratch.

There are still a few technical difficulties to overcome, of course, but Dr Fril plans to start taking orders soon. And he is already looking forward to the firm’s next product, custom-printed boyfriends and girlfriends for those who cannot find the right partner by conventional means—a surprisingly large proportion of the population. If all goes well, these will be available by St Valentine’s day. If not, customers will probably have to wait until April 1st of next year.

In related news, Antonin Scalia pretended to be a lying, partisan hack this week. I'm sure he was making an early April Fool's joke as well.

Sunday 1 April 2012 13:31:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes | US#
Saturday 31 March 2012

Via Sullivan, the Royal Canadian Mint has stopped producing pennies and will withdraw them from circulation this year, saving $11m outright and eliminating a $150m drag on the Canadian economy:

It costs the government 1.6 cents to produce one penny, which has been made of copper-plated zinc and copper-plated steel since 1997.

The penny, with two maple leafs on one side and Queen Elizabeth II on the other, can continue to be used in payments. As they are gradually withdrawn from circulation, price rounding on cash transactions will be required, the government said.

The calculation of the federal goods and services tax and provincial sales taxes will continue to be calculated to the penny and added to the price, with rounding only taking place on the total payment.

Non-cash payments on checks and credit cards will continue to be rounded to the nearest cent.

Here's hoping we can eliminate ours as well, as they cost the U.S. 2.6¢ each. Of course, the Canadian program I really want to see would save our economy tens of billions of dollars a year...but apparently we're ready yet.

Saturday 31 March 2012 09:33:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Friday 30 March 2012

The Mega Millions lottery, held in 42 states including Illinois, now has an estimated jackpot over $540m. (The amount will probably be higher as more people buy tickets.) But how much do you really get if you win?

First, you have to choose whether to get 26 annual payments or take the award as a lump sum. The lottery uses a discounted cash flow analysis so that the amount you get as a cash lump is worth the same as 26 equal payments of the whole thing. In other words, if you get a lump sum, you actaully only get the amount that the total award would be worth if you took it in the future.

Take that $540m prize. If you take it as an annuity over 26 years, you get 26 payments of just under $21m each. But a promise of $21m in 2038 is worth a lot less than $21m right now. Think about it: if you have that $21m today, instead of 26 years from now, you can make investments, give it away, buy a lot of stuff that gives you happiness, etc. So how much is $21m in 2038 worth right now? Only $10.7m. Or, put another way, if you take $10.7m in 2038 or $21m today, it's worth about the same—according to the lottery.

We can figure this out by looking at the lump-sum value you would get if you opted for it. If you won today's lottery, Mega Millions will give you $540m only if you take it in 26 payments. Or they'll give you a steaming pile of $389m in cash right now. Because to them, it's the same value.

Why? If you win, you have to make a bet on whether they've estimated something called the discount rate correctly. The discount rate is a guess about how much money will be worth in the future because of things like inflation and the risk that investments change in value. For example, if I bet on a discount rate of 4% (which is historically about middling in the U.S.), I'm betting money gets less valuable by about 4% per year on average. In that case, if I give you the option of taking $100 today or $104 a year from now, and you think the discount rate is 4%, it's an even bet. But if you think the discount rate is 3%, you would take the $104 in a year—because by your estimate, $100 invested today is only going to be worth $103 in a year.

Using a quick Excel function, I figured out that Mega Millions uses a discount rate of 2.6%, well below historical averages but close to what we've seen in the last five years. Here's the calculation:

Yeah, but watch this. If you increase the discount rate to 4%, the estimate of the present value of that $540m drops to $332m, a difference of $57m. In other words, because the lottery uses such a low rate, if you bet that the rate is 1.4% higher, you're betting that you'll come out ahead $57m by taking the money right now instead of over 26 years.

So, great, you're getting $389m in one big pile. Excellent.

Later today I'll talk about your Federal (36%) and Illinois (5%) taxes...and what they might do to the calculation.

Friday 30 March 2012 08:48:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US#
Thursday 29 March 2012

Via reader MG, a beautiful visualization of the wind on a map. A static example, from Tuesday:

Thursday 29 March 2012 14:48:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Weather#

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel has crunched the numbers, and thinks (contra my own fears) that we might not get melted into little puddles of goo this summer after all:

Historically, a warm March has been followed by a colder-than-normal April on average (first map). That’s true not just in Illinois but across the U.S. On the other hand, precipitation for those same April periods was a mixed bag in Illinois (second map). Most of the state was near-normal while west-central Illinois was slightly wetter-than-normal.

I considered the entire May-August period in one set of maps. One popular question I get is “Does this warm weather now mean that we will get a hot summer?” At least historically, the growing season following a warm March does not show a pattern of above-normal temperatures. On average, they have been remarkably mild in temperature.

I still worry that the really warm lake temperatures and the lack of snow cover during the winter, followed by an unprecedented 8 days of 27°C weather this month (not to mention the hottest March in recorded history), can't help but yield a brutal summer.

Angel has the data, though. I tend to trust data. I should be reassured...but I'm also from Chicago.

Thursday 29 March 2012 10:23:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 28 March 2012

The Atlantic has noticed a trend among millenials: they aren't buying as many cars as we did.

The Times notes that less than half of potential drivers age 19 or younger had a license in 2008, down from nearly two-thirds in 1998. The fraction of 20-to-24-year-olds with a license has also dropped. And according to CNW research, adults between the ages of 21 and 34 buy just 27 percent of all new vehicles sold in America, a far cry from the peak of 38 percent in 1985.

The billion-dollar question for automakers is whether this shift is truly permanent, the result of a baked-in attitude shift among Millennials that will last well into adulthood, or the product of an economy that's been particularly brutal on the young.

[But] Millennials are more likely than past generations to live in an urban community, and this may be part of what terrifies car markers. About 32 percent reside in cities, somewhat higher than the proportion of Generation X'ers or Baby Boomers who did when they were the same age, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center report. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, surveys have found that 88 percent want to live in an urban environment. When they're forced to settle down in a suburb, they prefer communities like Bethesda, Maryland, or Arlington, Virginia, which feature plenty of walking distance restaurants, retail, and public transportation to nearby Washington, DC.

Absent Parker, I don't know if I would own a car. With two ZipCar locations within 400 m of me, I'd hardly need one. My takeaway, however, is that we're becoming more urban, and that means less car-dependent. This is one American trend I particularly like.

Wednesday 28 March 2012 17:20:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Travel#

Josh Marshall explains what the right has really been up to with judicial appointments:

he real issue has always been the regulatory state. In any case, it is the height of judicial activism for the Court to consider striking down legislation on grounds that was barely considered — certainly not in the mainstream of jurisprudence — only two years before when the legislation was being considered. But what struck me more was how the the critical questions from the conservative bloc on the Court grappled so little with the actual economic role of health care provisions in society and the systemic market failure. These would seem to be precisely the issues the Commerce Clause is meant to address. Simply because the problem is serious doesn’t mean every possible solution is constitutional. But again, no real grappling with the practical issues the law was meant to address but rather a hyper-focus on academic and ideological points.

The right wants to get and stay rich. That's it. And chipping away at regulations while reducing enforcement of existing regulations does exactly that.

If you want to see what it's like when the government stays out of business, just look at Russia. That's the society Grover Norquist wants us to have.

Wednesday 28 March 2012 13:09:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 27 March 2012

And now Chicago is back on track for a record March. We woke up this morning to the gray 5°C weather we had all day yesterday, but right now O'Hare is up to 23°C—a normal temperature for Memorial Day.

Warmest March ever. Warmest January to March ever. Let's see if we get the warmest spring ever...

Tuesday 27 March 2012 17:49:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International 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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