Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Sunday 8 April 2012

Mike Wallace: Now, you've watched this gate for many years, right?

St Peter: Yes, that's right.

MW: And do you decide who gets in the gates?

SP: Well...I mean, I don't make the final decisions, no...

MW: But you can, for example, send someone to the back of the line?

SP: That's...you know, that's not something that would be done. In some, rare cases, people decide to return to the end of the line on their own.

MW: Peter, come on. Did Carl Sagan go back on his own?

SP: Well, look...you know, Carl was...look, Carl was a special case, being an atheist and all. There wasn't a decision made or anything. He got to the gate and decided, you know, on his own I think, that he didn't want to go in.

MW: Well, we spoke to Carl a little while ago, and he said, I'm quoting here, "There were billions and billions of people in the line, and I had to walk past all of them after St. Peter turned me away." What do you think about that? Did you make Carl Sagan walk back to the end of a line containing billions of people?

SP: OK, you know, I'm not... Look, if a decision was made, it wasn't made by me. I don't make policy, I'm just the guy, you know, at the gate.

MW: Sagan went on to say that you said a couple of other things to him. Peter, did you call Carl Sagan a "dirty unbeliever" and an "apostate?"

SP: Now, wait, that's just... Look, I can't comment on that.

MW: Peter, did you send Carl Sagan to the end of the line?

SP: Mike, I'm sorry, I really can't answer that question.

MW: Peter, did you send Carl Sagan to the end of the line because he was an atheist?

MW (in studio): Peter ended the interview at that point. But still, we're left with the question, who decides who gets in? After repeated denials from the Trinity, we were able to speak to Metatron...

Sunday 8 April 2012 10:11:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Some items that have gotten my attention:

More, I'm sure, later.

Sunday 8 April 2012 08:49:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Cool links#
Saturday 7 April 2012

I found out, after too many failed download attempts for no reason I could ascertain (come on, Amazon), the 1940 Census data is also available on Ancestry.com. Their servers actually served the data correctly. And so, I found this:

The apartment numbers aren't listed, and the building added an apartment to my entrance sometime in the last 70 years, but I think I can work it out. The first column shows the rent for each apartment. The three higher-rent apartments have to be the larger ones to the west. That means mine is either one of the two $65 apartments on the table or was vacant on 1 April 1940.

So the best I can do is that the three apartments on my side of the stairs that existed in 1940 contained a 35-year-old divorcée from Illinois who worked as an office manager in a brokerage, and a 64-year-old broker/solicitor from Nebraska who lived with his 84-year-old mother. My neighbors included a 51-year-old mother who lived with her 29- and 23-year-old sons, both of whom worked as wholesale salesmen; the 57-year-old treasurer of a wholesale varnish company and his 53-year-old wife; the 46-year-old head of the complaints department at Illinois Bell and his 39-year-old wife; and the building engineer and his wife, both of whom were 49.

All of these people were white, professional, and at least high-school educated. Six of eleven had college educations, a significantly higher proportion than the general public at the time. There were no children in the tier. All but two were U.S.-born. (The varnish-company treasurer came from the Republic of Ireland; his wife was English-Canadian.) All but the divorcée had lived in the same apartment for at least 5 years. Seven of eleven worked at least 40 hours during the previous week, including the poor janitor who worked 70. Salaries ranged from $600 (the 29-year-old son who sold furniture wholesale) to $5000+ (the Irish varnish company treasurer). Mrs. G.R. Walker, the most likely candidate for my predecessor in this apartment, made $2000, somewhat higher than the U.S. average salary in 1940 and approximately eqivalent to $32,000 today.

Today we're entirely professional (including three attorneys and two professional musicians), with a handful of young children, all of us college-educated or better. There is one foreign-born person; our average age, not counting the children, is about 38; and none of us worked 70 hours last week. Two of the seven apartments are rentals, the rest are owned. Adjusting for inflation, they cost almost exactly the same as in 1940.

In other words, the people who lived in my apartment building 70 years ago looked a lot like the people who live here today. And I wish I could meet them.

Saturday 7 April 2012 11:58:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Cool links#

The Census and the National Archives have released the entire 1940 enumeration quasi-digitally. I think the data drop is great. I am going to download a few specific documents based on what I know about my own family, and about some of the places I've lived that were around in April 1940.

But as a software developer who works mainly with Cloud-based, large-data apps, I am puzzled by some of the National Archives' choices.

I say "quasi-digitally" because the National Archives didn't enter all the tabulated data per se; instead they scanned all the documents and put them out as massive JPEG images. I'm now downloading the data for one census tract, and the 29 MB ZIP file is taking forever to finish. The actual data I'm looking would take maybe 1-2 kB. That said, I understand it's a massive undertaking. There are hundreds of thousands of pages; obviously entering all the data would cost too much.

But this goes to the deeper problem: The Archives knew or should have known that they'd get millions of page views and thousands of download requests. So I need to ask, why did they make the following boneheaded technical decisions?

  • They used classic ASP, an obsolete technology I haven't even used since 2001. The current Microsoft offering, ASP.NET MVC 3, is to classic ASP what a Boeing 787 is to a DC-3. It's an illuminated manuscript in the era of steam-driven presses.
  • They organized the data by state and city, which makes sense, until you get to something the size of Chicago. Northfield Township, where I grew up, takes up one map and about 125 individual documents. Chicago has over 100 maps, which you have to navigate from map #1 to the end, and a ridiculous number of individual documents. You can search for the census tract you want by cross streets, but you can't search for the part of the city map you want by any visible means.
  • I'm still waiting for my 32-page document after 22 minutes. Clearly the Archives don't have the bandwidth to handle this problem. Is this a budget issue? Perhaps Microsoft or Google could help here by donating some capacity until the rush is over?

In any event, once I get my documents, I'm going to spend some time going over them. I really want to find out what kind of people lived in my current apartment 70 years ago.

Update: The first download failed at 1.9 MB. The second attempt is at 6.6...and slowing down...

Update: The second and third attempts failed as well. I have, however, discovered that they've at least put the data out on Amazon Web Services. So...why are the downloads pooping out?

Saturday 7 April 2012 10:24:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Cool links#
Friday 6 April 2012

My company, 10th Magnitude, finally moved into its new office today. One of the criteria we had for selecting the new office was that they allow dogs. Everyone wins! (Hat tip MW.)

It's hard to tell who likes the Office Dog concept more, Parker or my co-workers:

Friday 6 April 2012 12:05:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker | Work#

Chicago's record-shattering run of above-normal temperatures ended yesterday:

The abnormal, all-too-often record warmth, couldn't continue indefinitely. For 26 consecutive days, Chicagoans were treated to temperature levels which would have been at home in June and July. They were without precedent in March and early April.

The impact of that warmth continues, even in the midst of noticeably cooler air here. And while Easter weekend temperatures are expected to rebound to the 60s, an even cooler air mass seems determined to settle southward over the eastern half of the country next week.

April's opening 5-days continue to run 3°C warmer than the same period a year ago. The results of the abnormal warmth have been tangible. Vegetation in and around Chicago has bloomed 4 to 6 weeks early, a trend which has already spawned an extremely challenging pollen-season through which many continue to suffer.

Thursday marked the first day in 27 in which temperatures finished "below normal".

Next week it's supposed to be "seasonal," which could include a freeze.

Friday 6 April 2012 11:37:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 5 April 2012

The opening days of April have seemed a lot cooler than all but one or two days in March, but as it turns out, we're still above normal:

Despite the chilly feel to the air in recent days, the books closed on a 26th consecutive above normal average daytime temperature here Wednesday. The day finished 4.4°C above normal with a high of 14.4°C.

Any clarity in the forecast for the summer, though? The Climate Prediction Center still sees only a 33% chance of above-normal temperatures through the middle of June, as the La Niña that gave us the warmest March ever winds down to a neutral state over the next couple of weeks.

If we have the warmest spring followed by a cooler-than-normal summer, there will be much rejoicing at The Daily Parker.

Thursday 5 April 2012 09:40:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 4 April 2012

...by finally stating the obvious:

[Y]ou would think that after the results of this experiment in trickle-down economics, after the results were made painfully clear, that the proponents of this theory might show some humility, might moderate their views a bit. You'd think they’d say, you know what, maybe some rules and regulations are necessary to protect the economy and prevent people from being taken advantage of by insurance companies or credit card companies or mortgage lenders. Maybe, just maybe, at a time of growing debt and widening inequality, we should hold off on giving the wealthiest Americans another round of big tax cuts. Maybe when we know that most of today’s middle-class jobs require more than a high school degree, we shouldn’t gut education, or lay off thousands of teachers, or raise interest rates on college loans, or take away people’s financial aid.

But that’s exactly the opposite of what they’ve done. Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down, and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal. (Laughter.) In fact, that renowned liberal, Newt Gingrich, first called the original version of the budget "radical" and said it would contribute to "right-wing social engineering." This is coming from Newt Gingrich.

And yet, this isn’t a budget supported by some small rump group in the Republican Party. This is now the party’s governing platform.

If you didn't hear the speech, it's worth reading.

Republicans, naturally, bleated like sheep but largely confirmed the President's main points. Oh, what a fun election this will be.

Wednesday 4 April 2012 12:44:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel rounded up some explanations of last month's record heat. Here's the NWS Chicago office:

The 2.7°C difference between the average temperature for March 2012 at Chicago-O'Hare and the previous record for warmest March is by far the largest difference between 1st and 2nd place between record warm or cold months in Chicago. The second largest difference between 1st and 2nd place is the 1.7°C separating the average temperature of January 1880 (4.3°C) and January 1933 (2.6°C) for the warmest Januarys on record in Chicago.

The 8.67°C departure from normal for March 2012 is the 3rd largest departure from the 1981-2010 normal for any month in Chicago. The only months that had higher departures from normal were January 1877, which with an average temperature of 4.3°C, was 8.9°C above the 1981-2010 average January temperature, and December 1877, which with an average temperature of 6.3°C, was 8.72°C above the 1981-2010 average December temperature.

For a more technical discussion, check out NOAA's analysis, which concludes:

A black swan most probably was observed in March 2012 (lest we forget 1910). Gifted thereby to a wonderful late winter of unprecedented balmy weather, we also now know that all swans are not white. The event reminds us that there is no reason to believe that the hottest, "meteorological maddest" March observed in a mere century of observations is the hottest possible. But this isn't to push all the blame upon randomness. Our current estimate of the impact of GHG forcing is that it likely contributed on the order of 5% to 10% of the magnitude of the heat wave during 12-23 March. And the probability of heatwaves is growing as GHG-induced warming continues to progress. But there is always the randomness.

April, so far, has been bog-standard normal.

Wednesday 4 April 2012 10:18:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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#
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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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