Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 12 April 2012

Connecticut's house has voted to repeal the death penalty, which will make the state the 17th to abolish it:

Senate Bill 280 cleared the House 86-62, a vote that broke largely along party lines. The bill now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has pledged to sign it, ending a form of punishment in the state that dates back to Colonial times when those convicted of being witches were sent to the gallows.

[S]upporters of the repeal effort say the state's death penalty is irrevocably broken — just one man, serial killer Michael Ross, has been executed in the past 50 years, and that was after he waived his appeals. Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Republican from Trumbull who supported the repeal bill, called the current death penalty "a paper tiger."

Others pointed out that government is not infallible, and the chance, however slight, of an innocent person being executed is too grave a risk when the punishment is death.

And just a quick reminder, here are the jurisdictions that still have capital punishment: Belarus, China (PRC), Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan (ROC), Tonga, United States, Vietnam. We executed 46 people in 2010, putting us ahead of everyone in the world except China (over 4,000), Iran (252), North Korea (60), and Yemen (53). Great company to be in.

Oh, and thanks to a couple southern states, we're the only democracy that executes children.

Connecticut is making the right move. I hope the rest of the country follows suit.

Thursday 12 April 2012 09:55:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World#
Wednesday 11 April 2012

Pauvre chat:

(Via Sullivan.)

Wednesday 11 April 2012 16:31:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 10 April 2012

I'd say he's performing about as expected:

Tuesday 10 April 2012 12:22:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Parker#

Theories also have predictive value; that is, in order for a hypothesis to graduate to theorydom, it has to fit all the available facts and predict future events. You know, like anthropogenic climate change, which gets closer to being a true theory every day. For example, via Fallows, a paper written in 1981 seems to have predicted it pretty well:

Sometimes it helps to take a step back from the everyday pressures of research (falling ill helps). It was in this way we stumbled across Hansen et al (1981) (pdf). In 1981 the first author of this post was in his first year at university and the other just entered the KNMI after finishing his masters. Global warming was not yet an issue at the KNMI where the focus was much more on climate variability, which explains why the article of Hansen et al. was unnoticed at that time by the second author. It turns out to be a very interesting read.

[T]hey attribute global mean temperature trend 1880-1980 to CO2, volcanic and solar forcing. Most interestingly, Fig.6 (below) gives a projection for the global mean temperature up to 2100. At a time when the northern hemisphere was cooling and the global mean temperature still below the values of the early 1940s, they confidently predicted a rise in temperature due to increasing CO2 emissions. They assume that no action will be taken before the global warming signal will be significant in the late 1990s, so the different energy-use scenarios only start diverging after that.

And the band played on...

Tuesday 10 April 2012 11:56:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | Weather#

The FBI has put together a committee of university presidents to root out foreign spies who have infiltrated American colleges:

While overshadowed by espionage against corporations, efforts by foreign countries to penetrate universities have increased in the past five years, [Frank] Figliuzzi, [Federal Bureau of Investigation assistant director for counterintelligence] said. The FBI and academia, which have often been at loggerheads, are working together to combat the threat, he said.

Attempts by countries in East Asia, including China, to obtain classified or proprietary information by “academic solicitation,” such as requests to review academic papers or study with professors, jumped eightfold in 2010 from a year earlier, according to a 2011 U.S. Defense Department report. Such approaches from the Middle East doubled, it said.

The problem with this, as a number of people pointed out in the article, is that academics share information freely. That's their freaking job. And the U.S. has hundreds of thousands of foreign students—76,000 from China alone—because, for now anyway, we have the best schools in the world.

Of course the FBI should go after real spies, and discovering former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Tretyakov probably prevented Russia from stealing information that would have helped them catch up to where we'd gotten ten years earlier.

The university presidents on the FBI's committee need to remember their first duty. I hope some of them will remind the FBI that suspecting lots of foreigners of trying to spy on us will cost more than it will save.

This is a very old conversation. There are always people who see enemies everywhere. Sometimes they're right; but we need to make sure that when they're wrong, they don't cause more damage than they're trying to prevent.

Tuesday 10 April 2012 10:40:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | Security#
Monday 9 April 2012

I like being busy, but it does take time away from lower-priority pursuits like blogging. If I had more time, I'd pontificate on the following:

For now, though, it's back to the mines.

Monday 9 April 2012 11:36:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | US | Cool links | Travel#
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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
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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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