Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 26 July 2012

The brokerage house Evercore doesn't believe Groupon. No one else does either:

The brokerage said Groupon Goods, the company's consumer products category, is increasingly becoming the merchant of record - the owner of goods being sold or the first-party seller.

As first-party sales assume inventory risk and drive higher revenue contribution, the composition of Groupon's first-quarter revenue beat in North America has become questionable, analyst Ken Sena wrote in a note.

"Growth in unique visitors in the U.S. to Groupon.com, which can be looked at as a proxy for subscriber growth, exhibited negative year-over-year trends this quarter," Sena said.

Essentially, no one is buying stuff from Groupon, which leaves them holding the bag on lots of it.

In a related story, people are sick of Farmville, which is hurting Zynga:

A slew of analysts cut their ratings and price targets for Zynga after it reported lower-than-expected quarterly results on Wednesday and forecast a much smaller 2012 profit.

Zynga has been hit by user fatigue for some of its long-running games and a shift in the way Facebook Inc's social platform promotes games.

"The biggest factor impacting current performance appears to be the way Facebook is surfacing gaming content on its platform," JP Morgan's Doug Anmuth wrote in a note to clients.

Actually, Facebook users just got bored of FarmVille, and it's hard to blame them. This is what happens when companies stop innovating in favor of milking their cash cows. (Sorry.)

Thursday 26 July 2012 17:25:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

...because most of our maize corn is dying too:

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor has expanded D3 “extreme” drought across Illinois. It went from 8 percent of the state last week to 71 percent this week. This major shift was based on a number of short-term drought indicators based on rainfall, streamflow, and temperature, as well as from widespread reports of significant crop and pasture losses.

Earlier this week, the USDA NASS reported that 66 percent of the corn crop, 49 percent of the soybean crop, and 91 percent of pasture was rated poor to very poor. Topsoil was rated at 91 percent poor to very poor and subsoil was rated 97 percent poor to very poor.

The hottest July ever in Chicago averaged 27.4°C; so far this month has averaged 27.8°C, though today and Saturday are forecast to be about normal.

Food prices, electricity expenses, health-care costs: all are higher this month than one would expect for July. Welcome to the 21st Century, where the weather is as if everyone has moved 800 km south.

Thursday 26 July 2012 10:23:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 25 July 2012

Chicago today looks set to get up to 39°C, part of an emerging pattern of worsening heat waves in the region.

The holy terror this summer, however, is 2,000 km to the northeast. Greenland has experienced unprecedented thawing this month:

The set of images released by NASA on Tuesday show a rapid thaw between 8 July and 12 July. Within that four-day period, measurements from three satellites showed a swift expansion of the area of melting ice, from about 40% of the ice sheet surface to 97%.

About half of Greenland's surface ice sheet melts during a typical summer, but [Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center] said he and other scientists had been recording an acceleration of that melting process over the last few decades. This year his team had to rebuild their camp, at Swiss Station, when the snow and ice supports melted.

He said he was most surprised to see indications in the images of melting even around the area of Summit Station, which is about two miles above sea level.

It was the second unusual event in Greenland in a matter of days, after an iceberg the size of Manhattan broke off from the Petermann Glacier. But the rapid melt was viewed as more serious.

Greenland's ice sheet accounts for possibly 25% of the world's fresh water. A massive release of that water into the North Atlantic would not only raise sea levels worldwide, but also could distrupt thermohaline circulation, which in turn would make northern Europe's weather more like Canada's.

Of course, we'll all forget this in the winter, and react with surprise and alarm in a year or two when we have another record-breaking summer. Time to adapt.

Wednesday 25 July 2012 09:00:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 24 July 2012

Krugman yesterday reminded us that people are so desperate for the security that investing in the U.S. brings them, they're paying us to take their money, at alarming rates of negative interest:

That’s right: for every maturity of bonds under 20 years, investors are paying the feds to take their money — and in the case of maturities of 10 years and under, paying a lot.

What’s going on? Investor pessimism about prospects for the real economy, which makes the perceived safe haven of US debt attractive even at very low yields. And pretty obviously investors do consider US debt safe — there is no hint here of worries about the level of debt and deficits.

Now, you might think that there would be a consensus that, even leaving Keynesian things aside, this is a really good time for the government to invest in infrastructure and stuff: money is free, the workers would otherwise be unemployed.

But no: the Very Serious People have decided that the big problem is that Washington is borrowing too much, and that addressing this problem is the key to … something.

Conservatives here and in the UK (another country with unprecedented low government interest rates) have either a delusion or a willfully dishonest belief in the dangers of deficits. Yes, both countries have long-term deficit problems that need resolution, and both countries will need lower defense and entitlement spending to close their gaps. But that's in 20 years.

Right now, we need to take this free money (five-year Treasuries are at -1.18%; ten year notes are at -0.68%) and abundant labor (nationally still around 9% unemployment) and rebuild. We need to repair our roads, upgrade our trains, fix our sewers and electric grids, and restore our countries to the economic strengths they have had in decades past.

Those on the right, however, want to continue bloodletting, draining us of our strength when we're weakest. Or, put another way, if someone is starving, withholding food won't help him. Lending him some food might just get him feeling better again.

Ten years from now we're going to look back on this period of Republican and Tory intransigence, laugh nervously, and change the subject. If we're supremely lucky, we'll be out of the economic traps that their misguided policies have created for us.

Tuesday 24 July 2012 10:21:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Politics | US | World#
Monday 23 July 2012

(Another post originally appearing on the 10th Magnitude blog.)

Last week I offered developers a simple way to simultaneously deploy a web application to a Microsoft Azure web site and an Azure Cloud Services web role. Today I'm going to point out a particular pain with this approach that may make you reconsider trying to deploy to both environments.

Monday 23 July 2012 15:41:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud#

Via Gulliver, airlines earned $22.6 bn from ancillary fees in 2011 (pdf), up 66% from 2009:

Once largely limited to low fare airlines, ancillary revenue is now a priority for many airlines worldwide, and the Review announced today shows how far the industry’s approach to ancillary revenue has developed in recent years.

Jay Sorensen, President of IdeaWorksCompany, says: “Our first report into ancillary revenue was issued in 2007, when only 23 airlines worldwide disclosed ancillary revenue activity in financial filings, and the result was a modest €1.72 billion ($2.45 billion). Four years later, 50 airlines today disclose ancillary revenue activity of €18.23 billion ($22.6 billion). It’s clear that airlines recognize the importance of ancillary revenue and are developing increasingly innovative ways to generate this.”

"Increasingly innovative." Nice. Anyone remember this ditty from Fascinating Aida, which now applies as much to United as it did to Ryanair?

Monday 23 July 2012 12:12:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

Two examples of how Europeans handle things differently than we do. First, Norway's refusal to be terrorized by lunatics with guns:

The car-bomb in Oslo designed to kill the leadership of the country, and the shootings on the island of Utoeya designed to destroy the next generation of Labour party politicians, left 77 people dead, the majority of them teenagers.

But even in the first days of shock after the attacks, it was clear the response of the Norwegian people and their government to this act of terrorism would be unique.

"The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation," [Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg] said.

A year later it seems the prime minister has kept his word.

There have been no changes to the law to increase the powers of the police and security services, terrorism legislation remains the same and there have been no special provisions made for the trial of suspected terrorists.

On the streets of Oslo, CCTV cameras are still a comparatively rare sight and the police can only carry weapons after getting special permission.

Even the gate leading to the parliament building in the heart of Oslo remains open and unguarded.

Meanwhile, just across the Baltic, Germany and the ECB seem frighteningly nonchalant about the possibility of Greece exiting the euro:

I’m not saying that Greece should be kept in the euro; ultimately, it’s hard to see how that can work. But if anyone in Europe is imagining that a Greek exit can be easily contained, they’re dreaming. Once a country, any country, has demonstrated that the euro isn’t necessarily forever, investors — and ordinary bank depositors — in other countries are bound to take note. I’d be shocked if Greek exit isn’t followed by large bank withdrawals all around the European periphery.

To contain this, the ECB would have to provide huge amounts of bank financing — and it would probably have to buy sovereign debt too, especially given the spiking yields on Spanish and Italian debt that are taking place as you read this. Are the Germans ready to see that?

My advice here is to be afraid, be very afraid.

Don't even get me started on anthropogenic climate change theory, which predicted just about everything we're experiencing in North American weather this year.

Monday 23 July 2012 11:14:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Sunday 22 July 2012

I hung out with some very old friends yesterday, and throughout our barbecue we checked up on the Cubs. By the time we went inside, it was top of the 7th, no score.

Then this happened:

Rafael Furcal's go-ahead single in the seventh turned out to be a mere appetizer as the Cardinals also matched an 86-year-old franchise record for runs in an inning. St. Louis totaled 10 hits with multiple hits by three players including pinch-hitter Allen Craig, who doubled twice with an RBI.

The Cardinals totaled nine doubles for the first time in franchise history since setting a modern major league record with 13 doubles on July 12, 1931, against the Cubs.

Cubs starter Matt Garza was taken out after three scoreless innings with cramping in his right triceps, an injury that wasn't obvious and prompted speculation that he had been traded. The Cubs added a bit of intrigue, waiting until the bottom of the sixth to announce the injury and the fact X-rays -- as a precaution for possible elbow issues -- were negative.

Germano got unlimited warmups in the fourth, an indication he was entering because of an injury or ejection, although the rule book also allows for an unspecified sudden emergency. Germano allowed a run in three-plus innings before the roof caved in on the Cubs, who allowed 12 runs in an inning for the first time since July 30, 2010, at Colorado.

Twelve runs. One half of an inning. Twelve runs. Only the presence of one friend's 11-year-old daughter kept us from expressing our true feelings about what we were watching unfold before us.

After 35 years of watching them do things like that, I'm starting to think of moving on.

Sunday 22 July 2012 10:14:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Saturday 21 July 2012

After seven days above 32°C in a row, Thursday gave us a humid, rainy 28°C before yesterday's perfect, dry 27°C. We've had a record 32 days above 32°C since June 1st, six more than we had by this time in the previous-hottest summer I remember, 1988.

The forecast for the next few days looks grim: 32°C today, 34°C Sunday, and 39°C Monday.

Welcome to the new normal: in just a couple of years, Chicago has gone from hard winters and mild summers to mild winters and broiling summers. And the climate is still changing...

Saturday 21 July 2012 08:48:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 19 July 2012

In my last post, I talked about using Azure web sites to save beaucoup bucks over Azure Cloud Services web roles on nonessential, internal, and development web applications. In this post I'll go over a couple of things that bit me in the course of deploying a bunch of applications to Azure web sites in the last two weeks.

Read more for the technical details.

Thursday 19 July 2012 10:35:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cloud#
Thursday 19 July 2012 09:54:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#

Via Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel, the Climate Prediction Center has new 1- and 3-month outlooks for the continent. Chicago has a 60% chance of being hotter and a 30% chance of being drier than normal through the end of August:

This is already a hotter summer than 1988, and on its way to become one of the hottest summers in recorded history. Oh, joy.

Thursday 19 July 2012 09:30:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 18 July 2012

A couple of days ago I discovered a new behavior in Parker. While listening to Martha Berner's song "A Town Called Happiness," which has an extensive harmonica part, Parker started to howl. Not in pain, though: he stayed in the room, and even got closer to the noise, tail wagging.

Apparently this is common dog behavior, and it really does mean he's just singing along.

So I dug out my dad's old harmonica and, yes, he sang along with that, too. In the upper ranges he really put his heart into it, too.

I know the behavior came out of those ancient days when wolves roamed free and men cowered at their howls...but this is Parker, and it's freaking adorable.

Wednesday 18 July 2012 17:10:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#

Via Sullivan, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg is creating 3D portraits from random hairs:

Collecting hairs she finds in random public places – bathrooms, libraries, and subway seats – she uses a battery of newly developing technologies to create physical, life-sized portraits of the owners of these hairs. You can see the portrait she’s made from her own hair in the photo below. While the actual likeness is a point of contention, these images bring about some creepy-yet-amazing comments; on genetic identity (how much of “you” really resides in your DNA?); on the possibilities of surveillance (what if your jealous partner started making portraits from hairs they found around your house?); and on the subjectivity inherent in working with “hard” data and computer systems (how much of a role do human assumptions play in this machine made portrait?).

The artist's site is here.

All right. This came a little sooner than I expected, and from a different source. I've long recognize the necessity of adapting to, rather than raging impotently against, the fundamental changes to the security and privacy mores we've had for several thousand years. (As Bruce Schneier has pointed out, "Fifteen years ago, [CCTV cameras] weren't everywhere. Fifteen years from now, they'll be so small we won't be able to see them.") But this project, if it works as hoped, actually freaks me out a little.

I'm going to whistle past this graveyard for the time being...

Tuesday 17 July 2012 20:31:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links | Security#
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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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