Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 29 August 2012

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow just announced sweeping changes to the visas that Americans can get to visit Russia:

Starting September 9, Russian and American travelers for business or tourism will be eligible to receive visas valid for multiple entries during a period of 36 months. The agreement also outlines other simplifications in the bilateral visa regime and eases visa processing time for travelers from both countries.

Thanks to the agreement, three-year, multiple-entry visas will become the standard “default” terms for U.S. citizens visiting Russia and Russian citizens visiting the United States. No formal invitation will be required to apply for a business or tourism visa, although applicants seeking Russian tourist visas must continue to hold advance lodging reservations and arrangements with a tour operator. Both sides have also committed to keep standard visa processing times under 15 days, although the circumstances of individual cases may require additional processing.

When I visited Russia in 2010, the visa application required the actual dates and modes of travel, and an official invitation from the hotel. Russian visas were only valid for the dates on the application, so missing a flight or train could cause serious difficulties crossing the border. (I saved a pdf of the rules in effect through September 9th.)

I'll be interested to see if Russian tourism picks up with this liberalization scheme.

Wednesday 29 August 2012 17:18:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Travel#

Science Guy Bill Nye keeps calm and carries on:

Wednesday 29 August 2012 09:50:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Religion#

The Wind Map is one of the coolest things I've ever seen:

And apparently, Isaac is going to hit Valparaiso (and, um, us):

Tuesday 28 August 2012 20:56:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cool links | Weather#
Tuesday 28 August 2012

Hurricane Isaac is about to come ashore in New Orleans (check out the current wind map for an arresting view), and by Friday night will be giving Illinois some much-needed rain:

As of noon on Monday, August 27, the track of Hurricane Isaac could pass through Illinois on Saturday. Of course, it won’t be a hurricane – just a tropical depression. Even so, large rainfall amounts are expected to fall in parts of Illinois and Missouri.

Then, for Labor Day Weekend, it looks to bake and then soak Chicago:

Post-landfall, the storm is expected to track north up the Mississippi Valley, spreading its torrential downpours into the Midwest with the heavy rain reaching the Chicago area by the weekend.

Prior to the rain, sinking air in advance of the storm should help boost Chicago temperatures into the mid-90s Thursday and Friday. That would raise the city's total of 32°C-plus days to 45, two shy of the record 47 logged in 1988. The heat is expected to solidify this summer's spot as the city's third hottest summer, behind 1955 and 1995 for the June-August meteorological summer period.

Tuesday 28 August 2012 15:33:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 27 August 2012

After installing Windows 8 yesterday, I discovered some interaction problems with my main tool, Visual Studio 2012. Debugging Azure has suddenly become difficult. So after installing the OS upgrade, I spent about five hours re-installing or repairing a whole bunch of other apps, and I'm not even sure I found the causes of the problems.

The next step is to install new WiFi drivers. But seriously, I'm only a few troubleshooting steps from rebuilding the computer from scratch back on Windows 7.

Cue the cursing...

Monday 27 August 2012 16:10:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software#
Sunday 26 August 2012

This morning I installed Microsoft Windows 8 on my laptop. As a professional geek, getting software after it's released to manufacturing but before the general public is a favorite part of my job.

It took almost no effort to set up, and I figured out the interface in just a few minutes. I like the new look, especially the active content on the Start screen. It definitely has a more mobile-computing look than previous Windows versions, with larger click targets (optimized for touch screens) and tons of integration with Windows Accounts. I haven't linked much to my LiveID yet, as I don't really want to share that much with Microsoft, but I'll need it to use SkyDrive and to rate and review the new features.

I also did laundry, vacuumed, cleaned out all my old programming books (anyone want a copy of Inside C# 2 from 2002?), and will now go shopping. And I promise never to share that level of picayune personal detail again on this blog.

Sunday 26 August 2012 12:13:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Software#

The Republican National Committee has cancelled the first night of their quadrennial convention because of Tropical Storm Isaac:

That move essentially postpones the activities of the first of four scheduled days of the convention. But [RNC Chair Reince] Priebus said in a conference call with reporters that the details of the revised schedule were not yet settled, and could be announced as soon as Sunday.

"The Republican National Convention is going to take place. We know that we will officially nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," he said.

The impending hurricane aside, Republicans already did some last-minute reshuffling for their convention order, moving Ann Romney's speech to Tuesday from Monday because major television networks hadn't planned to broadcast the first night of the convention.

(Emphasis mine, impressed that the GOP can spin lemonade out of a hurricane.) Still, even though Isaac looks to brush Tampa on the cheek instead of hitting it on the nose as it appeared Friday, as an atheist I'm enjoying the theological implications of the right-wing religious party having their biggest event in four years disrupted by a weather event.

Will they moderate their views about human-caused climate change? Will they whistle past this graveyard? Will monkeys fly out of my butt while I'm typing this? I think we know the answer to all three questions.

Sunday 26 August 2012 08:59:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Saturday 25 August 2012

I should really learn to estimate networking and migration tasks better. The last time I upgraded my FogBugz instance on my local web server, it took about 20 minutes. This led me to estimate the time to migrate it to a Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine at 2 hours.

Well, 2½ hours later, I'm a little frustrated, but possibly closer to getting this accomplished.

Saturday 25 August 2012 13:12:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cloud#
Friday 24 August 2012

Goose Island beer will start distributing to all 50 states by November:

The move will continue remarkable growth for what began as a small brewpub in its current Clybourn Avenue location in 1988, and has arguably become the beer most synonymous with Chicago. But a national reach also seemed inevitable once brewery founder John Hall sold the company to AB at a time when craft beer sales were soaring and macro breweries were struggling to enter the marketplace.

Production of Goose Island's biggest-selling and highest-produced beers — 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Honker's Ale, India Pale Ale and seasonal brews like Mild Winter — will expand to AB's Ft. Collins, Colo. brewery. The beers will also continue to be made at an AB plant in Baldwinsville, N.Y., as well as in smaller amounts at the Red Hook brewery in Portsmouth, N.H. and Chicago.

Colorado water? I don't think Colorado has the right amount of lead, arsenic, or radon to give it the proper flavor.

Fortunately, the high-end beers like Sofie will stay in Chicago, and presumably the brewpubs on Clybourn and in Wrigleyville will continue to make beer with proper Chicago water. We'll see.

Friday 24 August 2012 16:57:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

Three projects and a head cold have robbed me of time and energy this week. I've only got a few minutes this afternoon to list some of the more interesting things I've read in the past day:

OK, back to the mines...

Friday 24 August 2012 13:45:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | US#
Thursday 23 August 2012

Chicago music critic Jim DiRogatis questions Paul Ryan's reasoning skills in light of his views about Rage Against the Machine:

Beyond the hypocrisy of the representative from Wisconsin’s love for Rage Against the Machine is evidence of an even more troubling problem, however. Portrayed as the new driving force of the Republican party, intellectually and philosophically (and here, The New Yorker’s recent pre-announcement profile was amazingly prescient and full of insight), you have to question the actual analytical acumen of an alleged deep thinker who can so blithely ignore the very core of Rage Against the Machine. If he can’t get that right, why should we trust him about the budget?

And as Krugman says, Ryan is a Very Serious Person, with the same problem as other Very Serious People: he's flat wrong most of the time.

Thursday 23 August 2012 12:06:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Krugman this morning dug a little into Paul Ryan's infatuation with Ayn Rand, specifically around Ryan's admission that he likes her monetary policy. Through a character in Atlas Shrugged, Rand yearned for the days before "fiat" money replaced good, hard specie. In other words, before the 18th Century:

Aside from revealing just how much of a Rand fanboy Ryan is — urban legend, my foot — this is interesting because that 23 paragraph speech isn’t just a call for the gold standard; it’s a call for eliminating paper money and going back to gold coins.

This had me wondering: when was the last time the economy actually ran on specie, rather than notes?

Well...as of 1813 there was only $7 million worth of coins in the hands of the U.S. public, versus $52 million in bank notes. So even two centuries ago, we were already a paper-money economy.

And this means that Ryan wants to turn the clock back two centuries, not one.

Most people I've known over the years who believed in Ayn Rand's philosophies as teenagers eventually grew out of it. Paul Ryan apparently hasn't spent enough time interacting with reality that he's moved on. There is a reason that Objectivism appeals to adolescent, affluent white boys: it's very close to the way adolescent, affluent white boys already see the world. In some: "mine!" It's sad when affluent, adolescent white boys stay adolescent well into their Congressional careers.

Thursday 23 August 2012 10:43:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 22 August 2012

The National Hurricane Center predicts that Tropical Storm Isaac, currently smashing through the windward islands, may strike Tampa during the GOP convention:

Of course, five days out the forecast has tremendous uncertainty. The storm could change course or dissipate before hitting Florida, for example. But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, speaking about next week's GOP convention, is absolutely willing to call it off if they need to evacuate Tampa:

So, my question is, now that the religious right has all but taken over the Republican Party, what would it mean if an "act of God" shut down their convention in a Presidential election year?

Wednesday 22 August 2012 14:56:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#

At least according to the Onion:

Wednesday 22 August 2012 10:09:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes | US#
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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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