Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 5 September 2012

Seriously:

Within the bottle, a postcard written in June 1914 by Captain CH Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation promised the finder a reward of 6 pence. It had been part of a scientific experiment in which 1,890 such bottles were released, in a bid to chart currents around Scotland.

Even odder, the person who found this 98-year-old message worked on the same boat as a man who found a 93-year-old message back in 2006. The bottles were part of an early-20th-century research project to map Scotland's sea currents.

Wednesday 5 September 2012 17:40:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

We're doing some very cool things at 10th Magnitude. Here's my boss, CEO Alex Brown, explaining:

Notice, by the way, how often I have mentioned an employer on this blog. I'd discuss the company more right now, but I have to get back to writing some pretty cool Azure code...

Wednesday 5 September 2012 08:52:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Tuesday 4 September 2012

Just when you thought it was September, along comes more hot weather. Chicago officially hit 32°C for the 46th time this year, putting us one away from tying the record number of days above that temperature in recorded Chicago history.

Can we please have autumn now?

Tuesday 4 September 2012 15:13:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 3 September 2012

I've just finished Jane Jacobs' foundational work on urban planning. I first came across the book in 2010, started reading it in May, then put it down and picked it up a few times.

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published 51 years ago, Jacobs demolished the philosophy of urban planning that had prevailed since the 1920s. The Cabrini Green housing projects, massively disruptive road-building like the Dan Ryan and Congress Expressways, and a way of top-down analysis that looked at thriving neighborhoods like Boston's North End as slums, all exemplified post-war urban planning; Jacobs tried to reverse it.

Some things that stood out:

[One] category of uses is conventionally considered, by planners and zoners, to be harmful, especially if these uses are mingled into residential areas. This category includes bars, theaters, clinics, businesses and manufacturing. It is a category which is not harful; the arguments that these uses are to be tightly controlled derive from their effects in suburbs and in dull, inherently dangerous gray areas, not from their effects in lively city districts.

For example: a shopping mall surrounded by parking lots has a few restaurants attached to it. Who wants to walk to these restaurants? How likely are people to linger there, or to happen upon a previously-unknown, independent night spot? Contrast that with, say, North Clark Street in Chicago, where a person can walk for almost 30 blocks, from Lincoln Avenue (1800 N) up to Irving Park Road (4000 N), and never be more than a few meters from a restaurant, a bar, an interesting shop, or a three-flat. In fact, the restaurants and shops often occupy the ground floors of the three-flats. As Jacobs writes, along a street like that, people are always around, throughout the day, living their lives—unlike in the suburbs, where shops close and the area is deserted.

Or this, in the chapter "Gradual money and cataclysmic money," in which she takes on blacklisting and slum clearing:

The immense new suburban sprawls of American cities have not come about by accident—and still less by the myth of free choice between cities and suburbs. Endless suburban sprawl was made practical (and for many families was actually mandatory) through the creation of something the United States lacked until the mid-1930s: a national morgage market specifically calculated to encourage suburban home building. ...

City people finance the building of suburbs. To be sure, one of the historic missions of cities, those marvelously productive and efficient places, is to finance colonization.

But you can run anything into the ground.

Fortunately, over the past 50 years, communities and their planners have listened to Jacobs. She herself worked tirelessly (and successfully) to prevent Robert Moses from destroying SoHo and Chinatown with the Lower Manhattan Expressway.

I should note, I put the book down several times because it made me mad—not at Jacobs, but at people like Le Corbusier and Robert Moses. I'm about to put Robert Caro's The Power Broker on my reading stack*, as I put Jane Jacobs next to Suburban Nation in my bookshelves.

Monday 3 September 2012 16:41:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#

Beloit College's Mindset List has me thinking: what will future lists look like? Some ideas:

The 2024 List

  • The Class of 2024 were born in 2002.
  • The World Trade Center has never existed.
  • There has always been an American military presence in Afghanistan.
  • Monica Lewinsky means as much to them as Christine Keeler meant to their parents.

I thought of a few more...read on.

Monday 3 September 2012 12:20:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Clearing out the ballast:

  • Despite the initial forecasts, Hurricane Isaac's remnants missed Chicago.
  • Beloit College, just outside Rockford, Ill., has published its Class of 2016 Mindset. Since 1998 they've published a list of facts about the way incoming first-years think. This year's list includes "Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles" and "A bit of the late Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, has always existed in space."
  • The Economist's Gulliver blog bemoans Tampa's and Charlotte's piss-poor walkability, and how Tampa especially repudiates the loony-right conspiracy theory about Agenda 21.
  • The wackos also got on NPR this morning with a story about yet more efforts to forbid Sharia law, which ended with the vacuous understatement "The proposals are a solution in search of a problem, according to many." Apparently NPR just wanted to shine a light on the crazy without correcting it.
  • Speaking of crazy, with just four weeks left in the season, the Cincinnati Reds are the best team in baseball right now, with the Washington Nationals just behind them. The Cubs, now 51-82, earned their "E" just yesterday, fully two weeks after the Houston Astros (41-93) became the first team to earn mathematical elimination this season.

Updates as conditions warrant.

Monday 3 September 2012 10:27:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Kitchen Sink | US | Weather#
Sunday 2 September 2012

August marked Chicago's 11 straight month of above-normal temperatures:

[A] string of warmer than normal readings never before observed here. Meteorological summer itself is to finish as the third-warmest in 142 years of weather records here. Not surprisingly, the season’s been a sunnier than usual one producing 76% of its possible sun—more than summer’s usual 66% here.

The Climate Prediction Center forecasts an above-normal autumn as well. Good thing the election is about empty chairs at empty tables...

Sunday 2 September 2012 16:41:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Saturday 1 September 2012

Parker came home with me six years ago today. Here he is a few minutes ago, wondering why we were outside but not walking anywhere:

And, of course, here he his six years ago:

Saturday 1 September 2012 10:41:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#
Friday 31 August 2012

Federal judge Peter Economus ruled today that a Republican law to curtail in-person early voting, in which people can vote in Ohio up until the Monday before election day, was unconstitutional:

The law had made an exception allowing for in-person early voting over that final weekend for military personnel, voters who fell under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act, or UOCAVA. Supporters of the law said that eliminating early voting over those final three days could hurt those voters who otherwise might have more limited access to voting.

But the judge took a different view, saying that opening in-person early voting over those final three days to all voters would not harm those military families. Instead, Economus said the only harm to those voters was that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, had not set uniform hours for voting over that final weekend.

"This court notes that restoring in-person early voting to all Ohio voters through the Monday before Election Day does not deprive UOCAVA voters from early voting," the judge ruled. "Instead, and more importantly, it places all Ohio voters on equal standing."

Ohio, like many Republican-controlled states, has taken steps to limit the voting rights of exactly those citizens most likely to vote for Democrats. Since the Republican platform is remarkably unpopular once people get to know it, this is their "plan B." It would be sad, if it weren't fundamentally wrong.

Friday 31 August 2012 13:15:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

American Airlines and US Airways announced this morning that they've signed a non-disclosure agreement, a concrete step towards merging the corporations:

The non-disclosure agreement also means the companies won't be providing more announcements regarding the status of discussions until there's a merger deal or they call off talks, the airlines said.

The airline companies said they would work in "close collaboration" and "good faith" to evaluate a merger, including working with the creditors committee of AMR, which is in bankruptcy protection.

The companies note there's no guarantee a merger will result from discussions.

No guarantee, sure; but with American's unions openly supporting the merger, and with the reality that failing to merge with US Airways would mean the end of American within 10 years or so, this is very encouraging. And as an American elite frequent flyer, I really hope they tie the knot.

Friday 31 August 2012 10:05:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Thursday 30 August 2012

I can't tell whether South Carolina U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham was speaking plainly or criticizing his party's tin ear when he said yesterday, "We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term." The Washington Post puts this in context:

Exit polls from 2008 showed that 90 percent of GOP voters were white, a homogeneity that has been consistent for more than 30 years, even as the percentage of the electorate that is white has fallen.

Nonwhite voters favored Obama over Romney by better than three to one in a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from early August; 74 percent of Latino voters and 90 percent of African Americans backed Obama.

And despite a speaker lineup in Tampa that includes Artur Davis, a black former Democratic congressman; former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice; and Utah congressional candidate Mia Love, who would be the party’s first black congresswoman if she won in November, just 2 percent of convention delegates are black.

That’s according to an analysis by David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Bositis also said that only two members of the 165-member RNC are black and that none of the leaders of the committees responsible for drafting the GOP platform and adopting the convention rules are black.

“This Republican Party base is white, aging and dying off,” he said.

This couldn't have anything to do with the party's takeover by its loony right fringe, could it? Or the predictable outcome of Nixon's and Reagan's Southern strategy? Nah.

Thursday 30 August 2012 10:19:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

United Airlines will start flying the airplane on its Chicago to Houston route this fall:

The first 787 Chicago flights to Houston will begin Nov. 4 and end Dec. 3. That service will operate six days a week during that time, with the Chicago flight departing at 11:15 a.m. After that, daily service will restart Jan. 4 and run to March 29.

Though the initial routes are temporary, United is likely to regularly fly 787s out of O'Hare eventually, especially as it takes delivery of more planes. United will take delivery of five planes this year from its total order of 50.

United is also flying the planes from Houston to San Francisco, so if I wanted to see how the other half lives (I almost always fly American), I suppose I could book my Thanksgiving travel on United. I'll see how much tickets cost Saturday morning, when they go on sale. Even though I'd feel like I'm cheating on my airline, I'd love to get on one of the new planes before American starts flying them in 2014.

Thursday 30 August 2012 09:33:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
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#
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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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