Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 20 September 2012

Before I forget, and get lost in my work again today:

All for now...

Thursday 20 September 2012 12:23:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US#

Last night, around 11:30pm, the power went out in my apartment building and the ones on either side. I know this because the five UPS units around my place all started screaming immediately. There are enough of them to give me about 10 minutes to cleanly shut down the servers, which I did, but not before texting the local power company to report it. They had it on again at 1:15am, just after I'd fallen asleep. I finally got to bed around 2 after bringing all the servers back online, rebooting my desktop computer, and checking to make sure no disk drives died horribly in the outage.

But unlike the last time I lost power, this time I did not lose email, issue tracking, this blog, everyone else's site I'm hosting, or the bulk of my active source control repositories. That's because they're all in the cloud now. (I'm still setting up Mercurial repositories on my Azure VM, but I had moved all of the really important ones to Mercurial earlier in the evening.)

So, really, only Weather Now remains in the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center, and after last night's events, I am even more keen to get it up to the Azure VM. Then, with only some routers and my domain controller running on a UPS that can go four hours with that load, a power outage will have less chance of waking me up in the middle of the night.

Thursday 20 September 2012 11:46:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud#
Wednesday 19 September 2012

My latest 10th Magnitude blog post is up, in which I dig into Microsoft's changes to Azure Web Sites announced Monday. The biggest change is that you can now point your own domain names at Azure Web Sites, which solves a critical failing with the product that has dogged them from its June release.

Since this Daily Parker post was embargoed for a day while my 10th Magnitude post got cleared with management, I've played with the new Shared tier some more. I've come to a couple of conclusions:

  • It might work for a site like Inner Drive's brochure, except for the administrative tools lurking on the site that need SSL. Azure Web sites still have no way to configure secure (https://) access.
  • They still don't expose the Azure role instance to .NET applications, making it difficult to use tools like the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ to access Azure table storage. The IDEA™ checks to see whether the Azure role instance exists (using RoleEnvironment.IsAvailable) before attempting to access Azure-specific things like tables and blobs.
  • The cost savings isn't exactly staggering. A "very small" Web Role instance costs about $15 per month. A Shared-level Web Site costs about $10. So moving to a Shared Web Site won't actually save much money.
  • Deployments, however, are a lot easier to Web Sites. You can make a change and upload it in seconds. Publishing to a Web Role takes about 15 minutes in the best circumstances. Also, since Web Sites expose FTP endpoints, you can even publish sites using Beyond Compare or your favorite FTP client.

I did upgrade one old site from Free to Shared to move its domain name off my VM. (The VM hosted a simple page that redirected users to the site's azurewebsites.net address.) I'll also be moving Hired Wrist in the next few days, as the overhead of running it on a VM doesn't make sense to me.

In other news, I've decided to go with Mercurial for source control. I'm sad to give up the tight integration with Visual Studio, but happy to gain DVCS capabilities and an awesomely simple way of ensuring that my source code stays under my control. I did look at Fog Creek's Kiln, but for one person who's comfortable mucking about inside a VM, it didn't seem worth the cost ($299).

Wednesday 19 September 2012 10:31:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cloud#
Tuesday 18 September 2012

Crain's Chicago Business yesterday ran the first part in a series about How Chicago became one of the nation's most digital cities. Did you know we have the largest datacenter in the world here? True:

Inside the former R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. printing plant on East Cermak Road, next to McCormick Place, is the world's largest, most-connected Internet data center, according to industry website Data Center Knowledge. It's where more than 200 carriers connect their networks to the rest of the world, home to many big Internet service providers and where the world's major financial exchanges connect to one another and to trading desks. "It's where the Internet happens," Cleversafe's Mr. Gladwin says.

Apparently Chicago also hosts the fifth-largest datacenter in the world, Microsoft's North Central Azure hub in Northlake. (Microsoft's Azure centers are the 5th-, 6th-, 9th-, and 10th-largest in the world, according to Data Center Knowledge.) And then there's Chicago's excellent fiber:

If all of the publicly available fiber coming in and out of the Chicago area were bundled together, it would be able to transmit about 8 terabits per second, according to Washington-based research firm TeleGeography. (A terabit per second is the equivalent of every person on the planet sending a Twitter message per second.)

New York would be capable of 12.3 terabits, and Washington 11.2 terabits. Los Angeles and San Francisco are close behind Chicago at 7.9 and 7.8 terabits, respectively. New York is the primary gateway to Europe, and Washington is the control center of the world's largest military and one of the main connection points of the Internet.

Chicago benefits from its midcontinent location and the presence of the financial markets. "The fiber optic lines that go from New York and New Jersey to Chicago are second to none," says Terrence Duffy, executive chairman of CME Group Inc., who says he carefully considered the city's infrastructure when the futures and commodities exchange contemplated moving its headquarters out of state last year because of tax issues. "It benefits us to be located where we're at."

Now, if I can just get a good fiber to my house...

Tuesday 18 September 2012 17:34:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cloud#
Monday 17 September 2012

It seems that the more I have to do, the more I'm able to do. In other words, when I haven't got a lot of assignments, I tend to veg out more. Right now I'm on a two-week development cycle, with an old client that predates my current job anxious for some bug fixes. Oddly, the old client tends to get his bug fixes when I have more to do at my regular gig.

Of course, blogging might suffer a bit. In fact I just submitted a draft blog entry for the 10th Magnitude Developer Blog that should hit tomorrow sometime. Until then, it's embargoed (which I hate because it's a timely and useful topic), and I have a feature to finish.

I guess all of this means, with apologies to René Magritte, ceci n'est pas un blog post.

Monday 17 September 2012 16:10:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#
Sunday 16 September 2012

Remember how I've spent the last three months moving stuff into the Cloud? And how, as of three weeks ago, I only had two more services to move? I saved the best for last, and I don't know for sure now whether I can move them both without some major changes.

Let me explain the economics of this endeavor, and why it's now more urgent that I finish the migration. And then, as a bonus, I'll whinge a bit about why one of the services might have to go away completely.

Sunday 16 September 2012 18:23:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cloud#

I've banged away at the 30-Ballpark Geas for four seasons now, long enough for three new parks to spring up since I started. Next weekend I'm visiting Cincinnati, the 24th park, leaving eight to go. (Citi Field and New Yankee Stadium got added to the list because they replaced parks I visited before finishing the Geas. The third new park, New Marlin Ballpark, replaced one I hadn't ever visited before, and therefore wasn't already ticked off only to be un-ticked by new construction.)

With the MLB 2013 Schedule released ridiculously early this week, a path forward has presented itself. Barring rain, war, or other unpredictable misfortune, here's the likely End of the Geas, five years after it began:

City Team Park Built Potential visit
Toronto Blue Jays AL Rogers Centre 1989 2013 May 3
New York Yankees AL New Yankee Stadium 2009 2013 May 4
Seattle Mariners AL Safeco Field 1999 2013 Jun 30
Oakland Athletics AL O.Co Stadium 1966 2013 Jul 2†
Colorado Rockies NL Coors Field 1995 2013 Jul 21†
Arizona Diamondbacks NL Chase Field 1998 2013 Jul 22†
Texas Rangers AL Rangers Ballpark 1994 2013 Jul 23
Minnesota Twins AL Target Field 2010 2013 Aug 17
St. Louis Cardinals NL Busch Stadium 2006 2013 Sep 28†

† vs. Cubs

The trip to O.Co in July is a bonus game, added simply because the Cubs have never played there before, and going to the West Coast would likely result in a stop to see the family regardless.

So, there it is: An early-season road trip to Toronto and New York; a mid-season West Coast trip followed by a triangle trip through the Great Plains; sneaking in a quick overnight trip up to Minneapolis; and ending at the home of the Cubs' ancient rivals, the Cardinals.

The Cubs might even win one or two of those games...

Sunday 16 September 2012 13:42:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball#
Friday 14 September 2012

Everyone knows that San Diego has year-round perfect temperatures, lots of sun, and great pizza. Except today, only two out of three:

The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook for Friday and Saturday, saying temperatures could reach up to 38°C near the beach.

Extremely high temperatures are unusual for the coast, which is where people typically go to escape the heat. This weekend the beach could be as warm as the inland areas.

At this writing, the temperature has hit 41°C at Miramar MCAS and 39°C at Montgomery Field, both within 16 km of downtown San Diego. (Lindbergh Field, right on the bay, is a more-palatable 27°C.)

This makes San Diego the hottest place in the world tracked by Weather Now.

Friday 14 September 2012 14:27:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Weather#

Via the Economist's Gulliver blog, Airbus Industrie has some ideas about the future:

More flights, fewer emissions and quicker passenger journey times. Welcome to Smarter Skies, the latest installment in The Future by Airbus. For the first time, our vision of sustainable aviation in 2050 looks beyond aircraft design to how the aircraft is operated both on the ground and in the air in order to meet the expected growth in air travel in a sustainable way.

Already today, if the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system and technology on board aircraft were optimised (assuming around 30 million flights per year), Airbus research suggests that every flight in the world could on average be around 13 minutes shorter. This would save approximately 9 million tonnes of excess fuel annually, which equates to over 28 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions and passenger savings of over 500 million hours of excess flight time on board an aircraft. Add to this new aircraft design, alternative energy sources and new ways of flying and you could see even more significant improvements.

Specifically, they envision:

  • Eco-climb – save energy by launching aircraft using an assisted-take-off mechanism. Since planes use so much power to leave the ground, the idea is to source that power from devices on the ground, rather than have them weighing down the plane. Then you could shorten the runways and lighten the aircraft, which would reach cruising altitude faster than at present.
  • Express skyways – planes travelling in formation, like a flock of birds, will use less energy. In Airbus's example, three aircraft heading east from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco would meet over Utah and fly onwards together. Planes could also reduce the distances they have to fly if they take genuinely direct routes between A and B, rather than zig-zagging round different countries' airspace.
  • Free-glide approaches and landings – with better air-traffic management planes would be able to glide smoothly into airports, as opposed to descending in stages and wasting energy.
  • Ground operations – "autonomous receiving vehicles" that would get planes from runway to gate faster are among the ideas for improving operations at the airport.
  • Power - biofuels and other alternative sources of energy would reduce CO2 emissions and improve the security of energy supply.

Cool stuff. And the "taxi-bot" is already here.

Friday 14 September 2012 09:48:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Thursday 13 September 2012

The area of Chicago approximately bounded by the river, North Ave., Clybourn St., and Division St. used to house factories, warehouses, loud Goth clubs, and—who could forget?—the Cabrini-Green towers. Here's the area in 1999:

Since the Whole Foods Market moved in and Cabrini-Green came down in the last few years, the area has changed. And over the next year or so, it will become unrecognizable to my dad's generation:

Target Corp. is readying a big box at Division and Larrabee streets that would extend the corridor by more than a half-mile from its heart at North and Clybourn avenues, where Apple Inc. has a store. Also imminent: Nordstrom Rack, Dick's Sporting Goods, Mariano's Fresh Market, Williams-Sonoma, Anthropologie and Sephora as well as a 14-screen movie theater.

The first of the new stores are set to open later this year. Deerfield-based CRM Properties Group Ltd. has leases with kitchen accessories seller Williams-Sonoma Inc. and Anthropologie, a women's apparel chain owned by Urban Outfitters Inc., for its site on Fremont Street, near Whole Foods' flagship store it completed in 2009 on Kingsbury Street.

To those of us who grew up in Chicago, this boggles the mind. The Target mentioned above will occupy the vacant Cabrini lots, for example. And Kingsbury St. no longer resembles a post-apocalyptic horror movie.

I can't wait to see the traffic, too...

Thursday 13 September 2012 16:22:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography#
Wednesday 12 September 2012

Major League Baseball released its 2013 schedule today. Here are the highlights for the Cubs:

  • They start the season April 1st in Atlanta.
  • The home opener on April 8th will be against Milwaukee.
  • The first appearance at a park I haven't gotten to yet won't happen until they visit Seattle on June 28th; but:
  • ...with their first-ever trip to Oakland immediately following on July 2nd, I sense a trip to the West Coast coming next summer.
  • Same with back-to-back series in two other parks I haven't seen, Colorado (July 19-21) and Arizona (July 22-25).
  • They end the season in St. Louis, playing our arch-rivals, the Cardinals.

The Cubs will not be visiting New Yankee Stadium, Minnesota, Texas, or Toronto, the other four parks in the 30-Park Geas I haven't visited yet.

Chicago's local CBS affiliate has a Cubs-specific schedule.

Wednesday 12 September 2012 15:50:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs#

Last night, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, died in an attack on our consulate in Benghazi. The attack initially seemed predicated on the release of an anti-Muslim film funded by infamous Florida bigot Terry Jones (of Qu'oran burning fame), as the film caused riots in Egypt at the same time.

The New York Times is now reporting that sources in the US suspect the Libya attack was planned:

Officials in Washington studying the events of the past 24 hours have focused on the differences between the protests on the American embassy in Cairo and the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, the Libyan city where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the other Americans were killed.

The protesters in Cairo appeared to be a genuinely spontaneous unarmed mob angered by an anti-Islam video produced in the United States. By contrast, it appeared the attackers in Benghazi were armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Intelligence reports are inconclusive at this point, officials said, but indications suggest the possibility that an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack.

Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney immediately used the violence as an excuse to lambaste President Obama with a statement that has put Romney way out in front of his party. Romney's (and RNC chair Reince Priebus's) willful misstating of facts to score political points after what could be a paramilitary attack against an American diplomat clearly shows he is unfit to serve:

The obvious responsible thing to do when American citizens and public officials are under physical threat abroad and when the details are unknown, and events spiraling, is to stay silent. If the event happens on the day of September 11 and you are a candidate for president and have observed a political truce, all the more reason to wait to allow the facts to emerge. After all, country before party, right? American lives are at stake, yes? An easy call, no?

But that's not what the Romney camp did. What they did was seize on a tweet issued by someone in the US Embassy before the attacks in order to indict the president for "sympathizing" with those who murdered a US ambassador after the attacks. ...

The knee-jerk judgments, based on ideology not reality; the inability to back down when you have said something obviously wrong; and the attempt to argue that the president of the US actually sympathized with those who murdered his own ambassador in Benghazi: these are disqualifying instincts for someone hoping to be the president of the US. Disqualifying.

At the time the United States was trying to calm down violent, unpredictable situations in two mostly-friendly countries, in which it appeared that an American ambassador was assassinated, before all the facts were known, Romney and his campaign made scoring political points their highest priority.

Romney showed us what we could expect from him as president: making ill-informed decisions for short-term political gain that put Americans at further risk.

Look, attacking the president's policies is part of his job as challenger. But for dog's sake, wait until the shooting stops. And try, just try, to think things through before speaking. In other words, if you want to be president, Mitt, stop acting like a spoiled child who feels entitled to the highest office in the country, and start acting presidential.

Wednesday 12 September 2012 13:03:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
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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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