Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Monday 12 November 2012

Two Chicago businesses find themselves on the ropes this afternoon, according to the Tribune. The first company, Groupon, has problems many people predicted long before their IPO:

Groupon and its compatriots in the much-hyped daily deals business were supposed to change the very nature of small-business advertising. Instead, it is the daily deal vendors that are racing to change as evidence mounts that their business model is fundamentally flawed.

Critics say the torrid growth that enabled Groupon to go public at $20 a share just a year ago was fueled by merchants buying into a new type of marketing that they didn't fully understand. The discounts offered through the Groupon coupons have turned out to be costly, and the repeat business they generate uncertain.

A Raymond James survey of roughly 115 merchants that used daily deals services during the fall found that 39 percent of merchants said they were not likely to run another Groupon promotion over the next couple of years. The top reasons cited were high commission rate and low rate of repeat customers gained through offering a promotion.

Yeah, no kidding. These flaws have been obvious from Groupon's beginning. I have one outstanding Groupon and one outstanding Living Social deal, and I'm not sure when I'll get to use either. After that, meh.

The other company, Hostess, has hit an unexpected and possibly fatal labor dispute that may force it into out of reorganization and into liquidation:

On Friday, Hostess-employed members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union began to strike nationwide, blaming a “horrendous contract” that they claimed could cut wages and benefits up to 32%.

Workers picketed or honored the strike in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle and in states such as Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois and Montana. Hostess said in a statement that the walk-offs could lead to layoffs for most of its 18,300-member workforce and a sale of its assets “to the highest bidders.”

“A widespread strike will cause Hostess Brands to liquidate if we are unable to produce or deliver products,” according to the statement. The Irving, Tex.-based company, which was founded in 1930, acknowledged that “the concessions are tough.”

So if you like Twinkies and Ho-Hos, you'd better stock up. (Don't worry; they keep.)

Monday 12 November 2012 15:39:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | Business#

In the past 24 hours, the temperature here dropped from 21°C at 2pm yesterday to -2°C at 8am today. The cold front responsible drove the temperature down 6°C in three hours at one point, making for uncomfortable walks home from dinner.

We had two delightful September days, but now it's November again. The Climate Prediction Center expects normal temperatures in Chicago through the end of January. Winter is coming...

Monday 12 November 2012 15:06:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 11 November 2012

Politico's Burns & Haberman explain:

[ORCA] was described as a mega-app for smartphones that would link the more than 30,000 operatives and volunteers involved in get-out-the-vote efforts. PBS profiled it a few days before the election. The app was created and managed by the Romney campaign and was kept a secret among a close circle in Boston, according to POLITICO sources.

It's been reported the system crashed at 4 p.m., but multiple sources familiar with the war room operation said it had actually been crashing throughout the day. Officials mostly got information about votes either from public news sources tracking data, like CNN.com, or by calling the counties for information, the source said. Officials insisted the day after the election that they had still believed they were close, and that they had hit their numbers where they needed to, even as Fox News and other outlets called the race.

The post links back to a Romney volunteer's description of how ORCA failed in the field:

On one of the last conference calls (I believe it was on Saturday night), they told us that our packets would be arriving shortly. Now, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion about what they meant by "packet". Some people on Twitter were wondering if that meant a packet in the mail or a pdf or what. Finally, my packet arrived at 4PM on Monday afternoon as an emailed 60 page pdf. Nothing came in the mail. Because I was out most of the day, I only got around to seeing it at around 10PM Monday night. So, I sat down and cursed as I would have to print out 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. ... They expected 75-80 year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day? From what I hear, other people had similar experiences. In fact, many volunteers never received their packets at all.

Now a note about the technology itself. For starters, this was billed as an "app" when it was actually a mobile-optimized website (or "web app"). For days I saw people on Twitter saying they couldn't find the app on the Android Market or iTunes and couldn't download it. Well, that's because it didn't exist. It was a website. This created a ton of confusion. Not to mention that they didn't even "turn it on" until 6AM in the morning, so people couldn't properly familiarize themselves with how it worked on their personal phone beforehand.

The project management antipatterns are apparent: Blowhard Jamboree, Smoke and Mirrors, Throw It Over the Wall, and basic Project Mismanagement, for starters. I haven't seen the code, but I can't imagine the management and deployment problems didn't lead to design and construction problems as well.

We software professionals have learned, through painful experience, that software developers have a better understanding of how to develop software than corporate executives. Go figure. Since Mitt Romney ran as a father-knows-best, authoritarian candidate, it should surprise no one that the people he hired couldn't run a software project.

Sunday 11 November 2012 10:08:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US | Business#
Saturday 10 November 2012

Last month I used less electricity than ever before at my current address, mainly because two of the five servers in the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center have had their duties migrated to Microsoft Windows Azure.

This past month, I used even less:

It wasn't my smallest-ever bill, though, thanks to Exelon's recent rate increases. But still: here's some more concrete evidence that the Cloud can save money.

And before people start pointing to the New York Times article from September about how wasteful the Cloud is, I can't help but point out that the writer left out the part where moving to the cloud lets businesses turn off their own on-premises servers. And given the way Azure works (and, I assume, Amazon's and Google's equivalents), instead of dedicated servers doing just about nothing all day, you have shared servers handling sometimes dozens of different virtual machines for a fraction of the cost.

Anyway, except for the part where I fly 100,000 km every year, I feel like moving to the Cloud is helping everyone.

Saturday 10 November 2012 09:47:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Business | Cloud#
Friday 9 November 2012

Voters in the City of Chicago (including me) passed a referendum giving the city the authority to negotiate electricity prices on behalf of everyone. Implementation will be swift:

The timing of the deal is important because Chicagoans stand to save the most money over Commonwealth Edison's rate between now and June 2013, when ComEd's prices are expected to drop because pricey contracts they entered into years ago will expire. The timeline has Chicagoans moving to the new supplier in February 2013.

Michael Negron, deputy chief of policy and strategic planning for the mayor's office, said electricity suppliers have shown great interest in snagging Chicago's service. Nearly 100 people packed a conference Monday for the city's "request for qualifications" process. The bidders ranged from multi-billion corporations to smaller providers from all over the country, he said. Industry analysts say the deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollar to the winning supplier or suppliers.

Residents and businesses may opt out of the scheme and negotiate supply prices separately. As readers of this blog know, I'm desperate for lower prices, and eagerly looking forward to my electric bills next year after the new rate deal hits right after I shut down the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center.

Friday 9 November 2012 11:12:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | US | Cloud#
Thursday 8 November 2012

Not only did the Republican Party lose 3 U.S. House seats in suburban Chicago, they also lost enough Illinois General Assembly seats to give the Democrats veto-proof majorities in both its chambers. Crain's sounds the alarm:

[T]he challenges we face are enormous and vexing.

To meet them, we need a viable, capable and credible opposition party. Put another way: We need Republicans to rethink their very reason for being. In the near term, that means the national GOP needs representatives and, eventually, candidates to come forward with serious policy proposals that have appeal beyond the party's ultra-conservative base. We need pragmatists who are ready to cooperate with Democrats to do the people's work. We need less of a fixation on the social issues that divide us and more of an emphasis on ideas and solutions to our shared problems as a state and as a nation.

As long as they're not raging extremists, I think having a thoughtful opposition helps any policy-making body. Olympia Snowe never bothered me much, for example. If that was the Republican Party (instead of, say, Michele Bachmann), I think the U.S. would be better off.

Also of note in local races, Joe Walsh not only lost his seat by a convincing margin, but he spent more money than anyone else in the state:

[I]n the three top Chicago-area congressional races, those who spent the most money — or had the most spent on their behalf — lost.

In each case, that was the Republican candidate.

The worst bang for the buck?

Tea Party Republican Joe Walsh. Each vote he won on Tuesday cost $70.

Walsh’s challenger, Tammy Duckworth, was a relatively good investment. Duckworth’s totals meant $39 a vote with $4.7 million in spending and 120,774 votes.

Thanks to the right-wing bonanza of Citizens United, this was the most expensive election in history, starting with the two Presidential campaigns spending about $800m each. Yes, readers in the UK: just the top line of the ballot cost us one thousand million pounds. Can you imagine the effects of even a tenth of that amount—£100m—on a political campaign in the UK?

Thursday 8 November 2012 13:23:52 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
Wednesday 7 November 2012

This morning's New York Times:

How about those statistics, hey? Nate Silver went 49 and 0 (with 1 "no decision"):

Wednesday 7 November 2012 09:31:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

I'll have more tomorrow, once I've slept a bit and digested some of these results. In sum, though, I am immensely relieved that reason appears to have won and extremism (and bald-faced lying) seems to have lost.

President Obama is about to take the stage at McCormick Place, so we're minutes from those much-anticipated words, "Governor Romney called me a few minutes ago to congratulate me." Meanwhile, there's even more good news coming through the Intertubes right now:

  • Democrat Brad Schneider has unseated Bob Dold in my home-town district, the Illinois 10th. With Tammy Duckworth's victory, this makes the north Chicago suburbs a sea of blue, and gives the Democratic Party two more house seats.
  • The Denver Post projects that cannabis legalization will pass in Colorado.
  • Tammy Baldwin is winning in Wisconsin. If the trend continues, not only is it a Democratic pick-up in the U.S. Senate, but also she'll become the first openly gay U.S. Senator in history.
  • With Democrat Maggie Hassan winning the New Hampshire governor race, and Democrat Annie Kuster winning in the New Hampshire 2nd CD, four of New Hampshire's top 5 offices are held by women. With 57% reporting, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter right now leads in the New Hampshire 1st. If she wins, it will be the first time in history a state's entire Congressional delegation is female.
  • Anti-gay ballot initiatives appear to have failed in Minnesota, Maine, Washington, and Maryland.

Tonight's election feels to me like a widespread rejection of the far right, and a reaffirmation of reason and patience as principles of governance. We didn't win everything—Michele Bachmann will probably squeak out a narrow re-election—but we won a lot more decisively than I'd expected.

Four more years. No war with Iran. Tea Party extremists thrown out of office. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who tried to buy himself some politicians, zero-for-six (including Mitt Romney). And Mitt Romney himself, the man who figured he could lie his way to the White House, soundly defeated even before all the ballots were counted in the magical swing states of Ohio and Florida.

I'm really very pleased with the way this turned out. And I'm excited about the strengthening coalition we've put together.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 23:26:47 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

Iowa and Colorado put him over. NBC just called it, before calling Ohio.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 22:20:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

Tim Kaine picks up the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia; Tammy Duckworth wins the Illinois 8th; Obama wins California. Well, duh to the last one.

But Obama is also leading in Iowa, Florida, and Ohio, and has a chance of winning Virginia. Pick any two and that's the ballgame. CNN has Obama at 238 electoral votes, NBC has him at 243.

I was mentally prepared to stay up until all hours, taking a break right now to do pub trivia at a local bar. Well, I'm at pub trivia (but I'm not allowed to play because of the laptop), but it looks like I might get to sleep at a reasonable hour.

President Obama is now arriving at Chicago's McCormick Place. My bet: victory speech before midnight. And we won't have actually needed Ohio.

And just before I hit "Submit," CNN calls Iowa and the Denver Post calls Colorado.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 22:12:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

Elizabeth Warren wins Massachusetts; Joe Donnelly wins Indiana; Claire McCaskill leading 52-41 with 13% reporting. Was it God's will that Mourdock was too extreme even for Indiana? And did the voters in Missouri look at Todd Akin and find a way of shutting that thing down?

And as more votes get counted, the President is pulling ahead in both Ohio and Florida. Too close to call either yet, of course. But I'm pretty happy tonight.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 21:00:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

As I reach for a big jar of Tums, Obama leads Romney by 31 votes (out of 2 million counted) in Florida. But: The President has won Michigan and Pennsylvania; Tammy Duckworth has a commanding lead in the Illinois 8th; with 62% reporting, Donnelly leads Mourdock 48-45 in Indiana; and with 23% reporting, Democrat Elizabeth Warren leads incumbent Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts 52-48.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 20:27:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

No surprises yet—the solid states are solid, the tight states are tight. Illinois goes to Obama, as does Romney's home state Massachusetts. Maine goes to King, so a de facto pickup for the Democrats. NBC is calling Democrat Chris Murphy the winner in Connecticut over professional wrestling billionare Linda McMahon, so we keep the seat.

Current confirmed tally: Obama 65, Romney 51. Current nail-biting tallies: Ohio, 58-40 Ohio (1% reporting); Florida, 51-48 Obama (32%); Virginia, 56-42 Romney (26%).

One very bright spot: with 35% reporting, Democrat Joe Donnelly is 50-44 over Republican Richard Mourdock—a pickup for us if the trend continues.

If you want to play along, I'm getting info from the following sources:

Tuesday 6 November 2012 19:38:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
Tuesday 6 November 2012

Obviously I care most about the U.S. presidential race today, and I'm hoping for a clean win by the President. But a few other races have my interest:

  • The Illinois 8th Congressional District, in which Democrat Tammy Duckworth is challenging incumbent Tea Party Republican Joe Walsh. Duckworth is favored by 10 points as of this weekend.
  • The Illinois 10th Congressional District, with moderate Democrat Brad Schneider challenging moderate Repupblican Congressman Bob Dold, is polling at Dold +8 right now, but could break for Schneider. I grew up in that district, and for my entire life it's had a moderate Republican representative. In fact, if I recall correctly, Don Rumsfeld represented the district in the 1960s, before the senility took hold.
  • Indiana's U.S. Senate race between Tea Party Republican Richard Mourdock (of "babies conceived in rape are God's will" fame) against conservative Democrat Joe Donnelly. This should have been an easy win for Mourdock, but he has, shall I say, unpopular views on abortion. Nate Silver gives Donnelly a 69% chance of winning, which will result in a Democratic pickup.
  • Missouri's U.S. Senate race has Neandertal Congressman Todd Akin challenging Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. Again, because of his extreme views, what should have been a GOP pickup is instead looking to be a Democratic re-election slam-dunk. McCaskill is polling 51-36 over Akin as of this weekend.
  • The U.S. Senate races in Ohio, Maine, and Nevada as well, where my guys are polling, respectively, 50-46 (Brown-D), 47-34 (King-I) and 46-48 (Berkley-D).
  • Referenda in Illinois (Illinois constitutional amendment, Chicago electricity supply pooling, and a U.S. constitutional amendment proposal), Colorado (cannabis legalization), Minnesota (gay marriage ban), and California (repealing the death penalty).
  • Finally, Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, where crazy person Michele Bachmann is leading her Democratic challenger by only a few points in the polls. One can dream, right?

Only 9 hours until polls close in the east...

Tuesday 6 November 2012 09:56:42 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

I'm about to go vote, then go to work, then tonight put myself in front of a TV, a radio, an Android pad, and at least one computer. Possibly two computers.

Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what theatrical quote best sums up this election day. One that encapsulates the deepest psyche of the American voter, our commitment to American values, our character.

Perhaps: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"

No, too British. OK, then: "Winter is coming..."

No, no, no. My guy's going to win, regardless of what the Stark campaign thinks.

Aha! I have it! The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and the American Voter!

"SQUIRREL!"

Now, off to the polls.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 07:47:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

One of the benefits of visiting a small city in the off-season: you get a great hotel room for £98. So let it be with Cardiff. I think during the summer, this kind of view of Cardiff Bay goes for many times more. Combine a great room with a camera that has mind-boggling low-light capabilities, and voilà:

See? You thought I was going to post about the election.

Monday 5 November 2012 21:15:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Travel#
Monday 5 November 2012

Ever the Pollyanna, Nate Cohn lays out the nightmare scenario:

With the West Coast providing the margin of victory for any Democratic candidate in a close election, Republican presidential candidates outperform their eventual share of the popular vote until the West Coast reports its results. In 2008, California, Washington, and Oregon voted for Obama by a 4 million-vote margin, representing nearly half of his national popular vote victory.

But the time zones are not alone in delaying results from Washington, Oregon, and California. In most eastern states, the overwhelming majority of votes are counted by the end of Election Night, since only a small share of absentee or overseas ballots arrive after the election. But elections in Washington and Oregon are now conducted entirely by mail and 41 percent of California voters voted by mail in 2008.

If Obama performs as strongly in California, Washington, and Oregon as he did in 2008, he could trail by several percentage points in the national popular vote while giving his victory or concession speech and ultimately seize the lead in the popular vote in the following days and weeks. Even a more middling performance out West, closer to Kerry's, would still allow him to make considerable gains. Unless Election Night ends with Obama holding a lead in the popular vote or Romney holding a large enough advantage to withstand the possibility of a predictably strong showing in late ballots, we may not know the winner of the popular vote for weeks.

But on the other coast, some good news. The New York subway map looks a lot better than it did Thursday morning:

Monday 5 November 2012 10:30:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | 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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