Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 16 November 2012

Oh, Azure Storage team, why did you break everything?

Software people will want to continue for some specific tips on how to do the upgrade.

Friday 16 November 2012 10:55:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Cloud#

Texas-based Hostess Brands has shut down in preparation for liquidation:

Hostess said a strike by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union that began last week had crippled its ability to produce and deliver products at several facilities, and it had no choice but to give up its effort to emerge intact from bankruptcy court.

The Irving, Texas-based company said the liquidation would mean that most of its 18,500 employees would lose their jobs.

In the Chicago area, Hostess employs about 300 workers making CupCakes, HoHos and Honey Buns in Schiller Park. Hostess also has a bakery in Hodgkins, where 325 workers make Beefsteak, Butternut, Home Pride, Nature’s Pride and Wonder breads.

Union President Frank Hurt said the company's failure was not the fault of the union but the "result of nearly a decade of financial and operational mismanagement" and that management was trying to make union workers the scapegoats for a plan by Wall Street investors to sell Hostess.

Twinkies, legend has it, were invented right here in Chicago in 1930.

I will now go see if the 7-11 across the street still has any left...

Friday 16 November 2012 10:15:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 14 November 2012

Starting before 8am with an international conference call usually means I'll have a full day. Fortunately there's Instapaper, which lets me shove all the interesting things I find during the day onto my Android pad for tomorrow's bus ride to work.

So far today:

And...now back to work.

Wednesday 14 November 2012 14:26:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | Weather#
Tuesday 13 November 2012

James Fallows, reacting to the Patreaus debacle, reminds everyone of the obvious:

Here is the secret plan:

Never put anything in an email message, to anyone, that would cause you serious problems if it fell into the wrong hands.

That's the plan™. All of it. Never do this. Ever.

Yep. This is the advice security experts have given for, well, ever.

Tuesday 13 November 2012 17:01:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Security#

Because you might learn things neatly summed up in the headline "Petraeus Apparently Most Mentally Balanced Individual in His Own Scandal" "(From the Times …)":

Ms. Kelley, a volunteer with wounded veterans and military families, brought her complaint to a rank-and-file agent she knew from a previous encounter with the F.B.I. office, the official also said. That agent, who had previously pursued a friendship with Ms. Kelley and had earlier sent her shirtless photographs of himself, was “just a conduit” for the complaint, he said. He had no training in cybercrime, was not part of the cyber squad handling the case and was never assigned to the investigation.

But the agent, who was not identified, continued to “nose around” about the case...

Later, the agent became convinced — incorrectly, the official said — that the case had stalled. Because of his “worldview,” as the official put it, he suspected a politically motivated cover-up to protect President Obama. The agent alerted Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who called the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, on Oct. 31 to tell him of the agent’s concerns.

Says Josh Marshall:

So basically this entire scandal both at the outset and in the denouement was driven by Freakshow FBI Agent X who both wanted to bed the victim of the alleged harassment and also decided that the FBI was covering up it’s investigation of the Tampa socialite to protect President Obama. And this because of his “worldview”. Please let us meet this awesome example of American law enforcement.

Now, I understand why David Patraeus lost his security clearance and, thus, his job, because of this affair. I also agree with commentators (including one of my co-workers) who said, "he resigned because of an affair? Really?" I don't think there's anything simple about the DCI conducting an affair using a pseudo-anonymous account on GMail that someone could discover without resorting to Bond-esque espionage.

But I think our nation's top law-enforcement agency, the FBI, deserve props for deciding that an investigation of a top political official that turned up nothing criminal should be announced only after one of the most divisive elections of the last 50 years. Law enforcement should not ever be political. We're a nation of laws, not men, as many have observed. Patraeus acted stupidly, but not criminally, and he's given up his career for it. Let him go quietly into the night.

As for the petty, partisan little man that broke the law to use Patraeus's resignation for political gain, he deserves the undying scrutiny of the U.S. Attorney for whatever district he lives in.

And full disclosure: I believe strongly that the DCI needs to give up certain things upon taking office, including GMail, Facebook, and bits on the side. I have no problem with human failings; but I object in the strongest terms to people in certain offices—Director of Central Intelligence and President of the United States included—engaging in any kind of personal deceit. Professional deceit? No problem with DCI or POTUS; that's part of the job. But Bill Clinton disappointed me deeply, and now, so did David Patraeus. And that's even before we talk about illegal drone strikes.

Tuesday 13 November 2012 00:49:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Talking Points Memo has some smart readers. One of them crystallized the debate about whether the Romney campaign's shock after losing was genuine, or a ploy to inoculate themselves against the wrath of their donors:

There’s an old rule of political research: never ascribe to conspiracy what can be more easily explained by stupidity. Was the Romney campaign brilliant masterminds of a coordinated PR strategy to make themselves look stupid? Or we’re they just stupid?

Occam’s razor says the latter.

For background, read Josh Marshall's angst about how the Romney campaign could have missed the facts so completely, even though the campaign ran on a platform of denying evidence that disagreed with them.

Tuesday 13 November 2012 00:20:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | US#
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On this page....
Upgrading to Azure Storage Client 2.0
Time to stock up on Twinkies
All the stuff I've sent to Instapaper
Fallows' "Secret Strategy™" to avoid email pitfalls
Why you shouldn't read emails right before going to bed
Was last Tuesday a close shave? Occam says "no"
Going, going...
Gotta love Chicago weather
The Romney campaign's software epic fail
Lowest electricity usage ever
Chicago electricity aggregation passes
Consequences of the GOP losses in Illinois
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David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International 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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