Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Sunday 30 December 2012

Yesterday Chicago only got up to -1°C. It's the first time since February 25th, 308 days earlier, that we had a high temperature below freezing, and it's the longest time in recorded history (tying the record set in 1878) Chicago has gone between them.

We woke up today at -9°C, the coldest temperature here since February 11th. But tomorrow's forecast calls for a high just above freezing, giving us only 13 days in all of 2012 that failed to get above freezing. I haven't done the analysis but that seems like a very low number.

Even the coming week's predicted cold snap appears it will leave almost as soon as it arrived. Says WGN's Richard Koeneman, "as has been the case with this winter's cold spells, this one is to be short-lived. Following cold readings midweek—and 'cold' only of moderate intensity—a gradual warm-up that takes hold on Thursday will continue into the weekend."

Will Spring 2013 wind up as warm as last spring, now that Winter 2013 is so far warmer than Winter 2012?

Sunday 30 December 2012 11:53:20 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Not even 8:15 in the morning, and already NPR has run a story that made me furious. It seems the latest theory right-wing billionaires have concocted to escape scrutiny has somewhat different origins from its present use:

In defending secret money, [former bug exterminator Karl] Rove invokes that Supreme Court case, NAACP v. Alabama. He lines up Crossroads GPS on the same side as Parks and the NAACP, and he says the transparency advocates make the same argument as the segregationists.

"I think it's shameful," Rove said. "I think it's a sign of their fear of democracy. And it's interesting that they have antecedents, and the antecedents are a bunch of segregationist attorney generals trying to shut down the NAACP."

One would think that, after 15 years of seeing it, people would notice that Rove's favorite tactic is to accuse his opponents of what he, himself, is doing. If he were mugging someone, he'd accuse his victim of assault on the grounds that the victim threatened to hit him back. (Wait—I think he's already done that.)

Moving on:

Montgomery law enforcement brought charges against Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders. Arsonists firebombed their homes and churches. Across the state, rioters blocked an NAACP bid to desegregate the University of Alabama. A mob chased the one African-American student, chanting "Let's kill her."

The university acted. It suspended the black student — and then expelled her.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General John Patterson subpoenaed the NAACP's membership records. "The NAACP is the biggest enemy that the people of this state have," he said.

So, to recap: In 1958, the Supreme Court said that Alabama couldn't get a list of NAACP supporters to assist them in burning crosses on their lawns and throwing rocks through their windows. The state's goal was to shut down the civil rights movement by any means necessary.

Those of us wanting to know who's giving billions of dollars to elect political candidates have no intention of violence. We just want to know who's putting all that money into subverting democracy. Our sanction against the Kochs of the world is to vote against every candidate they support.

Even Antonin Scalia—Antonin Frickin' Scalia—agrees, writing in Doe v Reed two years ago:

There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for selfgovernance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously (McIntyre) and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.

That was the 2010 version of Scalia. It seems likely, however, that he won't reverse himself completely, so this suit will fail. Maybe we'll even have a Federal sunshine law? Wouldn't that be...democratic.

Sunday 30 December 2012 08:36:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 29 December 2012

You remember how Voyager 2 launched two weeks before Voyager 1? This is similar: I got photos of nephew #2 before nephew #1:

Yes, sir, that's a baby:

Saturday 29 December 2012 11:45:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Late next year, Earth could get the best show from a comet in decades:

By the end of summer [Comet Ison] will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.

Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun. Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.

By late November it will be visible to the unaided eye just after dark in the same direction as the setting Sun.

I expect we'll hear more about this as it gets closer.

Saturday 29 December 2012 10:40:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#
Thursday 27 December 2012

In a completely shocking, unforeseeable move, the people who stole leased Chicago's parking meters will raise rates next week:

In an annual ritual that has become as predictable if not as joyous as a New Year’s Eve countdown to midnight, Chicago drivers again will have to dig a little deeper to pay to park at meters in 2013.

Loop rates will go up 75 cents to $6.50 an hour as part of scheduled fee increases included in Mayor Richard Daley’s much-criticized 2008 lease of the city’s meters to Chicago Parking Meters LLC.

Paid street parking in neighborhoods near the Loop will rise 25 cents and reach $4 an hour. Metered spaces in the rest of Chicago also will increase by a quarter per hour, to $2, according to the company.

So, CPM's costs won't change, because they have a fixed 75-year lease. In fact, since interest rates are the lowest they've ever been in the U.S., and since the Fed has made it clear rates won't rise until the economy gets better, CPM's costs are actually significantly lower than they were in 2008. On what basis, then, are they raising interest rates?

I believe my economics professor Leslie Marx might have some insight. I'll ask her next chance I get.

Thursday 27 December 2012 08:17:13 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics#
Wednesday 26 December 2012

I don't know how Amazon figures out what to recommend, nor do I know who's buying what from them. Sometimes I wonder, though, like when it gives me these helpful suggestions:

But of course it's important to have cookies when the revolution comes...

Wednesday 26 December 2012 13:13:13 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#

I still haven't gotten a holiday snap of No. 1 Nephew, so here's Winston Churchill Brendan again:

And here again is Roger, expressing exactly how I felt by 9pm yesterday:

Wednesday 26 December 2012 07:41:17 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

XKCD tackles the astronomical and geographical challenges of following the Star of Bethlehem:

If the wise men leave Jerusalem and walk toward the star Sirius, day and night, even when it’s below the horizon, this is the path they follow over the surface:

several star-struck sages spiral southward

If we allow a little theological confusion and assume the wise men can walk on water, they’ll eventually wind up going in an endless circle, 30 kilometers in diameter, around the South Pole.

Re-reading Matthew 2:7-10, however, I can't quite tell who the Magi were, what star they thought they were following, or what exactly they used to ascertain when it had showed them the location they sought. Possibly someone sent up a flare from the manger?

Wednesday 26 December 2012 07:14:30 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Religion#
Tuesday 25 December 2012

There he is, my sister's kid:

No, no, no. This is my sister's kid:

Sheesh.

Merry Christmas, kid. And dog.

Tuesday 25 December 2012 08:44:12 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 24 December 2012

You'll never guess where I am:

This is Chicago in December (though it looks and feels more like November). I tried flipping that photo between black & white and color a couple times, and I couldn't tell the difference.

Tonight I meet the nephews...

Monday 24 December 2012 09:15:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Sunday 23 December 2012

Google Analytics have created some videos imagining if supermarkets were designed like websites:

Heh.

Sunday 23 December 2012 10:11:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#

As I've reported before, Chicago's winter temperatures have more influence over summer temperatures than the reverse. The hypothesis is that if Lake Michigan can't give up its summer heat in the winter, it has less capacity to absorb the next summer's heat. But in the winter, cold air masses have more capacity to absorb the lake's heat than summer's warm air masses have to deposit it.

Well, if the weather so far is any indication, next summer will be brutal. We're not getting cold-enough air so far.

The last time the daytime high temperature was below freezing was February 25th, only the 12th day in 2012 to be as cold. Yesterday the temperature got up to freezing; today's, tomorrow's, and Tuesday's forecasts call for 1°C. The longer-range forecast calls for only three days with high temperatures below 0°C through the end of the year.

Through March, the Climate Prediction Center calls for normal temperatures:

Sunday 23 December 2012 09:45:21 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 21 December 2012

Downtown Chicago got the merest whisper of snowfall last night; O'Hare, our official station, got enough to set two records—in the negative.

Just 200 km away, however, people got a little more than we did:

The Madison, WI area was at the epicenter of this storm’s heaviest snows. Snowfalls as of 10:30PM Thursday included: 300 mm at Lena in western Stephenson Co, IL and up to 300 mm or more across Jo Davies County in far northwest Illinois where 33 km of US 20 were closed from Galena to Elizabeth due to snow and blowing snow.

Those wondering where the big snows occurred must check out these eye-catching snow tallies out of areas farther north and west Thursday including 495 mm at Middleton, WI—just west of Madison. Other totals included: Cross Plains WI 460 mm; Verona WI 400 mm; Hartford WI 380 mm; Madison WI & Dubuque, IA 360 mm; Portage and Taycheedah WI 355 mm; Grimes IA 341 mm; Des Moines 295 mm; Ankeny IA 267 mm, Ames IA 260 mm and Eldora IA 254 mm.

In Lincoln Park, I didn't get a chance to brush the one snowflake off Parker's fur that I saw because it melted right away.

I'm in no hurry for snow, though. No, I am not.

Friday 21 December 2012 14:33:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Chicago has officially gotten measurable snowfall in the past couple of hours, ending the longest snow-free period in history. In the 291 days since March 4th, we haven't gotten more than a few flakes, less than the threshold 2.5 mm required to count as "measurable." The previous record, 280 days, was set in 1994.

This is also the latest day for our first snowfall; the previous record was set on 16 December 1965. (With only ten hours left until the solstice, you think it could have waited?)

Like so much of Chicago's weather, of course, when it changed today, it really changed:

The heaviest snow was expected to fall from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. with wind gusts of 80 to 95 km/h. Seventy-five to 175 mm is expected in the far northwest suburbs, 50 to 100 mm in Chicago and 25 to 75 mm in the south and southwest suburbs.

The weather service says the winds will be the real problem. "We may not get a whole lot of snow but the potential for snowing, drifting and poor visibility is very high," weather service meteorologist Mark Ratzer said.

In its storm warning, the weather service said the greatest chance of near white-out conditions is near the shoreline in Lake and Porter counties in Indiana. The storm warning is in effect from 3 p.m. until 3 a.m. Friday.

In western Illinois and Wisconsin, a blizzard warning is in effect with as much as a foot of snow forecast. Snow could fall 25 to 50 mm an hour around Rockford late in the afternoon, the weather service said.

But this is Illinois. We can handle it: "IDOT was mobilizing more than 550 snow plows responsible for roads in northern Illinois while the Illinois Tollway was preparing its full fleet of 182 snow plows to try and clear the 286-mile network of toll roads in 12 counties in northern Illinois." I believe that number represents more snow plows than exist in the United Kingdom, but I could be wrong.

Thursday 20 December 2012 18:47:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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On this page....
First completely-freezing day since February
This morning's politics of chutzpah
Nephew #1
Mark your calendars
Inadvertently encouraging public transit
Data mining on Amazon
Nephews #2 and #2b
The star, which they saw in the east, went before them
Finally met Nephew #2
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Another mild winter?
River of snow, viewed from a bank
Two more broken records
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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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