Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 10 January 2013

As Chicago today goes through its record 321st day without a 25 mm snowfall on its way to 13°C temperatures this weekend, we can take some comfort knowing that this summer's weather in Australia has been unimaginably worse:

Heat is part of the national mythology. It killed some of the country’s first white explorers, and has sparked many devastating fires. The worst, “Black Saturday” in Victoria, killed 173 people four years ago. Thanks to better preparation, firefighting skills and a good dose of luck, fires raging in four states in the latest heatwave have spared humans. Yet Australia is getting ever hotter. The 2013 heatwave has set a new record, 40.3°C, for the highest national average temperature. So far, Leonora, a town in Western Australia, has been the hottest place of all, at 49°C on January 9th. That is still below the highest temperature ever recorded in Australia, 50.7°C at Oodnadatta 53 years ago.

The punchline: the Australian weather service has added colors to its map to account for the heat:

The scorching conditions are set to continue into the coming week and prompted the national Bureau of Meteorology to take the extraordinary measure of revamping its weather charts. New colours have been added to forecasting maps — deep purple and pink — to mark out areas experiencing peaks above 50°C.

The colours have come in for immediate use, with large purple blotches appearing on the weather map for next Sunday and Monday. Temperatures in parts of the state of South Australia are tipped to exceed 50°C.

But hey, New Zealand looks perfectly comfortable on that map...

Thursday 10 January 2013 12:07:54 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Weather#
Wednesday 9 January 2013

My efforts to move Weather Now up to Microsoft Azure took on some new urgency today when I noticed this:

That particular error code means the RAID battery has less than 24 hours of charge in it. Fortunately, this means only that the disk will slow down if the battery dies, unless there's a sudden power failure, in which case I could lose the entire RAID volume.

This is exactly the sort of thing that made me want to move all my applications to the Cloud in the first place.

I just hope I can finish the port before...well, before ol' Sparky dies...

Wednesday 9 January 2013 14:41:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud#

Ah, Illinois. I got so excited that we could become the 10th state to formalize marriage equality this week, even as I knew we'd probably not solve our pension problems in one go. Nope:

The gay marriage bill seemed unlikely to make it to a final vote during the waning hours of the Illinois legislature's lame-duck session which ended Tuesday. And with a new legislature about to be sworn in, one sure local vote for the measure will be lost as Skip Saviano, a Republican from Elmwood Park, leaves Springfield after an election loss.

Three other local legislators will continue in the new session and have pledged their support of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. State Sen. Don Harmon and State Reps LaShawn Ford and Camille Lilly will back the bill according to a gay rights advocacy organization. State Rep. Kimberly Lightford reportedly remains undecided on the issue.

The Tribune is livid:

On Tuesday, as their lame-duck session became their dead-duck session, the Illinois General Assembly made it official: House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and their Democratic majorities want you to know they simply are not capable of agreeing on any law that would begin to fix their terrible pension debacle. Nor do Gov. Pat Quinn, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno or House Minority Leader Tom Cross have the means to compel them.

So as the state's unfunded pension liability of $96.8 billion rises by some $17.1 million a day, Tuesday's $17.1 million was especially exasperating. Exasperating, that is, for everyone but Squeezy the Pension Python, the mythical creature Quinn's office begat in order to illustrate how pension costs are squeezing the lifeblood out of state government's other missions.

Tuesday was the last in a series of days when lawmakers of both parties could have bucked the public employees unions that dictate so much of state government's policy and spending decisions.

("Squeezy the Pension Python?" At least this governor, unlike his two immediate predecessors, isn't a criminal.)

Anyway, at some point, Illinois' pension system will just collapse, because no one involved is willing to save it. As Tom Lehrer said, "I'm beginning to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis."

Wednesday 9 January 2013 10:14:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | US#
Tuesday 8 January 2013

There's a meme going around the gun-rights folks right now that banning assault weapons won't keep people from killing each other. Think of the thousands of people stabbed to death every year! Just look at this graphic:

While their specific numbers are wrong, the basic assertion is correct: Very few people get killed by rifles in the U.S. No, our eye-watering murder rate comes mainly from handguns, which are second only to cars in the league table of man-made health risks in the U.S.

Start with the raw numbers. There were 14,612 murders in the U.S. in 2011, of which about 11,500 were by guns. That gives us a homicide rate around 5 per 100,000 population. (Source: FBI)

Compare that with the 39 gun murders in the UK, out of their total 550, for roughly the same period. That's a rate of 1.4 murders per 100,000, somewhat lower than the U.S. rate. (Source: UK Home Office)

It turns out, if you take out a proportional number of gun murders—imagine if the U.S. had only 2,000 gun murders in 2011, out of 5,500 total—that would put our murder rate at 1.7, slightly higher than the UK but still within the norm for OECD countries.

Fascinating. It's almost as if having more than 250 million guns lying around made it easier to kill people.

So, if your point is that banning high-capacity firearms won't do much to stop murders in the U.S., you're absolutely right. In the last 12 months, an assault-weapons ban would only have saved 21 children in Connecticut and 45 young people in Colorado—a drop in the homicidal bucket. That's why we should restrict handguns as well, don't you think?

Tuesday 8 January 2013 15:45:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

Today is the 319th day since Chicago has had a 25 mm snowfall, tying the record set in 1940. As our forecast calls for 10°C-plus temperatures this coming weekend, the record will just get harder to beat.

Unfortunately, the lack of snowfall is also a general lack of precipitation, so water levels in Lake Michigan has hit an all-time low:

he U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron hit record lows in December, at nearly two and a half feet below average. Army Corps projections for lake levels have been dire since September, when it became clear that a relatively warm, dry fall and winter would not provide relief from a long drought and one of the the hottest summers ever.

Now the water is an inch below its record low for this time of year in 1964, and continues to drop. Shippers, fishermen, and small-town tourist harbors say federal help with digging out channels and repairing infrastructure could keep the low water problem from becoming a crisis.

The water will likely go back up in spring and summer, as it does every year; late winter is generally the lowest time in the lakes’ yearly cycle. But another summer of extreme heat or drought, and this winter’s woes will seem like kid stuff.

Also announced today, 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States: "The average temperature for 2012 was 12.9°C, 1.8°C above normal and a full degree [Fahrenheit] higher than the previous warmest year recorded -- 1998 -- NOAA said in its report Tuesday."

Tuesday 8 January 2013 13:19:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 6 January 2013

This is about C# development. If you're interested in how I got a 60-fold improvement in code execution speed by adding a one-line Entity Framework configuration change, read on. If you want a photo of Parker, I'll post one later today.

Sunday 6 January 2013 12:17:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Software | Cloud | Weather | Windows Azure#
Saturday 5 January 2013

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Saturday 5 January 2013 10:50:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Astronomy#

To refresh your memory of the movie Finding Nemo, Dory had a cognitive deficiency:

To refresh your memory of last month, so do most American news media:

Blame it on the fiscal cliff, blame it on Christmas, blame it on our ability to forget, but the national discussion about gun control has once again ebbed. Mentions of the term "gun control" on television, in newspapers, and in online media are down to pre-Sandy Hook levels, according to the Nexis database.

Barring a post-holidy resurgence -- which is certainly possible -- the gun control discussion has once again gone the way of... the gun control discussion.

Hat tip: reader MP.

Saturday 5 January 2013 09:31:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
Friday 4 January 2013

Nearly 65% of the lower 48 United States has snow cover, including parts of every state except for the seven between Louisiana and South Carolina.

Chicago, for reasons not well understood, has just a trace on the ground and has gone 314 days without 25 mm of snow, 4 days short of the record set in 1940. Since we have no significant snow in the forecast, it looks like we'll break that record too.

Other records threatened: number of days without 25 mm total snowfall accumulation, 312 (record is 313); latest date without a 25 mm snowfall, ranked 10th (record is 17 January 1899; 9th is 5 January 1994); and latest day for total 25 mm accumulation for the season, ranked 4th (record is 8 January 1944; 3rd is 6 January 1913).

And the forecast for March-like weather next week has gotten clearer, with the National Weather Service now predicting 8°C on Wednesday.

Weird weather continues.

Friday 4 January 2013 07:53:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 3 January 2013

The 6-10 day outlook for the U.S. looks warm:

Forecasters predict temperatures above 10°C in Chicago by Wednesday before the weather cools to more normal January levels the following weekend. This comes after 2012 officially became Chicago's warmest year ever (or at least since we started keeping records in 1871), and during a continuing drought that has nearly shut down the Mississippi River.

Well, you know, warm, dry springs are very nice in Chicago...so are mild winters...

Thursday 3 January 2013 10:42:43 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#

It seems I got ahead of events in my post last night. Chicago Public Radio clarified this morning what's going on in the General Assembly:

Before it even went to committee, legislators debated not gay marriage, but the process they’ll use to discuss the issue.

Republican State Sen. Dale Righter said it’s hard for the public to follow bills as they move around the Statehouse, and the issue shouldn’t be rushed.

Senators voted 28-24, in effect stalling the bill. But the gay marriage issue could still be addressed again Thursday. It comes as the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party said in a statement that he supports gay marriage while Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago wrote a letter explaining why he opposes it and urging Catholics to actively fight it.

The Tribune has more:

Gay marriage is but one issue on a crowded agenda of the final days of the outgoing General Assembly. Lawmakers also are looking at pension reform, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, gambling expansion and gun control before the reset button is hit when the new Legislature is sworn in Wednesday.

Given the political complexities, it will be a tall order for lawmakers to complete a comprehensive pension overhaul by the time the clock runs out. Same goes for chances of passing a major gambling expansion to meet Mayor Rahm Emanuel's desire to have a Chicago casino.

And Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon had a good response to the Cardinal's idiotic "legal fiction" canard: "Simon argued that adoption is similarly a "legal fiction" that helps citizens form a family unit — and one that she also supports."

Thursday 3 January 2013 08:56:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

House Bill 5170 will very likely go to the Illinois House for a vote before Tuesday, and if it does, it will pass and receive Governor Quinn's signature a few hours later:

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act is amended by changing Sections 201, 209, and 212 and by adding Section 220 as follows:

(750 ILCS 5/201) (from Ch. 40, par. 201)
Sec. 201. Formalities.) A marriage between 2 persons a man and a woman licensed, solemnized and registered as provided in this Act is valid in this State.

The Illinois Senate may vote on it tomorrow. That fact explains why Francis Cardinal George wrote a letter to his rapidly-dwindling flock yesterday saying, "Civil laws that establish 'same sex marriage' create a legal fiction. The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible."

I understand that the Cardinal is not a lawyer, but in this country, and in this state, marriage is defined by law first. I should also draw the Cardinal's attention to the second purpose of HB5170:

(a-5) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require any religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, or any officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, to solemnize any marriage. Instead, any religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group is free to choose which marriages it will solemnize.

In other words, Cardinal, we're bound by the First Amendment to get our laws out of your church. Now please get your religion out of our legislature.

Wednesday 2 January 2013 20:44:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
Wednesday 2 January 2013

Sigh. Zipcar, short-term rental car service that has occasionally made my life a lot easier, just got swallowed by Avis:

Zipcar Inc. has been growing as more people in urban areas forgo owning a car and instead tap car-sharing and hourly rental services when they need a vehicle. The company’s third-quarter sales grew 15% to $78.2 million while its membership (renters) grew 18% to more than 767,000. Zipcar earned $4.3 million in the three-month period and has said it expected 2012 to be the first full year for which it posts a profit.

Avis Budget, the nation’s third-largest car rental company -- after Enterprise Holdings and Hertz -- will pay $12.25 a share in cash for Zipcar, a 49% premium over the stock's closing price Monday.

Avis believes it can whittle $50 million to $70 million of expenses out of the combined operations of the companies by eliminating duplication of functions such as the cost of maintaining Zipcar as a publicly traded company.

Just once I'd like to see a cool, niche company grow to a sustainable size without being acquired by a huge corporation.

Wednesday 2 January 2013 16:29:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Business#

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf takes on the troubling contradiction between right-wing support of the 2nd Amendment at the expense of a few others:

It's one thing to argue that gun control legislation is a nonstarter, despite tens of thousands of deaths by gunshot per year, because the safeguards articulated in the Bill of Rights are sacrosanct. I can respect that... but not from people who simultaneously insist that 3,000 dead in a terrorist attack justifies departing from the plain text of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments, and giving the president de-facto power to declare war without Congressional approval.

[I]f you're a conservative gun owner who worries that gun control today could make tyranny easier to impose tomorrow, and you support warrantless spying, indefinite detention, and secret drone strikes on Americans accused of terrorism, what explains your seeming schizophrenia?

Think of it this way.

If you were a malign leader intent on imposing tyranny, what would you find more useful, banning high-capacity magazines... or a vast archive of the bank records, phone calls, texts and emails of millions of citizens that you could access in secret? Would you, as a malign leader, feel more empowered by a background check requirement on gun purchases... or the ability to legally kill anyone in secret on your say so alone? The powers the Republican Party has given to the presidency since 9/11 would obviously enable far more grave abuses in the hands of a would be tyrant than any gun control legislation with even a minuscule chance of passing Congress. So why are so many liberty-invoking 2nd Amendment absolutists reliable Republican voters, as if the GOP's stance on that issue somehow makes up for its shortcomings? And why do they so seldom speak up about threats to the Bill of Rights that don't involve guns?

I've always wondered these things, too. I keep getting to the conclusion that extreme-right-wingers don't actually think about anything, they just believe stuff.

Wednesday 2 January 2013 14:09:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
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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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