Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Saturday 12 January 2013

It's 12°C in Chicago right now, a temperature perfectly normal for April 1st, and 12.2°C above normal for January 13th.

This week's spring-like temperatures and the medium-term climate forecast make it likely that January 2013 will be the 335th consecutive month of above-normal temperatures. That means, if you're under 28 years old and lived in the U.S., you have never experienced a normal month.

Sadly, tonight things get back to normal:

Here's the forecast graph:

Boy, I can't wait for the freezing rain and sleet coming in 15 hours.

Saturday 12 January 2013 09:47:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Via TPM, the White House has responded to the petition to build a Death Star:

This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

Perhaps the previous administration would have been more amenable?

Saturday 12 January 2013 08:43:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes | US#
Friday 11 January 2013

How many of you have seen this floating around the Intertubes?

President Obama walking to inauguration

This purports to show how guns make us safer by depicting the President of the United States walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, flanked by the Secret Service and the D.C. Police, all of whom were armed with guns. The implicit argument is that the President is safer because he's surrounded by all those concealed firearms.

I'm kind of busy today, so I don't have time to examine all of the ways that the argument makes no sense, but here are the highlights:

  1. From what, exactly, are these police and agents protecting the President? Could it possibly be: guns?
  2. Does anyone seriously doubt that having dozens of armed bodyguards might make anyone safer? (Unless, for example, you can't trust your bodyguards.)
  3. Does it matter that the President is a hugely-valuable military and political target whose assassination could jeopardize the interests of the United States (not to mention millions of lives), and therefore is especially vulnerable to gun violence without his guards?
  4. Did the presence of armed bodyguards prevent people from shooting at presidents Reagan, Ford, Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, McKinley, Garfield, Lincoln, or Jackson?
  5. Could the presence of millions of guns make an attempt on someone's life more likely in the U.S. than elsewhere?
  6. Continuing the thought, the United Kingdom's Prime Minister is similarly a high-value target, but...well, here is the PM and deputy PM walking down Whitehall in broad daylight with, it appears, a single armed guard (who's staying discretely back from the ministers):
Top two guys in UK government walk with minimal protection to Whitehall

Even better, here's David Cameron walking to Parliament surrounded by random tourists:

UK Prime Minister walks to Westminster unescorted

Now, you have to remember, the Prime Minister's residence has actually been shelled, from a mortar emplacement right in front of the Ministry of Defence. So why isn't the UK's political leader at all worried when he walks down Whitehall?

Pointing to the President's bodyguards and saying we're all safer when armed is like pointing to David Vetter and saying we're all safer from disease when in a sterile environment. (I'm sure some gun nut will say "guns are like antibodies." That only shows the problems with similes.)

I'm sure I'll come back to this. I will leave you with this photo of another head of government, Canada's Stephen Harper, surrounded by complete strangers at a public event with no visible security (though I'm sure he had at least one Mountie guarding him):

Friday 11 January 2013 12:58:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | 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)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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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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