Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 1 February 2013

Via Fallows, a software designer explains how a simple feature isn't:

This isn’t off the shelf, but that’s OK — we’ll just build it, it’s not rocket science. And it’s a feature that’s nice, not one that’s essential. Lot’s of people won’t use these tabs.

So, what do we need to think about when adding a bar of tabs like this?

  • The whole point is to have a view state that summarizes what you’re looking at and how it’s presented. You want to switch between view states. So we need a new object that encapsulates the View State, methods for updating the view state when the view changes or you switch tabs, methods for allocating memory for the view state and cleaning up afterward.
  • You need a bar in which the tabs live. That bar needs to have something drawn on it, which means choosing a suitable gradient or texture.
  • The tab needs a suitable shape. That shape is tricky enough to draw that we define an auxiliary object to frame and draw it.
  • Whoops! It gets drawn upside down! Slap head, fix that.

...and on for another 16 steps. He concludes, among other things:

This is a hell of a lot of design and implementation for $0.99. But that’s increasingly what people expect to pay for software. OK: maybe $19.95 for something really terrific. But can you sell an extra 100 copies of the program because it’s got draggable tabs? If you can’t, don’t you have better things to do with your time?

He's developing for a commercial application that he sells, so he may not be figuring the costs of development the same way I do. Since clients pay us for software development, it's a reflex for me to figure development costs over time. I don't know how much the tab feature cost him to develop, but I do know that to date, migrating Weather Now to Azure (discussed often enough on this blog) would have cost a commercial client about $9,000 so far, with another $3,000 or so to go. And the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture? That's close to $150,000 of development time—if someone else were paying for it.

And all you wanted was a little tab on your word processor...

Friday 1 February 2013 13:16:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#

Why? Because it's too cold for clouds.

Actually, this is one of those correlation-causation issues: cold days like today (it's -15°C right now) are usually clear and sunny because both conditions result from a high-pressure system floating over the area. Still, it's pretty cold:

A February hasn’t opened this cold here in the 17 years since 1996. The combination of bitterly cold temperatures, hovering at daybreak Friday near or below zero [Fahrenheit] in many corners of the metro area, plus the biting west winds gusting as high as 48 km/h, are producing 15 to 25-below zero wind chills—readings as challenging as any Chicagoans have encountered this season.

The first reported -18°Cor lower wind chill occurred Thursday at 8 a.m. and the expectation is a 40 or more hour string of consecutive sub--18°C wind chills is likely to continue through midnight or a bit later Friday night in the rising temp regime predicted to take hold at that time.

Still, it's February, which means lengthening days, warmer temperatures, and pitchers & catchers. Yay!

Friday 1 February 2013 10:15:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

The Cranky Flier wants to know:

Now the latest “news” of the day is that American CEO Tom Horton may end up being the Chairman of the combined entities. There is some good and some bad to this kind of thing. The good is pretty simple to explain. If Horton is willing to settle for a Tilton-esque agreement where he can just sit in a fancy office and collect a huge paycheck for a couple of years, then that finally removes the last real barrier to a merger – the fight being put up by management.

On the other hand, if he insists on a more active role, then it’s a bad idea. There are very few supporters of Horton outside management ranks. Wall Street has been quite clear that Horton’s plans to date are unacceptable. In particular, the plan to grow the hubs by 20 percent is suicidal. As one analyst, Dan McKenzie, puts it, the growth plan “would be toxic for industry pricing and ruinous for shareholders….” The views throughout the financial community appear to echo that sentiment. If Horton has any kind of influence in the merged entity, then the money folks will not be happy. And that hurts the chances of the deal going through.

I'm really hoping for an announcement soon.

Friday 1 February 2013 10:06:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#
Wednesday 30 January 2013

With former governor George Ryan's release from prison this morning, Illinois has finally returned to the situation of having fewer former governors in prison than out of it. In an especially nice touch, former governor Jim Thompson is Ryan's attorney.

I guess Dan Walker and Jim Edgar are both still alive, too, so the current count is: 1 incumbent, non-convicted governor; 2 former, non-convicted governors; 2 former, convicted governors; and 1 former governor still in jail. There's a nice symmetry there, yes?

Wednesday 30 January 2013 13:50:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

I have a new post up at my employer's developers blog.

Hard-core Daily Parker enthusiasts may have seen it already. Still, click through to XM. We like blog visitors!

Wednesday 30 January 2013 12:35:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Blogs | Business | Windows Azure#
Tuesday 29 January 2013

Chicago's normal high temperature for April 17th is 16°C, which by strange coincidence is the new record high for January 29th:

The warm front associated with the strong low pressure system passed through the Chicago area between 2 and 3AM on it’s way north and at 6AM is oriented east-west along the Illinois-Wisconsin state line. South of the front south to southwest winds 24 to 45 km/h and temperatures in the upper 10s°C prevail – Wheeling actually reported 15.6°C at 6AM. North of the front through southern Wisconsin and farther north, winds were east to southeast and temperatures near freezing. Milwaukee at 6AM was 3°C.

Moreover:

The 18°C high projected for Chicago Tuesday easily replaces the day's previous 99-year record high of 15°C set in 1914 and is a reading just 1.1°C shy of the city's all-time January record high temp of 19°C set back on Jan 25, 1950. Only 5 of the 34 January 60s [Fahrenheit] on the books have made it to 18°C.

Temps in the 60s [Fahrenheit] in January are incredibly rare—a fact which can't be overstated! In fact, just 21 of 143 Januarys since records here began in 1871 have produced 60s.

The city's last 16°C January temperature took place 5 years ago when the mercury hit 18°C on Jan 7, 2008.

Ordinarily in the middle of winter in Chicago it would be customary at this point to say "It was last this warm in..." and throw out a date from last summer. But no, this is the new world of climate change, so I can say: "It was last this warm December 3rd."

Of course, it can't last. Here's the temperature forecast starting at noon today (click for full size):

January to April to January in three easy steps...

Tuesday 29 January 2013 08:38:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 27 January 2013

This is another post about Azure software design, which not everyone will find especially interesting. I promise to post more Parker photos soon. Meanwhile, if you want to read about how the Weather Now parsing system will work in version 4, keep reading.

Sunday 27 January 2013 17:32:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud | Weather | Windows Azure#

Even though we've just gotten our first snowfall, and today has started giving us snow, freezing rain, sleet, and icy roads, there is good news.

January 27th is when things officially start looking brighter in Chicago every year. Tonight, for the first time in almost two months, the sun sets at 5pm. Then things start to become noticeably brighter: a 7am sunrise next Monday, a 5:30pm sunset two weeks after that, then a 6:30am sunrise less than a week later.

Yes, this is dorky, but trust me: you'll notice it now.

Sunday 27 January 2013 13:52:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#

The Inner Drive Technology International Data Center continues to whir away (and use electricity), despite my best efforts to shut it down by moving everything to Microsoft Windows Azure.

Most of the delay finishing the move has nothing to do with its technology. Simply, my real job has taken a lot of time this month as we've worked toward launching a new application tomorrow. Against the 145 hours spent on that project this month, not counting the 38 hours spent helping with other projects, squeezing out the 22 hours I've managed to find for Weather Now has left me falling behind on the Oscar nominees.

If you want to learn more about some technical problems that I've discovered trying to move it out of my apartment the IDTIDC, keep reading.

Sunday 27 January 2013 13:40:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Weather | Windows Azure#
Saturday 26 January 2013

I've come a across a number of stories over the last few days about the Republican Party's efforts to win elections. GOP chair Reince Preibus wonders where they go from here. Legislators in Mississippi apparently don't understand federalism. Republican legislatures gerrymandered every state they controlled in 2011—nothing new there—but now they want to get more Electoral College votes in swing states by going to proportional voting. Virginia's legislature passed a bill that would have thrown 9 of 13 votes to Romney in the last election, even though Obama won the popular vote state-wide, and did it by voting while the senior Democratic representative—a bona fide civil rights hero—was at the Inaguration on Monday. (They followed the vote by recognizing the contributions of Stonewall Jackson to American democracy.) And finally, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent an email to supporters after the watered-down filibuster agreement passed gloating about beating liberals.

Actually, McConnell's email neatly sums up the broader pattern to all these activities: "You see, they had been pushing a plan to end the filibuster, allowing Harry Reid and the Obama Democrats to pass their agenda with a simple majority. Well, Mitch McConnell stood strong and stopped that scheme dead in its tracks."

Yes. That's right. The Republicans have declared war on majority rule, and for good reason. They're no longer a majority.

All of these events, and the shenanigans before the election in which state GOP leaders openly talked of denying the vote to more-urban, more-Democratic voters, point to a party unable to win on the merits, and determined to hold on to whatever power they can by any means at their disposal. What they don't seem to realize is that these tactics alienate people in the center who might vote Republican if they weren't a bunch of nutters.

Look at the UK's Conservatives: faced with declining votes and a strong government, in opposition they changed their policies to win elections. In just one concrete example, the Tories this week published a bill for full marriage equality, something the Republicans over here could not possibly countenance given their current membership.

I think the GOP will hold on to House in 2014, but lose a Senate seat or two. More states are majority-Democratic than majority-Republican, and the Senate represents the states. Long term, though, I think most Americans have had enough. And every day, the old white men who make up the Republican party become a smaller minority.

They won't go quietly. We can be certain of that.

Saturday 26 January 2013 15:29:26 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Friday 25 January 2013

Well, Chicago finally found out how long was the longest stretch in recorded history without a 25 mm snowfall: 335 days. The official tally through 6 am was 28 mm, which looked like this in Lincoln Park:

It really won't last. The forecast calls for 11°C by Tuesday.

Friday 25 January 2013 11:03:00 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 24 January 2013

Work, work, work, and more than an hour each way to the airport, and it turns out I haven't flown in three years. Time to renew my medical certificate and get back in the air.

I miss this, this, and this.

Oh, and this.

Thursday 24 January 2013 17:33:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#

Maps? Check. Dogs? Check. New York? Check. I give you, Dogs of NYC:

If you own a dog in New York City, odds are it’s a mutt named Max.

The city’s dog licensing records show that out of almost 100,000 registered dogs, this is the most common breed and name in town. WNYC obtained the complete list from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which runs the dog licensing program.

The first thing you notice is the names. The most popular ones in the city hew pretty close to the most popular names across all English-speaking countries: Max, Bella, Lucky, etc. But this is New York, so there have to be some named Jeter (40 dogs) and Carmelo (7). In a town also known for its fashion, that explains the prevalence of dogs named Chanel (44), and Dolce (39). There are 83 dogs named Gucci. We've come a long way from Rover.

And if I want, I can get a custom T-Shirt that tells everyone "Parker is a mixed-breed dog, like the 23,185 registered in New York City."

Thursday 24 January 2013 17:11:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Parker | Travel#
Wednesday 23 January 2013

While in New York this past weekend, I visited my old hangout in Hoboken, N.J., The Nag's Head:

Nag's Head, Hoboken, exterior view

It looked subtly different than I remembered it, about which I asked the manager. She explained that they had to nearly gut the place after Sandy. Take a look at this:

Nag's Head, Hoboken, view of bar

You can just make out a change in the bar's finish about halfway up from the floor. That's where the floodwaters sat for about four days. This blogger posted a flood map of Hoboken after the storm that gives you an idea just how bad things were. I used to live near Monroe and Observer Highway, in the area marked Ward 4. That turns out to be the lowest point in the city, about one meter above sea level. I didn't talk to anyone in my old building, but given the damage to the Nag's Head, I imagine it was heavily damaged.

Two months after Sandy, and everything is cleaned up. Amazing. That's New York for you.

Wednesday 23 January 2013 16:47:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

This is exceedingly cool:

Inset from the Census Dotmap showing Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee

What is this

This is a map of every person counted by the 2010 US and 2011 Canadian censuses. The map has 341,817,095 dots - one for each person.

Why?

I wanted an image of human settlement patterns unmediated by proxies like city boundaries, arterial roads, state lines, &c. Also, it was an interesting challenge.

Who is responsible for this?

The US and Canadian censuses, mostly. I made the map. I'm Brandon Martin-Anderson. Kieran Huggins came to the rescue with spare server capacity and technical advice once this took off.

Unfortunately, I can't quite pick myself out of the crowd...

Wednesday 23 January 2013 10:29:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#

Earlier I brought up yesterday's (tonight's in the U.S.) elections in Israel, which surprised me because (a) they're not taking the country into a right-wing dystopia and (b) it started to look like Binyamin Netanyahu might lose his job. (b) is important because the farther away Netanyahu gets from the button, the less likely the U.S. will get drawn into an unwinnable war against Iran.

Well, some hours later, the reports from Tel Aviv are encouraging, but not definitive:

Hours after polls closed on Tuesday, and after some 95 percent of the votes were tallied, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed a mandate to third term as premier, but the battle between the country's right- and left-wing blocs remained virtually in a dead heat.

As voting ended Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party garnered only 31 seats − compared to the 42 the two parties won in the last election in 2009 − prompting him to announce that he was already working toward forming “as broad a government as possible."

The final election results will only be submitted next Wednesday, which places some restraints on President Shimon Peres consulting party leaders about whom he should ask to form the next coalition. However, sources in the President’s Residence say he prefers not to wait that long and is likely to ask Netanyahu to form the next government by the end of this week.

However, Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich said she had already initiated contacts aimed at forming a center-left bloc to prevent Netanyahu remaining prime minister.

As much as I hope for Netanyahu's defenestration, he will most likely scrape together the votes to congeal a right-wing government. Even though a centrist coalition would have a nearly-unprecedented mandate, and also get the extremes on both sides to shut the hell up, the individual incentives are just too strong for Likud politicians. And sadly for just about everyone, Netanyahu is actually a true right-winger, believing the only way to deal with Arabs is through arms.

I'm not naive about the sincerity of Arab leaders who give speeches about wiping Israel into the sea. I just don't think they're likely to try. Along the same line, I think Israel's biggest mistake under Netanyahu mirrors the United States' biggest mistake under George Bush fils: fighting fire with napalm.

You can't fight terrorists with armies. Armies turn allies into enemies. Rome never learned that, but given two thousand years of experience, one would hope the United States would—if for no other reason than we study Rome in school. When you turn the forces of the empire on small threats, the threats become real.

We in the U.S. have alternated between showing the world a brilliant example of democracy and kicking the crap out of it. We declared independence with the power of liberal Enlightenment thinking behind us and promptly enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts. We spent 600,000 lives declaring all men free and promptly declared them unequal. We're the laboratory testing reason against unreason. But reason wins most of the time.

So observe Israel: a country born of the worst atrocities ever visited upon humans by other humans, a country of the smartest, best-educated, toughest people ever to constitute a free democracy, electing an open bigot as their head of government. It staggers the mind. But tonight, at least, it appears half of Israelis have rejected him. One can hope that's enough.

Netanyahu is typical of the right, warning how "those people" will destroy everything you believe in (though the specifics never seem to be described). Only, "those people" don't exist. To define "those people" requires a suspension of intellect, a cessation of rational thought. Defining an entire group of people as something less than another group requires a willful ignorance that becomes terrifying when backed by nuclear weapons.

Except, Iran doesn't seem likely to attack Israel. In fact, if "those people" were a unified block, we might expect a different sort of invasion, as one of Israel's neighbors is wracked by a civil war at the moment without a flood of refugees into Israel.

No, really: are a hundred thousand unarmed Syrians about to invade Israel? Even though the Syrian civil war would seem to give a hundred thousand Syrians a good reason to emigrate hastily to Israel, if only not to get killed by their own countrymen. So...where are they?

Netanyahu's other bugaboo is Iran. So let's ask: Is the Iranian government nuts? Yes. Are they an existential threat to Israel? No. They're kind of like al-Queda and the U.S.: crazy, destructive, criminal, worth every legal and moral effort to stop, but not an existential threat unless we make them so.

I've said this before: the right thrives on fear. People vote for right-wing politicians because they're afraid, and right-wing politicians win when fear trumps reason. Keep in mind, the greatest wartime president the U.S. ever had was a progressive Democrat in a wheelchair. A team of enlightenment liberals won our independence from Britain. We ended slavery under the leadership of a scrappy, shrewd liberal Republican.

So after all this: I hope Binyamin Netanyahu gets sacked this week, because I think he's a nearsighted, fear-mongering charlatan, and Israel deserves better. It troubles me that half of Israeli voters support him and his coalition. But as an American, I can't do anything. I just hope he doesn't pull us into another war.

Tuesday 22 January 2013 23:47:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World#
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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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