Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 5 February 2013

I'll be a lot less busy in March, they tell me. Meanwhile, here are some things I want to read:

I will get to them...soon...

Tuesday 5 February 2013 12:18:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Chicago | Geography | US | Blogs#
Monday 4 February 2013

Ho did the accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen LLP miss that Dixon, Ill., comptroller Rita Crundwell embezzled $53 million?

CliftonLarson in 2005 resigned as auditor for Dixon in order to keep other city assignments such as ledger-keeping after an influx of federal funds required the town to hire an independent auditor.

In its lawsuit, however, Dixon contends that CliftonLarson continued to do the annual audit and get paid for it, while hiring a sole-practitioner CPA from nearby Sterling to sign off on the work, thereby preventing competitors from grabbing the business. CliftonLarson says it prepared only a bare-bones “compilation” of financials after 2005 to aid the new auditor, Samuel Card, 56, who also is a defendant.

In depositions in late 2012, Power Rogers attorney Devon Bruce produced CliftonLarson emails after 2005 that referred to the firm's “audit” of Dixon. Also entered into the record were invoices submitted by Ms. Crundwell supposedly from the Illinois Department of Transportation that lacked an IDOT heading or logo and, in one instance, carried a nonexistent date—Nov. 31, 2004.

“Had a two-minute phone call been made by a Clifton employee to the Illinois Department of Transportation regarding any of these false invoices, Rita Crundwell's theft would have been identified at that time,” the lawsuit argues.

Oops.

Monday 4 February 2013 10:18:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | US#
Sunday 3 February 2013

This is a more-technical follow up to my most recent post. If you're interested in how the next version of Weather Now will use Microsoft Windows Azure technology to provide real-time weather information, keep reading.

Sunday 3 February 2013 11:44:55 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud | Cool links | Weather | Windows Azure#

Five years ago, on 6 January 2008, I opened a FogBugz case (#528) to "Create NOAA Downloader". The NOAA downloader goes out to the National Weather Service, retrieves raw weather data files, and stores the files and some metadata in Windows Azure storage. Marking this work item "resolved"

Well, I just finished it, and therefore I have finished all of the pieces of the GetWeather application. And with that, I've finished the last significant piece of the Weather Now 4.0 rewrite. Total time to rewrite GetWeather: 42 hours. Total time for the rewrite so far: 66 hours.

Now all I have to do is...let's see...create worker role tasks to run the various pieces of the application (getting the weather, parsing the weather, storing the weather, and cleaning up the database), upgrading the Web site to a full Cloud Services application, deploy it to Azure, and deploy its gazetteer. That should be about 5 hours more work. Then, after a couple of weeks of mostly-passive testing, I can finally turn off the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center.

Sunday 3 February 2013 11:10:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  | Comments [0] | Business | Weather#
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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | Comments [0] | 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)  | 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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