Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Saturday 23 February 2013

Redondo Beach, Calif., resident Andrew Toth has build a mock-up of a 1970s-era jumbo:

The new cabin - about 60 feet long, stretching from the airplane's nose to the front of the wing - is an almost exact replication of a 1970s and '80s vintage 747.

In addition to first class, Toth installed 26 powder blue seats in what was called Clipper Class - a premium economy class section with extra legroom.

Much of his plane is a former Japan Airlines 747 he rescued from storage space for retired airplanes in the Mojave desert.

Perhaps most impressive, the first-class galley, or kitchen, came in one 800-pound piece from Mojave, trucked on a tractor-trailer and moved by four men from the parking area into his space. Contractor Doug Bernhardt was in charge of making it all fit together.

"We get a picture, and we look at it and he says, `This is what I want it to look like,"' Bernhardt said. "That's the magic in it. That's where you have to have an imagination."

While most of the interior is real, Toth uses some re-creations. But things must be perfect. His upper deck tables were constructed incorrectly, and while only serious Pan Am lovers can tell the difference, Toth had them remade. "Unless it looks exactly like it did when I was a kid, I'm not going to be happy."

Wow. Just, wow.

Saturday 23 February 2013 11:07:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#

Microsoft has suffered some unfortunate outages this week, first affecting SQL databases on Monday, and then yesterday storage:

On Friday, February 22 at 12:44 PM PST, Storage experienced a worldwide outage impacting HTTPS traffic due to an expired SSL certificate. This did not impact HTTP traffic. We have executed repair steps to update SSL certificate on the impacted clusters and have recovered to over 99% availability across all sub-regions. We will continue monitoring the health of the Storage service and SSL traffic for the next 24 hrs. Customers may experience intermittent failures during this period. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes our customers.

The outage caused problems throughout the Azure universe, because SSL-based storage underpins just about everything. Without Storage, for example, any VM that goes offline can't restart, because its VHD is kept in Storage. Web sites and Service Bus were also hosed. My customers were annoyed.

These problems can affect any computing system. The problem with Azure Storage going down was the scope of it: millions of applications. Even the largest colo data center only has tens of thousands of computers. With so many people affected, the outage looks like a disaster.

I'll be watching Microsoft closely over the next few days to see what more they can tell us about the outage. But if this was all do to certificates expiring, wow.

Saturday 23 February 2013 08:52:26 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Friday 22 February 2013

Security guru Bruce Schneier examines Papal election security:

Probably the biggest risk is complacency. What might seem beautiful in its tradition and ritual during the first ballot could easily become cumbersome and annoying after the twentieth ballot, and there will be a temptation to cut corners to save time. If the Cardinals do that, the election process becomes more vulnerable.

A 1996 change in the process lets the cardinals go back and forth from the chapel to their dorm rooms, instead of being locked in the chapel the whole time, as was done previously. This makes the process slightly less secure but a lot more comfortable.

There are also enormous social -- religious, actually -- disincentives to hacking the vote. The election takes place in a chapel and at an altar. The cardinals swear an oath as they are casting their ballot -- further discouragement. The chalice and paten are the implements used to celebrate the Eucharist, the holiest act of the Catholic Church. And the scrutineers are explicitly exhorted not to form any sort of cabal or make any plans to sway the election, under pain of excommunication.

Of course, no amount of security in the world will prevent the electors from replacing Joseph Ratzinger with someone at least as out-of-touch and reactionary as he is, given the constitution of the cardinality these days.

Friday 22 February 2013 16:27:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World | Security#
Thursday 21 February 2013

Why does Amazon charge 30% less for some CDs ("includes free mp3 version of this album!) than for just the mp3s? Case in point, a back-catalog Dixie Chicks album, $9.99 for just the mp3s but $6.99 for the mp3s plus CD.

My only hypothesis is that they want to get rid of the physical inventory, and they're willing to take a loss to do so. Any other guesses out there?

(Yes, Dixie Chicks. I didn't know I liked them until Pandora sent them my way. In the last three months I've bought about a dozen albums from groups I never knew I liked because of Pandora, which I hope helps the musicians a little bit.)

Thursday 21 February 2013 17:21:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

This guy, who shared his Oscar ballot with Hollywood Reporter:

Best Cinematography

“I liked Life of Pi, but I’m suspect of any nominee that used a lot of CGI, since you can manipulate the photography so much. Lincoln was way too milky for me; I have that problem with almost everything Janusz Kaminski does. The Anna Karenina cinematography was totally unimpressive. Django Unchained was Robert Richardson, and he, in general, does far too much top-lighting for me. I’m voting for Skyfall because I want Roger Deakins to win an Oscar. Now, I’m a person who knows that Roger Deakins shot Skyfall, but a lot of people in the Academy will have no clue who did because they don’t tell you on the ballot; in fact, they won’t vote for it because it’s a James Bond film -- you know, ‘How can you give James Bond an Oscar?’ But they should go back and rewatch that opening shot where Bond is approaching the camera, and he’s out-of-focus and he slams into focus in a way that I’ve never seen done before. I also really love the way that Deakins plays with dark and light in the film.”

Best Picture

“This is a preferential system. I’m putting Amour at No. 9 because I’m just pissed off at that film. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie that I just didn’t understand, so that’s my No. 8. Les Miserables goes in seventh place — it’s not just the most disappointing film of the year but the most disappointing film in many years. Above that I’m putting Silver Linings Playbook, which is just a “blah” film. Django Unchained will go into my fifth slot — it’s a fun movie, but it’s basically just Quentin Tarantino masturbating for almost three hours. Next up is Life of Pi because of how unique it is and for holding my attention up until its irritating ending. Argo is gonna go in third place, but I don’t want it to win because I don’t think it deserves to win and am annoyed that it is on track to win for the wrong reasons. Actually, come to think of it, do we have to put a film in every slot? Because what I want is for my best picture choice to have the best possible shot, so why even give any support to the others? [He has his assistant call the Oscar voting helpline, finds out that voters can leave slots blank and promptly removes all of the aforementioned selections.] I’m basically OK with one of two films winning. Lincoln is going in my second slot; it’s a bore, but it’s Spielberg, it’s well-meaning, and it’s important. Zero Dark Thirty is my No 1.”

He may not have anything in common with any other Oscar voter (there are almost 400), but it's refreshing to hear the honesty—and the depth of knowledge.

Thursday 21 February 2013 16:51:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 20 February 2013

For the first time in about 5 years—since 2008, I believe—I have no travel scheduled. It's an odd feeling, but one I'll soon rectify. Just not sure where or when to go yet.

Meanwhile, Chuck Thompson, author of Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern manifesto for Southern secession, bemoans the homogeneity of every small city and its brewpub:

Whenever some self-appointed hometown convention and visitors’ bureau rep (and sometimes it’s an actual CVB rep) takes you to that cool little place in the downtown renaissance district where they actually make their own beer—So cool! Nobody does that, right?—you know you’re in trouble. Or, more precisely, you know you’re in that bastion of municipal mediocrity: the newly anointed “It” City.

Artisanal ice cream, gluten-free pizza, burrito trucks run by real Mexicans, jalapeño-infused margaritas, celebrity graffiti sprayers, and First Thursday art walks in revitalized industrial zones promoted by farsighted civic planners armed with government tax schemes—these are the totems of It City. I’m certain Nashville has plenty of them to brag about. But, then again, so do Asheville, Austin, Baltimore, Boulder, Burlington, Las Vegas, Madison, Portland, Raleigh-Durham, San Diego, Santa Monica, Savannah, Seattle, Taos, Tucson, the Twin Cities, and a klatch of other cities that have ascended the heights of those “most livable,” “coolest,” and “best” lists.

Yes. We had brewpubs in Chicago before it was cool. Now Poughkeepsie is getting into the act. Awesome.

Wednesday 20 February 2013 13:21:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink#

Over the past two days, Microsoft Azure had two outages they're still investigating. The first, from 18:26 CST through 20:00 CST Monday (0026 to 0200 UTC Tuesday), and the second, from 13:50 to 15:27 CST (1950-2127 UTC) yesterday, affected SQL Database and related services in the Azure datacenter outside Washington, D.C.

I noticed the Monday evening outage as it happened, because when a database goes down, a number of applications start sending me emails. A couple of people had minor inconveniences, but as it happened on a holiday evening, the damage wasn't too severe.

I did not notice the Tuesday afternoon outage, which did affect a lot of people and made some of my clients very angry, because I was on an airplane. When I landed and turned on my phone, I had 300 emails from various applications and mercifully only 4 from angry clients. (Welcome home!)

Microsoft hasn't determined reported the cause yet, but given the maintenance they had planned, started, and then backed out on Sunday night, they may have a clue. They have a second round of maintenance planned for tonight at midnight CST (0600 UTC). I'll be watching carefully tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 20 February 2013 12:15:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Monday 18 February 2013

After only 147 years, the state of Mississippi has finally ratified the 13th Amendment:

On Dec. 6, 1865, the amendment received the three-fourths' vote it needed when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it. States that rejected the measure included Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Mississippi.

In the months and years that followed, states continued to ratify the amendment, including those that had initially rejected it. New Jersey ratified the amendment in 1866, Delaware in 1901 and Kentucky in 1976.

But there was an asterisk beside Mississippi. A note read: “Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification is not official.”

On Jan. 30, [Secretary of State Delbert] Hosemann sent the Office of the Federal Register a copy of the 1995 Senate resolution, adopted by both the Mississippi Senate and House.

On Feb. 7, Charles A. Barth, director of the Federal Register, wrote back that he had received the resolution: “With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Dr. Ranjan Batra, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, drove the correction. It's nice to see Mississippi finally correct an oversight like this.

Monday 18 February 2013 07:42:33 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | US#

Via Sullivan, a catalog of strange things we do with gadgets:

You’re on your cell phone, talking to a friend, pacing in circles, fidgeting with your hands, checking your cuticles–whatever it is you do while you’re on the phone. They’re odd, pointless behaviors, but we do them nonetheless, and a group of designers from the Art Center College of Design has taken it upon themselves to illustrate and document all of them (sort of like that Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology).

There’s the “Security Blanket” (checking your smartphone for no particular reason when faced with the slightest discomfort in a social situation), the “Halfway Courtesy” (taking one earbud out in order to show a person you’re listening to them), the “Haunted Interface” (performing actions an interface can’t react to, like shaking a video game controller), and many others. All of the actions are collected in a free ebook called Curious Rituals. Researcher Nicolas Nova explains in the book’s introduction.

Meanwhile, I'm doing my strange ritual of camping at Peet's Coffee before dawn to make sure I stay reasonably close to Chicago time for the weekend. Otherwise, Wednesday will be hell.

Monday 18 February 2013 06:40:47 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Sunday 17 February 2013

Flying out of O'Hare yesterday we passed this unhappy specimen:

The 787 Dreamliner has been there over a month now, having gotten stuck in Chicago when the difficulties started. (I've actually been through O'Hare five times since it got stranded, but yesterday was the first time my airplane took off from 22L, giving me a close enough look to snap a photo.)

Sunday 17 February 2013 07:35:55 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Saturday 16 February 2013

Blogger Rod Hilton believes he has found the best way to watch the Star Wars films: IV, V, II, III, VI. First he lays out the problems watching the saga in episode order and filmed order:

The problem with Episode Order is that it ruins the surprise that Vader is Luke’s father. If you think that this reveal doesn’t matter since it’s common knowledge, I suggest you watch the looks on these kids’ faces. This reveal is one of the most shocking in film history, and if a newcomer to the series has managed to avoid having it spoiled for them, watching the films in Episode Order would be like watching the ending of The Sixth Sense first.

Unfortunately, Release Order is also an instant failure, and the reason is a single shot. If you’re watching the original trilogy first, then after the Empire is destroyed and everyone is celebrating, Luke looks over at his mentors, Ben Kenobi and Yoda, and suddenly they are joined by… some random creepy looking teenager who needs a haircut.

The Machete Order strengthens the storyline and ultimately makes the whole saga coherent—and dramatic:

Effectively, this order keeps the story Luke’s tale. Just when Luke is left with the burning question “how did my father become Darth Vader?” we take an extended flashback to explain exactly how. Once we understand how his father turned to the dark side, we go back to the main storyline and see how Luke is able to rescue him from it and salvage the good in him.

The prequel backstory comes at the perfect time, because Empire Strikes Back ends on a huge cliffhanger. Han is in carbonite, Vader is Luke’s father, and the Empire has hit the rebellion hard. Delaying the resolution of this cliffhanger makes it all the more satisfying when Return of the Jedi is watched.

I don't remember how I stumbled upon this article (Sullivan, probably), but the whole chain of links included children trying to understand A New Hope, a site devoted to military and political analysis of sci-fi and fantasy, and the Battle of Hoth deconstructed by Spencer Ackerman.

If I only get two days of downtime this month, I'm going down the rabbit-hole of Star Wars reification, by god!

Saturday 16 February 2013 16:04:14 MST (UTC-07:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 15 February 2013

Some links:

Lots to do in the next 19 hours...including a conference call with a data center at 10:30 tonight.

Friday 15 February 2013 17:20:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | US#
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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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