Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Monday 2 June 2014

This is overdue, but I'm very happy about it:

When Santa Barbara startup FindTheBest (FTB) was sued by a patent troll called Lumen View last year, it vowed to fight back rather than pay up the $50,000 licensing fee Lumen was asking for. Company CEO Kevin O'Connor made it personal, pledging $1 million of his own money to fight the legal battle.

Now the judge overseeing the case has ruled (PDF) that it's Lumen View, not FindTheBest, that should have to pay [FTB's $200,000 legal] expenses. In a first-of-its-kind implementation of new fee-shifting rules mandated by the Supreme Court, US District Judge Denise Cote found that the Lumen View lawsuit was a "prototypical exceptional case."

These guys are extortionists, and I am overjoyed that the law finally recognizes them as such. FTB has a pending appeal on a RICO action against Lumen, which the district court denied. That would be even sweeter.

Monday 2 June 2014 17:57:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#

Three unrelated passings this weekend:

  • Chicago's NHL Blackhawks ended their season last night, losing 5-4 in overtime to the L.A. Kings. It's always nice when a Chicago sports team makes it to the post-season, and also disappointing when they don't make the finals. The Kings will play the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup.
  • Chicago-based HomeMade Pizza Co., started in 1997, abruptly ceased operations Friday, closing all their stores and online presence without notice. When the chain first started, it quickly became my mom's favorite take-out pizza. The company prepared raw pizzas that you would then bake at home, the idea being the pie would be hot and crispy when you ate it, because there would be no delivery time. Apparently that concept didn't scale to 40 stores in four states.
  • Spain's King Juan Carlos has announced his abdication after 44 years on the throne. He's 76 years old and believes his 45-year-old son, Prince Felipe, will have the "impulso de renovación, de superación, de corregir errores y abrir camino a un futuro decididamente mejor" (motivation of renewal, of action, of correcting errors and making way for a decidedly better future). No word yet on whether HM Queen Elizabeth II, now on the throne 52 years and whose own son is scarcely much younger than Juan Carlos, plans ever to retire.

None of these is connected, as far as I know.

Monday 2 June 2014 08:19:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | World#

My dad just sent me this. His comment: "This was done by somebody who either has Asperger's or way, way too much time on his hands."

Yah, but it's cool, right?

What is not so cool is that the Kings are up 4-3 with 17 left in the 3rd. If none of that makes any sense to you, clearly you don't care about hockey or Chicago sports.

Sunday 1 June 2014 21:14:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Saturday 31 May 2014

It's the end of May, and the weather matches. I pushed some software into production this morning, which is already more productivity than necessary on a day like this.

Forget it. I'm going outside. See you in June.

Saturday 31 May 2014 14:44:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 30 May 2014

Since the Cubs' 8-4 win over the Giants on Monday, they haven't gotten a run in 20 innings.

That may have something to do with them being the worst team in the MLB today. Yes, at 19-32, they're behind Arizona (23-33), Houston (23-32), and Tampa Bay (23-31), and 26 other teams.

Hully gee. Only 105 games left to play this year...

Friday 30 May 2014 11:56:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs#
Thursday 29 May 2014

Crain's reported this morning that the Divvy bike-share program lost $150k on $2.2 million in revenue last year:

Though the operating loss is not unexpected, and the amount is relatively small, it comes at a time when Mr. Emanuel is under intense pressure to cut costs and avoid tax increases. The bicycle-sharing program has not yet reached many neighborhoods, reinforcing a view that Divvy is merely a toy for yuppies and tourists.

With the program expected to ramp up this year, achieving profitability is crucial to its long-term success. The administration expects Divvy to at least break even this year.

The program has proved popular with out-of-towners, but it must win over more price-sensitive customers, such as city residents.

So, the program seems on track, and the $12.5-million infusion from Blue Cross certainly hasn't hurt. I'm encouraged.

Thursday 29 May 2014 11:41:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago#
Wednesday 28 May 2014

I appreciate my friends getting 5th-row seats at AT&T park tonight. And yet, the Cubs still lost.

So, voilà:

To clarify: I was legitimately surprised that my friends got such awesome seats. I was not surprised that, having won yesterday, the Cubs lost tonight.

Wednesday 28 May 2014 00:19:34 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs | San Francisco#

I enjoy a healthy dose of randomness when traveling, because it means sometimes you get a hotel room with this view:

It's hard to see, but I'm looking directly at AT&T Park, where the Cubs are playing in about two hours. Since they won last night, I fully expect they've used up their allotted runs for the rest of May, but it will still be fun to see a baseball game.

Tuesday 27 May 2014 17:28:56 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs | San Francisco#
Monday 26 May 2014

A couple weeks ago I read a Snopes article about how Atari may have buried millions of E.T. game cartridges in New Mexico. After reading it, I found a copy of Zap! The rise and fall of Atari, on which much of the article was based.

The book was fascinating. Author Scott Cohen describes the meteoric rise of the company from Nolan Bushnell's Pong game until the company's self-inflicted and fatal shot to the head on 7 December 1982. Since Cohen wrote it in late 1983, the story ends a few months before the company did. But Atari had already been measured twice by that point, so no one reading the book when it came out would have any doubt about its prospects.

It always astounds me how companies keep making the same mistakes. Societies do too; but one can explain the timescale of human idiocy (usually 75-125 years) because people who would have known better tend to die eventually. Companies can flame out in just a few years.

Take Atari. In short, the company died because management—in particular CEO Ray Kassar—made a series of horrible decisions and ignored the lessons from their consequences. The initial growth and success of the company after Kassar took over was impressive, but it happened despite management, not because of it. The company's future sales required continuous development of new games, but management thought creating software wasn't any different than building cars.

At one point, four of Atari's top engineers, the guys creating the products Atari needed to sell, asked for commissions on the millions of game cartridges that people bought. In other words, they wanted recognition for their successes. Kassar responded, "You are no more important to that game than the guy on the assembly line who puts it together." The engineers quit and formed Activision, which then ate Atari's lunch.

With massive turnover in engineering, a game console that had not been upgraded in six years, over-saturation of the game cartridge market, poorly-reviewed products, and direct competition from technically superior products like personal computers, one would think management would notice the problem. Nope. On 7 December 1982, Atari announced disappointing earnings and precipitated the video game crash that left none of the original players standing.

The book concludes with a description of Silicon Valley as the new Detroit:

Silicon Valley is no longer the place for development and technology that it was. Now it's a meat market. What is happening to the Valley happened to Detroit, except there it was spread out over forty years. There are more companies in the Valley now than before, but it's not the hot spot it was. More companies are thinking about moving to the Midwest, since "cheap" labor down South is no longer cheap. Much of Silicon Valley will probably end up in Detroit, where all those auto workers are standing around with nothing to do.

So, not all of the book is accurate... It was a good read, though.

Monday 26 May 2014 12:54:51 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Business#

Another gratuitous ocean photo:

Monday 26 May 2014 09:14:12 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | San Francisco#

One of the best parts about visiting my folks:

Monday 26 May 2014 07:37:24 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | San Francisco#
Sunday 25 May 2014

One of the most dangerous parts of the Republican Party's strategy over the last thirty years has been its hostility towards institutions of government. The strategy seems to be that by de-funding or otherwise de-ligitimating the government, the government performs badly, causing people to lose faith in government and demand it be de-funded further. With no institutional options, people seek services from private companies instead, enriching the owners of those companies.

Take schools, for example. Urban schools suck in the U.S. But rather than debate the funding formulas that divert resources from the schools needing it most to the schools needing it least—just compare schools in exclusive New Trier Township with the Chicago Public Schools, for example—conservatives attack teachers, saying they're to blame. Never mind this is completely inconsistent from their reasoning on exorbitant CEO salaries, which they say have to be two orders of magnitude higher than in the 1970s because otherwise the companies can't attract talent, but somehow raising teacher salaries encourages laziness. (I mean, just look at the way Ayn Rand fanboy Eddie Lampert turned Sears around, totally justifying his $3.15 bn net worth, right?)

From the Times this weekend comes a depressing reminder about a historical process that will no doubt reduce the public's faith in an entire branch of government. This time it's the Supreme Court, which not only has issued a series of 5-4 decisions containing blatant Republican partisan hackery (which reduces their precedential value and makes the cases likely to be re-litigated in a generation), but it turns out they re-writing their opinions, sometimes five years after the fact:

[M]ost changes are neither prompt nor publicized, and the court’s secretive editing process has led judges and law professors astray, causing them to rely on passages that were later scrubbed from the official record. The widening public access to online versions of the court’s decisions, some of which do not reflect the final wording, has made the longstanding problem more pronounced.

Unannounced changes have not reversed decisions outright, but they have withdrawn conclusions on significant points of law.

In an internal memorandum in 1981, Justice Harry A. Blackmun offered reasons that the court operated “on a strange and ‘reverse’ basis, where the professional editing is done after initial public release.” Once an opinion has garnered the five votes needed to have it speak for the court, he said, the author wants to issue it immediately to guard against defections and “get ‘on the scoreboard.’ ”

There are four generations of opinions, and only the last is said to be final. So-called bench opinions, in booklet form, are available at the court when decisions are announced. Slip opinions are posted on the court’s website soon after. They are followed by preliminary softcover prints and then by the only official versions, which are published in hardcover volumes called United States Reports. The official versions of opinions from 2008 were published in 2013.

Now, as a JD, I understand that common law can be slippery sometimes. It still saddens me to hear about things that make sense in ways more nuanced than most people will understand. Even smart people blow off nuances they don't want to hear, as anyone who's ever given an cost estimate to a sales guy understands ("we have a 10% chance of finishing in 8 days and a 90% chance of finishing in 16" lodges in the sales brain as "they'll be done in a week").

Someday I'll expound on my wish for defined terms of office in the Federal judiciary*. For now, I'll just be sad.

* Nine years for district courts (renewable), 13 for courts of appeal and 17 for justices (non-renewable). This prevents any president from reappointing the same judge, so the judges are still free to defy the person who appointed them, but still keeps a certain amount of churn that keeps them honest. At least we'd be done with Scalia and Thomas already.

Sunday 25 May 2014 06:43:59 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | US#

When I go anywhere for only a couple of days, I try not to shift my body clock. It prevents jet lag, mostly.

This weekend I'm at my folks' house outside San Francisco, which has a two-hour time difference from Chicago. That is why I woke up at 5am and walked to the local Peet's Coffee, as I usually do.

This trip I may allow my clock to drift westward, though. I'm going to Tuesday night's Cubs game at AT&T Park at 7:05pm—9:05pm Central time—and would like to see the whole game. The Cubs might even win. I mean, they have a 1-in-3 shot, right?

I do like getting to the Peet's this early, though. First, the just-before-dawn walk is quiet and even a little spooky down the local bike trail, but today I got a tremendous view of the crescent Moon and Venus, which are passing just 2° from each other this morning. I'm never up this early at home unless I'm still up, which hasn't happened in years anyway.

Second, the Peet's is quiet right now. In two hours it'll be packed with families and locals (the fishermen who stay here for hours at a time most mornings are more colorful than any of the characters at the Alibi Room). Time to write for a bit, and wait for the rest of my family to wake up.

Sunday 25 May 2014 05:57:25 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Cubs | San Francisco | Travel | Astronomy#

According to Douglas Adams, every planet in the universe has some variation on the drink gin & tonic. On this planet, the drink may have changed history:

Without quinine, malaria would have felled the conquerors; without gin to alleviate the bitterness of this highly effective anti-malarial, the soldiers would have refused to down their medicine.

The ability to withstand malaria helped Britain to conquer half of Africa and keep India subjugated (more or less). So much misery, engendered by one of the world’s most inspired taste combinations.

Of course, cold gin with a splash of dry vermouth works just fine for those of us in more temperate climates. Put olives in for perfection.

Saturday 24 May 2014 19:04:41 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 22 May 2014

Even though the Cubs are officially the second-worst team in baseball right now, Cubs owner and chairman Tom Ricketts is tired of negotiating with the neighborhood:

The Cubs announced early Thursday that they plan to ask the city to approve more signs in the outfield at Wrigley Field, a move that comes after "endless hours" of negotiating with rooftop owners have gone nowhere, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said in a video.

In the six-minute video to fans, Ricketts blamed rooftop owners for delaying the renovation of the field, saying "Despite the city's approval and our clear contractual rights, they plan to file lawsuits to stop our renovation and expansion plans."

Well, sort of. The Cubs agreed to a 20-year contract with the rooftop owners in 2004, so the rooftop owners actually have a case.

Of course, a Jumbotron in left field is exactly what the organization needs to win ballgames. I mean, there couldn't be any other reason, right?

Thursday 22 May 2014 13:58:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs#
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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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