Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 5 June 2014

Long-time readers know I rarely post directly about my personal life, but this one is kind of big.

After nearly three years, I'm moving from 10th Magnitude to take a new position as a .NET Architect with West Monroe Partners. I've learned a lot working with 10th, and I wish everyone there the best in the future.

I'll have more to say about this in the coming weeks. I'm excited about the change, and looking forward to some totally new challenges with WMP.

Thursday 5 June 2014 13:34:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business | Work#

What's the ugliest thing you can do to a downtown city? Cut down all the buildings and put up a parking lot:

This seems kind of obvious, doesn't it? But then again, about 800 years ago someone cut down the last tree on Easter Island, so it's hard to underestimate the ability of people to make good decisions about land use.

Thursday 5 June 2014 13:14:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Wednesday 4 June 2014

Yesterday I mentioned three things that weren't connected except they all ended recently. This morning Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal has an op-ed about one of them:

HomeMade Pizza Co. was in the right business and exactly the wrong place.

We consumers indeed are buying more fresh prepared meals to eat at home or elsewhere, like the take-and-bake pizzas HomeMade hawked from 1997 until its abrupt closing Friday. These kinds of meals have become a $26 billion business in this country and are growing at a healthy clip.

But we're not buying most of those grab-and-go meals at stand-alone storefront operations, where costs for an operator like HomeMade, which had more than 20 outlets when it shut down, include the lease and utilities, and whatever it takes to let potential customers know that it's there and why it's worth a visit.

The fresh pre-prepared food business is proving a boon to food/drug stores, where almost three-quarters of these meals are being sold, according to NPD Group. Savvy supermarket operators are offering an expanding array of menu items, increasingly going beyond heat-and-serve home-style meals. Some have added restaurant-quality entrees, various cuisines and occasionally palate-challenging fare.

While you're chewing on that, here's another passing: the Cubs are ending their 90-year relationship with radio station WGN:

The team tomorrow will reportedly announce a new seven-year agreement with WBBM-AM/780 to air the team's games beginning in 2015, ending a run with WGN-AM/720 that dates back to 1924.

"The economic terms just don't make sense for us,” WGN Radio President Jimmy de Castro told media columnist Robert Feder. “So it's really not us saying we don't want them anymore. It's the Cubs saying that the economics they need are much greater than what we think they're worth or what we'll pay. They chose to go another way economically and made a decision to move on.”

Sic transit gloria etuli.

Wednesday 4 June 2014 09:42:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Business#
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#
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On this page....
Quick personal update
Parking craters
More about an ending I mentioned, plus a new one
Payback time for trolls
Blackhawks, HomeMade Pizza Co., and King Juan Carlos end their reigns
Periodic Table of Storytelling
Why am I inside?
Cubs season tickets are not an investement
Modest Divvy program losses last year
This is my surprised face. I appear surprised.
Getting lucky on Hotwire
In memoriam: Atari, Inc. (1972-1984)
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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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