Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 30 March 2010

My new employer requires that I get an appropriate Microsoft certification by February 2012. This requires that I take six certification tests. I've started preparing, after not having bothered in four years. And, as I was in 2006, and 1999, and 1996, and 1993, the last times I jumped into the MCP Pit of Despair, I am unhappy.

Why, pray, have I not bothered to get certified? Why only one test in the last 10 years? Because I really, honestly, truly, hate these exams. The last time I took one, I literally walked in off the street and winged it. This didn't work. Not, I assert, because I lack the skills the test purported to measure. No, because the exams, for reasons of economics and volume, don't demonstrate ability; they screen for something else entirely. (I'm still trying to work out what.)

Having just taken a practice test, I am saddened to see things haven't improved. Here's an example, which I first demonstrated in 2006. Imagine you want to get a "Chicago Certified Driver in Stick-Shift Transmissions (Automobile)" badge. This credential establishes that you are certified by the city of Chicago to drive cars equipped with manual transmissions. To get this credential, you take a computerized, multiple-choice test. Here is question 1:

You're driving from 1200 West Fullerton Parkway to 741 West Cornelia Avenue. What is the route you follow?
A. East on Fullerton, North on Halsted, West on Cornelia.
B. East on Fullerton, North on Clark, North on Sheffield, East on Cornelia.
C. West on Fullerton, North on Western, East on Addison, South on Halsted, East on Cornelia.
D. East on Fullerton, North on Clark, North on Broadway, West on Cornelia.

Do you know the answer? You have 60 seconds, closed book.

The correct answer is C, because the other three are illegal. Of course, no one would ever, ever, ever, choose C in real life, because it takes you three miles out of your way. But that's not the point. Certified Chicago Drivers may not know how to use a manual transmission, but they absolutely know all the one-way streets in the city.

See, in order to get this question right you need to know several things. First, Halsted is 800 West, so you need to be East of it to get to 741 W. Cornelia. Second, Cornelia is a one-way street that goes East and West from Halsted. In other words, if you're on Halsted, you can go either East or West on Cornelia, away from Halsted.

Further, if you got the question wrong, so what? So you're going up on Halsted and you turn the wrong way on Cornelia. Oops: you're on the 800 block of Cornelia, the numbers are getting bigger, so you waste maybe 15 seconds turning at the next street and trying again in the other directon.

And even more: Anyone who has ever spent time in that neighborhood knows you won't find a parking space on the 700 block of Cornelia unless you get really, really lucky. So you may want to turn West on Cornelia anyway, because it's sometimes easier to find parking over there.

You may be wondering, why would anyone who wants to demonstrate mastery of driving stick-shift cars (a) take a multiple-choice test requiring him to (b) memorize all the one-way streets in Wrigleyville? Good question. And I have the one and only answer that should ever, ever make you do this:

Because someone is paying you to do so.

That is a good enough reason for me.

Tuesday 30 March 2010 15:51:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

Sean Wilentz at The New Republic has a better explanation of the nullification nonsense this morning than I had yesterday:

Now, as in the 1860s and 1960s, nullification and interposition are pseudo-constitutional notions taken up in the face of national defeat in democratic politics. Unable to prevail as a minority and frustrated to the point of despair, its militant advocates abandon the usual tools of democratic politics and redress, take refuge in a psychodrama of "liberty" versus "tyranny," and declare that, on whatever issue they choose, they are not part of the United States or subject to its laws—that, whenever they say so, the Constitution in fact forms a league, and not a government. Although not currently concerned with racial supremacy, the consequence of their doctrine would uphold an interpretation of the constitutional division of powers that would permit the majority of any state to reinstate racial segregation and inequality up to the point of enslavement, if it so chose.

That these ideas resurfaced 50 years ago, amid the turmoil of civil rights, was as harebrained as it was hateful. But it was comprehensible if only because interposition and nullification lay at the roots of the Civil War. Today, by contrast, the dismal history of these discredited ideas resides within the memories of all Americans who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s—and ought, on that account, to be part of the living legacy of the rest of the country. Only an astonishing historical amnesia can lend credence to such mendacity.

The whole idea is childish in a way. Little children and extremist politicians have a definition of "fair" that only encompasses what they want. Seriously, doesn't this whole thing look like a temper tantrum? When you start to think about the far right as a bunch of little kids more concerned with winning than governing, their whole ethos becomes clearer.

In other words, my message to Western legislatures is: Grow the hell up. We have real problems that need real solutions. Act like adults and get back to work.

Tuesday 30 March 2010 09:41:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 29 March 2010

He really should know better:

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert has signed two bills authorizing the state to use eminent domain to seize some of the federal government's most valuable land.

Supporters hope the bills, which the Republican governor signed Saturday, will trigger a flood of similar legislation throughout the West and, eventually, a Supreme Court battle that they hope to win -- against long odds.

Um...no. Starting with the Supremacy Clause, moving on to the Federal applicability of the 5th Amendment, and ending with the unfortunate result of the 1832 Nullification Crisis[1], this bill has less chance of having legal effect than the Cubs have of winning a post-season game. In fact, of the two events, I'd wager on the Cubs.

This silly act is merely the latest in a disturbing trend of Republican legislatures imagining that the last 150 years of U.S. history didn't happen.

Or maybe it's not their imagination. Maybe, on top of being ornery, they might in fact be ignorant of the late unpleasantness and its aftermath. Utah has no excuse, though. They entered the Union in 1896, four decades after all that stuff about, you know, Federal supremacy had been decided.

[1] President Obama will probably not send the U.S. Navy to Utah, owing to certain practical difficulties, but you get the idea.

Monday 29 March 2010 17:22:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Yesterday I expressed more relief than dread after finishing my Term 3 finals. Dread just won:

Subject: FedEx Shipment Notification

[Redacted] of Duke Fuqua School of Business sent David Braverman 1 FedEx Express Saver package(s).

This shipment is scheduled to be sent on 03/29/2010.

Oh. Joy. The Term 4 books are coming.


Monday 29 March 2010 08:41:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke#
Sunday 28 March 2010

I've just finished my final exams for Duke CCMBA Term 3. Total time: 10.8 hours on statistics, 8.2 hours for marketing, 4.9 hours sobbing quietly at my desk about not having studied more.

As the program has six terms, in a sane universe this would mean I'm half-way done with my MBA. Sadly, I'm not even done with Term 3 yet. And anyway the end of Term 3, officially April 7th, isn't really the half-way point.

First, I have the Delhi Culture Dash video to produce. My team has succeeded mightily with a divide-and-conquer approach, so for each the three projects that remain in Term 3 (two, technically, being term 4 projects due before term 4 officially starts), we have one project author and one reviewer. I volunteered for the video project when the entire team thought it was due April 6th. It's actually due Thursday. I'm guessing this is another 10 hours of work. Good thing I have all that time to do it, otherwise I'd continue sobbing at my desk.

Second, Term 6 will really be two terms. During the residency we have four classes, then after the residency we have two 6-week distance periods, with two sets of finals.

Third, the chronological midpoint of the program is actually April 11th.[1] So, really, we're almost there, though I suspect the psychological midpoint will be April 25th, when we leave Shanghai. Or maybe December 12th, the day before the thing ends.

Sorry about that. I may have spent too much time doing statistics this weekend. I will now retire to the pub, with The Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy, which I need to finish reading (for Global Markets and Institutions) before next week.

[1] The program officially started with Term 1 pre-reading on 8 August 2009; our last final exam is due 13 December 2010; that's 492 days; so 246 days after August 8th is April 11th. QED. If you use the first day of the London residency, August 15th, as the starting point, the midpoint is April 14th.

Sunday 28 March 2010 18:28:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke#

To hear the right wingers describe it, passing the Health-Care Reform Act ranked somewhere between breaking the second seal and sending Federal troops to Birmingham in atrocity. I cannot fathom the rage, not one bit. Nor can I fathom the hypocrisy. For example, as the New York Times reported this morning, a sizable chunk of the Tea Party movement have the luxury of banging on against the welfare state because—why else—they're supported by it:

Tom Grimes, [who] lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago...has organized a local group and a statewide coalition, and even started a "bus czar" Web site to marshal protesters to Washington on short notice. This month, he mobilized 200 other Tea Party activists to go to the local office of the same congressman to protest what he sees as the government's takeover of health care.

Full entry at The Daily Parker...

Sunday 28 March 2010 14:04:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 27 March 2010

My dad has a new novel out. Right now it's available for the Amazon Kindle only; in a couple of weeks he'll have paperbacks as well. As soon as he does, expect to find them in random locations around the world.

I've read about 20 different drafts of the book, and each was better than the last. It's a page-turner. And creepy. And funny. An excerpt:

It all played out in less than three seconds.

Like an errant missile, the two-and-a-half-ton stretch Cadillac slammed into the stunned crowd of mourners, carving through them before planting itself into the back of the standing hearse. One mortuary attendant and two elderly women, whose unfortunate timing had them standing on the street between the two hearses, were instantly crushed, their bones pulverized by the explosive collision of metal into metal. Other bodies were tumbled and tossed like stuffed toys into the street or dashed against the red brick wall of the mortuary. And for those not directly in the path of the hearse, the blizzard of glass and metal shrapnel exploding outward from the collision sliced through their soft flesh with the lethal efficiency of whirling Cuisinart blades.

The force of the impact knocked Garland backwards off his feet. The stinging tintinnabulation resounding in his ears deafened and disoriented him. When he was finally able to lift his head, he saw Eugene Kessler writhing behind him on the flooded street, clutching his shoulder a few feet from where Carolyn Eccevarria was lying lifelessly on her back.

It only just came out half an hour ago so I'll need to read the latest version. (After finals...ugh.) But if you have a Kindle and you're looking for a fun, quick novel, download it now.

Saturday 27 March 2010 11:56:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 26 March 2010

An island claimed by both India and Bangladesh has vanished, ending a territorial dispute going back to 1971:

The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis.

Recent satellites images show the whole island under water, says the School of Oceanographic Studies in Calcutta.

"What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming," said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.

Professor Hazra said his studies revealed that sea levels in this part of the Bay of Bengal have risen much faster over the past decade than they had done in the previous 15 years.

And he predicts that in the coming decade other islands in the Sundarbans delta region will follow New Moore, or South Talpatti, beneath the waves.

The article doesn't explain that both countries claimed the tiny uninhabited island because the law of the sea allows countries to claim a 370 km exclusive economic zone around any land they "control," even if it's just a speck poking above the water. This means the total disputed territory was actually over 430,000 km²—an area about as big as California or Thailand. But with the island gone, the competing claims have vanished as well.

(With the island sitting right at the mouth of a major river, however, the 22 km territorial waters were probably more important to both.)

Friday 26 March 2010 16:14:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#

Nothing special about the game, but I do love the shot:

Friday 26 March 2010 15:14:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Thursday 25 March 2010

Today the Vatican announced that there has been no cover-up in the latest U.S. sex-abuse scandal, and could we all just leave the Pope alone?

This whole thing must feel like someone stampeded cattle through St. Peter's.

But let's be serious. It looks quite like the current Pope intervened in the Ecclesiastical trial of a priest accused of molesting 200 deaf boys, and failed to act on dozens of other cases:

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

More after the jump...

Thursday 25 March 2010 12:33:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Religion#

But not according to John Boehner:

I laughed so hard I cried.

Oh, by the way, John? Yes we did.

Thursday 25 March 2010 10:07:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 24 March 2010

If you believe in small government, individual liberty, and all the other things that conservatives traditionally believe, then equal rights for gays naturally follows. As evidence I give you the British Conservative Party's leader (and probably the next prime minister), David Cameron:

[N]o-one should be in any doubt that the Conservative party abhors homophobia, that we support equal rights, that we support civil partnerships, that we think that part of being a strong central right party in Britain today.

One of the bedrock issues is being in favour of proper equality for people whether they are straight or gay, or black or white, or men or women, or whether they live in the town or the countryside or whatever God they worship - important points.

He's the Conservative Party leader. That's what a center-right politician looks like everywhere else in the world. His positions are entirely within the foundational beliefs of conservatism (and liberalism, of course).

Incidentally, the interview quoted above was with—wait for it—Gay Times magazine. Now stop, for a moment, and consider the crashing improbability of Sarah Palin or John Boehner sitting down with the Advocate and you start to see how out of touch with conservatism the Republican leadership really is.

Wednesday 24 March 2010 17:06:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#

I didn't expect to see O'Hare on this list. (Oh, it wasn't. Don't worry.)

Gulliver has the summary:

HAVING assessed 9.8m passenger surveys for its annual awards, Skytrax, a research company, has just named Singapore’s Changi airport the best in the world.

Incheon airport, near Seoul, which was last year’s winner, came second and Hong Kong airport third. These three would appear to be well clear of the opposition, according to Skytrax’s methodology, as they have held the top three slots (in different orders) for the past three years. ...

Top ten airports 2010: 1 Singapore, 2 Seoul Incheon, 3 Hong Kong, 4 Munich, 5 Kuala Lumpur, 6 Zurich, 7 Amsterdam, 8 Beijing, 9 Auckland, 10 Bangkok

If anyone wants to donate $460 to the Daily Parker, I'll order a copy of the report and find out where O'Hare wound up. Sight unseen, I'll bet the whole amount that it did better than LaGuardia, and I'll give even odds we beat Heathrow.

Wednesday 24 March 2010 13:06:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

Well, maybe the Republicans who predicted market Armageddon over the weekend were right. Even though the markets went up on Monday and Tuesday, this morning they have, indeed, collapsed. During the first half-hour of trading this morning the Dow has lost 24, the NASDAQ 10, and the S&P 4. Points. Meaning, 0.23%, 0.4%, and 0.3%, respectively.

Yes, the markets have spoken. They just haven't said anything about health-care reform.

Wednesday 24 March 2010 08:57:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 23 March 2010

Via Andrew Sullivan, a 185-voice virtual choir:

Tuesday 23 March 2010 15:40:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

The Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters now has a bigger desktop:

Tuesday 23 March 2010 15:05:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

President Obama signed the health-care reform bill just now. It's law. So the U.S. now has a health care law with as much charity and compassion as, say, the U.K.'s circa 1950.

And still no stock-market crash. How about that.

Tuesday 23 March 2010 11:09:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 22 March 2010

Yesterday some of my classmates fretted about how the stock market would collapse today because of health care reform passing the House.

Yawn. With half an hour to go, the NASDAQ, DOW, and oil are up; bonds are down; gold is down. All the indicators are within 1% of Friday's closes.

What a disaster:

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It's hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they'll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections.

Yeah, that's not Josh Marshall; that's David Frum. He continues:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

What a lovely spring day we're having in the U.S.

Monday 22 March 2010 14:38:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

And we now have a 20th-century health care plan for America. Just in time.

Fifty years from now, our children and grandchildren will wonder why the vote was so close, kind of like how we today wonder about the 85 who voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Or maybe the way we don't, but we should.

(Updates after the jump.)

Sunday 21 March 2010 21:55:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 21 March 2010

One of my Duke classmates posted a Facebook status update that prompted a discussion. I thought responding in long form would be more appropriate than continuing a comment chain.

Sunday 21 March 2010 15:37:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

It was on this day in 1985 that I drifted off in Mr. Collins' Algebra class and arrived at the name of my corporation: Punzun Ltd.

The corporation became an actual legal entity on 17 February 2000.

Oh, and if he were still alive, Bach would be 325 today, and he would have over 100 children. (Oh, yeah—and if we hadn't switched calendars in the 1750s. If you convert to the current Gregorian calendar, Bach's birthday is actually March 31st.)

Sunday 21 March 2010 14:37:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Saturday 20 March 2010

There are two nearly-identical copies of this poster at Duke of Perth, one unfortunately vandalized by neo-Nazis. (I'm not kidding.) Does anyone have any idea where to get one?

Saturday 20 March 2010 18:12:30 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

That's the code for "frontal passage" on aviation meteorological reports. Apparently yesterday while I was on my way to O'Hare I missed a big one:

While temperatures began dropping across the far northern suburbs as early as mid-afternoon, the city was invaded by 30+ mph gusts late in the evening rush hour, initiating a thermal tailspin. In a single hour's time, readings at the Harrison-Dever Crib, three miles off Chicago's shoreline, dove from 62°F to 42°F—a 20°F pullback—between 6 and 7 p.m. The same period saw readings at Northerly Island on the city's lakefront plunge from 64°F to 47°F. A minute-by-minute temperature analysis off a Weather Bug sensor on the South Side at the Dumas Elementary School indicated readings there plunged 15°F in only 12 minutes—from 62°F at 6:39 p.m. to 47°F at 6:51. By late evening, North Shore readings were uniformly up to 25°F off the 60°F levels of only hours before.

Yikes. Here's the art:

Today's forecast is for sunny skies and 26°C.

Oh, sorry. That's my forecast. Back in Chicago they've got snow and freezing temperatures. Sorry.

Saturday 20 March 2010 09:49:44 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Chicago | Raleigh | Weather#
Friday 19 March 2010

After a lot of procrastination, I've finally upgraded The Daily Parker to dasBlog 2.3.

dasBlog logoNothing outwardly has changed, but apparently the developer community has fixed a ton of bugs and, more helpfully, upgraded to .NET 2.0. I don't have time at the moment to go through the entire feature list, but I'm sure there are a couple in there I'll use.

Mainly I was tired of having an item on my to-do list since October 2008. (I said "a lot of procrastination.")

Friday 19 March 2010 13:16:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Blogs#
Thursday 18 March 2010

Ahem. No, RoboCop isn't pointing a gun at me. However, Avanade's personal blog policy strongly recommends that I post the following, and I happen to agree:

Avanade does not control or endorse the content, messages or information found in any public Weblog, and therefore specifically disclaims any liability with regard to this Weblog and any actions resulting from my participation in any Weblog.

Also, I am not authorized in any way to speak on Avanade's behalf.

This applies not only to The Daily Parker but also to re-posts, as for example the automatic content pull from The Daily Parker into my Facebook profile.

We will now resume your regularly-scheduled program, already in progress.

Thursday 18 March 2010 11:36:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Work#

NPR reported this morning that dogs likely descended from Israeli wolves:

To come up with their results, [UCLA researcher Robert] Wayne and his colleagues studied DNA from more than 200 wild gray wolves. "We looked at wolf populations in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia and from China," he says. In each case, they sought out and found genetic markers that were unique to these different wolf populations. So, for example, there were some markers that were only found in Chinese wolves, and others only found in Middle Eastern wolves.

Then they analyzed DNA from more than 900 dogs from 85 breeds, and looked to see which of the wolf markers dogs most closely resembled. It turns out that most dogs shared markers unique to Middle Eastern wolves, although there were some dog breeds that were closer to other wolf populations.

"Many wolf populations may have contributed to the genomic diversity of dogs, but the dominant signal comes from the Middle East," says Wayne. The new research appears in the journal Nature.

Finally: a solid explanation of why Parker wears a yarmulke.

Thursday 18 March 2010 08:53:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Parker#
Wednesday 17 March 2010

Or: How I learned to stop being irrational and give up a piece of history.

I'm about to mail (yes, use postal mail) a termination order to Earthlink, with whom I have had an account since they acquired Mindspring, with whom I had an account since they acquired Pipeline. That means I've had my Mindspring email address since 1998 (I got the Pipeline address in 1997, but Mindspring converted everyone over), and I've kept it as my spam account since I set up my own email server in 2000.

So, I'm feeling a little twinge. It's a piece of history, a connection to the days of dial-up and modems, of Outlook 1997 and Pine. It's also $7 a month, and every last scrap of email it receives with the exception of Earthlink payment receipts is junk. I've kept it because it seemed like a trivial expense to remain connected with the early days of the Internet. But you know what? The Wayback Machine does that too, and it's free.

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore. Literally: Time flees while we hold on to insignificant details.

Wednesday 17 March 2010 16:05:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Tuesday 16 March 2010

I had hoped, as I hoped about Post #1,000, to write something lengthy and truly self-indulgent.

This will disappoint many readers, but I don't have time to do that. Instead, just a quick update: even though Inner Drive Technology still exists (as does all of its software and ongoing maintenance), I'm now working for Avanade, a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture.

And, in the spirit of the season, on my way to Avanade's Chicago office yesterday, I noticed something...odd...about the Daley Center:

Tuesday 16 March 2010 16:42:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Daily | Business#
Sunday 14 March 2010

A friend and I toured the Big Boss Brewing Co. in Raleigh yesterday. Possibly owing to the gorgeous weather, or a widespread spirit of scientific inquiry, or—long shot here—the $1 33 cL beer samples, yesterday's tour seemed awfully popular:

Sunday 14 March 2010 12:32:46 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Raleigh#

Via Dan Savage, a meta-analysis showing a correlation (not necessarily causation) between religious dogmatism and racism:

The February issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review has published a meta-analysis of 55 independent studies conducted in the United States which considers surveys of over 20,000 mostly Christian participants. Religious congregations generally express more prejudiced views towards other races. Furthermore, the more devout the community, the greater the racism.

This study finds that a denomination's demand for devout allegiance to its Christian creed overrides any humanistic message. By demanding such devotion to one specific and dogmatic Christianity, a denomination only encourages its members to view outsiders as less worthy.

Moreover, the study found that agnosticism correlates with tolerance, to which I think one should add "Q.E.D."

Again, the study doesn't show causation, only correlation. Religion doesn't itself make one racist. Possibly the conditions that lead someone to religious dogmatism also lead to racism; possibly the communities in which more-devoted religionists live are in areas with historically higher racism.

Sunday 14 March 2010 12:12:48 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US | Religion#

In the U.S., today is 3.14. The rest of the world will celebrate Pi Day when we have 14 months in a year, because most places write dates "14/3". So we'll just have to wait until International Pi Month in March 2014.

Too bad most of us slept through 3.14 1:59:26...and then lost an hour of sleep 34 seconds later.

Yes, I'm a nerd.

Sunday 14 March 2010 10:35:45 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink#

The Chicago Tribune has a story this morning about the controversy blowing through DeKalb County (about 150 km west of Chicago) because of wind turbines:

Ben Michels' friends say he may have the worst of it. Five turbines stand in a line behind his home, the nearest 435 m away; the county restricts turbines from being any closer than that.

Michels, who has raised goats for 20 years and averaged one death per year, said nine have died since December. Autopsies didn't reveal anything physically wrong with them. But he said veterinarians told him the goats may have suffered from stress. "Common sense tells me, it's got to have something to do with the turbines," Michels said. Other farmers say the turbines have spooked their horses and other animals.

I don't think we've seen a better encapsulation of the public policy reasoning of many voters in a long time. First, a spike in something coinciding with something else. Then, an appeal to common sense. Finally, an anecdote about unnamed but similarly-situated people that reinforces the original opinion.

The Tribune doesn't make explicit a clear pattern that emerges from the people who they interviewed: the ones most opposed to the turbines don't own them. At least the article notes "each turbine, which takes up about 1.2 ha total, pays...about $9,000 per year.... That compares with the going rate of about $73 per hectare per year to lease farmland in DeKalb County, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Ah. Yes. Goats dying and migraine headaches caused by other people profiting from the goat-killing headache machines. (I commend to the reader the chapter in James Davidson and Mark Lytle's brilliant textbook After the Fact on the economic situation in Salem, Mass., in the 1680s.)

I especially enjoyed the top sour-grapes quote of the article:

Yet not everyone who could have profited from the turbines did so.

Ken and Lois Ehrhart originally agreed to allow NextEra to run a power line through their property in Shabbona but then changed their minds. Leasing part of their 320 acres would have provided money to pay off a large hospital bill.

"I says nothing doing," recalled Ken Ehrhart, who raises soybeans, wheat and corn. "We're not the highfliers for all the modern ideas."

In other words, "Get your damn turbines off my lawn, you young whippersnapper!"

Such is progress. Imagine the outcry if someone tried to put a nuclear plant in DeKalb County. Or a coal one.

Sunday 14 March 2010 10:15:29 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US#
Friday 12 March 2010

Via Freakonomics, the City of Edmonton noticed some unusual water-use patterns during the U.S.-Canada hockey game February 27th:

The end result, of course, is that Canadians were flushed with pride.

Friday 12 March 2010 09:27:53 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 11 March 2010

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has run out of patience:

Many Republicans now are demanding that we simply ignore the progress we've made, the extensive debate and negotiations we’ve held, the amendments we've added (including more than 100 from Republicans) and the votes of a supermajority in favor of a bill whose contents the American people unambiguously support. We will not. We will finish the job.

As you know, the vast majority of bills developed through reconciliation were passed by Republican Congresses and signed into law by Republican Presidents – including President Bush’s massive, budget-busting tax breaks for multi-millionaires. Given this history, one might conclude that Republicans believe a majority vote is sufficient to increase the deficit and benefit the super-rich, but not to reduce the deficit and benefit the middle class. Alternatively, perhaps Republicans believe a majority vote is appropriate only when Republicans are in the majority. Either way, we disagree.

At the end of the process, the bill can pass only if it wins a democratic, up-or-down majority vote. If Republicans want to vote against a bill that reduces health care costs, fills the prescription drug 'donut hole' for seniors and reduces the deficit, you will have every right to do so.

All right. Can we get health-care reform already?

Thursday 11 March 2010 14:50:55 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

NPR ran a story this morning on gender-bending chickens:

Michael Clinton of the University of Edinburgh studies these peculiar chickens, called "gynandromorphs." They're split down the middle: One side looks male; the other side, female. Clinton wanted to know how this happened.

When he started studying the half-and-half birds, Clinton figured there would have been some weird chromosomal abnormality so the gonads would send out scrambled hormonal signals.

But that turned out to be wrong. The chickens were a mix of male and female cells. And it was the cells, not the hormones, that seemed to be calling the shots.

What makes this doubly interesting for me is the Threadless T-Shirt Diane is wearing today:

Thursday 11 March 2010 08:48:31 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 10 March 2010

You never need to watch cable news again (NSFW):

The British version:

Wednesday 10 March 2010 09:42:25 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 9 March 2010

After months of beautiful weather I finally arranged a flight check-out at a local flight school. I had to get an hour of additional training to learn how to use the Garmin G1000 flight instrument panel yesterday, but today's flight went just like any other check-out. (Google Earth track.)

My passport, unfortunately, is at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago getting a visa stuck in. So I'll have to wait until I get it back to rent planes. This is because the TSA believes, as would anyone, that only U.S. citizens (or aliens we really, really like) are to be trusted with small airplanes. This will prevent any non-citizens from doing bad things with them, of course.

Tuesday 9 March 2010 14:48:56 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Monday 8 March 2010

I mentioned that the traffic and chaos in Delhi just seems to work most of the time. Sometimes, however—as when 60 bicycle rickshaws try to make a right turn through traffic at the same time—it doesn't:

I'm curious what everyone is saying...though I can guess.

Monday 8 March 2010 13:54:35 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Geography#

Last photo from Ponder Cove, Parker happy enough to levitate:

I also forgot to mention the sign on the door that suggested the B & B's proprietors were our kind of people.

Monday 8 March 2010 13:34:59 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Daily | US#
Sunday 7 March 2010

First one from Windsor Place at Janpath, opposite Le Meridien hotel:

Sunday 7 March 2010 12:20:43 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Geography#

Via reader AS, Floating Sheep analyzed the relationship between bars and grocery stores in the U.S. and Canada:

We had expected that grocery stores would outnumber bars and for most parts of North America that is the case. But we could also clearly see the "beer belly of America" peeking out through the "t-shirt of data".

Starting in Illinois, the beer belly expands up into Wisconsin and first spreads westward through Iowa/Minnesota and then engulfs Nebraska, and the Dakotas before petering out (like a pair of love handles) in Wyoming and Montana.

On average there are 1.52 bars for every 10,000 people in the U.S. but the states that make up the beer belly of America are highly skewed from this average.

I notice that Chicago has fewer bars than grocery stores, and I am confused. Chicago is the land of bars on every street corner identified only by Old Style signs and dirty windows. Maybe there are gypsy grocers no one sees lurking in the neighborhoods?

Sunday 7 March 2010 09:50:40 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 5 March 2010

Can anyone figure out the Best Picture voting, and why they changed it? One economist tried:

To dig deeper into the radical change made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists we turned to Justin Wolfers, associate professor of economics in the Business and Public Policy Department at the Wharton School.

This year's Oscar voting is, Wolfers says, "a fairly common election system. We call it the 'exhaustive preferential' system, or 'instant runoff system,' and it’s the way we elect our parliament in Australia."

Backing up, Wolfers gives me a quick lesson in the relation between elections and voting systems. "Political scientists and mathematicians have forever been engaged in the search for a perfect voting system," he says. "[Economist] Kenneth Arrow won the Nobel Prize for his 'Arrow Impossibility Theorem,' in which he wrote down all the things that a good electoral system would do and then proved that there is no system that meets all of those criteria. So we are always choosing the least worst system."

But 10 nominees? My god, the show's going to take days...

Friday 5 March 2010 10:12:06 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 4 March 2010

A North Carolina congressman wants to put Reagan on the fifty:

It's a Republican -- Rep. Patrick McHenry -- who has introduced the bill to replace the general who led the Union to victory in the (War Between the States) and led the nation as well with another more modern president, the late Californian and great communicator, Reagan.

Reagan transformed the nation's political and economic thinking, the way McHenry sees it. He maintains that "every generation needs its own heroes."

Grant may have had his problems, and he was, after all, a Republican. But let's wait a little bit before replacing him. Maybe we can put Reagan on a new 99c coin (which would be at least somewhat useful).

Wednesday 3 March 2010 19:04:14 EST (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 3 March 2010

Also as promised, I've finally gotten around to converting and uploading video from Delhi. I'll have more later this week; here's the first:

Wednesday 3 March 2010 11:19:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Duke | Geography#

As promised, some photos of our trip to dog heaven, the B&B at Ponder Cove up in Mars Hill, N.C.:

More after the jump...

Wednesday 3 March 2010 11:04:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Parker#

This may be the coolest computer ever:

Wednesday 3 March 2010 09:37:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#

Citizens of the District of Columbia are now free to marry:

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to stop same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, clearing the way for couples to register to wed beginning Wednesday. Equal-rights opponents in the capital had asked Chief Justice John Roberts to prevent the issuing of licenses until residents had voted on the issue. Lower courts had denied requests to place a moratorium on issuing of licenses.

"It has been the practice of the court to defer to the decisions of the courts of the District of Columbia on matters of exclusively local concern," wrote Roberts, who made the decision without bringing in the full court.

Roberts also cited the fact that although D.C. is autonomous, Congress could have passed a bill to disallow the city government from enacting the law, and it did not do so.

Marriages may be performed beginning March 9, as there is a waiting period of three business days after the issuance of licenses.

In response to the D.C. marriage equality law, Catholic Charities will no longer offer spousal benefits to any new or newly-married employees:

[On March 1st], Catholic Charities President and CEO Edward Orzechowski sent out a memo to staffers informing them of the change to the health care coverage, which will go into effect [March 2nd].

In short: If you and your spouse are already enrolled in Catholic Charities health coverage, your spouse will be grandfathered in. Starting tomorrow, however, new employees (or newly married employees, hint hint) will not be allowed to add spouses to the plan. So: Longtime employees will receive the spousal benefits they’ve always had; Catholic Charities will get to keep its pool of covered spouses gay-free; only fresh employees and gays will feel the sting on this one.

Orzechowski's memo to employees closes with, "Thank you for your understanding in this matter, and let me again express my appreciation for your support and patience over these past months as we have worked hard to arrive at a decision that allows us to continue to serve others in a manner that is consistent with our religious beliefs." Now, I'm not Christian, but I've read the instruction manual, and I'm not sure how exactly bigotry is consistent with it. But, you know, Orzechowski's a grown-up, he can make his own choices. Still, I'd pay real money to watch their financials over the next 24 months...

Wednesday 3 March 2010 08:42:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 2 March 2010

Columnist Jonah Lehrer thinks about insomnia:

[W]henever we try not to think about something that something gets trapped in the mind, stuck in the recursive loop of self-consciousness. Our attempt at repression turns into an odd fixation.

This human frailty has profound consequences. Dan Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard, refers to the failure as an "ironic" mental process. Whenever we establish a mental goal — such as trying not to think about white bears, or sex, or a stressful event — the goal is accompanied by an inevitable follow-up thought, as the brain checks to see if we're making progress. The end result, of course, is that we obsess over the one thing we're trying to avoid.

I will be thinking about that tonight, I'm sure.

Tuesday 2 March 2010 08:54:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

"[I]f James Carville and Jim DeMint are correct to argue that failing to pass HCR will be 'Obama's Waterloo' then the converse must also be true and, therefore, passing the bill could also be 'Obama's Waterloo' because, you know, Waterloo was a significant victory for some of us." —British journalist Alex Massie.

She goes on to say: "And even if it's not a final, crushing victory on the scale of Waterloo, it might be considered 'Obama's Peninsular War.' That's not nothing, either. Right?"

Monday 1 March 2010 20:37:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
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David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International 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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