Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 31 May 2011

We'll know for sure in the next couple of hours when yet another line of storms comes through, but at the moment it looks like Chicago will break its May rainfall record today:

[T]he approach of yet another vigorous weather system spells more storms - possibly severe - for waterlogged northeast Illinois. Only 10.4 mm of additional rain will catapult this May's rainfall, currently 182.6 mm, to 193 mm and the wettest May in Chicago weather history.

Squish, squish, squish.

Tuesday 31 May 2011 11:31:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

(Aside: Apparently the Photo of the Day has become a feature of The Daily Parker. Oh, the pressure.)

Today, another comparison between a photo I printed in a darkroom with paper and chemicals and the same photo "printed" using digital image editing tools. This is a friend from high school, photographed in March 1986 on Kodak Tri-X film, and printed on 8"x10" Ilford #3 paper:

To see a larger version plus the modern "print," go to The Daily Parker.

Tuesday 31 May 2011 09:48:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#
Monday 30 May 2011

This won't actually show off my work or entice you to buy a magnificent image for your commercial advertising campaign at a surprisingly reasonable price. No, this merely shows a place Parker and I both enjoy for precisely the same reasons (sitting outside with popcorn and good beer). Four Farthings has their patio set up, and after I get back from a short bike ride, the dog and I are heading over:

Monday 30 May 2011 13:06:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker#
Sunday 29 May 2011

As threatened, I've gotten a public photo page at SmugMug (http://punzunltd.smugmug.com).

You can now browse the few that I've published so far, and possibly even buy one. It's not incredibly impressive right now as I don't have full-size copies of much yet. That will change, though. I'm having a lot of fun with Adobe Lightroom and its one-click integration with SmugMug, too.

Sunday 29 May 2011 18:11:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography | Business#

Eleven-month-old German Shepherd Dog Rex watches his mom carry in the barbecued chicken yesterday in Chicago:

ISO 3200, 1/125 at f/2.5, 50mm prime

Sunday 29 May 2011 14:59:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#
Saturday 28 May 2011

Northbrook, Ill., sometime in late April 1986:

Saturday 28 May 2011 16:09:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#

In May 1986, I went to Boston with my school choir (all 130 of us, plus chaperons) and took about 240 photos. Here's one of them:

Check out two very different transformations of this photo—one from 25 years ago, and one from today—at The Daily Parker.

Friday 27 May 2011 20:17:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#
Friday 27 May 2011

South Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago, 1:27pm:

Friday 27 May 2011 18:08:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Photography#

Monday night I played around with one of my favorite slides from 1986. Today at lunch I rescanned the slide at 3600 dpi, after giving it a good dusting, and with the scanner's Kodachrome corrections. Here's the result:

For comparison, here's my previous attempt, using the 1200 dpi scan I made during my first pass:

The differences are much more apparent at full size, especially since the top photo's dimensions are nearly four times longer than the bottom one's.

Public Garden, Boston, 10 May 1986. Kodachrome 64. Exposure unrecorded.

Friday 27 May 2011 12:35:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#
Thursday 26 May 2011

As I play around with high-dynamic-range imaging, I remembered a photo I took in 1991 while driving through North Dakota. I remember taking about a bunch of bracketed shots because of the scene's wide exposure range. Last night I looked for the image and found that one of the two negative strips covering the bracket is gone. Not only gone, but I wrote a note to myself in May 1992 on the negative holder pointing out that it's gone. Without the full bracket, an HDR image won't work.

Fortunately, I have the first image in the series, which I took using the camera's recommended exposure. A quick rescan at 3600 dpi, then a few minutes in Lightroom, and voilà:

(For comparison, here's the raw image from my scanner:)

I'm still about 60 rolls behind that image in the scanning project, unfortunately, so other photos from the trip will have to wait a while.

Kodachrome 64, 20 July 1991, near Sturgis, N.D. Exposure unrecorded.

Thursday 26 May 2011 13:21:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Photography#

A strong storm system just to the south of Chicago is drawing cooler air into the city from the northeast and the lake. At the moment we have some truly delightful weather: winds north-northeast at 35 km/h with gusts up to 62 km/h, visibility 5 km in mist, temperature 7°C with a windchill of 2°C.

Says WGN's Tom Skilling:

The last time it was even close to this cool on a May 26 was a half century ago in 1961 when a high of 9°C occurred. The average high this time of the year is 22°C which puts the day's predicted 7°C high some 16°C below the long-time average. By contrast, temperatures on this date a year ago hit 31°C—a level 23°C warmer.

In short, it's crappy outside.

Thursday 26 May 2011 13:09:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 25 May 2011

I had a few minutes before work this morning to try out HDRSoft's Photomagix software. The program takes digital photos taken at different exposures and combines them into one image, a process called high dynamic range imaging, or HDRi.

For my first attempt, I used three photos of the park near my house that were only 1 EV apart, so the result may fail to awe you:

Here's one of the three originals from Monday evening, at the "correct" exposure:

The HDR image looks better, but not that much better. In the next couple of days I'll experiment some more, now that I have a better idea what I'm looking for and how to shoot it.

Wednesday 25 May 2011 13:16:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#

It turns out a lot of stuff happened on May 25th in years past:

  • In 1521, the Diet of Worms coughed up an edict formally designating Martin Luther a heretic;
  • In 1878, the infernal nonsense Pinafore opened in London;
  • In 1925, Dayton, Tenn. indicted John Scopes on charges of teaching evolution in a school;
  • In 1963, Mike Myers was born (yes, he's that old);
  • In 1977, Star Wars hit theaters (and I spent an hour waiting in line in Torrance, Calif., to see it);
  • In 1979, American 191 crashed in Wood Dale, Ill.; and
  • In 2006, Geek Pride Day had its first celebration.

No over-arching point is intended here. I just thought the connections interesting.

Wednesday 25 May 2011 08:42:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | World#
Tuesday 24 May 2011

Actually, I'm blegging for information. Has anyone used online photo printing services like ZenFolio, SmugMug, or Shutterfly, either as a photographer selling images or as a customer? Maybe your wedding photographer used a third-party site?

As a corollary, do you or does anyone you know buy stock photos for publication?

No, I'm not quitting my job; but with a backlog of 30,000 photos—some of them already sold as stock, some of them more than once—the wheels in my brain have started to turn. (Maybe it's the MBA.)

Tuesday 24 May 2011 14:30:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography | Business#

Why didn't I get Adobe Lightroom earlier? Even its basic photo-editing tools dramatically improve photos (or at least get them back to where they should be). I'm going to re-scan this one at higher resolution, after carefully dusting it, and with the appropriate filter, but for the moment, I think I've gotten pretty close to what the original Kodachrome image looked like:

This one came close, but not quite:

Both: Public Garden, Boston, 10 May 1986. Kodachrome 64. Exposure unrecorded.

Monday 23 May 2011 21:49:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#

Another of my favorite Bills:

I want to try out some new techniques on this and a few other shots I took tonight, but I won't have time until the weekend. For now, here's a gratuitous statue photo.

Monday 23 May 2011 21:14:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Photography#
Sunday 22 May 2011

This morning we had weather about as perfect as a human could hope for, 26°C and sunny by the lake, with a gentle breeze out of the southwest. I hopped on my bike for an actual workout, complete with heart-rate monitor, for the first time in a couple of years, then came back, grabbed my camera, and walked the dog. Some results:

ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/640, 225mm

For more photos and some discussion about how Adobe Lightroom is making me rethink photo storage, go to The Daily Parker.

Sunday 22 May 2011 15:56:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago | Photography | Weather#

(This is the 2,500th post on The Daily Parker. And now back to our current thread, already in progress.)

Version 1, pretty much as it came out of the camera:

Version 2, processed from the raw camera file:

8 April 2011, 18:16 BST, 1/1000 f/5.6, ISO 100

Subtle differences—but noticeable.

OK, walk the dog, thence bed. I feel like I learned a lot today, including that I have to learn a lot more.

Saturday 21 May 2011 22:46:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#

I'm continuing to play with Adobe Lightroom, and it turns out I've been doing a lot wrong for five years (i.e., since I first started shooting with a digital SLR). It looks like I'm going to shoot a lot more raw photos, because they allow modern software (like Lightbox and Photoshop) a lot more control over the final image.

And, of course, I discovered this using Parker as a subject. The results don't completely suck:

50mm, 1/60 at f/2.0, ISO 3200.

50mm, 1/15 at f/1.8, ISO 3200.

Saturday 21 May 2011 22:16:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker | Photography#

A few days ago I experimented with photo processing to try out a technique a photographer suggested. I neglected the most obvious transformation of the photo in question:

I've also downloaded Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, though I may want to go full-bore Photoshop in a couple of weeks. Lightroom looks like a fabulous way to organize photos, which would be helpful as I've got north of 25,000 right now and that doesn't include about 170 rolls of negatives I've yet to scan. It has some basic editing tools—nowhere near as powerful as Photoshop—and I'm just getting used to them.

I still won't get any photography books for my Kindle.

Saturday 21 May 2011 20:06:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#
Saturday 21 May 2011

The 30-park geas can resume now that I'm done with school.

Go to The Daily Parker to see how far I've gotten and where I still need to go.

Saturday 21 May 2011 17:17:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs#
Friday 20 May 2011

Via Bruce Schneier, evidence that the Centers for Disease Control have a sense of humor:

There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.

This is a lot more entertaining than Internet Information Services configuration, no?

Friday 20 May 2011 16:56:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes#

Problem: I have multiple websites on a Windows 2008 server (using IIS7), and I need to enable SSL (https:// connections) on more than one of them.

People really interested in server configuration can read the rest at The Daily Parker. For the other 6.9 billion people in the world, we now return to your regularly-scheduled blog.

Friday 20 May 2011 16:38:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

Generally, I prefer to learn new things by reading first, then doing. I mentioned Wednesday that I've grown dissatisfied with my photography skills, so naturally, I'll go first to Amazon. You know: read about a technique, try it out, post the results online, rinse and repeat.

So it seems somewhat odd to me that most of Amazon's top-rated books on photography—like this one on Photoshop—have Kindle editions that cost almost as much. Because nothing will help someone understand how to do advanced photo editing than 10 cm, 18 dpi halftones, right? Even stranger: the example I just cited has a companion DVD, which I assume does not come with the Kindle version. That, to me, puts the F in WTF.

Friday 20 May 2011 13:09:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography | Business#
Wednesday 18 May 2011

I'm slowly coming around to the notion that no matter how perfect the composition, digital photographs almost always benefit from some post-processing. Back when I shot hand-rolled Tri-X from bulk and printed everything myself, I routinely changed papers and printing filters, dodged, burned, cropped, and distorted, in search of the perfect print. (I have a great before-and-after example that I will post when I receive the subject's permission.) Ansel Adams, recall, did most of his work in the darkroom.

Here's a 10-minute example of digital processing. Let's start with the raw photo; only the output size has changed:

The near-sunset direct light makes Leah look radiant. The expression—this was during our dad's speech—is purely her. And the reflections off the picture behind her don't distract me too much. Why would I change this shot?

Because I think it can look even better.

Continue reading and see the results on The Daily Parker.

Wednesday 18 May 2011 14:27:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#
Tuesday 17 May 2011

Le Figaro is reporting that the French accident-investigation authority (BEA, the French equivalent of the NTSB) reviewed the flight data recorder from AF447 over the weekend. Airbus Industrie, the airplane's manufacturer, this morning reported to its customers that they do not anticipate a finding that the airplane was at fault, an elliptical way of saying it's pilot error. The BEA is livid that Le Figaro leaked the story:

“Sensationalist publication of non-validated information, whilst the analysis of the data from the flight recorders has only just started, is a violation of the respect due to the passengers and the crew members that died and disturbs the families of the victims, who have already suffered as a result of many hyped-up stories,” the BEA said in a statement responding to that story.

Le Figaro, though almost completely consumed for the last three days with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, still seems to have come to a reasonable conclusion based on leaked information from the BEA:

Selon les sources interrogées par Le Figaro, de nouveaux éléments sur la responsabilité d'Air France ou de son équipage seront communiquées par le BEA dans la journée de mardi. Le rapport définitif d'enquête du BEA devrait être rédigé durant plusieurs mois mais il est possible que le scénario du drame soit définitivement établi d'ici la fin de semaine. Contactée par Le Figaro, le porte-parole d'Air France s'est refusé à tout commentaire, «tant que le BEA n'aura pas mené à bien l'ensemble des vérifications nécessaires». De son côté, Airbus s'est également refusé à toute confirmation.

Translation: According to Le Figaro's sources, new information about Air France's responsibility or its crew's will be released by the BEA on Tuesday. The final report on the accident won't be released by the BEA for several months, but it is possible that the drama's scenario will be definitively established by the end of this week. Air France has declined to comment; for its part, Airbus has also refused to confirm the information.

The most widely-held hypothesis, advanced by PBS's Nova a couple of months ago, holds that the plane's computer lost airspeed information due to pitot tube icing, but the pilots failed to respond correctly to the problem.

Tuesday 17 May 2011 16:13:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

Via Gulliver, an Economist post on the English-distortion field around airplanes:

In general, flying is filled with phrases you’ll never hear anywhere else. You must “deplane”, not just leave the airplane. In a theatre you’re asked to switch your mobile phone off; on an American airline you’re told to put all electronic devices "in the off position”, whatever that is. Carry-on suitcases with wheels apparently became "rollerboards" "roll-aboards" in the mouths of the airline staff at some point. Many of the instructions seem replete with extra verbiage: seats and tray tables in "the full upright and locked position". Flights that are not just full but completely full.

Pat Smith ("Ask the Pilot") complained about this a while ago, but I didn't find the column in four minutes so I'll leave the search up to my loyal readers.

Tuesday 17 May 2011 13:21:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Monday 16 May 2011

Officially and virtually, I've had this since December 30th. I do like having the hard copy though:

Monday 16 May 2011 09:10:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke#
Friday 13 May 2011

The temperature in Chicago dropped precipitously mid-morning:

Temperatures are dropping up to 14°C in less than an hour as a lake enhanced cold front sweeps across the Chicago area. The steepest temperature drops have been occurring along the lakefront and in the Loop where readings hovered in the mid-20s Celsius for a while this morning. Post-frontal temperatures downtown and along the lake are now around 10°C, with little or any recovery expected today as a stiff northeast wind prevails.

At Wrigley Field, the temperature dropped from 22°C degrees at 10:10AM to 14°C degrees at 10:17AM.

And now it's raining. The good news is, I brought an umbrella to work. The bad news is, I also brought a dog, and I'm wearing jeans and a polo shirt without a jacket. Brrr.

Friday 13 May 2011 14:28:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Girlyman played Evanston SPACE last night:

Coyote Grace is touring with Girlyman this year; I'll be looking for them again. Also, surprise musical guest The Shadowboxers, who graduated from college Wednesday, led the show with a 4-song set. Again, another band I need to follow.

I'll have more photos next week. Tomorrow I'm off to Duke for our graduation ceremony. The school awarded our degrees in January (retroactive to December 30th), but I still want to walk—and see my classmates. Only, with work, a 7am flight to RDU, and everything going on this weekend, I don't expect to have time to organize last night's photos for a few days.

I will say this: even with the 7D's amazing low-light abilities, shooting a concert is hard. I experimented with a dozen or so combinations of ISO, aperture, and shutter, and I quickly put away my 18-55mm zoom in favor of a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. The shot above was ISO-3200, 1/125 at f/1.8. I tried slower shutters with tighter apertures but the band were so energetic that led to lots of subject movement. Lower ISOs gave me less grainy photos, but again, required slower shutter speeds, so they weren't quite up to my standards. And black & white, which ordinarily covers many sins in variable-light environments, didn't look right, because the lighting makes up part of a live performance's appeal.

I also shot about 18 minutes of video (which looks OK, actually), making my total haul for the evening a whopping 12 GB. I don't think I can post any video, though. (Pesky copyright laws.) If I find out from the band it's all right to do so, I'll put some up.

Friday 13 May 2011 08:47:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 12 May 2011

In computers, as in any technical or artistic field, sometimes words have different meanings than they do in ordinary English. Take "or," for example. When a computer sees "or," it understands that if either condition is true, then the entire thing is true. The logic chart looks like this, with the conditions along the edge and the result in the middle:

 TrueFalse
TrueTrueTrue
FalseTrueFalse

So, if condition 1 is true, then the statement is true, regardless of condition 2, and vice-versa. Only when conditions 1 and 2 are both false is the result false.

In standard spoken English, the word "or" doesn't work that way. Instead, it functions as an "exclusive or" (XOR), wherein one and only one condition must be true (and the other false) for the entire thing to be true. That grid looks like this:

 TrueFalse
TrueFalseTrue
FalseTrueFalse

So if condition 1 is true and condition 2 is false (or vice-versa), then the result is true; but if both 1 and 2 are the same, the result is false.

Leave it to master logician and brilliant philosopher Newt Gingrich to use a logical "or" in conversation today when he said, "either I really believe the things I've said my whole life, or I'd be a fraud." See? To a computer, he can be both!

Actually, he can be both to a person, too, but that's another problem.

Thursday 12 May 2011 13:06:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 11 May 2011

Rod Blagojevich, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties:

The prelude to this curse is also quite interesting because Blagojevich is on a conference call talking to his advisors and he quickly seems to come unhinged. He starts the conversation by saying he’s been politically successful, but Obama’s rise to the White House makes it difficult for him to run for president. He tries to keep his cool, but then he makes clear to his advisors what he wants: money. Then an advisor asks one question and he loses it.

(Go to the WBEZ City Room for a link to the uncensored tape.)

Some of the former governor's money woes might—might—have come from spending $400,000 on clothes in the six years before his impeachment. Just maybe.

Pat Quinn will never give us this kind of entertainment, running the state competently as he does. I mean, this is f****n' Illinois. And we had this thing, and it was f****n' golden. But then it got tossed out of office, and all we have now is the retrial.

Wednesday 11 May 2011 13:10:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

Earlier I mentioned today would be the warmest since October 11th. True; but it turned out warmer than any since August 29th. Today the official temperature at O'Hare hit a record 32°C, warmer than Miami, Cancún, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

The cool lake waters and warm inland temperatures generated a strong lake breeze that kept us almost 14°C cooler downtown.

Tomorrow may be warmer...

Tuesday 10 May 2011 20:28:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 10 May 2011

Sunday the temperature in Chicago couldn't crest 16°C, a temperature more typical of March than of May. Today it's already 26°C and rising—the warmest Chicago has seen since October 11th. Tomorrow will be even warmer, possibly passing 31°C. But don't worry; this is Chicago, so March will return this weekend:

Computer models are advertising a sharp pull back in temperatures by this weekend. A pool of unseasonably cool air is to settle over the Midwest, spinning up a blustery storm system over Illinois which is to remain essentially stalled in place over the coming weekend. It's a scenario which could generate gusty easterly winds in Chicago and temperatures which fall back to the low 10s Saturday and Sunday. That the system is to be part of a blocking pattern is the reason it's to be such a slow-mover. Model rainfall estimates put potential weekend rainfall of up to an inch down here.

NOAA also released new data this past week confirming what we in Chicago have suspected for a while: our autumns are getting sunnier while our springs and summers are getting gloomier. Winters, however, remain unchanged in their character building cold.

Tuesday 10 May 2011 11:44:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 9 May 2011

The costumed head of a Tea Party organization this morning clarified the movement's small-government ethos:

[Tea Party Founding Fathers chairman William] Temple said that "if the House Armed Services Committee and the Pentagon slow down on injecting open homosexuality and females into forward combat roles," tea partiers might be able to put up with their new Republican House voting to ensure American government services paid for with more borrowed cash.

Temple's line of reasoning:

When the Pentagon's own studies show that military effeminization may have an extremely costly impact on recruiting and retention, when Islamists have shown their willingness to sexually brutalize American female reporters, why would John Boehner's House Republicans be caving to political correctness? Why would House Republicans who know better be fostering inappropriate attractions in the intimacy of tents, bunks, barracks, platoons, subs, tanks, convoys, cockpits, latrines, showers, toilets and locker rooms when we are fighting wars in three Muslim nations?

This is, of course, the kind of reasoned argument one would expect from a man standing in front of video cameras wearing a tricorn hat.

Monday 9 May 2011 12:31:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 7 May 2011

They aired two back-to-back stories on Weekend Edition. First, they reported that for reasons that passeth understanding, the NRA got Florida to pass a law prohibiting doctors from asking about guns in the house:

For decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged its members to ask questions about guns and how they're stored, as part of well-child visits.

But Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist in Tallahassee, says that's not a pediatrician's job.

"We take our children to pediatricians for medical care — not moral judgment, not privacy intrusions," she says. NRA lobbyists helped write a bill that largely bans health professionals from asking about guns. Hammer says she and other NRA members consider the questions an intrusion on their Second Amendment rights.

"This bill is about helping families who are complaining about being questioned about gun ownership, and the growing anti-gun political agenda being carried out in examination rooms by doctors and staffs," Hammer says.

What the...? Getting shot causes medical problems, right? And there's a demonstrated (but not necessarily causal) link between gun ownership and medical risks, right? So asking about guns and other dangerous items in the house might be part of a good medical history, don't you think? Apparently the NRA don't. If they're so concerned about gun-owner privacy, why not pass a privacy law instead? Oh, right—doctors are already forbidden from sharing medical histories.

The story immediately following that one had Barbara Bradley Hagerty asking, completely straight-faced (which is easier to discern on the radio than you might imagine), why people believe May 21st is judgment day:

Most Bible scholars note that even Jesus said he had no idea when Judgment Day would come. But May 21 believers like Haubert are unfazed.

"I've crunched the numbers, and it's going to happen," [actuary Brian Haubert, 33,] says.

Haubert says the Bible contains coded "proofs" that reveal the timing. For example, he says, from the time of Noah's flood to May 21, 2011, is exactly 7,000 years. Revelations like this have changed his life.

"I no longer think about 401(k)s and retirement," he says. "I'm not stressed about losing my job, which a lot of other people are in this economy. I'm just a lot less stressed, and in a way I'm more carefree."

Only last week I read a Mother Jones article about denial science, which opened with a description of The Seekers, who believed aliens would spirit them away on or before the end of the world, which would happen 21 December 1954. After giving up all they owned and waiting for their version of the Rapture, they concluded from the lack of cataclysm that the aliens had seen their devotion and decided to save the planet, thanks to the Seekers. I wonder what Haubert and his friends will say on May 22nd?

Not only that, but: he's an actuary? On the basis of the available information, one must conclude he's not a very good one.

Saturday 7 May 2011 08:53:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#

Via Gulliver, an Irish cabaret group experiences the joy of a 75c air ticket:

Friday 6 May 2011 22:29:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Jokes#

On Tuesday, Andrew Sullivan posted a note about the South's economic lagging after the U.S. civil war. Yesterday, he posted a follow-up quoting one of his readers repeating the destruction-of-wealth canard, which posits that $4 bn of wealth (about $400 bn today) got wiped out with the 13th Amendment. The reader, an historian, said:

Perhaps the most important factor in the South’s economic underdevelopment was the fact that emancipation, while a milestone in human freedom, was an economic calamity. There were approximately 4 million slaves, with an average value of $1,000. Emancipation meant the destruction of $4 billion of Southern capital. Slavery as a symbol of status had encouraged successful professionals and entrepreneurs to invest in slaves rather than industry. With the end of the war, that “investment” was rendered valueless, and that put severe limits on the available local capital for investment.

Fortunately, this evening Sullivan posted a response from another reader (presumably an economist) who corrected the record:

If the economic value of a slave was the value of his future expected labor, less the cost of his subsistence, then to destroy his value as an asset would require that he be killed or disabled. In fact, Emancipation simply took that value from the slaveholder and returned it to the former slave, the rightful owner. For this transfer to be destructive of economic value workers would have to have been more productive enslaved than working freely for wages, which is unlikely.

The historian seems to suggest that possession of slaves had become a status symbol, causing overinvestment in this variety of asset. If this is true, then there was a "slave bubble", the popping of which would have erased value with or without Emancipation. In fact, if slavery had still existed when the bubble popped, the result would have been terrific brutality, as slave owners attempted to use starvation and the whip to salvage what profit they could. The rationalizing force of the market took the evil that was always present in slavery and made it an efficient evil.

I think the second reader has got it right. The whole thread is worth a read, though. I've always found the regional differences fascinating, even more after spending six months in North Carolina.

Friday 6 May 2011 22:07:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 5 May 2011

Apparently "gardener" makes more sense than "engineer:"

So why do so many gardens fail, yet so many skyscrapers succeed? With a few exceptions, the technique for building a skyscraper is similar whether you are in Europe or you are in Singapore. Gardens do not work that way. Every garden is different because the environment it is in is different. Even gardens that are within throwing distance of each other can have wildly different soil. That is why the lowest bidder can probably build the same bridge as the highest bidder, but your company can’t grow the calibre of gardens that Google can grow.

Remember that time when someone in your company unsuccessfully used an Agile gardening methodology, and then went around saying that it was horse shit that doesn’t work? Well horse shit does grow gardens, it just wasn’t enough to save your garden. Your garden was probably dead before it started – a victim of the climate of your organisation. Were you trying to grow a rainforest in the desert? You can’t just plant the same plants as Facebook, Flickr or Twitter and expect them to take root regardless of the quality of your gardeners or the climate of your organisation.

(Hat tip MVT.)

Thursday 5 May 2011 15:12:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business#

Via one of my cow-orkers, a company that can tell you all about yourself at a hitherto-impossible level of detail. All you have to do is spit:

23andMe is a retail DNA testing service providing information and tools for consumers to learn about and explore their DNA. We utilize the Illumina OmniExpress Plus Research Use Only Chip which has been customized for use in all of our products and services by 23andMe. All of the laboratory testing for 23andMe is done in a CLIA-certified laboratory.

How does 23andMe genotype my DNA?

Once the lab receives your sample, DNA is extracted from cheek cells in your saliva. Your DNA is then copied many times so that there is enough DNA to use for the genotyping step. Next, the DNA is cut into smaller, more manageable pieces. These DNA pieces are then applied to a DNA "chip." The DNA chip is a small glass slide with millions of microscopic beads on its surface. Attached to each bead are "probes"—bits of DNA complementary to sites in your genome where SNPs are located. There is a pair of probes for each SNP, corresponding to the two versions of each SNP. Because two complementary pieces of DNA stick together, your DNA sticks to whichever probes match your versions of a SNP.

The service claims to do the following:

  • Identify health risks based on genetic propensity (and quantify how much of the risk is genetic);
  • Tell you where your family came from, and when they got there, going back several thousand years;
  • Find your long-lost cousins; and
  • Send you updates as new research comes in.

My colleague paired this suggested site with this TED talk about the future of human evolution.

Remember when Gattaca was just an interesting fiction? Let's hope not all of Andrew Niccol's predictions come true...

Thursday 5 May 2011 14:21:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#

Via AVWeb, French investigators have recovered the cockpit voice recorder from the crash site:

The investigation team localized and identified the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) at 21h50 UTC on Monday 2 May, 2011. It was raised and lifted on board the Ile de Sein by the Remora 6000 ROV at 02 h 40 UTC this morning, on Tuesday 3rd May, 2011.

AVWeb adds details:

A remotely operated vehicle retrieved the CVR from the ocean floor, 3,900 m down, on Tuesday morning, and it appears to be intact and in good condition.... The units are designed to withstand impact and immersion, but only for 30 days. French transport minister Thierry Mariani said investigators hope to report on their data-retrieval efforts within about three weeks.

The CVR, if it still contains usable data, will help the investigators immensely. Also, locating the CVR makes it more likely that the investigators will find the flight data recorder (FDR), which could still contain enough data to reconstruct the accident sequence moment by moment.

Thursday 5 May 2011 06:55:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Wednesday 4 May 2011

As I ride my bike past all the cars stuck in traffic this evening, I will think, briefly, about gasoline prices. So far this year, I've filled up my Volkswagen twice, for a total of $90 or so. Ouch, I said as I paid $50 for a tank last week, that's a lot. Of course, living in a dense urban area, taking public transit, and using my own legs to get around almost all the time (plus driving a car that gets 8 L per 100 km), I think gasoline eats up about 1% of my annual spending.

According to the Chicago Tribune, it actually doesn't make up that much of anyone's budget, but people still freak out about high gas prices for obvious reasons:

For consumers, there's no escaping the high prices, which helps explain their obsession.

Not only do many drivers see gas prices every time they fill up, but tracking the price is unavoidable because gas is about the only product consumers regularly buy that requires visiting a special store. So, they're intensely focused on a single product, as opposed to noticing the price rise of tomatoes when buying a full shopping cart of goods.

They also stand in front of the pump and feel the financial pain as the price digits whiz upward.

And why are gas prices so high? Economics 101, baby. Combine low supply with high, inelastic demand and you get high prices:

So how can we get lower gas prices? Use less of it. Increasing supply won't change the price much because of gasoline's demand inelasticity, meaning how much gas we buy doesn't respond to price increases very much. (The actual rate is about -0.25; that is, for every increase in price of 1, demand goes down about 0.25.)

Wednesday 4 May 2011 17:55:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#

Despite taking my bike in for a tune-up two and a half weeks ago, the combination of weather and after-work commitments since then put off riding it to work until today.

It turns out, I'm a little rusty. The bike isn't; even in jeans, a coat (it's 6°C on May 4th!), and a backpack containing shoes (my Felt 65 has cleat-only pedals), I still managed to barrel down Wells St. at 30 km/h. Bottom line, I got to work in 26 minutes, including the 4 minutes or so to get the bike out of its locker. In other words, I cut my commute in half, and burned a few extra calories along the way.

It's supposed to rain the next couple of days, but Saturday the forecast calls for biking weather. More details to follow.

Wednesday 4 May 2011 09:04:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking#
Tuesday 3 May 2011

Yesterday I passed on Andrew Sullivan's thoughts about the role of torture in finding bin Laden. TPM makes the same point this morning: despite what torturers like Dick Cheney say, we found bin Laden using conventional interrogations and a tiny bit of sloppiness by bin Laden's flunkies.

As AP reports, the principal source of information about bin Laden "did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic."

Leaving it up for debate? No. We settled that debate in 1949, shortly after the details of Hitler's crimes became public knowledge.

Torture is morally wrong, even if it were "a valuable tool." Except it isn't a valuable tool at all: it produces crap intelligence, because someone being tortured will generally say anything to stop the torture. Plus, if people think being captured by a particular enemy will lead to torture, they'll do two things which really suck: they'll fight a lot harder to avoid capture, resulting in more of your guys getting killed, and they'll torture your guys in retribution. Armies have known this for centuries. Recall that at the end of World War II, German soldiers readily surrendered to the Americans and British but fought the Russians to the last man. Why? Because they believed we would treat them humanely and that the Russians wouldn't. (Generally the Russian army treated them humanely as well, but the Germans didn't believe that, which emphasizes how important reputation can be.)

Again, and I can't stress this enough, torture is morally wrong. So really, arguing about how effective it is misses the point. But what is morality and what are facts when you're really pissed at the terrorists, right? This is how they win, by the way: by making us diminish ourselves.

Tuesday 3 May 2011 10:14:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 2 May 2011

'Nuff said:

Also, as Sullivan pointed out: "All I know at this point is: seven years of torturing = no Osama. Two years without torture = Osama."

Monday 2 May 2011 13:06:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#

I don't know what to say, so I'll let CNN, the AP, the Trib, the Economist, and the Times say it:

[1] Look, you know, it's 5 am in London. I suspect they'll have more to say after they've had their morning cuppa.

Sunday 1 May 2011 23:08:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Sunday 1 May 2011

Fascinating, and not bad at all. Writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez assembled a top-notch cast (Danny DeVito, Carla Gugino, Zachary Quinto) and put them into a watchable, funny film—only available on YouTube. If your line supports it, watch in HD. Alas, I think it's only available in the U.S. for the time being.

Sunday 1 May 2011 15:45:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#
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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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