Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 31 May 2012

This should not be news to anyone who's watched someone drive home from a not-so-neighborhood bar. Neighborhood bars help their neighborhoods in other ways, too:

The vaunted “third space” isn’t home, and isn’t work—it’s more like the living room of society at large. It’s a place where you are neither family nor co-worker, and yet where the values, interests, gossip, complaints and inspirations of these two other spheres intersect. It’s a place at least one step removed from the structures of work and home, more random, and yet familiar enough to breed a sense of identity and connection. It’s a place of both possibility and comfort, where the unexpected and the mundane transcend and mingle.

And nine times out of ten, it’s a bar.

Atlantic Cities writer Kaid Bailey elaborates:

What does this have to do with sustainability? Well, quite a bit, in my opinion. The more complete our neighborhoods, the less we have to travel to seek out goods, services and amenities. The less we have to travel, the more we can reduce emissions. People enjoy hanging out in bars and, especially if they are within walking distance of homes, we can also reduce the very serious risks that can accompany drinking and driving.

On that subject, my friend Scott Doyon has gone so far as to map "pub sheds," or five-minute walking zones from pubs in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. Writing in his firm’s excellent blog PlaceShakers and NewsMakers, Scott concludes that the community is fairly well covered. He further suggests that, if one extends the walkability zones to ten-minute distances, it would be well-covered indeed.

Long-time readers will know that substantial portions of my software was written at Duke of Perth, one of Chicago's best bars. Evanston's Tommy Nevin's served the same purpose a few years back, especially when they allowed dogs on the patio. I can imagine living in a city without neighborhood bars, a thought that drives me deeper into my Chicago—New York—London—San Francisco worldview.

Thursday 31 May 2012 13:28:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Geography | Kitchen Sink#

Meteorological spring ends today, and despite the dreary weather (9°C, rain), the last three months have been the warmest on record:

The weather as meteorological spring 2012 draws to a close couldn't be less representative of the season as a whole. Abnormal warmth has characterized the past three months. Spring 2012 is to go down in the record books as Chicago's warmest in 142 years running a stunning 5°C above normal!

The last spring with temperatures even close to the one about the end occurred 35 years ago in 1977 when temperatures finished within a degree [Fahrenheit] of this one.

The state climatologist should weigh in tomorrow morning with the exact figures.

Thursday 31 May 2012 13:15:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 30 May 2012

Have a really big fire right next to the El:

All CTA trains on the Red, Brown and Purple lines north of downtown were halted for nearly three hours at the height of the evening rush because of an extra-alarm fire that broke out in a furniture store along the tracks near DePaul University.

Adding to commuting headaches, a Metra train struck a person on the Union Pacific North Line near the Ravenswood stop on the North Side around the same time, causing the cancellation of at least one train and delays of more than two hours on others.

And a fire near the Rockwell Avenue stop delayed Brown Line trains around that station for nearly an hour, also late in the afternoon.

By about 6:20 p.m., Red and Brown Line trains were still experiencing delays, but were able to get past the site of the fire at Roy's Home Furnishings, 2455 N. Sheffield Ave., according to the CTA website.

A close friend of mine lives directly across the street from the furniture shop. She reports having a smoke-filled apartment that she and her dog have been unable to approach for four hours.

Having discovered this from her and from the Tribune before leaving work, I took a cab...right into the biggest traffic mess I've seen in Chicago in years. Nothing was moving. I finally got out of the cab a mile from home and walked past buses, cars, other cabs, and I think a taxiing airplane, which still might be stuck on Lincoln Avenue.

Tuesday 29 May 2012 19:52:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago#
Tuesday 29 May 2012

Via reader AS, a frustrating story of suburban kids not allowed to bike to school:

[Saratoga, N.Y.,] Maple Avenue {Middle School]'s student body of 1,650 is delivered via 39 school buses—and as at thousands of other communities around the country, many parents elect to drive their children. Thus, every weekday morning, scores of idling cars line up behind dozens of buses disgorging waves of kids. Amidst this, Janette and Adam—each of whom was about 5 feet tall—seemed like a pair of diminutive daredevils wading into a tsunami.

As Adam locked his bike to a fence, a radio call came in to the administrative office. "Security told me that two bikes were getting involved with the buses," remembers the school principal, Stuart Byrne. "We hadn't heard from anyone beforehand. My assistant responded and said, 'Where are they?'"

An assistant principal, Robert Loggins, found Janette in front of the school, waiting for a lull in the traffic so she could depart. Adam had already gone inside.

"What are you doing here?" Loggins asked Janette.

Janette thought this an odd question. "It's Bike to Work Day," she said. "Did you ride your bike to school?"

"Bicycling isn't allowed at Maple Avenue School," said Loggins.

I imagine that when they grow up, the portly children of Maple Avenue School will drive to the gym twice a week.

Fortunately, the story has a (relatively) happy ending. But it highlights a number of symptoms that have created a generation of mentally-helpless children: helicopter parents, fear of lawsuits, car worship, middle-school assistant principals—evils which never seem to go away, despite clear evidence of the harm they cause.

Tuesday 29 May 2012 09:41:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Biking | US#
Monday 28 May 2012

I'm not sure what to make of this:

Inside, the capsule's sole passenger would ride in a near-standing position, wearing a G-suit to help force blood to the head during acceleration. The passenger's head would sit in a transparent hemispheric dome topped with an aerospike for better supersonic performance. It gets better.

Dimensions of the capsule's cabin area are roughly two feet (diameter) by 7.5 feet (length). There will be no room in the capsule for movement once the vehicle goes weightless. After launching to 100 miles, parachutes will be used to slow the final descent.

That sounds...well, "fun" doesn't come immediately to mind.

Monday 28 May 2012 09:21:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation#
Sunday 27 May 2012

The bridge opened for foot traffic on 27 May 1937:

Naturally, the city is having a party.

Sunday 27 May 2012 09:10:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | San Francisco#
Friday 25 May 2012

The last time I flew home from San Francisco, we landed in Rockford after missing the approach at O'Hare because of wind shear.

Yesterday, we didn't divert to a different airport, but neither did we take the most direct path:

We almost flew into Canada, according to the captain. As it is we were only about 20 minutes late.

Friday 25 May 2012 17:33:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Chicago | San Francisco | Travel#

Before leaving for California last weekend, I made sure to park my car on a street not scheduled for street cleaning while I was away.

At 9:02 this morning, with me still half a block away, I watched a cop put a ticket on the car.

Two minutes. Because I stopped for coffee. Herp derp.

Friday 25 May 2012 17:23:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 24 May 2012

I'm once again in an airport, on my way home. While you're waiting eagerly for my next blog post, check these out:

Share and enjoy.

Oh, and there's a Lufthansa Airbus 380 parked here today. I really must see one of those monsters up close someday.

Thursday 24 May 2012 13:31:44 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | San Francisco | Travel#
Wednesday 23 May 2012

At dinner last night with some of my B-school friends, conversation turned to the two most perplexing stock offerings of the last year: Facebook's and Groupon's. In both cases, the companies' very young owners and very rich venture capital investors got rich, but what happened after that? Here's Facebook's performance this week:

And Groupon's:

This morning, Groupon announced a proposed settlement in the class-action suit accusing them of practicing their well-known business model:

If you purchased or received a Groupon Voucher issued for redemption in the United States between November 1, 2008 and December 1, 2011, then you are a member of the class (“Class Member”) for purposes of this class action settlement, and may be entitled to receive settlement benefits, unless you are one of the following: (1) an employee of Groupon, Inc.; (2) a business with whom Groupon has partnered to offer Groupon vouchers (“Merchant Partners”); or (3) a parent company, subsidiary, affiliate or director or officer of Groupon or a Merchant Partner.

Facebook has its own problems. It's been a public company for less than three days, and already the SEC is investigating. Where they go, lawsuits surely will follow:

[R]egulators are concerned that banks may have shared information only with certain clients, rather than broadly with investors. On Tuesday, William Galvin, the secretary of state in Massachusetts, subpoenaed Morgan Stanley over discussions with investors about Facebook’s offering. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Wall Street’s self-regulator, is also looking into the matter. The chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary L. Schapiro, said Tuesday that the agency would examine issues related to Facebook’s I.P.O., but she did not elaborate.

Morgan Stanely, the banker in question, led both the Groupon and Facebook IPOs.

At least they didn't lose $2 billion last week gambling with money insured by us taxpayers.

Wednesday 23 May 2012 08:21:59 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | US | Business#
Tuesday 22 May 2012

The fog will roll in after noon, but at 7am there wasn't a cloud:

This is my fourth-favorite city in the world.

Tuesday 22 May 2012 08:56:27 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | San Francisco#
Monday 21 May 2012

This evening's eclipse, through clouds:

Also visible in the shadows:

An hour later, it's a lot brighter out.

Sunday 20 May 2012 19:29:33 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | San Francisco | Astronomy#
Sunday 20 May 2012

I've never seen this before. Here's the French presidential airplane, parked on the south apron at O'Hare yesterday:

Parked nearby were Azerbaijan's, Italy's, and (I think) Russia's, but I couldn't get good photos with my tiny backup camera.

Let me be an aviation nerd for a second. This is an Airbus 320, without any obvious modifications. So how did it get an all the way here from Paris? I assume it stopped at Andrews AFB in Maryland to drop President Hollande off. But even Paris to Andrews seems like a long flight for that plane. The A320 has a maximum range of 6,150 km. Paris to Andrews is 6,183 km—possible, but risky, as it wouldn't leave any margin for error even after flying as efficiently as possible. Not to mention, flying trans-Atlantic westbound goes against the prevailing winds. So did they stop for fuel somewhere? Or does the plane carry more fuel than the bog-standard air transport model?

I realize this is not the most important aspect of the NATO summit, but I am curious.

Sunday 20 May 2012 07:32:18 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Chicago | World#

This week's Charlemagne column:

THE Merkozy era is over. So how to label the partnership of Angela Merkel and François Hollande? Merging first names to make Frangela is too familiar for leaders who barely know each other. Homer is too American (or worse, Greek). Merkollande sounds too close to Merkozy. That leaves just the shortened Merde, which at least sums up the state of the euro.

I read this on the plane yesterday, sitting next to someone eagerly studying his Bible (with highlights!). I laughed so hard I scared him.

Of course, once I finished with the Economist I returned to Krugman's End This Depression Now!, which just mad me sad. I'm hoping against reason that between yesterday's G8 summit and today's NATO conference, the Western democracies finally—finally!—throw out the austerity programs that have made things worse for millions of people, and instead start getting people back to work.

Sunday 20 May 2012 07:07:54 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

Jeff Atwood has the definitive explanation:

["Lorem ipsum"] is arbitrarily rearranged and not quite coherent Latin, extracted from a book Cicero wrote in 45 BC. Here's the complete quote, with the bits and pieces that make up Lorem Ipsum ....

Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem, quia voluptas sit, aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos, qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt, neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum, quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci[ng] velit, sed quia non numquam [do] eius modi tempora inci[di]dunt, ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit, qui in ea voluptate velit esse, quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum, qui dolorem eum fugiat, quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus, qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti, quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint, obcaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa, qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga.

But what does it all mean?

He even included a lengthy list of websites that have tons of the stuff hanging around.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Saturday 19 May 2012 20:23:55 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | Cool links#
Saturday 19 May 2012

Home to O'Hare: 39 minutes
Taxi to the other side of security: 6 minutes
TSA checkpoint to free drink at the club: 9 minutes

The weather is nearly perfect (for flying, anyway; I think it's too hot already), so I don't anticipate any delays flying out. And Air Force One doesn't get here until tonight, six hours after I leave. So, depending on Route 92, this might be one of my easiest trips ever. (It's got to be easier than the last time I flew.)

So, after hearing non-stop for a week about the massive disruptions due to the NATO summit, it turns out I have an hour to kill.

That's why I have This American Life on my iPod.

That said, I am kind of disappointed I won't get to see any of the world leaders. The Tribune reports that Pakistan's Zadari, Afghanistan's Karzai, and France's Hollande will all be here later today. And, as I've already mentioned, the big guy himself arrives at 8:45pm.

Update: Yikes! He's following me!

On Wednesday, the President ... will travel to California for campaign events in Atherton and Redwood City. The President will spend the night in San Jose, California.

On Thursday, the President will attend a campaign event in Palo Alto, California. ....

Saturday 19 May 2012 13:52:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Chicago | US | World | Travel#
Friday 18 May 2012

The Atlantic Cities blog examines why we don't see tons of dead pigeons in cities, even though we see tons of live ones:

Here's a brief accounting of all the ferocious animals that eat urban pigeons:

Red-Tailed and Cooper's Hawks: These stocky killers know that fat city pigeons have the juiciest meat. So they roost all throughout the states in trees, on roofs and atop telephone poles, waiting to take the birds “on the wing,” as Seerveld puts it. “In Orlando where I live, it's unbelievable,” he says. “They pick off pigeons like they're one of their favorite food items.” The wildlife expert recalls one time when an Aeropostale employee called him because a hawk was stalking a pigeon INSIDE the clothing store. “A pigeon flew in and a hawk chased it right through the door,” he says. “I caught it with a net and brought it outside and let it go.” Here is that hungry, hungry hawk.

Author John Metcalfe helpfully links to a few videos, including one of a hawk eating a live pigeon and a turtle moving faster than you ever thought possible.

Friday 18 May 2012 14:58:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink#

But only if you're near the Pacific:

The midwest might not have the best view but the annular solar eclipse will at least be partially visible from here. The southwest will have the best vantage point when the sun appears as a "ring of fire" when the moon passes between it and the earth on Sunday. The moon will cover about 95% of the sun's diameter during this event. The eclipse will follow a path 8500 miles long for about 3 and a half hours. The "ring of fire" spectacle will last up to 5 minutes depending on the vantage point. Six national parks in the west, including Redwoods National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah, are enticing visitors by offering some of the best views since the eclipse track will drift right over the parks.

The eclipse starts in San Francisco at 17:16 PDT, reaches its maximum at 18:33, and ends at 19:40. Here's a map from the University of Manitoba:

Remember, don't look at the eclipse directly. It's an annular eclipse, so it will be dangerously bright if you look straight at it.

Update: NASA has an information page about this event.

Friday 18 May 2012 08:42:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | San Francisco | Astronomy#
Thursday 17 May 2012

Two unrelated but interesting items. First, Walter Russel Meade rings down the curtain on OWS:

To some degree, it was killed by its “friends.” The tiny left wing groups that exist in the country jumped all over the movement; between them and the deranged and occasionally dangerous homeless people and other rootless wanderers drawn to the movement’s increasingly disorderly campsites, OWS looked and sounded less and less like anything the 99 percent want anything to do with. At the same time, the movement largely failed to connect with the African American and Hispanic churchgoers who would have to be the base for any serious grass roots urban political mobilization. The trade unions picked up the movement briefly but dropped it like a hot brick as they found the brand less and less attractive.

It is as if the Tea Party had been taken over by the Aryan Brotherhood and delusional vagrants while failing to connect with either evangelical Christians or respectable libertarians. The MSM at one point was visibly hungering and thirsting for exactly that fate of marginalization to happen to the Tea Party, and the MSM did its klutzy best to tar the Tea Party with that kind of Mad Hatter extremism. The Tea Partiers by and large (not always or cleanly) escaped the fatal embrace of the nutters and the ranters on their side of the spectrum; OWS was occupied by its own fringe, and so died.

On a happier note, NPR had a quick hit on craft brewing:

Beer production has been flat in the U.S. for decades — it's actually a tiny bit lower than it was 30 years ago (find a comprehensive data set here). And the number of big breweries has gone down.

But over the same time, the number of small, independent breweries in America has exploded. ... Craft breweries account for more than 95 percent of the breweries in America, but they make just 6 percent of the beer.

And here's a map of craft breweries per capita by state:

Thursday 17 May 2012 15:05:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | US#
Wednesday 16 May 2012
Wednesday 16 May 2012 11:48:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Jokes | US#
Tuesday 15 May 2012

I agree with Jeff Atwood that learning to code isn't really a good goal:

The "everyone should learn to code" movement isn't just wrong because it falsely equates coding with essential life skills like reading, writing, and math. I wish. It is wrong in so many other ways.

  • It assumes that more code in the world is an inherently desirable thing. In my thirty year career as a programmer, I have found this … not to be the case. Should you learn to write code? No, I can't get behind that. You should be learning to write as little code as possible. Ideally none.
  • It assumes that coding is the goal. Software developers tend to be software addicts who think their job is to write code. But it's not. Their job is to solve problems. Don't celebrate the creation of code, celebrate the creation of solutions. We have way too many coders addicted to doing just one more line of code already.

He concludes:

Please don't advocate learning to code just for the sake of learning how to code. Or worse, because of the fat paychecks. Instead, I humbly suggest that we spend our time learning how to …

  • Research voraciously, and understand how the things around us work at a basic level.
  • Communicate effectively with other human beings.

These are skills that extend far beyond mere coding and will help you in every aspect of your life.

We can't hear this enough. It's why I tend to hire liberal arts majors who can code rather than computer science majors who can read.

Tuesday 15 May 2012 09:58:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Business#
Monday 14 May 2012
Monday 14 May 2012 14:40:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink#

For the last day or so, Chicago has had record-low humidity of all things, with dewpoints below 0°C for much of it:

This is the third day this year and only the 19th day in 142 years dating back to 1871 that the city has officially logged a relative humidity below 20%. At Midway Airport the relative humidity also dropped to 17 percent at 5pm.

This is the lowest relative humidity recorded in Chicago in more than six years since another 17 percent humidity was logged on February 20, 2006.

The other two low humidity days this year were back on April 8 and 9 when the relative humidity dropped to 19%.

Right now the dewpoint of 2°C on a temperature of 26°C gives us a relative humidity around 21%. For comparison, though, in Las Vegas the humidity is about 3%, so we're really not that dry here.

Monday 14 May 2012 14:32:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 13 May 2012

Via Sullivan, a suggestion from Dan McAdams about the difficulties some people have accepting natural selection theory:

A story is a narrative account of a motivated character who acts to achieve certain goals or ends over time. Every great story you can think of—from Homer’s Iliad to your favorite television show—involves characters who pursue goals over time, characters who want something and set out to achieve it. In this sense, the classic biblical creation stories are very good stories. You have a main character—God, the creator—who sets out to achieve something over time. There is purpose and design to what God, the main character, does. God is an agent—a self-conscious, motivated actor. All stories have agents.

Evolutionary theory, however, is not a story in that there is no prime agent, no self-conscious and motivated main character who strives to achieve something over time. For this reason, there is no overall narrative arc or design, no purpose that is being achieved by a purposeful agent. Instead, you have random, mechanical forces—variation, selection, and heredity. Bad story! But, at the same time, extraordinarily brilliant and elegant theory, for it provides a compelling and scientifically testable explanation for life on earth.

This dovetails well with a book I read two weeks ago, Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain. Mooney doesn't suggest that people who deny the obvious—like evolution or climate change—are stupid; rather, they have compelling psychological and historical reasons for believing what people like them tell them. Mooney makes it clear that we need better stories, better narratives, to help people understand and accept the counter-intuitive ways the world actually works. But McAdams has a point: some people need narratives, and narratives need actors. Natural selection works without any conscious intervention. Climate change happens because of billions of diverse actors.

Pointing out how people have got things wrong doesn't work. We need to speak the same language.

Sunday 13 May 2012 18:27:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | Religion#

Or, as Krugman puts it, Eurodämmerung:

Some of us have been talking it over, and here’s what we think the end game looks like:

1. Greek euro exit, very possibly next month.

...

4b. End of the euro.

And we’re talking about months, not years, for this to play out.

Good thing I only have about €15 in cash. Though I do have some escudos and pesetas somewhere...

Sunday 13 May 2012 14:49:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World#
Saturday 12 May 2012

It looks like we're not hearing the truth about anthropogenic climate change. Who's keeping the lid on the data? Climate scientists:

Climate scientists have been consistently downplaying and underestimating the risks for three main reasons. First, their models tended to ignore the myriad amplifying carbon cycle feedbacks that we now know are kicking in (such as the defrosting tundra).

Second, they never imagined that the nations of the world would completely ignored their warnings, that we would knowingly choose catastrophe. So until recently they hardly ever seriously considered or modeled the do-nothing scenario, which is a tripling (820 ppm) or quadrupling (1100 ppm) of preindustrial levels of carbon dioxide over the next hundred years or so. In the last 2 or 3 years, however, the literature in this area has exploded and the picture it paints is not pretty (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces").

Third, as Blakemore (and others) have noted, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are generally reticent and cautious in stating results — all the more so in this case out of the mistaken fear that an accurate diagnosis would somehow make action less likely. Yes, it’d be like a doctor telling a two-pack-a-day patient with early-stage emphysema that their cough is really not that big a deal, but would they please quit smoking anyway. We live in a world, however, where anyone who tries to explain what the science suggests is likely to happen if we keep doing nothing is attacked as an alarmist by conservatives, disinformers, and their enablers in the media.

The post goes on to outline how much fun life will be in 80 years when, if we do nothing, global temperatures will be 5–7°C warmer than now. A related article goes into more depth, and includes this chart of what summers might be like:

I'll wrap up by linking to yesterday's Science Friday, which discussed the appalling lack of scientific literacy in government. And the band played on...

Saturday 12 May 2012 17:19:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | Weather#
Friday 11 May 2012

Leave it to a British newspaper to create such a clear diagram of states' policies:

On the same subject, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today promised to pass a gay-marriage law...someday:

Supporters of the gay marriage bill pending in the Illinois House aren't likely to call it for a vote before lawmakers are scheduled to go home May 31.

"I think we have a few other things on our plate, like pensions, health care, Medicaid, public safety, education, the state budget, and I think that's going to take all of our time and attention," said sponsoring Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago.

Rick Garcia, director of the Equal Marriage Illinois project at The Civil Rights Agenda, put it more succinctly: "There has been a same-sex marriage bill out there since maybe 2006 in Springfield, and it's going nowhere fast."

If a vote were to happen, it likely wouldn't come until after the Nov. 6 election. The House and Senate will have a number of lame-duck lawmakers who are either retiring or lost re-election bids. They're more free to vote their conscience even if it diverges from the views of the people who elected them.

Oh, well. At least we have civil unions here.

Friday 11 May 2012 17:39:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

And the office dog is doing what he does best:

Friday 11 May 2012 16:09:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Parker#
Thursday 10 May 2012

The President's announcement yesterday and a new ad this morning make it clear the election 179 days from now is about the future vs. the past:

Sullivan comments:

One small note. Above, Romney says that we should not discard 3,000 years of history of one-man-one-woman marriage. Ahem. His own family were ardent polygamists only a century ago - and went to Mexican colonies to escape US federal oppression of their version of marriage (which also goes back a long, long way and still exists across the world). Romney's great-grandparents were polygamists; one of his his great-great-grandfathers had twelve wives and was murdered by the husband of the twelfth.

For Romney to say that the definition of marriage has remained the same for 3,000 years is disproved by his own family. It's untrue. False. A lie.

Why people fight so hard to cause other people pain has never made sense to me.

Thursday 10 May 2012 11:06:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
Wednesday 9 May 2012

The President's stance has evolved:

video platform video management video solutions video player

Question: when will Romney say something?

Wednesday 9 May 2012 14:26:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

I'm not the only one who sees Richard Lugar's defeat last night as more evidence the Republican party, long unmoored from reality, has drifted to the edge of the flat world they inhabit. It turns out, Lugar sees the same thing:

[Republican U.S. Senate nominee Richard Mourdock] and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.

But wait, there's more:

I don't remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party or the other. Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republican members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive Presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anti-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc. Similarly, most Democrats are constrained when talking about such issues as entitlement cuts, tort reform, and trade agreements.

Says Robert Wright, "It almost sounds as if he thinks Republicans are a bigger part of the problem than Democrats."

In unrelated news, Sunday was the 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster. I mention this only because the Atlantic had a side-bar on the Lugar story, and I thought it was interesting. Yay Internet, helping people forget what they were mad about!

Update, from Mourdock: "I have a mindset that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view."

Yep, that sounds like an accurate view of the Republican party.

Wednesday 9 May 2012 08:50:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

Today the right wing won two battles in their long, slow, rear-guard war against the 21st century.

In North Carolina, voters chose by a 60-40 margin to add an anti-marriage amendment to the state constitution, continuing the tradition of tolerance and modernity established by enlightened statesmen such as Jesse Helms and William Blount:

North Carolina has become the 31st state to add an amendment on marriage to its constitution, with voters banning same-sex marriage and barring legal recognition of unmarried couples by state and local governments.

Money from national interest groups poured into North Carolina. The National Organization for Marriage contributed $425,000 to the Vote for Marriage campaign, according to the latest reports, and the Human Rights Campaign and its affiliates contributed nearly $500,000 to the opposition Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families.

Vote for Marriage raised more than $1 million, and the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families raised more than $2 million.

It's interesting that the latter two groups, who received most of their money from out-of-state, anti-gay concerns, failed so miserably to do what their names suggested were their missions. It's almost as if George Orwell had named them, but of course he's been dead for quite some time.

Meanwhile, Indiana Republicans tossed out the third most senior U.S. Senator because his decade-long rightward drift wasn't radical enough:

Sen. Richard Lugar’s 36-year Senate career is now history.

Lugar was defeated in today’s Republican primary election by Treasurer Richard Mourdock, ending his bid for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate.

It wasn’t even close.

With 70 percent of the vote counted, Mourdock had 60 percent to Lugar’s 40 percent.

It's possible that Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly will defeat Mourdock in November, but not likely. Indiana, some will recall, came close to legislating the value of a mathematical constant not too long ago, shortly before giving vital support to the Ku Klux Klan.

The struggle between fear and future has gone on longer than written history. Future always wins. But fear inflicts an enormous cost in the bargain. I only hope today's victories by the religious right in the U.S. are what they seem: tantrums of the bigots and zealots that history is leaving behind.

Update: Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett has won the Wisconsin Democratic primary to face Governor Scott Walker next month in the latter's recall election. The re-match of the 2010 election is a statistical dead heat, though Barrett has a slight edge. At least Wisconsin's right wing is unambiguously about making rich people even richer, without muddling the message with religion. Still: I'll be glad to see the back of Walker, whenever he leaves office.

Tuesday 8 May 2012 21:31:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | Raleigh | Religion#
Tuesday 8 May 2012

A mailing list I participate in has attracted a troll, which is a person who, deliberately or not, annoys everyone around him with ill-tempered, rude, and stupid questions. Our list's troll has managed to get himself suspended from Wikipedia about 10 times (he's still suspended), mostly for "incivil tone" and for missing the purpose of Wikipedia.

This kind of user has haunted every online community since The WELL and CompuServe—yea, even unto the days of the of dial-up BBS. This guy is simply the first troll we've seen on this particular list, though.

Tuesday 8 May 2012 17:02:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [1] | Business#
Monday 7 May 2012

Even if Parker hadn't gotten fired two weeks ago, it looks like the building would have stopped him coming in anyway. We got this email earlier today, forwarded by the landlord:

We received a complaint about one of your tenants having a dog in the building. This was discovered by persons on the 5th floor hearing barking on the 4th floor. Hopefully I'm not confusing your unit with another but per the building rules and regulations policy that's attached to the Easement and Operating Agreement, only seeing eye dogs are permitted in the building.

Some people just don't like dogs. Their lives must be so sad.

Monday 7 May 2012 11:11:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Parker | Work#

Thunderstorms yesterday delayed the start of the Cubs-Dodgers game yesterday, with a first pitch almost three hours later than the scheduled 1:20pm start time. We got to the park at 2:30 during a brief break in the rain, relieved to discover the game was still on, and that we'd dressed warmly enough for it.

Fortunately our seats were under the awning. Unfortunately the weather got colder. We lasted until the middle of the 2nd, then went elsewhere to watch the end of the game.

The Cubs ultimately won in the 11th. Dodgers pitcher Jamey Wright accidentally beaned Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, loading the bases, and then walked David DeJesus to end the game. By this point, we were warm and dry 5 km from the park, so we didn't get to hear "Go Cubs Go" after all.

As an aside, I have to say that watching the groundskeepers roll up the infield tarp is fascinating. They appear to have it down to a science.

Monday 7 May 2012 10:57:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cubs#
Saturday 5 May 2012

After Stansted Airport, north of London, added its voice to the growing chorus of UK airports with ridiculously long lines at immigration, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has demanded changes:

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is understood to have told the Home Office to look at measures including the reintroduction within weeks of less strict security checks on British and European travellers.

It came as managers at Stansted Airport, in Essex, said “unacceptable” hold-ups had affected its passengers and criticised the UK Border Agency (UKBA), saying they would be demanding an explanation for the delays.

A separate queue for travellers from outside Europe who do not require a visa is also likely to be set up in the arrivals halls, meaning shorter queuing times for US, Canadian, Japanese and some South American nationals. It means the longest queuing times will be confined to those who need a visa to come to Britain, including Indian, Pakistani, and Jamaican citizens.

For the record, my last two entries to the UK in March—the first at 10pm on a Thursday night to Heathrow and the second at Gare du Nord in Paris—took only a few minutes. (I think Heathrow took about 15 minutes or so, but it didn't seem onerous.) But my last entry to the U.S., coming home from that trip, took less than 90 seconds. So the UK getting a Trusted Traveler program similar to Global Entry will make everyone's Heathrow experience better.

Saturday 5 May 2012 17:39:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | World | Travel#
Friday 4 May 2012

Yesterday's flight from San Francisco to Chicago took a little less than 8 hours, including two hours on the ground in Rockford, Ill., waiting for a massive thunderstorm to leave O'Hare. Of course, I have no problem spending 8 hours on an airplane, but I had hoped to get home in time to sleep.

Here's the ground track, showing us entering a 30-minute hold near Beloit, Ill., and the missed approach at O'Hare:

And the view on the ground at KRFD:

Even though they opened the door and pushed a staircase up to it, they wouldn't let us leave because the TSA had already left for the day. Or, more precisely, you could leave the plane and be escorted off the apron, but then you couldn't get back on the plane. That's great if you live in Rockford, not so good if you need to get to Lincoln Park.

I'm sanguine about these sorts of things. A 37 km/h wind shear is dangerous. Running out of fuel is dangerous. Diverting to a nearby airport that has plenty of Jet-A and no thunderstorms means they can use the plane again.

One more thing: the American Airlines flight crew gave us frequent, clear, helpful updates as the situation progressed. Both pilots made sure we passengers knew what was going on and why. Despite the two whiny people in first class—one of whom wound up talking to the Chicago Police about her little dog running around the cabin—the flight attendants made sure everyone had bathroom access, granola bars, water, and orange juice. And while I understand being generally frustrated with O'Hare closing because of the inconvenience of trying to land with marble-sized hail and at least one reported funnel cloud near the airport, I don't understand (a) yelling at the flight attendants or (b) being "offended" that people traveling in coach being allowed to use the first-class bathroom. (Um, sweetie, getting upgraded does not make you a better person. So unless you paid for your first class seat, STFU.)

Friday 4 May 2012 09:05:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Travel#

We almost made it from SFO to ORD. The pilots executed a "missed approach" and diverted to Rockford, where we now sit. The First Officer told me they had a wind-shear alert indicating a 20kt change in windspeed right on our approach path. That could, in aviation parlance, ruin your day. So here we sit...and wait... At least we're getting granola bars, water, and frequent updates. And we're getting obnoxious passengers. More tomorrow.

Thursday 3 May 2012 20:59:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | Travel#
Thursday 3 May 2012

My baby sister got tickets for last night's Giants game at AT&T Park. I had the distinct feeling of being at a Cubs game, first because of the Giants' defense (including a walk-a-thon in the 4th), and second because they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory after tying it up in the bottom of the 9th. (The goat of the game? Former Cub Ryan Theriot.)

We did have great (if chilly) weather and great seats:

Back to Chicago this afternoon...and lots of work to do before then...

Thursday 3 May 2012 08:07:31 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | Baseball | San Francisco#
Wednesday 2 May 2012

Tomorrow I have to take a cab to work. But this morning, once again, I got to see this:

Here, by the way, is the view from my desk at the client's office:

Yeah, I could get used to this.

Wednesday 2 May 2012 08:45:33 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | San Francisco#
Tuesday 1 May 2012

In Chicago, I usually take the 156 bus or the El to work in the morning. Today, I took this:

That's how I got to see this on my commute:

Of course, now that I have arrived at the client's office, I should probably do some work.

Tuesday 1 May 2012 08:58:06 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | San Francisco | Travel#

I'm traveling for business right now so I don't have my real camera with me. I do, however, have a little pocket camera. I'm not disparaging the thing; it really does take better photographs than any digital camera I've owned except for the two SLRs. But after just shy of 29 years of photography, I've learned a couple of quick and easy techniques to help it along. (I wish I'd known these things when I shot on film, but who could have predicted the mind-blowing power of this decade's digital image editing software when the pinnacle of faithful photographic reproduction was Kodachrome 25?)

First among these techniques is to use a gray card whenever possible. This is a simple piece of cardboard that has a color-neutral, 18% reflective surface, that allows you to calibrate both the exposure and colors of a scene. They cost less than a take-out coffee and take up almost no room in your bag. They do two things: first, they tell you how much light is available on a scene, and second, they tell you what color the light is.

The first is harder to explain than the second. Suffice to say, your little pocket camera constantly has to guess at how much light to let in. Your eye does this automatically, opening and closing your iris as required for you to perceive, almost always, that there's just the right amount of light available. Cameras, being mechanical and not having brains, have to guess. The human eye can look at two different scenes, one of which having 32 times more light than the other, and not register a difference. If you walk under a bridge on a bright, sunny day, you can still see.

Cameras, being mechanical, can't do that. Modern cameras have automatic light meters that make really good guesses, and so most of your photos come out fine. But they make a lot of mistakes, too, particularly when the thing you want to photograph is really dark or really light.

Gray cards fix that. Your camera's light meter assumes that the average scene reflects 18% of the light falling on it, and adjusts the exposure to fit. A gray card really does reflect 18% of the light falling on it. So if you meter off a gray card, the photo will be correctly exposed.

Gray cards also fix colors. If you're in a room with incandescent light bulbs, your brain automatically corrects the colors of the things it sees. You know that's a white bedspread; you know that's a blue book cover. So your brain tells you, that's a white bedspread, and a blue book cover.

Cameras, however, don't have brains. And cameras can't see colors that aren't there. And incandescent light bulbs are orange. The consequence of these three facts is simply that a raw photograph of a white bedspread under incandescent light bulbs will look orange.

Here, for example, is a photo of my hotel room as the camera saw it:

Keep in mind, this is the correct exposure. I know this because I took a picture of my handy-dandy gray card before snapping this one. Not only did the gray card show me the correct exposure setting, but it also showed me the correct colors of the same scene, to wit:

Again, my real camera would have done a better photo, but at least with a gray card (and Adobe Lightroom), I can get reliable colors and exposures with a cheap little pocket camera.

Monday 30 April 2012 23:18:10 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | Photography#

The Economist's Gulliver blog has a summary this afternoon about two-hour wait times at Heathrow to pass through immigration:

[O]n Saturday BAA, which owns Heathrow (but is not responsible for immigration), duly resorted to handing out leaflets apologising for the situation and suggesting that passengers complain to the Home Office.

Marc Owen, the director of UKBA [United Kingdom Border Agency] operations at Heathrow, was none too impressed by this tactic. The Daily Telegraph saw emails he sent to BAA threatening to escalate the matter with ministers, and asking it to stop passengers taking pictures of the queues. "The leaflet is not all right with us," he wrote. "It is both inflammatory and likely to increase tensions in arrivals halls especially in the current atmosphere."

The slowdown at immigration is linked to a row last autumn over passport checks. Previously, a relaxation of these checks had been agreed between the Home Office and UKBA, but UKBA ended up going further then the government had expected, and reduced staff numbers in the process. The subsequent brouhaha led to the resignation of the then head of the agency, Brodie Clark, and the reinstatement of full passport checks.

(Yes, I'm taking a break after 9 hours of requirements gathering.)

Monday 30 April 2012 17:44:22 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | World | Travel#

The bad news is I've been in meetings with clients all day. The good news is their office has a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Updates as warranted. And as I have time for.

Monday 30 April 2012 17:25:04 PDT (UTC-07:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink | San Francisco#
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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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