Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 31 July 2012

Billionaire Jeff Greene wants to pay more taxes, and wants his neighbors to do the same:

[O]ver the past few months, it’s become clear that rich people are very, very afraid. Sometimes it feels like this was the main accomplishment of Occupy Wall Street: a whole lot of tightened sphincters. It’s not a stretch to say many residents of Park Avenue harbor vivid fears of a populist revolt like the one seen in The Dark Knight Rises, in which they cower miserably under their sideboards while ragged hordes plunder the silver.

“This is my fear, and it’s a real, legitimate fear,” Greene says, revving up the engine. “You have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different.

“There are all these people in this country who are just not participating in the American Dream at all,” he says. This makes him uncomfortable, not least because they might try to take a piece of his. “Right now, for some bizarre reason, a lot of these people are supporting Republicans who want to cut taxes on the wealthy,” he says. “At some point, if we keep doing this, their numbers are going to keep swelling, it won’t be an Obama or a Romney. It will be a ­Hollande. A Chávez.

“Nobody gets it,” he grumbles, gunning over the boardwalk that leads from his boathouse to the beach. “I see David Koch a lot of the time. His policies are ridiculous. I don’t think he’s ever been to one of these schools where they have a rolling cart, where one computer has to go to different classrooms, and it can make so much difference, a $700 computer! I don’t think these guys realize, this is what they’re cutting off? To say to those kids, ‘Too bad, every man for himself’?”

I don't think we're that close to 1848, but typically, when inequality gets too broad, civil unrest follows. This isn't new. And while I would prefer Greene and others like him to support paying their share out of moral obligation and a belief that shared sacrifice yields shared riches—that it makes the pie higher, to quote a former president—I'll take consequence-based ethics if it gets the same result.

Tuesday 31 July 2012 13:42:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US#

Chicago's average temperature this July will probably wind up at 27.2°C, making it the third-warmest in history behind 27.3°C 1921 and 27.4°C 1955. (Normal is 23.3°C.)

Along with the near-record heat we've had more 32°C days so far than ever before. And it's not over:

Never before, over the term of Chicago's 142 year observational record, have so many 90s accumulated at such an early date.

July alone produced 18 days at or above 90---far beyond the seven considered normal, yet just shy of the 19 days of 90s recorded in 1955 and 1987—both record highs for the month.

History tells us we've likely NOT seen the last of the hot air. An estimated 35 percent (more than a third) of Chicago's remaining 90+degree temperatures have typically occurred from this date forward.

At least today and tomorrow should be cooler, 27°C today and 28°C tomorrow, before going back into the red zone on Thursday.

Roll on October...

Tuesday 31 July 2012 08:35:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 30 July 2012

Via Sullivan, entrepreneur Kyle Wiens won't hire people who use poor grammar (and neither will I):

Good grammar makes good business sense — and not just when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn't in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers.

Grammar signifies more than just a person's ability to remember high school English. I've found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.

In the same vein, programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code. You see, at its core, code is prose. Great programmers are more than just code monkeys; according to Stanford programming legend Donald Knuth they are "essayists who work with traditional aesthetic and literary forms." The point: programming should be easily understood by real human beings — not just computers.

Yes. Clear writing shows clear thought, almost always. I might not go so far as to use a grammar test for new employees, but I do pay attention to their emails and CVs.

Monday 30 July 2012 09:19:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Business#
Sunday 29 July 2012

Despite having two Atlantic named storms before June 1st, so far the tropical storm season has been eerily quiet with 4 named storms. Then I did a little poking around on the Intertubes and realized that no, we usually don't have that many by the end of July. With all the energy in the Northern Hemisphere atmosphere this summer, September might be more interesting than usual. But so far in July, we seem to be about average.

Sunday 29 July 2012 18:59:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Weather#

In every developer's life, there comes a time when he has to take all the software he's written on his laptop and put it into a testing environment. Microsoft Azure Tools make this really, really easy—every time after the first.

Today I did one of those first-time deployments, sending a client's Version 2 up into the cloud for the first time. And I discovered, as predicted, a flurry of minor differences between my development environment (on my own computer) and the testing environment (in an Azure web site). I found five bugs, all of them minor, and almost all of them requiring me to wipe out the test database and start over.

It's kind of like when you go to your strict Aunt Bertha's house—you know, the super-religious aunt who has no sense of humor and who smacks your hands with a ruler every time you say something harsher than "oops."

End of complaint. Back to the Story of D'Oh.

Sunday 29 July 2012 17:35:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Software | Cloud#
Saturday 28 July 2012

I hope to finish moving my websites into the cloud by the end of the year, including a ground-up rewrite of Weather Now. Meanwhile, I've decided to try moving that site and three others to an Azure Virtual Machine rather than trying to fit them into Azure Cloud Services.

For those of you just tuning in, Azure Cloud Services lets you run applications in roles that scale easily if the application grows. A virtual machine is like a standalone server, but it's actually running inside some other server. A really powerful computer can host a dozen small virtual machines, allocating space and computing power between them as necessary. You can also take a virtual machine offline, fold it up, and put it in your pocket—literally, as there are thumb drives easily as big as small VMs.

If you're interested in PaaS, IaaS, and the future of my living room the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center, read on.

Saturday 28 July 2012 14:24:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Business | Cloud#
Friday 27 July 2012

Long-time readers will know how I feel about Microsoft certification exams. When it came time for 10th Magnitude to renew its Microsoft Partner designation, and that meant all of us had to take these tests again, I was not happy.

So, against my will, I took exam 70-583 ("Designing and Developing Windows Azure Applications") and passed it. I am once again a Microsoft Certified Professional.

Fwee.

Friday 27 July 2012 15:33:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Business | Cloud#
Thursday 26 July 2012

The brokerage house Evercore doesn't believe Groupon. No one else does either:

The brokerage said Groupon Goods, the company's consumer products category, is increasingly becoming the merchant of record - the owner of goods being sold or the first-party seller.

As first-party sales assume inventory risk and drive higher revenue contribution, the composition of Groupon's first-quarter revenue beat in North America has become questionable, analyst Ken Sena wrote in a note.

"Growth in unique visitors in the U.S. to Groupon.com, which can be looked at as a proxy for subscriber growth, exhibited negative year-over-year trends this quarter," Sena said.

Essentially, no one is buying stuff from Groupon, which leaves them holding the bag on lots of it.

In a related story, people are sick of Farmville, which is hurting Zynga:

A slew of analysts cut their ratings and price targets for Zynga after it reported lower-than-expected quarterly results on Wednesday and forecast a much smaller 2012 profit.

Zynga has been hit by user fatigue for some of its long-running games and a shift in the way Facebook Inc's social platform promotes games.

"The biggest factor impacting current performance appears to be the way Facebook is surfacing gaming content on its platform," JP Morgan's Doug Anmuth wrote in a note to clients.

Actually, Facebook users just got bored of FarmVille, and it's hard to blame them. This is what happens when companies stop innovating in favor of milking their cash cows. (Sorry.)

Thursday 26 July 2012 17:25:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Business#

...because most of our maize corn is dying too:

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor has expanded D3 “extreme” drought across Illinois. It went from 8 percent of the state last week to 71 percent this week. This major shift was based on a number of short-term drought indicators based on rainfall, streamflow, and temperature, as well as from widespread reports of significant crop and pasture losses.

Earlier this week, the USDA NASS reported that 66 percent of the corn crop, 49 percent of the soybean crop, and 91 percent of pasture was rated poor to very poor. Topsoil was rated at 91 percent poor to very poor and subsoil was rated 97 percent poor to very poor.

The hottest July ever in Chicago averaged 27.4°C; so far this month has averaged 27.8°C, though today and Saturday are forecast to be about normal.

Food prices, electricity expenses, health-care costs: all are higher this month than one would expect for July. Welcome to the 21st Century, where the weather is as if everyone has moved 800 km south.

Thursday 26 July 2012 10:23:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 25 July 2012

Chicago today looks set to get up to 39°C, part of an emerging pattern of worsening heat waves in the region.

The holy terror this summer, however, is 2,000 km to the northeast. Greenland has experienced unprecedented thawing this month:

The set of images released by NASA on Tuesday show a rapid thaw between 8 July and 12 July. Within that four-day period, measurements from three satellites showed a swift expansion of the area of melting ice, from about 40% of the ice sheet surface to 97%.

About half of Greenland's surface ice sheet melts during a typical summer, but [Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center] said he and other scientists had been recording an acceleration of that melting process over the last few decades. This year his team had to rebuild their camp, at Swiss Station, when the snow and ice supports melted.

He said he was most surprised to see indications in the images of melting even around the area of Summit Station, which is about two miles above sea level.

It was the second unusual event in Greenland in a matter of days, after an iceberg the size of Manhattan broke off from the Petermann Glacier. But the rapid melt was viewed as more serious.

Greenland's ice sheet accounts for possibly 25% of the world's fresh water. A massive release of that water into the North Atlantic would not only raise sea levels worldwide, but also could distrupt thermohaline circulation, which in turn would make northern Europe's weather more like Canada's.

Of course, we'll all forget this in the winter, and react with surprise and alarm in a year or two when we have another record-breaking summer. Time to adapt.

Wednesday 25 July 2012 09:00:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 24 July 2012

Krugman yesterday reminded us that people are so desperate for the security that investing in the U.S. brings them, they're paying us to take their money, at alarming rates of negative interest:

That’s right: for every maturity of bonds under 20 years, investors are paying the feds to take their money — and in the case of maturities of 10 years and under, paying a lot.

What’s going on? Investor pessimism about prospects for the real economy, which makes the perceived safe haven of US debt attractive even at very low yields. And pretty obviously investors do consider US debt safe — there is no hint here of worries about the level of debt and deficits.

Now, you might think that there would be a consensus that, even leaving Keynesian things aside, this is a really good time for the government to invest in infrastructure and stuff: money is free, the workers would otherwise be unemployed.

But no: the Very Serious People have decided that the big problem is that Washington is borrowing too much, and that addressing this problem is the key to … something.

Conservatives here and in the UK (another country with unprecedented low government interest rates) have either a delusion or a willfully dishonest belief in the dangers of deficits. Yes, both countries have long-term deficit problems that need resolution, and both countries will need lower defense and entitlement spending to close their gaps. But that's in 20 years.

Right now, we need to take this free money (five-year Treasuries are at -1.18%; ten year notes are at -0.68%) and abundant labor (nationally still around 9% unemployment) and rebuild. We need to repair our roads, upgrade our trains, fix our sewers and electric grids, and restore our countries to the economic strengths they have had in decades past.

Those on the right, however, want to continue bloodletting, draining us of our strength when we're weakest. Or, put another way, if someone is starving, withholding food won't help him. Lending him some food might just get him feeling better again.

Ten years from now we're going to look back on this period of Republican and Tory intransigence, laugh nervously, and change the subject. If we're supremely lucky, we'll be out of the economic traps that their misguided policies have created for us.

Tuesday 24 July 2012 10:21:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Politics | US | World#
Monday 23 July 2012

(Another post originally appearing on the 10th Magnitude blog.)

Last week I offered developers a simple way to simultaneously deploy a web application to a Microsoft Azure web site and an Azure Cloud Services web role. Today I'm going to point out a particular pain with this approach that may make you reconsider trying to deploy to both environments.

Monday 23 July 2012 15:41:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Business | Cloud#

Via Gulliver, airlines earned $22.6 bn from ancillary fees in 2011 (pdf), up 66% from 2009:

Once largely limited to low fare airlines, ancillary revenue is now a priority for many airlines worldwide, and the Review announced today shows how far the industry’s approach to ancillary revenue has developed in recent years.

Jay Sorensen, President of IdeaWorksCompany, says: “Our first report into ancillary revenue was issued in 2007, when only 23 airlines worldwide disclosed ancillary revenue activity in financial filings, and the result was a modest €1.72 billion ($2.45 billion). Four years later, 50 airlines today disclose ancillary revenue activity of €18.23 billion ($22.6 billion). It’s clear that airlines recognize the importance of ancillary revenue and are developing increasingly innovative ways to generate this.”

"Increasingly innovative." Nice. Anyone remember this ditty from Fascinating Aida, which now applies as much to United as it did to Ryanair?

Monday 23 July 2012 12:12:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation#

Two examples of how Europeans handle things differently than we do. First, Norway's refusal to be terrorized by lunatics with guns:

The car-bomb in Oslo designed to kill the leadership of the country, and the shootings on the island of Utoeya designed to destroy the next generation of Labour party politicians, left 77 people dead, the majority of them teenagers.

But even in the first days of shock after the attacks, it was clear the response of the Norwegian people and their government to this act of terrorism would be unique.

"The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation," [Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg] said.

A year later it seems the prime minister has kept his word.

There have been no changes to the law to increase the powers of the police and security services, terrorism legislation remains the same and there have been no special provisions made for the trial of suspected terrorists.

On the streets of Oslo, CCTV cameras are still a comparatively rare sight and the police can only carry weapons after getting special permission.

Even the gate leading to the parliament building in the heart of Oslo remains open and unguarded.

Meanwhile, just across the Baltic, Germany and the ECB seem frighteningly nonchalant about the possibility of Greece exiting the euro:

I’m not saying that Greece should be kept in the euro; ultimately, it’s hard to see how that can work. But if anyone in Europe is imagining that a Greek exit can be easily contained, they’re dreaming. Once a country, any country, has demonstrated that the euro isn’t necessarily forever, investors — and ordinary bank depositors — in other countries are bound to take note. I’d be shocked if Greek exit isn’t followed by large bank withdrawals all around the European periphery.

To contain this, the ECB would have to provide huge amounts of bank financing — and it would probably have to buy sovereign debt too, especially given the spiking yields on Spanish and Italian debt that are taking place as you read this. Are the Germans ready to see that?

My advice here is to be afraid, be very afraid.

Don't even get me started on anthropogenic climate change theory, which predicted just about everything we're experiencing in North American weather this year.

Monday 23 July 2012 11:14:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US | World#
Sunday 22 July 2012

I hung out with some very old friends yesterday, and throughout our barbecue we checked up on the Cubs. By the time we went inside, it was top of the 7th, no score.

Then this happened:

Rafael Furcal's go-ahead single in the seventh turned out to be a mere appetizer as the Cardinals also matched an 86-year-old franchise record for runs in an inning. St. Louis totaled 10 hits with multiple hits by three players including pinch-hitter Allen Craig, who doubled twice with an RBI.

The Cardinals totaled nine doubles for the first time in franchise history since setting a modern major league record with 13 doubles on July 12, 1931, against the Cubs.

Cubs starter Matt Garza was taken out after three scoreless innings with cramping in his right triceps, an injury that wasn't obvious and prompted speculation that he had been traded. The Cubs added a bit of intrigue, waiting until the bottom of the sixth to announce the injury and the fact X-rays -- as a precaution for possible elbow issues -- were negative.

Germano got unlimited warmups in the fourth, an indication he was entering because of an injury or ejection, although the rule book also allows for an unspecified sudden emergency. Germano allowed a run in three-plus innings before the roof caved in on the Cubs, who allowed 12 runs in an inning for the first time since July 30, 2010, at Colorado.

Twelve runs. One half of an inning. Twelve runs. Only the presence of one friend's 11-year-old daughter kept us from expressing our true feelings about what we were watching unfold before us.

After 35 years of watching them do things like that, I'm starting to think of moving on.

Sunday 22 July 2012 10:14:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cubs#
Saturday 21 July 2012

After seven days above 32°C in a row, Thursday gave us a humid, rainy 28°C before yesterday's perfect, dry 27°C. We've had a record 32 days above 32°C since June 1st, six more than we had by this time in the previous-hottest summer I remember, 1988.

The forecast for the next few days looks grim: 32°C today, 34°C Sunday, and 39°C Monday.

Welcome to the new normal: in just a couple of years, Chicago has gone from hard winters and mild summers to mild winters and broiling summers. And the climate is still changing...

Saturday 21 July 2012 08:48:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 19 July 2012

In my last post, I talked about using Azure web sites to save beaucoup bucks over Azure Cloud Services web roles on nonessential, internal, and development web applications. In this post I'll go over a couple of things that bit me in the course of deploying a bunch of applications to Azure web sites in the last two weeks.

Read more for the technical details.

Thursday 19 July 2012 10:35:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud#
Thursday 19 July 2012 09:54:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Astronomy#

Via Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel, the Climate Prediction Center has new 1- and 3-month outlooks for the continent. Chicago has a 60% chance of being hotter and a 30% chance of being drier than normal through the end of August:

This is already a hotter summer than 1988, and on its way to become one of the hottest summers in recorded history. Oh, joy.

Thursday 19 July 2012 09:30:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 18 July 2012

A couple of days ago I discovered a new behavior in Parker. While listening to Martha Berner's song "A Town Called Happiness," which has an extensive harmonica part, Parker started to howl. Not in pain, though: he stayed in the room, and even got closer to the noise, tail wagging.

Apparently this is common dog behavior, and it really does mean he's just singing along.

So I dug out my dad's old harmonica and, yes, he sang along with that, too. In the upper ranges he really put his heart into it, too.

I know the behavior came out of those ancient days when wolves roamed free and men cowered at their howls...but this is Parker, and it's freaking adorable.

Wednesday 18 July 2012 17:10:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Parker#

Via Sullivan, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg is creating 3D portraits from random hairs:

Collecting hairs she finds in random public places – bathrooms, libraries, and subway seats – she uses a battery of newly developing technologies to create physical, life-sized portraits of the owners of these hairs. You can see the portrait she’s made from her own hair in the photo below. While the actual likeness is a point of contention, these images bring about some creepy-yet-amazing comments; on genetic identity (how much of “you” really resides in your DNA?); on the possibilities of surveillance (what if your jealous partner started making portraits from hairs they found around your house?); and on the subjectivity inherent in working with “hard” data and computer systems (how much of a role do human assumptions play in this machine made portrait?).

The artist's site is here.

All right. This came a little sooner than I expected, and from a different source. I've long recognize the necessity of adapting to, rather than raging impotently against, the fundamental changes to the security and privacy mores we've had for several thousand years. (As Bruce Schneier has pointed out, "Fifteen years ago, [CCTV cameras] weren't everywhere. Fifteen years from now, they'll be so small we won't be able to see them.") But this project, if it works as hoped, actually freaks me out a little.

I'm going to whistle past this graveyard for the time being...

Tuesday 17 July 2012 20:31:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cool links | Security#
Tuesday 17 July 2012

Even though the temperature outside tied the record 38°C set 70 years ago, I'm happy to report that Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters has remained tolerably cool:

Those are degrees Celsius vertically and the last 24 hours of time horizontally. The lower temperatures overnight come from me turning the air conditioning to a cooler setting in the evening and back up in the morning.

What you can't see in this snapshot is that during our last hot, hot summer (2008), I had trouble keeping the office below 27.5°C. That's where the server fans spin up, power consumption skyrockets, and the electronics within the servers start crying. So far in the last two months, I've only had about three hours total above that threshold temperature, caused not by inadequate air conditioning but by me not closing the windows and turning the AC on in the first place.

I credit the window replacement completed in December 2010. Since 2011 had neither a particularly harsh summer nor a harsh winter, it was harder to see this data before.

Also, having turned off 40% of my servers probably helped.

Still, I do not want to go outside right now...

Tuesday 17 July 2012 15:41:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#

Today marks the 31st time this year Chicago's temperature has exceeded 32°C as another record falls:

The July 17 record high of 38°C for this date has stood 70 years, having been set in 1942 during World War II. Tuesday's heat gives the city a shot at replacing this record. [It was 36°C just before noon.—DB]

New USDA crop report paints bleak picture across much of the Midwest; more than half of Illinois' corn crop is "poor" or "very poor"!

Crops are struggling in many Midwest fields this year. USDA's weekly report on crop conditions released Monday indicates the condition of the corn crop continues to deteriorate. 56 percent of corn in Illinois is rated "poor"or "very poor". That percentage stands at 43 percent in Wisconsin; 27 percent in Iowa; 56 percent in Michigan; and grows to 69 percent in Missouri; and a whopping 71% in Indiana.

The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert points out we made this happen 30 years ago:

One of the most salient—but also, unfortunately, most counterintuitive—aspects of global warming is that it operates on what amounts to a time delay. Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. Before many effects of today’s emissions are felt, it will be time for the Summer Olympics of 2048. (Scientists refer to this as the “commitment to warming.”) What’s at stake is where things go from there. It is quite possible that by the end of the century we could, without even really trying, engineer the return of the sort of climate that hasn’t been seen on earth since the Eocene, some fifty million years ago.

Along with the heat and the drought and the super derecho, the country this summer is also enduring a Presidential campaign. So far, the words “climate change” have barely been uttered. This is not an oversight. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer.

And so, while farmers wait for rain and this season’s corn crop withers on the stalk, the familiar disconnect continues. There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

Tuesday 17 July 2012 12:57:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | US | Weather#
Monday 16 July 2012

Some Japanese students have invented a gadget that stops people from talking:

The NoiseJammer works by recording the irritating voices of rude individuals and playing it back to them [a quarter-second] later, overriding their annoying conversations with a flood of their own words. If you want the technical details to build your own jammer, it's all described in this academic paper, which explains the reasoning behind such a device.

Here's a demonstration:

Monday 16 July 2012 12:18:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Kitchen Sink#

As Chicago temperatures today and tomorrow will likely hit 35°C, I find myself looking forward to October. While temperatures will undoubtedly be lower then, we may not actually have a very interesting leaf season:

Deciduous trees (trees that lose their foliage in the winter) are sensitive to the increasing length of night during the autumn. When the hours of darkness reach a threshold value, fall colors begin to appear. The U.S. National Arboretum says, "Because the starting time of the whole process is dependent on night length, fall colors appear at about the same time each year in a given location, regardless whether temperatures are cooler or warmer than normal." However, drought stress during the growing season can cause leaves to fall before they have a chance to develop fall coloration, and that will be the likely effect of our drought: bland fall colors.

The one, single benefit related to all this heat and drought: we're having the third-sunniest July in history.

Monday 16 July 2012 09:58:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 15 July 2012

Via Krugman, Ezra Klein reminds us of the differences between the President's and Romney's tax plans:

Note that the Tax Policy Center could only conduct a partial analysis of Romney’s tax plan. That’s because Romney’s proposal itself is incomplete. He’s said that he wants to scrap various deductions in the tax code, particularly for high earners, in order to broaden the tax base. But he hasn’t offered any details about which deductions he’d scrap or how, so there wasn’t anything for the Tax Policy Center to analyze.

As Krugman says, "[T]he next time someone tut-tuts about 'class warfare,' remember that the class war is already happening, in real policy—with the top .01 percent on offense."

Sunday 15 July 2012 09:30:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | US#
Saturday 14 July 2012

The aurora borealis could be visible as far south as Chicago, Belfast, and Seattle tonight and tomorrow:

A significant event located on the Sun facing Earth took place on July 12. The effects of this event will begin to reach Earth early on the 14th of July GMT.

Observers in North America should watch for aurora on the nights of the 14th and 15th local time. Depending on the configuration of the disturbance, auroras may be visible as far south as the middle tier of states.

Activity may remain high also on the 16th. Auroras should be visible Southern New Zealand, Tasmania, and of course, Antarctica.

I've only seen aurorae from airplanes in flight over the polar regions. Obviously they're invisible from within the city of Chicago, but if I had a boat, tonight would be great for going out on the lake and looking for them.

Saturday 14 July 2012 11:48:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Astronomy#
Friday 13 July 2012

(Cross-posted to my company's blog.)

If you’ve looked at Microsoft’s Azure pricing model, you’ve no doubt had some difficulty figuring out what makes the most economic sense. What size instances do I need? How many roles? How much storage? What will my monthly bill actually be?

Since June 7th, Microsoft has had one price for an entry-level offering that is completely comprehensible: free. You can now run up to 10 web sites on a shared instance for free. (Well, you have to pay for data output over 165 MB per month at 12c per gigabyte, and if the site needs a SQL Database, that’s at least $5 a month, etc.)

At 10th Magnitude, we’ve switched to free Azure websites for our dev and staging instances of some internal applications and for our brochure site. And it’s saving us real money.

The full post explains why.

Friday 13 July 2012 10:52:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Business | Cloud#
Wednesday 11 July 2012

Despite the obviousness of USAirways acquiring it as American Airlines' only hope for survival, apparently some AMR executives are having a Walter Mitty moment:

A source familiar with the situation said AMR sees itself as an acquirer in potential mergers and at least five airlines -- US Airways Group Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp, Alaska Air Group, Republic Airways' Frontier Airlines, and Virgin America -- will be considered.

American has faced mounting pressure from vocal members of its creditors committee, led by its largest labor unions, who have argued that a merger with US Airways would give the combined carrier a strong network to compete with rivals beefed up by their own mergers. US Airways has expressed interest in a merger and has been courting AMR's creditors.

The problem, one will see immediately, is that AMR doesn't have the resources to take over another airline. And the ones they listed are regional, medium-sized, or discount airlines, not at all likely to help American get out of bankruptcy. Virgin just has to be a joke, of course. Not that there haven't been mergers between Americans and Virgins in the past—I just don't think Richard Branson will put out for Tom Horton in the near future.

Possibly this is just posturing by AMR executives. I hope so. Because if not, USAirways won't buy American, and American will die, and I'll have to fly United. And that would really suck.

Wednesday 11 July 2012 17:41:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation#

Even though Chicago has had completely tolerable weather the last three days, June and the first few days of July took their toll. Since the beginning of meterological summer on June 1st, Chicago has had the hottest summer ever, with only 26% of normal rainfall:

Its 24.7°C average temperatures is running 3.8°C above the long term (142-year) average and 2.9°C above the same period a year ago. Wednesday is to bring the metro area's 14th consecutive day of above normal temperatures.

July's abundant sunshine has month on track to end up one of the area's three or four sunniest.

It's not surprising at all to learn that not only is the summer season is the warmest on the books, it also ranks among the three or four sunniest Julys on record here with 86 percent of the area's possible sun--well above the 68 percent considered normal.

It's just over 30°C now, and forecast to hit 32°C at the lakefront by Saturday (and today, inland).

Brief respite over, I suppose. I even had the windows open the last couple of mornings.

Wednesday 11 July 2012 13:27:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 10 July 2012

I've just completed my fourth Windows Azure deployment this month, and this time, it's a non-trivial site. The Inner Drive Technology corporate website now lives up in the Cloud. Actually, it lives in two places: as an Azure Website for testing, and in Azure Cloud Services for production. All I have to do to complete the task is publish the "production" instance (I've successfully published the "staging" instance) and configure DNS.

This deployment gave me the most trouble, mainly because it has a lot of stuff in it: all my code demos, especially time zones. I also discovered a couple of things about deployments to Azure Cloud Services, in particular that the default staging deployment hits a different port than the production deployment.

It took me about 7 hours to convert the existing Inner Drive code into an ASP.NET Web application and get it working in an Azure website. I had a major hiccup trying to get the time zone data to load, because on an Azure website (but not in Cloud Services), the IANA tzinfo database files live in the file system.

Moving it to Cloud Services only took me about 90 minutes, though. As I've discovered, there are differences between the two, and it's a pain in the ass to alter the project and solution files every time you want to deploy it to a different environment. So, I copied the project and solution files, and voilà! Easy deployment to either environment.

I'll write more about this later. At the moment, I'm waiting for the enormous Inner Drive Extensible Architecture SDK to upload to the Cloud. This could take a while...time to walk the dog.

Update, 21:15 CDT: Inner Drive is live on Azure, including the entire SDK. It took 25 minutes to deploy, which, believe it or not, isn't much more than it usually takes. But the total time to add a Cloud Services role and deploy the site—not counting when I walked away to do something else—was just under two hours.

Tuesday 10 July 2012 17:21:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud#

The south-side Chicago politician has been on "medical leave" and unavailable for a month:

[U.S. Rep. Jesse] Jackson, 47, took a medical leave for "exhaustion" June 10, but his spokesman waited until June 25 to announce it. A new statement Thursday said Jackson long had grappled with "physical and emotional ailments" and needed extended in-patient treatment. But his office declined to specify his illness, where he is being treated or when he is expected to return. Jackson is running for re-election Nov. 6.

[Illinois U.S. Senator Richard] Durbin praised Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., for releasing a video showing him in rehabilitation after a January stroke, saying Kirk told Illinoisans "what his hopes are about recovering." Kirk has not made a public appearance since his stroke, nor has he said when he may return to Washington.

Jackson's father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr., was on local TV today to discuss the 41st Annual Rainbow Coalition Conference. He said only that his son "is under medical supervision and is taking time to recover."

Whatever is going on with Jackson, I hope he recovers quickly. He has a duty, however, to reveal whether or not he's fit to hold his office, and if not, to resign. NBC reports that if he does,

Since the Nov. 6 election is less than 180 days away, it’s too late to hold a special election, said Ken Menzel, deputy general counsel of the Illinois Board of Elections. However, if Jackson resigns as a candidate as late as 15 days before the election, he can be replaced on the ballot.

A new candidate would be chosen at a meeting of the 2nd District’s Democratic Party county chairmen. Each chairman would have a number of votes equal to the votes cast by his county in the primary. Since Cook County cast 88.6 percent of the votes in the 2nd District primary, Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios would have complete control of the process.

Tuesday 10 July 2012 13:07:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | US#
Monday 9 July 2012

Last week the California senate voted 21-16 vote to approve $8 bn in funding for a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Naturally there will be some privateering and incompetence, because this is America:

Until the end of last year, SNCF, the developer of one of the world's most successful high-speed rail systems, proposed that the state use competitive bidding to partner with it or another foreign operator rather than rely on construction engineers to design a sophisticated network for 200-mph trains.

The approach, the French company said, would help the California High-Speed Rail Authority identify a profitable route, hold down building costs, develop realistic ridership forecasts and attract private investors — a requirement of a $9-billion bond measure approved by voters in 2008.

But SNCF couldn't get its ideas — including considering a more direct north-south route along the Central Valley's Interstate 5 corridor — out of the station.

Instead, the rail authority continued to concentrate planning in the hands of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a giant New York City-based engineering and construction management firm. Although they have occasionally consulted with high-speed railways, officials decided that hiring an experienced operator and seeking private investors would have to wait until after the $68-billion system was partially built.

But whenever it gets going, the data seem pretty clear: it will hurt the airlines even while getting more Californians traveling:

Earlier this year a pair of Dutch researchers analyzed the passenger market between London and Paris in recent years and found that high-speed rail has been far and away the dominant travel choice in the corridor. Using these findings, they extrapolated that if California's train can make the full trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco in about 3 hours, it will capture roughly a third of business travelers and about 40 percent of the leisure market.

A more recent study, set for publication in the September issue of the journal Transport Policy, suggests that high-speed rail will not only cut into the air market but actually create its own travel demand. The researchers found that more total travelers — air and rail together — existed in various corridors after high-speed rail service began in the country. That means either people saw the service and decided to take trips they otherwise wouldn't have or they shifted from driving to train-riding. The former would be great for California's economy; the latter, a relief to its congested highways.

The change was particularly pronounced in the Barcelona-Madrid corridor. Here the researchers estimate an additional 394,000 travelers in the post-bullet train era — an 8 percent rise from earlier times. That's a good sign for California. The Barcelona-Madrid trip is relatively equidistant to Los Angeles-San Francisco: 314 miles to 348 miles as the crow flies, respectively. The travel time by rail is also comparable, in the neighborhood of 3 hours in each case.

The study also found that opening the Chunnel has shifted travel patterns between the UK and the Continent, getting more people traveling even as fewer people fly.

So who's really behind the opposition to HSR? Can't guess.

Monday 9 July 2012 11:54:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Aviation | US | World | Travel#
Sunday 8 July 2012

Before Saturday's game at Citi Field, I wandered around Flushing Meadows Corona Park, site of the 1939 World's Fair (and an alien spaceship crash in 1997):

About two dozen kids played in the fountain and in the spray blown off it:

(The post title comes by way of Aimee Mann.)

Sunday 8 July 2012 18:35:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Travel#

By Wednesday afternoon I'd migrated two Web sites from the loud and hot server rack in my home office to Microsoft Azure web sites. Then I popped off to New York for last night's game, and when I got back to my hotel room I encountered yet another reason I like the Cloud: I couldn't get to any of the sites back home.

It turned out that a brief power failure had caused the firewall to reboot—I think a UPS didn't last as long as expected—and in the process it caused the Web server's network adapter to fail.

Keep in mind, all I knew was I didn't have most of my Web sites, including the Daily Parker. I did have email, because I'd already moved that to the Cloud. But I didn't know whether I'd blown a circuit breaker, whether someone had cut my home Internet cable, or whether someone had burgled my house.

So, I'm going to continue migrating sites as quickly as I can. And by autumn, mysterious outages will, I hope, not happen again.

Saturday 7 July 2012 20:06:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud#
Saturday 7 July 2012

I visited my 22nd baseball park last night, the quasi-retro Citi Field, to see the bottom-ranked Cubs take on the second-place Mets:

The Cubs got their first run on the Mets' second pitch and by the bottom of 5 they were up by 5 runs. At the point I took this photo, the bottom of the 6th, it was still 7-2 Cubs and the Mets' so-called "fans" were leaving the park like something on the field stank worse than...well, the two teams on the field:

Then, in the bottom of the 9th, still leading by 4, Carlos Marmól took the mound for no reason anyone could discern, and nearly gave away the game:

Entering with a four-run lead, he gave up a solo homer to Valdespin with one out, then walked Ruben Tejada, pinch hitter Daniel Murphy and David Wright to load the bases.

Pinch-hitter Ike Davis followed with a single, bringing up Duda. Marmol's quick reflexes saved the Cubs.

"Marmol's quick reflexes" my ass. With the bases loaded and no one expecting Marmol to do anything helpful, a single-A pitcher from the Carolina League could have caught the droopy thing Duda hit straight at the mound and gotten the game-ending double play. But let's review what happened to get us there: Marmol gave up three runs and three (consecutive!) walks in 10 minutes. And he didn't even need to be there.

Sheesh.

I would like to end on a happy note. I found a decent pale ale at the park, brewed right in New York City: Sweet Action from Brooklyn's Sixpoint Brewery. What a nummy session beer—and the only one sold in 470 mL cans (cf. 350 mL cans for everything else). I'll be make sure to get some Sweet Action next time I'm in New York. (And some Redhead maple bacon peanuts, from Grand Central Market. Who invented these?)

Saturday 7 July 2012 15:10:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Baseball | Travel#
Friday 6 July 2012

It's pretty warm in New York right now: 33°C. That's cooler than 38°C, the current official temperature in Chicago, making it the third day in a row that Chicago has gotten that hot:

July's opening 5 days the hottest in 101 years

The month is young—just 5 days old. Yet it's 30.2°C average temperature is 7.3°C above normal and makes it the warmest July open since 1911 when the period averaged 31°C.

Apparently relief is coming with temperatures predicted to fall into the mid-20s (mid-70s Fahrenheit) Sunday.

Despite being in New York, I've actually spent the morning and part of the afternoon completing a project for work. I'm done now, giving me just enough time to run an errand before tonight's Cubs game at Citi Field. Look for photos from the game tomorrow afternoon.

Friday 6 July 2012 14:43:42 EDT (UTC-04:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Travel | Weather#
Thursday 5 July 2012

2:15 pm:

4:10 pm:

And why am I here? That, at 7pm tomorrow:

Thursday 5 July 2012 18:19:10 EDT (UTC-04:00)  | Comments [0] | Baseball | Travel#

I'm not just complaining; heat accounts for more deaths than any other kind of weather. Yesterday the temperature hit 39°C in Chicago; today and tomorrow the forecast calls for the same.

Good thing it doesn't happen often:

The 39°C peak reading marked only the second time in 142 years an Independence Day has recorded a triple digit [Fahrenheit] temperature here.

The rarity of Chicago temperatures at that level can't be overstated. Of 51,465 daily temperatures which have been archived over the 142 years of official weather observations in Chicago, only 19 of them have reached or exceeded that level.

Yes, the 1 in 2700 chance of hitting that temperature just isn't comforting right now (9:30 am, 31°C).

So I'm leaving. Next dispatch this evening from somewhere else (though I don't expect it to be much cooler).

Thursday 5 July 2012 09:20:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 4 July 2012

Yes, Azure is hot, but not like this:

Chicago's official (O'Hare) temperature has passed 38°C and may go up a degree or two more this afternoon. My apartment is up to 27.5°C, the point where the server rack starts sending me whiny emails.

And not that I called it or anything, but so far this is the hottest summer in my lifetime.

Wednesday 4 July 2012 14:36:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#

I've finished two complete migrations from my living room the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center to Microsoft Windows Azure web sites. Astute readers may remember that in one case I moved to the Web site offering and then moved it to a full-fledged Web role. Well, today, I moved it back. Even though I'm still on the free trial, it turned out that the Web role would cost $15 per month, which, for a site that gets one or two visitors per day, simply wasn't worth it.

Moving the second site, a silly thing from 2004 created to share photos and commentary about a 10-year series of Presidents Day parties a friend of mine hosted back in the day, went a lot more smoothly. Click through for a rundown of what went well and what didn't.

Wednesday 4 July 2012 10:17:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud#
Tuesday 3 July 2012

The temperature at O'Hare just hit 35°C, and it's still rising. This is the 7th day in a row of above-32°C temperatures, and it looks like we're in for another 4 more days of it—including 38°C tomorrow and 39°C Thursday.

But that isn't the main weather story of the day; the drought is:

The latest USDA Illinois Weather and Crops report was released this afternoon. The topsoil conditions were rated at 52 percent “very short” and 37 percent “short” and only 11 percent adequate. Soil moisture conditions were best in northern Illinois, and deteriorated southward. Hardest hit was southeastern Illinois with 100 percent of the topsoil and 100 percent of subsoil rated as “very short”.

Corn and soybeans—Illinois produces 18% of the country's corn and 16% of the county's soybean— make up 73% of the state's gross agricultural product, amounting to $7.2bn per year. This summer is bad, but possibly not as bad as 1988. Yet.

Tuesday 3 July 2012 14:07:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 2 July 2012

I have successfully ported my first (existing) application to the Microsoft Windows Azure platform, and have shut down the running instance on my local Web server. I hope the second one takes less than a week.

It's a funny little site called Boxer's Shorts. Dr. Bob Boxer is a local allergist who likes puns. He worked with a local illustrator, Darnell Towns, and self-published the five paperback pun compilations advertised on the site.

Local web designer Lauren Johnson (née Liss) did the look and feel, and I provided the platform. I think we completed the site in two weeks or so. I've hosted it since it went live in September 2006—just a few days after I got Parker, in fact.

And now it's in the cloud, the first Inner Drive site to be ported. From what I learned doing it, I hope to get two more of my older sites deployed to Azure this week.

Sunday 1 July 2012 23:13:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud#

I've spent much of the past week trying to get a single, small website up into the cloud on the Windows Azure platform. Much of this effort revolved around the Azure Website product, mainly because it's free. Well, I got the application up as an Azure website...and there's a big problem with it that means I'll have to redeploy it as a Web role after all.

Read on for a chronicle of the gotchas my learning curve today.

Sunday 1 July 2012 20:10:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud#
Sunday 1 July 2012

Yes, I just said I was taking Parker out for a walk, but I cut it short after five minutes. Here's why:

Just as we got back home the gust front hit. Trees are now moving in ways that trees probably shouldn't. This should be a lot of fun to watch.

...but Parker is sulking. Tant pis, mon bête noir.

Update, 1:25 pm: Huh. The storm just missed us, though reports have come in of 145 km/h gusts in Elmhust and Lombard, which "looks like a war zone" according to the Tribune.

Sunday 1 July 2012 12:53:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Parker | Weather#

In the past week, I've been "on the bench" at work, so I've take the time to get deeply familiar with Microsoft Windows Azure. My company, 10th Magnitude, is a 100% cloud-computing shop, and a Microsoft partner. I've been developing for Azure Web applications for a year, but I haven't had to deal with migrating existing sites, pricing, or configuration on my own; this is why we're a team, right?

So, anyway, I've taken what I've learned at work, and:

  • Selected a simple website to migrate; in this case, Boxer's Shorts, a project I completed in 2006 that has five rows of data and five content pages;
  • Worked for about 16 hours this week creating Azure implementations of the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture features that won't work on Azure—but only the two features (messaging and logging) that Boxer's Shorts needs;
  • Spent 6 hours yesterday and an hour today preparing the application for Azure; and
  • Set up an Azure Web site this morning into which I was about to publish the ready-to-roll Web site.

Remember the messaging and logging services I spent lots of time migrating? Well, it looks like I made the right choice in the long run. The services use Azure tables and blobs for logging, holding the site configuration data, and in this site's case, for holding the list of books. Azure storage is really, really cheap, less than 10c per gigabyte for locally-redundant storage or 12.5c per gigabyte for geo-redundant storage. This is de rigeur for a traditional Azure Web role deployment for everything that can run without relational data. (For relational data you need SQL Server.)

I thought—mistakenly, it turns out—that if it worked in a Web role it would work in a Web site. No, not so much. In the short run, I just discovered this:

Ah. No blob storage for Azure web sites. So now I have to strip out all of the stuff that uses blob storage on this web site, and modify the book list to use SQL Server instead of Azure tables. Two more hours.

So why not just publish the site to a Web role instead? Price. With Azure, you get 10 free Web sites with your subscription; but each Web role costs at least 2c per hour for the smallest possible footprint. There are 720 hours in a month, so even though you only pay for the time the application is actually doing something, you have to plan for about $14 per month. For a site that gets 100 page-views per week, has five content pages, and five pieces of data, that's really a lot of money. And it's infinitely more than free.

All right then. I hope that Azure websites get access to Azure storage soon. For now, I'm just going to rip the logging out of the site and fix the rest of it. But first I'm going to walk the dog.

Sunday 1 July 2012 12:31:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  | Comments [0] | Cloud#
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On this page....
One way to look at social unrest
July takes the bronze; 2012 still out ahead
On hiring and grammar
Higher energy mid-continent, but so far not tropical
Deployments are fun!
Taking an Azure shortcut
Certified, again, and just as happy as the last time
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Good thing the ethanol subsidy died
Oppressive heat here, terrifying heat in Greenland
Bloodletting and leeches
Dual Microsoft Azure deployment: Project synchronization
Why airline fees will only get worse
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Dual Microsoft Azure deployment, part 1
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A month of 90s
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Fall is a long way off
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Azure web sites and web roles
AMR executives fantasize about buying something
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Where's Congressman Jackson?
California Senate approves high-speed rail; airlines opposed
Seventy years after the fair
More reasons to love and embrace the Cloud
Carlos Marmól stole my joy
So glad I'm not home
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Shorter Daily Parker this week: hot, Azure, hot, Azure
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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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