Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 31 August 2012

Federal judge Peter Economus ruled today that a Republican law to curtail in-person early voting, in which people can vote in Ohio up until the Monday before election day, was unconstitutional:

The law had made an exception allowing for in-person early voting over that final weekend for military personnel, voters who fell under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act, or UOCAVA. Supporters of the law said that eliminating early voting over those final three days could hurt those voters who otherwise might have more limited access to voting.

But the judge took a different view, saying that opening in-person early voting over those final three days to all voters would not harm those military families. Instead, Economus said the only harm to those voters was that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, had not set uniform hours for voting over that final weekend.

"This court notes that restoring in-person early voting to all Ohio voters through the Monday before Election Day does not deprive UOCAVA voters from early voting," the judge ruled. "Instead, and more importantly, it places all Ohio voters on equal standing."

Ohio, like many Republican-controlled states, has taken steps to limit the voting rights of exactly those citizens most likely to vote for Democrats. Since the Republican platform is remarkably unpopular once people get to know it, this is their "plan B." It would be sad, if it weren't fundamentally wrong.

Friday 31 August 2012 13:15:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

American Airlines and US Airways announced this morning that they've signed a non-disclosure agreement, a concrete step towards merging the corporations:

The non-disclosure agreement also means the companies won't be providing more announcements regarding the status of discussions until there's a merger deal or they call off talks, the airlines said.

The airline companies said they would work in "close collaboration" and "good faith" to evaluate a merger, including working with the creditors committee of AMR, which is in bankruptcy protection.

The companies note there's no guarantee a merger will result from discussions.

No guarantee, sure; but with American's unions openly supporting the merger, and with the reality that failing to merge with US Airways would mean the end of American within 10 years or so, this is very encouraging. And as an American elite frequent flyer, I really hope they tie the knot.

Friday 31 August 2012 10:05:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Thursday 30 August 2012

I can't tell whether South Carolina U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham was speaking plainly or criticizing his party's tin ear when he said yesterday, "We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term." The Washington Post puts this in context:

Exit polls from 2008 showed that 90 percent of GOP voters were white, a homogeneity that has been consistent for more than 30 years, even as the percentage of the electorate that is white has fallen.

Nonwhite voters favored Obama over Romney by better than three to one in a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from early August; 74 percent of Latino voters and 90 percent of African Americans backed Obama.

And despite a speaker lineup in Tampa that includes Artur Davis, a black former Democratic congressman; former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice; and Utah congressional candidate Mia Love, who would be the party’s first black congresswoman if she won in November, just 2 percent of convention delegates are black.

That’s according to an analysis by David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Bositis also said that only two members of the 165-member RNC are black and that none of the leaders of the committees responsible for drafting the GOP platform and adopting the convention rules are black.

“This Republican Party base is white, aging and dying off,” he said.

This couldn't have anything to do with the party's takeover by its loony right fringe, could it? Or the predictable outcome of Nixon's and Reagan's Southern strategy? Nah.

Thursday 30 August 2012 10:19:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

United Airlines will start flying the airplane on its Chicago to Houston route this fall:

The first 787 Chicago flights to Houston will begin Nov. 4 and end Dec. 3. That service will operate six days a week during that time, with the Chicago flight departing at 11:15 a.m. After that, daily service will restart Jan. 4 and run to March 29.

Though the initial routes are temporary, United is likely to regularly fly 787s out of O'Hare eventually, especially as it takes delivery of more planes. United will take delivery of five planes this year from its total order of 50.

United is also flying the planes from Houston to San Francisco, so if I wanted to see how the other half lives (I almost always fly American), I suppose I could book my Thanksgiving travel on United. I'll see how much tickets cost Saturday morning, when they go on sale. Even though I'd feel like I'm cheating on my airline, I'd love to get on one of the new planes before American starts flying them in 2014.

Thursday 30 August 2012 09:33:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Wednesday 29 August 2012

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow just announced sweeping changes to the visas that Americans can get to visit Russia:

Starting September 9, Russian and American travelers for business or tourism will be eligible to receive visas valid for multiple entries during a period of 36 months. The agreement also outlines other simplifications in the bilateral visa regime and eases visa processing time for travelers from both countries.

Thanks to the agreement, three-year, multiple-entry visas will become the standard “default” terms for U.S. citizens visiting Russia and Russian citizens visiting the United States. No formal invitation will be required to apply for a business or tourism visa, although applicants seeking Russian tourist visas must continue to hold advance lodging reservations and arrangements with a tour operator. Both sides have also committed to keep standard visa processing times under 15 days, although the circumstances of individual cases may require additional processing.

When I visited Russia in 2010, the visa application required the actual dates and modes of travel, and an official invitation from the hotel. Russian visas were only valid for the dates on the application, so missing a flight or train could cause serious difficulties crossing the border. (I saved a pdf of the rules in effect through September 9th.)

I'll be interested to see if Russian tourism picks up with this liberalization scheme.

Wednesday 29 August 2012 17:18:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Travel#

Science Guy Bill Nye keeps calm and carries on:

Wednesday 29 August 2012 09:50:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Religion#

The Wind Map is one of the coolest things I've ever seen:

And apparently, Isaac is going to hit Valparaiso (and, um, us):

Tuesday 28 August 2012 20:56:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cool links | Weather#
Tuesday 28 August 2012

Hurricane Isaac is about to come ashore in New Orleans (check out the current wind map for an arresting view), and by Friday night will be giving Illinois some much-needed rain:

As of noon on Monday, August 27, the track of Hurricane Isaac could pass through Illinois on Saturday. Of course, it won’t be a hurricane – just a tropical depression. Even so, large rainfall amounts are expected to fall in parts of Illinois and Missouri.

Then, for Labor Day Weekend, it looks to bake and then soak Chicago:

Post-landfall, the storm is expected to track north up the Mississippi Valley, spreading its torrential downpours into the Midwest with the heavy rain reaching the Chicago area by the weekend.

Prior to the rain, sinking air in advance of the storm should help boost Chicago temperatures into the mid-90s Thursday and Friday. That would raise the city's total of 32°C-plus days to 45, two shy of the record 47 logged in 1988. The heat is expected to solidify this summer's spot as the city's third hottest summer, behind 1955 and 1995 for the June-August meteorological summer period.

Tuesday 28 August 2012 15:33:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 27 August 2012

After installing Windows 8 yesterday, I discovered some interaction problems with my main tool, Visual Studio 2012. Debugging Azure has suddenly become difficult. So after installing the OS upgrade, I spent about five hours re-installing or repairing a whole bunch of other apps, and I'm not even sure I found the causes of the problems.

The next step is to install new WiFi drivers. But seriously, I'm only a few troubleshooting steps from rebuilding the computer from scratch back on Windows 7.

Cue the cursing...

Monday 27 August 2012 16:10:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software#
Sunday 26 August 2012

This morning I installed Microsoft Windows 8 on my laptop. As a professional geek, getting software after it's released to manufacturing but before the general public is a favorite part of my job.

It took almost no effort to set up, and I figured out the interface in just a few minutes. I like the new look, especially the active content on the Start screen. It definitely has a more mobile-computing look than previous Windows versions, with larger click targets (optimized for touch screens) and tons of integration with Windows Accounts. I haven't linked much to my LiveID yet, as I don't really want to share that much with Microsoft, but I'll need it to use SkyDrive and to rate and review the new features.

I also did laundry, vacuumed, cleaned out all my old programming books (anyone want a copy of Inside C# 2 from 2002?), and will now go shopping. And I promise never to share that level of picayune personal detail again on this blog.

Sunday 26 August 2012 12:13:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Software#

The Republican National Committee has cancelled the first night of their quadrennial convention because of Tropical Storm Isaac:

That move essentially postpones the activities of the first of four scheduled days of the convention. But [RNC Chair Reince] Priebus said in a conference call with reporters that the details of the revised schedule were not yet settled, and could be announced as soon as Sunday.

"The Republican National Convention is going to take place. We know that we will officially nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," he said.

The impending hurricane aside, Republicans already did some last-minute reshuffling for their convention order, moving Ann Romney's speech to Tuesday from Monday because major television networks hadn't planned to broadcast the first night of the convention.

(Emphasis mine, impressed that the GOP can spin lemonade out of a hurricane.) Still, even though Isaac looks to brush Tampa on the cheek instead of hitting it on the nose as it appeared Friday, as an atheist I'm enjoying the theological implications of the right-wing religious party having their biggest event in four years disrupted by a weather event.

Will they moderate their views about human-caused climate change? Will they whistle past this graveyard? Will monkeys fly out of my butt while I'm typing this? I think we know the answer to all three questions.

Sunday 26 August 2012 08:59:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Saturday 25 August 2012

I should really learn to estimate networking and migration tasks better. The last time I upgraded my FogBugz instance on my local web server, it took about 20 minutes. This led me to estimate the time to migrate it to a Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine at 2 hours.

Well, 2½ hours later, I'm a little frustrated, but possibly closer to getting this accomplished.

Saturday 25 August 2012 13:12:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cloud#
Friday 24 August 2012

Goose Island beer will start distributing to all 50 states by November:

The move will continue remarkable growth for what began as a small brewpub in its current Clybourn Avenue location in 1988, and has arguably become the beer most synonymous with Chicago. But a national reach also seemed inevitable once brewery founder John Hall sold the company to AB at a time when craft beer sales were soaring and macro breweries were struggling to enter the marketplace.

Production of Goose Island's biggest-selling and highest-produced beers — 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Honker's Ale, India Pale Ale and seasonal brews like Mild Winter — will expand to AB's Ft. Collins, Colo. brewery. The beers will also continue to be made at an AB plant in Baldwinsville, N.Y., as well as in smaller amounts at the Red Hook brewery in Portsmouth, N.H. and Chicago.

Colorado water? I don't think Colorado has the right amount of lead, arsenic, or radon to give it the proper flavor.

Fortunately, the high-end beers like Sofie will stay in Chicago, and presumably the brewpubs on Clybourn and in Wrigleyville will continue to make beer with proper Chicago water. We'll see.

Friday 24 August 2012 16:57:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

Three projects and a head cold have robbed me of time and energy this week. I've only got a few minutes this afternoon to list some of the more interesting things I've read in the past day:

OK, back to the mines...

Friday 24 August 2012 13:45:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | US#
Thursday 23 August 2012

Chicago music critic Jim DiRogatis questions Paul Ryan's reasoning skills in light of his views about Rage Against the Machine:

Beyond the hypocrisy of the representative from Wisconsin’s love for Rage Against the Machine is evidence of an even more troubling problem, however. Portrayed as the new driving force of the Republican party, intellectually and philosophically (and here, The New Yorker’s recent pre-announcement profile was amazingly prescient and full of insight), you have to question the actual analytical acumen of an alleged deep thinker who can so blithely ignore the very core of Rage Against the Machine. If he can’t get that right, why should we trust him about the budget?

And as Krugman says, Ryan is a Very Serious Person, with the same problem as other Very Serious People: he's flat wrong most of the time.

Thursday 23 August 2012 12:06:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Krugman this morning dug a little into Paul Ryan's infatuation with Ayn Rand, specifically around Ryan's admission that he likes her monetary policy. Through a character in Atlas Shrugged, Rand yearned for the days before "fiat" money replaced good, hard specie. In other words, before the 18th Century:

Aside from revealing just how much of a Rand fanboy Ryan is — urban legend, my foot — this is interesting because that 23 paragraph speech isn’t just a call for the gold standard; it’s a call for eliminating paper money and going back to gold coins.

This had me wondering: when was the last time the economy actually ran on specie, rather than notes?

Well...as of 1813 there was only $7 million worth of coins in the hands of the U.S. public, versus $52 million in bank notes. So even two centuries ago, we were already a paper-money economy.

And this means that Ryan wants to turn the clock back two centuries, not one.

Most people I've known over the years who believed in Ayn Rand's philosophies as teenagers eventually grew out of it. Paul Ryan apparently hasn't spent enough time interacting with reality that he's moved on. There is a reason that Objectivism appeals to adolescent, affluent white boys: it's very close to the way adolescent, affluent white boys already see the world. In some: "mine!" It's sad when affluent, adolescent white boys stay adolescent well into their Congressional careers.

Thursday 23 August 2012 10:43:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 22 August 2012

The National Hurricane Center predicts that Tropical Storm Isaac, currently smashing through the windward islands, may strike Tampa during the GOP convention:

Of course, five days out the forecast has tremendous uncertainty. The storm could change course or dissipate before hitting Florida, for example. But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, speaking about next week's GOP convention, is absolutely willing to call it off if they need to evacuate Tampa:

So, my question is, now that the religious right has all but taken over the Republican Party, what would it mean if an "act of God" shut down their convention in a Presidential election year?

Wednesday 22 August 2012 14:56:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#

At least according to the Onion:

Wednesday 22 August 2012 10:09:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes | US#
Tuesday 21 August 2012

Groupon, now trading somewhere around 25% of its IPO value, continues to unimpress people:

The disclosure that I found most revealing in last week's financial report was the relationship between Groupon's marketing spending and its growth rate. Traditional daily-deal revenue declined 6.9 percent from the first quarter to the second, as Groupon dialed back marketing outlays by 24 percent.

Hawking Groupon shares in the IPO roadshow, Mr. Mason said the company eventually would be able to cut back on marketing without sacrificing growth. This was meant to assure prospective investors that money-losing Groupon would become “wildly profitable,” as Executive Chairman and co-founder Eric Lefkofsky put it in an illicit media interview during the IPO registration process.

My guess is that another quarter or two like the last one will be enough to ease Mr. Mason into a position better suited to his eclectic interests. The challenge will be finding a replacement with certifiable executive skills and strategic vision.

Which prompts the question of what a better strategy for Groupon might be. Mr. Mason talks about becoming the “operating system for local commerce,” jargon that could mean anything—or nothing. Corporate mumbo-jumbo won't help Groupon now. It needs a new business.

I've noted before, Groupon's IPO benefited only one group of people: Groupon investors. The company has an easily-copied idea, and appears to lose money on every coupon it sells. Good on them for having $1 bn in cash; they'll need it.

Tuesday 21 August 2012 15:13:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Monday 20 August 2012

This is impressive:

Monday 20 August 2012 17:14:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 19 August 2012

Stephen Wizenburg, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, bemoans his students' lack of boundaries:

Posting and tweeting intimate life details are now so normal for them that they think nothing of cavalierly giving too much information to surprised professors.

Allison walked into my classroom apologizing for missing two weeks of classes by saying she had been in rehab for alcoholism. Stan's excuse, stated in front of the class, was that drugs he was taking for a psychological disorder had caused him to oversleep. Greg said he didn't have his assignment done because he had to go to court after being arrested for punching a guy in a bar fight. Carly texted me that she couldn't make it to class that day because she was in the hospital after having a miscarriage.

A new advisee, Amy, was in tears as she asked if she could shut my office door. It was her first semester, and she had always had a bright smile on her face in the classroom. But in my office, she told me her grades were suffering because she was having an affair with a local married TV reporter.

Such intimate details used to be considered too embarrassing to share. But with Facebook and Twitter, young people think nothing of confiding in strangers. Often the less the students know the person they are communicating with the more willing they are to spill. And they do it bluntly, now that they are used to summarizing life in 140 characters.

To some extent it sounds like the usual narcissism of children. I wonder, though: what will happen to expectations of privacy 20 or 30 years from now, when these kids grow up?

Sunday 19 August 2012 09:15:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US#
Saturday 18 August 2012

The title says it all. I've moved Hired Wrist, my dad's brochure site, up to my Azure VM, leaving only Weather Now, plus my bug tracking and source control applications, in my living room the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center.

I'll move the two third-party apps next weekend. My experience moving Hired Wrist this morning suggests that moving Weather Now will be, as we say, "non-trivial" (i.e., bloody hard).

Saturday 18 August 2012 13:15:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cloud#
Friday 17 August 2012

This weekend's weather forecast in Chicago predicts the coolest weekend since May 12, 14 weeks ago. Through Sunday temperatures should be 3°C below normal (days in the low 20s, lows in the low teens), with sunny skies and cool northeast breezes. September, in other words.

The Tribune points out:

Only 6 of past 142 years have produced Aug. 18 overnight lows cooler than those expected by Saturday morning.

Not only will daytime readings be cooler than typical for mid August, nighttime lows will be cooler than normal as well, particularly in areas farthest from the city and Lake Michigan---both of which temper early season cool spells by adding heat.

Friday night/Saturday morning's predicted 12°C low would become Chicago's chilliest minimum temperature in over two months and would qualify as one of the six coolest early season readings for the date since 1871.

It will warm up mid-week, though not to the temperatures we suffered through in the warmest July in history last month. I've got the windows open, and I'll probably be able to keep them open until Wednesday.

Parker likes having the windows open as well, but he's not used to hearing the neighbors—in particular, the neighbors' dogs. I hope he figures it out, because the random, single woofs at 2am are really aggravating.

Friday 17 August 2012 10:13:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#
Thursday 16 August 2012

From the Atlantic, an explanation of how dogs dry themselves:

A dog can shake roughly 70 percent of the water from its fur in four seconds. Nearly three quarters of the moisture in the time it took you to read that last paragraph. Pretty amazing stuff.

But that champion efficacy raises more questions than it answers.

First, why does it work so well? How long does it take your socks to dry a comparable amount if you get them wet? How are they generating all that force? Second, many mammals are capable of the shake. Is how your dog does the same way that a mouse or a lion does? Third, why do animals do the shake at all? What's the evolutionary advantage that it confers?

It tickles me that part of the research involved dumping water on mammals of different sizes. If you're going to use animal subjects, annoying them is probably not the worst thing you could do.

Thursday 16 August 2012 14:10:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 14 August 2012

A friend of mine, who lives in a sea of Tea Partiers, sent me this question today:

How would you refute/debate/argue against the following opinion:

"I think it's [Paul Ryan as Romney's VP choice] a good choice because I sincerely hope the collective national attention and focus will be on the fact that we are on the verge of becoming the next Greece. And that the only hope of prosperity for our children is massive cuts in government spending and entitlement reform. I'd even be in favor of raising taxes if we could slash government spending by > 25%. Otherwise, we should be teaching our kids Mandarin and Hindi because that's where the opportunities will be. Just like most young Greek grads have left Greece for opportunity, so I fear our kids will have to do the same."

Of course I'd be happy to help. Let me see if I can distill down how Paul Ryan is either a dangerous, right-wing radical, or a dangerous, right-wing fraud...

Tuesday 14 August 2012 17:41:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

From the annals of "why didn't I think of that?", an app that keeps track of where you've been so you can go somewhere else instead:

[Art student Tom] Loois’s final project ended up being a smartphone app called BlankWays, which charts your progress through the city, noting which paths you’ve come down before and suggesting itineraries to cover new ground. The app indicates and measures which parts of the city you’ve traveled, and which you haven't.

Loois isn’t the first person to meticulously chart his travel through the city. There’s a guy in New York who has made it his goal to walk every single block in the five boroughs. (It’s supposed to take him two years.) And technology corporations like Google and Apple regularly keep track of their clients’ movements. But Loois’ app will make it easy for everyone to do so, on a street by street scale, just for fun. He claims that he's not consistently late as a result of the detours, but we're not so sure - filling in those white spaces looks like it could become an obsession.

This also explains why people with Asperger's will take over the world soon...

Tuesday 14 August 2012 15:20:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Monday 13 August 2012

Via Sullivan, Gotye has assembled a "YouTube orchestra" of people covering his song "Somebody That I Used To Know:"

Says Mashable's Neha Prakash:

Looks like even Gotye knows his song, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” is an overplayed, viral sensation that has spawned an entire genre of YouTube covers. So the singer decided to acknowledge the hundreds of piano-playing, harp-plucking, and guitar-strumming fans who paid tribute to the catchy tune.

Gotye explained: "All audio and video in Somebodies is from the YouTube user videos featured, each of them a cover or parody of Somebody That I Used To Know. No extra sounds were added to the mix, but I used some EQ, filtering, pitch-shifting and time-stretching to make the music.

"

Very cool.

Update: Gotye listed all the covers he used on his blog.

Monday 13 August 2012 16:28:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

The WGN Weather Blog reported this weekend that the El Niño-Southern Oscillation has turned warm in the past couple of months, and is getting warmer. The Climate Prediction Center started noticing in July:

Nearly all of the dynamical models favor the onset of El Niño beginning in July - September 2012 (Fig. 6). As in previous months, several statistical models predict ENSO-neutral conditions through the remainder of the year, but the average statistical forecast of Niño-3.4 increased compared to last month. Supported by model forecasts and the continued warmth across the Pacific Ocean, there is increased confidence for a weak-to-moderate El Niño during the Northern Hemisphere fall and winter 2012-13. El Niño conditions are likely to develop during August or September 2012 (see CPC/IRI consensus forecast).

Normally, warm winters lead to warm summers in Chicago, with the pattern resetting in late Autumn. That is, even this record-breaking summer could be followed by a bone-chilling winter. But El Niño years tend to give Chicago warm, dry winters. I'm all for mild winters—except that mild winters tend to cause warm summers, which I am not in favor of.

At least autumn should be lovely here.

Monday 13 August 2012 10:54:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Saturday 11 August 2012

I got back home last night after spending a week in cool, California coastal weather. Apparently I brought some of it with me:

The return of sunshine this weekend is to send temperatures higher. It's a change which will be noticed given the fact it follows the first back to back below-normal days in over 6 weeks. Saturday's predicted 26°C high represents a 3°C increase from Friday's 24°C reading—and Sunday's 29°C tacks another 2°C on the day's peak reading.

But, while warm and eminently comfortable, the readings predicted Saturday and Sunday are the lowest of any weekend since June 2-3—10 weeks ago!

Yes, we're having the coolest weather in 10 weeks. I opened my windows when I got home, and I will likely keep them open through tomorrow afternoon, which would be the first time since early June I've kept them open for a full day.

It will get warmer this week, unfortunately, but after the warmest July in U.S. history we have to expect a warm August, September, and October.

Today, though, I'm really enjoying the weather.

Saturday 11 August 2012 12:17:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Via Robert Wright, National Journal's Jim Tankersley thinks choosing Ryan makes this a contest for the middle class against the poor:

Poor and middle-class workers tolerate fewer attacks on the rich in America than in other developed nations; most of them still believe that if they work hard enough, they’ve got a shot to get rich, too. Still, it’s tough to win a class war squarely on the side of the wealthy. Aspirational voters don’t like the possibility that government policy is rigged to help the rich get richer and keep the middle class from getting ahead. That’s where Obama’s attacks have connected.

That’s also why putting Ryan on the ticket is a chance for Romney to turn the class attacks back on Obama, reframing the election as a choice between a challenger who wants to boost the middle class and a president who wants to funnel hard-earned middle-class tax dollars to the poor.

I disagree. I think it underlines how the election is a choice between the strong preying on the weak vs. reducing the gap between the two in the first place. Paul Ryan is a radical right-winger, who truly believes that everyone should live and die by their own abilities. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, thinks government should provide some assistance, to everyone (by providing infrastructure, policing, education, etc.) and to the needy (through national health care, food assistance, etc.).

Paul Ryan doesn't want to help you, unless you're already well-off.

James Fallows, for his part, doesn't think Ryan is a "serious" candidate:

I mentioned earlier that if asked to choose an adjective to describe the budget plan presented by Rep. Paul Ryan, I would suggest "partisan" or "gimmicky," as opposed to "serious" or "brave." Most budget proposals are both partisan and gimmicky, so this is no particular knock against Rep. Ryan. But it's worth mentioning because so much of the pundit-sphere (excluding the Atlantic's Derek Thompson) has received the plan as a dramatic step forward in clear thinking about our fiscal future.

This will be a long 86 days to the election...

Saturday 11 August 2012 10:51:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 9 August 2012

It just never gets old:

Thursday 9 August 2012 15:34:39 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | San Francisco#
Wednesday 8 August 2012

Yesterday I showed Alfonso Soriano stealing third. Here's the result:

Man, those were great seats. $80 at Petco; $251 at Wrigley; $450 at New Yankee.

My last one this morning is the last one I took of Petco Park:

Now if only the Cubs had won...

Wednesday 8 August 2012 12:21:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Travel#
Tuesday 7 August 2012

The 30-Park Geas took me to Petco Park last night, where the 4th-place Padres beat the 4th-place Cubs:

I thought the park was OK. Like some of the other 21st-century parks, it seemed to lack character. It felt more corporate than, say, Camden Yards or even AT&T Park. The fans seemed to agree, as only about 27,000 showed up (out of a capacity of over 42,000.

But the lack of demand for seats let me get an 8th-row field box for under $80. And that, in turn, let me get photos like this one of Alfonso Soriano stealing 3rd:

Or this one of Travis Wood pitching:

I'm now up the coast, at my folks' house. More photos tomorrow.

Tuesday 7 August 2012 15:26:07 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs | Travel#

I'm in San Diego for tonight's Cubs game. Both teams are near the bottom of their divisions, and both have had solid losing streaks lately, so this should be a fascinating game.

While here, I took the advice of one of my oldest-surviving friends—really, she'd inflict violence if I said how long we've known each other—and went over to Coronado for lunch at Alexander's Pizza. Good advice; it was one of the best slices of pie I've had in years.

Coming back, I couldn't help notice this passing by:

That is littorally huge an amphibious transport dock, the USS Green Bay, designed to carry a battalion of 800 marines hither and yon. Apparently it's heading home, to Naval Base San Diego.

Monday 6 August 2012 17:21:00 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Monday 6 August 2012

If one of the developers on one of my teams had done this, I would have (a) told him to get some sleep and (b) mocked him for at least a week afterwards.

Saturday night I spent four hours trying to figure out why something that worked perfectly in my local Azure emulator failed with a cryptic "One of the request inputs is out of range" message in the Cloud. I even posted to StackOverflow for help.

This morning, I spent about 90 minutes building a sample Cloud application up from scratch, adding one component at a time until I got to the same failure. And, eventually, I got to the same failure. Then I stepped through the code to figure out

And I immediately saw why.

The problem turned out to be this: I have two settings:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
    <ServiceDefinition name="Cloud" ...>
      <WebRole name="WebRole" vmsize="Small">
        <ConfigurationSettings>
          <Setting name="MessagesConfigurationBlobName" />
          <Setting name="MessagesConfigurationBlobContainerName" />
        </ConfigurationSettings>
      </WebRole>
    </ServiceDefinition>

Here's the local (emulator) configuration file:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
    <ServiceConfiguration ...>
      <Role name="WebRole">
        <ConfigurationSettings>
          <Setting name="MessagesConfigurationBlobName" value="LocalMessageConfig.xml"/>
          <Setting name="MessagesConfigurationBlobContainerName" value="containername"/>
        </ConfigurationSettings>
      </Role >
    </ServiceConfiguration>

Here's the Cloud file:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
    <ServiceConfiguration ...>
      <Role name="WebRole">
        <ConfigurationSettings>
          <Setting name="MessagesConfigurationBlobName" value="containername" />
          <Setting name="MessagesConfigurationBlobContainerName" value="CloudMessageConfig.xml"/>
        </ConfigurationSettings>
      </Role >
    </ServiceConfiguration>

I will now have a good cry and adjust my time tracking (at 3am Saturday) from "Emergency client work" to "Developer PEBCAK".

The moral of the story is, when identical code fails in one environment and succeeds in another, don't just compare the environments, compare *everything that could be different in your own code* between the environments.

Oh, and don't try to deploy software at 3am. Ever.

Monday 6 August 2012 10:15:13 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Software | Cloud#
Sunday 5 August 2012

While trying to move a customer's app into the cloud yesterday (and well into this morning), I encountered a problem that doesn't make any sense. I now very much want to find the guys who wrote Microsoft Azure's error handling and punch them in their faces.

When you access an Azure storage container, you have to use only lower-case letters, or Azure will throw a StorageClientException with the thoroughly unhelpful message "One of the request inputs is out of range." So, in all the code I've written that uses Azure storage, it makes sure everything that needs to be lower-case is actually lower-case.

So why am I getting the exception now? No one seems to know.

Worse, the exception only happens in actual deployments, not in the Azure emulator (which you use to test your code on your own computer).

I hope to have this figured out soon. Because I'd really like to get some sleep.

Sunday 5 August 2012 14:11:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cloud#
Saturday 4 August 2012

Remember all those Azure migrations I've done over the past month? Well, I have another one that I wasn't expecting, and for a variety of reasons including a failed web server, it must be completed by Monday morning.

Remember I'm going to San Diego tomorrow? Good thing the airplane has WiFi.

And people wonder why I eat chalk a lot...

Saturday 4 August 2012 08:14:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud#
Friday 3 August 2012

Sometimes things just work.

Last weekend, I wrote about moving my last four web applications out of my living room the Inner Drive Technology International Data Center and into the cloud via a Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine.

Well, if you're reading this blog entry, then I've succeeded in moving The Daily Parker. Except for transferring files (the blog comprises 302 megabytes over 13,700 files), which happened in the background while I did other things, it only took me about 45 minutes to configure the new installation and make the necessary changes to DNS.

Despite the enormous volume of data, this was the easiest of the four. DasBlog has no dependencies on outside services or data, which means I could move it all in one huge block. The three remaining applications will take much more configuration, and will also require data and worker services.

I'm still surprised and pleased with the smoothness of the transfer. If the other three migrations go anywhere nearly as easily as this (taking into consideration their complexities), I'll be an Azure Evangelist for years.

Thursday 2 August 2012 23:17:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Daily | Business | Cloud#
Thursday 2 August 2012

Lots of interesting articles hit my inbox today, and I don't have time to plagiarize write about them:

That is all. I really need to work now.

Thursday 2 August 2012 13:41:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US#

My latest missive for my employer, "When to use Microsoft Azure’s IaaS instead of PaaS", is now available on the 10th Magnitude blog. It's similar to a post from last weekend, but with better writing and editing.

Thursday 2 August 2012 13:29:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud#

As if the 10-year-long wholesale theft of wealth from the middle class to the parasite class financial services sector weren't insult enough, it turns out Mitt Romney's tax plan would injure us even more:

The study was conducted by researchers at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, who seem to bend over backward to be fair to the Republican presidential candidate.

His rate-cutting plan for individuals would reduce tax collections by about $360 billion in 2015, the study says. To avoid increasing deficits — as Romney has pledged — the plan would have to generate an equivalent amount of revenue by slashing tax breaks for mortgage interest, employer-provided health care, education, medical expenses, state and local taxes, and child care — all breaks that benefit the middle class.

“It is not mathematically possible to design a revenue-neutral plan that preserves current incentives for savings and investment and that does not result in a net tax cut for high-income taxpayers and a net tax increase for lower- and/or middle-income taxpayers,” the study concludes.

Krugman is livid:

And the Romney people respond with deep voodoo, invoking the supposed fabulous growth effects from his tax cuts. And who could argue? Remember how the economy tanked after Clinton raised taxes? Remember how great things were after Bush cut them? Oh, wait.

More seriously, we have lots of empirical work on the effects of tax changes at the top — and none of it supports the Romney camp’s claims. What we’ve just learned is that they were faking it all along. There is no plan to offset the tax cuts; Romney is just intending to blow up the deficit to lavish favors on the wealthy, then use it as an excuse to savage Social Security and Medicare.

The election, which is just 95 days away, really is a referendum on wealth inequality. Voting for Romney is voting for feudalism. Voting for the president at least keeps the middle class fingers in the dam. (And what an image that is...)

Thursday 2 August 2012 11:22:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

According to Jeff Atwood, today's the day:

When you're hired at Google, you only have to do the job you were hired for 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, you can work on whatever you like – provided it advances Google in some way. At least, that's the theory.

Although the concept predates Google, they've done more to validate it as an actual strategy and popularize it in tech circles than anyone else. Oddly enough, I can't find any mention of the 20% time benefit listed on the current Google jobs page, but it's an integral part of Google's culture. And for good reason: notable 20 percent projects include GMail, Google News, Google Talk, and AdSense. According to ex-employee Marissa Meyer, as many as half of Google's products originated from that 20% time.

He goes on to ask if your company is ready, and offer some suggestions how to implement it. I think it's easier to do when you don't have billable-hour pressure, but still, we at my company do manage to get some goofing-off time in.

Or, put another way, "why is this day different from all other days?"

Thursday 2 August 2012 09:03:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

It's not just Chicago; the Illinois State Climatologist has pronounced this year hotter than hell:

This year so far is the warmest and third driest on record. The statewide average temperature for January-July 2012 was 56.9 degrees, 5.5 degrees above normal. The statewide average precipitation for January-July was 357 mm, 249 mm below normal or 59 percent of normal.

Statewide Average Temperature Rankings for January-July

  1. 2012: 13.8°C
  2. 1921: 13.4°C
  3. 1987: 12.3°C
  4. 1998: 12.2°C
  5. 2006: 12.1°C

Statewide Average Precipitation Rankings for January-July

  1. 1936: 310 mm
  2. 1934: 344 mm
  3. 2012: 357 mm
  4. 1988: 371 mm
  5. 1914: 386 mm

That said, I'm sitting outside with my laptop on a lovely, clear 26°C night. The really awful heat returns tomorrow, though...

Wednesday 1 August 2012 19:30:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 1 August 2012

The month ended with Chicago Midway reporting its warmest July ever, while our official O'Hare station had the second-hottest ever:

Of all the summers on the books over Chicago's official observational record dating back to 1871, only the 1921 season managed a temperature higher than the 25.3°C reading on the books to date this year. That makes this the warmest opening two-thirds of a meteorological summer season here in 91 years.

The bleak rainfall situation continues across the area as this year's drought worsens. At 116 mm, this summer's rain tally ranks 23rd driest of the 142 years to which we can compare it.

And it's not over; the Climate Prediction Center published this map yesterday:

The good news is, we'll probably have a warm autumn, too...

Wednesday 1 August 2012 08:48:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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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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