Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 31 October 2012

Air New Zealand has a hobbit of making awesome safety videos; here's the latest:

Wednesday 31 October 2012 13:39:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Cool links#

Josh Marshall checks in from the disaster:

What I found so surreal about this storm is that in Manhattan at least there really was barely a storm at all. For whatever reason, through the period when there was the worst part of the damage the ‘rain’ never got worse than maybe a slight drizzle. Really no more than that. It got windy. But not all that windy either — though there were definitely gusts that were quite unlike anything normal. So through Monday night everything was pretty normal — just a wet and dreary Fall evening. Except for the fact that if you walked into certain parts of the city, you walked into the ocean.

It was a vaguely carnival-like atmosphere. Certainly it was the topography. But the water had stopped right at the eastward edge of 10th Avenue, almost like the cops had told it: this far, no further bub. A scattered crowd of people were out just taking in the sight. Cars who apparently hadn’t heard we were in the midst of a Hurricane kept coming up only to be turned around by two or three NYPD cars there to block off the area. Oh, then there’s that woman riding up the avenue on her bicycle. Over the bullhorn the cops let her know that that probably wasn’t a hot idea since the water can be electrified.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman wonders why the right wingers hate FEMA:

So let me just take a moment to flag an issue others have been writing about: the weird Republican obsession with killing FEMA. Kevin Drum has the goods: they just keep doing it. George Bush the elder turned the agency into a dumping ground for hacks, with bad results; Clinton revived the agency; Bush the younger ruined it again; Obama revived it again; and Romney — with everyone still remembering Brownie and Katrina! — said that he wants to block-grant and privatize it. (And as far as I can tell, even TV news isn’t letting him Etch-A-Sketch the comment away).

There’s something pathological here. It’s really hard to think of a public service less likely to be suitable for privatization, and given the massive inequality of impacts by state, it really really isn’t block-grantable. Does the right somehow imagine that only Those People need disaster relief? Is the whole idea of helping people as opposed to hurting them just anathema?

The only thing that makes sense is, there's a lot of profit in helping disaster victims, isn't there?

Wednesday 31 October 2012 13:00:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Tuesday 30 October 2012

The storm's destruction in the Northeast is mind-blowing. I lived in Hoboken, N.J., for about a year and a half; the entire city is in the flood zone.

Just a link round-up for now; thoughts later:

More later.

(Water floods the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in lower Manhattan. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.)

Tuesday 30 October 2012 12:49:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#
Monday 29 October 2012

Their new baby is actually cuter than their Lab, but only just:

Also, the baby is too young to see the camera, while Uma here found it fascinating.

Monday 29 October 2012 10:53:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Just watch:

Monday 29 October 2012 10:51:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 28 October 2012

A couple of days ago at work, we were talking about stupid things sports commentators say. In any sport, but much more so in baseball and U.S. football than others, you hear some commentator say "Well, Bob, with runners on first and third on a night with a 10-knot breeze out of the northeast, when the pitcher's name starts with 'M', there's only a 1-in-65 chance a left-handed batter with six toes on his right foot will fly out to center." Who cares, right?

But being in Chicago, there is a huge question in that category that we should answer: What are the odds that a baseball team can fail to win the World Series for 104 years?

Of course, given the Chicago Cubs' history, the odds are observably certain that one baseball team can do it. But, all things equal, what is the probability this can happen?

Here's how we figured it out. First, in any given year, all but one team does not win the World Series. For example, there are 30 teams right now, but only the San Francisco Giants will win the World Series. (Tonight, in fact, unless Detroit suddenly turns into a different baseball team.) So the basic formula for the probability of losing the world series is:

...where t is the number of teams and y is the number of years with that number of teams.

Since the Cubs last won in 1908, Major League Baseball has expanded six times, from 16 teams (in 1908) to 30 teams today. With 30 teams, the probability of losing the World Series is 0.9667, that is, 29 in 30. In 1908, the probability of losing was much smaller, 0.9375, or 15 in 16.

But here's the problem. The probabilities are multiplied together, like this:

Since 1908, there have been 103 World Series (there wasn't on in 1994, remember), so the data going into the formula are: from 1908 to 1960, 16 teams and 53 Series; in 1961, 18 teams, 1 Series; 1962 to 1968, 20 and 7; 1969 to 1976, 24 and 8; 1977 to 1992, 26 and 16; 1993 to 1997, 28 and 4; since 1998, 30 and 14. Doing the math, we come up with...wow.

The probability that the Cubs would lose all 103 World Series contests since last winning in 1908 is 0.00441, or 1 in 227.

I will now go cry.

And just for giggles, the probability that they would fail to play in the Series (i.e., win the pennant) since their last appearance in 1945 is 0.04798, or 1 in 21. So there's hope.

Sunday 28 October 2012 10:49:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Chicago#

As if my just-born nephew and soon-to-be-born other nephew weren't making this fall all about babies, two of my friends had to go and spawn as well. This is what they produced a couple weeks ago:

Wait, it gets cuter. Photobomb!

Now that we've met all the characters, let's bring them together:

We now return to your regularly-scheduled blog.

Sunday 28 October 2012 10:00:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Saturday 27 October 2012

First, while I knew this existed, it still took me aback:

At the location the BBC used as the Torchwood 3 main entrance, the good people of the world have put up a shrine to fictional character Ianto Jones, which the Mermaid Quay management have sanctioned. As much as I found Torchwood to be an entertaining television show, and even though I went to Cardiff in part to see some of their shooting locations in person, I find this...creepy.

Cooler, significantly, were these props, at the Doctor Who Experience:

From left to right, those are baby Weeping Angels, a wounded Angel (both from the most recent Doctor Who episode, "The Angels Take Manhattan"), and the Oswin Dalek from "Asylum of the Daleks."

All right, you think it's cool too. Admit it.

Saturday 27 October 2012 15:18:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Friday 26 October 2012

I've been a little swamped since getting home, so not until just now, when I have a few minutes to watch a deployment go out, have I had time to go through my Cardiff photos. Why Cardiff? I hear you cry. Well, I'm not ashamed to admit it:

Yes, that's the only place in the world that has the original TARDIS:

It was also a lot of fun to see Roald Dahl Plass; in particular, this:

Points if you know exactly what this is, and why I've included it. Major points.

More UK photos tomorrow.

Friday 26 October 2012 16:33:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

Way back in January 2006, the longest hurricane season ever to blow through the North Atlantic led to some off the wall updates from the National Hurricane Center. Today webcomic xkcd relives the experience. It's worth a quick read.

Friday 26 October 2012 15:33:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Weather#

If we re-elect the President, then four years from now everyone in the US will have guaranteed health care—more than just the basic system we've had since 2009. If not, in four years no one will. (Note, also, that the President got us a health care system that ensures people don't die because they have pre-existing allergies or because they're somehow less lucrative for private insurance companies to cover.)

If we re-elect the President, then four years from now we'll have taken all our troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and we'll have forced Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program without firing a shot. If not, in four years we'll be at war with Iran, and we'll still have troops in the other two countries. And we'll be paying for it, whether in higher taxes or in a weaker dollar. (Note that the President has lined up support around the world to force Iran to capitulate, almost completely, on this issue.)

If we re-elect the President, then four years from now, taxes on the rich will be at least the same as on everyone else, and they'll have fewer loopholes to use to avoid paying their fair share. If not, in four years taxes on the middle class will be higher, and on the rich, lower.

I'm not making these things up. These predictions come from a plain reading of the stated positions of the two campaigns.

President Obama believes in a strong middle class, in making sure that Americans don't starve or go without basic health insurance, and that evidence is the best way to learn about the world.

Mitt Romney believes...well, I mean, who knows? Because in the last three weeks, Romney has changed from a radical right-wing Republican to endorsing the President's views on just about everything. His only goal in life is to become president, and he'll say and do anything to get the job. But for six years, since leaving the state house in Boston, he's campaigned on a platform so right wing that only the hardest-core Republicans supported him in 2008. (Against John McCain, too—hardly a liberal.)

If you're rich, or you're a Christian fundamentalist, then you should vote for Mitt Romney. If either the rich or the fundamentalists make you nervous, you should vote for the President. More precisely, if you want at least to stay where you are despite the rich guys trying to take your money, or if you worry about ever having to go to a hospital, If you're none of the above, you have 11 days to decide whether you believe in a United States governed by reason, or a United States ruled by fear.

This isn't the most difficult election the U.S. has ever faced; but it is the clearest choice presented in the last 50 years. Somehow, though, I think very few people will understand or accept the results this time. So we'll get to make the same choice in 2016. I only hope that then, we can have an election without the idiotic distractions we're seeing this time. I also hope to win the lottery. We shall see.

Friday 26 October 2012 00:12:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 25 October 2012

That was the Space Shuttle Carrier's call sign last month. Just watch:

Thursday 25 October 2012 14:34:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

What does it say that I sent this blog post to Instapaper because I haven't got any time to read it right now?

Sigh. Only a couple more days of this sprint, then things calm down.

Thursday 25 October 2012 08:43:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 24 October 2012

Apparently the weekend I just spent in the UK did not actually change the number of hours I have to work this month. Oops.

Wales photos tomorrow, I guess...

Wednesday 24 October 2012 16:26:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel#
Monday 22 October 2012

...two things. (At least today.)

First, it turns out, if you don't get into the Tube in time, you wind up either having to walk several miles in the rain or you have to catch a cab in the City and spend £23 getting back to your hotel. There is no other OECD capital—I mean, none—that fails to provide 24-hour public transportation. Except Washington. But let's not discuss that for a moment.

Second, what the hell is this?

Before you say, "duh! It's a sink!", let me assure you I was able to identify the fixture in real time when it became relevant to do so. What I cannot fathom, so to speak, is how the United Kingdom has enjoyed 2,000 years of indoor plumbing and yet cannot seem to construct a washbasin, shower, or toilet that handles the basic necessities of the task for which it was constructed.

Take this thing. Those tiles are the same as U.S. tiles, about 13 cm on a side. The sink, therefore, is about 20 cm across and 15 cm deep, meaning unless you have hands smaller than the average park squirrel, they won't fit in there. Also notice, despite the technological advances made since the second century of the common era, there is a hot spigot and a cold one. On average, the two produce water at a comfortably warm temperature. Separately, one produces water barely able to remain liquid without flashing into superheated steam, and the other produces almost-freezing slush.

Can someone explain why these ridiculous dual-faucet sinks have survived into the era of the printing press and the wheel? It just doesn't seem like a great intellectual leap to prevent freezing and burning when trying to wash one's hands.

Monday 22 October 2012 02:57:48 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Travel#

Since reading about the renaissance of brewing in London last summer, I've had Southampton Arms on my short list of pubs to visit. I spent the evening there (now that I've gotten back on Chicago time after sleeping nearly 12 bloody hours), and I have decided it is, quite possibly, the best pub in the world—Duke of Perth excepted.

First, it has everything I look for in a pub bar one: good atmosphere, great beers, a regular crowd, and no televisions. I only wish it had WiFi. Instead, it has Fred:

Of course I don't mean to make Parker jealous, but Fred—a true bar bitch, despite her name—is astounding not only by being a sweet and calm bar hound, but also by not weighing two hundred kilos. Seriously: the amount of food I watched her Hoover off the floor would have swollen Parker up like the Graf Zeppelin.

Fred must have decided that I had good hands, or at least that I was a pushover, because she spent about two hours keeping my feet warm and hoping that I would drop something resembling food for her. That, and I kept scritching her. Everybody won!

The pub also had some top-notch English independent brews, especially Marble Pint APA and Lagonda IPA, the two best English-brewed beers I've ever had. It's almost as if the quaint island of Britain has discovered that beer tastes better with hops, damned be the old men drinking their real ales. And yet, these two beers topped out at perhaps 60 IBUs and under 4.5% ABV, putting them well within the category we Americans label "session beers." (In the UK, one must remember, all beers are session beers, so these two are actually near the top of the bitterness and alcohol scales here.)

I will absolutely return to this pub the next time I come to London, which, barring injury or war, will be shortly after the new year. And in the spirit of a true English public house, let me thank Joe, Laurie, Martin, Hester, Beatrice, Lewis, and the rest of the crowd with whom I shared many rounds on a rainy, cold Sunday in October.

Monday 22 October 2012 02:08:21 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Travel#
Saturday 20 October 2012

I'm in London this weekend, having used a bunch of frequent-flyer miles to get here. And because they were frequent-flyer miles, I decided to fly British Airways first class.

Usually, when I fly to London, I take American Airlines flight 90, a 767 (my favorite plane in American's fleet) that leaves Chicago around 9am and arrives at Heathrow around 10:30pm. That schedule completely eliminates jet lag for me. On arriving in London, I have dinner at a takeaway curry place or something around midnight, stay up until 3 or so reading, and from that point on manage to stay approximately on Chicago time for as long as I'm in London.

This time, because I wanted to fly in BA's updated first class cabin, I had to take an overnight flight. (From Atlanta, in fact—but that's a different story.) I thought, hey, great, I can sleep, and then wake up just before we land (at 10:30am), still pretty close to a Chicago schedule.

Nope. Not even close. At 6am London time (midnight Chicago time) I was in that wired state where I couldn't concentrate enough to read and I couldn't close my eyes to sleep. I managed about 90 minutes of sleep, disrupted, I have no doubt, by the Glenlivet 18 and 20-year-old port that the flight attendant kept bringing me.

In consequence, it's just past 7:30pm here, and all I want to do is sleep. But that would be really, really dumb, because I would wake up at some random time in the middle of the night, which would put my body on New Delhi time or something. I could go to a pub, but for some reason I don't think having a pint is a good idea at this particular moment. I can't really focus long enough to read yet, because of the fatigue and sleep deprivation, and as you can see I'm having trouble writing coherently.

Tomorrow I'll probably have gotten the diurnal cycle sorted out. Tonight, I'm kicking myself for making a series of choices that essentially cost me an enjoyable day in London.

Oh, and half the damn Tube is out this weekend. Moan, moan, moan.

Saturday 20 October 2012 19:45:26 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Aviation#
Friday 19 October 2012

Via The Atlantic Cities blog, the City of Chicago has unveiled a proposal to beautify the Chicago River:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday unveiled plans to expand the riverwalk another six blocks along Chicago's River.

“The Chicago River is our second shoreline," Emanuel said in a statement. "“It is now time to celebrate this incredible waterway with the completion of the entire riverwalk project, from Lake Michigan to the confluence of the three branches.”

The conceptual plans include a theme for each block of the riverwalk with names including The Marina from State to Dearborn, The Cove from Dearborn to Clark, The River Theater from Clark to LaSalle, The Swimming Hole from LaSalle to Wells, The Jetty from Wells to Franklin and The Boardwalk from Franklin to Lake.

The Marina, for example, would be designed for restaurant space and public seating, while the Cove could include kayak rental retail space, and the Swimming Hole would provide recreational space. Floating gardens, fishing piers and an iconic bridge from Upper Wacker the riverwalk also are among design plans.

This means they might even finish the Wacker Drive reconstruction someday...

Friday 19 October 2012 11:40:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#

Amtrak today will run a train from Chicago to Pontiac, Ill., at speeds up to 175 km/h:

The time spent traveling at 175 km/h will be relatively brief, lasting for only 24 km on new rails and new concrete ties between Dwight and Pontiac along the 457 km Union Pacific Railroad corridor from Chicago to St. Louis.

Dwight is about 130 km southwest of Chicago and Pontiac is about 30 km further to the southwest. The train will then continue on to Normal at top speeds of 125 km/h before heading back to Chicago Union Station, officials said.

For comparison, on Monday morning I'll be on a bog-standard train from London to Cardiff that will average 125 km/h, including stops, and between them toodles along at the pokey pace (for the U.K.) of 150 km/h. That's a slow train in Britain. The fast trains in Britain, like the one I took in March, go considerably faster. And don't even get me started about Shanghai...

Someday I hope the U.S. will have a modern transportation network. Someday.

Friday 19 October 2012 09:58:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Travel#

Last week, I bought an ASUS Transformer TF700, in part to help out with our seriously-cool Galahad project, and in part so I could read a bunch of heavy technical books on tonight's flight to London. And yes, I had a little tablet-envy after taking the company's iPad home overnight. It was not unlike fostering a puppy, in the sense that you want to keep it, but fortunately not in the sense of needing to keep Nature's Miracle handy.

Then yesterday, Scott Hanselman pointed out a great way to get more use out of the pad: Instapaper. I'm hooked. As Hanselman points out,

Here's the idea. You get a bunch of links that flow through your life all week long. These are often in the form of what I call "long-form reading." Hackernews links, NYTimes studys, academic papers, etc. Some folks make bookmarks, have folders called "Links" on their desktops, or email themselves links.

I have these websites, papers and interesting links rolled up and delivered automatically to my Kindle every week. Think about how amazing that is and how it can change your relationship with content on the web. The stress and urgency (and open tabs) are gone. I am naturally and organically creating a personalized book for weekend reading.

I have a bookmarklet from Instapaper that says "Read Later" on my browser toolbar. I've put it in every browser I use, even Mobile Safari. I've also logged into Instapaper from all my social apps so that I can Read Later from my iPhone Twitter Client for example. You'd be surprised how many apps support Instapaper once you start looking for this.

What this means it is that Instapaper is ready and waiting for me in every location where an interesting piece of long-form reading could present itself. I don't stress, I click Read Later and the document is shipped off to Instapaper.

I'm sold. I actually have it updating my tablet every 12 hours, because I do a lot of my reading on the 156 bus. Or, today, British Airways 226.

Friday 19 October 2012 08:42:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cloud#
Thursday 18 October 2012

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional on equal-protection grounds:

This is a really big deal. [George H.W. Bush-appointed Chief Judge Dennis] Jacobs is not simply saying that DOMA imposes unique and unconstitutional burdens on gay couples, he is saying that any attempt by government to discriminate against gay people must have an “exceedingly persuasive” justification. This is the same very skeptical standard afforded to laws that discriminate against women. If Jacobs’ reasoning is adopted by the Supreme Court, it will be a sweeping victory for gay rights, likely causing state discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to be virtually eliminated. And the fact that this decision came from such a conservative judge makes it all the more likely that DOMA will ultimately be struck down by the Supreme Court.

The 1st Circuit already found the law unconstitutional. One hopes we can dispense with the law without going through all 12 circuits in order...

Thursday 18 October 2012 13:44:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Yes, one more entry of nothing but links, as my creativity is completely directed at the three five work projects currently on my agenda. But tomorrow afternoon I start a mini-vacation that will include a good, solid 22 hours of being in planes and trains, which I actually find relaxing. (I am not kidding.)

For now, here's what I'm saving to my Kindle reader:

Finally, as much as I love crisp, cool autumn weather, I do not like the sun rising after 7. I've learned to turn on a bunch of lights as soon as I get up to fool my diurnal, reptilian brain that it's daytime. And now I must get more caffeine.

Thursday 18 October 2012 09:10:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | US#
Tuesday 16 October 2012

A quorum:

All for now.

Tuesday 16 October 2012 13:10:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | US#
Monday 15 October 2012

Well, that was a fun demo. Fortunately we have four more Agile iterations before we're done.

So, now that I have precisely thirteen minutes to catch up on my email and the news of the day, I will note this lede that could only come from a left-leaning British newspaper:

BAA is to drop its name in favour of plain Heathrow after concluding that the initials, derived from the old British Airports Authority, no longer fit a foreign-owned company with no authority that has been forced to sell off half its airports.

So, Stansted will be run from Heathrow. That should really drive people there.

Monday 15 October 2012 16:50:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Sunday 14 October 2012

I still haven't moved everything out of the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center to Microsoft Windows Azure, because the architecture of Weather Now simply won't support the move without extensive refactoring. But this week I saw the first concrete, irrefutable evidence of cost savings from the completed migrations.

First, I got a full bill for a month of Azure service. It was $94. That's actually a little less than I expected, though in fairness it doesn't include the 5–10 GB database that Weather Now will use. Keep in mind, finishing the Azure migration means I get to shut off my DSL and landline phone, for which AT&T charges me $55 for the DSL and $100 for the phone.

I also found out how much less energy I'm using with 3 of 5 servers shut down. Here is my basic electricity use for the past two years:

The spikes are, obviously, air conditioning—driven very much by having the server rack. Servers produce heat, and they require cooling. I have kept the rack under 25°C, and even at that temperature, the servers spin up their cooling fans and draw even more power. The lowest usage periods, March to May and October to December, are cool and moist, so I don't use either air conditioning or humidifiers.

Until this month, my mean electricity use was 1100 kWh per month overall, 1386 kWh in the summer, and 908 kWh in the shoulder seasons. In the last two years, my lowest usage was 845 kWh.

Last month it was 750 kWh. Also notice how, during the much hotter summer in 2012 (compared with 2011), my electricity use was slightly lower. It was just harder to see the savings until now.

Including taxes, that means the bill was only $20 less than the usual shoulder-season bill. But I'm not General Motors; that $20 savings is 20% of the bill. Cutting my electricity bills 20% seems like a pretty good deal. And next summer, with no servers in the house, I'll be able to run less air conditioning, and the A/C won't have to compete with the heat coming off the server rack.

Now I've just got to figure out how to migrate Weather Now...

Sunday 14 October 2012 10:57:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud#
Saturday 13 October 2012

So far this month, I've worked about 110 hours (no exaggeration), in part preparing for a pair of software demos on Monday. Normal blogging will likely return tomorrow or Monday.

Meanwhile, here's a picture of Parker:

That's from six years ago this week. Everyone together, now: "Awwwwwwww."

Saturday 13 October 2012 13:06:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Parker#
Thursday 11 October 2012

My latest entry is up on the 10th Magnitude tech blog.

You can also read it right here.

Thursday 11 October 2012 13:23:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud | Security#

My nephew, Conner:

Thursday 11 October 2012 13:19:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

I am officially an uncle.

Good morning, Conner. Welcome to the world. Don't let your last 13 hours turn you off to it. It gets better.

Nick, Jeanine: congratulations, you crazy kids. Let me know when you're ready to have me corrupt him.

Thursday 11 October 2012 08:44:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 10 October 2012

Yes, more links:

Later today I'll also have a new post on the 10th Magnitude blog.

Wednesday 10 October 2012 11:35:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | US#

I have just inflicted this on my friends; you're next:


After the "incident" with Esmerelda, the Cathedral of Our Lady in Paris—Notre Dame—needed a new bell-ringer. A man showed up for the job. The bishop in charge of hiring noticed he had no arms. "Pas de problème," said the man. "I hit the bells with my head, like this." He then proceeded to play a magnificent carillon using only his face. As he reached a crescendo, the glorious music reaching out across Paris, he slipped, fell from the bell tower, and died instantly.

The monsignor ran over to the bishop and demanded, "What happened? Who is this man?"

"I don't know," said the bishop, "but his face rings a bell."

The next day, another man showed up to apply for the job. He introduced himself to the bishop, saying, "It was my brother who fell from the tower yesterday. We are all very sad, but our family is one of bell-ringers. I must take his place."

The bishop nodded, but then noticed the new man had no legs. "Pas de problème," said the brother. "Ecoutez." He climbed up to the bell tower using only his massively-powerful arms, then began another carillon, even more glorious than his brother's had been. He swung from rope to rope, in perfect time, sometimes pulling on two or three ropes at once, building to a finale that had the bishop in tears of joy.

As he rang the final bells, he returned to the ground floor, and presented him to the bishop. But before he could speak, he had a massive heart attack, and died instantly.

"Not again!" cried the monsignor. "And who was this man?"

"I don't know," said the bishop, "but he's a dead ringer for his brother."

Wednesday 10 October 2012 10:41:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Jokes#
Tuesday 9 October 2012

I haven't any time to write today, but I did want to call attention to these:

Back to the mines...

Tuesday 9 October 2012 16:16:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | Business#
Monday 8 October 2012

Aaron Sorkin, writing for Maureen Dowd's column today, imagines the conversation:

BARTLET And that was quite a display of hard-nosed, fiscal conservatism when he slashed one one-hundredth of 1 percent from the federal budget by canceling “Sesame Street” and “Downton Abbey.” I think we’re halfway home. Mr. President, your prep for the next debate need not consist of anything more than learning to pronounce three words: “Governor, you’re lying.” Let’s replay some of Wednesday night’s more jaw-dropping visits to the Land Where Facts Go to Die. “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don’t have a tax cut of a scale you’re talking about.”

OBAMA The Tax Policy Center analysis of your proposal for a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut in all federal income tax rates, eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, the estate tax and other reductions, says it would be a $5 trillion tax cut.

BARTLET In other words ...

OBAMA You’re lying, Governor.

Yeah, we really could have used Josiah Bartlet up there Wednesday. But there are three more debates...

Monday 8 October 2012 13:00:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Two aviation articles this morning. The first, via the Economist's Gulliver blog, examines how checked baggage tags have cut lost luggage down to nearly zero:

In July alone, 53 million passengers boarded domestic flights. Only about one-third of 1 percent reported a mishandled bag. Given the phenomenal scale of American aviation (measured in seats and miles, the U.S. market is three times larger than any other) and our reliance on luggage-juggling hub airports, that’s an excellent result. Even caged birds are treated pretty well by modern air travel (though remarkably, they do get airsick): In July, U.S. airlines lost just one pet.

This success is largely due to the humdrum baggage tag. That random sticky strip you rip off your suitcase when you get home? It’s actually a masterpiece of design and engineering. Absent its many innovations, you’d still be able to jet from Anchorage to Abu Dhabi. But your suitcase would be much less likely to meet you there. (Disclosure: I am a pilot for an airline that’s not mentioned in this article.)

I also had the latest from the Cranky Flier in my RSS feed this morning, about how American Airlines' management is getting PR horribly wrong:

While people might not want to fly American for its lack of reliability, it’s much more of a crisis if people don’t think the airline is safe to fly regardless of whether flights are on time or not. While I personally don’t have huge concerns about flying the airline, I’m not the general public. If I worked at American in PR, this would have me at DEFCON 1, yet the airline has treated this as if it’s just a minor issue.

The most visible of the safety issues has been the seats coming loose on 757s. This is a major issue in that it could easily be believed by the general public to be sabotage or the sign of an airline failing to do proper maintenance. Neither is remotely acceptable. It sounds like American has found a possible reason for the issue and in yet another stupid move is blaming passengers. While this issue has now apparently been fixed, real damage has been done. And now the media is piling on, making things worse.

He goes on to say that the pilots and mechanics have had a little more intelligence behind their PR efforts. I hope, I really hope, that American's executives don't kill the airline before USAirways has a chance to close the merger.

Monday 8 October 2012 12:29:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Sunday 7 October 2012

I just discovered something that should have been obvious: Chicago Public Radio dropped Car Talk too early.

Starting yesterday, WBEZ moved its Saturday schedule around, dropping Car Talk from the 9am slot, bringing Wait Wait! Don't tell me and This American Life forward, and putting new show Snap Judgment in TAL's noon slot. Last week I listened to what I believed at the time to be the last Car Talk episode ever, and found it...oddly routine.

Well, duh. Tom and Ray will continue recording until later this month.

WBEZ: Why, oh why, did you switch the schedule four weeks early? At least there are podcasts.

But wait: it's possible they're not actually going to have a finale. Speculation on the boards is that they're already recycling segments. Say it isn't so, Tom and Ray!

Sunday 7 October 2012 10:11:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Friday's cold front brought the chilliest weather in Chicago since April 12th. Friday night's low of 1°C yielded cool, cloudy day yesterday and today. It's now mostly cloudy and 6°C with a northwest breeze.

This is significant because right now 45,000 people are running their asses off right around my house. For a variety of reasons I will not be chasing the street sweepers again this year, the chief reason being that while this temperature feels great to a runner, it kind of sucks for a biker.

Good luck, runners!

Update: Good luck, indeed. Ethiopian Tsegaye Kedebe set a new course record just now, finishing in 2:04:38, while Ethiopian Atsede Baysa beat Kenyan Rita Jeptoo in 2:22:03. For those of you not inclined to do math at this hour on a Sunday, Kedebe averaged 4:45 per mile; Baysa, 5:25.

Sunday 7 October 2012 09:41:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 5 October 2012

The temperature in Chicago dropped 13°C in six hours yesterday, taking us from summer to autumn between lunch and dinner:

One minute it was summer, with the Chicago area basking in the warmest temperatures of the past 22 days---the next, howling northwest winds were delivering an autumn-level chill.

Readings surged to 27°C at Midway and the Lakefront by mid afternoon but were soon on the run with the arrival of gusty showers—a few with lightning and thunder. These initiated the impressive temperature plunge.

It could have been worse, though, as northern Minnesota discovered:

Warmth was definitely NOT the issue in far northwest Minnesota or eastern North Dakota Thursday. There, 80 km/h-plus wind gusts combined with -2°C temperatures to produce a fairly narrow corridor of blinding snowfall. The area 15 km NW of Badger, Minn., topped that area's snowfall list.

The epicenter of the storm passed well north of Chicago Thursday and its heaviest snow had shifted snowfall well north into Canada's Ontario province by nightfall.

And next week, it'll be warm again. And cold. Welcome to autumn in Chicago.

Friday 5 October 2012 12:32:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 4 October 2012

Behold, the Like-a-Hug:

Designed by MIT researchers, the Like-A-Hug coat senses when a Facebook friend "likes" your picture of a sweater-wearing cat or wistful update about finding true love. Then, via some complicated electronic mechanism that's not quite clear, it rewards the wearer by filling with air to mimic a "hugging" sensation.

So basically this is an article of clothing that broadcasts the owner's craven need for approval, as well as suggesting his or her crushing failure to attract hugs from flesh-and-blood beings.

The project team has produced a video, too:

And hey, after last night, who doesn't need a hug?

Thursday 4 October 2012 11:43:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 3 October 2012

The Chicago Transit Authority replaced two viaducts over Evanston, Ill., streets in June, the fifth and sixth of 17 century-old structures. The Daily Parker watched them replace one back in 2006; in 2012, the CTA took video. Here's Greenleaf Street, replaced on June 11th:

And here's Dempster Street, replaced two weeks later:

It's all part of a plan to rehabilitate the Red and Purple lines that may get finished in my lifetime. (The RPM project, one aspect of the plan, is going forward, soonish.) If only there were a massive source of interest-free money available to fund the project, and millions of unemployed people to hire for it. Oh, wait...

Wednesday 3 October 2012 16:01:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Travel#

I made a mistake Monday: the Astos and Cubs will probably end the season with a combined 208 losses, not 207. It's a bit damp at Wrigley today, so they may not play; but if they do, either the Cubs will wind up 60-102 or 61-101 (to the Astros' 56-106 or 55-107, respectively). That's impressive.

Meanwhile, the new wild-card arrangement has gelled for the National League (Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco clinch their divisions; Atlanta and St. Louis are wild cards), but the American League might not get everything sorted until tomorrow. The A's and Rangers are tied in the AL West, but since they play each other this afternoon, that will get settled. Detroit eliminated the White Sox already this week. That leaves Baltimore one game behind the Yankees in the AL East, so if Boston beats the Yankees and Baltimore beats Tampa tonight, they'll be tied, forcing a one-game playoff at Camden Yards on Thursday. And the loser will still be in the post-season as a wildcard.

What a weird end to the baseball season. Except for us in Chicago, it's pretty exciting.

More: MLB has an exhaustive guide to the wild card rules for anyone who has trouble sleeping tonight.

Wednesday 3 October 2012 11:17:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball#
Tuesday 2 October 2012

The Tribune just foisted two news alerts on me that I already knew. First, the Cubs lost their 100th game, which, it turns out, has only happened three times in the last 140 freaking years. The Trib's lede is beautiful:

Fifty years ago this week, only 595 fans showed up at Wrigley Field for the opener of the Cubs-Mets series, the last time two teams with 100-plus losses faced each other.

The '62 Cubs — with future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Billy Williams and Ron Santo on the roster — wound up taking two of three from the expansion team, finishing with a franchise-worst 103 losses, to the Mets' major league record 120.

Wow. I mean, wow. It takes a special kind of baseball team to lose 103 games in a season, so the talent and vision that went into the Mets' 120 losses in 1962 defies rational belief. I am cowed. And I am also thankful no team has gotten to that record in my lifetime, if only because the Mets occupy the rung on my baseball ladder just above the American League and just below the one I try to scrape off before walking in the house. (The Astros occupy that rung, it turns out, only because they were the first team I ever saw play the Cubs).

All righty then. One must look forward, to the horizon of a National League win. And again, I say: Go Giants.

Almost forgot: The other news alert, announcing that the Tigers have eliminated the White Sox, did not distress me much, as it only concerns the minor leagues.

Monday 1 October 2012 22:50:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Chicago#

It is a mathematical certainty that the combined losses of the Astros and Cubs will get to 207 when the season ends Wendesday. They're playing each other right now, with the Cubs heading for their 100th loss of the year. One cannot but marvel at the prowess of both teams, both fighting quixotically for their respective honors. The Cubs can't possibly be the worst team in baseball this year, because the Astros have so totally dominated them in that respect. And yet, the Astros will move to the American League next year, meaning that both they and the Cubs will begin 2013 being the worst teams in their respective leagues as the new season begins.

New rule: Once your home team loses 100 games in a season, you get to pick another team to root for. And so I say, from now until the next opening day: Go Giants!

Monday 1 October 2012 21:50:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Chicago#
Monday 1 October 2012

Chicago hit a new record for most consecutive months with above-average temperatures, which ended August 31st (only we didn't know for sure until yesterday):

For the first time in a year, Chicago has logged a month with below-normal temperatures. Averaging 17.8°C, September finished 0.3°C below normal, ending the city's record run of 11 above-normal months that began in October 2011.

Despite the lower-than-normal temperatures, sunshine was plentiful, averaging 75 percent of possible, the highest here since 2007 when 76 percent was recorded.

Climate-change deniers will no doubt take this as evidence that global warming has ceased. I mean, if there were global warming, shouldn't it always be above average?

Monday 1 October 2012 16:42:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Last night, in the West Loop:

After tomorrow's performance in Madison, Wis., Girlyman will be taking a break from performing. I'm glad I got a chance to see them.

Doris and Ty:

And the opening act, Chastity Brown, whose CD I bought on the way out. Great stuff:

Monday 1 October 2012 16:13:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
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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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