Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 30 November 2012

Via Sullivan, a stunning and beautiful video comprising hundreds of still photos taken last fall:

Friday 30 November 2012 09:13:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

A French appeals court has ruled that neither Continental nor mechanic John Taylor bears criminal responsibility for the 2000 Air France Concorde crash outside Paris:

According to the original ruling, mechanic John Taylor fitted the wrong metal strip on a Continental DC-10. The piece ultimately fell off on the runway in Paris, puncturing the Concorde's tire. The burst tire sent bits of rubber flying, puncturing the fuel tanks, which started the fire that brought down the plane.

On Thursday, Judge Michele Luga overturned the 2010 manslaughter conviction of Continental and the mechanic, saying their mistakes didn't make them criminally responsible for the deaths.

Even if Taylor knew that the metal strip could become detached, "he could never have imagined a scenario where this simple titanium blade could cause such a disaster," Luga said in court.

The French court that convicted Continental and the mechanic in 2010 for the crash imposed about €2 m in damages and fines on the carrier. The appeals court upheld Continental's civil responsibility and ordered it to pay Air France €1 m in damages and interests.

I'm not sure I understand how the trial court came to convict Taylor in the first place. One small piece of debris on a runway should not cause a transport-class airplane to burst into flames. I don't know enough about French law to speculate about the trial judge, however. I do know that in the French system the trial judge has a much more active role than in the Anglo-American system, and can even act as prosecutor.

Anyway, this has to be a relief for Taylor, and for United Continental. It also marks the end of the Concorde's story.

Friday 30 November 2012 09:11:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#
Wednesday 28 November 2012

Yes, another link round-up:

Back to designing software...

Wednesday 28 November 2012 14:04:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Business#
Tuesday 27 November 2012

Via Bruce Schneier, apparently some of the confetti thrown at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade last weekend came from the Nassau County Police:

A closer look shows that the documents are from the Nassau County Police Department. The papers were shredded, but clearly not well enough.

They even contain information about Mitt Romney's motorcade, apparently from the final presidential debate, which took place at Hofstra University in Nassau County last month.

Most significant, the confetti strips identified Nassau County detectives by name. Some of them are apparently undercover. Their social security numbers, dates of birth and other highly sensitive personal information was also printed on the confetti strips.

I expect the follow-up story to describe how a document destruction company now faces a massive lawsuit...

Tuesday 27 November 2012 12:54:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Security#

10th Magnitude's CTO, Steve Harshbarger, explains how the cloud makes economics better by giving us more options:

We know we could build every feature of a custom application from the ground up. We get ultimate control of the result, but often the cost or timeframe to do so is prohibitive. So as developers, we look to incorporate pre-built components to speed things along. Not only that, we strive for better functionality by incorporating specialized components that others have already invested far more resources in than we ever could for a single application. As a simple example, who would ever write a graphing engine from scratch with so many great ones out there? So, build is rarely the whole story.

What about buy? I think of “buy” not in a strict monetary sense, but as a moniker for code or components that get pulled into the physical boundary of your application. This includes both open source components and commercial products, in the form of source code you pull into your project, or binaries you install and run with your applications’ infrastructure. We all do this all the time.

But the cloud brings a third option to the table: rent. I define this as a service you integrate with via some API, which runs outside your application’s physical boundary. This is where smart developers see an opportunity to shave more time and cost off of projects while maintaining—or even increasing—the quality of functionality.

He also lists our top-10 third-party "rental" services, including Postmark, Pingdom, and Arrow Payments. (I'm using a couple of them as well.)

Tuesday 27 November 2012 09:52:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure#
Monday 26 November 2012

Just now:

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the Cook County state's attorney to allow enforcement of a law prohibiting people from recording police officers on the job.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that found that the state's anti-eavesdropping law violates free speech rights when used against people who tape law enforcement officers.

The law set out a maximum prison term of 15 years.

Last May, a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled that the law “likely violates” the First Amendment and ordered that authorities be banned from enforcing it.

Good. Since it only takes four justices to grant certiorari, this means that at least six of them agreed with the 7th Circuit. It was a bad law, and shame on Anita Alvarez for attempting prosecutions based on it.

Monday 26 November 2012 11:49:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 25 November 2012

Via Sullivan, a new variety of bear has appeared in Canada because of climate change:

One such sign [of environmental pressure on bears] is the emergence of a new creature in the polar bear’s range, first spotted in the wild in 2006 near Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories. It’s got a long neck like a polar bear, but it’s smaller. It lies and behaves like a polar bear, but it has shoulder humps. The new creature has hairy paw soles like a polar bear, but its hair is mostly solid, with only patches of hollow hair.

As caribou migration routes have moved North, grizzlies have followed and started mating with polar bears. Not only have they produced hybrid young, but those young are fertile. Polar bears and grizzlies only diverged about 150,000 years ago and haven’t developed many genetic differences, despite quite dramatic visual dissimilarities. Second-generation hybrids have now been confirmed in the wild.

This kind of thing isn't new, but we don't often see it with large predators. On the other hand, about 30,000 years ago, another large predator moved into a cousin species' territory as the earth warmed up, and interbred, and went on to invent blogs.

Sunday 25 November 2012 12:55:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | World | Weather#

The long-time aviation blogger thinks the movie was a disservice:

I’ll be told, perhaps, that I need to relax, and that the movie ought be judged beyond its technical shortcomings. Normally I would agree, and for the average lay viewer it will hardly matter at all. I’m happy to allow a little artistic license. We should expect it, and some light fudging of the facts can be necessary, to a degree, for a film like this to work. Honestly, I’m not that much of a fussbudget. The trouble with Flight is that the filmmakers seem to have hardly tried.

I’m not sure who gets the bigger screw job here: viewers, who are being lied to, but who may or may not care; airline pilots, whose profession is unrealistically portrayed; or nervous flyers, whose fears this movie will only compound.

The entire piece gets into specifics.

Sunday 25 November 2012 09:59:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#

Via Krugman, economist Adam Davidson explains why businesses can't find the right people:

And yet, even as classes like Goldenberg’s are filled to capacity all over America, hundreds of thousands of U.S. factories are starving for skilled workers. Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that there are roughly 600,000 jobs available for whoever has the right set of advanced skills.

Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs.

Krugman summarizes:

Almost always, it turns out that what said business person really wants is highly (and expensively) educated workers at a manual-labor wage. No wonder they come up short.

[T]his dovetails perfectly with one of the key arguments against the claim that much of our unemployment is “structural”, due to a mismatch between skills and labor demand. If that were true, you should see soaring wages for those workers who do have the right skills; in fact, with rare exceptions you don’t.

Or as my dad has always said, "You get what you pay for."

Sunday 25 November 2012 08:46:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Friday 23 November 2012

Yesterday got up to 17°C, making it the warmest Chicago Thanksgiving since 1966. And then this happened, as predicted:

It's now -1°C with 40 km/h wind gusts and a wind chill of -8°C. Even Parker looked annoyed this morning on his first walk, squinting into the wind with his ears flopping behind his head. It's amazing how little time he wastes in this kind of weather, compared with his need to sniff every square centimeter of Lincoln Park when it's nice out. (Or raining, for some reason. Must be nice, having a fur coat.)

Friday 23 November 2012 09:47:29 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 22 November 2012

We probably won't hit the record November 22 temperature (21°C, set in 1913), but we'll get awfully close. It's already 15°C at O'Hare, with a forecast of 18°C—followed by a cold front and 0°C by morning.

Parker and I will therefore now go for a long walk.

Thursday 22 November 2012 11:11:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | Weather#

Last night, my other sibling had a baby:

That's Brendan Michael, aged one hour.

Update, from the exhausted but happy dad: Brendan emerged at 2:53 PST weighing 3540 g and stretching out to 508 mm.

Thursday 22 November 2012 10:35:09 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 21 November 2012

Well, that was fun. I've just spent the last three days organizing, upgrading, and repackaging 9,400 lines of code in umpteen objects into two separate assemblies. Plus I upgraded the assemblies to all the latest cool stuff, like Azure Storage Client 2.0 and...well, stuff.

It's getting dark on the afternoon before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and I'm a little fried. Goodbye, 10th Magnitude Office, until Monday.

Wednesday 21 November 2012 15:50:56 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud | Windows Azure#

Stuff sent to Instapaper:

Time to dash out for lunch...then more coding. Gotta finish today.

Wednesday 21 November 2012 12:13:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#

Over the last two days I've spent almost every working minute redesigning the 10th Magnitude framework and reference application. Not new code, really, just upgrading them to the latest Azure bits and putting them into a NuGet package.

That hasn't left much time for blogging. Or for Words With Friends. And I'm using a lot of Instapaper. Without Instapaper, I'd never get to read Wired editor Mat Honan drawing lessons from his epic hack last summer.

Tuesday 20 November 2012 19:14:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business | Cool links#
Monday 19 November 2012

Chicago is enjoying its 14th consecutive month of above-average sunshine, along with some unseasonable warmth leading into Thanksgiving (13°C right now, 17°C on Thursday).

Earlier today the NWS Climate Prediction Center released a new 90-day forecast predicting normal temperatures and precipitation in Chicago through February:

This is all fine by us. Though we do hope for a mild winter...

Monday 19 November 2012 13:49:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 18 November 2012

I found Joe and Ben Albahari's library of LINQ extensions, which enabled me to finish a really complicated piece of code quickly and elegantly.

Programmers keep reading. Everyone else: I'll have more stuff about the weather tomorrow.

Sunday 18 November 2012 12:34:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Cool links#
Friday 16 November 2012

Oh, Azure Storage team, why did you break everything?

Software people will want to continue for some specific tips on how to do the upgrade.

Friday 16 November 2012 10:55:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Cloud#

Texas-based Hostess Brands has shut down in preparation for liquidation:

Hostess said a strike by members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union that began last week had crippled its ability to produce and deliver products at several facilities, and it had no choice but to give up its effort to emerge intact from bankruptcy court.

The Irving, Texas-based company said the liquidation would mean that most of its 18,500 employees would lose their jobs.

In the Chicago area, Hostess employs about 300 workers making CupCakes, HoHos and Honey Buns in Schiller Park. Hostess also has a bakery in Hodgkins, where 325 workers make Beefsteak, Butternut, Home Pride, Nature’s Pride and Wonder breads.

Union President Frank Hurt said the company's failure was not the fault of the union but the "result of nearly a decade of financial and operational mismanagement" and that management was trying to make union workers the scapegoats for a plan by Wall Street investors to sell Hostess.

Twinkies, legend has it, were invented right here in Chicago in 1930.

I will now go see if the 7-11 across the street still has any left...

Friday 16 November 2012 10:15:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 14 November 2012

Starting before 8am with an international conference call usually means I'll have a full day. Fortunately there's Instapaper, which lets me shove all the interesting things I find during the day onto my Android pad for tomorrow's bus ride to work.

So far today:

And...now back to work.

Wednesday 14 November 2012 14:26:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | Weather#
Tuesday 13 November 2012

James Fallows, reacting to the Patreaus debacle, reminds everyone of the obvious:

Here is the secret plan:

Never put anything in an email message, to anyone, that would cause you serious problems if it fell into the wrong hands.

That's the plan™. All of it. Never do this. Ever.

Yep. This is the advice security experts have given for, well, ever.

Tuesday 13 November 2012 17:01:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Security#

Because you might learn things neatly summed up in the headline "Petraeus Apparently Most Mentally Balanced Individual in His Own Scandal" "(From the Times …)":

Ms. Kelley, a volunteer with wounded veterans and military families, brought her complaint to a rank-and-file agent she knew from a previous encounter with the F.B.I. office, the official also said. That agent, who had previously pursued a friendship with Ms. Kelley and had earlier sent her shirtless photographs of himself, was “just a conduit” for the complaint, he said. He had no training in cybercrime, was not part of the cyber squad handling the case and was never assigned to the investigation.

But the agent, who was not identified, continued to “nose around” about the case...

Later, the agent became convinced — incorrectly, the official said — that the case had stalled. Because of his “worldview,” as the official put it, he suspected a politically motivated cover-up to protect President Obama. The agent alerted Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who called the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, on Oct. 31 to tell him of the agent’s concerns.

Says Josh Marshall:

So basically this entire scandal both at the outset and in the denouement was driven by Freakshow FBI Agent X who both wanted to bed the victim of the alleged harassment and also decided that the FBI was covering up it’s investigation of the Tampa socialite to protect President Obama. And this because of his “worldview”. Please let us meet this awesome example of American law enforcement.

Now, I understand why David Patraeus lost his security clearance and, thus, his job, because of this affair. I also agree with commentators (including one of my co-workers) who said, "he resigned because of an affair? Really?" I don't think there's anything simple about the DCI conducting an affair using a pseudo-anonymous account on GMail that someone could discover without resorting to Bond-esque espionage.

But I think our nation's top law-enforcement agency, the FBI, deserve props for deciding that an investigation of a top political official that turned up nothing criminal should be announced only after one of the most divisive elections of the last 50 years. Law enforcement should not ever be political. We're a nation of laws, not men, as many have observed. Patraeus acted stupidly, but not criminally, and he's given up his career for it. Let him go quietly into the night.

As for the petty, partisan little man that broke the law to use Patraeus's resignation for political gain, he deserves the undying scrutiny of the U.S. Attorney for whatever district he lives in.

And full disclosure: I believe strongly that the DCI needs to give up certain things upon taking office, including GMail, Facebook, and bits on the side. I have no problem with human failings; but I object in the strongest terms to people in certain offices—Director of Central Intelligence and President of the United States included—engaging in any kind of personal deceit. Professional deceit? No problem with DCI or POTUS; that's part of the job. But Bill Clinton disappointed me deeply, and now, so did David Patraeus. And that's even before we talk about illegal drone strikes.

Tuesday 13 November 2012 00:49:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Talking Points Memo has some smart readers. One of them crystallized the debate about whether the Romney campaign's shock after losing was genuine, or a ploy to inoculate themselves against the wrath of their donors:

There’s an old rule of political research: never ascribe to conspiracy what can be more easily explained by stupidity. Was the Romney campaign brilliant masterminds of a coordinated PR strategy to make themselves look stupid? Or we’re they just stupid?

Occam’s razor says the latter.

For background, read Josh Marshall's angst about how the Romney campaign could have missed the facts so completely, even though the campaign ran on a platform of denying evidence that disagreed with them.

Tuesday 13 November 2012 00:20:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Monday 12 November 2012

Two Chicago businesses find themselves on the ropes this afternoon, according to the Tribune. The first company, Groupon, has problems many people predicted long before their IPO:

Groupon and its compatriots in the much-hyped daily deals business were supposed to change the very nature of small-business advertising. Instead, it is the daily deal vendors that are racing to change as evidence mounts that their business model is fundamentally flawed.

Critics say the torrid growth that enabled Groupon to go public at $20 a share just a year ago was fueled by merchants buying into a new type of marketing that they didn't fully understand. The discounts offered through the Groupon coupons have turned out to be costly, and the repeat business they generate uncertain.

A Raymond James survey of roughly 115 merchants that used daily deals services during the fall found that 39 percent of merchants said they were not likely to run another Groupon promotion over the next couple of years. The top reasons cited were high commission rate and low rate of repeat customers gained through offering a promotion.

Yeah, no kidding. These flaws have been obvious from Groupon's beginning. I have one outstanding Groupon and one outstanding Living Social deal, and I'm not sure when I'll get to use either. After that, meh.

The other company, Hostess, has hit an unexpected and possibly fatal labor dispute that may force it into out of reorganization and into liquidation:

On Friday, Hostess-employed members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union began to strike nationwide, blaming a “horrendous contract” that they claimed could cut wages and benefits up to 32%.

Workers picketed or honored the strike in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle and in states such as Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois and Montana. Hostess said in a statement that the walk-offs could lead to layoffs for most of its 18,300-member workforce and a sale of its assets “to the highest bidders.”

“A widespread strike will cause Hostess Brands to liquidate if we are unable to produce or deliver products,” according to the statement. The Irving, Tex.-based company, which was founded in 1930, acknowledged that “the concessions are tough.”

So if you like Twinkies and Ho-Hos, you'd better stock up. (Don't worry; they keep.)

Monday 12 November 2012 15:39:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#

In the past 24 hours, the temperature here dropped from 21°C at 2pm yesterday to -2°C at 8am today. The cold front responsible drove the temperature down 6°C in three hours at one point, making for uncomfortable walks home from dinner.

We had two delightful September days, but now it's November again. The Climate Prediction Center expects normal temperatures in Chicago through the end of January. Winter is coming...

Monday 12 November 2012 15:06:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 11 November 2012

Politico's Burns & Haberman explain:

[ORCA] was described as a mega-app for smartphones that would link the more than 30,000 operatives and volunteers involved in get-out-the-vote efforts. PBS profiled it a few days before the election. The app was created and managed by the Romney campaign and was kept a secret among a close circle in Boston, according to POLITICO sources.

It's been reported the system crashed at 4 p.m., but multiple sources familiar with the war room operation said it had actually been crashing throughout the day. Officials mostly got information about votes either from public news sources tracking data, like CNN.com, or by calling the counties for information, the source said. Officials insisted the day after the election that they had still believed they were close, and that they had hit their numbers where they needed to, even as Fox News and other outlets called the race.

The post links back to a Romney volunteer's description of how ORCA failed in the field:

On one of the last conference calls (I believe it was on Saturday night), they told us that our packets would be arriving shortly. Now, there seemed to be a fair amount of confusion about what they meant by "packet". Some people on Twitter were wondering if that meant a packet in the mail or a pdf or what. Finally, my packet arrived at 4PM on Monday afternoon as an emailed 60 page pdf. Nothing came in the mail. Because I was out most of the day, I only got around to seeing it at around 10PM Monday night. So, I sat down and cursed as I would have to print out 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. ... They expected 75-80 year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day? From what I hear, other people had similar experiences. In fact, many volunteers never received their packets at all.

Now a note about the technology itself. For starters, this was billed as an "app" when it was actually a mobile-optimized website (or "web app"). For days I saw people on Twitter saying they couldn't find the app on the Android Market or iTunes and couldn't download it. Well, that's because it didn't exist. It was a website. This created a ton of confusion. Not to mention that they didn't even "turn it on" until 6AM in the morning, so people couldn't properly familiarize themselves with how it worked on their personal phone beforehand.

The project management antipatterns are apparent: Blowhard Jamboree, Smoke and Mirrors, Throw It Over the Wall, and basic Project Mismanagement, for starters. I haven't seen the code, but I can't imagine the management and deployment problems didn't lead to design and construction problems as well.

We software professionals have learned, through painful experience, that software developers have a better understanding of how to develop software than corporate executives. Go figure. Since Mitt Romney ran as a father-knows-best, authoritarian candidate, it should surprise no one that the people he hired couldn't run a software project.

Sunday 11 November 2012 10:08:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Business#
Saturday 10 November 2012

Last month I used less electricity than ever before at my current address, mainly because two of the five servers in the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center have had their duties migrated to Microsoft Windows Azure.

This past month, I used even less:

It wasn't my smallest-ever bill, though, thanks to Exelon's recent rate increases. But still: here's some more concrete evidence that the Cloud can save money.

And before people start pointing to the New York Times article from September about how wasteful the Cloud is, I can't help but point out that the writer left out the part where moving to the cloud lets businesses turn off their own on-premises servers. And given the way Azure works (and, I assume, Amazon's and Google's equivalents), instead of dedicated servers doing just about nothing all day, you have shared servers handling sometimes dozens of different virtual machines for a fraction of the cost.

Anyway, except for the part where I fly 100,000 km every year, I feel like moving to the Cloud is helping everyone.

Saturday 10 November 2012 09:47:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Cloud#
Friday 9 November 2012

Voters in the City of Chicago (including me) passed a referendum giving the city the authority to negotiate electricity prices on behalf of everyone. Implementation will be swift:

The timing of the deal is important because Chicagoans stand to save the most money over Commonwealth Edison's rate between now and June 2013, when ComEd's prices are expected to drop because pricey contracts they entered into years ago will expire. The timeline has Chicagoans moving to the new supplier in February 2013.

Michael Negron, deputy chief of policy and strategic planning for the mayor's office, said electricity suppliers have shown great interest in snagging Chicago's service. Nearly 100 people packed a conference Monday for the city's "request for qualifications" process. The bidders ranged from multi-billion corporations to smaller providers from all over the country, he said. Industry analysts say the deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollar to the winning supplier or suppliers.

Residents and businesses may opt out of the scheme and negotiate supply prices separately. As readers of this blog know, I'm desperate for lower prices, and eagerly looking forward to my electric bills next year after the new rate deal hits right after I shut down the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center.

Friday 9 November 2012 11:12:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Cloud#
Thursday 8 November 2012

Not only did the Republican Party lose 3 U.S. House seats in suburban Chicago, they also lost enough Illinois General Assembly seats to give the Democrats veto-proof majorities in both its chambers. Crain's sounds the alarm:

[T]he challenges we face are enormous and vexing.

To meet them, we need a viable, capable and credible opposition party. Put another way: We need Republicans to rethink their very reason for being. In the near term, that means the national GOP needs representatives and, eventually, candidates to come forward with serious policy proposals that have appeal beyond the party's ultra-conservative base. We need pragmatists who are ready to cooperate with Democrats to do the people's work. We need less of a fixation on the social issues that divide us and more of an emphasis on ideas and solutions to our shared problems as a state and as a nation.

As long as they're not raging extremists, I think having a thoughtful opposition helps any policy-making body. Olympia Snowe never bothered me much, for example. If that was the Republican Party (instead of, say, Michele Bachmann), I think the U.S. would be better off.

Also of note in local races, Joe Walsh not only lost his seat by a convincing margin, but he spent more money than anyone else in the state:

[I]n the three top Chicago-area congressional races, those who spent the most money — or had the most spent on their behalf — lost.

In each case, that was the Republican candidate.

The worst bang for the buck?

Tea Party Republican Joe Walsh. Each vote he won on Tuesday cost $70.

Walsh’s challenger, Tammy Duckworth, was a relatively good investment. Duckworth’s totals meant $39 a vote with $4.7 million in spending and 120,774 votes.

Thanks to the right-wing bonanza of Citizens United, this was the most expensive election in history, starting with the two Presidential campaigns spending about $800m each. Yes, readers in the UK: just the top line of the ballot cost us one thousand million pounds. Can you imagine the effects of even a tenth of that amount—£100m—on a political campaign in the UK?

Thursday 8 November 2012 13:23:52 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 7 November 2012

This morning's New York Times:

How about those statistics, hey? Nate Silver went 49 and 0 (with 1 "no decision"):

Wednesday 7 November 2012 09:31:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

I'll have more tomorrow, once I've slept a bit and digested some of these results. In sum, though, I am immensely relieved that reason appears to have won and extremism (and bald-faced lying) seems to have lost.

President Obama is about to take the stage at McCormick Place, so we're minutes from those much-anticipated words, "Governor Romney called me a few minutes ago to congratulate me." Meanwhile, there's even more good news coming through the Intertubes right now:

  • Democrat Brad Schneider has unseated Bob Dold in my home-town district, the Illinois 10th. With Tammy Duckworth's victory, this makes the north Chicago suburbs a sea of blue, and gives the Democratic Party two more house seats.
  • The Denver Post projects that cannabis legalization will pass in Colorado.
  • Tammy Baldwin is winning in Wisconsin. If the trend continues, not only is it a Democratic pick-up in the U.S. Senate, but also she'll become the first openly gay U.S. Senator in history.
  • With Democrat Maggie Hassan winning the New Hampshire governor race, and Democrat Annie Kuster winning in the New Hampshire 2nd CD, four of New Hampshire's top 5 offices are held by women. With 57% reporting, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter right now leads in the New Hampshire 1st. If she wins, it will be the first time in history a state's entire Congressional delegation is female.
  • Anti-gay ballot initiatives appear to have failed in Minnesota, Maine, Washington, and Maryland.

Tonight's election feels to me like a widespread rejection of the far right, and a reaffirmation of reason and patience as principles of governance. We didn't win everything—Michele Bachmann will probably squeak out a narrow re-election—but we won a lot more decisively than I'd expected.

Four more years. No war with Iran. Tea Party extremists thrown out of office. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who tried to buy himself some politicians, zero-for-six (including Mitt Romney). And Mitt Romney himself, the man who figured he could lie his way to the White House, soundly defeated even before all the ballots were counted in the magical swing states of Ohio and Florida.

I'm really very pleased with the way this turned out. And I'm excited about the strengthening coalition we've put together.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 23:26:47 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Iowa and Colorado put him over. NBC just called it, before calling Ohio.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 22:20:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Tim Kaine picks up the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia; Tammy Duckworth wins the Illinois 8th; Obama wins California. Well, duh to the last one.

But Obama is also leading in Iowa, Florida, and Ohio, and has a chance of winning Virginia. Pick any two and that's the ballgame. CNN has Obama at 238 electoral votes, NBC has him at 243.

I was mentally prepared to stay up until all hours, taking a break right now to do pub trivia at a local bar. Well, I'm at pub trivia (but I'm not allowed to play because of the laptop), but it looks like I might get to sleep at a reasonable hour.

President Obama is now arriving at Chicago's McCormick Place. My bet: victory speech before midnight. And we won't have actually needed Ohio.

And just before I hit "Submit," CNN calls Iowa and the Denver Post calls Colorado.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 22:12:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Elizabeth Warren wins Massachusetts; Joe Donnelly wins Indiana; Claire McCaskill leading 52-41 with 13% reporting. Was it God's will that Mourdock was too extreme even for Indiana? And did the voters in Missouri look at Todd Akin and find a way of shutting that thing down?

And as more votes get counted, the President is pulling ahead in both Ohio and Florida. Too close to call either yet, of course. But I'm pretty happy tonight.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 21:00:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

As I reach for a big jar of Tums, Obama leads Romney by 31 votes (out of 2 million counted) in Florida. But: The President has won Michigan and Pennsylvania; Tammy Duckworth has a commanding lead in the Illinois 8th; with 62% reporting, Donnelly leads Mourdock 48-45 in Indiana; and with 23% reporting, Democrat Elizabeth Warren leads incumbent Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts 52-48.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 20:27:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

No surprises yet—the solid states are solid, the tight states are tight. Illinois goes to Obama, as does Romney's home state Massachusetts. Maine goes to King, so a de facto pickup for the Democrats. NBC is calling Democrat Chris Murphy the winner in Connecticut over professional wrestling billionare Linda McMahon, so we keep the seat.

Current confirmed tally: Obama 65, Romney 51. Current nail-biting tallies: Ohio, 58-40 Ohio (1% reporting); Florida, 51-48 Obama (32%); Virginia, 56-42 Romney (26%).

One very bright spot: with 35% reporting, Democrat Joe Donnelly is 50-44 over Republican Richard Mourdock—a pickup for us if the trend continues.

If you want to play along, I'm getting info from the following sources:

Tuesday 6 November 2012 19:38:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 6 November 2012

Obviously I care most about the U.S. presidential race today, and I'm hoping for a clean win by the President. But a few other races have my interest:

  • The Illinois 8th Congressional District, in which Democrat Tammy Duckworth is challenging incumbent Tea Party Republican Joe Walsh. Duckworth is favored by 10 points as of this weekend.
  • The Illinois 10th Congressional District, with moderate Democrat Brad Schneider challenging moderate Repupblican Congressman Bob Dold, is polling at Dold +8 right now, but could break for Schneider. I grew up in that district, and for my entire life it's had a moderate Republican representative. In fact, if I recall correctly, Don Rumsfeld represented the district in the 1960s, before the senility took hold.
  • Indiana's U.S. Senate race between Tea Party Republican Richard Mourdock (of "babies conceived in rape are God's will" fame) against conservative Democrat Joe Donnelly. This should have been an easy win for Mourdock, but he has, shall I say, unpopular views on abortion. Nate Silver gives Donnelly a 69% chance of winning, which will result in a Democratic pickup.
  • Missouri's U.S. Senate race has Neandertal Congressman Todd Akin challenging Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. Again, because of his extreme views, what should have been a GOP pickup is instead looking to be a Democratic re-election slam-dunk. McCaskill is polling 51-36 over Akin as of this weekend.
  • The U.S. Senate races in Ohio, Maine, and Nevada as well, where my guys are polling, respectively, 50-46 (Brown-D), 47-34 (King-I) and 46-48 (Berkley-D).
  • Referenda in Illinois (Illinois constitutional amendment, Chicago electricity supply pooling, and a U.S. constitutional amendment proposal), Colorado (cannabis legalization), Minnesota (gay marriage ban), and California (repealing the death penalty).
  • Finally, Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, where crazy person Michele Bachmann is leading her Democratic challenger by only a few points in the polls. One can dream, right?

Only 9 hours until polls close in the east...

Tuesday 6 November 2012 09:56:42 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

I'm about to go vote, then go to work, then tonight put myself in front of a TV, a radio, an Android pad, and at least one computer. Possibly two computers.

Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what theatrical quote best sums up this election day. One that encapsulates the deepest psyche of the American voter, our commitment to American values, our character.

Perhaps: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!"

No, too British. OK, then: "Winter is coming..."

No, no, no. My guy's going to win, regardless of what the Stark campaign thinks.

Aha! I have it! The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and the American Voter!

"SQUIRREL!"

Now, off to the polls.

Tuesday 6 November 2012 07:47:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

One of the benefits of visiting a small city in the off-season: you get a great hotel room for £98. So let it be with Cardiff. I think during the summer, this kind of view of Cardiff Bay goes for many times more. Combine a great room with a camera that has mind-boggling low-light capabilities, and voilà:

See? You thought I was going to post about the election.

Monday 5 November 2012 21:15:51 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Travel#
Monday 5 November 2012

Ever the Pollyanna, Nate Cohn lays out the nightmare scenario:

With the West Coast providing the margin of victory for any Democratic candidate in a close election, Republican presidential candidates outperform their eventual share of the popular vote until the West Coast reports its results. In 2008, California, Washington, and Oregon voted for Obama by a 4 million-vote margin, representing nearly half of his national popular vote victory.

But the time zones are not alone in delaying results from Washington, Oregon, and California. In most eastern states, the overwhelming majority of votes are counted by the end of Election Night, since only a small share of absentee or overseas ballots arrive after the election. But elections in Washington and Oregon are now conducted entirely by mail and 41 percent of California voters voted by mail in 2008.

If Obama performs as strongly in California, Washington, and Oregon as he did in 2008, he could trail by several percentage points in the national popular vote while giving his victory or concession speech and ultimately seize the lead in the popular vote in the following days and weeks. Even a more middling performance out West, closer to Kerry's, would still allow him to make considerable gains. Unless Election Night ends with Obama holding a lead in the popular vote or Romney holding a large enough advantage to withstand the possibility of a predictably strong showing in late ballots, we may not know the winner of the popular vote for weeks.

But on the other coast, some good news. The New York subway map looks a lot better than it did Thursday morning:

Monday 5 November 2012 10:30:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 4 November 2012

I expect I'll have a thing or two more to say about the election this week. Today, let me just highlight a couple of things I'm watching:

The election matters. Whether you believe that every person should stand or fall on his own, or instead that governments are formed to promote the general welfare, this election will be a referendum on your philosophy. I have a clear bias: I believe public governments do many things better than private concerns can possibly do—and some things that private concerns absolutely should not do. Police powers, for example, I believe absolutely must remain public powers. And yesterday's New York Times provides a stark example of what happens when people stop paying for the police:

The shrinking of Sacramento’s police force has been extreme; the department has lost more than 300 sworn officers and civilian staff members and more than 30 percent of its budget since 2008. But at a time when many cities are curtailing essential services like policing — the Los Angeles Police Department said last week that it could lay off 160 civilian employees by Jan. 1 — the cutbacks in this sprawling city of 472,000 offer a window on the potential consequences of such economizing measures, criminal justice experts say.

In 2011, [Sacramento Police] Chief [Rick] Braziel said, the cuts, in his opinion, went past the tipping point. While homicides have remained steady, shootings — a more reliable indicator of gun violence — are up 48 percent this year. Rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and vehicle thefts have also increased, though in smaller increments.

Complicating matters, the cutbacks have coincided with a flow of convicted offenders back into the city as California, heeding a Supreme Court ruling, has reduced its prison population. Once released, former inmates have less supervision — the county’s probation department also suffered cuts.

The right won't take defeat like grown-ups. For the past week or so, I've noticed right-wing pundits saying things that imply the president's re-election would somehow not be legitimate. James Fallows has a concrete example from the Fox propaganda machine:

Imagine going to vote for your presidential candidate and pushing the button on a touch-screen voting machine -- but the "X" marks his opponent instead.

That is what some voters in Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and Ohio have reported.

Fox News has received several complaints from voters who say they voted on touch-screen voting machines -- only when they tried to select Mitt Romney, the machine indicated they had chosen President Obama. The voters in question realized the error and were able to cast ballots for their actual choice.

"How can we be sure our votes are not being stolen electronically?" asked [one voter].

The irony, of course, is that there was evidence of inaccurate counts—towards McCain—on Diebold voting machines in 2008, which looked especially bad because Diebold's CEO had been an outspoken McCain supporter. And the actual incidents of actual voting malfeasance that we've seen this year have been perpetrated by Republican operatives. Which brings up my last point.

Authoritarians do not go quietly. The U.S. right wing has a deep authoritarian streak, a deepening attitude that ends justify means, and a justifiable, existential terror at the increasing diversity of the United States. They've spent the last 15 or more years building up a cocoon around themselves against the harsh reality of, well, reality. (And what happens in a cocoon? The caterpillar dissolves itself and emerges weeks later as a pretty but short-lived being whose only goals are to reproduce and die.)

As the Republicans' deepening insanity has become apparent to more and more voters, they've become even more unhinged. Remember, they invented modern dirty tricks under Nixon's CREEP. Their entire electoral and governance philosophy has become to win, not to govern. Mitt Romney can invent new stories like Scheherazade (and for similar reasons) because he truly doesn't care about what he's saying, only that he win.

Look, whether or not the President gets re-elected on Tuesday, the United States will continue in relative peace and prosperity for at least a couple of centuries more. A Romney win, I really believe, will amount to a rear-guard victory by a losing side. Almost nothing can prevent the U.S. from becoming more diverse and more tolerant over the next few decades, though the Republican Party, with even a little more power, can seriously sabotage us until they're finally expelled at the polls.

If you're a U.S. citizen, vote, if you haven't already. If you're not a U.S. citizen, then on behalf of the People of the United States, I apologize for the insanity. Sometime on Thursday morning we'll stop fretting about the 2012 election, and then you'll have at least a week off until we start the 2016 campaign.

Sunday 4 November 2012 09:09:47 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 3 November 2012

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I've had some difficulty moving the last remaining web application in the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center, Weather Now, into Microsoft Windows Azure. Actually, I have two principal difficulties: first, I need to re-write almost all of it, to end its dependency on a Database of Unusual Size; and second, I need the time to do this.

Right now, the databases hold about 2 Gb of geographic information and another 20 Gb of archival weather data. Since these databases run on my own hardware right now, I don't have to pay for them outside of the server's electricity costs. In Azure, that amount of database space costs more than $70 per month, well above the $25 or so my database server costs me.

I've finally figured out the architecture changes needed to get the geographic and weather information into cheaper (or free) repositories. Some of the strategy involves not storing the information at all, and some will use the orders-of-magnitude-less-expensive Azure table storage. (In Azure storage, 25 Gb costs $3 per month.)

Unfortunately for me, the data layer is about 80% of the application, including the automated processes that go out and get weather data. So, to solve this problem, I need a ground-up re-write.

The other problem: time. Last month, I worked 224 hours, which doesn't include commuting (24 hours), traveling (34 hours), or even walking Parker (14 hours). About my only downtime was during that 34 hours of traveling and while sitting in pubs in London and Cardiff.

I have to start doing this, though, because I'm spending way too much money running two servers that do very little. And I've been looking forward to it—it's not a chore, it's fun.

Not to mention, it means I get to start working on the oldest item on my to-do list, Case 46 ("Create new Gazetteer database design"), opened 30 August 2006, two days before I adopted Parker.

And so it begins.

Saturday 3 November 2012 14:48:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Business | Cloud#

NOAA has put up an interactive map of aerial photos they took Wednesday, Thursday, and yesterday.

Saturday 3 November 2012 10:20:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Weather#
Friday 2 November 2012

The Weather Channel has some doozies.

And the Peoria Journal has a round-up of photos as well.

Friday 2 November 2012 15:43:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Weather#

From Krugman, on why the GOP hasn't seemed to get much for its billions in ad spending:

[W]hat if we’ve been misunderstanding Rove? We’ve been seeing him as a man dedicated to helping angry right-wing billionaires take over America. But maybe he’s best thought of instead as an entrepreneur in the business of selling his services to angry right-wing billionaires, who believe that he can help them take over America. It’s not the same thing.

Also, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a map of subway outages that suggests just how bad things are for New York commuters.

I used to live in the dead zone of that map. And then I moved to Hoboken.

Friday 2 November 2012 13:00:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 1 November 2012

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent now but formerly a Republican, has endorsed the President for re-election, largely on the basis of their shared belief in anthropogenic climate change:

Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week’s devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.

We need leadership from the White House -- and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.

Mitt Romney, too, has a history of tackling climate change. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed on to a regional cap- and-trade plan designed to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels. ...

He couldn’t have been more right. But since then, he has reversed course, abandoning the very cap-and-trade program he once supported. This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced via Twitter that Lower Manhattan could have its power restored by tomorrow night.

Oh, and Mitt Romney suddenly believes in FEMA. Talk about going where the wind blows...

Thursday 1 November 2012 15:13:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
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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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