Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 30 January 2013

With former governor George Ryan's release from prison this morning, Illinois has finally returned to the situation of having fewer former governors in prison than out of it. In an especially nice touch, former governor Jim Thompson is Ryan's attorney.

I guess Dan Walker and Jim Edgar are both still alive, too, so the current count is: 1 incumbent, non-convicted governor; 2 former, non-convicted governors; 2 former, convicted governors; and 1 former governor still in jail. There's a nice symmetry there, yes?

Wednesday 30 January 2013 13:50:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

I have a new post up at my employer's developers blog.

Hard-core Daily Parker enthusiasts may have seen it already. Still, click through to XM. We like blog visitors!

Wednesday 30 January 2013 12:35:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Blogs | Business | Windows Azure#
Tuesday 29 January 2013

Chicago's normal high temperature for April 17th is 16°C, which by strange coincidence is the new record high for January 29th:

The warm front associated with the strong low pressure system passed through the Chicago area between 2 and 3AM on it’s way north and at 6AM is oriented east-west along the Illinois-Wisconsin state line. South of the front south to southwest winds 24 to 45 km/h and temperatures in the upper 10s°C prevail – Wheeling actually reported 15.6°C at 6AM. North of the front through southern Wisconsin and farther north, winds were east to southeast and temperatures near freezing. Milwaukee at 6AM was 3°C.

Moreover:

The 18°C high projected for Chicago Tuesday easily replaces the day's previous 99-year record high of 15°C set in 1914 and is a reading just 1.1°C shy of the city's all-time January record high temp of 19°C set back on Jan 25, 1950. Only 5 of the 34 January 60s [Fahrenheit] on the books have made it to 18°C.

Temps in the 60s [Fahrenheit] in January are incredibly rare—a fact which can't be overstated! In fact, just 21 of 143 Januarys since records here began in 1871 have produced 60s.

The city's last 16°C January temperature took place 5 years ago when the mercury hit 18°C on Jan 7, 2008.

Ordinarily in the middle of winter in Chicago it would be customary at this point to say "It was last this warm in..." and throw out a date from last summer. But no, this is the new world of climate change, so I can say: "It was last this warm December 3rd."

Of course, it can't last. Here's the temperature forecast starting at noon today (click for full size):

January to April to January in three easy steps...

Tuesday 29 January 2013 08:38:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 27 January 2013

This is another post about Azure software design, which not everyone will find especially interesting. I promise to post more Parker photos soon. Meanwhile, if you want to read about how the Weather Now parsing system will work in version 4, keep reading.

Sunday 27 January 2013 17:32:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud | Weather | Windows Azure#

Even though we've just gotten our first snowfall, and today has started giving us snow, freezing rain, sleet, and icy roads, there is good news.

January 27th is when things officially start looking brighter in Chicago every year. Tonight, for the first time in almost two months, the sun sets at 5pm. Then things start to become noticeably brighter: a 7am sunrise next Monday, a 5:30pm sunset two weeks after that, then a 6:30am sunrise less than a week later.

Yes, this is dorky, but trust me: you'll notice it now.

Sunday 27 January 2013 13:52:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#

The Inner Drive Technology International Data Center continues to whir away (and use electricity), despite my best efforts to shut it down by moving everything to Microsoft Windows Azure.

Most of the delay finishing the move has nothing to do with its technology. Simply, my real job has taken a lot of time this month as we've worked toward launching a new application tomorrow. Against the 145 hours spent on that project this month, not counting the 38 hours spent helping with other projects, squeezing out the 22 hours I've managed to find for Weather Now has left me falling behind on the Oscar nominees.

If you want to learn more about some technical problems that I've discovered trying to move it out of my apartment the IDTIDC, keep reading.

Sunday 27 January 2013 13:40:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Weather | Windows Azure#
Saturday 26 January 2013

I've come a across a number of stories over the last few days about the Republican Party's efforts to win elections. GOP chair Reince Preibus wonders where they go from here. Legislators in Mississippi apparently don't understand federalism. Republican legislatures gerrymandered every state they controlled in 2011—nothing new there—but now they want to get more Electoral College votes in swing states by going to proportional voting. Virginia's legislature passed a bill that would have thrown 9 of 13 votes to Romney in the last election, even though Obama won the popular vote state-wide, and did it by voting while the senior Democratic representative—a bona fide civil rights hero—was at the Inaguration on Monday. (They followed the vote by recognizing the contributions of Stonewall Jackson to American democracy.) And finally, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent an email to supporters after the watered-down filibuster agreement passed gloating about beating liberals.

Actually, McConnell's email neatly sums up the broader pattern to all these activities: "You see, they had been pushing a plan to end the filibuster, allowing Harry Reid and the Obama Democrats to pass their agenda with a simple majority. Well, Mitch McConnell stood strong and stopped that scheme dead in its tracks."

Yes. That's right. The Republicans have declared war on majority rule, and for good reason. They're no longer a majority.

All of these events, and the shenanigans before the election in which state GOP leaders openly talked of denying the vote to more-urban, more-Democratic voters, point to a party unable to win on the merits, and determined to hold on to whatever power they can by any means at their disposal. What they don't seem to realize is that these tactics alienate people in the center who might vote Republican if they weren't a bunch of nutters.

Look at the UK's Conservatives: faced with declining votes and a strong government, in opposition they changed their policies to win elections. In just one concrete example, the Tories this week published a bill for full marriage equality, something the Republicans over here could not possibly countenance given their current membership.

I think the GOP will hold on to House in 2014, but lose a Senate seat or two. More states are majority-Democratic than majority-Republican, and the Senate represents the states. Long term, though, I think most Americans have had enough. And every day, the old white men who make up the Republican party become a smaller minority.

They won't go quietly. We can be certain of that.

Saturday 26 January 2013 15:29:26 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Friday 25 January 2013

Well, Chicago finally found out how long was the longest stretch in recorded history without a 25 mm snowfall: 335 days. The official tally through 6 am was 28 mm, which looked like this in Lincoln Park:

It really won't last. The forecast calls for 11°C by Tuesday.

Friday 25 January 2013 11:03:00 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 24 January 2013

Work, work, work, and more than an hour each way to the airport, and it turns out I haven't flown in three years. Time to renew my medical certificate and get back in the air.

I miss this, this, and this.

Oh, and this.

Thursday 24 January 2013 17:33:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#

Maps? Check. Dogs? Check. New York? Check. I give you, Dogs of NYC:

If you own a dog in New York City, odds are it’s a mutt named Max.

The city’s dog licensing records show that out of almost 100,000 registered dogs, this is the most common breed and name in town. WNYC obtained the complete list from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which runs the dog licensing program.

The first thing you notice is the names. The most popular ones in the city hew pretty close to the most popular names across all English-speaking countries: Max, Bella, Lucky, etc. But this is New York, so there have to be some named Jeter (40 dogs) and Carmelo (7). In a town also known for its fashion, that explains the prevalence of dogs named Chanel (44), and Dolce (39). There are 83 dogs named Gucci. We've come a long way from Rover.

And if I want, I can get a custom T-Shirt that tells everyone "Parker is a mixed-breed dog, like the 23,185 registered in New York City."

Thursday 24 January 2013 17:11:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Parker | Travel#
Wednesday 23 January 2013

While in New York this past weekend, I visited my old hangout in Hoboken, N.J., The Nag's Head:

Nag's Head, Hoboken, exterior view

It looked subtly different than I remembered it, about which I asked the manager. She explained that they had to nearly gut the place after Sandy. Take a look at this:

Nag's Head, Hoboken, view of bar

You can just make out a change in the bar's finish about halfway up from the floor. That's where the floodwaters sat for about four days. This blogger posted a flood map of Hoboken after the storm that gives you an idea just how bad things were. I used to live near Monroe and Observer Highway, in the area marked Ward 4. That turns out to be the lowest point in the city, about one meter above sea level. I didn't talk to anyone in my old building, but given the damage to the Nag's Head, I imagine it was heavily damaged.

Two months after Sandy, and everything is cleaned up. Amazing. That's New York for you.

Wednesday 23 January 2013 16:47:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

This is exceedingly cool:

Inset from the Census Dotmap showing Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee

What is this

This is a map of every person counted by the 2010 US and 2011 Canadian censuses. The map has 341,817,095 dots - one for each person.

Why?

I wanted an image of human settlement patterns unmediated by proxies like city boundaries, arterial roads, state lines, &c. Also, it was an interesting challenge.

Who is responsible for this?

The US and Canadian censuses, mostly. I made the map. I'm Brandon Martin-Anderson. Kieran Huggins came to the rescue with spare server capacity and technical advice once this took off.

Unfortunately, I can't quite pick myself out of the crowd...

Wednesday 23 January 2013 10:29:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#

Earlier I brought up yesterday's (tonight's in the U.S.) elections in Israel, which surprised me because (a) they're not taking the country into a right-wing dystopia and (b) it started to look like Binyamin Netanyahu might lose his job. (b) is important because the farther away Netanyahu gets from the button, the less likely the U.S. will get drawn into an unwinnable war against Iran.

Well, some hours later, the reports from Tel Aviv are encouraging, but not definitive:

Hours after polls closed on Tuesday, and after some 95 percent of the votes were tallied, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed a mandate to third term as premier, but the battle between the country's right- and left-wing blocs remained virtually in a dead heat.

As voting ended Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party garnered only 31 seats − compared to the 42 the two parties won in the last election in 2009 − prompting him to announce that he was already working toward forming “as broad a government as possible."

The final election results will only be submitted next Wednesday, which places some restraints on President Shimon Peres consulting party leaders about whom he should ask to form the next coalition. However, sources in the President’s Residence say he prefers not to wait that long and is likely to ask Netanyahu to form the next government by the end of this week.

However, Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich said she had already initiated contacts aimed at forming a center-left bloc to prevent Netanyahu remaining prime minister.

As much as I hope for Netanyahu's defenestration, he will most likely scrape together the votes to congeal a right-wing government. Even though a centrist coalition would have a nearly-unprecedented mandate, and also get the extremes on both sides to shut the hell up, the individual incentives are just too strong for Likud politicians. And sadly for just about everyone, Netanyahu is actually a true right-winger, believing the only way to deal with Arabs is through arms.

I'm not naive about the sincerity of Arab leaders who give speeches about wiping Israel into the sea. I just don't think they're likely to try. Along the same line, I think Israel's biggest mistake under Netanyahu mirrors the United States' biggest mistake under George Bush fils: fighting fire with napalm.

You can't fight terrorists with armies. Armies turn allies into enemies. Rome never learned that, but given two thousand years of experience, one would hope the United States would—if for no other reason than we study Rome in school. When you turn the forces of the empire on small threats, the threats become real.

We in the U.S. have alternated between showing the world a brilliant example of democracy and kicking the crap out of it. We declared independence with the power of liberal Enlightenment thinking behind us and promptly enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts. We spent 600,000 lives declaring all men free and promptly declared them unequal. We're the laboratory testing reason against unreason. But reason wins most of the time.

So observe Israel: a country born of the worst atrocities ever visited upon humans by other humans, a country of the smartest, best-educated, toughest people ever to constitute a free democracy, electing an open bigot as their head of government. It staggers the mind. But tonight, at least, it appears half of Israelis have rejected him. One can hope that's enough.

Netanyahu is typical of the right, warning how "those people" will destroy everything you believe in (though the specifics never seem to be described). Only, "those people" don't exist. To define "those people" requires a suspension of intellect, a cessation of rational thought. Defining an entire group of people as something less than another group requires a willful ignorance that becomes terrifying when backed by nuclear weapons.

Except, Iran doesn't seem likely to attack Israel. In fact, if "those people" were a unified block, we might expect a different sort of invasion, as one of Israel's neighbors is wracked by a civil war at the moment without a flood of refugees into Israel.

No, really: are a hundred thousand unarmed Syrians about to invade Israel? Even though the Syrian civil war would seem to give a hundred thousand Syrians a good reason to emigrate hastily to Israel, if only not to get killed by their own countrymen. So...where are they?

Netanyahu's other bugaboo is Iran. So let's ask: Is the Iranian government nuts? Yes. Are they an existential threat to Israel? No. They're kind of like al-Queda and the U.S.: crazy, destructive, criminal, worth every legal and moral effort to stop, but not an existential threat unless we make them so.

I've said this before: the right thrives on fear. People vote for right-wing politicians because they're afraid, and right-wing politicians win when fear trumps reason. Keep in mind, the greatest wartime president the U.S. ever had was a progressive Democrat in a wheelchair. A team of enlightenment liberals won our independence from Britain. We ended slavery under the leadership of a scrappy, shrewd liberal Republican.

So after all this: I hope Binyamin Netanyahu gets sacked this week, because I think he's a nearsighted, fear-mongering charlatan, and Israel deserves better. It troubles me that half of Israeli voters support him and his coalition. But as an American, I can't do anything. I just hope he doesn't pull us into another war.

Tuesday 22 January 2013 23:47:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World#
Tuesday 22 January 2013

Via some Facebook friends in Tel Aviv, I'm getting news that the Israeli election may result in a center-left coalition and sacks Netanyahu:

Israel's three major television networks published exit polls on Tuesday night, after polls closed across the country at 10 P.M.

According to Channel 2's exit polls, the battle was tight between the left and right, with 59 percent of votes going to the left-wing block, and 61 percent to the right.

Yes, that's right, 59-61 is a possibility the way Israeli voting works. I have no idea how.

The BBC thinks Netanyahu might stay:

According to final opinion polls, the joint electoral list of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party of his former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman will win about 32 seats.

That would be 10 fewer than the two parties' combined total from 2009 but still enough to form a coalition with other right-wing and religious groups that would have a majority of about 63.

Israel had elections today because the ruling right-wing coalition fell apart last fall. Because of Israeli election rules, which make those of Cricket seem elementary, no one will know for days who actually runs the country. Weeks perhaps.

It's interesting, though, that it's this close.

Update: Josh Marshall's take.

Tuesday 22 January 2013 14:57:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#

For the first time in almost two years, Chicago woke up to below--18°C temperatures. We last had a day this cold on 11 February 2011, when it got down to -19°C. And we still haven't got any snow:

Lake snowfall across Michigan, despite the relatively low westerly wind-fetch (the "fetch" is the distance over which winds travel across Lake Michigan's comparatively "warm" waters) which is generating it had produced as much as 100-150 mm accumulation late Monday—and more snow is to fall there Tuesday.

Despite snowfall there, all but a comparatively small swath of downstate Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, is reporting sub-par snowfall this season. Chicago, with just 33 mm of snow to its credit, leads the pack of snow-deprived Midwest sites with just 8% of its typical seasonal snow to date--an amount 394 mm below normal.

And we're still pushing out three snow records: the longest period ever without a 25 mm snowfall (333 days, still going); the longest period ever with less than 25 mm of snow on the ground (331 days, still going); and the latest-ever 25 mm-or-greater snowfall (last broken on 17 January 1899—so we're now 5 days past the record).

Weirdest winter in memory, I tell you.

Tuesday 22 January 2013 08:32:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 21 January 2013

After a quick weekend in New York, I'm back debugging and fixing and going to lots of meetings. So this was much appreciated:

Monday 21 January 2013 11:05:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes#
Saturday 19 January 2013

On Wednesday's Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed actor Jessica Chastain, star of the film Zero Dark Thirty. There was a moment, at the end of the interview, in which she absolutely horrified me—and, it seems, him (at around 20:30):

Chastain: The cover of ... was about the CIA agent going to prison for talking to a journalist about waterboarding.
Stewart: You can waterboard, but the first rule of waterboard club—
Chastain: Don't talk about it.
Stewart: You should see it, in theaters now, Zero Dark Thirty.

She seems to believe, as far as I can tell, that torture is a fine way to run a government. Watch her, and watch him, during this exchange. She shows no hint of irony, or even awareness of the point of Stewart's joke.

Earlier in the same show, Stewart had this to say about the NRA's propaganda that "armed Jews could have stopped Hitler:"

I wish armed Jews in the ghetto could stop Hitler. My feeling was, France couldn't. And I'm pretty sure they had guns. Russia had kind of a lot of guns, and they couldn't stop Hitler, until you factored in the wind chill. It's an awful lot to put on an oppressed minority when it took the free world five to six years of all-out total war to stop that motherfucker. So let's stop arguing these "what-ifs."

I think he's had enough of the crazies lately.

Saturday 19 January 2013 10:39:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Friday 18 January 2013

...and it's pretty hideous:

Reactions have been a mixed bag of negative and scathing. Here's Patrick Smith:

Simply put, I cannot believe how awful a makeover this is. It’s so disappointing that it pains me even to write about it, and how anybody signed off on this I’ll never understand.

The body and tail manage to be boring and garish at the same time, with a cheap, downmarket lilt to the whole thing. The typeface is the strongest aspect of the whole mess, and that’s not saying much.

Those are (almost) forgivable aspects. Doing away with the AA symbol, however, was a tragic and unspeakably bad call.

And in its place… What exactly is that new, Amtrak-y logo? It looks like an eagle’s beak poking through a shower curtain. No other word will do: it’s horrible. If it’s not the worst corporate trademark I have ever seen, I don’t know what is.

Cranky Flier said only:

Personally, I hate that the eagle has been marginalized to the point that it’s unrecognizable. And the tail, well, yeah, the tail. I think I heard it put best in this excellent quote:

"Colgan had sex with CSA and Cubana on a Greyhound bus in the same weekend and got pregnant. We know Colgan is the mother but we can’t tell who the father is. Nor do we care because the baby is still ugly either way."

Maybe it will grow on me. Or maybe it won’t last very long anyway…

Why did they do this right now? They're weeks away from either merging or dying. Did US Airways want them to do this? No, according to CEO Tom Horton:

First, Horton said the two issues — merger and rebranding — were separate. Second, he said American needed to go ahead with the new look because in two weeks it is introducing a new flagship aircraft, the Boeing 777-300ER, that needs painting.

Horton also said US Airways had no input into the rebranding and didn’t get an advance look at it.

“We are competitors today, so we didn’t think it appropriate to discuss it with them,” Horton said. “I will tell you that on my drive home last night [Wednesday], I called my good friend Doug Parker and informed him of what we were doing as a courtesy. So I did do that, and we had a very nice chat.”

Well, there you have it. I'm sure Parker was thrilled. US Airways already said they want to keep the American Airlines brand, but I think they rather had in mind the brand from 1968, not this new stuff. Further, I think it's this kind of management thinking that got American into the position it's in today.

Friday 18 January 2013 13:21:21 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#
Thursday 17 January 2013

Yes, this is exactly right:

A big part of gun versus non-gun tribalism or mentality is tied to the difference between city and rural. And a big reason ‘gun control’ in the 70s, 80s and 90s foundered was that in the political arena, the rural areas rebelled against the city culture trying to impose its own ideas about guns on the rural areas. And there’s a reality behind this because on many fronts the logic of pervasive gun ownership makes a lot more sense in sparsely populated rural areas than it does in highly concentrated city areas.

But a huge amount of the current gun debate, the argument for the gun-owning tribe, amounts to the gun culture invading my area, my culture, my part of the country. So we’re upset about massacres so the answer is more guns. Arming everybody.

[There is] a mentality that does seem pervasive among many more determined gun rights advocates — basically that us non-gun people need to be held down as it were and made to learn that it’s okay being around people carrying loaded weapons.

Well, I don’t want to learn. That doesn't work where I live — geographically or literally.

Read the whole post.

Thursday 17 January 2013 15:05:59 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

The fun part about UAT is that 38 known issues can become 100 known issues in just a few hours. So, once again, I have a lot of stuff to read and no time to read it:

Yay, Instapaper!

Now off to lunch, followed by more debugging.

Thursday 17 January 2013 12:45:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US#
Wednesday 16 January 2013

We're just 45 minutes from releasing a software project to our client for user acceptance testing (UAT), and we're ready. (Of course, there are those 38 "known issues..." But that's what the UAT period is for!)

When I get back from the launch meeting, I'll want to check these out:

Off to the client. Then...bug fixes!

Wednesday 16 January 2013 12:28:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Software | Work#

So, at the last possible moment, after much debate, my cousin and I bought our season tickets to Wrigley Field. Great view, beautiful park, possibility of a World Series this year—two out of three ain't bad.

Once again, here are the seats:

And here is the view:

I'm sure I'll post more photos from that spot over the course of the 2013 season. And I may yet finish the geas this year, despite possibly blowing my entire baseball budget this afternoon.

Probably lighter posting the rest of the week. We've got a major delivery tomorrow afternoon, and it's still not done. Ah, software development...

Tuesday 15 January 2013 21:21:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs#
Monday 14 January 2013

We've had a more-or-less normal 24 hours in January, with temperatures between -1°C and -11°Cbog standard.

That said, we've also had the latest sub-freezing high temperature ever (January 1st), which ended the longest-ever stretch without sub-freezing high temperatures (310 days); the second-most days in a calendar year without a sub-freezing high temperature (354); and the fourth-longest stretch without 25 mm of cumulative snow (through January 5th). More records: the longest period ever without a 25 mm snowfall (325 days, still going); the longest period ever with less than 25 mm of snow on the ground (323 days, still going); and by Thursday, given the forecast, the latest-ever 25 mm-or-greater snowfall (last broken on 17 January 1899).

Meanwhile, it snowed in Jerusalem last week, an event as common as...well, snow in Los Angeles.

Now, with more extreme weather in more places, the *New!* *Improved!* Anthropogenic Climate Change! Yay!

Monday 14 January 2013 16:02:20 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Cartoonist Scott Adams did not like Les Misérables:

In a pivotal scene in Les Misérables, one of the main characters finds himself in a sewer, up to his nostrils in human waste, with a bullet in his torso, while being pursued by the authorities who have just killed all of his friends. This was my favorite scene in Les Misérables because I could relate to it. Watching that f[...]g movie feels exactly like being up to your nostrils in human waste, with a bullet in your torso, after the government has killed all of your friends. The main difference is that the movie is longer. Much, much longer.

Anne Hathaway played the part of a whining, mud-caked, Halloween skeleton who blamed the system for her problems. Typical liberal. Hugh Jackman played Wolverine, I think. I didn't catch a lot of the details because it's the sort of movie that makes your mind try to crawl out of your ear hole in search of anything that isn't the movie.

Oh, to have a peek at his in-box today...

Monday 14 January 2013 12:24:39 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 13 January 2013

James Fallows has distilled the discussion about the debt ceiling to two sentences:

Here they are:

  • Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize one single penny in additional public spending.
  • For Congress to "decide whether" to raise the debt ceiling, for programs and tax rates it has already voted into law, makes exactly as much sense as it would for a family to "decide whether" to pay a credit-card bill for goods it has already bought.

That is all.

Oh, how I really wish that were the end of it. But the Republicans in Congress, having long ago banished Rhyme and Reason to the Castle in the Air, seem determined once again to fight it once again.

Sunday 13 January 2013 09:05:24 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 12 January 2013

It's 12°C in Chicago right now, a temperature perfectly normal for April 1st, and 12.2°C above normal for January 13th.

This week's spring-like temperatures and the medium-term climate forecast make it likely that January 2013 will be the 335th consecutive month of above-normal temperatures. That means, if you're under 28 years old and lived in the U.S., you have never experienced a normal month.

Sadly, tonight things get back to normal:

Here's the forecast graph:

Boy, I can't wait for the freezing rain and sleet coming in 15 hours.

Saturday 12 January 2013 09:47:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Via TPM, the White House has responded to the petition to build a Death Star:

This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

Perhaps the previous administration would have been more amenable?

Saturday 12 January 2013 08:43:11 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes | US#
Friday 11 January 2013

How many of you have seen this floating around the Intertubes?

President Obama walking to inauguration

This purports to show how guns make us safer by depicting the President of the United States walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, flanked by the Secret Service and the D.C. Police, all of whom were armed with guns. The implicit argument is that the President is safer because he's surrounded by all those concealed firearms.

I'm kind of busy today, so I don't have time to examine all of the ways that the argument makes no sense, but here are the highlights:

  1. From what, exactly, are these police and agents protecting the President? Could it possibly be: guns?
  2. Does anyone seriously doubt that having dozens of armed bodyguards might make anyone safer? (Unless, for example, you can't trust your bodyguards.)
  3. Does it matter that the President is a hugely-valuable military and political target whose assassination could jeopardize the interests of the United States (not to mention millions of lives), and therefore is especially vulnerable to gun violence without his guards?
  4. Did the presence of armed bodyguards prevent people from shooting at presidents Reagan, Ford, Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, McKinley, Garfield, Lincoln, or Jackson?
  5. Could the presence of millions of guns make an attempt on someone's life more likely in the U.S. than elsewhere?
  6. Continuing the thought, the United Kingdom's Prime Minister is similarly a high-value target, but...well, here is the PM and deputy PM walking down Whitehall in broad daylight with, it appears, a single armed guard (who's staying discretely back from the ministers):
Top two guys in UK government walk with minimal protection to Whitehall

Even better, here's David Cameron walking to Parliament surrounded by random tourists:

UK Prime Minister walks to Westminster unescorted

Now, you have to remember, the Prime Minister's residence has actually been shelled, from a mortar emplacement right in front of the Ministry of Defence. So why isn't the UK's political leader at all worried when he walks down Whitehall?

Pointing to the President's bodyguards and saying we're all safer when armed is like pointing to David Vetter and saying we're all safer from disease when in a sterile environment. (I'm sure some gun nut will say "guns are like antibodies." That only shows the problems with similes.)

I'm sure I'll come back to this. I will leave you with this photo of another head of government, Canada's Stephen Harper, surrounded by complete strangers at a public event with no visible security (though I'm sure he had at least one Mountie guarding him):

Friday 11 January 2013 12:58:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 10 January 2013

As Chicago today goes through its record 321st day without a 25 mm snowfall on its way to 13°C temperatures this weekend, we can take some comfort knowing that this summer's weather in Australia has been unimaginably worse:

Heat is part of the national mythology. It killed some of the country’s first white explorers, and has sparked many devastating fires. The worst, “Black Saturday” in Victoria, killed 173 people four years ago. Thanks to better preparation, firefighting skills and a good dose of luck, fires raging in four states in the latest heatwave have spared humans. Yet Australia is getting ever hotter. The 2013 heatwave has set a new record, 40.3°C, for the highest national average temperature. So far, Leonora, a town in Western Australia, has been the hottest place of all, at 49°C on January 9th. That is still below the highest temperature ever recorded in Australia, 50.7°C at Oodnadatta 53 years ago.

The punchline: the Australian weather service has added colors to its map to account for the heat:

The scorching conditions are set to continue into the coming week and prompted the national Bureau of Meteorology to take the extraordinary measure of revamping its weather charts. New colours have been added to forecasting maps — deep purple and pink — to mark out areas experiencing peaks above 50°C.

The colours have come in for immediate use, with large purple blotches appearing on the weather map for next Sunday and Monday. Temperatures in parts of the state of South Australia are tipped to exceed 50°C.

But hey, New Zealand looks perfectly comfortable on that map...

Thursday 10 January 2013 12:07:54 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Weather#
Wednesday 9 January 2013

My efforts to move Weather Now up to Microsoft Azure took on some new urgency today when I noticed this:

That particular error code means the RAID battery has less than 24 hours of charge in it. Fortunately, this means only that the disk will slow down if the battery dies, unless there's a sudden power failure, in which case I could lose the entire RAID volume.

This is exactly the sort of thing that made me want to move all my applications to the Cloud in the first place.

I just hope I can finish the port before...well, before ol' Sparky dies...

Wednesday 9 January 2013 14:41:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud#

Ah, Illinois. I got so excited that we could become the 10th state to formalize marriage equality this week, even as I knew we'd probably not solve our pension problems in one go. Nope:

The gay marriage bill seemed unlikely to make it to a final vote during the waning hours of the Illinois legislature's lame-duck session which ended Tuesday. And with a new legislature about to be sworn in, one sure local vote for the measure will be lost as Skip Saviano, a Republican from Elmwood Park, leaves Springfield after an election loss.

Three other local legislators will continue in the new session and have pledged their support of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. State Sen. Don Harmon and State Reps LaShawn Ford and Camille Lilly will back the bill according to a gay rights advocacy organization. State Rep. Kimberly Lightford reportedly remains undecided on the issue.

The Tribune is livid:

On Tuesday, as their lame-duck session became their dead-duck session, the Illinois General Assembly made it official: House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and their Democratic majorities want you to know they simply are not capable of agreeing on any law that would begin to fix their terrible pension debacle. Nor do Gov. Pat Quinn, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno or House Minority Leader Tom Cross have the means to compel them.

So as the state's unfunded pension liability of $96.8 billion rises by some $17.1 million a day, Tuesday's $17.1 million was especially exasperating. Exasperating, that is, for everyone but Squeezy the Pension Python, the mythical creature Quinn's office begat in order to illustrate how pension costs are squeezing the lifeblood out of state government's other missions.

Tuesday was the last in a series of days when lawmakers of both parties could have bucked the public employees unions that dictate so much of state government's policy and spending decisions.

("Squeezy the Pension Python?" At least this governor, unlike his two immediate predecessors, isn't a criminal.)

Anyway, at some point, Illinois' pension system will just collapse, because no one involved is willing to save it. As Tom Lehrer said, "I'm beginning to feel like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis."

Wednesday 9 January 2013 10:14:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Tuesday 8 January 2013

There's a meme going around the gun-rights folks right now that banning assault weapons won't keep people from killing each other. Think of the thousands of people stabbed to death every year! Just look at this graphic:

While their specific numbers are wrong, the basic assertion is correct: Very few people get killed by rifles in the U.S. No, our eye-watering murder rate comes mainly from handguns, which are second only to cars in the league table of man-made health risks in the U.S.

Start with the raw numbers. There were 14,612 murders in the U.S. in 2011, of which about 11,500 were by guns. That gives us a homicide rate around 5 per 100,000 population. (Source: FBI)

Compare that with the 39 gun murders in the UK, out of their total 550, for roughly the same period. That's a rate of 1.4 murders per 100,000, somewhat lower than the U.S. rate. (Source: UK Home Office)

It turns out, if you take out a proportional number of gun murders—imagine if the U.S. had only 2,000 gun murders in 2011, out of 5,500 total—that would put our murder rate at 1.7, slightly higher than the UK but still within the norm for OECD countries.

Fascinating. It's almost as if having more than 250 million guns lying around made it easier to kill people.

So, if your point is that banning high-capacity firearms won't do much to stop murders in the U.S., you're absolutely right. In the last 12 months, an assault-weapons ban would only have saved 21 children in Connecticut and 45 young people in Colorado—a drop in the homicidal bucket. That's why we should restrict handguns as well, don't you think?

Tuesday 8 January 2013 15:45:44 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Today is the 319th day since Chicago has had a 25 mm snowfall, tying the record set in 1940. As our forecast calls for 10°C-plus temperatures this coming weekend, the record will just get harder to beat.

Unfortunately, the lack of snowfall is also a general lack of precipitation, so water levels in Lake Michigan has hit an all-time low:

he U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron hit record lows in December, at nearly two and a half feet below average. Army Corps projections for lake levels have been dire since September, when it became clear that a relatively warm, dry fall and winter would not provide relief from a long drought and one of the the hottest summers ever.

Now the water is an inch below its record low for this time of year in 1964, and continues to drop. Shippers, fishermen, and small-town tourist harbors say federal help with digging out channels and repairing infrastructure could keep the low water problem from becoming a crisis.

The water will likely go back up in spring and summer, as it does every year; late winter is generally the lowest time in the lakes’ yearly cycle. But another summer of extreme heat or drought, and this winter’s woes will seem like kid stuff.

Also announced today, 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States: "The average temperature for 2012 was 12.9°C, 1.8°C above normal and a full degree [Fahrenheit] higher than the previous warmest year recorded -- 1998 -- NOAA said in its report Tuesday."

Tuesday 8 January 2013 13:19:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 6 January 2013

This is about C# development. If you're interested in how I got a 60-fold improvement in code execution speed by adding a one-line Entity Framework configuration change, read on. If you want a photo of Parker, I'll post one later today.

Sunday 6 January 2013 12:17:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Cloud | Weather | Windows Azure#
Saturday 5 January 2013

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Saturday 5 January 2013 10:50:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Astronomy#

To refresh your memory of the movie Finding Nemo, Dory had a cognitive deficiency:

To refresh your memory of last month, so do most American news media:

Blame it on the fiscal cliff, blame it on Christmas, blame it on our ability to forget, but the national discussion about gun control has once again ebbed. Mentions of the term "gun control" on television, in newspapers, and in online media are down to pre-Sandy Hook levels, according to the Nexis database.

Barring a post-holidy resurgence -- which is certainly possible -- the gun control discussion has once again gone the way of... the gun control discussion.

Hat tip: reader MP.

Saturday 5 January 2013 09:31:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Friday 4 January 2013

Nearly 65% of the lower 48 United States has snow cover, including parts of every state except for the seven between Louisiana and South Carolina.

Chicago, for reasons not well understood, has just a trace on the ground and has gone 314 days without 25 mm of snow, 4 days short of the record set in 1940. Since we have no significant snow in the forecast, it looks like we'll break that record too.

Other records threatened: number of days without 25 mm total snowfall accumulation, 312 (record is 313); latest date without a 25 mm snowfall, ranked 10th (record is 17 January 1899; 9th is 5 January 1994); and latest day for total 25 mm accumulation for the season, ranked 4th (record is 8 January 1944; 3rd is 6 January 1913).

And the forecast for March-like weather next week has gotten clearer, with the National Weather Service now predicting 8°C on Wednesday.

Weird weather continues.

Friday 4 January 2013 07:53:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 3 January 2013

The 6-10 day outlook for the U.S. looks warm:

Forecasters predict temperatures above 10°C in Chicago by Wednesday before the weather cools to more normal January levels the following weekend. This comes after 2012 officially became Chicago's warmest year ever (or at least since we started keeping records in 1871), and during a continuing drought that has nearly shut down the Mississippi River.

Well, you know, warm, dry springs are very nice in Chicago...so are mild winters...

Thursday 3 January 2013 10:42:43 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

It seems I got ahead of events in my post last night. Chicago Public Radio clarified this morning what's going on in the General Assembly:

Before it even went to committee, legislators debated not gay marriage, but the process they’ll use to discuss the issue.

Republican State Sen. Dale Righter said it’s hard for the public to follow bills as they move around the Statehouse, and the issue shouldn’t be rushed.

Senators voted 28-24, in effect stalling the bill. But the gay marriage issue could still be addressed again Thursday. It comes as the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party said in a statement that he supports gay marriage while Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago wrote a letter explaining why he opposes it and urging Catholics to actively fight it.

The Tribune has more:

Gay marriage is but one issue on a crowded agenda of the final days of the outgoing General Assembly. Lawmakers also are looking at pension reform, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, gambling expansion and gun control before the reset button is hit when the new Legislature is sworn in Wednesday.

Given the political complexities, it will be a tall order for lawmakers to complete a comprehensive pension overhaul by the time the clock runs out. Same goes for chances of passing a major gambling expansion to meet Mayor Rahm Emanuel's desire to have a Chicago casino.

And Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon had a good response to the Cardinal's idiotic "legal fiction" canard: "Simon argued that adoption is similarly a "legal fiction" that helps citizens form a family unit — and one that she also supports."

Thursday 3 January 2013 08:56:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

House Bill 5170 will very likely go to the Illinois House for a vote before Tuesday, and if it does, it will pass and receive Governor Quinn's signature a few hours later:

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act is amended by changing Sections 201, 209, and 212 and by adding Section 220 as follows:

(750 ILCS 5/201) (from Ch. 40, par. 201)
Sec. 201. Formalities.) A marriage between 2 persons a man and a woman licensed, solemnized and registered as provided in this Act is valid in this State.

The Illinois Senate may vote on it tomorrow. That fact explains why Francis Cardinal George wrote a letter to his rapidly-dwindling flock yesterday saying, "Civil laws that establish 'same sex marriage' create a legal fiction. The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible."

I understand that the Cardinal is not a lawyer, but in this country, and in this state, marriage is defined by law first. I should also draw the Cardinal's attention to the second purpose of HB5170:

(a-5) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require any religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, or any officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, to solemnize any marriage. Instead, any religious denomination, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group is free to choose which marriages it will solemnize.

In other words, Cardinal, we're bound by the First Amendment to get our laws out of your church. Now please get your religion out of our legislature.

Wednesday 2 January 2013 20:44:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 2 January 2013

Sigh. Zipcar, short-term rental car service that has occasionally made my life a lot easier, just got swallowed by Avis:

Zipcar Inc. has been growing as more people in urban areas forgo owning a car and instead tap car-sharing and hourly rental services when they need a vehicle. The company’s third-quarter sales grew 15% to $78.2 million while its membership (renters) grew 18% to more than 767,000. Zipcar earned $4.3 million in the three-month period and has said it expected 2012 to be the first full year for which it posts a profit.

Avis Budget, the nation’s third-largest car rental company -- after Enterprise Holdings and Hertz -- will pay $12.25 a share in cash for Zipcar, a 49% premium over the stock's closing price Monday.

Avis believes it can whittle $50 million to $70 million of expenses out of the combined operations of the companies by eliminating duplication of functions such as the cost of maintaining Zipcar as a publicly traded company.

Just once I'd like to see a cool, niche company grow to a sustainable size without being acquired by a huge corporation.

Wednesday 2 January 2013 16:29:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf takes on the troubling contradiction between right-wing support of the 2nd Amendment at the expense of a few others:

It's one thing to argue that gun control legislation is a nonstarter, despite tens of thousands of deaths by gunshot per year, because the safeguards articulated in the Bill of Rights are sacrosanct. I can respect that... but not from people who simultaneously insist that 3,000 dead in a terrorist attack justifies departing from the plain text of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments, and giving the president de-facto power to declare war without Congressional approval.

[I]f you're a conservative gun owner who worries that gun control today could make tyranny easier to impose tomorrow, and you support warrantless spying, indefinite detention, and secret drone strikes on Americans accused of terrorism, what explains your seeming schizophrenia?

Think of it this way.

If you were a malign leader intent on imposing tyranny, what would you find more useful, banning high-capacity magazines... or a vast archive of the bank records, phone calls, texts and emails of millions of citizens that you could access in secret? Would you, as a malign leader, feel more empowered by a background check requirement on gun purchases... or the ability to legally kill anyone in secret on your say so alone? The powers the Republican Party has given to the presidency since 9/11 would obviously enable far more grave abuses in the hands of a would be tyrant than any gun control legislation with even a minuscule chance of passing Congress. So why are so many liberty-invoking 2nd Amendment absolutists reliable Republican voters, as if the GOP's stance on that issue somehow makes up for its shortcomings? And why do they so seldom speak up about threats to the Bill of Rights that don't involve guns?

I've always wondered these things, too. I keep getting to the conclusion that extreme-right-wingers don't actually think about anything, they just believe stuff.

Wednesday 2 January 2013 14:09:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 1 January 2013

In 2012:

  • I took 15 trips, visiting 2½ countries (England, France, Wales) and 9 states (Wisconsin, New York, California, Minnesota, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia); flew 25 flight segments for 67,647 km; and drove 7,600 km.
  • The Daily Parker grew by 535 entries, ticking along at an average of 1.48 entries per day (as it has since December 2010).
  • I spent 189 hours walking Parker, 112 hours blogging, 222 hours commuting to work, 2,219 hours working for someone else, and 174 hours working for myself.
  • I took 3,955 photos, the fewest in 4 years.
  • I started 35 books, finished 31, dropped 2, and have 4 open right now. (Some of the ones I finished in 2012 I started in 2011.)

This compares similarly to 2011.

All right, 2012 is in the can. On to 2013: the first year since 1987 in which all four numbers are different.

Tuesday 1 January 2013 11:25:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Well, here we are, just the seven point one billion of us.

Here's the situation:

  • Depending on how you reckon things, it's 平成25年, ԹՎ ՌՆԿԲ, or 12013.
  • American children born this month will likely graduate from high school in 2031 and from college in 2035.
  • Children born in 1992 can legally drink in the United States. Those born in 1995 can vote in the U.S. (and drink in Britain).
  • That means it's been 21 years since Boutros Boutros-Ghali became U.N. Secretary-General, 21 years since President George H.W. Bush puked in Kiichi Miyazawa's lap, and 21 years and one week since Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the U.S.S.R.
  • Coming up soon: the 50th anniversaries of Tab Cola, and of Bull Conner turning on the fire hoses; the 100th anniversaries of the Federal income tax, the direct election of U.S. Senators, and the British Board of Film Censors; and the 200th birthdays of Stephen Douglas, Søren Kierkegaard, Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, and David Livingstone (I presume).
  • Garry Kasparov, Russel Davies, and Valerie Plame turn 50 this year; Divine, Andy Gibb, and Lee Marvin have been dead for 25.
  • Unless Congress once more extends copyright, Mickey Mouse will fall into the public domain in ten years.
  • 2112 is less than a century away. This is important if you're a fan of Rush, Babylon 5, or Wall-E.

Updates as conditions warrant.

Tuesday 1 January 2013 10:29:56 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | 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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