Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 27 February 2013

After a couple of days in which I'm glad we keep bourbon in the 10th Magnitude office, Scott Hanselman's examination of working remotely seems timely:

I see this ban on Remote Work at Yahoo as one (or all) of these three things:

  • A veiled attempt to trim the workforce through effectively forced attrition by giving a Sophie's Choice to remote workers that management perceives as possibly not optimally contributing. It's easy to avoid calling it a layoff when you've just changed the remote work policy, right?
  • A complete and total misstep and misunderstanding of how remote workers see themselves and how they provide value.
  • Pretty clear evidence that Yahoo really has no decent way to measure of productivity and output of a worker.

All this said, it's REALLY hard to be remote. I propose that most remote workers work at least as hard, if not more so, than their local counterparts. This is fueled in no small part by guilt and fear. We DO feel guilty working at home. We assume you all think we're just hanging out without pants on. We assume you think we're just at the mall tweeting. We fear that you think we aren't putting in a solid 40 hours (or 50, or 60).

Because of this, we tend to work late, we work after the kids are down, and we work weekends. We may take an afternoon off to see a kid's play, but then the guilt will send us right back in to make up the time. In my anecdotal experience, remote workers are more likely to feel they are "taking time from the company" and pay it back more than others.

I like working from home when I have a lot of creative or intense work to do, but generally I prefer working in the office. I've also been thinking about the compromise solution of moving to within, say, 500 meters of the office, so I can get home in 5 minutes if I need to.

Meanwhile...back to work.

Wednesday 27 February 2013 13:53:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#
Tuesday 26 February 2013

Two guys on vacation, new guys not starting yet, my day began at 7:25 this morning. At least Parker got a taxi to day care, sparing me the need to drive home tonight in a blizzard.

So I'll just add these to Instapaper and hope I have to fly somewhere soon:

Oh, and don't miss Jennifer Lawrence answering stupid questions after her Oscars win Sunday night.

Tuesday 26 February 2013 09:44:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World#
Monday 25 February 2013

I don't have time to read these must-read articles:

Back to the mines...

Monday 25 February 2013 16:47:50 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Sunday 24 February 2013

From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

From this week's news:

If calculations of the newly discovered Higgs boson particle are correct, one day, tens of billions of years from now, the universe will disappear at the speed of light, replaced by a strange, alternative dimension, one theoretical physicist calls “boring.”

“It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out. This has to do with the Higgs energy field itself,” [theoretical physicist Joseph] Lykken [of Fermilab] added, referring to an invisible field of energy that is believed to exist throughout the universe.

“Essentially, the universe wants to be in different state and so eventually it will realize that. A little bubble of what you might think of an as alternative universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us. So that’ll be very dramatic, but you and I will not be around to witness it,” Lykken told reporters before a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston this week.

And...has this happened already? We can't possibly know...but Douglas Adams might have known all along.

Sunday 24 February 2013 11:39:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cool links#

...or, my thought about the controversy surrounding the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty: whether or not agents of the United States could have found (or, indeed, did find) Osama bin Laden without using torture does not matter one bit. Torture is wrong; no outcome that requires torture is worth the moral cost.

But even if one were to accept the clearly false proposition that Osama bin Laden was the most powerful and dangerous criminal in the world, and even if one were to accept the flatly immoral proposition that there are circumstances of such immediacy and lethal potential that justify torture, torture in pursuit of this man still wasn't worth it.

I don't find Zero Dark Thirty morally ambiguous. I don't think Kathryn Bigelow meant to glorify torture; I think she meant to hold up a mirror.

If the events depicted in the film are true, we destroyed lives in the most repugnant way imaginable to get revenge on a madman. We cashed in a century of setting of moral leadership to kill one guy. Forget about whether it was worth it. Is this who we want to be?

Sunday 24 February 2013 09:17:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 23 February 2013

Redondo Beach, Calif., resident Andrew Toth has build a mock-up of a 1970s-era jumbo:

The new cabin - about 60 feet long, stretching from the airplane's nose to the front of the wing - is an almost exact replication of a 1970s and '80s vintage 747.

In addition to first class, Toth installed 26 powder blue seats in what was called Clipper Class - a premium economy class section with extra legroom.

Much of his plane is a former Japan Airlines 747 he rescued from storage space for retired airplanes in the Mojave desert.

Perhaps most impressive, the first-class galley, or kitchen, came in one 800-pound piece from Mojave, trucked on a tractor-trailer and moved by four men from the parking area into his space. Contractor Doug Bernhardt was in charge of making it all fit together.

"We get a picture, and we look at it and he says, `This is what I want it to look like,"' Bernhardt said. "That's the magic in it. That's where you have to have an imagination."

While most of the interior is real, Toth uses some re-creations. But things must be perfect. His upper deck tables were constructed incorrectly, and while only serious Pan Am lovers can tell the difference, Toth had them remade. "Unless it looks exactly like it did when I was a kid, I'm not going to be happy."

Wow. Just, wow.

Saturday 23 February 2013 11:07:30 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#

Microsoft has suffered some unfortunate outages this week, first affecting SQL databases on Monday, and then yesterday storage:

On Friday, February 22 at 12:44 PM PST, Storage experienced a worldwide outage impacting HTTPS traffic due to an expired SSL certificate. This did not impact HTTP traffic. We have executed repair steps to update SSL certificate on the impacted clusters and have recovered to over 99% availability across all sub-regions. We will continue monitoring the health of the Storage service and SSL traffic for the next 24 hrs. Customers may experience intermittent failures during this period. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes our customers.

The outage caused problems throughout the Azure universe, because SSL-based storage underpins just about everything. Without Storage, for example, any VM that goes offline can't restart, because its VHD is kept in Storage. Web sites and Service Bus were also hosed. My customers were annoyed.

These problems can affect any computing system. The problem with Azure Storage going down was the scope of it: millions of applications. Even the largest colo data center only has tens of thousands of computers. With so many people affected, the outage looks like a disaster.

I'll be watching Microsoft closely over the next few days to see what more they can tell us about the outage. But if this was all do to certificates expiring, wow.

Saturday 23 February 2013 08:52:26 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Friday 22 February 2013

Security guru Bruce Schneier examines Papal election security:

Probably the biggest risk is complacency. What might seem beautiful in its tradition and ritual during the first ballot could easily become cumbersome and annoying after the twentieth ballot, and there will be a temptation to cut corners to save time. If the Cardinals do that, the election process becomes more vulnerable.

A 1996 change in the process lets the cardinals go back and forth from the chapel to their dorm rooms, instead of being locked in the chapel the whole time, as was done previously. This makes the process slightly less secure but a lot more comfortable.

There are also enormous social -- religious, actually -- disincentives to hacking the vote. The election takes place in a chapel and at an altar. The cardinals swear an oath as they are casting their ballot -- further discouragement. The chalice and paten are the implements used to celebrate the Eucharist, the holiest act of the Catholic Church. And the scrutineers are explicitly exhorted not to form any sort of cabal or make any plans to sway the election, under pain of excommunication.

Of course, no amount of security in the world will prevent the electors from replacing Joseph Ratzinger with someone at least as out-of-touch and reactionary as he is, given the constitution of the cardinality these days.

Friday 22 February 2013 16:27:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World | Security#
Thursday 21 February 2013

Why does Amazon charge 30% less for some CDs ("includes free mp3 version of this album!) than for just the mp3s? Case in point, a back-catalog Dixie Chicks album, $9.99 for just the mp3s but $6.99 for the mp3s plus CD.

My only hypothesis is that they want to get rid of the physical inventory, and they're willing to take a loss to do so. Any other guesses out there?

(Yes, Dixie Chicks. I didn't know I liked them until Pandora sent them my way. In the last three months I've bought about a dozen albums from groups I never knew I liked because of Pandora, which I hope helps the musicians a little bit.)

Thursday 21 February 2013 17:21:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

This guy, who shared his Oscar ballot with Hollywood Reporter:

Best Cinematography

“I liked Life of Pi, but I’m suspect of any nominee that used a lot of CGI, since you can manipulate the photography so much. Lincoln was way too milky for me; I have that problem with almost everything Janusz Kaminski does. The Anna Karenina cinematography was totally unimpressive. Django Unchained was Robert Richardson, and he, in general, does far too much top-lighting for me. I’m voting for Skyfall because I want Roger Deakins to win an Oscar. Now, I’m a person who knows that Roger Deakins shot Skyfall, but a lot of people in the Academy will have no clue who did because they don’t tell you on the ballot; in fact, they won’t vote for it because it’s a James Bond film -- you know, ‘How can you give James Bond an Oscar?’ But they should go back and rewatch that opening shot where Bond is approaching the camera, and he’s out-of-focus and he slams into focus in a way that I’ve never seen done before. I also really love the way that Deakins plays with dark and light in the film.”

Best Picture

“This is a preferential system. I’m putting Amour at No. 9 because I’m just pissed off at that film. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie that I just didn’t understand, so that’s my No. 8. Les Miserables goes in seventh place — it’s not just the most disappointing film of the year but the most disappointing film in many years. Above that I’m putting Silver Linings Playbook, which is just a “blah” film. Django Unchained will go into my fifth slot — it’s a fun movie, but it’s basically just Quentin Tarantino masturbating for almost three hours. Next up is Life of Pi because of how unique it is and for holding my attention up until its irritating ending. Argo is gonna go in third place, but I don’t want it to win because I don’t think it deserves to win and am annoyed that it is on track to win for the wrong reasons. Actually, come to think of it, do we have to put a film in every slot? Because what I want is for my best picture choice to have the best possible shot, so why even give any support to the others? [He has his assistant call the Oscar voting helpline, finds out that voters can leave slots blank and promptly removes all of the aforementioned selections.] I’m basically OK with one of two films winning. Lincoln is going in my second slot; it’s a bore, but it’s Spielberg, it’s well-meaning, and it’s important. Zero Dark Thirty is my No 1.”

He may not have anything in common with any other Oscar voter (there are almost 400), but it's refreshing to hear the honesty—and the depth of knowledge.

Thursday 21 February 2013 16:51:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 20 February 2013

For the first time in about 5 years—since 2008, I believe—I have no travel scheduled. It's an odd feeling, but one I'll soon rectify. Just not sure where or when to go yet.

Meanwhile, Chuck Thompson, author of Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern manifesto for Southern secession, bemoans the homogeneity of every small city and its brewpub:

Whenever some self-appointed hometown convention and visitors’ bureau rep (and sometimes it’s an actual CVB rep) takes you to that cool little place in the downtown renaissance district where they actually make their own beer—So cool! Nobody does that, right?—you know you’re in trouble. Or, more precisely, you know you’re in that bastion of municipal mediocrity: the newly anointed “It” City.

Artisanal ice cream, gluten-free pizza, burrito trucks run by real Mexicans, jalapeño-infused margaritas, celebrity graffiti sprayers, and First Thursday art walks in revitalized industrial zones promoted by farsighted civic planners armed with government tax schemes—these are the totems of It City. I’m certain Nashville has plenty of them to brag about. But, then again, so do Asheville, Austin, Baltimore, Boulder, Burlington, Las Vegas, Madison, Portland, Raleigh-Durham, San Diego, Santa Monica, Savannah, Seattle, Taos, Tucson, the Twin Cities, and a klatch of other cities that have ascended the heights of those “most livable,” “coolest,” and “best” lists.

Yes. We had brewpubs in Chicago before it was cool. Now Poughkeepsie is getting into the act. Awesome.

Wednesday 20 February 2013 13:21:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink#

Over the past two days, Microsoft Azure had two outages they're still investigating. The first, from 18:26 CST through 20:00 CST Monday (0026 to 0200 UTC Tuesday), and the second, from 13:50 to 15:27 CST (1950-2127 UTC) yesterday, affected SQL Database and related services in the Azure datacenter outside Washington, D.C.

I noticed the Monday evening outage as it happened, because when a database goes down, a number of applications start sending me emails. A couple of people had minor inconveniences, but as it happened on a holiday evening, the damage wasn't too severe.

I did not notice the Tuesday afternoon outage, which did affect a lot of people and made some of my clients very angry, because I was on an airplane. When I landed and turned on my phone, I had 300 emails from various applications and mercifully only 4 from angry clients. (Welcome home!)

Microsoft hasn't determined reported the cause yet, but given the maintenance they had planned, started, and then backed out on Sunday night, they may have a clue. They have a second round of maintenance planned for tonight at midnight CST (0600 UTC). I'll be watching carefully tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 20 February 2013 12:15:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Monday 18 February 2013

After only 147 years, the state of Mississippi has finally ratified the 13th Amendment:

On Dec. 6, 1865, the amendment received the three-fourths' vote it needed when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it. States that rejected the measure included Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Mississippi.

In the months and years that followed, states continued to ratify the amendment, including those that had initially rejected it. New Jersey ratified the amendment in 1866, Delaware in 1901 and Kentucky in 1976.

But there was an asterisk beside Mississippi. A note read: “Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification is not official.”

On Jan. 30, [Secretary of State Delbert] Hosemann sent the Office of the Federal Register a copy of the 1995 Senate resolution, adopted by both the Mississippi Senate and House.

On Feb. 7, Charles A. Barth, director of the Federal Register, wrote back that he had received the resolution: “With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Dr. Ranjan Batra, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, drove the correction. It's nice to see Mississippi finally correct an oversight like this.

Monday 18 February 2013 07:42:33 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | US#

Via Sullivan, a catalog of strange things we do with gadgets:

You’re on your cell phone, talking to a friend, pacing in circles, fidgeting with your hands, checking your cuticles–whatever it is you do while you’re on the phone. They’re odd, pointless behaviors, but we do them nonetheless, and a group of designers from the Art Center College of Design has taken it upon themselves to illustrate and document all of them (sort of like that Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology).

There’s the “Security Blanket” (checking your smartphone for no particular reason when faced with the slightest discomfort in a social situation), the “Halfway Courtesy” (taking one earbud out in order to show a person you’re listening to them), the “Haunted Interface” (performing actions an interface can’t react to, like shaking a video game controller), and many others. All of the actions are collected in a free ebook called Curious Rituals. Researcher Nicolas Nova explains in the book’s introduction.

Meanwhile, I'm doing my strange ritual of camping at Peet's Coffee before dawn to make sure I stay reasonably close to Chicago time for the weekend. Otherwise, Wednesday will be hell.

Monday 18 February 2013 06:40:47 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Sunday 17 February 2013

Flying out of O'Hare yesterday we passed this unhappy specimen:

The 787 Dreamliner has been there over a month now, having gotten stuck in Chicago when the difficulties started. (I've actually been through O'Hare five times since it got stranded, but yesterday was the first time my airplane took off from 22L, giving me a close enough look to snap a photo.)

Sunday 17 February 2013 07:35:55 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Saturday 16 February 2013

Blogger Rod Hilton believes he has found the best way to watch the Star Wars films: IV, V, II, III, VI. First he lays out the problems watching the saga in episode order and filmed order:

The problem with Episode Order is that it ruins the surprise that Vader is Luke’s father. If you think that this reveal doesn’t matter since it’s common knowledge, I suggest you watch the looks on these kids’ faces. This reveal is one of the most shocking in film history, and if a newcomer to the series has managed to avoid having it spoiled for them, watching the films in Episode Order would be like watching the ending of The Sixth Sense first.

Unfortunately, Release Order is also an instant failure, and the reason is a single shot. If you’re watching the original trilogy first, then after the Empire is destroyed and everyone is celebrating, Luke looks over at his mentors, Ben Kenobi and Yoda, and suddenly they are joined by… some random creepy looking teenager who needs a haircut.

The Machete Order strengthens the storyline and ultimately makes the whole saga coherent—and dramatic:

Effectively, this order keeps the story Luke’s tale. Just when Luke is left with the burning question “how did my father become Darth Vader?” we take an extended flashback to explain exactly how. Once we understand how his father turned to the dark side, we go back to the main storyline and see how Luke is able to rescue him from it and salvage the good in him.

The prequel backstory comes at the perfect time, because Empire Strikes Back ends on a huge cliffhanger. Han is in carbonite, Vader is Luke’s father, and the Empire has hit the rebellion hard. Delaying the resolution of this cliffhanger makes it all the more satisfying when Return of the Jedi is watched.

I don't remember how I stumbled upon this article (Sullivan, probably), but the whole chain of links included children trying to understand A New Hope, a site devoted to military and political analysis of sci-fi and fantasy, and the Battle of Hoth deconstructed by Spencer Ackerman.

If I only get two days of downtime this month, I'm going down the rabbit-hole of Star Wars reification, by god!

Saturday 16 February 2013 16:04:14 MST (UTC-07:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 15 February 2013

Some links:

Lots to do in the next 19 hours...including a conference call with a data center at 10:30 tonight.

Friday 15 February 2013 17:20:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | US#
Thursday 14 February 2013

The Cranky Flier gives American and USAirways advice following their Valentines Day announcement of corporate nuptials:

Get Rid of the Old American
Sure, technically everyone who works at American today is part of the old American, but that’s not what I mean. There are key people – and processes – that epitomize the old American and those need to be swept out quickly. If these folks don’t see the writing on the wall, then the new management team needs to act. Number one on that list is, of course, Tom Horton, but they can’t officially sweep him out because he had to stay on as part of the deal as Non-Executive Chairman. But really, he needs to become Non-Existent Chairman. From the looks of this deal, he won’t be around much and it won’t be for very long.

But it’s not just Horton. There are others at the top who will remain nameless that need to go. At the same time, there are some really great VPs that the new management team needs to woo to keep them onboard. The culture of the new American will start at the top, so the people up there need to be in place sooner rather than later and they need to really focus on solidifying the new combined culture.

Protect the Brand Assets
As things churn forward, American needs to be sure to protect its brand assets. None is bigger than AAdvantage, one of the best frequent flier programs out there. The temptation is always there to devalue it, but American as a brand has been devalued for years, and people are going to be tempted to flee during the prospect of another tough merger. So if you’re American, you need to focus on the things that really have strong value, and AAdvantage is one of them. Use the program to bring people back to the airline.

I'll be watching this closely, of course. Over the next five days I have three American flight segments; you can bet I'll be talking to the FAs and pilots.

Also worth a look: Crain's analyzes how the deal affects Chicago.

Thursday 14 February 2013 10:19:19 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#

It's official:

The boards of American Airlines parent AMR Corp. and US Airways Group late Wednesday separately voted to approve a merger that would create the world's largest airline, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"The merger will be formally announced early Thursday morning. Under the all-stock deal's terms, American's creditors would own 72% of the combined airline, and US Airways shareholders the balance," the Journal writes.

"Under the all-stock deal's terms, American's creditors would own 72% of the combined airline, and US Airways shareholders the balance. US Airways Chief Executive Doug Parker will run the combined company as chief executive. AMR CEO Tom Horton will serve as nonexecutive board chairman, likely until the spring or summer of 2014, the time of the new company's first annual meeting after American emerges from bankruptcy protection . . . The airline will likely have a market capitalization exceeding $10 billion, and the value could approach $11 billion."

Yay! My frequent flier miles are saved! Oh, and so are jobs, and revenue in Chicago.

Wednesday 13 February 2013 18:59:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Wednesday 13 February 2013

Paul Krugman has a more considered view of Rubio's blame-game:

Look, this is one of the most thoroughly researched topics out there, and every piece of the government-did-it thesis has been refuted; see Mike Konczal for a summary. No, the CRA wasn’t responsible for the epidemic of bad lending; no, Fannie and Freddie didn’t cause the housing bubble; no, the “high-risk” loans of the GSEs weren’t remotely as risky as subprime.

This strikes me as a bigger deal than whether Rubio slurped his water; he and his party are now committed to the belief that their pre-crisis doctrine was perfect, that there are no lessons from the worst financial crisis in three generations except that we should have even less regulation. And given another shot at power, they’ll test that thesis by giving the bankers a chance to do it all over again.

Wednesday 13 February 2013 09:29:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

For several practical reasons, not least of which that I needed to finish some work I didn't have time to do in Vancouver, I listened to Sen. Marco Rubio's State of the Union response instead of watching it. Missing, I suppose, a good helping of his personal charisma, and going solely on the content of his speech, I have to conclude he and I live in different countries.

Where do I begin?

How about where Senator Rubio began: his first four sentences. I have no objection to "Good evening" or "I'm Marco Rubio" (though I did hear, in my mind's ear, "Polo"). Sentence three: "I'm blessed to represent Florida in the United States Senate." That, to me, is a curious reading of the first and seventeenth amendments. But I'll overlook it for now.

Sentence four: "Let me begin by congratulating President Obama on the start of his second term."

Oh, wait. That sentence is only in the prepared remarks. He didn't actually read it out loud. Why? one wonders.

Look, I'm tired, I woke up today in a foreign country, and I only have one Loonie in my pocket to spend right now against the 277 loonies in Congress. So let me jump ahead to the part of Rubio's speech that made me shout obscenities:

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

Which policies in particular? Two unfunded wars? The dissipation of a $500 billion budget surplus in four years? The draconian immigration laws—which he, as the child of Cubans, never had to experience because of our anti-Castro policies—that have dissuaded millions of able bodies and minds from coming to the U.S.? Or maybe, more pointedly, the small-government fantasies of a senile Federal Reserve chairman who admitted, two years after the disaster he created had put tens of millions of people out of work, had caused the organization he chaired to fail completely to meet its mandate for managing unemployment?

The three most-likely possibilities why Rubio's speech had no connection with reality are these: first, he believes he has to win over the dead-end, right-wing faction of his party (who constitute a compelling majority of it) in order to run for president; second, because he truly believes what he said, which bodes ill for his understanding of the reality-based community most people inhabit; or third, because his time machine malfunctioned, and he read his party's 1976 convention speech by mistake.

"[A] housing crisis created by reckless government policies." I'm agog. I'm out of analogies. What analogy could possibly encompass the chutzpah—mendacity?—of that line? "Mom, I crashed the car, so I blame you for not getting me to school on time." "Doctor, I shot myself in the liver, so I'll blame you if I die."

And that's just one line, near the beginning.

I'm done for the day, though. Tomorrow, after I've slept on it, I'll comment on the best State of the Union address a Republican has given in my lifetime.

Tuesday 12 February 2013 23:10:05 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 12 February 2013

As I mentioned this morning, news agencies have picked up the little signs that tell them a 1000-airplane airline will happen this week:

The boards of the two airlines are expected to meet in the next few days to vote on the proposed merger, sources have told Los Angeles Times and other news outlets. A meeting to vote on the merger was scheduled for Monday, according to some reports, but was postponed to give those involved more time to work out final details.

According to sources, a decision has now been reached to name US Airways Group Inc. Chief Executive Doug Parker as CEO of the new carrier, while Tom Horton, CEO of American Airlines' parent, AMR Corp., would serve as nonexecutive chairman of the board until next year.

Analysts have estimated that the two companies could generate as much as $1 billion in savings and added revenue by combining forces.

In perhaps a modest bit of irony, I'm writing this aboard an American Airlines airplane over New Mexico Colorado. I do love technology...

Tuesday 12 February 2013 15:27:13 MST (UTC-07:00)  |  | Aviation#

The Economist's Gulliver blog thinks so:

THE merger of US Airways and AMR, the parent company of American Airlines, looks set to be concluded this week. The new company, which will be called American Airlines, would be one of the world’s largest airlines by capacity and become the third full-service carrier in America. We wrote about this a month ago, when AMR's board met to examine US Airways’ proposal. (Tom Horton, AMR’s boss, had promised a decision in “a matter of weeks”.)

The airlines are seen as a perfect fit by analysts. There is little overlap between their routes and hubs, which makes it likely that the new alliance will be approved by anti-trust regulators. The benefits for fliers, however, may not be so great...

Oh yes they will. I've said for years that getting American's management out of American would make it a much better airline. And I've said for years, right here on this blog, that US Airways is the right choice. Hell, even American's pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics agree. As an elite American flier, I expect to keep—yes, even to increase—the benefits I have of sticking with the carrier after the merger.

I've got five American flight segments between now and next Tuesday. I hope that I can congratulate the FAs on one of them for seeing this thing through.

Monday 11 February 2013 21:38:44 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Aviation#
Monday 11 February 2013

I always prefer heading west for business trips and east for fun trips because the time shifts work better that way. Sometimes I go to London for a long weekend and stay on Chicago time, meaning I go to sleep at 4am (10pm in Chicago) and sleep until noon (6am). (On any trip longer than 3 days I shift to local time.) Similarly, coming to the West Coast—I'm in Vancouver at the moment—lets me sleep in a bit (5:30 here is 7:30 at home) and get adequate caffeine before starting my business meetings.

Today I've encountered two complications. First, British Columbia and a few other provinces have declared today a provincial holiday, so nothing opened before 7am. Nothing, as in "coffee shops." Second, this early in February and this far west, the sun doesn't rise until 7:28.

Oh, and it's raining. Not a lot. Just enough.

Of course, here in Canada, everything is clean, efficient, and polite. It's not the Canadians' faults that it's cold, dark, and decaffeinated.

Monday 11 February 2013 07:19:46 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Geography | Travel#

The Pope has announced his resignation:

Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign on Feb. 28 because he was simply too infirm to carry on — the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he told the cardinals. "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering.

Ratzinger is the person most directly responsible for the office accused of covering up priests abusing children for decades. I cannot wait to read Sullivan...

Update: I was not wrong about Sullivan.

Monday 11 February 2013 06:02:39 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | World | Religion#
Sunday 10 February 2013

Did you know that Los Angeles is on the way from Chicago to Vancouver? I didn't either. I forgot that, when you have hubs in Chicago and Los Angeles, and no flights at all into the actual destination airport, layovers happen.

Good view from the Admirals Club though:

As much as I like flying, I'm not wild about the seven flight segments in 10 days—none of them less than 3 hours. (Next week, apparently, Dallas is on the way from Chicago to San Francisco. Same hub-and-spoke problem.) I also don't like having to scrunch my laptop between the seat to my front and my lap just to get some work done. Waah, waah, waah.

Next report from the Land Above.

Sunday 10 February 2013 12:38:19 PST (UTC-08:00)  |  | Aviation#

Last night I made the mistake of testing a deployment to Azure right before going to bed. Everything had worked beautifully in development, I'd fixed all the bugs, and I had a virgin Windows Azure affinity group complete with a pre-populated test database ready for the Weather Now worker role's first trip up to the Big Time.

People interested in those sorts of things can continue to read some helpful Azure debugging tips. Otherwise, stay tuned for a whinge about trying to do work on an airplane.

Sunday 10 February 2013 10:27:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Software | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Saturday 9 February 2013

Looking at Poynter's roundup of storm front pages, I'm struck that the New York Post called the storm "Nemo." Two things:

1. Winter storm names are an invention of The Weather Channel, a move the National Weather Service has explicitly repudiated.

2. Nemo is Latin for "nobody." So the Post's headline yesterday, "Nemo Bites"—i.e., "no one bites"—just reinforces the stupidity..

Anyway, I know my friends out east have unprecedented disastrous a bit of snow to survive endure inconvenience them today. Enjoy the digging.

Saturday 9 February 2013 13:50:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Weather#
Friday 8 February 2013

Taking a brief rest from my temporary insanity, I read Sullivan:

Someone in the GOP needs to take Bush-Cheney apart, to show how they created the debt crisis we are in, by throwing away a surplus on unaffordable tax cuts, launching two unfunded wars, and one new unfunded entitlement. They need to take on the war crimes that has deeply undermined the soul of the United States. They need to note the catastrophic negligence that gave us the worst national security lapse since Pearl Harbor (9/11) despite being warned explicitly in advance, accept weak and false intelligence to launch a war they were too incompetent to fight or win, sat back as one of the worst hurricanes all but took out a major city, and was so negligent in bank regulation that we ended up with Lehman and all that subsequently took place.

These were not minor errors. They were catastrophic misjudgments which took an era of peace, surplus and prosperity and replaced it with a dystopia of massive debt, a lawless executive branch, two unwinnable wars, and a record of war crimes that had their source in the very Oval Office.

That seems about right to me.

Friday 8 February 2013 17:50:35 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#

Unfortunately, that's not going to happen for a while. I'm going to spend a lot of time in airplanes over the next 11 days, including a long weekend with the folks. Good thing wifi is ubiquitous, even on airplanes, because it also looks like I'm going to burn at over 120% of utilization again this month. (Last month I was 118% billable, but if you add non-billable time I actually worked 134% of full time.)

The madness ends soon. We're hiring, projects are gelling, other projects are winding down, and at some point I'll just get on a plane for four days without taking my laptop.

I did take three hours yesterday to play pub trivia with my droogs, owing to the start of a four-week trivia tournament. We're in second place—by one point. I sincerely hope to make the next three Thursdays.

Friday 8 February 2013 17:07:13 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business#
Wednesday 6 February 2013

This is alarming:

A new and worrisome benchmark has been reached with the announcement Tuesday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that Lakes Michigan and Huron have dipped to new record lows. It’s been a 14 year journey. That’s how long water levels have been below historic averages--the most extended run of below normal water levels in the 95 year record of Great Lakes dating back to 1918.

The numbers are as stunning as they are disturbing with serious implications to shipping interests, all manner of creatures which populate the lakes, plus the millions who enjoy these natural treasures recreationally and depend on them as a source of water.

Water levels have fallen 1.9 m from the record highs established in October 1986 and currently sit at levels 735 mm below the long term average. Lake Michigan's water level is 430 mm lower than a year ago

We're getting more precipitation than we have in a while, but it hasn't been enough to end the drought. And because of dredging near Detroit, the lakes are emptying faster than ever right now.

Wednesday 6 February 2013 13:16:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | US#

More things I gotta read later:

Now, back to rewriting an authentication provider...

Wednesday 6 February 2013 12:01:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Security#

The UK's Conservative government has passed a marriage equality bill by 400 to 175:

[UK Prime Minister David] Cameron, who described gay marriage as “an important step forward for our country”, smiled broadly as the result was revealed. [Deputy PM] Nick Clegg called the vote “a landmark for equality in Britain”. [Opposition leader] Ed Miliband said it was “a proud day”.

However, the details of the vote quickly showed that Mr Cameron’s decision to push through the legislation has left him in a minority within his own party over the issue.

The result followed a debate in which several gay MPs made impassioned arguments for the change in the law. Mike Freer, the Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, appealed directly to his party colleagues over the vote, declaring: “I am not asking for special treatment. I am simply asking for equal treatment.”

The United Kingdom has a state church and a right-leaning government. The U.S. has a constitutional prohibition against a state church and has a left-leaning government. Yet the UK passed marriage equality before most legislatures in the U.S.

I remember fondly when the U.S. was a beacon of freedom and tolerance in the world. Maybe it will be again, someday.

Tuesday 5 February 2013 18:27:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World#
Tuesday 5 February 2013

I'll be a lot less busy in March, they tell me. Meanwhile, here are some things I want to read:

I will get to them...soon...

Tuesday 5 February 2013 12:18:08 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Geography | US | Blogs#
Monday 4 February 2013

Ho did the accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen LLP miss that Dixon, Ill., comptroller Rita Crundwell embezzled $53 million?

CliftonLarson in 2005 resigned as auditor for Dixon in order to keep other city assignments such as ledger-keeping after an influx of federal funds required the town to hire an independent auditor.

In its lawsuit, however, Dixon contends that CliftonLarson continued to do the annual audit and get paid for it, while hiring a sole-practitioner CPA from nearby Sterling to sign off on the work, thereby preventing competitors from grabbing the business. CliftonLarson says it prepared only a bare-bones “compilation” of financials after 2005 to aid the new auditor, Samuel Card, 56, who also is a defendant.

In depositions in late 2012, Power Rogers attorney Devon Bruce produced CliftonLarson emails after 2005 that referred to the firm's “audit” of Dixon. Also entered into the record were invoices submitted by Ms. Crundwell supposedly from the Illinois Department of Transportation that lacked an IDOT heading or logo and, in one instance, carried a nonexistent date—Nov. 31, 2004.

“Had a two-minute phone call been made by a Clifton employee to the Illinois Department of Transportation regarding any of these false invoices, Rita Crundwell's theft would have been identified at that time,” the lawsuit argues.

Oops.

Monday 4 February 2013 10:18:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Sunday 3 February 2013

This is a more-technical follow up to my most recent post. If you're interested in how the next version of Weather Now will use Microsoft Windows Azure technology to provide real-time weather information, keep reading.

Sunday 3 February 2013 11:44:55 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Cloud | Cool links | Weather | Windows Azure#

Five years ago, on 6 January 2008, I opened a FogBugz case (#528) to "Create NOAA Downloader". The NOAA downloader goes out to the National Weather Service, retrieves raw weather data files, and stores the files and some metadata in Windows Azure storage. Marking this work item "resolved"

Well, I just finished it, and therefore I have finished all of the pieces of the GetWeather application. And with that, I've finished the last significant piece of the Weather Now 4.0 rewrite. Total time to rewrite GetWeather: 42 hours. Total time for the rewrite so far: 66 hours.

Now all I have to do is...let's see...create worker role tasks to run the various pieces of the application (getting the weather, parsing the weather, storing the weather, and cleaning up the database), upgrading the Web site to a full Cloud Services application, deploy it to Azure, and deploy its gazetteer. That should be about 5 hours more work. Then, after a couple of weeks of mostly-passive testing, I can finally turn off the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center.

Sunday 3 February 2013 11:10:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Weather#
Friday 1 February 2013

Via Fallows, a software designer explains how a simple feature isn't:

This isn’t off the shelf, but that’s OK — we’ll just build it, it’s not rocket science. And it’s a feature that’s nice, not one that’s essential. Lot’s of people won’t use these tabs.

So, what do we need to think about when adding a bar of tabs like this?

  • The whole point is to have a view state that summarizes what you’re looking at and how it’s presented. You want to switch between view states. So we need a new object that encapsulates the View State, methods for updating the view state when the view changes or you switch tabs, methods for allocating memory for the view state and cleaning up afterward.
  • You need a bar in which the tabs live. That bar needs to have something drawn on it, which means choosing a suitable gradient or texture.
  • The tab needs a suitable shape. That shape is tricky enough to draw that we define an auxiliary object to frame and draw it.
  • Whoops! It gets drawn upside down! Slap head, fix that.

...and on for another 16 steps. He concludes, among other things:

This is a hell of a lot of design and implementation for $0.99. But that’s increasingly what people expect to pay for software. OK: maybe $19.95 for something really terrific. But can you sell an extra 100 copies of the program because it’s got draggable tabs? If you can’t, don’t you have better things to do with your time?

He's developing for a commercial application that he sells, so he may not be figuring the costs of development the same way I do. Since clients pay us for software development, it's a reflex for me to figure development costs over time. I don't know how much the tab feature cost him to develop, but I do know that to date, migrating Weather Now to Azure (discussed often enough on this blog) would have cost a commercial client about $9,000 so far, with another $3,000 or so to go. And the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture? That's close to $150,000 of development time—if someone else were paying for it.

And all you wanted was a little tab on your word processor...

Friday 1 February 2013 13:16:46 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business#

Why? Because it's too cold for clouds.

Actually, this is one of those correlation-causation issues: cold days like today (it's -15°C right now) are usually clear and sunny because both conditions result from a high-pressure system floating over the area. Still, it's pretty cold:

A February hasn’t opened this cold here in the 17 years since 1996. The combination of bitterly cold temperatures, hovering at daybreak Friday near or below zero [Fahrenheit] in many corners of the metro area, plus the biting west winds gusting as high as 48 km/h, are producing 15 to 25-below zero wind chills—readings as challenging as any Chicagoans have encountered this season.

The first reported -18°Cor lower wind chill occurred Thursday at 8 a.m. and the expectation is a 40 or more hour string of consecutive sub--18°C wind chills is likely to continue through midnight or a bit later Friday night in the rising temp regime predicted to take hold at that time.

Still, it's February, which means lengthening days, warmer temperatures, and pitchers & catchers. Yay!

Friday 1 February 2013 10:15:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

The Cranky Flier wants to know:

Now the latest “news” of the day is that American CEO Tom Horton may end up being the Chairman of the combined entities. There is some good and some bad to this kind of thing. The good is pretty simple to explain. If Horton is willing to settle for a Tilton-esque agreement where he can just sit in a fancy office and collect a huge paycheck for a couple of years, then that finally removes the last real barrier to a merger – the fight being put up by management.

On the other hand, if he insists on a more active role, then it’s a bad idea. There are very few supporters of Horton outside management ranks. Wall Street has been quite clear that Horton’s plans to date are unacceptable. In particular, the plan to grow the hubs by 20 percent is suicidal. As one analyst, Dan McKenzie, puts it, the growth plan “would be toxic for industry pricing and ruinous for shareholders….” The views throughout the financial community appear to echo that sentiment. If Horton has any kind of influence in the merged entity, then the money folks will not be happy. And that hurts the chances of the deal going through.

I'm really hoping for an announcement soon.

Friday 1 February 2013 10:06:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#
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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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