Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Sunday 30 June 2013

I didn't have time yesterday to get a skyline photo from out in Puget Sound, so I decided on this as the quintessential Seattle photo:

I'm now back at the Half Moon Bay Peet's, better known as the Inner Drive Technology Western Region Development Center.

(Incidentally, the bridge to nowhere previously mentioned now goes somewhere, as the state have lengthened the bike path another kilometer or so.)

Sunday 30 June 2013 07:01:18 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Travel#
Saturday 29 June 2013

The Chicago White Sox gave up 28 runs yesterday, losing both games of a double-header with the Indians, 19-10 and 9-8. While that went on, Philadelphia beat the Dodgers 16-1, and Milwaukee got spanked 10-3 by the Pirates.

In total, there were 171 runs in Major League Baseball yesterday. I don't know if that's a record, but an average of 11.4 runs per game seems a little high, doesn't it?

But, wow. Twenty-eight runs in one day against one team. That's the super-special kind of baseball they play on the South Side.

Saturday 29 June 2013 09:50:52 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Baseball | Chicago | Cubs#

Park #25 is in the bag.

The Seattle Mariners beat the Cubs 5-4 in 10 innings yesterday after being up by 3 in the top of the 7th. Because if you're up by 3 in the 7th, and you're the Cubs, you're probably going to screw up the 9th. And here is Mike Zunino hitting the 10th-inning single (with bases loaded) that won the game:

Sigh.

So I'm in Seattle, and I have a couple of hours of work to do before my flight to San Francisco. I need some coffee. Where to go? That's a no-brainer: I am under an obligation as a tourist to go to the first Starbucks:

More Seattle and game photos later.

Saturday 29 June 2013 08:51:02 PDT (UTC-07:00)  |  | Cubs | Travel#
Friday 28 June 2013

It turns out, all of O'Hare has free WiFi these days, so I can do work right at the gate when my plane's delayed by several short intervals. (A long delay would have seen me in the club, what what!)

Tonight I'll be at Safeco Field watching the Cubs probably lose to the Mariners and taking in my 25th park. Right now, I'm at H11A waiting for them to clean the plane.

Pretty normal travel day, except for getting out of the Loop.

Friday 28 June 2013 12:49:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Baseball | Cubs | Travel#
Thursday 27 June 2013

As predicted yesterday, Chicago has had more rain so far this year than we had all last year—699 mm in the first half of 2013 v. 684 mm in all of 2012.

That also makes the first half of 2013 the wettest January to June ever:

Wednesday morning’s deluge is just the latest to hit portions of the Greater Chicago area in a year which has been producing precipitation at a record rate. There hasn’t been a single year since official weather records began 142 years ago in 1871 which has produced a year-to-date precipitation tally greater than the 699 mm currently on the books.

Meanwhile, in the West:

Forecasters in the West aren’t mincing words about the heat preparing to intensity before the week’s end across that region. They are referring to the impending heat wave as one of "potentially historic and prolonged proportions."

Excessive heat warnings have been issued from Arizona into southern California and a swath of Utah and Colorado with temperatures in Phoenix predicted to reach the 45-48°C range while Las Vegas heats toward 47°C and the hottest readings near Death Valley move to within striking distance of 54°C.

Next weekend I'll be in parts of the country much cooler than Phoenix (in so many ways).

Thursday 27 June 2013 10:57:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Wednesday 26 June 2013

Note: The DOMA and Prop 8 decisions just came out during the phone meeting that interrupted this entry. I'm sure I'll have something to say about SCOTUS in a few hours. Right now, I have to take advantage of the letup in rain and get to the office.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled blog entry, already in progress:


The monsoon-like rains stalled over the Chicago area today, which will push us past having more precipitation in six months (662 mm as of 7am, with the rain still coming down) than we had all last year (684 mm), isn't the only bit of weather this week enhanced by anthropogenic climate change. Yesterday it was hotter in Alaska than it's been in Chicago since last summer:

Alaskans dealing with unusual heat; Fairbanks' 33.3°C Tuesday high exceeds Chicago’s 2013 peak to-date of 32.7°C to date.

It was snow and an abnormally chilly late spring temp regime which headlined Alaska weather only a little over a month ago. Since then, an extraordinarily rapid transition to record heat has followed—a warm-up which has generated some of the state's warmest temperatures on the books.

The 33.3°C high recorded Tuesday at Fairbanks is warmer than any daytime high recorded yet this year in Chicago. And 90s [Fahrenheit]—in some cases mid-90s [Fahrenheit]—were common in Interior Alaska Tuesday with some 90-degree temps recorded in Canada’s adjacent Yukon Territory as well.

In fact, the heat in central Alaska may accelerate climate change, since melting tundra releases methane gas into the atmosphere. Fun times, fun times.

Wednesday 26 June 2013 09:48:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Weather#

We've got a bit of rain in Chicago this morning:

UPDATE: 7:00 am

Arlington Heights 93 mm

Mundelein 65 mm of rain

Wheeling Chicago Executive airport 107 mm between 4-7am

Lake Zurich 135 mm

McHenry 134 mm- Most of it falling since 3am

Crystal Lake 24 hour rainfall 114 mm

The rain has shut down area transportation:

Flooding has closed the Edens Expressway at Pratt Avenue this morning and has stopped at least three trains on Metra's Union Pacific Northwest Line.

The expressway was closed around 7 a.m., according to the Illinois State Police. Officers were diverting northbound traffic at Peterson Avenue and southbound traffic at Touhy Avenue.

Here's the one-hour rainfall total from the National Weather Service:

And the current image, showing a line of storms stalled across the region:

I'm debating going into the office...

Wednesday 26 June 2013 07:48:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

You call that a filibuster? That's not a filibuster. This is a filibuster:

With tensions running high on both sides, state Sen. Wendy Davis [mounted] a dramatic filibuster Tuesday...to block passage of a controversial and politically charged anti-abortion bill.

Because the special legislative session [ended] at midnight, the Fort Worth Democrat [succeeded by] talking on Senate Bill 5 — a move that [blocked] a mandate by top state Republican leaders to pass the measure during the special legislative session.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) returned to the Senate floor at 3:01 a.m., banged the gavel and announced that, “regrettably, the constitutional time expired” on the special session. Senate Bill 5 cannot be signed because it passed after midnight, he said.

Davis spoke for almost 13 hours, without taking a break or sitting down, before being ruled out of order around 10pm. When the state senate finally tried to vote at 11:45,

[f]or the next 15 minutes — far longer, actually — spectators in the gallery overlooking the Senate floor unleashed a tremendous and sustained scream that drowned out every effort to establish order.

Earlier in the day, Republicans had jammed through the most restrictive voter suppression law in the country only two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 along party lines gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Still, faced with the most extreme right-wing legislative agenda the country has seen in more than a century, one politician literally stood up and said, "not today." I'm impressed.

Wednesday 26 June 2013 07:23:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 25 June 2013

Won, apparently:

The journey began with Jonathan Toews organizing informal workouts while the NHL lockout raged on and ended with the Blackhawks captain holding the Stanley Cup aloft.

The Hawks' magical 2013 season concluded with seemingly the only result Toews and Co. would allow — the franchise's fifth title and second in the last four years after a 3-2 victory over the Bruins on Monday night at TD Garden.

And like the first title, the second sparked a celebration that began on the ice, continued on the flight back to Chicago and showed no signs of letting up as the team partied first at Harry Caray's in Rosemont and then at a private gathering at The Scout bar in the South Loop.

Last night we had fireworks, a huge impromptu rally a few blocks from me, helicopters taking video of the huge impromptu rally, and a drunken neighbor having some difficulty getting into his apartment at 1:30 am that set Parker off.

Well done, Hawks. I'll have to watch the last 76 seconds of the game at some point.

Meanwhile, the Cubs and Brewers both had a day off yesterday, keeping them tied in 4th place. One of my friends has a bet going with a cheesehead that hinges on which team is ahead of the other by the All-Star Game on July 16th. The loser has to do something public and embarrassing: changing his or her Facebook picture to the winning team's logo. For my friend's sake, I hope the Cubs can stay in 4th place. (Third place is now an insurmountable 12 games away. We're in 4th this season.)

Tuesday 25 June 2013 10:01:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs#
Monday 24 June 2013

The publicity photos I took a couple of weeks ago have started getting published. Spectralia's first news release went with this one:

I'll keep posting the ones they use.

Monday 24 June 2013 10:14:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Photography#

Overnight, a commenter from Ireland took issue with my last post. I responded directly, but I thought my response might be worth repeating. I'm not sure I stated my point clearly enough: I wasn't actually discussing Snowden's leak; I'm saying we can't have an adult discussion about the leak any more, because he screwed up the end game.

The anonymous commenter wrote, inter alia:

Einstein fled. So did Hedy Lamar. So did thousands of others - including many who aided Germany's enemies. Were they cowards? Is the Dali Lama a coward?

It's interesting, I've just finished a history of inter-war Berlin, so I have some insight into Einstein's and Lamar's flights from Germany. The commenter essentially suggests that the U.S. has degenerated to the point where a plurality of voters are considering giving power to a group of armed thugs who have publicly and repeatedly announced plans to commit genocide.

Lamar, Einstein, the Dalai Lama—these people were persecuted for who they were, not for what they had done. Their departures from their home countries reflected their beliefs (correctly, it turns out) that their governments weren't worth preserving, that disobedience had no hope of changing anything, that they'd given up hope. Well, I haven't given up.

The commenter also pointed out:

Multiple nations collaborated to aid Snowden's journey. They did so in spite of huge amounts of US pressure. American soft power is an incredibly important thing if America wants to push her agenda - and this incident shows how damaged it is. Mass spying and deception has consequences.

Exactly right. And that's why I say Snowden scored an own goal.

We need to have an open and vociferous debate in the U.S. about the trade-offs between security and liberty, and Snowden could have done a lot to open up that discussion. Instead he ran, and that's all anyone will ever say about him. He conceded the argument on irrelevant grounds.

I agree that Manning and Schwartz deserved better. So did Mandela. But take a look at the example Ellsberg set. Snowden, if he'd been less narcissistic, might have done a lot of good for the country. It's really a shame.

Monday 24 June 2013 08:43:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Security#

Someday, when a far-future Gibson writes about this time in the American Republic, he'll have a paragraph about Edward Snowden. I've got a fantasy in which the future historian remarks on Snowden sounding the alarm against unprecedented government and private collusion against personal privacy, and how his leak sparked a re-evaluation of the relationships between convenience and security, and between government and industry.

But I've actually got a degree in history, and I can tell you that the future Gibson will probably write about how Snowden's cowardice gave those who crave security over liberty the greatest gift they could have gotten. (The same study of history, by the way, leads me to the conclusion that this happy circumstance really does come from Snowden and not from some shadowy conspiracy. Never mistake incompetence for malice.)

I don't have a lot to say, other than Snowden's flight to Venezuela by way of Russia and China allows the people who value security over liberty to claim that Snowden was an enemy of the state, so we shouldn't pay any attention to his message. Have American security services over-reached? Do we have less privacy than ever before? Does this give a future politician the tools to take the United States from a republic to a dictatorship? Yes to all three. But no one will be thinking about that any more.

For the record: I don't think we have any immediate worries. I don't know what the consequences of these disclosures will actually be; no one does. And I'm not scraping together all the gold I can find so I can make a midnight passage to Canada.

I am saying only this: Edward Snowden is an idiot. King went to jail. Mandela went to jail. Hell, Ellsberg was willing to go to jail, but he at least had the pulse of the public before stepping forward.

The thought has occurred to others, I'm sure: Snowden could have done a lot more good as a confidential source, or as a man of conviction, than he can do as a defector.

Oh, and Ed: good luck enjoying your freedom in Venezuela. There's a reason we have chilly relations with the Venezuelan government, and it's not entirely about oil.

Sunday 23 June 2013 21:22:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Security#
Sunday 23 June 2013

Going into yesterday's game against the Astros, the Cubs and Brewers were tied for 4th place in the National League Central division, and the Astros were the second-worst team in all of baseball. (Miami, with a 24-49 record, is firmly in last place overall.)

So no one expected anything exciting in the game, and we got what we expected. Both teams played at a level familiar to parents with children in Little League. Baserunning mistakes cost the Cubs three outs in two innings; simple relays between fielders went all over the field like electrons in a cloud.

We did get to see a rare play when Houston executed a perfect suicide squeeze in the top of the 9th to score the winning run. With a runner on 3rd, shortstop Ronny Cedeno bunted the ball just to the left of pitcher Kevin Gregg, who got the ball in time—but with catcher Wellington Castillo infield of the plate, neither he nor Gregg saw Justin Maxwell barreling down the line from 3rd until his foot crossed the plate.

The park erupted with ennui. Not a peep. About half the fans had already left. When the Cubs went one-two-three in the 9th, we shrugged and went home.

With Milwaukee's win yesterday, the Cubs are back in 5th place, at 30-43. Houston rose to 29-47 with the win, and Miami rounds out the benighted trio of losers at 24-50. Yay, us.

Sunday 23 June 2013 09:33:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Chicago | Cubs#
Saturday 22 June 2013

It helps if you can get a few hundred meters off shore:

That was Thursday Night, on the Sarah's Inn Cruise for a Cause. We got excessively lucky with the weather, so I brought my real camera with me.

This morning I did some more publicity stills for Comedy of Errors; I'll post some of those as soon as I have approval from the cast.

Now I'm off to Wrigley. The Cubs won last night, but so did the Brewers, so we're still tied for fourth.

Saturday 22 June 2013 14:01:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Photography#
Friday 21 June 2013

Via the Atlantic Cities blog, this is pretty awesome:

World domination is all well and good, but sometimes taking over a city is more than enough for one night. That's the feeling that Luke Costanza and Mackenzie Stutzman had a few years back while playing the board game Risk in Boston. So they sketched out a rough map of the metro area, split neighborhoods into six distinct regions, and laminated the pages. Then they invited over a few more friends to test it out — and discovered it was a rousing success.

"That's when it kind of clicked that we could maybe make these for other cities," says Costanza. "It's just tons of fun to be able to play this classic game in a place that you know."

That initial urge to conquer the Bay has since expanded into Havoc Boards: a series of 15 Risk-style games that Costanza and Stutzman are funding through a Kickstarter campaign. Instead of limiting the action to the global stage, Havoc Boards offer a variety of territories for conquest. To date they've created boards for ten cities —Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles among them — as well as two countries, a continent, a college campus, and even the solar system.

Check it out:

Friday 21 June 2013 11:49:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | Cool links#
Thursday 20 June 2013

I don't know why I started thinking about full English breakfasts just now. I think I last had one 3½ years ago:

Wow, I need to get back to London...

Thursday 20 June 2013 16:17:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | London | Travel#

As I mentioned yesterday, United Airlines will start requiring their elite fliers to meet spending thresholds to keep elite status. Here's the Cranky Flier's take:

If you’re actually earning 25,000 miles from flying and haven’t spent $2,500 on United, then United might not consider you to be worth trying to keep in the program. Either you’re trying to game the system through a really cheap mileage run, or you’re getting incredibly lucky with low fares since those are pretty tough to find these days. Or maybe you’re just flying a lot on partner airlines. I do think it’s odd that joint venture revenue on Lufthansa/Air Canada over the Atlantic or ANA over the Pacific doesn’t count, because United should view that to be the same as revenue on its airplanes. But my guess is that it’s simply a tracking problem. Either way, if you’re really flying that much on joint venture partners and not on United, then you should probably join the other airline frequent flier programs anyway.

On the whole, I don’t have a problem with this move. In fact, I applaud United as I did Delta for trying to tweak these programs to reward the kind of behavior United wants to encourage (spending money and flying a lot instead of just flying a lot). But unlike Delta, which is in a position of strength right now, United’s timing leaves something to be desired.

Again: what will US Airways do?

Thursday 20 June 2013 09:01:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Wednesday 19 June 2013

This could make it harder to qualify for elite status:

Starting next year, United Airlines frequent fliers will have to spend minimum amounts to achieve elite flier status, in addition to flying a certain number of miles or segments, the Chicago-based airline said Tuesday.

Those who want to achieve the lowest elite tier of the MileagePlus program, called Premier Silver, will not only have to fly 25,000 miles or 30 segments, but also spend a minimum of $2,500 on United tickets. Purchases on partner airlines and extra-legroom upgrades, called Economy Plus, count toward the spending threshold.

One tactic some people use—I'm not saying everyone, just some people—is called a "mileage run," which is where you book a flight for no purpose other than getting to the next elite tier as cheaply as possible. For example, if you've got 48,000 miles and you want to make the 50k tier for the next year, you can take a trip to nowhere to earn the last 2,000 miles. From Chicago, for example, you could fly to Tampa (1,018 flight miles) or Albuquerque (1,118 miles) and back, which is great if you find a super-cheap ticket to do so.

I am curious whether US Airways will follow United's lead. (American can't make any changes of that magnitude to its A'Advantage program without US Airways' approval.) If so, I would probably lose my 50k-tier status, because unless I have a lot of business travel at full rate, I'm unlikely to spend $5,000 a year to keep it.

Wednesday 19 June 2013 17:06:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

On Sunday Salon published a description of Rahm Emanuel's management style that suggests he may inadvertently end the Imperial Mayor system we have in Chicago:

Emanuel faces scrutiny from groups [former mayor Richord M.] Daley never alienated: public sector unions, liberal progressives and minority coalitions on the city’s South and West side. Since his election, Emanuel’s approval numbers started dropping, and some are charging him as racist — a “murder mayor” deaf to the marginalized swaths of Chicago suffering from escalating street violence, inadequate transit and the largest mass school closing in U.S. history. While he reigns as mayor in a city traditionally ruled by Democrats, many consider him a Republican in donkey blue clothing, who, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), swept into office and immediately hauled out the budget cleaver.

Emanuel is proposing a new [parking meter] deal [with Morgan Stanley] that once again made Sunday parking free, in exchange for allowing the company to extend parking hours, up to 10 p.m., in some neighborhoods. Emanuel’s talking point for selling the swap is “trying to make a little lemonade out of a big lemon.” But many aldermen, spurred by local media reports that Emanuel’s numbers were flawed — and worried their constituents will run them out of town on a rail — are demanding hard data from city hall to determine if, indeed, the numbers add up in their favor.

And then today the Tribune has an embarrassing bit about red-light cameras:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel accepted $10,000 in campaign contributions from the spouses of two top executives of a longtime city contractor that is also vying to take over the city's beleaguered red light camera program.

The mayor's Chicago for Rahm Emanuel campaign fund has reported two contributions from the wives of SDI's top executives, although in neither case is the connection to SDI disclosed by the Emanuel campaign. One $5,000 donation was reported Dec. 28, 2012, from Gupta's wife, Dawn. Campaign records identify her as the founder of a small holistic health company created in September called Balex LLC.

The other $5,000 contribution to Emanuel was reported Jan. 10 from a woman listed as a “homemaker” named Debra Diver. She is the wife of Brian Diver, the president and chief operating officer at SDI.

Notice that both of these scandals revolve around Chicago's largest public asset: its road network. We have over 6,000 km of streets, and tens of thousands of metered parking spaces. People understand roads. And schools, but that's a bigger topic.

Wednesday 19 June 2013 16:48:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Tuesday 18 June 2013

Last night I poked around aa.com, musing about taking a pair of trips this fall. Two, because during the fall and early winter, airfares and hotels are cheaper than the rest of the year, at least in the places I like to go.

My original thought was to buy a trip to London and use miles for a second trip somewhere else, on the theory that with 8 daily non-stops between Chicago and London, fares would be lower than to somewhere that has only one daily flight. No, not so much.

Some strange airfares and a perverse incentive follow.

Tuesday 18 June 2013 17:44:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | London | Travel#

Where to begin with the latest from the GOP:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday starkly warned Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) not to eliminate the filibuster on presidential nominations, warning that he’ll end the 60-vote threshold for everything, including bills, if becomes the majority leader.

The minority leader sketched out what a Republican-led Senate would do with 51 votes. Job No. 1, he said, would be to repeal Obamacare. He also mentioned lifting the ban on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, approving the Keystone XL pipeline and repealing the estate tax (which he called the “death tax”).

“These are the kinds of priorities that our members feel strongly about, and I think I would be hard pressed,” McConnell said, “to argue that we should restrain ourselves from taking full advantage of this new Senate.”

A couple of things immediately spring to mind here:

  • The odds of the Republicans taking over the Senate in 2014 are vanishingly small. They only have 46 members right now, in a country getting less white, less male, and less old, and yet they keep nominating really, really unpopular candidates.
  • Even if they controlled the Senate, the Democratic Party still controls the White House. Should the GOP-led Senate and GOP-led House both pass things like a repeal of the ACA, the Senate wouldn't override the President's guaranteed veto.
  • Where in the Constitution does it say the Senate needs a three-fifths vote to conduct its business? I would like filibusters to go away entirely—except for the Mr. Smith-style talking filibusters that require members to take a stand and hold the floor. In other words: Go ahead, McConnell. Make my day.

The sooner Harry Reid gets rid of the minority's ability to stymie the legislative process merely by threatening to filibuster, the sooner the vast majority of Americans will have a legislature again.

Tuesday 18 June 2013 11:11:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 17 June 2013

My poor sick dog didn't completely destroy my rugs, but Eli Peer has a job on his hands. Even without the, uh, contributions from Parker last week, the six years of accumulated dog hair mitigated in favor of a good deep cleaning as well. Eli recommends cleaning rugs every couple of years, so mine were long overdue anyway. Judging by the portion covered by the bookshelves in the photo below—a portion without dog hair, dirt, and innumerable other insults—they looked pretty dire. Here's the room in 2008:

Here it is on Saturday:

And in case you don't recognize the line, here's one of its funnier instances.

Monday 17 June 2013 09:47:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Parker#
Sunday 16 June 2013

And here is his annual birthday photo:

For comparison, here is last year's.

Sunday 16 June 2013 15:58:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#

Via Sullivan, scholar John Suiter discovered a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl" at Oregon's Reed College in 1956:

It’s also easy to forget that Allen Ginsberg’s generation-defining poem “Howl” was once almost a casualty of censorship. The most likely successor to Walt Whitman’s vision, Ginsberg’s oracular utterances did not sit well with U.S. Customs, who in 1957 tried to seize every copy of the British second printing. When that failed, police arrested the poem’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and he and Ginsberg’s “Howl” were put on trial for obscenity. Apparently, phrases like “cock and endless balls” did not sit well with the authorities. But the court vindicated them all.

The recording [linked above] sat dormant in Reed’s archives for over fifty years until scholar John Suiter rediscovered it in 2008. In it, Ginsberg reads his great prophetic work, not with the cadences of a street preacher or jazzman—both of which he had in his repertoire—but in an almost robotic monotone with an undertone of manic urgency. Ginsberg’s reading, before an intimate group of students in a dormitory lounge, took place only just before the first printing of the poem in the City Lights edition.

That's almost sixty years ago; the poet was 30. For what it's worth, I bought my copy at City Lights many years ago.

Sunday 16 June 2013 11:44:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Saturday 15 June 2013

As I promised four weeks ago, I have the final data on moving all my stuff to Windows Azure. I delayed posting this data because Azure pricing recently changed, as a number of services went from Preview to Production and stopped offering 25% discounts.

The concrete results are mixed at the moment, though increasing within the next couple of months. The intangible results are much, much improved.

An exciting graph and some detailed data on Azure after the break.

Saturday 15 June 2013 09:47:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure#

A few weeks ago, Brooklyn writer Noah Shannon wrote a New York Times feature purporting to chronicle his near-death experience on a flight from D.C. that made an emergency a precautionary landing in Philadelphia. No one who knows anything about aviation believed him.

Writer and pilot James Fallows, who knows quite a lot about aviation, checks in:

I was not on that plane, but I can tell you: This. Did. Not. Occur. The dangling cap-in-hand; the sweat stains; the captain coming out of the cockpit and saying he would "yell" his commands; the "not going to sugarcoat it" and "just going to try to land it." No.

Today he got Shannon on the record:

What have you learned about from this experience? Are you intending to make your career in reportorial-based journalism, in academic essays? What do you know now about yourself and your plans based on this last month?

Well, I would love to continue to write nonfiction--to continue to report. I guess the last month has instilled in me a greater need for careful scrutiny of my own work. It was driven home to me that it was wrong to give the impression of certainty, of fact, and the things I was a little uncertain or hazy on, I should have qualified those observations, and I think that would have been the better journalistic thing to do--or done more background research. But I didn't at the time, and I have to apologize to the readers and The New York Times for that, and I take full responsibility. Looking forward, I can only hope to do better work and use this motivation to do better work in the future.

Yeah. You know, I edited a newspaper when I was 21, and I didn't need to be told not to—how does one say? embellish? exaggerate? make up?—something billed as non-fiction. I think Shannon has a lot more to write before anyone will take him seriously again, and for his sake, if he wants actually to be a journalist, it had all better be completely accurate. Completely.

In vaguely-related news, Airbus flew an A350 for the first time today. That's for real.

Friday 14 June 2013 20:44:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Writing#

Via TPM, Australian Chief of Army Lt. Gen. David Morrison lays down the law on sexual harassment:

Friday 14 June 2013 20:28:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Friday 14 June 2013

The vet visit went well. Parker has no fever, no giardia or crypto, and probably no really bad diseases. He just has gastroenteritis. Good; I'm glad it's not serious.

But let's examine the damage:

  • Vet bill: $275
  • Rug cleaning estimate: $225
  • Hotel reservation cancelled: $75
  • Billable hours lost: 3

At least I'll have all that extra time to do billable work this weekend, right? Silver linings.

Parker is asleep under my desk now. Tonight he gets boiled chicken. (But how long do I boil it?)

Friday 14 June 2013 16:48:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#

Poor parker.

I came home yesterday evening to a pile of something on one of my mom's antique rugs. Overnight three more piles appeared, two on that rug and one on a different antique rug. Plus there was another pile from the other end of the dog on a patch of hardwood floor this morning.

He didn't eat dinner last night, and he didn't eat the rice I gave him for breakfast. And on his walk this morning, he created a neon-green patch on the sidewalk that prompted a call to the vet when we got home.

I'm not alarmed—yet—because he's alert and happy to go for walks. I've rolled up the carpets, which apparently will cost $225 to clean professionally, so they're out of danger.

My guess is that he ate something yesterday or Wednesday, so I expect the vet will poke him and take X-rays that show nothing of consequence. This happens to dogs sometimes.

Unfortunately, I had planned to take him on a road trip this weekend to see where he came from. I've traced his origins to three possible places in downstate Illinois, about six hours away. Well, that's off now; no way he'll want to go for a six-hour car ride to a strange place and then sleep on a hotel floor.

I hope he feels better. Poor fuzzy dude.

Friday 14 June 2013 13:05:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#
Thursday 13 June 2013

Work, walking lunch, work, work, trivia, sleep. Meanwhile:

Thursday 13 June 2013 11:13:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US#
Tuesday 11 June 2013

In the last couple of days:

If I have time in the next couple of days, I'll return to the student loan problem, because I think it will become the fight of the ages in a few years. Shortly, I would guess, after I've paid off my MBA.

I also have some thoughts noodling around my head about how right-wing politics works. The ongoing student-loan crisis fits right in, as does the book I just finished.

Tuesday 11 June 2013 15:11:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Duke | Geography | US#
Monday 10 June 2013

On this day in 1977, the Apple ][ went on sale.

The base model had 4 kB of RAM, a 1 MHz 6502 processor, and could display 24 lines of 40 columns in 8-bit color. You could buy one for $1,298 ($5,029 today), or if you wanted to upgrade to 48 kB of RAM you would pay $2,638 ($10,222 today). It came with a cassette interface at first, then later with a 5¼-inch, 160 kB floppy disk drive.

I learned how to program in assembly language on one. Ah, memories.

Monday 10 June 2013 12:00:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#

The Showtime series The Borgias will end its three-year run next week, mainly due to salaries increasing while ratings decrease. But creator Neil Jordan also understood the story had ended:

[W]hile filming a pivotal scene in the Season 3 finale, Jordan said [Jeremy] Irons turned to him and told him that “this feels like the end of something, that the family has come to an end.” While mulling a potential fourth season, Jordan said he wasn’t sure he had enough material for 10 episodes and wasn’t sure whether Showtime would want to commit to another season either. “As a compromise, I proposed to finish the arc of all the characters with a two-hour movie,” Jordan said, adding that Showtime commissioned the script and he wrote it. “When they looked at what it could cost, it was just too expensive,” he said.

Having just finished the penultimate episode of the series, I might go farther: the final scene of tonight's episode was, in fact, the technical climax[1] of the story. I would have liked more of this story; but tonight, the central conflict—the driving force of the story—resolved.

But what is it about penultimates in modern television fiction, though? Every Game of Thrones season builds up to Episode 9 and then uses Episode 10 to set up the next season. It's becoming a trope.

Ah, show business.

Let me say that again: show business.[2]

I plan to write more about the connection between The Borgias and that last bit there. For now, let me just say: Babylon 5, The Prisoner, and Lost. Three great stories, none of them finished right. (But J. Michael Straczynski at least had a plan.)

[1] The technical climax of a story is the point where the story can only go in one direction from that point. The dramatic climax is the payoff. For example: in The Godfather (one of the best films ever made, as far as I'm concerned), the technical climax happens when Michael visits his father in the hospital, and says, "I'm with you now, Papa." The dramatic climax occurs during the baptism. If you don't know what I mean, you really need to watch this movie.

[2] This is how my dad begins every screenwriting course he teaches. It's shocking to every student in the room. And it's the best description of entertainment I've ever seen.

Sunday 9 June 2013 22:52:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Writing#
Sunday 9 June 2013

Guardian op-ed writer and feminist Claire Budd makes the argument:

I’ve heard some funny comments this week, Dr Who being racist, sexist and not dealing with real issues being three of them. Having watched hours of the programme and its spin off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, I’ve heard all of those issues being dealt with beautifully. And episodes like Richard Curtis’ 'Vincent and the Doctor', which tackled the taboo of mental illness, have given me some great material to work with as a mother. Not to mention the introduction of many other historical figures – bringing them to life and making them interesting – as well as the parts of our story written into the Doctor’s adventures, including slavery and the stealing of natural resources.

But by far the most valuable contribution to the younger generation has to be the fact that the Doctor is the only non-violent “superhero” male role model. He solves problems through talking and he’s proud to be a science-loving, socially awkward geek. He’s the hero of boys and girls. But most of all he shows boys that violence and aggression won’t get them what they want. Being clever, not conforming, being kind, talking – these are the ways to be a hero.

This comes directly from speculation about Matt Smith's departure. I've heard arguments on both sides now, and I have come to the conclusion that as long as the actor playing the Doctor remains true to the role, it doesn't matter whether the Doctor is male or female.

Sunday 9 June 2013 14:12:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World#

Oh, yummy ribs. Yesterday, Parker and I hiked up to Lincoln and Damen as planned, and tried out a different set of bone samplers than in years past.

  • Mrs. Murphy's Irish Bistro (pictured above) started the ribanalia, and led the pack—for a moment. Once again, they had fall-off-the-bone, lightly smoked meat with a tangy, spicy sauce. 3½ stars.
  • Second was a newcomer, Wrigley BBQ, which actually surpassed Mrs. Murphy. They had flavorful, smoked meat, with a spicy dry rub, just a hint of a sweet Memphis sauce, and just the right tug off the bone. 4 stars.
  • Corner 41 was good. Not great, but good. They have a smoky, fall-off-the-bone meat, with good spice and flavor, but they get a half-point off for presenting the smallest sampler I've ever encountered at Gibfest. 2½ stars.
  • Uncle Bub's had the longest line at the festival, possibly because they had the largest stall. They had smoky, tug-off-the-bone ribs with a really great crispiness. They also provided branded moist towlettes which, when you think about it, every vendor should hand out. 3 stars.
  • Sadly, last was least: Real Urban BBQ from Highland Park. Their tug-off-the-bone meat tasted almost processed (though I know it wasn't), too chewy and salty, on which they put an indifferent sort of sauce. I'll have to skip them next time. 2 stars.

Over the next few months, I'm going to have proper rib dinners at my five-year favorites: Mrs. Murphy's, Wrigley BBQ, and Smoke Daddy, plus my cousin Matt's favorite Fat Willy's.

Parker, as usual, had less fun at the festival than I did:

Maybe I should have tried this? No; there's no way Parker would stay on the wagon:

As for our traditional stop on the way home, SoPo: it no longer exists; it's boarded up now. Before we discovered that, however, we came upon a new place, A.J. Hudson's. Great beer list, friendly staff, and dogs. New tradition!

Sunday 9 June 2013 10:29:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker#
Saturday 8 June 2013

I follow few traditions. That said, walking up to Ribfest Chicago on the first weekend of June has become one. In just a little bit, Parker and I will head out into the crystal-clear, 19°C, late-Spring weather, and get us some ribs.

Before we go, a recap. This will be our 5th Ribfest in six years. Before we started our hike I thought it would help me to remember which vendors I've tried in years past:

2012:

2011:

2010: We didn't go to Ribfest because of my sister's wedding. A fair trade, I think.

2009:

2008:

The 5.1 km walk should take us a little over an hour. On the way back I'll probably continue the tradition established in 2008 by grabbing a beer on SoPo's dog-friendly patio. This also helps by stretching the return walk out to 6 km, in order to work off more ribs.

I may not eat more than a few lentils for the next two days, though...

Saturday 8 June 2013 11:35:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker#

You've heard her music, you just don't remember where.

I went last night with a friend who worked as Yamagata's de facto publicist (and Web designer) when she was just starting her solo career ten or so years ago. That means we were close enough to the stage that my little camera phone actually got a result:

Yamagata usually does really long sets; last night's went almost to midnight. She played mostly songs from her last two releases, and only one or two from her debut, Happenstance. On that point she expressed what some of us were thinking: wow, has it really been that long? (The album came out nine years ago today.)

I also have to say how much I like Lincoln Hall as a venue. It's casual, but you can tell the crew and lighting guys know what they're doing. And nothing beats getting front-row seats—or, anyway, front-row real estate to stand on.

Saturday 8 June 2013 11:15:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 7 June 2013

Last Sunday's Game of Thrones episode portrayed one of the most gut-wrenching scenes from the books. People who hadn't read the books had understandably strong reactions:

More (with spoilers) in the full post.

Friday 7 June 2013 09:18:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Politics | Religion#
Thursday 6 June 2013

I can scarcely believe this story out of Texas:

A Bexar County jury on Wednesday acquitted Ezekiel Gilbert of murder in the death of a 23-year-old Craigslist escort.

During closing arguments Tuesday, Gilbert's defense team conceded the shooting did occur but said the intent wasn't to kill. Gilbert's actions were justified, they argued, because he was trying to retrieve stolen property: the $150 he paid Frago. It became theft when she refused to have sex with him or give the money back, they said.

I'm speechless. There are so many awful things with this acquittal I don't even know where to start. The only thing I even remotely agree with is the principle of jury nullification, but in this specific instance its use shows how utterly reprehensible the jury was.

Hey, Texas, you remember all that stuff we said in 1865 about how we didn't want you to leave the union?

We take it back.

Thursday 6 June 2013 17:07:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Quick links:

More as events warrant.

Thursday 6 June 2013 16:15:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US#
Wednesday 5 June 2013

When I agree with Antonin Scalia (and so do justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor), and disagree with Stephen Breyer (who agrees with Thomas and Alito), something has gone wrong with the universe. On Monday, the inversion of reality happened when the Supreme Court announced its decision in Maryland v. King, finding that police can go fishing with your DNA:

The police may take DNA samples from people arrested in connection with serious crimes, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice, and law enforcement officials say it is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. But the court said the testing was justified by a different reason: to identify the suspect in custody.

Justice Scalia went apeshit, and for once I think he's absolutely correct to do so:

With rigor and wit, Scalia meticulously demolishes this made-up claim. “The Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous,” Scalia begins. He then describes the “actual workings of the DNA search at issue here” on which the Court is “strangely silent.”

Scalia concludes his inspiring dissent by noting the tremendous stakes in the case, and the dangers posed by the Court’s uncritical approval of DNA testing of arrestees—a decision that will affect the “nearly one-third of Americans [who] will be arrested for some offense by age 23.” He predicts that although “the Court disguises the vast (and scary) scope of its holding by promising a limitation it cannot deliver”—namely, that DNA testing will be limited to those arrested for serious crimes such as felonies—the logic of the decision would, in fact, allow DNA tests to “identify” those arrested for traffic offenses. He then directly addresses American citizens, in rousing words that he read from the bench: "Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.” And he ends with one of his most memorable images: “Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”

I honestly don't get Breyer joining the majority on this one, though. That's just weird.

Wednesday 5 June 2013 13:48:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 4 June 2013

The twister—as much as a 4200-meter-wide monster can twist—that hit Oklahoma last week broke all kinds of records:

In the rare category of EF5 tornadoes, the one on Friday in the El Reno area was “super rare,” a National Weather Service meteorologist said Tuesday.

The Weather Service updated its estimate Tuesday of the tornado that struck El Reno Friday, determining it was an EF5, the strongest classification for a twister. It was a record 4.2 km wide and tracked across 26 km.

During Friday's storm, the University of Oklahoma RaXPol — a rapid-scan, polarimetric mobile Doppler radar — measured winds greater than 475 km/h at several times and locations within 150 m of the ground along the south side of subvortices on the south side of the tornado.

Fortunately (there's an understatement), the tornado struck a rural area some distance from Oklahoma City, and no one got seriously hurt

But...wow. That's one hell of a storm.

Tuesday 4 June 2013 18:08:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Weather#

On Sunday the Spectralia Theater Company had me shoot their publicity stills for this summer's Comedy of Errors production. The play goes up this summer at several Chicago Park District parks as part of the Bard in the Parks program.

Doctor Pinch (Don Johnson) and Antipholous of Ephesus (Peter Ash):

The Courtezan of Ephesus (Mary-Kate Arnold):

The play opens June 29th at Ravenswood Manor Park in Chicago.

Tuesday 4 June 2013 08:49:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Photography#
Monday 3 June 2013

On the heels of the BBC's announcement that Matt Smith will leave Doctor Who after this year's Christmas Special, some outlets have reported that Helen Mirren may play the 12th (13th?) Doctor. The rumors are almost certainly false, but it's fun to imagine.

Others have imagined female Doctors, including two blokes back in February who wondered, what if they were all women?

10th Doctor-Sue Perkins

Fans still reeling from the 9th Doctor’s surprise exit were more than a little surprised to see Sue Perkins step into the role. In stark contrast to Suranne Jones’ mercurial, often grim take on the role, Perkins brought a lightness of touch and cheerful eccentricity that hadn’t been seen since the Grenfell years. Complete with brainyspecs, a new found joy in her work and remarkable chemistry with Rose, the 10th Doctor was a massive hit. The burgeoning romance between Rose and the Doctor, heartbreakingly cut short in ‘Doomsday’ and revived in ‘Journey’s End’, was praised by fans and critics alike, as Perkins became the first openly gay Doctor in the show’s history. Her final episodes, featuring the return of Sheridan Smith as the demented Mistress (Having regenerated from an award-winning cameo by Dame Judi Dench as Professor Yana), remain two of the highest rated episodes in the show’s history.

The 50th Anniversary Special will air November 23rd; the Christmas Special, December 25th.

Monday 3 June 2013 13:51:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 2 June 2013

Yesterday I had a fun but abbreviated time at Jarvis Beach doing publicity stills for Spectralia Theater's Comedy of Errors. The play goes up this summer at several Chicago Park District parks as part of the Bard in the Parks program.

I've just finished the first batch of shots, so I haven't got clearance from the production to publish any yet. I can, however, post a shot of the least helpful photo assistant on the planet, here lying down next to Spectralia member Don Johnson:

Sunday 2 June 2013 11:46:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker#

BBC America launched the Canadian sci-fi series Orphan Black in March, and I got immediately hooked. Last night both the show and the Beeb gave me mild disappointments, neither one entirely unexpected.

Click through for a spoiler-rich brain dump about the episode.

Sunday 2 June 2013 09:48:47 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

After a two-and-a-half hour rain delay, last night's Cubs game ticked along with the Cubs ahead 3-1 until the last time I checked the score before going to bed.

This morning I woke up to a 12-4 Cubs loss. Why? Marmol, again:

After escaping two bases-loaded jams early, the Cubs were unable to do so when they needed it most, as D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt launched a tie-breaking grand slam off Carlos Marmol (2-3) in the eighth inning to make it 8-4.

"He's a good hitter," Marmol said. "I left one up there and he took advantage."

Marmol walked Willie Bloomquist and Didi Gregorius and allowed a double to Gerardo Parra before Goldschmidt's slam.

I'm going to the game today. The only good thing about Marmol's loss yesterday is that he won't pitch today's game.

Sunday 2 June 2013 08:24:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Saturday 1 June 2013

Sometimes, the Illinois General Assembly reminds us that Molly Ivins had it right: the only state legislature worse at their jobs than Illinois' is Texas'.

Yesterday, the only legislature we have adjourned for the summer, after passing the least popular bill on its agenda this year and failing to pass one of the most popular:

Illinois had appeared poised to become the 13th state to approve same-sex marriage. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn promised to sign the bill. Democrats held veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. President Barack Obama called for its passage during a Thursday night fundraiser in his home city, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a major backer as well.

Under the bill, the definition of marriage in Illinois would have changed from an act between a man and a woman to one between two people. Civil unions could have been converted to marriages within a year of the law going on the books. The legislation would not have required religious organizations to perform a marriage of gay couples, and church officials would not have been forced to allow their facilities to be used by gay couples seeking to marry.

But as the hours wore on, the optimism and energy dissolved in the face of strong opposition from Catholic and conservative African-American church groups, leading [Rep. Greg] Harris [D-Chicago] to rise on the floor and tearfully announce that he would not call the bill — there wasn't enough support after all.

Thank you, churches, for confusing conservatism and Christianism once again. And thank you, Illinois House, for cowering behind procedure in the face of criticism from a small minority of constituents. Failing to take a vote means we actually don't know which of our representatives would have chosen to side with history and which ones with the past. Well-played, troglodytes, well-played.

Oh, and the legislature also failed to pass pension reform, about which the bond markets will probably have something to say on Monday.

Good thing it's now legal to carry concealed guns in Illinois. Because nothing keeps your kids safe (from gay germs, one must assume) like a .380 in your purse.

Saturday 1 June 2013 11:13:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics | US | Religion#
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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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