Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Monday 30 September 2013

Baseball in Chicago ended yesterday as both the Cubs and the other team lost to whomever they were playing. The Cubs ended the season 66-96; the South Siders, 63-99. Here's the miserable Cubs season in a single graph:

So I was shocked to find gambling in this establishment Dale Sveum got fired:

Sveum's dismissal comes 13 days after team president Theo Epstein declined to give Sveum, 49, a vote of confidence despite saying there were "no alarm bells to ring" regarding the manager. Epstein said Sveum's future was part of the annual process of evaluations throughout the organization and that the manager wasn’t to be judged on wins and losses.

However, it was apparent that Epstein and his staff were disappointed with other areas in which Sveum was to be evaluated, such as the development of young players, in-game decision-making, use of the 25-man roster, the ability to “create a culture of accountability, hard work and preparation, and the ability to develop a strong trust with his players.”

In his defense, three of the five teams in the division clinched playoff berths. So maybe it wasn't that the Cubs sucked ass this year. Maybe they just had a tough division.

Nah. They sucked ass. And Sveum's out on his.

Monday 30 September 2013 13:08:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Sunday 29 September 2013

I was going to post about the Cubs, who just ended the 2013 season a few hours ago, but then I saw James Fallows' clear and concise takedown of the pernicious notion that the impending shutdown of the U.S. Government is anything other than a Republican Party failure:

In short, we have a faction making historically unprecedented demands -- give us everything, or we stop the government and potentially renege on the national debt. And it is doing so less than a year after its party lost the presidency, lost the Senate (and lost ground there), and held onto the House in part because of rotten-borough distortions.

You can call this a lot of things, but "gridlock" should not be one of them. And you can fault many aspects of the President's response -- when it comes to debt-default, I think he has to stick to the "no negotiations with terrorists" hard line. But you shouldn't pretend that if he been more "reasonable" or charming he could placate a group whose goal is the undoing of his time in office.

We'll see what happens tomorrow. And even if we avoid a government shutdown Tuesday, the Treasury's borrowing authority will run out mid-month unless the House gets itself in order. Fun times, fun times.

Sunday 29 September 2013 18:13:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

New York magazine's Ann Friedman explains why she did:

New York is increasingly a city for people who are already on top, not for those looking to establish themselves. I've always been partial to the friendly guy who doesn’t know how hot he really is (Chicago) or the surprisingly intelligent, sexy stoner (Los Angeles) as opposed to the dude who thinks he’s top of the list, king of the hill, A-number-one.

In an excerpt from Goodbye to All That adapted for BuzzFeed, Ruth Curry describes the heady infatuation with New York that I never managed to feel: “The city lent itself especially well to a mental configuration in which you were an extra in an artsy, high-budget movie and saw everything as if through a camera on a set.” Part of that infatuation is a willingness to consider New York from a cinematic distance, overlooking the city’s many irritants except insofar as they add grit and drama to your story. This seems like the general approach of many New York evangelists, who complain vigorously about little things like subway hardships and bedbug plagues, and then post Instagram photos of the skyline at sunset. A not-insignificant number of the vehement New York lovers I know — especially the young twentysomethings — are actually pretty unhappy day to day. I picture the prom king’s girlfriend sitting near him at the party, ignored but still kind of proud to be in the room and on his arm — and incredibly defensive should you suggest she break up with him for someone who dotes on her more. When I describe my West Coast existence (sunshine! avocados! etc.) to some New Yorkers, they acknowledge that they really like California, too, but could never move there because they’d get too “soft.” At first this confused me, but after hearing it a few times, I’ve come to believe that a lot of people equate comfort with complacency, calmness with laziness. If you’re happy, you’re not working hard enough. You’ve stopped striving.

For my part, I moved back to Chicago after three years because I didn't want to hate New York. It worked. I still love New York, but in the way a person can love an ex: I keep up with what she's doing, and we have coffee every so often, but that's about it.

Sunday 29 September 2013 08:55:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Saturday 28 September 2013

Now 10 days into the Divvy experiment, I have some data. Since receiving my Divvy key on the 17th, I've taken 17 Divvy trips of between 6 and 46 minutes. (The 46 minutes included waiting 15 minutes at a station for a space to open up.)

A Divvy subscription costs $75 per year. The 17 trips I've taken just the past two weeks would have cost $38.25 on public transit. Or, since my average trip is around 14 minutes, it could be the equivalent of about $73-80 in cab fares.

Obviously, I've taken Divvy instead of walking a couple of times. And just as obviously, I wouldn't have taken cabs on most of those occasions as one can reasonably say that any weather appropriate for biking is also fine for waiting for a bus or train.

The biggest value, however, comes from my morning commute. On Divvy, it's 25 minutes door to door. On the LaSalle bus (the second-fastest way) it takes 45 minutes. That gives me 20 extra minutes in my day, which at my billing rate more than makes up for the annual fee.

Divvy is absolutely brilliant. I'm absolutely going to try the local equivalents next time I visit London or New York. Or other cities with similar systems: Montreal Bixi (the first in North America), Paris Velib' (the largest public bike share outside China), or someday Melbourne (helmet vending machines available as well).

Saturday 28 September 2013 13:50:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago | Travel#
Friday 27 September 2013

In Chicago, we take these things seriously:

Not since October 2011 have four consecutive 100% sunny days occurred in Chicago. Through Thursday, three days of unlimited sun have entered the record books.

Our forecast of another day of abundant sun Friday could challenge that record.

To date, September’s generated 69% of its possible sun—more than the 64% which is normal!

Of course, in a state with a majority of its gross domestic product coming from agriculture, there's a downside:

The US Drought Monitor released their latest report this morning. It showed that drought has continued to expand in Illinois. The two areas to note are: 1) an expanded area of D2 “severe drought” in central Illinois, and 2) an expanded area of D0 “abnormally dry” into southern Illinois.

Any precipitation at this point will have very limited benefit to the corn and soybean crops because most fields are nearing maturity. However, precipitation would benefit pastures as well as begin the recovery process for soil moisture that is key to the upcoming winter wheat crop and next year’s growing season. The next chance for precipitation in Illinois is on Saturday and Sunday as a cold front moves through the state.

Still, lunch today will be taken on the veranda.

Friday 27 September 2013 08:49:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 26 September 2013

No time to post today, so just read this:

What the sheer gob-smacking scale of these demands means is that the GOP effectively wants to nullify the last election entirely (except of course for their gerry-mandered, no-popular vote House majority). The staggering thing about this party as it now exists is that it views the governance of the other party as always effectively illegitimate. Elections do not matter. Only their agenda matters. No compromise is possible, even when this kind of catastrophic default is hanging over our heads. In fact, the danger of catastrophic default is something they relish in order to undo the basic principles of democratic government.

Thursday 26 September 2013 16:43:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Cubs announced their 2014 schedule a few days ago. Assuming it holds up, it looks like the 30-park Geas will next year take me to Cubs away games in Phoenix in July, Denver in August, and Toronto in September. That will leave just four parks (Minneapolis, St. Louis, Texas, and New Yankee) to finish the Geas in 2015.

Wednesday 25 September 2013 13:28:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs#

The Republican party's antics have reminded me of Chicken Little recently. On reflection, I thought a closer analogue really is a book I read when I was five: The Monster at the End of this Book. I won't spoil the ending for you—it was so good I think my dad read it to me about a ZILLION times—except to say that the GOP's gloom-and-doom histrionics about the Affordable Care Act feel similar to the premise of the book. The monster at the end of the book really is [SPOILER!] the Republican Party itself.

In any event, rather than being bad for most Americans as the GOP would have you believe, it's looking more like the real reason Republicans don't want the law to take effect is that it will probably work better than expected. This, in turn, could make people wonder what the GOP's real agenda is.

I mean, why would the opposition party want to make most Americans poorer?

Wednesday 25 September 2013 12:44:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Last night my cousin and I went to Wrigley for the last time until next April. We wound up leaving after the 7th. Why?

Here's why:

In 2012, the Cubs set a franchise record for most losses on the road. On Tuesday, they lost their 50th game at Wrigley Field this season, establishing a club mark in that category.

The Friendly Confines have been anything but for the Cubs this year.

Rookie Gerrit Cole helped himself with a two-run single, Pedro Alvarez drove in three runs and Jordy Mercer added a solo home run to lift the Pirates to an 8-2 victory over the Cubs. With one game remaining at Wrigley on Wednesday, the Cubs now are 30-50 at home, and 35-43 on the road with three games to play in St. Louis. They will finish with more wins away from home for just the third time since 1996.

The Cubs are now 65-93, with just four games left in the season. At least they're not the worst in all baseball: the Astros have already lost 107 games, tying last year's franchise record for most losses, with four more chances to have their worst season ever.

Yeah. That's right. "At least we're better than the Astros" is the best I can say about the Cubs this season.

Wednesday 25 September 2013 12:35:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#
Tuesday 24 September 2013

Today, it turns out, is "National Punctuation Day;" however, that does not give anyone license—beyond whatever one's local political system grants him—to misuse one's keyboard/mouse/other text-entry device (including voice recognition tools) in furtherance of inappropriate text markings.

I'm hoping we can get a diacritical mass of people on board with this.

It's also the last night game this season at Wrigley, and therefore the last game I'll attend until next April. We won't see a lot of drama as the Cubs have already lost 92 games and the Pirates clinched the division wild card slot yesterday (at Wrigley).

If I care enough, I'll post pictures tomorrow.

Today, though: remember the difference between "let's eat, Grandpa" and "let's eat Grandpa."

Tuesday 24 September 2013 10:12:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs | Kitchen Sink#
Sunday 22 September 2013

My experiment with Divvy—the ugliest form of transportation in Chicago—continues. Yesterday I took, I think, five Divvy rides of varying length, and ran into a problem that will always exist in their model.

It wasn't weather. In fact, on reflection I believe that being able to park and forget the bikes means not caring at all about whether it's going to rain later. If it does, all one needs to do is take another way home.

No, yesterday I encountered a supply problem at the remotest Divvy station on the north side. After a 7 km ride, I got to Logan Square, only to find the Divvy rack was full. I had nowhere to put the bike.

First thing to do in this situation is ask for more time. The kiosks have a "station full" button that gives you 15 extra minutes to find another station. Only, in this case, I felt a little put out, because the station map said the full rack I was staring at actually had two free spots. It continued to say this for an hour, until, like a stuck clock right twice a day, there were finally two open spots.

Fine, the map at Logan Square showed a station only 800 m away. Only, my phone didn't. I went to investigate anyway and discovered, nope, no station, but a spot where they intend to put the station "soon."

I wound up parking the bike at California and Milwaukee, about 1500 m from my original destination, and the weather was gorgeous so walking didn't really bother me that much. But it put me on notice: when a remote station shows nearly-full, don't believe it.

I'm also going to download the developer's tools to find out how often the data get updated. I'll post when I find out.

Sunday 22 September 2013 10:53:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago#
Saturday 21 September 2013

I'm starting a new post series born out of frustration with existing restaurant and search tools. Simply put, most entertainment sites (e.g., Yelp) don't have easy ways of searching for good places to have a beer while working.

Anyone who's read The Daily Parker knows I usually have a "remote office." Often, after regular working hours, I relocate from my regular office to a quiet bar to do another hour or two of work. Right now my remote office is Duke of Perth, where I wrote much of the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture and good hunks of other projects.

Right now, the Duke of Perth is clearly my favorite place to work. What makes it so?

Location: Notwithstanding its objective characteristics, it's a favorite because it's only one click from my house. My other remote offices have been similarly proximate to my daytime offices or my homes.

No TVs: TVs distract me from reading, writing, and talking with people. Plus they're ugly. Duke of Perth doesn't have a single TV anywhere.

Beers: I like to sip a medium-hop, moderate-alcohol pale ale when working. Duke of Perth has Belhaven Twisted Thistle, a well-balanced British IPA that clocks in at 5.3% ABV and around 45 IBUs.

Food: The Duke has a good spread of Scottish pub food (including, yes, haggis) and for no apparent reason the best wings in Chicago. One of their servers finally gave me a hint as to why: they use fresh wings and fresh batter. And orphan's tears.

Staff: Mike has managed Duke of Perth since 1990, and Colin has owned it for a couple years longer than that. Server, cook, and bartender turnover is low. And the staff are uniformly smart and laid-back.

Dogs: No, Parker isn't allowed at the Duke. But that's OK. While I like dog-friendly bars, Parker can be a big distraction while I'm working. If I'm just hanging out with a book, though, he's less of a bother.

Even though Duke of Perth remains my favorite after-work work bar, I'm going to spend the next few weekends looking for other places like it as a public service. Look for more posts on this topic, or download the data, which I'll update from time to time.

Saturday 21 September 2013 15:37:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Best Bars#
Friday 20 September 2013

I've never had much user for LinkedIn. Apparently I'm not alone:

The site’s initial appeal was as a sort of self-updating Rolodex—a way to keep track of ex-coworkers and friends-of-friends you met at networking happy hours. There’s the appearance of openness—you can “connect” with anyone!—but when users try to add a professional contact from whom they’re more than one degree removed, a warning pops up. “Connecting to someone on LinkedIn implies that you know them well,” the site chides, as though you’re a stalker in the making. It asks you to indicate how you know this person. Former coworker? Former classmate? Fine. “LinkedIn lets you invite colleagues, classmates, friends and business partners without entering their email addresses,” the site says. “However, recipients can indicate that they don’t know you. If they do, you’ll be asked to enter an email address with each future invitation.”

This frenetic networking-by-vague-association has bred a mordant skepticism among some users of the site. Scott Monty, head of social media for the Ford Motor Company, includes a disclaimer in the first line of his LinkedIn bio that, in any other context, would be a hilarious redundancy: “Note: I make connections only with people whom I have met.” It’s an Escher staircase masquerading as a career ladder.

I'll keep my LinkedIn profile active, of course, because I have to in my industry. But it's not like I'm hard to find online.

Friday 20 September 2013 15:15:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Thursday 19 September 2013

The question just came up in an email exchange with a friend's friend's sister: what are my favorite pubs in the world?

After a couple minutes' thought, I got here:

1. Duke of Perth, Chicago. Obviously; it has been my remote office off and on for over 20 years.

2. Southampton Arms, London. If I ever live in the UK, this may switch places with the Duke. It's just hard to say a place is my favorite when it's 6,000 kilometers away and I only go there twice a year.

3. Tommy Nevin's, Evanston, Ill., my former remote office.

4. Nag's Head, Hoboken, N.J. Another that used to be my remote office—but in the days before Wi-Fi and ubiquitous laptops. I still visit if I have time while I'm in New York.

5. Guthrie's Tavern, Chicago. Since the Duke of Perth is halfway between my house and Guthrie's, I don't get there as often as I used to. But it's worth the trip.

Some honorable mentions:

  • Bucktown Pub, Chicago. I'm starting to warm to the place, especially after many trivia nights there. Unfortunately, I don't live in Bucktown.
  • Peddler's Daughter, Nashua, N.H. (A former temporary remote office.)
  • The Bridge, Amberley, England. A real, live English country pub.
  • Kennedy's, San Francisco. By day, on its patio, it's wonderful. At night, it gets a little too loud and crowded, and there are too many TVs. Still, I almost always stop in when I'm out there.
  • Tigin, Stamford, Conn. My then-girlfriend lived right around the corner.

And some that are no more, and missed: Abbey Tavern, New York, where I hung out weekly from 1997 to 2000; closed in 2006. And The King's Head, Earls Court, London—which was really great before the new owners turned it into a trendy gastro-pub.

I'm always looking for suggestions.

Thursday 19 September 2013 17:12:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | London | San Francisco#
Wednesday 18 September 2013

I signed up for Divvy only a few days ago and got my key yesterday. This morning I zipped to work in 28 minutes, door to door, which is about 33% faster than taking the quickest public transit route. (Cabs are still the fastest, but also the most expensive.)

Of course, now I get the flipside. It's almost 5:30, and I have to contend with this:

At least it looks to end soon.

Wednesday 18 September 2013 17:20:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

I live for this kind of thing:

What did Shakespeare’s English sound like to Shakespeare? To his audience? And how can we know such a thing as the phonetic character of the language spoken 400 years ago? These questions and more are addressed in the video above, which profiles a very popular experiment at London’s Globe Theatre, the 1994 reconstruction of Shakespeare’s theatrical home. As linguist David Crystal explains, the theater’s purpose has always been to recapture as much as possible the original look and feel of a Shakespearean production—costuming, music, movement, etc. But until recently, the Globe felt that attempting a play in the original pronunciation would alienate audiences. The opposite proved to be true, and people clamored for more. Above, Crystal and his son, actor Ben Crystal, demonstrate to us what certain Shakespearean passages would have sounded like to their first audiences, and in so doing draw out some subtle wordplay that gets lost on modern tongues.

[D]espite the strangeness of the accent, the language can sometimes feel more immediate, more universal, and more of the moment, even, than the sometimes stilted, pretentious ways of reading Shakespeare in the accent of a modern London stage actor or BBC news anchor.

Next trip to London, I want to catch an OP production at The Globe.

Wednesday 18 September 2013 11:44:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | London#
Tuesday 17 September 2013

In honor of Constitution Day, I'll be spending time at the Cook County Criminal Courts at 26th and California. Jury duty starts at 9am. I couldn't ask for a more...appropriate...day to serve on a jury. (Of course, the part of the Constitution guaranteeing jury trials didn't come about until 1791.)

And I couldn't let such a personally-relevant Constitution Day go by without re-posting this:

Tuesday 17 September 2013 07:41:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Monday 16 September 2013

Just a brief note, when I should be sound asleep. I caught up on Aaron Sorkin's Newsroom tonight, and realized that the episode ended the story.

I could be wrong. I called my dad immediately, asking for some assurance that I wasn't insane about it ending all three* of the basic conflicts that make up the story, but he hadn't seen it yet, as he's two time zones west of me.

So, all you've got until I get his reflections, dear readers, is an amateur opinion. But as far as I can see, the story has nowhere to go after tonight.

I'll very likely address this later in the week with spoilers. For now, I welcome—I encourage—arguments against my hypothesis.

Tonight's show was the season finale. But for expletive's sake, was it also the series finale? Maybe my confusion was I didn't realize it was a season finale. So all the threads coming together seemed like the end to me—but I could be wrong.

My aforementioned dad reminds me that show business is best expressed thus:

Show

business

Of course. Yet I like stories, and I like good writing, and I like getting carried away. From tonight's Newsroom, I worry that it's another four years until I get to watch Aaron Sorkin's writing again.

I would have hoped the business let the show go on for another season. Except...I think the story ended tonight. And no matter what Sorkin might do for a third season, it will have to be a different story. I'm sure the suits know that. They may not have a fiber of creativity to share amongst them, but they know damn well when the party's over.

All I can conclude from this is that Sorkin needs to write features. Not TV; features. He can't keep doing this to his fans in 20 episodes. (Disclosure: I really liked Studio 60. But he really ended it after one season. Is that what happened tonight?)


Will-Mac; Maggie-Jim; Everyone-Reese.

Sunday 15 September 2013 23:32:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#
Sunday 15 September 2013

The Cubs won on Friday, which pushed them over an important hurdle this season. After playing 147 games, it finally became mathematically impossible for them to lose 100 this season.

They've lost both games since then, and they're 63-86 for the season, putting them firmly in last place—but at least they can't lose 100.

Small blessings.

Sunday 15 September 2013 15:57:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#

Paul Krugman points out, one more time, that we haven't solved the root problems that led to our 5+-year recession:

Suppose you’re a hedge fund manager, getting 2 and 20 — fees of 2 percent of investors’ money, plus 20 percent of profits. What you want to do is load up on as much leverage as possible, and make high-risk, high return investments. This more or less guarantees that your fund will eventually go bust — but in the meantime you’ll have raked in huge personal earnings, and can walk away filthy rich from the wreckage.

What brings this to mind is a new Center for Public Integrity report on the lifestyles of the rich and infamous — finance honchos who brought down their companies and much of the world economy with them. So, Lehman’s Dick Fuld gets to ruminate on what went wrong in his Greenwich mansion or his 40-acre ranch, or maybe his 5-bedroom house in Florida. Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns plays bridge from his $25 million apartment in the Plaza Hotel. And so on down the line.

So it really was heads they win, tails we lose, with all the incentives being to take maximum risks and let the taxpayers clean up the mess.

Luckily, it won’t happen again, because we’ve had comprehensive financial reform. Right? Right?

As one commenter wrote, "The Occupy Wall Street folks were on to something."

Sunday 15 September 2013 10:59:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 14 September 2013

Via Sullivan, the Phoneblok:

Saturday 14 September 2013 14:50:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#
Friday 13 September 2013

Democratic candidate for Minneapolis Mayor Jeff Wagner has a new ad:

It's hathos-inspiring.

Friday 13 September 2013 13:51:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 12 September 2013

US bankruptcy judge Sean Lane has approved American Airlines' bankruptcy plan—mostly:

Judge Sean Lane approved the plan at a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York, but denied a clause that would pay Tom Horton, AMR's outgoing chief executive, $19.9 million in severance.

But on Thursday, after nearly two weeks of consideration, Lane concluded his job was to determine whether the plan meets standards of feasibility under bankruptcy law, independent of the lawsuit.

"The question is whether it will succeed once consummated, not whether it will be consummated," Lane said. "Here, there can be no dispute that the plan is feasible, if allowed to proceed."

For AMR, the focus now shifts to resolving the Justice Department's lawsuit, filed on August 13. The department argues the merger will create too much consolidation and hurt consumers.

While Lane's ruling gives his blessing to AMR's restructuring efforts, any divestitures or other material changes to the plan that result from settlement talks with the Justice Department would have to go back to him for approval.

Sorry, Tom. You crashed your airline; you don't get your $20 million. And while I can't speak for all the employees of American Airlines, I'll bet money that they're all glad of this result, and ready to see the back of you.

Thursday 12 September 2013 15:52:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

Well, I've signed up for Divvy, Chicago's bike-sharing program. Now that the weather is getting cooler, I think I'll be able to commute by Divvy without arriving at the office a sweaty mess.

Long-time readers know I used to bike a lot, until my knees decided it was time to stop. Divvy bikes should be a lot easier on my knees than my Felt.

If I use it just a few times rather than taking cabs—for example, tonight, from pub trivia—the sign-up fee will be worth it.

More as events warrant.

Thursday 12 September 2013 13:42:47 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Kitchen Sink#

We've published Part 3 of my series of blog posts about integrating Holden International's Azure-based sales training app with multiple customer-relationship management (CRM) applications. The combined parts 1 and 2 went up mid-August. Part 4 should come out within 10 days.

Click through for the mirrored post.

Thursday 12 September 2013 13:35:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure | Work#
Wednesday 11 September 2013

Temperatures in Chicago hit 35°C yesterday, tying the record set in 1983, and only the seventh temperature that high ever recorded in Chicago this late in the season.

And then, because it's Chicago, the forecast calls for a 14°C temperature difference by Friday.

In all, summer hasn't sucked too badly this year. I still wish it were already over. I guess I can hold out one more day...

Wednesday 11 September 2013 09:18:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Tuesday 10 September 2013

He had a little more hassle than I did. Only a little:

So back in July I decided to give it a shot. If you’re a US citizen/permanent resident, Dutch citizen, South Korean citizen, or Mexican national, you can join the program. (Canadians can join via the Nexus program.) I went online and filled out the extensive application. I mean, this thing looks at your history going back for several years. It requires previous residences, everywhere you’ve traveled, and more. Once you finish filling it out, you pay the $100 fee (regardless of whether you get accepted or not), and then you wait.

It took one week until I received an email saying my application status had changed. I logged on and it told me that I had been approved for an interview so I just needed to schedule one.

The big day came, and I prepared for a grilling. I was WAY over-prepared. I showed up at the Bradley Terminal at LAX and they told me to take a seat and wait. I saw a lot of people waiting there, so I was afraid it might take awhile, but I was wrong. Within 5 minutes, they had called me and another person to go back. The interview between me and the Customs/Border Patrol (CBP) officer went like this:

CBP: Have you been to Canada in the last 5 years?
Me: Yeah
CBP: Have you been to Mexico in the last 5 years?
Me: Nope
CBP: Ok, you’re all set.

I’m not exaggerating at all. It was that quick.

My interview in 2010 ran about 10 minutes, but it was no big deal. They stamped my passport right then and I've had easy entry to the US (and easy trips through airports) since.

It's worth signing up for.

Tuesday 10 September 2013 15:07:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

If the AP report is true, this is a complete win for the President:

Assad is now agreeing to preserve and strengthen that norm. He’s agreeing to sign the treaty banning chemical weapons — a treaty Syria has been one of the lone holdouts against. He’s creating a situation in which it would be almost impossible for him to use chemical weapons in the future, as doing so would break his promises to the global community, invite an immediate American response, and embarrass Russia.

This is, in many ways, a better outcome than the White House could have hoped for. Punishing Syria may or may not have actually reinforced the norm against chemical weapons — particularly if the strikes went bad and the American people punished members of Congress who voted for them. But Syria joining the treaty against chemical weapons definitely, almost definitionally, reinforces the ban.

This we call "diplomacy." And it's good to see when it works.

Tuesday 10 September 2013 14:58:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Monday 9 September 2013

The Economist's Gulliver blog has had enough of UnitedContinental's computer problems:

Late last month, for example, America's Department of Transportation fined United $350,000 for taking too long to process its customers' refund requests. ... Here's the remarkable thing about this latest fine, which was connected to delays of some 9,000 refund requests: United blamed it on the merger. According to the Los Angeles Times, United told the regulators that when the two legacy airlines' reservation systems were merged it resulted (in the words of a DOT report) "in some unforeseeable anomalies that caused a temporary inability to process refunds in a timely manner."

That's unacceptable. Again, it's been nearly three years since the merger. "Unforeseeable anomalies" should have been corrected by now. And on what sort of scale is it appropriate to describe a three-year-old problem as "temporary?"

It seems like both United and Continental have some bureaucratic issues that have exacerbated their technology trouble. Gulliver goes on to say that UAL crews are still contractually bound to UAL planes, so two companies still haven't merged their front-line labor forces.

Assuming American and US Airways get past the DOJ's roadblock (which I expect they will), will they have as much difficulty merging their computer systems? I hope not.

Monday 9 September 2013 14:15:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Sunday 8 September 2013

I adopted Parker on 1 September 2006, seven years (and one week) ago. Since I wasn't in Chicago last Sunday, I didn't make a note of Parker Day at the time.

Here, then, is Parker's annual portrait, complete with a blade of grass on his nose:

And here, also, is hoping for at least seven more years with the fuzzy dude.

Sunday 8 September 2013 14:15:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#

I rarely buy plane tickets this far out, but something made me think buying holiday tickets right now might be a good idea. Things, for example, like this:

The Department of Justice’s somewhat surprising lawsuit to stop the merger of American Airlines with US Airways may not offer much help for passengers hoping that competition among the majors will keep a ceiling on airfares. Like any commodity, airfares are a function of supply and demand — and carriers have been removing supply from the market. Some 13 million departing seats have been vanished from the system in the past year, according to Aviation DataMiner.

It’s crowded up there, and it’s going to stay that way.

Which is to say, don’t expect much in the way of bargains over the next peak period, the Thanksgiving holiday. “Fares will be up slightly, but not a lot,” says George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com. His advice is to keep checking on prices until you see one you like. Conversely, if you have the travel bug, one of the cheaper times to fly is right about now: September is a slow period of the airlines.

Right now round-trip fares from Chicago to San Francisco for Christmas week start around $400. I can comfort myself thinking that's only $250 in 1995 dollars...

Update: Total fare, $452. That was the lowest available on American for any round-trip that got me into San Francisco for December 24 and 25.

Sunday 8 September 2013 12:14:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Friday 6 September 2013

For only the third time this season, I got to see the Cubs win at home. They started strong and...well, that was all that they needed to do, because the Brewers are just as bad as the Cubs this year. Both teams are now tied for last place with 60-80 records. Whoever wins the next two games will be solidly in fourth place.

It was a fun game, though. And really great weather. I think I have only two or three more games on my list this season, and I hope this starts a trend.

Friday 6 September 2013 17:06:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#

Security guru Bruce Schneier has two essays in the Guardian this week. The first explains how the US government betrayed the Internet:

By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical internet stewards.

I have resisted saying this up to now, and I am saddened to say it, but the US has proved to be an unethical steward of the internet. The UK is no better. The NSA's actions are legitimizing the internet abuses by China, Russia, Iran and others. We need to figure out new means of internet governance, ones that makes it harder for powerful tech countries to monitor everything. For example, we need to demand transparency, oversight, and accountability from our governments and corporations.

Unfortunately, this is going play directly into the hands of totalitarian governments that want to control their country's internet for even more extreme forms of surveillance. We need to figure out how to prevent that, too. We need to avoid the mistakes of the International Telecommunications Union, which has become a forum to legitimize bad government behavior, and create truly international governance that can't be dominated or abused by any one country.

He followed up today with a guide to staying secure against the NSA:

1) Hide in the network. Implement hidden services. Use Tor to anonymize yourself. Yes, the NSA targets Tor users, but it's work for them. The less obvious you are, the safer you are.

2) Encrypt your communications. Use TLS. Use IPsec. Again, while it's true that the NSA targets encrypted connections – and it may have explicit exploits against these protocols – you're much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.

There are three other points, all pretty simple.

Friday 6 September 2013 10:56:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Security#

I only had a day in Edinburgh, and catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in three years took precedence over photography. I took a few dozen shots, but none except this really hit my standards:

That's the Observatory House atop Carlton Hill. It's hard to see the 30 km/h wind blowing us over in this photo, or my unbelievable jet lag, but I assure you, dear reader, both contributed to the dearth of good photography I produced Monday.

The last time I visited Edinburgh (in June 1992), I only had a few hours between trains to lug my backpack up and down the hills. And back then I shot Kodachrome at a dollar a shot.* (Later this weekend I'll post a one or two from that trip.) So I really haven't had enough time to explore either the city or the country on either of my two visits. I hope to really get a good look at Scotland some day, instead of all this mucking about getting to know the people who live there and winning trivia tournaments with old friends.**

* Adjusted for inflation.

** For my American readers, this is called "irony."

Thursday 5 September 2013 19:22:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel#
Thursday 5 September 2013

Remember the Google Street View Tardis Easter egg I mentioned? It's real:

That's right in front of the Earl's Court Tube stop this past Sunday.

Apparently the Doctor has installed a CCTV camera on his roof...hmm...

Thursday 5 September 2013 16:39:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | London#

I'm a big fan of the Ed and Dave show, also known as Prime Minister's Questions, which C-SPAN airs live when the House of Commons is in session. Today's game included a series of set pieces in which Conservative MPs had batting practice with the PM who hit a bunch of pop-ups that any competent infielder should have caught.*

Unfortunately, Ed Milliband leads the Labour Party right now, and—continuing the metaphor into extra innings—his side of the house play like Cubs.

Here's a typical exchange:

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con):
Since we last met there has been a spate of good economic news, both in Tamworth and around the country. Unemployment is down and the economy is growing. Manufacturing is up, exports are up and construction is up. Is it not time for those who still propose it to stop messing around, give it up and abandon plan B?

The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have had welcome news over the summer: exports are up 5.8% on a year ago, business confidence is at its highest level since January 2008, consumer confidence is up and all the figures on construction, manufacturing and services are going in the right direction. We must not be complacent—these are early days—but it is because of the tough decisions that this Government took that we can now see progress.

We ought to remember that Labour Members told us that unemployment would go up, but it has come down, and that the economy would go backwards, but it has gone forwards. It is time for them to explain that they were wrong and we were right.

OK, since the Labour Party couldn't explain why the Conservatives were wrong, let me try. It's great that the UK's economy has improved in the last six years, but it could have grown faster without the Tory Party's emphasis on cutting the deficit. A lot faster. In fact, Tory policies probably delayed the recovery by 18 months to two years.

My larger point is this: neither side got it right. But to quite literally sit there and take it seems like bad politics. Especially since we got this exchange right at the end of Questions:

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab):
Is it not the case that real wages have fallen by nearly £1,500 a year since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister:
Of course we live in tough times because of the incredible mess we have had to clear up from the Opposition. I have to say that the Opposition complaining about the economy and living standards is like the arsonist complaining to the fire brigade. It is this Government who are turning the economy around, and that is the way we will get living standards up.

Shit and fried eggs, you've got half a million more people in work since 2010, but they're all earning less money? And the Labour MPs have no response? (At least two other Labour back-benchers got in some facts about the profiteering of free—i.e., charter—schools and the £3.3 bn in energy company profits coinciding with an average £300 per-household increase in energy costs. I've indirectly experienced those high energy costs, too.)

Also towards the end, an old reactionary Tory hawk, Dr. Julian Lewis, trashed the Tories' coalition partners, causing nearly all of them to walk out of the House during the session. Oh, not by himself; I think most of them left when Cameron suggested that the Conservatives would rule alone after the next election that the Lib-Dems had had enough.

Oy. At least we've got nearly two years before the next election, giving the Tories a lot more time to screw people. I hope the Labour Party figures out how to win some matches before May 2015.

* Can I use a baseball metaphor when discussing the UK? Of course I can.

Wednesday 4 September 2013 20:33:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | Politics#
Wednesday 4 September 2013

The Economist Gulliver blog reported today that Korean Air has partnered with CSA, a strategy that may help both of them in Europe:

Prague offers something that larger airports cannot. Passengers are weary of the congestion and long distances between gates at the mega-hubs, as Which? highlighted. Switching planes is even more of an ordeal if you do not speak the local language. In Prague, connecting times are short and all signage is provided in Korean. Mr Moreels said the Czech capital is styling itself as a "specialised gateway or mini-hub" for Asian traffic, and he promised that Korean passengers would enjoy "special treatment" in the event of delays–a privilege the mega-hubs reserve for customers of their home carriers.

Geography is another advantage. Prague's location in the middle of Europe makes it an ideal springboard for travel to the rest of the continent, including eastern parts of Germany traditionally connected via Lufthansa's Frankfurt hub. CSA's network is not massive, but most of the spots frequented by Korean travellers are served. Interline deals and codeshares between CSA and Korean Air ensure convenient flight times. "We don't want to transfer everybody to everywhere," [CSA CEO Philippe] Moreels emphasised. "We just want to redistribute a big plane from Korea to the rest of Europe."

It's hard to find an appropriate analogy in the U.S. because our market isn't nearly as fragmented as Europe's. But if you can imagine KAL flying into St. Louis on a partnership with pre-merger TWA, that might be close.

Wednesday 4 September 2013 16:55:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Tuesday 3 September 2013

I didn't intend to go dark for the last 48 hours, but it turns out none of my devices (laptop, tablet, phone) could connect with the WiFi hub where I've been staying.

Not that I tried any more than the most basic troubleshooting (reset laptop WiFi, reboot router, change router channel). I've been in Edinburgh, with only one full day to explore the city, and struggling with my computer for half an hour seemed like a bad way to spend it.

I've also not shaved since Sunday morning because of Scottish energy prices. Let me explain.

The friend who lent me her spare room last night, and also who generously spent her day touring the city with me, lives in a really cute house just a few minutes outside central Edinburgh. She has a hot-water tank and a boiler, but also, for reasons she has given up trying to work out, an electric shower. The landlord put the electric shower in probably for the same reason people in the US put in granite countertops: because that's what everyone else does. And as she told me, "after looking for a place to live for eight weeks I didn't feel I needed to check the plumbing before signing up."

This friend lived in Chicago for a while, so when she uses relative expressions to compare the two countries, she isn't exaggerating. She told me that heating up an entire tank of hot water costs quite a lot of money. Further, it only goes to the kitchen and W/C taps along with the radiators. So in the summer, she leaves the hot water heater off, since outside the shower (which has an electric heater) she has no compelling need for hot tap water.

You can see where this is going.

It turns out, I don't have an electric shaver; I use shaving cream and a razor. Though my host and I didn't discuss her shaving habits, I infer that she has no difficulty shaving in the shower without a mirror. So, no hot water in the taps, and no mirror in the shower, and at the moment I've got a Don Johnson thing going on, only without the hair, looks, or white jacket.

It's these little differences between the US and UK that keep me coming back.

Tuesday 3 September 2013 13:19:08 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | London | Travel#
Sunday 1 September 2013

I've spent the day all over London (oh, so that's Brixton), and I've just got a few minutes to check email and finish this morning's post about the Southampton Arms in Gospel Oak.

This is England:

That is a Curious Pale Ale and a packet of cheese and onions crisps. Later I had an ELB Pale Ale (not as good as the Curious) and a Mosaic Pale Ale, which was better than the first two.

Already present in the pub were a group of visually-impaired people and their guide dogs (3 dogs in all). This is Keira:

Keira decided I had good hands and kept wandering over for a scritch—a fact that her owner would obviously not notice until I returned her or he needed to go to the loo. By the time they all left, Vickie (a Parker-sized black Lab) and Malone (the yellow Lab behind Keira, above) were coming over to me sometimes two at a time, tails wagging. I know that it's impolite to pat working guide dogs, but I think there's a loophole when the dogs are on break at a pub, right?

Then this happened:

That's a pub crawl. They were on Pub #3, and left within half an hour, hoping to get to pub #8 before last orders. There were about eight of them. This guy, Paul, explained that they'd come up with the idea on their pub crawl last month, but they actually made the costumes while sober. Mostly sober.

If I ever move to London, I'm renting the apartment above this pub.

Sunday 1 September 2013 18:27:26 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | London | Travel#

One was able to make do yesterday. Here, for example, is the dreariness on Hampstead Heath:

Also, yesterday I was able to prove conclusively that there is no Airbus A320 hovering over Russell Square:

After suffering through all this non-English weather, I wound up once again at the Southampton Arms:

I will have more to say about it in my next post. (It's getting on to noon and I have to check out of the hotel, so I don't exactly know when that will be.) Suffice it to say that a new show came through about every two hours, and I still managed to finish my book. I could not have spent the day better.

Sunday 1 September 2013 11:11:29 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | London | Travel#
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End of the story; or, why Noah isn't the only one who needed an arc
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Institutional failure in Internet security
Observatory House, Edinburgh
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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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