Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 31 October 2013

This was one of the funniest things I've read in a while:

PLAY-BOOK FACTS OF LIFE: If the president can convince the public that he emancipated slaves simply to preserve the union, the story will blow over. If it emerges that he actually issued the proclamation because he believes involuntary bondage is an immoral affront to human dignity, we could be looking at months of hearings.

NEW BATTLEGROUND POLL: Lincoln’s negatives are “through the roof” in Va., N.C., S.C., Ga., Miss., Ala., Louisiana, Ark., Tenn. PLAY-BOOK TRUTH BOMB: Lincoln is not going to improve these numbers if he refuses to press the flesh. A playbooker telegraphs: “I don’t know what happened to the gregarious guy we saw in 1860. Jeff Davis hasn’t been invited to the White House for cocktails once since Abe became president!”

It perfectly hits the, ah, policy-light priorities of Politico. I wonder if Schaffer will do more of these?

Thursday 31 October 2013 16:10:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 30 October 2013

This rocks:

The so-called "Starpath" is a type of solar-enhanced liquid and aggregate made by Pro-Teq Surfacing, a company headquartered southwest of London near the awesomely titled town of Staines-upon-Thames. It's in the prototype phase, with a test path running 460 feet in a Cambridge park called Christ's Pieces. (The British and their delightful names!) The material works by absorbing UV rays during the day and later releasing them as topaz light. In a weird feature, it can somehow adjust its brightness levels similar to the screen of an iPhone; the path gets dimmer on pitch-black nights "almost like it has a mind of its own," says Pro-Teq's owner, Hamish Scott.

Pro-Teq is hoping that governments will embrace its self-aware, supernatural-looking pathway for its energy-saving elements and the ease in which it goes down. The installation is fairly quick (the Cambridge job took about 4 hours), and because it's a resurfacing technique doesn't involve the burdensome disassembly and disposal of existing pathways. "The main bulk of the U.K. path network is tarmac, where perhaps it's coming toward the end of its useful life," says Pro-Teq pitchman Neil Blackmore in the below video. "We can rejuvenate it with our system, creating not only a practical but a decorative finish that's certainly with the Starpath also very, very unique."

From the company's press release:

This product has recently been sprayed onto the existing pathway that runs through Christ’s Pieces open space, Cambridge between the city centre and the Grafton Centre, and is used by pedestrians and cyclists during the day and night.

The Cambridge pathway measures 150 square metres, took only 30 minutes to spray the material on, and the surface was ready for use less than four hours after the job commenced. This short installation time allowed minimal disruption to the public.

Bike hike to Cambridge, anyone?

Wednesday 30 October 2013 11:36:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | London | Cool links#
Monday 28 October 2013

I just received an alert on a credit card I used to share with an ex. The account, which is in her name since we split, has a small balance for the first time in 6 years.

There are two possibilities here, which should be obvious:

1. My ex does not know I still receive alerts on her credit card.

2. My ex does not know the card is active again.

Regardless of which is true (and they both may be), she needs to know about it. Given that (2) could expose her to liability for fraud, so does the card issuer.

So I called Bank of America to point out these twin possibilities, and after arguing with their phone system for five minutes, finally got to speak with an agent. I cannot say the conversation went well. After I explained the situation, I said, "so you should let her know about this."

"Is Miss ---- there with you?"

"What? No, we haven't seen each other in years, which is why this is so odd."

"OK, but without her authorization I can't give out account information."

"I don't want any account information. You need to tell her that I am getting account information by email, and that an account I thought we closed in 2007 is active again."

"OK, she is getting the alerts too, so I will make a note on the account for when she calls in next time."

"She may not be getting the alerts, if she has a new email address. Look, I'm talking about potential fraud here, you need to call her today."

"OK, we will call her and let her know."

Look, I understand that some aspects of technology security are too esoteric for most people, and I'm sorry there wasn't a Customer Service script for this. But some flaw in B of A's systems allowed personal financial data to leak to someone who shouldn't have it (me), in such a way that the account owner (my ex) doesn't know about the leak. I'm trying to help you here.

Also, I'm posting these details here on the off-chance they don't let her know and that she ever reads this blog. So, if this post applies to you, I did what I could. And you may want to switch to a less-moronic card provider.

Monday 28 October 2013 11:30:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Security#

Jakob Nielsen's company has written a detailed analysis of how the Federal Health Exchange screwed up usability:

The HealthCare.gov team has suffered what most web professionals fear most: launching a broken web application. This is particularly harrowing given the visibility of the website in question. The serious technical and data issues have been covered extensively in the media, so we won’t rehash those. Instead, in this article we focus on how to improve the account setup process. This is a user experience issue, but fixing it will also alleviate the site's capacity problems.

Account Set-up Usability is Mission Critical

Account setup is users’ first taste of a service. A suboptimal account setup can spawn 3 problems:

  • Increased service cost: When people can’t self-service online and you have no competitors, they call you. Call-center interaction is more expensive than web self-service. In 2008, Forrester estimated call-center calls to cost $5.50 per call versus 10 cents for a user who self-services online.
  • Increased cognitive strain: The instructions for creating usernames and password in this flow (which we address further along in this article) require a great deal of concentration, and if users don’t understand the instructions, they will need to keep creating usernames and passwords until they are accepted.
  • Halo Effect: Account setup is the first in a series of web-based interactions that users will need to conduct on HealthCare.gov. A poor experience with this first step will impact how people feel not only about subsequent interactions with the site, but how they feel about the service in general and the Affordable Care Act as a whole.

The discussion around our office hinges on two things other than usability: first, give us $2 million (of the $400 million they actually spent) and we'll build a much better site. Second, the biggest problems come from the insurance companies on the back end. Users don't care about that; they just want to get health insurance. As Krugman says, though, there really wasn't a way to get the insurance companies out of the equation, and that, more than anything, is the foundation of all these other problems.

Monday 28 October 2013 08:55:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Software | Business#

The week between when we used to switch back to Standard Time and when we do so now (since 2007) makes me want to stay in bed.

This morning sunrise happened at 7:18 and will slouch out to 7:25 on Saturday morning. It's the latest sunrise we'll have for three years, and it's 45 minutes after I usually get up in the morning.

I know a lot of people prefer more light in the afternoon. I don't care, really. Sunday the sun sets at 16:42; but it rises at 6:26, and gives me another month before the sun rises after 7 again. Then, of course, there's the slog from December 2nd to February 4th...but what can you do?

Just having a moan. You can ignore this post.

Monday 28 October 2013 08:49:28 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Sunday 27 October 2013

Programming languages have come a long way since I banged out my first BASIC "Hello, World" in 1977. We have great compilers, wonderful editors, and strong typing.

In the past few years, jQuery and JSON, both based on JavaScript, have become ubiquitous. I use them all the time now.

jQuery and JSON are weakly-typed and late-bound. The practical effect of these characteristics is that you can introduce subtle, maddening bugs merely by changing the letter case of a single variable (e.g., from "ID" to "Id").

I've just spent three hours of a perfectly decent Sunday trying to find exactly that problem in some client code. And I want to punch someone.

Two things from this:

1. Use conventions consistently. I'm going to go through all the code we have and make sure that ID is always ID, not Id or id.

2. When debugging JSON, search backwards. I'll have more to say about that later, but my day would have involved much more walking Parker had I gone from the error symptom backwards to the code rather than trying to step through the code into the error.

OK, walkies now.

Sunday 27 October 2013 13:25:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Cloud#
Saturday 26 October 2013

I'm going to see one of them next month.

I just got this email:

On Saturday Nov 30th, the Panmunjom tour is confirmed for 1 adults as English tour, and your reservation number is #XYZ.

Please check Panmunjom (JSA) dress code.
1. No the color has faded or the hole jeans. (Regular jeans are OK).
2. No training wear, Military style.
3. No short pants, mini skirt
4. No open toed shoes, flip-flops.
5. No sleeveless, round neck t-shirt and leather pants.

So, no champion boxer, H-Bomb, or Soviet spies in my future, but I will be going to the DMZ next month. The whole package is ₩78,000 (about $72), and includes transportation to and from Panmunjom plus an English translator. I hope the weather works out. And that I don't get kidnapped by the DPRK army.

Saturday 26 October 2013 09:27:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel#
Friday 25 October 2013

Once again, here's a list of things I'm sending straight to Kindle (on my Android tablet) to read after work:

Back to work. All of you.

Friday 25 October 2013 12:29:22 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Thursday 24 October 2013

Ezra Klein eviscerates the GOP:

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan became the latest Republicans to call for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to step down because of the Affordable Care Act's troubled launch. "I do believe people should be held accountable," he said. Okay then.

How about House Republicans who refused to appropriate the money the Department of Health and Human Services said it needed to properly implement Obamacare?

The GOP's strategy hasn't just tried to win elections and repeal Obamacare. They've actively sought to sabotage the implementation of the law. They intimidated the people who were implementing the law. They made clear that problems would be exploited rather than fixed. A few weeks ago, they literally shut down the government because they refused to pass a funding bill that contiained money for Obamacare.

I actually do think Sibelius should resign. If this were the UK, she would have done. She can spend a year in the weeds getting speaking engagements or consulting somewhere, then return to politics in a year. At least she would have taken some responsibility.

But the rest of the GOP's shrieking about Obamacare is just ridiculous. Klein is right: these guys have chutzpah.

Thursday 24 October 2013 12:31:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 23 October 2013

WBEZ explains:

The 22-minute film was a bid to show the benefits of living in cities, using Chicago as an example. There are shots of Chicago's early midcentury skyline, a parade down State Street (Streets and San's space-age float at the 5:53 mark is worthy of pausing and replaying) and good footage of old buildings being demolished.

But the documentary's framers are also pushing for a more humane and inclusive city.

"The promise of the city is not always fulfilled," narrator George Ralph intones. "Often one becomes a statistic in an unemployment office."

The cameras venture out into white, black and Latino neighborhoods--and the level of poverty and dilapidation is alarming by today's standards. Race and class are noted in the documentary.

Watch:

Wednesday 23 October 2013 13:27:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Tuesday 22 October 2013

Through the magic of Facebook I learned who created one of yesterday's WRHU spots: Jim Vazeos wrote and produced "Uh-Uh Contraceptives" and voiced the last third of it. Christin Goff voiced the bulk of it, including the "I said NO" at the end.

He didn't confirm the date (1984), but that's consistent with other information he provided. Thanks for your input, Jim, and thanks to the other WRHU alumni who chimed in.

Tuesday 22 October 2013 17:57:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

This is my 4,000th blog post.

Of course, that's counting from the first braverman.org entry from May 1998, which disappeared entirely for ten years and predated the concept of a "blog" by an interval. The first Daily Parker post was on 8 November 2005.

Which points out, the total doesn't include two non-public entries. The first public entry was 13 November 2005.

So, really, this is only the 3,803rd Daily Parker posting—but only the 3,801st visible one.

Yeah, this wasn't the highlight of your day either. Still: milestone.

Tuesday 22 October 2013 17:49:47 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Blogs#
Monday 21 October 2013

Cranky Flier explains:

Dallas is an increasingly large hub of business, and it sees no flights to Hong Kong today. It can also provide connections to a lot of places around the Midwest and South that don’t have single stop connections today. Look no further than joint venture-partner Qantas to see how that works. Qantas abandoned San Francisco and decided to run a flight to Dallas instead. It’s such a long flight that a stop in Brisbane is required on the westbound trip, but it’s apparently worth it.

That all sounds good, but there’s an even bigger benefit when it comes to Asia flying… Latin America.

Flying from Asia to Latin America is really far and requires stopping somewhere. To give you an idea, connecting the two financial capitals of Hong Kong and Sao Paulo would require flying more than 9,700 nautical miles. You know the longest route in the world today, Newark to Singapore? That’s 1,500 nm shorter. So you need to stop somewhere. And today, the options aren’t great. But Dallas provides a real opportunity to make for simple connections between Hong Kong and Latin America.

I'll be a beneficiary of this new strategy this autumn. More on that later.

Monday 21 October 2013 18:04:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Travel#

I found another batch of tapes including a mix tape I made in the WRHU two-track studio in May 1990. Yes, two-track: we recorded two audio tracks onto 1/4-inch tape at 7.5 inches per second (or 15 ips if we needed to do some music editing). We then cut the tapes with razor blades and spliced them together with splicing tape.

Eventually I graduated to the misnamed 4-track studio, which by then not only had a 4-track quarter inch deck but also a 1-inch, 16-track system that only the General Manager was allowed to play with.

Now that you know the technical limitations, listen to this teaser promo from May 1990. As a bonus, here is the Uh-Uh Oral Contraceptives spot that my predecessors created in 1984 or 1985.

Enjoy.

Monday 21 October 2013 17:44:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#

I am agog at a bald impossibility in the New York Times' article today about the ACA exchange:

According to one specialist, the Web site contains about 500 million lines of software code. By comparison, a large bank’s computer system is typically about one-fifth that size.

There were three reporters in the byline, they have the entire Times infrastructure at their disposal, and still they have an unattributed "expert" opinion that the healthcare.gov codebase is 33 times larger than Linux. 500 MLOC? Why not just say "500 gazillion?" It's a total Dr. Evil moment.

Put in other terms: it's like someone describing a large construction project—a 20-story office building, say—as having 500 million rivets in it. A moment's thought would tell you that the mass of 500 million rivets would approach the steel output of South Korea for last month.

The second sentence is nonsense also. "A large bank's computer system?" Large banks have thousands of computer systems; which one did you mean? Back to my example: it's like comparing the 500-million-rivet office building to "a large bank's headquarters."

I wouldn't be so out of my head about this if it weren't the Times. But if they can't get this right, what hope does any non-technical person have of understanding the problem?

One last thing. We, the people of the United States, paid for this software. HHS needs to disclose the source code of this monster. Maybe if they open-sourced the thing, they could fix it faster.

Monday 21 October 2013 14:41:54 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Software | Business#
Sunday 20 October 2013

On Thursday afternoon, Amazon delivered a USB cassette player. Yesterday I dug out an aircheck—a recording made in the radio station's master control room of what actually went over the air—from my broadcast on WRHU-FM exactly 23 years earlier.

Here is the 9pm newscast. Trippy. (And scarily similar to the newscast you might have heard last night.)

Sunday 20 October 2013 11:29:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cool links#
Friday 18 October 2013

Nate Cohn draws the map of these 61 United States:

What would happen if all of them succeeded? Each new state would get two senators and its share of electoral college votes. We ran the numbers and recalculated the 2012 presidential race.

In this bizarro United States, the GOP would have a structural advantage in the expanded Senate, and Barack Obama would have had a tighter fight against Mitt Romney in the electoral college (which he won, in reality, 332–206).

Of course, Cohn assumes that once the states seceded from their parent states—unlikely, in cases where the new states would reverse the existing state's party affiliation—the other states would let them in.

It's an interesting statistics issue, but alas, we're stuck with Texas and the rest of the former slave states that want to re-litigate Article IV.

Friday 18 October 2013 09:51:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Thursday 17 October 2013

Northbrook, Ill., has always been a suburb. Until the end of the last century, no one had developed large hunks of the village, because two entities controlled several square kilometers of land around it. One entity, the U.S. Navy, operated an air station until 1994; the other, the Catholic Church, had a smallish farm, a convent, and a dairy barn well into the 1990s, and still owns Techny Towers, a religious retreat.

A conversation with a friend this week turned to a discussion of the Whole Foods Market at Willow and Waukegan Roads. So I dug out this photo from May 1985:

That's from the west edge of Waukegan Road, about 150m north of Willow, looking almost due west. Here's what it looks like today:

Notice that we can only see the backs of the stores from the road. All the storefronts point inward, to the parking lot. This is exactly the horror Andres Duany described in his 2000 book Suburban Nation.

When I was a kid, I looked at that huge field and imagined a college. It could have been combined with the land north of Techny Road into a neighborhood of medium-sized houses, with transit links along Waukegan and Willow. Hell, it could have been nearly anything.

Nope. Faced with 500 hectares of farmland in 2003, all the developers could see was an automobile-centric shopping plaza. The air station? Same thing. The Glen at least has a few dozen hectares of prairie preserve and a single transit stop that no one can really walk to. Otherwise, the whole redevelopment shows a staggering lack of imagination or forward thinking.

Thursday 17 October 2013 15:07:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

Tuesday night, after the House of Representatives approved the deal ending the government shutdown, the House Stenographer...well, she added some commentary of her own:

As the House finished their vote to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, a House stenographer decided it was a good time to let everyone know her feelings about God, Congress, and the Freemasons.

“He [God] will not be mocked,” the stenographer, apparently named Molly, yelled into the microphone as she was dragged off by security. “The greatest deception here is that this is not one nation under God. It never was. It would not have been. The Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons. They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God. Praise be to Jesus.”

In unrelated news, if anyone wants to hire a slightly-unhinged but quite pious stenographer, I know of one who's on the market.

Thursday 17 October 2013 11:23:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#

The Chicago technology scene is tight. I just had a meeting with a guy I worked with from 2003-2004. Back then, we were both consultants on a project with a local financial services company. Today he's CTO of the company that bought it—so, really, the same company. Apparently, they're still using software I wrote back then, too.

I love when these things happen.

This guy was also witness to my biggest-ever screw-up. (By "biggest" I mean "costliest.") I won't go into details, except to say that whenever I write a SQL delete statement today, I do this first:

-- DELETE
SELECT *
FROM MissionCriticalDataWorthMillionsOfDollars
WHERE ID = 12345

That way, I get to see exactly what rows will be deleted before committing to the delete. Also, even if I accidentally hit <F5> before verifying the WHERE clause, all it will do is select more rows than I expect.

You can fill in the rest of the story on your own.

Thursday 17 October 2013 11:19:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Software | Business | Security | Work#
Wednesday 16 October 2013

From WBEZ's Chicago History blog:

Chicago had actually started building two subways, with another tunnel following Milwaukee-Lake-Dearborn. Then the war came, and construction materials became scarce. The second subway would not be completed until 1951.

But on this glorious Saturday morning--October 16, 1943--the city was ready for a party.

Starting at 9:15, ten special trains were dispatched from ten different outer terminals along the "L" system. They carried various dignitaries to a rendevouz in the subway at State and Madison. When the lead train passed through the first underground station at North-Clybourn, it was saluted by the Lake View High School band, blasting out "El Capitan" from the platform.

One by one, the ten specials converged at State and Madison. The dignitaries got out, shook hands all around, and made a few speeches. At 10:47 Mayor Edward J. Kelly cut a ribbon strung across the northbound track. As the newsreel cameras whirled, the trains rumbled down the tracks. "This is the most significant event in Chicago history to date," the mayor declared.

They've even got a video from the 1940s showing how Chicago dug the subways.

Wednesday 16 October 2013 11:36:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#

The American Idol 2010 runner-up Crystal Bowersox played City Winery Chicago last night:

Another:

Anna Rose opened for her; I was impressed:

Tough shooting conditions. I forgot my seats were right against the stage. I wound up shooting everything with a 50/1.8, trying to get around the enormous monitor just to my right. It sounded great, though.

Wednesday 16 October 2013 08:51:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 15 October 2013

Via Sullivan, Reuters' John Judis points out Thursday's deadline doesn't matter:

The best way to look at this, I think, is that there’s a spectrum of default severities. At one end, you have the outright repudiation of sovereign debt, a la Ecuador in 2008; at the other end, you have the sequester, which involves telling a large number of government employees that the resources which were promised them will not, in fact, arrive. Both of them involve the government going back on its promises, but some promises are far more binding, and far more important, than others.

Right now, with the shutdown, we’ve already reached the point at which the government is breaking very important promises indeed: we promised to pay hundreds of thousands of government employees a certain amount on certain dates, in return for their honest work. We have broken that promise. Indeed, by Treasury’s own definition, it’s reasonable to say that we have already defaulted: surely, by any sensible conception, the salaries of government employees constitute "legal obligations of the US."

While debt default is undoubtedly the worst of all possible worlds, then, the bonkers level of Washington dysfunction on display right now is nearly as bad. Every day that goes past is a day where trust and faith in the US government is evaporating — and once it has evaporated, it will never return. The Republicans in the House have already managed to inflict significant, lasting damage to the US and the global economy — even if they were to pass a completely clean bill tomorrow morning, which they won’t. The default has already started, and is already causing real harm. The only question is how much worse it’s going to get.

Sullivan extends it:

It seems to me that if the House GOP really does intend to destroy the American and global economy, to throw millions out of work, to make our debt problem far worse in a new depression … just to make a point about Obamacare, then at some point, Obama, like Lincoln, must preserve the republic.

But no president should ever want to take that position – because it represents the collapse of the American polity. But we are in collapse. If the House pushes the country into default this week, there is no workable American polity left. The most basic forms of collective responsibility will have been forsaken for almost pathological ideological purism and cultural revolt.

These people are crazy, truly crazy. Are we done giving them political power yet?

Tuesday 15 October 2013 17:23:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 14 October 2013

Two clients, both alike in dignity, yadda yadda yadda...so no time to read these yet:

Hello, "Read Later" button...

Monday 14 October 2013 15:27:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US#
Sunday 13 October 2013

My first order of business upon returning from watching the marathon was to get this guy out of my apartment:

That appears to be a silver-haired bat, one of the most common species, but one usually found in more forested areas. He got into my apartment because, after taking the screens out last week for the window washers, I didn't feel a crushing need to put them back in. (I do now.)

I didn't hurt the little dude. I opened the bottom half of the window and then encouraged the bat to go through it with a few blasts of compressed air:

(It's hard to see in the video, but I stopped closing the window well above the bat.)

How Parker missed him is beyond me. The bat was sleeping right at nose level by a window Parker frequently looks through. Even when Parker came over to investigate what I was doing with the compressed air, he didn't smell or see the bat. Good; last thing I wanted was to test Parker's rabies vaccination.

At this writing (about an hour later) the bat has gone elsewhere, and my windows are closed or screened.

Sunday 13 October 2013 11:53:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

This is one of the best parts of living in Lincoln Park:

After watching one group of runners go up Stockton Drive, I can catch them going the other way down Clark. Even Parker gets into the action—sort of:

We had perfect running weather today, 12°C with light winds and plenty of sun. Kenyan Dennis Kimetto set a new course record at 2:03:45, which is just about 3 minutes per kilometer.

Sunday 13 October 2013 11:43:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker#
Saturday 12 October 2013

Really interesting analysis from No More Mr Nice Blog. Key grafs:

The Republican Party at this point in time is entirely made up of Punishers who think they are entitled to treat the government--and especially the government of Barack Obama--as waiters who need to be shown their place. This should surprise no one. At heart the entire Republican Party is made up of winners and losers and they are united in just one thing: they think that money is the only way to tell who is who. If you have money, you use that to distinguish yourself from the losers and to demonstrate your superiority by punishing them further. If you are a loser--a worker, for example, or have no health insurance (say) your job as a Republican is to take your status as a given, accept it, and turn around and get your jollies kicking someone else farther down the line.

I'd even argue that Reince Priebus's absurd "offer" to pay for a few employees to keep the military site open for the honor flight vets was an example of a perfectly logical extension of the tipping principle: that people with money should get better treatment than ordinary customers. That the government's attempt to treat everyone uniformly in both the Sequester and the Shut Down is, to the Republican way of thinking, a greater affront than almost anything else. It flies in the face of the "do you know who I am?" principle which underlies Republican thinking about the nature of the world.

The whole post is worth a read.

Saturday 12 October 2013 15:48:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Friday 11 October 2013
Friday 11 October 2013 14:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Security#
Thursday 10 October 2013

If you wondered how often people actually ride Divvy bikes, everyone's Divvy online trip summary page has the answer. They put the trip ID right on the page. My first Divvy trip, on September 18th, was #522105; this morning's was #732089. Assuming they use an ID field that auto-increments by 1 for each ride, that means Divvy users rode about 210,000 times in the past 22 days, or about 9,500 times a day (on average). That rate gives them nearly 3.5 million rides over the next 12 months.

Compare that with the CTA's 314 million bus rides and 231 million train rides, though. The 79th Street bus had 10 million rides last year; the #36 bus (one of five that stop near my house) had 5.8 million; most of the 150-odd routes had over a million. So will Divvy actually eat into CTA ridership? Not for a while.

I'll look for more official sources of Divvy participation, especially on revenue.

Thursday 10 October 2013 13:08:13 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago | Travel#
Wednesday 9 October 2013

I've got about an hour to prepare for a Meet-Up I'm presenting. While I'm doing that, you read these:

OK, prep time.

Wednesday 9 October 2013 16:26:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Cloud#
Tuesday 8 October 2013

I have a new post up on the 10th Magnitude developers' blog.

Tuesday 8 October 2013 15:38:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Blogs | Cloud | Work#

A Gallup poll released today shows the largest drop in economic confidence since 2008:

Americans' confidence in the economy has deteriorated more in the past week during the partial government shutdown than in any week since Lehman Brothers collapsed on Sept. 15, 2008, which triggered a global economic crisis. Gallup's Economic Confidence Index tumbled 12 points to -34 last week, the second-largest weekly decline since Gallup began tracking economic confidence daily in January 2008.

Fiscal brinksmanship in Washington is related to many of the largest weekly drops in Americans' confidence in the economy since 2008. Gallup's Economic Confidence Index fell nine points in late February and early March 2013 as Congress and President Barack Obama failed to reach an agreement to avoid automatic federal spending cuts as part of sequestration. Economic confidence fell eight points during the week ending Feb. 20, 2011, as Congress and the president reached an agreement on the federal budget at the last minute, avoiding a government shutdown.

In related news, the Republican Party, for reasons they can't seem to fathom, is polling only slightly above UKIP:

Republicans in Congress also got record-low marks in the poll. Just 17 percent of Americans approved of the job GOP lawmakers were doing, and 74 percent disapproved. That’s the lowest approval ever in Quinnipiac’s polling, and is down from August and July this summer.

Those surveyed also disapproved of Democrats in Congress, 60 percent to 32 percent, but that was the best approval rating Democrats have seen since May.

Another poll showed that only 5% of Democrats approved of Congress right now. I would like to meet that one guy in 20. That's faith, man. That's faith.

Tuesday 8 October 2013 15:16:58 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

I've held off posting this one from my walk through Hampstead Heath last month because it needed a little Photoshopping. Today at lunch one of my colleagues let me use her laptop for five minutes. Voilà:

I'll have to round up some of the HDR sequences I've shot over the past couple of years...this is fun.

Tuesday 8 October 2013 13:29:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | Photography#
Monday 7 October 2013

Just as I start poking around Logan Square, the Reader reminds me it's prime hipster habitat—though it hasn't always been, and it might not be for much longer:

The way Jason Hammel tells it, his arrival in Logan Square in 1995 was like a fairy tale, everyone's dream of arriving in a new, yet-to-be-anointed hipster mecca: "I asked a friend for advice on moving to Chicago. He said, 'Go to Logan Square. There's a cool coffeeshop there called Logan Beach.' I got an apartment without looking at it. It was $325 a month, including utilities. It was big, and it was near the boulevard. On the first day, I walked to Logan Beach. I went with my girlfriend. Her name was Lea Wood. We sat down and looked up at the menu, which was written on a chalkboard, and saw 'Lea's Amazing Soup.' I said we had to order it because it was spelled the same way. And it turned out I was talking to my now ex-girlfriend about my future wife [Amalea Tshilds] while sitting at table 51 in the restaurant I would own. And it was my first day in Chicago. Logan Beach was everything that matters to me in Logan Square."

Logan Square is adjusting more gracefully to its hipsterdom than Wicker Park did. "Logan Square feels more open than Wicker Park of that era felt," Hammel says. "Maybe it was because I was young and felt shut out. I hope it's not like that. Someone once wrote on our window, 'Lula is the same as Wal-Mart.' They wrote it angrily, like graffiti. But isn't there negativity everywhere?"

But rents have definitely gone up. "There's been less of a lag in terms of transition," says Paul Durica. "The transition of Old Town took decades. Wicker Park took from the mid-80s to the late 90s. Logan Square seems like it transitioned from a young, hip neighborhood to yuppie within a couple of years. It's not even waiting for a transition period. It's going from ethnic to hip kids to yuppies all simultaneously. It's a fascinating development."

So, apparently, I'm going to be part of the problem that hipsters face. So where will they go? The author suggests Avondale or Pilsen.

Monday 7 October 2013 17:28:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

Probably not. But Bixi, who manufacture the bikes and stations used here in Chicago, has cash-flow problems:

Montréal’s own Bixi bike-share, the inaugural PBSC venture launched in 2009, was the largest system in North America until Citi Bike launched in New York this summer. (Technically, PBSC is the parent entity and Bixi refers to the bike-systems in Montréal and other cities where PBSC runs operations, although in practice the two names are often used interchangeably.) But according to a letter filed last month by Montréal’s auditor general, the company’s finances are in disarray – the latest chapter in a series of money woes that have plagued PBSC and Bixi, which was founded in 2007 by the City of Montréal's parking authority for the purpose of creating a bike-share system for Montréal and is still under the city's administration.

According to numbers released late last month by the City of Montréal, the company is $42 million in debt, with a $6.5 million deficit and $5 million in outstanding payments.

Will PBSC’s ongoing cash-flow problems affect system users in the multiple U.S. cities that use its bikes and docking stations? Mia Birk, vice president of Alta Bicycle Share, insists that the answer is no. Alta is the exclusive operator of Bixi systems in the United States, managing in a total of eight U.S. programs as well as the one in Melbourne, Australia, and acting as the contractor between municipal departments of transportation and PBSC.

Divvy is getting a huge amount of use. I'm interested what will happen in the winter, but regardless, I think the bike-sharing service is popular enough that the Chicago Transportation Dept. would step in if something happened to Bixi.

I hope so, anyway.

Monday 7 October 2013 17:21:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago#
Sunday 6 October 2013

No kidding:

A group of dedicated Doctor Who fans tracked down at least 100 long-lost episodes of the show gathering dust more than 3,000 miles away in Ethiopia.

The recovered episodes from the 60s include much-loved scenes from The Crusade, The Enemy of the World and The Ice Warriors series.

In the four-part Crusade story [the First Doctor, played by William] Hartnell, and his ­assistant Vicki, played by Maureen O’Brien, arrive in the TARDIS in Palestine in the 12th century just as King Richard the Lionheart is doing battle with the Saracen ruler Saladin.

After each airing only once between 1964 and 1969, copies were sold to the Ethiopian Agency and the BBC then lost or wiped the originals.

The BBC hopes to announce this discovery next month on the 50th Anniversary Special.

Sunday 6 October 2013 14:59:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Some astute readers may have gathered that spending time in a different neighborhood plus complaining about the government shutdown affecting mortgages implies something is changing at Inner Drive Technology Worldwide HQ.

For now, I'll just say that a happy side-effect of all this disruption is an unusually clean and orderly house.

More details as the situation develops.

Sunday 6 October 2013 11:08:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Saturday 5 October 2013

Day 5. Today, though, Congress did something right:

With the partial shutdown entering its fifth day, the GOP-run House passed a bill Saturday that would make sure the furloughed workers get paid for not working. The White House backs the bill and the Senate was expected to OK it, too, but the timing was unclear.

The 407-0 vote in the House was uniquely bipartisan, even as lawmakers continued their partisan rhetoric.

The White House has said President Obama will sign the bill.

Of course, "back pay" still means they won't get paid until John Boehner chooses the country over his job, but hey.

Oh, and there's this, too. Good thing I'm not doing anything like putting my house on the market.

Thirty Republicans are doing this. Thirty of them.

Saturday 5 October 2013 10:30:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Friday 4 October 2013

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones puts the shutdown in 10 sentences:

3. Democrats in the Senate have been begging the House to negotiate over the budget for the past six months, but Republicans have refused.

4. That's because Republicans wanted to wait until they had either a government shutdown or a debt ceiling breach as leverage, something they've been very clear about all along.

He sums up: "This whole dispute is about the Republican Party fighting to make sure the working poor don't have access to affordable health care."

In other bad news about numeric things, Monday was the official start of Anno Catuli 05, 68, 105. Someday...and that day may never come...it'll be AC 0, 0, 0. Someday.

Friday 4 October 2013 08:30:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs | US#
Thursday 3 October 2013

They want to make it even harder for millions of impoverished Americans to get health care:

The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers. About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides.

“The irony is that these states that are rejecting Medicaid expansion — many of them Southern — are the very places where the concentration of poverty and lack of health insurance are the most acute,” said Dr. H. Jack Geiger, a founder of the community health center model. “It is their populations that have the highest burden of illness and costs to the entire health care system.”

These are the principles upon which the Republican Party have shut down the U.S. government.

Thursday 3 October 2013 17:41:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

It's day three of the stupidest political event of the past 20 years. Here are some reactions.

The Atlantic's Jon Judis likens it to Weimar Germany:

I wouldn’t expect the current crisis, which was precipitated by the descendants of Calhoun, to result in a civil war. The civil war, as Marx once wrote, was a revolutionary clash that pitted one mode of production against another. Nothing so momentous is at stake today. It also pitted one region against another, and it was fought with rifles and men on horseback. The largest effect is likely to be continued dysfunction in Washington, which if it continues over a decade or so, will threaten economic growth and America’s standing in the world, undermine social programs like the Affordable Care Act, and probably encourage more radical movements on the right and the left. Think of Italy, Greece, or Weimar Germany. Or think about what the United States would have been like if World War II had not occurred, and if Europe, the United States, and Japan had failed to pull themselves out of the Great Depression.

AVWeb points out that the shutdown has already suspended an aviation accident investigation, and could disrupt more:

Although air traffic controllers remain on the job, 3,000 support workers in the ATC system have been furloughed, says Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. The furloughs will delay the opening of a new runway at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and will delay the approval of safety-related equipment modifications to aircraft. "It is unacceptable that thousands of our aviation safety professionals have been forced to stay home due to partisan posturing in Congress," Rinaldi said. The NTSB also was immediately affected, as the go-team assigned to investigate the fatal Citation crash in Santa Monica was sent home on Tuesday.

The wreckage of the CJ2 will be stored in a hangar until investigators can return to continue their work, officials said. The safety board's usually-busy Twitter feed has been silent since Monday, and no updates have been posted to the agency's website. If the shutdown continues, it also may delay certification of Boeing's newest version of the Dreamliner, the stretched 787-9.

The shutdown will also delay the opening of O'Hare's Runway 10C-28C, which had been scheduled for later this month.

New York's Jon Chait makes the analogy to William Macy's character in Fargo, who aggressively stumbled into ruin:

Okay, first of all, is “Hostage Taking 101” an actual course of study taught to members of the Bush administration? Even if this is a metaphor, it seems like a problematic model for governance. Also, Thiessen argues that Obama will have to give concessions to avoid a debt breach because he cares about the loss of millions of jobs. That seems to imply that Republicans don’t care. After all, if Republicans cared just as much, Obama could be threatening to veto the debt-ceiling hike if Republicans didn’t give him concessions.

Boehner does not seem to share his party’s sociopathic embrace of hostage tactics. Boehner resembles William H. Macy’s character in Fargo, who concocts a simple plan to have his wife kidnapped and skim the proceeds, failing to think a step forward about what happens once she’s actually seized by violent criminals. He doesn’t intend for her to be harmed, but also has no ability to control the plan once he’s set it in motion. In the end, Boehner's Speakership is likely to end up in the wood chipper, anyway.

And finally, a tweet by Judd Legum that sums it up nicely:

Can I burn down your house?

No

Garage?

No

Let's talk about what I can burn down.

No

YOU AREN'T COMPROMISING

Brilliant.

Thursday 3 October 2013 12:41:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 2 October 2013

Just a reminder: John Boehner can end the government shutdown any time he wants to. No, really:

All Boehner has to do is bring a “clean” continuing resolution to the House floor -- that is, a bill to fund the government without any strings attached -- and give it a vote. Most, if not all, Democrats would vote for it, and enough Republicans are publicly now on board to pass it. The Huffington Post has been keeping a running tally of which Republicans have said they support doing this. Privately, more GOP lawmakers have indicated they would as well.

So why won't he? One theory, from the right:

A clean CR has never been an option. Peter King of New York and his allies may want one, but the leadership privately believes it’d almost certainly raise tensions within the ranks and cripple their negotiating position.

Instead, the leadership is digging in for an extended impasse with Senate Democrats. Based on my latest conversations with insiders, their plan isn’t to eventually whip Republicans toward a clean CR and back down after a few days of messaging the shutdown, as some have believed; it’s to keep fighting, and, in the process, preserve the House GOP’s fragile unity — and maybe, if they’re lucky, win a concession from Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

But that unity, more than anything, is critical for Boehner, especially as the debt limit nears. Per his allies, his fear is, if he brings up a clean CR, he’d be seen as conceding to Reid, who’s seen as the villain of villains within the House GOP. Thirty to forty conservatives would likely revolt against such a maneuver, and so would their backers in the conservative movement. In the press, he’d likely be cheered for a profile in courage; within the House, the decision would be seen by his critics on the right as a betrayal of the highest order. There is nothing they detest more than the idea of caving, and Boehner knows that.

In other words, they're high-schoolers at best.

At least not all of the shutdown's unintended consequences were bad.

Wednesday 2 October 2013 15:18:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 1 October 2013

Sullivan has a scathing piece about the Republicans shutting down the government again. And closer to home, apparently Chicago has phantom El trains that drive themselves right into other trains.

But yesterday's Atlantic Cities piece on bike-share etiquette is much more enjoyable to think about than either of those:

The central ethos is built into the name. "The whole point of it is it’s bike share, it’s not bike rental," says Kim Reynolds, the office and administrative manager in Washington for Alta Bicycle Share, which operates Capital Bikeshare. In Chicago, the network is called Divvy, which literally means "to divide and share." In Minneapolis and St. Paul, their system is called Nice Ride, a play on the notion that bike-share requires a certain quality that Minnesotans in particular possess.

Bad behavior is technically harder to achieve on a bike. You can’t leave trash in it. The bikes themselves are relatively difficult to damage. And penalties for hogging them are built into the price structure: So you want to take that bike and lock it up outside your office all day? That’s fine. You’ll pay $75 or so in most cities for the right. (Here’s how nice they are in Minnesota: If you do this without understanding the system with Nice Ride, customer service will call you up, gently explain they want their bike back, forgive you, and refund the charge the first time.)

See? Much more pleasant than the rest of the day's news. Or giant, deadly hornets. Better than those, too.

Tuesday 1 October 2013 11:44:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago | US | Travel#
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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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