Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Saturday 30 November 2013

Yesterday I spent four minutes in North Korea. Proof:

That's inside the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) conference building, within the Joint Security Area near the village of Panmunjom. The line of microphones on the desk follows the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) dividing North and South Korea. To my left is South Korea; to my right is North Korea.

You have to take an organized tour to get to the JSA. Because, let's review: (a) it's an active war zone; (b) it's a diplomatic base with heavy military presence; and (c) you don't want to get kidnapped by the DPRK. (The tour I took cost $78 and included a delicious bulgogi lunch at a roadhouse outside Puja.)

Here's the first up-close-and-personal view of North Korea you get:

The blue building to the left is the MAC Conference Center from the photo above. The blue building to the right is another ROK-administered structure. Running between them, on the ground, you can see a raised concrete curb about 10cm tall. That is the MDL—the border with North Korea. Assuming you could get past the armed U.S. Army guys I decided not to photograph, and get past the ROK officer in the center, and the two beefy MPs on either side, you could make that border in just a few steps from where I was standing. Then you'd have a really difficult time getting back over it, and a harder time, whether or not they let you back in South Korea, staying out of jail on one side or the other.

It's surreal. The border is an abstract concept but two enormous armies make connect the abstraction to reality. A bunch of tourists, half of them Japanese, took an ordinary tour bus to a United Nations military base a few hundred meters from a hostile country, got a slide show about axe murders and not gesturing to or speaking with North Koreans, then got on a U.N. bus and drove—slowly—past mine fields, tank defenses, and rice paddies. (About 700 people live just outside the JSA, within the DMZ.)

Here's another chilling place, the Bridge of No Return:

Yeah, don't cross that bridge. You won't come back. Seriously.

Today I'm heading over to the Korean History Museum and possibly the War Memorial. I've been thinking a lot about Seoul and my reactions to the city. At first approximation, modern Seoul is defined by a war that hasn't ended.

Sunday 1 December 2013 08:21:26 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | Geography | World | Travel#

In just a few days, back in the real world, my cousin and I will troop over to Wrigley Field to see if we want to move our season seats. Tribune reporter Josh Noel will not be there:

I signed up seven or eight years ago, back in the carefree days of the Cubs hovering closer to the orbit of playoff contender than worst team in baseball. Sure, they hadn't won a championship in nearly 100 years, but (cue the Cubs fan delusion) I'd grown up blocks from Wrigley Field and seen countless games in what remained one of baseball's most pastoral settings. The team was a free-spending, major-market bunch, and eventually the corks would start popping. When they did, I would be there.

Fast forward to the present. The Cubs are lousy again. Two of the team's best young players regressed last season. The manager picked to lead the team to a new era of respectability was fired after two seasons. Ownership is jockeying to turn a classic Chicago neighborhood into a giant Hard Rock Cafe (though to be fair, Wrigleyville's Hard Rockification began before the Ricketts family showed up).

Wrigley Field attendance has dipped five seasons in a row; last year's 2.64 million was the lowest tally in 15 years. Such decline, in theory, helps explain how my place on the waiting list finally came up. The Cubs ticket saleswoman laughed ruefully when I expressed surprise at her call.

So how did one of the most coveted tickets in town fall out of favor? Taylor has a theory: "Wrigley is fun, but winning is even more fun.

We went through the same calculation, but we decided last year to do it anyway. And who knows? They might win 70 games this year. Or 80.

Sunday 1 December 2013 06:46:13 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | Cubs#
Friday 29 November 2013

Two years ago this week, I used a bunch of miles and hotel points to go to Tokyo, and had a great time. That was the week that American Airlines—whose frequent-flyer program had gotten me to Japan—filed for bankruptcy protection. Also that week, journalist James Fallows wrote a blog post about to the ban on using small electronic devices on takeoff and landing.

Well, on my flight to Korea Wednesday, I could use small electronic devices, because the FAA rescinded the ban last month. And right before the flight took off, the U.S. bankruptcy court approved American's merger with US Airways, clearing the way for the airline to exit bankruptcy protection soon. The airlines will consummate their merger on December 9th.

I post this in case you wanted an update about my post from two years ago today. (The post was about American's reassurances to us frequent fliers that, yes, our miles were safe. Yup, they were.)

This is why I blog.

And now that the first glimmer of daylight has appeared, I will now shower and look for coffee. Last night I made it almost until 9pm, and I woke up around 4:30am, so I'm almost adjusted to the +15/-9 hour difference. Almost.

Saturday 30 November 2013 06:39:17 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#

Photos from this afternoon. First, a traditional house (Hanok) in the Bukchon district:

And a traditional set of steamed dumplings not far away:

And, finally, a traditional faux-Irish bar in Itaewon, the expatriate district:

Tonight, I am in search of galbi, and then I hope to stay awake until 10pm. Tomorrow, Panmunjom.

Friday 29 November 2013 17:51:07 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

Remember how I said prices are pretty good in Korea? And remember how I said I forgot my Lonely Planet guide? Yeah, you can connect the dots here.

Lonely Planet: Seoul, December 2012 edition. On Amazon, $17.86. In Seoul, $28.40. That, folks, is a tax on my stupidity. Especially since the Kindle edition is $2.99 because I purchased the print edition. It might have made sense to buy that in Dallas, don't you think?

Also, Guinness is not cheap here at $10 per Imperial pint. That, folks, is an actual tax. At least there's no tipping in Korea.

Friday 29 November 2013 17:22:49 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | Travel#
Thursday 28 November 2013

In no particular order:

  • These are the politest people I've ever met, and they all really want to speak English. It's like an Asian Toronto.
  • A single LED by the door with a motion sensor makes a lot of sense. A 5 cm step up just inside the door does not.
  • You can't turn off the automatic bidet; best find out how to turn its heater on ASAP.
  • Why get a hotel room when you can get a little studio apartment, complete with British-style washer-dryer by the sink, for $50 a night less? Across from a 7-11, even?
  • I know now why this trip was cheaper than going to London: it's colder here (-3°C) than back home (-1°C).
  • The won right now is 1,061 to the dollar at wholesale. That means, given a reasonable spread for retail, to convert won prices to dollar prices you just lop off three zeros.
  • Prices here are about the same as home for goods and a fraction for services. Express train from the airport? $8.50. Cup of coffee? $1.50. Flaming-hot ramen noodle cup from 7-11? $1.25.
  • Transitioning 11½ hours (India) is easier than transitioning 15 (here). I do not know why.
  • Being an American, it's completely unsurprising back home when someone who looks nothing like me speaks perfect English. This is normal; Americans look like everybody. But here, when someone who looks just like me doesn't speak a word of English, I find this bizarre. Note that I do not find this bizarre when traveling in Europe. I must think more about this.

I have obtained a map and the location of a large bookstore, so I will now explore the city.

Friday 29 November 2013 08:02:10 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | Travel#

Yesterday, on the Siberia side of the Bering Sea:

Our flight path yesterday followed the terminator as the earth turned. The sun stayed right on the tip of the left wing for about 90 minutes before we jogged slightly west over Kamchatka.

Friday 29 November 2013 04:47:01 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Photography | Travel#

First, housekeeping. After my last entry I managed to stay up for about 30 minutes, then slept for almost 7 hours. If you do the math you see that means I was up before 3am. So, even thought it's 1pm on Thanksgiving back home, I did some client work to clear it off my agenda for the rest of the week.

Now the point of this post:

Toronto’s plan to save Bixi transfers the bike-sharing program to the Toronto Parking Authority, turns over management to a Portland-based firm and uses money from Astral Media that was going to be spent on public toilets, the National Post has learned.

The deal, approved at a closed-door meeting of city council 10 days ago, will also see Toronto “eat” the $3.9-million in loan guarantees that the city gave to Bixi, owned by the City of Montreal, according to a source.

The city is negotiating with Portland-based Alta Bike Share, which manages Chicago's Divvy program, among others.

Friday 29 November 2013 04:13:05 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | Biking | Travel#

I've been awake for about 22 hours now, and it's starting to show.

But yes, I'm in Seoul. I'm going to bet I'll wake up really early tomorrow as my body has no clue what day or time it is. My experience with really huge time shifts makes me optimistic that I'll adapt in a day or two.

I have not adapted yet, however. I just need to make it until 8pm...

Oh, and sometime after regaining consciousness I'll correct the time stamp on my previous entry.

Thursday 28 November 2013 19:36:28 KST (UTC+09:00)  |  | #
Wednesday 27 November 2013

At this writing I'm just west of the Alexander Archipelago, with 7,093 km left from Dallas to Seoul. We started out at 10,999 km, so this is serious progress.

It turns out, this is the longest flight I've ever been on. I didn't realize that when I booked it; I thought Shanghai to O'Hare was longer. Well, it's farther: PVG-ORD is 11,355 km; DFW-ICN is "only" 11,005 km. But because I'm flying west, this flight will be nearly two hours longer than the one from Shanghai.

Fortunately for me (if not for the airline), the flight has a lot of empty seats. I'm in 33A and I have 33B for my stuff. The person in 32A has reclined all the way back so her seat is almost touching my nose, forcing me to put my laptop on the 33B tray table and type at a 45° angle.

Well, I've had nearly three hours of that, and I'm done. Time to pull out my backlog of This American Life episodes and close my eyes.

All right. It's 7am in Seoul. We land in nine hours...

Wednesday 27 November 2013 12:52:00 AKST (UTC-09:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | Travel#

"Short" in geologic times. I'm at Dallas-Fort Worth, with about half an hour to start diagnosing a production issue. Then I'll be on a plane for about 14 hours.

Here's the plane:

You know how you always forget something when you travel? This time it was my guidebook. Lonely Planet Seoul does no good back home on my bookshelf.

Wednesday 27 November 2013 08:52:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel#
Tuesday 26 November 2013

Oh, you betcha:

On a year-over-year basis, average connection speeds grew by 25 percent. South Korea had an average speed of 14 Mbps while Japan came in second with 10.8 Mbps and the U.S. came in the eighth spot with 7.4 Mbps.

Year-over-year, global average peak connection speeds once again demonstrated significant improvement, rising 35 percent. Hong Kong came in first with peak speed of 57.5 Mbps while South Korea came in at 49.3 Mbps. The United States came in 13th at 31.5 Mbps.

Yes, South Korea has the fastest connectivity in the world. This I gotta see.

Plus, you know, clients.

Tuesday 26 November 2013 14:44:29 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Business | Cloud#

With only a few hours to go before I jet out of Chicago, I'm squeezing in client work and organizing my apartment while on conference calls. Also, I'm sending these to my Kindle:

Back to debugging...

Tuesday 26 November 2013 12:20:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | World | Travel | Windows Azure#

Illinois' marriage equality act doesn't take effect for 7 months, but Federal District Judge Thomas Durkin (and I) believes the law's passage is enough to let a couple settle their affairs as they intended:

Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert, will be issued their license early by the Cook County clerk’s office because one of the women is currently battling terminal cancer, their attorneys said.

County Clerk David Orr said he would comply with the order by U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin

Orr said he also welcomed the ruling.

“As a supporter of same-sex marriage, I’m pleased Judge Durkin granted relief to Patricia Ewert and Vernita Gray in this difficult time,” he said in a statement.

This is the right result. The couple have a compelling reason to marry, and a delay would needlessly complicate their lives even though marriage will be generally available to all couples in just a few months. There's a little part of me that says the state marriage law should prevail here, but a bigger part of me that demands to know why the legislature put in an 8-month delay in the law's implementation. It's not like any of the county clerks has to remodel their offices to accommodate marriage equality; they just have to produce marriage licenses.

So, good on Judge Durkin. This is not the first time I've wanted to buy the man a drink. I expect it won't be the last.

Monday 25 November 2013 21:48:06 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Monday 25 November 2013

Wow, this weekend was busier than I anticipated.

You know what's coming. Links!

Only a few more hours before I leave for the weekend. Time to jam on the billables...

Monday 25 November 2013 12:13:48 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Parker | US#
Friday 22 November 2013

Tomorrow afternoon is the Day of the Doctor already, and then in a little more than four days I'm off to faraway lands. Meanwhile, I'm watching a performance test that we'll repeat on Monday after we release a software upgrade.

So while riveted to this Live Meeting session, I am pointedly not reading these articles:

Perhaps more to the point, I'm not finishing up the release that will obviate the very performance test I'm watching right now. That is another story.

Friday 22 November 2013 09:46:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Software#
Thursday 21 November 2013

As interesting as infrastructure is to most people, it's possible this was a bigger story yesterday:

Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday put his signature on a historic measure making Illinois the 16th state to allow same-sex marriage, capping a 40-year push for gay rights that picked up major momentum during the past decade.

The bill-signing illustrated the rapidly changing views in Illinois and the nation on gay rights. Supporters first introduced an anti-discrimination bill in the legislature in 1974. It didn't became law until 2005. It took an additional six years for civil unions to be approved, but only about half that time for the gay marriage measure.

Still, support for same-sex marriage is far from universal in Illinois. As politicians talked up the merits of gay marriage in Chicago, down in Springfield, a crowd gathered for an exorcism by the local Catholic bishop in protest of the governor's action.

Excellent. Illinois becomes the 16th state to achieve marriage equality, and the best the opposition can do is hold a (literally) medieval ceremony down the street. Welcome to the 21st Century.

This brings the total number of people living in U.S. marriage-equality jurisdictions to 109.2 million, roughly 35% of the population.

Thursday 21 November 2013 10:29:22 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#

After a year, the Wells Street bridge has reopened:

Just before 6:15 a.m., construction workers in reflective vests and hard hats dragged orange traffic barrels to the sidewalk, clearing the traffic lanes for the first time since last November.

Moments later, the first person crossed the bridge: Bike messenger Lionel Floyd. He pedaled south and appeared surprised to see a crowd of reporters waiting for him at Wacker Drive.

The $50 million reconstruction was aimed at extending the lifespan of the while maintaining its classic appearance. With the exception of two planned closures in this spring, CTA train service continued during the project.

Chicago infrastructure projects keep moving ahead. Last week Tribune transportation correspondent Jon Hilkevitch reported the Federal government may provide more funding for a $4 bn project to fix the north-side El:

That doesn't guarantee funding under the "new starts" grant program, but the transit administration allowed the CTA to apply because the Red-Purple Modernization project will add much-needed capacity and deliver more reliable service to the most heavily traveled CTA rail line, officials said.

The project will involve rebuilding the Red and Purple Line tracks, replacing stations and overhauling viaducts and the elevated embankment from north of Belmont through Evanston.

Various options and designs are under consideration and would cost between roughly $2 billion to more than $4 billion to engineer and construct, officials said.

The project is still in the planning phase.

Thursday 21 November 2013 10:21:17 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Travel#
Wednesday 20 November 2013

After some thought and reflection, I realize I've spent more time in some parts of North America than I remembered the other day:

As before, red are places I've been to but not stayed overnight; amber indicates at least one overnight; blue shows multiple visits; and green means I've lived, worked, or spent more than 30 aggregate days there.

The mapping applet is here.

Wednesday 20 November 2013 10:21:03 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Travel#

A popular Canadian broadcaster, Rick Mercer, reminds Ontarians that Rob Ford's politics matter:

Wednesday 20 November 2013 10:16:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | World#
Tuesday 19 November 2013

I had enough time during today's 8-hour meeting to queue up some articles to read later. Here they are:

As for today's meeting, this.

Tuesday 19 November 2013 17:36:50 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World | Religion#
Monday 18 November 2013

Geography is fun. It explains how Canadian airline WestJet can manage their newest trans-Atlantic flight which gets to Dublin in a little more than 4 hours using a 737-700:

Dublin itself might not be that strange, but this isn’t coming from a big city. No, it’s actually going to be a flight from St John’s, way out in Newfoundland. The metro area, if you can call it that, has almost 200,000 people. That’s good enough to be the 20th largest metro area in Canada. Yeah… 20th.

For WestJet, there is very little at stake here. The flight is surprisingly short to those of us who don’t pay much attention to Canadian geography. Remember how I said that WestJet already flies from St John’s to Orlando? Dublin is less than 25 miles further from St John’s. Via Great Circle Mapper

You always think of Transatlantic flying requiring long flights, but St John’s is so far out there that the eastbound flight is scheduled gate-to-gate at a mere 4h15m. It’s shorter than Vancouver to Toronto. Heck, it’s shorter than Phoenix to Philly. So this will be easy for the airline’s 136-seat 737-700 to operate.

It leaves St John’s at 1115p and arrives Dublin at 7a. It turns around quickly, departing at 820a, getting back to St John’s at 955a. WestJet likely would just leave that airplane overnight in St John’s otherwise, so the amount of extra aircraft time being used here is minimal.

The 3,300 km flight is just a little farther than L.A. to Atlanta (3,150 km) and a little closer than Washington to Las Vegas (3,350 km), and those city pairs are easily served by 737s today.

Monday 18 November 2013 15:34:47 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography#
Sunday 17 November 2013

I always seem to miss the live shows:

A nude woman claiming to be the "goddess of the train" halted southbound Red Line service for a short time early Saturday afternoon until police could escort her off to jail at the Granville station.

The "goddess" said she was going to the front car to drive the train and told everyone else to get off, according to Anne, who shared these photos.

The Sun-Times speculated "it appeared she was suffering from a mental illness."

That's just harsh. I suspect performance art.

Sunday 17 November 2013 10:29:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago#
Friday 15 November 2013

This little app is fun. Red are places I've been to but not stayed overnight; amber indicates at least one overnight; blue shows multiple visits; and green means I've lived, worked, or spent more than 30 aggregate days there:

Clearly I need to visit the Maritimes and Territories. Oh, and Alaska and Hawaii.

Friday 15 November 2013 10:12:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Travel#
Thursday 14 November 2013

At least, by number of stations:

There’s more good news on the Divvy bike-share front. The Chicago Department of Transportation announced this morning that they scored a $3 million federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant to add 75 more docking stations to the 400 already planned. The system recently reached 300 stations and 3,000 bikes.

While the expansion of Divvy is an exciting development, CDOT’s press release exhibits a bit of Second City syndrome, boasting that with 475 stations Chicago will have the largest bike-sharing system in North America and the fifth largest in the world. While it’s true New York City currently has only 331 stations, and Montreal has 434, NYC has about 6,000 bikes and Montreal has about 5,000. Even if the ITEP funding comes through, we’d only have about 5,500 bikes, so it’s wishful thinking to claim Divvy will be larger in the future than the Citi Bike program is now.

On the other hand, as a Streetsblog reader Dennis Hindman pointed out, New York is about 3.07 times the population of Chicago. We currently have roughly one Divvy bike for every 725 residents, almost twice the service level compared to their ratio of one Citi Bike for every 1390 people. Once we expand to about 4,750 bikes, we’ll have one for every 571 Chicagoans, and with 5,500 bikes there will be one for every 497 citizens, almost three times the bike-share density of NYC. That will be something to brag about.

Also, they've got a deal with Chipotle to give away burritos to members next Tuesday. Cool.

Thursday 14 November 2013 11:05:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago#
Wednesday 13 November 2013

Another packed day, another link roundup:

All for now.

Wednesday 13 November 2013 15:25:25 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago | US | Weather#
Tuesday 12 November 2013

Saw this coming:

American Airlines and US Airways struck a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department that will allow the airlines to complete a $17 billion merger and create the world's largest carrier, the airlines announced Tuesday.

The deal, which heads off a trial planned later this month, calls for the combined airline to give up some takeoff-and-landing slots and some airport gates, including two American Airlines gates at Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

It also requires the combined airline to maintain Chicago and other airports as hubs for at least three years, something executives said they intended to do anyway and will keep long past three years.

Under terms of Tuesday's settlement, the airlines will give up 52 slot pairs at Washington Reagan National Airport and 17 slot pairs at New York LaGuardia Airport, as well as certain gates and related facilities to support service at those airports, the airline said. A slot pair entitles the holder to one departure and arrival.

Tuesday 12 November 2013 15:58:12 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Business#

Or, "Jenny McCarthy is an idiot."

We on the left have stupid people in our midst, same as they on the right. The right's stupid people say mixed marriages make them gag and bring assault rifles where moms are meeting to plan gun-control events.

On the left, our stupid people think vaccines are dangerous. You know, jabs: those little pricks that have saved millions of us from dying of childhood diseases.

As we've known for 40 years or so, if you don't vaccinate enough people, you get disease epidemics:

Since I came down with pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, waking up on Saturday, August 31, with what felt like a light fever and a tightness in my chest, I’ve celebrated the Jewish high holidays, covered Washington's response to the crisis in Syria, hosted several out of town friends and a dinner party or two, attended the funeral of a close relative and the wedding celebration of a close friend, given a lighter strain of the whoop to my mother, and, somewhere in there, managed to turn 31, whooping all the while. I even spent a long weekend on a beach in north Florida, where a friend commented on my now killer abs—odd since, because of my illness, I had not been to the gym at that point for 35 days. “The coughing,” she said cheerfully, “must’ve helped!”

It would be an understatement to say that pertussis and other formerly conquered childhood diseases like measles and mumps are making a resurgence. Pertussis, specifically, has come roaring back. From 2011 to 2012, reported pertussis incidences rose more than threefold in 21 states. (And that’s just reported cases. Since we’re not primed to be on the look-out for it, many people may simply not realize they have it.) In 2012, the CDC said that the number of pertussis cases was higher than at any point in 50 years. That year, Washington state declared an epidemic; this year, Texas did, too. Washington, D.C. has also seen a dramatic increase. This fall, Cincinnati reported a 283 percent increase in pertussis. It’s even gotten to the point that pertussis has become a minor celebrity cause: NASCAR hero Jeff Gordon and Sarah Michelle Gellar are now encouraging people to get vaccinated.

It gets better. Yesterday a friend (ironically) posted an anti-vaccine pamphlet that so far has attracted a couple dozen comments. The pamphleteer alleges that "In December 2012, two landmark decisions were announced that confirmed Dr. Wakefield’s original concern that there is a link between the MMR vaccine, autism and stomach disorders." The pamphlet is a little more accurate when it says, "[i]t was Dr. [Andrew] Wakefield that first publicized the link between stomach disorders and autism, and taking the findings one step further, the link between stomach disorders, autism and the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine."

If you don't know Wakefield, check this out. I can wait...

Well, apparently Wakefield's ducking like a quack isn't enough for some people, so let me dig in a little further. It turns out, the U.S. has a special court to hear claims about vaccines. The Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

administers a no-fault system for litigating vaccine injury claims. These claims against vaccine manufacturers cannot normally be filed in state or federal civil courts, but instead must be heard in the Court of Claims, sitting without a jury. The program was established by the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA), passed by the United States Congress in response to a threat to the vaccine supply due to a 1980s scare over the DPT vaccine. Despite the belief of most public health officials that claims of side effects were unfounded, large jury awards had been given to some plaintiffs, most DPT vaccine makers had ceased production, and officials feared the loss of herd immunity.

The "landmark decisions" that Wakefield's propagandists refer to were (was?) actually one decision, Mojabi v. HHS (pdf), decided 13 December 2012.

The plaintiff, whose child came down with a rare encephalopathy shortly after receiving a routine MMR vaccine, claimed initially that the brain damage led to an autism-spectrum disorder. They subsequently backed off that claim, because not only wasn't there enough evidence to support it, but also it's not clear that the child is on the spectrum. Still, the court awarded close to $1 million in damages because there was evidence that the MMR vaccine injured the child.

Now, weigh this unfortunate injury against the millions of us who survived childhood at all thanks to vaccines and herd immunity, and my stony little economic heart tells me it's a good deal. Here, for starters, is the incidence of petrussis since 1922:

So these anti-vaccine folks really are my side's Tea Party: generally well-meaning but driven by fear and ignorance to completely wrong conclusions. And like the Tea Party, the choices that they're making put all of us at risk.

Tuesday 12 November 2013 15:43:02 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Religion#

Colin Woodward, writing in this quarter's Tufts alumni journal, summarizes his book about the regional views of violence in the U.S—dividing us up into 11 "nations" with cohesive cultural and social histories:

Beyond a vague awareness that supporters of violent retaliation and easy access to guns are concentrated in the states of the former Confederacy and, to a lesser extent, the western interior, most people cannot tell you much about regional differences on such matters. Our conventional way of defining regions—dividing the country along state boundaries into a Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest—masks the cultural lines along which attitudes toward violence fall. These lines don’t respect state boundaries. To understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns and the lasting cultural fissures they established.

The original North American colonies were settled by people from distinct regions of the British Isles—and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain—each with its own religious, political, and ethnographic traits. For generations, these Euro-American cultures developed in isolation from one another, consolidating their cherished religious and political principles and fundamental values, and expanding across the eastern half of the continent in nearly exclusive settlement bands. Throughout the colonial period and the Early Republic, they saw themselves as competitors—for land, capital, and other settlers—and even as enemies, taking opposing sides in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.

There’s never been an America, but rather several Americas—each a distinct nation. There are eleven nations today. Each looks at violence, as well as everything else, in its own way.

I'm usually suspicious of neat geographical distinctions, but it looks like I'll be putting this on my to-be-read stack (which is now larger than it was two years ago).

Tuesday 12 November 2013 12:05:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | US#

The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has ruled that One World Trade Center is taller than Willis Tower:

The decision by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat hinged on whether the tower's mast was a spire, which counts in height measurements, or an antenna, which doesn't.

The decision will end Willis Tower's reign of 40 years as the nation's tallest building.

The announcement culminated weeks of speculation about the ruling, which drew widespread attention because it would finally settle the issue of whether Chicago or New York could claim bragging rights to having the nation’s and the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building, as well as whether One World Trade Center would achieve the symbolic height of 541 m.

Willis Tower, completed in 1974 and once the world’s tallest building, is 442 m tall. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the current holder of the title, is 828 m tall.

The decision means One World Trade Center is the 3rd tallest building in the world, and drops Willis Tower to 10th place overall.

Boo.

Tuesday 12 November 2013 10:50:36 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | World#
Monday 11 November 2013

Not one bit:

They took a somewhat entertaining idea and made a monster out of it. The video runs for an excruciating five minutes. Imagine being a Virgin America frequent flyer — or employee — and having to listen to that thing over and over and over and over. The cabin crew are going to need counseling.

Airline safety briefings are a kind of legal fine print come to life. They do contain some important and useful info, but it’s so layered in babble that people tune out and ignore the entire thing. “Federal law prohibits tampering with, disabling, or destroying a lavatory smoke detector.” What’s wrong with,”Tampering with a lavatory smoke detector is prohibited.” And do we really need a full dissertation on the finer points of attaching and inflating a life-vest — overly detailed instructions that nobody is going to remember if the vests are actually needed? Merely setting all of this ornamental gibberish to music does not make it more compelling or palatable. It also undermines the briefing’s potential value. It also undermines the whole purpose of the briefing. If safety is really the point, the briefing should be taken seriously. Here, you’re watching it for fun, not to actually learn anything that might save your life.

I posted the video last weekend.

Monday 11 November 2013 12:25:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation#

Parker got about 3 hours of walks this weekend because of weather and apartment showings. And I had about 6 hours of work to do for my real job. And I had lunch with people way the hell across town for Día de la Papusa. So I completely forgot to post anything.

I've also added Evanston back into the mix for my apartment search. Essentially, it suits my personality pretty well (aging Gen-X quasi-intellectual progressive), and you can get more apartment for less money than in any comparable neighborhood in Chicago. On the other hand, association dues and property taxes in Evanston are much higher than in the city, so you wind up spending the same amount of money overall. On the third hand, it's simultaneously farther from downtown Chicago and a quicker commute, thanks to Metra. Plus, as long-time readers know, I've lived there off and on for my entire life. So it's not what one might call a radical move.

At some point I'll be less busy than I've been the past week.

Monday 11 November 2013 09:49:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 8 November 2013

Colin Cameron, owner of Duke of Perth (my remote office) told me a couple weeks ago that this was in the works, but swore me to secrecy. Now that it's in Crain's, it's out there:

If you've been mourning the loss of La Creperie since it closed Aug. 22 when its owner retired, take heart: The iconic little French bistro at Clark and Diversey is scheduled to reopen, most likely in December.

Duke of Perth proprietors Colin Cameron, his cousin Jack Crombie and Jack's wife, Pam, have purchased the property from Germain Roignant, who opened the restaurant in 1972 with his late wife, Sara.

Mr. Roignant's son, Jeremy, and his wife, Yasmina Ksikes, who'd managed La Creperie for the past five years, intended to take the concept and name with them to Los Angeles. That changed with Jeremy's death from a heart attack on Aug. 1.

Mr. Roignant, now 75, says that when Mr. Crombie first asked him about becoming a partner in reopening the restaurant, he was hesitant because he'd been planning to retire to his home in Brittany, France. “But I hadn't been happy about the place closing after 41 years,” he says, “and when we hinted on our Facebook page that it might reopen, we got a very positive reaction from customers.”

Now a partner, Mr. Roignant says he'll probably work the dining room Wednesday through Sunday evenings and some afternoons. He won't be the only familiar face—he estimates that four dining room staffers are returning. Juan Aranda, who started as a dishwasher/prep cook/busboy in 1991 and was promoted to head cook two years later, will be back in the kitchen. This is a plus, since he knows all the recipes, which haven't been written down.

One of my favorite pubs buying one of my favorite restaurants? Perfect.

Friday 8 November 2013 14:59:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Best Bars | Cubs#

I did not see this coming:

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has named former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas as his Democratic running mate for next year's election.

Vallas, an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002 against Rod Blagojevich, fills the vacancy on the ticket left by incumbent Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon's decision to run for state comptroller next year.

After leaving CPS, Vallas headed public schools in Philadelphia, New Orleans and, most recently, Bridgeport, Conn. A Connecticut judge has ruled that Vallas did not hold the proper qualifications to be superintendent of the state's largest school system.

There also may be questions about Vallas' eligibility to run here. The state constitution requires statewide candidates to be Illinois residents for at least three years before the election. Voting records, however, indicate Vallas has been registered to vote from an address in Palos Heights since 2008. Vallas requested a 2010 Republican primary ballot, but did not actually vote, according to the Cook County Clerk's office.

I mean, it's not like we're mooting Rob Ford, but this one has me scratching my head...

Friday 8 November 2013 13:54:14 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Thursday 7 November 2013

Chicago's bike share program could become the nation's largest, thanks to Federal subsidies:

There are currently 300 Divvy stations up and running around Chicago, with 100 more stations in the works to be installed by next spring. Officials from the Chicago Department of Transportation said Wednesday they’ve secured a $3 million federal grant to build 75 additional stations next year, bringing the total to 475 by next year. The grant comes from the US Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.

So far, the U.S. DOT has provided $25 million dollars in federal grant funding toward the Divvy bike share program.

There’s been some criticism that Divvy stations are concentrated downtown, and don’t serve the south or west sides of the city. CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, speaking to alderman at his department’s city budget hearing Wednesday, said they’ll bring Divvy to Englewood by spring, and with this grant, they’ll be able to expand the program farther in all directions.

Klein also mentioned that Oak Park and Evanston could be joining the system next year.

Thursday 7 November 2013 14:25:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Biking | Chicago | US#
Wednesday 6 November 2013

The person most directly responsible for the HealthCare.gov debacle is "retiring:"

The chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, whose office supervised creation of the troubled federal website for health insurance, is retiring, the Obama administration said Wednesday.

The official, Tony Trenkle, will step down on Nov. 15 “to take a position in the private sector,” said an email message circulated among agency employees.

As the agency’s top information officer, Mr. Trenkle supervised the spending of $2 billion a year on information technology products and services, including development of HealthCare.gov, the website for the new health insurance marketplace.

Sibelius, though. Why's she still around?

Wednesday 6 November 2013 11:17:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US | Software#

The Illinois legislature has finally, finally, approved marriage equality:

Gov. Pat Quinn said he intends to sign the bill, which would take effect June 1. It's the Democratic governor's latest step in taking Illinois in a more liberal direction. Under Quinn in the past three years, Illinois has banned the death penalty, legalized medical marijuana, provided driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and approved civil unions.

Resolving the gay marriage question also allows state leaders to get a divisive issue off their plates before next year's big statewide election, even as long-standing financial issues headlined by the state's $100 billion public worker pension shortfall remain unresolved.

The vote Tuesday capped a year in which prospects for gay marriage often were dim. The proposal failed in a January lame-duck session, but the Illinois Senate provided new hope on Valentine's Day by passing the measure. There was no House vote at the end of spring session in late May, leaving both sides to spend the summer and fall lobbying lawmakers. The first week of veto session came and went without a vote last month, and with candidate filing for next year's election just weeks away, some expected no resolution until next year.

Also yesterday, Democrat Terry McAulliffe beat Republican Ken Cucinelli for Virginia governor, ending almost 30 years of Republican rule in the state. But the final vote came a lot closer than expected, suggesting that the HealthCare.gov debacle hurt McAulliffe.

Wednesday 6 November 2013 10:20:41 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 5 November 2013

The flights, between Newark, N.J., and Singapore, is the longest in the world:

The two all-business-class flights, which operate between Singapore and Newark, New Jersey, take around 19 hours and cover 15,300 km. But late last month, Singapore airlines announced that it would be cancelling the services, along with another between Singapore and Los Angeles that is almost as long.

The title for the world's longest flight...will now shift to Qantas, which operates a 13,800 km service between Sydney and Dallas.

Hey, wait a minute: Qantas is a oneworld carrier. How many frequent-flier miles does that cost again? Here it is: 37,500 for coach, 62,500 for business, and 72,500 for first. Each way.

I'll keep saving them.

Tuesday 5 November 2013 14:56:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography#
Monday 4 November 2013

Completely swamped today by a production error on an application I hardly ever work on. The problem was around something I'd written, but not caused by anything I wrote; still, it fell to me to fix the problem, which caused me to fall behind in everything else.

I have a bunch of Chrome tabs open with things I probably can't get to today:

That is all for now.

Monday 4 November 2013 17:13:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | US#

Aw, buggre alle this for a Larke.

I'm all in favor of upgrades, but for Foucault's sake, don't break things. I'm trying to upgrade a .NET project to Entity Framework 6, and I want to smack the developers.

Under previous versions, you could set the retry manager through configuration. This was really helpful for unit testing, when you might want to change the configuration and have the application block load a transient fault handler automatically.

With Entity Framework 6 (EF6 — yes, this is blatant SEO), you have to set up the default transient fault handler in code:

[TestFixtureSetUp]
public void TestFixtureSetup()
{
	var strategy = new FixedInterval("fixed", 10, TimeSpan.FromSeconds(3));
	var strategies = new List { strategy };
	var manager = new RetryManager(strategies, "fixed");
	RetryManager.SetDefault(manager);
}

I mean, really? With EF6, you've got to put this code in every unit test sequence in your solution. Basically, that means you need to put it in every unit test file. Before, it had its own defaults.

Despite being all in favor of upgrades, I do get impatient when (a) the upgrade breaks existing code and (b) the entity performing the upgrade is one of the wealthiest entities in the history of business.

All right, then. Bring on the copy pasta...

Sunday 3 November 2013 19:58:42 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Business | Cloud#
Sunday 3 November 2013

Since we moved the end of Daylight Saving Time to the first week of November, sunrises at the end of October are later than those in mid-December. Yesterday's sunrise was the latest sunrise in a year, and will be the latest until 2016. (The sunrise on 6 November 2010 was the latest until 2021, so it really could be worse.)

In Chicago this morning, the sun rose at 6:26, the same time it rose on September 12th. It won't rise this early again until March 3rd—but then a week later we shift the clocks again so we get another 6:26 sunrise on April 6th.

National Geographic had not one but two articles on DST this weekend. Any conclusions? Some people don't like it and others do. The only conclusion I draw from reading both is whether DST benefits you depends on a lot of factors, geography preponderating.

I still don't know why we moved the fall switch from end of October to beginning of November in 2007. We want daylight for Hallowe'en? I really, really hate getting up before dawn, which wouldn't happen before Thanksgiving if we still used the pre-1986 (1st Sunday in October) rules; even the 1986-2006 regime (4th Sunday in October) would minimize it. Europe, including the UK, change their clocks the last Sunday in September and the last Sunday in March. That seems to work best for northern, cool climates—like Chicago. Maybe Illinois should go its own way, then?

Sunday 3 November 2013 09:40:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#
Saturday 2 November 2013

Sometimes, Canadians and Americans seem so much alike. The problem becomes trying to determine which Americans and Canadians you mean.

Exhibit: Police in Toronto have recovered a video they allege shows mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. (Ford's lawyer said it was pot—even though weed may also be illegal in Ontario.)

A friend who lives there just sent me new polling data that shows Canadians have a sense of humor:

A new poll released Friday shows Mayor Rob Ford’s approval rating has actually climbed since the announcement by Police Chief Bill Blair that a highly reported video does exist.

The Forum Research poll taken on Thursday shows that Mayor Ford’s approval rating has climbed slightly, sitting at 44 percent.

[Poll spokesperson Lorne Bozinoff added,] “We asked if he should resign or not, a large majority, 60 percent said yes.”

The poll also revealed that a staggering 98 percent of the people polled had heard about the alleged crack video.

No word from the pollsters whether people approve of Ford strictly for entertainment value.

Saturday 2 November 2013 12:51:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#

...brings us Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz hosted by actor and playwright Peter Sagal. Last week, one of the panelists presented an extended joke about Poland. Never mind that the panelist is probably of Polish descent; the piece annoyed the Polish consulate:

Peter Grosz, an actor and TV writer who has appeared as a panelist and guest host on "Wait Wait," offered a supposed news item referencing a joke asking how many Poles it takes to screw in a light bulb.

Host Peter Sagal revealed the light bulb tale wasn't true, but instead another item about road-crossing chickens was the real news. Listeners later called "Wait Wait" and the Polish Consulate to complain that the joke was in poor taste.

In a letter to Danforth, Paulina Kapuscinska, consul general of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, said the joke played up false stereotypes of Poles and Poland. It presented National Public Radio, which distributes the show, as "promoters of prejudice," and such jokes "are some of the most unsophisticated of jokes, which offend the intellect of NPR listeners," Kapuscinska wrote.

[Show producer Mike] Danforth replied with an apology, which the Polish Consulate posted on its website Thursday.

"I can't disagree with your judgment that the content of our October 26th show was unsophisticated and insulting to the intellect of NPR listeners. I'm afraid just about everything we do on 'Wait Wait' offends the intellect of the NPR audience," Danforth wrote.

People. Please. Danforth is right; it's a comedy show. The volume of Jewish jokes that Jewish host Sagal tells every week should have been sufficient notice that maybe, just maybe, they might make fun of other stereotypes. Get over it.

Saturday 2 November 2013 08:50:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Jokes | World#

Gulliver harrumphs:

For this observer, it's too long (around 90 seconds longer than Air New Zealand's "Bare essentials", for example) and actually quite annoying. Also, I don't think it does a particularly good job of fulfilling its primary purpose, which is to explain the safety-related features of the plane. With all the pizzazz and robot rappers, passengers will end up watching the dancing and admiring the production values, without actually digesting the message. It tries so hard to entertain the many flyers who are over-familiar with safety videos that it fails to explain clearly and simply to new flyers what they can expect. To top it all, Virgin America will have to change various scenes in the next few months now that the Federal Aviation Administration has decided to allow the operation of electronic devices on planes from departure gate to landing gate.

Well, fine, but you have to admire their spunk.

Saturday 2 November 2013 08:43:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Cool links#
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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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