Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 30 April 2014

Today wasn't nearly as pretty:

Wednesday 30 April 2014 09:56:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Photography#

If so, these are queued up:

More later...

Wednesday 30 April 2014 09:38:27 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | US | Security#
Tuesday 29 April 2014

Here:

More later.

Tuesday 29 April 2014 17:08:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | Software#
Monday 28 April 2014

Or, a few reasons why the "Send to Kindle" button helps me get through the day:

Monday 28 April 2014 12:35:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | Travel | Work#
Sunday 27 April 2014

Parker and I ran around all day because I had an open house. (For some reason, people don't want to meet dogs at open houses.) I'm now catching up on everything I didn't do all day.

The best part of having an open house, though: my apartment Inner Drive Technology WHQ is spotless.

Sunday 27 April 2014 15:34:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Saturday 26 April 2014

I didn't post a lot yesterday because (a) I had tons to do for work and (b) once I'd finished, I had to go out into this:

It got all the way up to 21°C, briefly, and there were actual leaves on the trees for the first time since November.

Today it's sunny and 7°C. It might get up to 14°C sometime this coming week, once it stops raining.

Hey, at least it's spring.

Saturday 26 April 2014 09:12:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 25 April 2014

The New York Times has an interactive map of which ZIP codes support which baseball teams, according to Facebook.

Some teams, apparently, just can't catch a break.

Oh, there they are, that other little team in Chicago:

Friday 25 April 2014 16:35:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs#
Thursday 24 April 2014

Busy day, so I'm just flagging these for later:

Back to the mines...

Thursday 24 April 2014 16:20:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | London | US | Cool links | Windows Azure#

I mean that literally. With the wind whipping off the lake, our shaded seats never got above 10°C, and felt a whole lot colder. We fled after the 5th inning.

One of the (metaphorically) cool things was how the Cubs used the names of the two teams that played at Weeghman Park when it opened on 23 April 1914: the Chicago Federals and the Kansas City Packers. Here's the scoreboard:

And here's first baseman Mark Rizzo in his historical uniform:

The Cubs lost, of course, 7-5. Some things really never change.

Thursday 24 April 2014 10:14:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Weather#
Wednesday 23 April 2014

The park is 100 years old today:

The ballpark, which opened April 23, 1914, and celebrates its centennial Wednesday, is a quintessential Chicago building: practical, quietly graceful, a creature of function, not fashion. Despite those rationalist roots, it's a vessel for human emotion: hope, dreams, escapism, nostalgia, wonder — and, as Cubs fans know all too well, disappointment, disgust and bitterness.

Only a smattering of those fans, I suspect, could name the original architects of Wrigley (Zachary Taylor Davis — who also designed Comiskey Park — and his brother Charles). Fewer still would be able to tell you that the ballpark actually reflects the hand of many architects, including the designers of the eclectic Wrigley Building and the art deco Chicago Board of Trade Building.

What those architects wrought, working in a sequence that now covers 10 decades, is remarkable: a building shaped by many different hands that still hangs together beautifully. It helps us hang together, too, creating a shared, almost familylike experience that's all too rare in a world where people devise their own reality on smartphone screens.

Yes, Wrigley needs help; some fans call it a dump. The ballpark is rich in lore but poor in amenities, and its bones have shown inevitable signs of age. Netting prevents chunks of concrete from falling on fans.

A planned revamp, part of a $500 million redevelopment of Wrigley and its environs, promises to finally bring the ballpark into the 21st century. But it's stalled by a bitter dispute between the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, and the owners of rooftop seating perches that peek into the ballpark. Work isn't expected to start until next offseason. So with Wrigley in limbo, here are five reasons why the ballpark captivated us in its first century...

Naturally, as an involuntary season-ticket holder, I'm going to the game, and possibly some of the pre-game festivities. And because it's a beautiful, sunny morning in April, I'm wearing long johns, heavy wool socks, a long-sleeve shirt, an undershirt, a warm hoodie, a winter coat, and fleece gloves. How else would someone dress for a game at Wrigley before Memorial Day?

Game-time forecast: sunny, breezy, 6°C. Brrr.

Wednesday 23 April 2014 08:05:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Weather#
Tuesday 22 April 2014

We've bred wolves for 40,000 years to have social intelligence, which makes them better than chimps and cats at understanding us:

[Duke Canine Center student Evan] MacLean stands near a wall with the dog on a slack leash, while a female graduate student sits on a chair in the center of the room. She sets two opaque red cups upside down on the floor, one on each side of her. Then, as [the dog] Napoleon watches intently, a third graduate student enters the room. She places the dog’s tennis ball under one of the cups and pretends to place it under the other, obscuring her motions with a small black board so the terrier isn’t sure which cup contains the ball. If this were a shell game, the dog would have a fifty-fifty shot of picking the right cup. But the seated graduate student gives him a hand, or, more precisely, a finger. She points to the cup on her right, and when MacLean lets go of the leash, Napoleon runs over to it and retrieves his ball. Over several trials, the dog always goes for the cup that is pointed out. Even when the seated student merely gazes at the correct cup, Napoleon gets the message.

This may seem like a simple test, and, indeed, even one-year-old children pass it. But our closest relatives, chimpanzees, fail miserably. They ignore the human helper, pick cups at random, and rarely score above chance. Brian Hare’s lab has become famous for spotting this difference. Napoleon has performed more than just a neat cognitive trick. He has displayed a more complex skill related to the development of theory of mind in children. He wasn’t just clued into the pointing student’s attention; he had shown behavior consistent with understanding her intention. He showed that he realized that the student wanted to show him something, that she had a desire.

It may not have taken 40,000 years for dogs to develop this skill, by the way. The Russian silver foxes are only a few dozen generations away from wild foxes, and they also have similar cognitive characteristics.

Tuesday 22 April 2014 10:42:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Parker#
Monday 21 April 2014

I don't know how this little snippet of code got into a project at work (despite the temptation to look at the file's history):

Search = Search.Replace("Search…", "");

// Perform a search that depends on the Search member being an empty string
// Display the list of things you find

First, I can't fathom why the original developer made the search method dependent on a hard-coded string.

Second, as soon as the first user hit this code after switching her user profile to display Japanese, the search failed.

The fix was crushingly simple:

var localizedSearchPrompt = GetLocalizedString("SearchPrompt");
Search = Search.Replace(localizedSearchPrompt, string.Empty);

(The GetLocalizedString method in this sample is actually a stub for the code that gets the string in the current user's language.)

The moral of the story is: avoid hard-coded strings, just like you've been taught since you started programming.

Monday 21 April 2014 15:31:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Work#

CTA service on the Skokie Swift (now Yellow Line) began 20 April 1964:

The five-mile-long Niles Center branch of the ‘L’ had opened in 1925. Using the tracks of the North Shore electric interurban line, trains ran from Howard-Paulina station to Dempster Street in the suburb of Niles Center (today’s Skokie). There were seven stops between the terminals. North Shore continued to run trains after CTA service was discontinued in 1948.

In 1963 North Shore itself went out of business. During the fifteen years since CTA had eliminated the Niles Center branch, Skokie and other nearby towns had enjoyed a population boom. Perhaps the old ‘L’ line could now earn some money.

CTA’s new plan was to make the line a feeder to the mainline North Side ‘L’. Trains would run express between Dempster and Howard, with no intermediate stops. In a savvy bit of marketing, the re-born service was named the Skokie Swift.

Service officially began on April 20, 1964. Ridership surpassed all expectations, and CTA soon increased the number of trains. Today the route is known as the Yellow Line.

Before 1963, the North Shore Line actually ran trains all the way up to Mundelien.

Monday 21 April 2014 07:04:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Sunday 20 April 2014

I just returned from Outer Suburbistan in record time, in under an hour, which was pure dumb luck. As soon as I change I'm going out into the 25°C afternoon. We still haven't hit the 28°C we last saw November 7th, but this is close enough for me.

More later, including possibly some interesting stuff about how I've started (slowly) refactoring the 10-year-old Inner Drive Extensible Architecture to use modern inversion-of-control tools including Castle Windsor and Moq. First, I need to walk the dog. A lot.

Sunday 20 April 2014 16:04:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cool links | Weather#
Saturday 19 April 2014

I don't usually post personal things, but in this case, I have enough psychic pain that I want to vent.

After last Sunday's car-killing problem, I took the car in to get fixed. It turns out, I was right about the problem and about the estimated repair costs. But wait: the car needed routine maintenance as well. All told, it got:

  • a new water pump;
  • an oil change;
  • new brake fluid;
  • a new microfilter for the air conditioner;
  • new wiper blades;
  • a minor recall service; and
  • a partridge in a pear tree.

Total damage: $1,996.74.

I seriously wonder why I have a car at all. Oh, right, because tomorrow I'm going to see family in Outer Suburbistan.

Saturday 19 April 2014 18:39:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 18 April 2014

Crain's reported today (sub.req.) that Lagunitas Brewing will cap their first Chicago-brewed beer today:

Workers at the 300,000-square-foot Douglas Park facility are firing up the bottling line this morning and slapping on Lagunitas India Pale Ale labels. Once they flip the switch, the line will fill 500 bottles a minute.

"It's just the IPA right now," said owner Tony Magee. "It's the beer we know best."

The first 750-barrel batch of beer was mixed a few weeks ago before heading to the brewery's fermenting tanks and filtration system. Other batches of IPA are right behind as production begins to ramp up. The Chicago brewery is set to start making Little Sumpin' Sumpin' beer next month.

Crain's also reports that Lagunitas is now Illinois' largest brewer, with a capacity of 200,000 barrels—23.5 million litres—per year.

Friday 18 April 2014 12:05:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

After years of doing whatever they were doing, the CTA has released details of its planned Red and Purple Line renovations north of Belmont:

We already know the first phase of the project, set to begin in 2017, will involve rehabbing the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations and replacing tracks for the Red and Purple Lines at those stations to reduce slow zones. CTA has started the process of securing federal funding to extend the Red Line from its current southern endpoint at 95th Street to 130th Street, using existing freight rail tracks. That project would cost $2.3 billion.

The aspect of the Red/Purple Line rehab we’re most impressed by is a “Belmont bypass” allowing the Brown Line to continue along its route by riding above the existing Red and Purple Line rails. Currently the Brown Line has to negotiate its route by crossing those rails, resulting in 40 percent of weekday trains being delayed by up to three minutes.

In order for the bypass to be built CTA will have to buy 16 buildings between Belmont Avenue and Addison Street in order to make room for the project. The total cost of the Belmont bypass is included in the $1.7 billion cost the first phase of Red and Purple Line rehab is expected to cost.

The CTA says the bypass project will save 500,000 passenger-hours per year.

Friday 18 April 2014 08:28:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Thursday 17 April 2014

As of today, 8 million people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Krugman puts it in perspective:

[T]he benefits of Obamacare, for all its imperfections, are immense. Millions of people who lived extremely anxious lives now have far more security than before. Compared with those benefits, the complaints of some already insured people that they have less choice of doctors than before, or that they’re no longer allowed to retain minimalist plans, look like whining. (And of course not one of the more serious-sounding stories about soaring premiums and all that has held up under scrutiny.)

And speaking of whining, the GOP response seems to be to make every possible insinuation to the effect that the numbers are somehow fraudulent. I actually don’t think there’s a game plan here; their whole position was premised on the inevitable collapse of health reform, and they have no plan B.

Winning.

Thursday 17 April 2014 17:15:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Politics | US#
Wednesday 16 April 2014

So, Sunday's car problem is decidedly non-trivial. As I suspected, the water pump failed. I got lucky yesterday because the cold air allowed me to get the car all the way to the nearest dealer (barely 2 km away), but the car is essentially undriveable.

This is a $1400 repair.

I am selling a kidney. Any takers?

Wednesday 16 April 2014 10:20:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Tuesday 15 April 2014

This lovely spring morning in Chicago:

It's April 15th. And we have snow on the ground. Again.

At least we got a new record:

Snow has historically been no stranger in Chicago during the month of April. Official snow records indicate a trace or more of snow has fallen this late in 86 of the past 129 seasons dating back to 1884-85. That’s 67% of the time.

But the amount of snow which fell Monday and the fact it occurred within 3 days of 27°C warmth (on Saturday) and on a day which opened near 20°C is without precedent. Neither has occurred before over the 129 year term of official Chicago snow records.

Monday’s preliminary snow totals through 10 pm came in at 30 mm at O’Hare and 25 mm at Midway.

The 30 mm tally at O’Hare equals the amount of snow which typically falls over the full month of April and was the heaviest official snowfall to occur here so late in a season in 3 decades.

Winter, you're drunk. Go home.

Tuesday 15 April 2014 13:11:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 14 April 2014

After a last-minute offer was rejected by a Quebec court, Montreal-based Bixi (who make the bikes Divvy uses) was bought for C$4m by Canadian adventurer Bruno Rodi:

At the last minute, the New York company REQX Ventures – a project of Equinox Fitness and luxury real estate behemoth Related Companies – countered with an offer for $5.5 million. Both Rodi and REQX were willing to pay cash for the international arm of Bixi, which is $44 million in debt.

REQX’s sally came too late, a Quebec Superior Court justice decided on Friday after hearing lengthy arguments. Rodi’s $4 million carried the day, and all of it will go to the city of Montréal, which is Bixi’s major creditor and has shelled out an estimated total of $40 million on the bike-share innovator since it was founded in 2008.

Rodi is quite possibly the most interesting man in the world, though it's not clear he drinks Dos Equis.

Monday 14 April 2014 14:10:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel#

I just took Parker for his evening constitutional, and discovered it's really warm out. My kitchen thermometer says it's 17°C, but the official temperature at O'Hare is 9°C. That's...unusual. In fact, here's what the weather near me looks like:

So, O'Hare and Midway, which are about 25 km apart, have a temperature delta of fully 10°C. If you look at a slightly more distant pair, say Waukegan and Gary, which are both on Lake Michigan but separated north-to-south by less than 100 km, the temperature delta is almost 16°C. That is one hell of a cold front.

And it's coming...this...way...

Sunday 13 April 2014 22:45:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 13 April 2014

Near Lincoln and Bryn Mawr, 4pm:

The 9 km tow to my house was $150. It appears as if the water pump has failed. The car is driveable for short distances, so I hope that Tuesday morning I can get it to the nearest dealer, 2 km away.

I am not happy about this.

Sunday 13 April 2014 17:21:49 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

Just this morning I wrote about how warm the weather had gotten (finally!) but how it would get cooler throughout today.

Well, between 10:45 and 11, while I was in the grocery, the wind shifted, plunging the temperature 7°C and making me suddenly under-dressed. Plus, it's foggy.

Spring, we hope, will return in two weeks.

Sunday 13 April 2014 11:23:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Yesterday Chicago got up to 27°C, one more "warmest day since November 7th." We've had a few of those recently. (November 7th got up to 28°C.)

It stayed relatively warm overnight, though, so for the first time in half a year I got to have dinner outside. This morning it's still warm enough to go outside without a jacket.

But this is Chicago. The forecast calls for falling temperatures and rain starting this afternoon, falling to 3°C tonight and slipping below freezing Monday night. With snow.

Sitll, for the next few hours, we have some sun and some warmth, so Parker and I are going outside for a bit.

Sunday 13 April 2014 09:09:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 11 April 2014

Forget the Kennedy Expressway during rush hour; Chicago's railroads are worse:

Come to the west side of Chicago to find out why a power plant in Michigan is short of coal and a biodiesel maker in Brewster, Minnesota, can’t get enough grain.

The answer is found near Western Avenue, where rail cars from Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM), the largest U.S. publicly traded ethanol producer, rest idle on the track above the Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway. A short drive away a burnt orange, yellow and black locomotive from Warren Buffett’s BNSF railway sits on an overpass as motor traffic is snarled below.

They can’t move because increasing oil production from North Dakota’s Bakken field, a record grain crop and unprecedented cold weather overwhelmed the U.S. railroad system. In part because of transport delays, coal inventories were down 26 percent in January from a year ago. A quarter of all U.S. freight rail traffic passes through Chicago, or 37,500 rail cars each day. The trip through the city can take more than 30 hours.

This has pushed up coal prices and cut coal consumption, which Bloomberg sees as a problem but I'm not so sure actually is. Also, BNSF is spending $5 billion on service upgrades near the oil fields, including adding 500 locomotives, 5,000 rail cars, and 300 crew members.

Friday 11 April 2014 11:52:18 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Travel#
Thursday 10 April 2014

Right on time—i.e., six months after screwing up worse than any HHS secretary in history—Kathleen Sibelius has resigned:

Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning, U.S. officials told NBC News on Thursday.

U.S. officials told NBC News that President Barack Obama would nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently director of the White House Office and Management and Budget, to succeed Sebelius, 65, the former governor of Kansas, who was an original member of the Cabinet that Obama appointed when he took office in January 2009.

No reason for Sebelius' departure, was immediately available, but she came under sustained criticism as head of the agency in charge of the controversial rollout of Obama's health care reform initiative.

For those of you reading overseas, particularly in the U.K., we do things differently than most other democracies. In the U.K., when a minister completely fails at his job, he resigns more or less immediately, and gets back in government (or shadow government) usually at the next election. In the U.S., when a cabinet secretary completely fails, she waits six months, resigns, and never holds that level of responsibility again.

Now, contrast British and American bankruptcy laws and you will see how completely backwards these things are. British bankruptcy ruins a person; it's really the very-last-ditch thing you can do before living on the street. American bankruptcy is a chance to start over, and usually done just at the point where a person is in serious default but not yet destitute.

So it's interesting how our government resignations are just the opposite. Then again, someone like Sibelius will usually has no trouble earning millions on the lecture-and-book circuit, which I believe isn't an option in the U.K.

Anyway, Sibelius has resigned pretty much six months to the day that her epic failure became public knowledge. It's the American way, after all.

Thursday 10 April 2014 18:20:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Last week at my remote office, a man came to the bar to order the Duke's most excellent fish and chips for takeout. Then he asked a question: is the fish beer-battered? Well, yes, of course it is; it's a Scottish pub.

Unfortunately for the pub's sales and the customer's stomach pangs, he was an observant Muslim, and believes alcohol is haram. So we got into a conversation about whether beer-battered fish was in this category. (Pubs in London have many more Muslim customers than pubs in Chicago, so they generally don't use beer in their fish batter.)

I'm not religious, not even a tiny bit, but I understand some people keep strict dietary laws like halal. Some people in my own family are strictly Kosher too. But putting aside my feelings that dietary laws in the 21st century make no sense except as a way to keep the observant ethnic group separate from society, the question "is beer-battered fried fish haram" actually interested me.

Again, as a rational person, I would have assumed that the reason alcohol is haram has to do with its intoxicating effects. Since ethanol boils at 78°C, well below the oil's temperature (150-175°C or so), it pretty much evaporates completely when the fish is fried. People get intoxicated on fish-and-chip nights at the Duke (all you can eat Wednesdays and Fridays!), but from the 90 single malts and half-dozen beers on draught, not from the fish.

But it turns out, once it touches alcohol, it's haram:

Fire/cooking does not remove impurity, and the Shafi’i School considers alcohol, like beer, impure. Therefore, even when cooking removes all the alcohol, contamination with the impurity makes eating it problematic.

And Allah knows best.

In fact, most imams seem to agree that food becomes haram as soon as it touches impure oil, even if it is chemically purified by frying:

So long as we know that most of what is fried [with this oil] is impure [for the Muslims to eat] from dead [meat (of the animal which had died prior to slaughter)] or pig [meat], then it is imperative that we ask. However, if we do not know whether most of what is fried [with this oil] is impure [for the Muslims to eat] or other than that, then it is not obligatory to question. And Allaah has the complete knowledge [of all affairs].

But there may be an out:

Hanafi muftis allow the consumption of products containing alcohol from sources other than grapes or dates so long as: 1) it does not intoxicate and 2) it is not used in vain. Also, the amount of alcohol must not exceed 0.5%. Thus, if the amount of beer used is disproportional to the extent of more than 0.5%, then such a product would not be permitted. If the amount of alcohol is 0.5% or less, then they would allow it.

Why Allah decided on 1/200th as the magic amount, what "in vain" means, and how the Hanafi muftis in question learned these specifications, are beyond the scope of this blog post. And it seems to be an open question whether the 0.5% refers to the ethanol itself or to the beer as a whole, but I'm going with the actual alcohol content. I will endeavor to find out from Colin Cameron how much beer exactly gets used in the preparation of fish and chips, and what kind of beer, so that the guy who just wanted a chippie to take away can have it from the Duke without going to hell.

Thursday 10 April 2014 11:25:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Religion#

Via Sullivan, science has discovered how to keep your grilled meat from killing you:

Now comes some better news. Scientists have found that marinating pork in beer--yes, beer--can reduce the level of carcinogens. According to this study, black ale has the most beneficial qualities, reducing eight types of PAHs by 53%, compared to meat that hadn't been soaked at all. Nonalcoholic Pilsner beer was also useful, showing a 25% reduction, followed by Pilsner (13%). Each piece of meat was marinated for four hours.

The Economist:

This welcome advice was the result of some serious experiments, as Dr Ferreira explains in a paper in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The PAHs created by grilling form from molecules called free radicals which, in turn, form from fat and protein in the intense heat of this type of cooking. One way of stopping PAH-formation, then, might be to apply chemicals called antioxidants that mop up free radicals. And beer is rich in these, in the shape of melanoidins, which form when barley is roasted. So Dr Ferreira and her colleagues prepared some beer marinades, bought some steaks and headed for the griddle.

One of their marinades was based on Pilsner, a pale lager. A second was based on a black beer (type unstated). Since black beers have more melanoidins than light beers—as the name suggests, they give it colour—Dr Ferreira’s hypothesis was that steaks steeped in the black-beer marinade would form fewer PAHs than those steeped in the light-beer marinade, which would, in turn, form fewer than control steaks left unmarinated.

And so it proved. When cooked, unmarinated steaks had an average of 21 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of PAHs per gram of grilled meat. Those marinated in Pilsner averaged 18 nanograms. Those marinated in black beer averaged only 10 nanograms. Tasty and healthy too, then. Just what the doctor ordered.

Next time I'm at Morton's, I'll expect to see the porter-marinated Porterhouse on the menu.

Wednesday 9 April 2014 19:06:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 9 April 2014

Bruce Schneier, not one for hyperbole, calls the Heartbleed defect an 11 on a 10 scale:

Basically, an attacker can grab 64K of memory from a server. The attack leaves no trace, and can be done multiple times to grab a different random 64K of memory. This means that anything in memory -- SSL private keys, user keys, anything -- is vulnerable. And you have to assume that it is all compromised. All of it.

"Catastrophic" is the right word.

At this point, the odds are close to one that every target has had its private keys extracted by multiple intelligence agencies. The real question is whether or not someone deliberately inserted this bug into OpenSSL, and has had two years of unfettered access to everything. My guess is accident, but I have no proof.

It turns out, Windows systems don't use OpenSSL very much, favoring TLS 1.2 these days. So if you're visiting a Windows system (basically anything with ".aspx" at the end), you're fine.

Still, if you've used Yahoo! or any other system that has this bug, change your password. Now.

Wednesday 9 April 2014 08:34:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Security#
Tuesday 8 April 2014

Via Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel, Australia's weather service has observed a growing ENSO event that has implications for the U.S.:

It is now likely (estimated at a greater than 70% chance) that an El Niño will develop during the southern hemisphere winter. Although the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently neutral, surface and sub-surface ocean temperatures have warmed considerably in recent weeks, consistent with a state of rapid transition. International climate models surveyed by the Bureau indicate continued warming of the central Pacific Ocean in coming months. Most models predict sea surface temperatures will reach El Niño thresholds during the coming winter season.

Accuweather says not to worry:

While El Niño will not have an impact on this spring and summer's severe weather, it may come on early enough and strong enough to have impact on the upcoming hurricane season in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific.

Disruptive winds, known as wind shear, often develop off the Atlantic coast of the United States and sweep over a large part of the basin during El Niño.

The greatest effects on the weather pattern in the Lower 48 states, including California, occur during the cold season.

El Niño winters are noted for wet and stormy conditions in the South and less-frequent, less-severe cold episodes in the Northern states.

There is a tendency toward dry conditions in the Northwest and North Central states during an El Niño winter.

A nice, warm, dry winter next year would be super. Here's hoping.

Tuesday 8 April 2014 15:42:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 7 April 2014

Via AVWeb, the FAA has announced a proposed rulemaking that would eliminate the 3rd class medical requirement for most small-plane pilots (like me):

The FAA on April 2 announced plans to go through a rulemaking process that could result in expanding the number of pilots eligible to fly without the need for a third-class medical certificate. The announcement comes two years after AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association jointly petitioned the FAA to expand the third-class medical exemption to cover more pilots and aircraft.

The rulemaking effort, which the FAA is calling the “Private Pilot Privileges without a Medical Certificate” project, will consider whether to allow private pilots to fly without a third-class medical certificate in certain circumstances. Instead, pilots will be able to use other criteria, including a valid driver’s license, to demonstrate their fitness to fly. The agency offered no other details of the planned rulemaking.

The FAA has announced plans to go through a rulemaking process that could result in thousands more pilots being allowed to fly without a third-class medical.Legislation to expand the medical exemption has been gaining momentum in both the House and Senate. That legislation, known as the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, would go a step further than the AOPA-EAA petition. Under the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, pilots who make noncommercial VFR flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats would be exempt from the third-class medical certification process. Pilots would be allowed to carry up to five passengers, fly at altitudes below 14,000 feet msl, and fly no faster than 250 knots. The FAA would be required to report on the safety consequences of the new rule after five years.

That would be great. I haven't had an aviation medical in a while, and it's one of three things keeping me from flying lately. (The other two are time and money.) The medical certification process never seemed particularly onerous, but it is expensive ($200 or so) and time consuming (find an AME, go to the AME, get the exam, go home). I hope the legislation and the rules both pass.

Monday 7 April 2014 08:42:12 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Sunday 6 April 2014

Yesterday I migrated this blog and four other ASP.NET websites from a Windows 2008 Microsoft Azure virtual machine (VM) to a brand-new Windows 2012 R2 VM. I did this because Microsoft has announced the end-of-life for Windows 2008 VMs on June 1st, so I thought I'd get a jump on it.

VMs usually mean never having to say "reinstall." Unfortunately, since this involved upgrading three steps at once, I decided it would be simpler just to launch a new VM and migrate the applications using FTP.

Seven hours and 25 minutes later, everything works, and I've archived the old VM's virtual hard disk (VHD). Why did it take 7:25 to complete?

Forget it. I'm not reliving those hours. I will say only that at least 90 minutes of that time was completely wasted because my AT&T Uverse FiOS line doesn't...quite...make it to my building, limiting it to 1.5 Mbps. Yes, I have a 1.5 Mbps Internet line. While waiting for things to download and upload yesterday, I spoke with them, and they assured me that I have the fastest Uverse service available to me.

Which brings up the other problem with doing so much in Microsoft Azure: you need good Internet connectivity. Which I don't have. Which meant I spent a lot of time yesterday rubbing Parker's belly and cursing AT&T.

Sunday 6 April 2014 09:20:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Blogs | Cloud | Windows Azure#

You can't actually see it, but I've upgraded the Microsoft Azure VM that this blog runs on to a brand-spanking-new Windows Server 2012 box.

In fact, it's so transparent, the only purpose of this blog entry is to make sure I can make blog entries.

Seriously, this means absolutely nothing to anyone else. Except that, since Microsoft was going to kill the old VM automatically sometime in June, this is a good thing.

Saturday 5 April 2014 20:33:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Blogs#
Saturday 5 April 2014

It's not a big anniversary, but it still bears mentioning. On 5 April 1614, John Rolfe married Pocahontas in Virginia Colony.

It's difficult to imagine what her life was like, what were the circumstances of her marriage beyond official records, or how she dealt with London. To me, the story has always sounded a bit non-consensual. But the world of 1614 was so alien from our own world, even in England and America, it's likely no one had even an analog to our modern notion of "consent."

Still, it's an interesting anniversary.

Saturday 5 April 2014 10:57:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

The Cubs lost 7-2 yesterday, and we didn't even stay to the end. It was depressing. Here's the happy scene before play commenced:

You can't quite see the 40 km/h winds blowing in from left field, nor can you see how I was in long johns, four layers, a winter coat, hat, hoodie, scarf, and gloves, because it was 3 frickin' degrees C.

Today and tomorrow should have better weather, and we should actually have spring weather by Thursday. And the Cubs, having now won only 25% of the games they've played this season, might win a game.

Then, while walking home from the game, I discovered what we in software might call a "human-factors" failure. Note to the City: you may not want to pour fresh concrete walking distance from Wrigley on opening day during high winds that might knock down the barriers. Otherwise you'll get a permanent record of (a) a barrier having fallen into fresh concrete and (b) that drunk people were nearby at the time:

Don't get me wrong; I'm not blaming the victim, who in this case would be the City of Chicago. But, come on, that concrete was practically asking for it. Maybe it shouldn't have gone out alone in Wrigleyville on opening day.

Saturday 5 April 2014 08:30:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Chicago | Cubs | Weather#
Friday 4 April 2014

A little. Not a lot:

Today: A 20 percent chance of showers. Cloudy, with a high near 7°C*. Windy, with a south wind 24 to 32 km/h becoming west southwest 40 to 48 km/h in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 72 km/h.

So, high winds blowing straight out? Probably won't exactly be a pitchers' duel then.

Photos and details coming after the game.

* Did you know you can hover over these dashed lines to see the Imperial conversions? I've been doing this for years, but not everyone seems to know about the feature. Enjoy.

Friday 4 April 2014 07:43:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Weather#
Thursday 3 April 2014

And sometimes, it rains. That's the forecast for tomorrow's opening day at Wrigley Field.

So far the Cubs haven't won, though. They're 0-2 for the season, starting their third game at Pittsburgh in just a few minutes.

Stay tuned.

Thursday 3 April 2014 12:34:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs | Weather#
Wednesday 2 April 2014

Crains reports this morning that a local Chicago technology start-up (not mine) has just gotten a ton of money:

Bswift LLC, a healthcare-benefits software firm, has received $51 million from a private-equity fund to keep up with torrid growth.

The Chicago-based company has been growing at more than 40 percent annually for the past four years and is enjoying a surge in demand, in part because of the Affordable Care Act. Bswift's technology is used by companies to provide comparison shopping, enrollment and administration of health insurance benefits. It also operates insurance exchanges for private and public markets.

Bswift's business is exploding. Headcount at the firm, which is based in the West Loop, has soared to more than 300 from 165 a year ago. A year ago, the company had expected to hire 100 people over three years.

“We've added 45 people since the beginning of the year,” [Bswift CEO Rich] Gallun said. “We'll be over 400 by the end of the year.”

Wow. And whoa. And woe.

That's really good news for Bswift's owners and stakeholders. I'm concerned what it's like to work there, though. Managing any growth taxes the abilities of any manager or business owner. Growing staff by 5% every month—they've added 45 employees this year alone—has to be a strain.

I'm curious what it's like over there right now, and how they're managing the growth. With this infusion of cash, they're going to have a lot of pressure to grow even faster. How will they maintain their culture? How will they manage quality and delivery? What do their clients think?

Wednesday 2 April 2014 08:31:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Business#

It's official: the meteorological winter (December 1 to March 31) that just ended was Chicago's coldest winter in history:

The impressive cold this past winter continued during March...with a monthly average temperature of only -0.2°C for the month. this ranks as the 19th coldest march on record in Chicago. however...of even more interest is the fact that with the abnormally cold March across the area...this made the average temperature for the December through March period in Chicago -5.6°C ...which is the coldest such period on record for Chicago dating back to 1872!

On the other hand, the same period was one of the warmest winters ever globally. Both things are likely related, but we won't know for a while until more data comes in.

Meanwhile, here's the forecast for opening day at Wrigley the day after tomorrow:

A chance of rain and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 8°C. Breezy, with a south wind 25 to 30 km/h becoming southwest 35 to 40 km/h in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 60 km/h. Chance of precipitation is 40%.

At least our seats are under the awning.

Wednesday 2 April 2014 08:17:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Weather#
Tuesday 1 April 2014

Microsoft has partnered with Lotus Formula 1 Racing to create a series of ads about Microsoft Azure:

Neowin reports:

The new ad, which has been running for the past few days on many U.S. TV networks and has been posted on YouTube, attempts to show how the Lotus Formula 1 racing team uses a number of Microsoft cloud services such as Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics to collect and analyze data from 200 sensors on the car. The ad's main them is that the cloud products offer the Lotus team a way to better understand how the F1 vehicle runs on each track and, therefore, give them an edge in winning races.

The new TV commercial comes even as rumors hit the Internet that Microsoft is planning to rebrand its Windows Azure cloud website hosting service to Microsoft Azure, in order to better reflect the fact that it can use software not made by the company like Linux.

The "rumors" are true, by the way. The service is now called Microsoft Azure.

Tuesday 1 April 2014 12:34:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure#
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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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