Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Monday 30 June 2014

The Atlantic Citylab blog today had a good item explaining why London's transport system has the best finances, and how other transport systems can learn from them:

In U.S. cities, politicians often defer fare increases until there's a funding crisis too big to ignore. That leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth about the transit agency's ability to manage its finances. It also leads city residents to believe that fare hikes are only something that should rarely occur.

In London, on the contrary, TfL fares rise every year—the only question is by how much. There are loud objections over there just as there are here, but the critical difference is that TfL has set an expectation in the minds of travelers, not to mention politicians, that fares must rise on an annual basis to meet costs. "That's the way we keep the system properly funded year after year," says [Shashi Verma, TfL's director of customer experience].

Other improvements, like pay-as-you-go travel cards (TfL's Oyster and Chicago's Ventra), could also find their ways over to the U.S.

Monday 30 June 2014 14:24:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | US | Travel#

Who could have imagined that the Supreme Court would rule, 5-4 along party lines in both instances, that closely-held corporations don't have to provide birth control and Illinois can't treat certain public workers as unionized employees?

The rear-guard action against women and labor continues.

Some day, I hope in my lifetime, people will look back on this era the way we look back on the late 19th century. I hope that in my lifetime these right-wing, anti-labor decisions are viewed the same way we today view Plessy, to take one example.

Monday 30 June 2014 10:28:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 29 June 2014

Peter Beinert points to an interview the former vice president gave to Charlie Rose this week as a repudiation of George W Bush:

[E]arlier this week, Dick Cheney spent an hour on Charlie Rose and, in the guise of attacking President Obama, ripped his former boss’s foreign-policy vision to shreds. Cheney explained that he had recently traveled through the Middle East meeting with a “lot of my friends going back to Desert Storm days.” By which he meant Sunni tyrants in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Persian Gulf. Their message to him: The United States isn’t supporting them steadfastly enough.

Cheney wholeheartedly agreed. The Obama administration, he declared, “has undermined these relationships, some of which go back 30, 40, 50 years.” By which he meant: When, during the Arab Spring, the peoples of the Middle East did exactly what George W. Bush had urged them to do—rise up against dictators who had oppressed them for “30, 40, 50 years”—the United States did not “ignore” their “oppression and “excuse” their “oppressors” enough.

It’s worth recognizing how directly Cheney is repudiating Bush’s vision. Bush’s core point—repeated by a thousand supportive pundits—was that when Middle Eastern dictators don’t allow democratic dissent, jihadist terrorism becomes the prime avenue for resistance. Egypt today is a textbook example. The Muslim Brotherhood won a free vote. In power, it ruled in illiberal ways. But Egypt was still due for additional elections in which people could do just what Bush had urged them to: express their grievances democratically. Instead, the military seized on popular discontent to overthrow the government, massively repress freedom of speech, and engineer a sham election. And just as Bush predicted, Egypt’s Islamists are responding by moving toward violence and jihadist militancy.

The depths of Cheney's evil continue to amaze me. He was unfit for public office fourteen years ago, and now he's unfit for going out in public without a warning label. And a significant wing of the opposition party are right there with him.

Sunday 29 June 2014 09:37:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Friday 27 June 2014

Via TPM, a funny (!) gun-safety PSA:

Friday 27 June 2014 14:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 26 June 2014

A Comcast installer showed up this morning within the appointed time frame, and in about an hour had taken my apartment the Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters from this:

To this:

I almost want to dance around singing "A Whole New World" but that would be very disturbing to my self image.

Instead I'll head into the office, getting in a little earlier than I expected, and come home to real Internet speeds. In fact, I think right now I'll watch something on YouTube just because I can.

Goodbye, AT&T. Hello Comcast, you gorgeous thing.

Thursday 26 June 2014 11:36:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Software | Cloud | Work#

This map surprised me:

Max Fisher explains:

It's no secret that European colonialism was a vast, and often devastating, project that over several centuries put nearly the entire world under control of one European power or another. But just how vast can be difficult to fully appreciate.

Here, to give you a small sense of European colonialism's massive scale, is a map showing every country put under partial or total European control during the colonial era, which ran roughly from the 1500s to the 1960s. Only five countries, in orange, were spared:

There are only four countries that escaped European colonialism completely. Japan and Korea successfully staved off European domination, in part due to their strength and diplomacy, their isolationist policies, and perhaps their distance. Thailand was spared when the British and French Empires decided to let it remained independent as a buffer between British-controlled Burma and French Indochina. Japan, however, colonized both Korea and Thailand itself during its early-20th-century imperial period.

It's hard to understand why most of the world hates Europeans (and by extension North Americans).

Thursday 26 June 2014 09:57:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | World#
Wednesday 25 June 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court announced this morning their decisions in two closely-watched cases.

In Riley v. California, the Court ruled 9-0 that police can't search your cell phone without a warrant:

The court said on a 9-0 vote that the right of police to search an arrested suspect at the scene without a warrant does not extend in most circumstances to data held on a cell phone.

Because technologically sophisticated phones may hold huge amounts of personal data, they may not be searched without a warrant from a magistrate, the justices said.

In an unrelated 6-3 decision (ABC v. Aereo), the Court ruled that rebroadcasting is a performance under copyright law:

In a decision with implications for the television industry, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Aereo, a start-up streaming service, violated copyright laws by capturing broadcast signals on miniature antennas and delivering them to subscribers for a fee.

The 6-3 decision was a victory for the major television networks, which had argued that Aereo’s business model amounted to a theft of their programming.

For now, the judges’ ruling leaves the current broadcast model intact while imperiling Aereo’s viability as a business after just over two years in existence.

Backed by the Barry Diller-controlled IAC, Aereo allowed subscribers who paid $8 to $12 a month for its service to stream free-to-air broadcast television to their mobile devices, laptops and web-connected televisions. The start-up contends that it is merely helping its subscribers do what they could lawfully do since the era of rabbit-ear antennas: watch free broadcast television delivered over public airwaves.

The cell-phone case is probably a lot more important. I'll read it later. I'm surprised that Scalia went with the majority on it. Alito, for his part, wrote a concurrence, so the world isn't completely defying expectations.

Wednesday 25 June 2014 10:18:35 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 24 June 2014

Maryland dentist Edward Gramson got taken for a ride by British Airways:

When a North Bethesda, Maryland, dentist planned a trip to Portugal for a conference last September, he decided he'd quickly swing by Granada, Spain, to see the famed Alhambra and other historical sites.

But carrier British Airways had other ideas, and instead sent Edward Gamson and his partner to Grenada — with an E — in the Caribbean, by way of London, no less.

Gamson, who said he clearly told the British Airways agent over the phone Granada, Spain, didn't notice the mistake because his e-tickets did not contain the airport code or the duration of the trip. It was only 20 minutes after departure from a stopover in London that he looked at the in-flight map and asked the flight attendant, "Why are we headed west to go to Spain?"

I'm scratching my head over this one. I travel a lot, through Heathrow sometimes, on BA other times, and I'm just not sure how so many things could go wrong no matter how many letters are different. What about the flight schedule? Departure briefing from the pilot? Passport control? Size of the bloody plane? (You don't take an A320 to the Caribbean and you don't take a 747 to a regional Spanish airport.) This guy had at least 350,000 frequent-flier miles; how did he not notice any of these things?

Gramson has sued BA pro se for $34,000, which he estimates to be the losses from hotel and travel reservations. I can't wait to hear the disposiiton.

Tuesday 24 June 2014 13:03:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Geography | London | Travel#
Monday 23 June 2014

As mentioned earlier, today is the first day of my new job. That means orientation, setting up a computer, navigating paperwork, etc. Then tonight the Cubs play Cincinnati at Wrigley (weather permitting), so I'll probably go straight from work to the field.

So I'll probably be a little slow posting things this week.

Monday 23 June 2014 07:38:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs | Blogs | Work#
Sunday 22 June 2014

The Chicago Art Institute has released a video showing how conservator Faye Wrubel restored Caillebotte's masterpiece:

The striking results of the restoration reveals greater saturation of color, sharper edges, and more contrast with an overall effect of more visual depth. Overpainting was removed from the once yellow sky, exposing a bluer surface with gradation indicating light and movement.

“What we have been seeing all these years may have been beautiful, we may have all loved it, but it wasn’t right,” Wrubel said of the findings’ impact.

In addition to visible details that were brought to light, conservators uncovered new information about the masterpiece by comparing the ultraviolet and x-ray images to a preparatory sketch for the painting as well as study residing at Paris’ Musée Marmottan.

Here's the video:

Sunday 22 June 2014 18:17:33 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

Not quite, but in today's New York Times he tries to get Republican acceptance that climate change is real:

We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.

This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.

We need to act now, even though there is much disagreement, including from members of my own Republican Party, on how to address this issue while remaining economically competitive. They’re right to consider the economic implications. But we must not lose sight of the profound economic risks of doing nothing.

Krugman thinks Paulson is shouting at the wind:

[W]hat’s sad is that he imagines that anyone in the party he still claims as his own is listening. Earth to Paulson: the GOP you imagine, which respects science and is willing to consider even market-friendly government interventions like carbon taxes, no longer exists. The reins of power now rest firmly, irreversibly, in the hands of men who believe that climate change is a hoax concocted by liberal scientists to justify Big Government, who refuse to acknowledge that government intervention to correct market failures can ever be justified.

Given the state of U.S. politics today, climate action is entirely dependent on Democrats, With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there could be more. If Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while still pushing for climate action, he’s just delusional.

It's really depressing that the main opposition party in the most powerful country the earth has ever seen has an institutional rejection of evidence and data. It's part of the right-wing mindset: they're right-wing because they can't accept being wrong.

Sunday 22 June 2014 12:40:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Weather#
Saturday 21 June 2014

The flight from New York to Chicago takes two hours in the air, and is on-time if it takes three hours from gate to gate. Yesterday my flight was not on time:

  • Late crew arrival: boarding starts at the scheduled departure time.
  • APU inoperative: mechanic inspection and sign off takes 40 minutes.
  • JFK on a Friday evening: 55 minutes from push-back to take-off.
  • ILS inoperative on one of O'Hare's runways: take a 10-minute holding loop over Michigan.
  • Landing runway 9L: spend 17 minutes taxiing to the gate.
  • Friday night at O'Hare: 35 minutes from gate arrival to bag delivery.
  • Friday night at O'Hare: taxi line takes 20 minutes.
  • Cabbie forgets the biggest traffic news in Chicago: miss two available exits because the Ohio ramp is closed.

Total time from leaving my hotel in New York to arriving at dinner an hour late: 8 hours, 28 minutes. (On average, my door-to-door time from New York is just over 5 hours.)

And none of it was American's fault, except for the bit about being one of 40 airlines to schedule a 5pm departure from Kennedy.

I chose the departure from JFK because, using miles, my options were limited, and spending 20 hours in my third-favorite city in the world seemed like a good end to the week. It wasn't until I tried to leave that random events started conspiring against me.

Still, it was a fun trip. I read four books entirely, got most of the way through one and started a sixth. And I had two new beers at Southampton Arms: Jones the Brewer's Abigail's Party Ale and a special pale whose name I forgot to write down, apparently.

Saturday 21 June 2014 17:30:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Kitchen Sink | London | Travel#
Friday 20 June 2014

It certainly felt like I was playing hooky this morning when I spent an hour here:

...looking at this:

New York weather today will be clear and 27°C. I'm about to check out of my hotel, take a subway downtown, and do some intense nothing at a cafe.

Friday 20 June 2014 09:54:17 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Travel | Work#

When I get home I'll post a screen-shot from my phone showing how, at exactly the time I arrived in Manhattan tonight, the only rain cloud within the tri-state area was dumping its contents on Midtown. It felt like being at a Cubs game.

However, the little cloud either dissipated or moved out over the Atlantic in short order, so I discovered that Hotwire had put me in a hotel only two blocks from the airport express bus stop, and within one block of hot, greasy, New York pizza. If I only have one night in New York, that's dinner. Always.

And now, getting up at 3:30 New York time this morning is backing up on me a bit, and the hotel apparently has a 300-baud modem handling its internet[1], so I think I'll crash now.

*plotz*

[1] Seriously, it took several attempts and 25 minutes to post this entry. Google is slow, too, so it's not the Daily Parker—though I am checking the VM right now.

Thursday 19 June 2014 22:49:37 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Thursday 19 June 2014

No, not aviation routing; IP routing.

From the Terminal 2 American Airlines club, I am unable to hit most *.cloudapp.net IP addresses. This is significant because it's basically all of Microsoft Azure, including logon.microsoft.net, Weather Now, and a bunch of other sites I use or have some responsibility for.

I've just spent a few minutes testing DNS (everything is fine there) and then using tracert and pathping, and it looks like the entire 168.62.0.0/16 and 168.61.0.0/16 ranges are just not visible from here. (The Daily Parker is also in Azure, but its IP is in the 191.238.0.0/16 subnet, which seems to be visible just fine.)

I wonder if Microsoft knows that its U.S. East data center is being blocked by some French ISP? Or why?

Thursday 19 June 2014 15:53:25 CEST (UTC+02:00)  |  | Cloud | Security#

(I never get that last word, nor do I suspect Billy himself knows what it is.)

It's a beautiful day in northern France, just 20°C and partly cloudy, with 19 or so hours of sunlight. And yet I'm in the airport club at Charles de Gaulle staring at my plane just below. I didn't have as much opportunity to explore Lille as I'd hoped, either. Why? This:

A week into a nationwide train strike that has tangled traffic and stranded tourists, police fired tear gas Tuesday at protesting rail workers. Two polls suggest passengers have little sympathy for the train workers' lament. Even the labor-friendly Socialist government is breaking a long-held French taboo and is openly criticizing the striking unions.

The strike has caused some of the worst disruption to the country's rail network in years — and heated up as the reform bill went to the lower house of Parliament for debate Tuesday. The bill would unite the SNCF train operator with the RFF railway network, which would pave the way to opening up railways to competition.

You have to love the Daily Mail, talking about "paving the way" to competition with rail, without mentioning that trucking and aviation—both of which have more to do with paving—already compete heavily against it. Still, I worry that France is slipping into the privatization illness that the U.S. and U.K. have suffered since Reagan and Thatcher took power. Passenger railroads provide public benefits out of proportion to their direct economic costs; that's why governments need to prop them up.

For example, several hundred people got on the TGV with me at Lille and arrived at De Gaulle just 50 minutes later. This took hundreds of private cars off the highways, or dozens of buses, or even planeloads of people if you like.

Moving back down the ladder of abstraction, however, those hundreds of people had been scheduled to take any of the 10 trains cancelled this afternoon because of the strike (mine included). So, yes, I was on a train that crossed the French countryside faster than the Cessna 172s I usually fly could have done. But I was standing mid-carriage leaning on someone else's luggage while fatigued students sat in the aisle.

That is why I'm staring out the window watching planes land and writing in my blog instead of just getting off the TGV about now. But in a few hours, I'll be in my third-favorite city in the world, hunting down a greasy slice of pizza from a random deli in the east 30s.

Gare Flanders, Lille, France

Thursday 19 June 2014 08:18:16 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World | Travel#
Wednesday 18 June 2014

...but it's really tasty. I ate tonight at Estaminet Chez la Vielle, in Lille, France. The name translates literally to "Little Flemish restaurant at the old woman's house." (An estaminet is like a restaurant, but Flemish. Lille borders Belgium and was, at one point, the biggest city in Flanders. QED.)

It's cute:

And the vol a vent with chicken and mushrooms in a béchamel sauce made my arteries freeze on sight:

Tomorrow I'll have one or two more photos of Lille, as well as an explanation why I get to spend three hours at De Gaulle tomorrow. (Hint: it has nothing to do with aviation.)

Wednesday 18 June 2014 22:18:36 CEST (UTC+02:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#

My bag has arrived at Gatwick. This means, instead of sleeping in, getting a leisurely brunch, and hopping on the Eurostar at St. Pancras (just a few blocks away), instead I have to get up now, hop the Victoria line from St. Pancras to Victoria, spend £40 on a needless trip to Gatwick, then reverse the process back to St. Pancras. And brunch will be some kind of pastry and some tea on the run.

My friends assure me this is why they hate traveling. I don't think this has anything to do with traveling per se, simply because it hasn't happened to me in 30 years. I do think this has something to do with MCO.

Wednesday 18 June 2014 09:45:03 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel#
Tuesday 17 June 2014

This time it's personal.

I am in London. My bag is still in Orlando. Why? Apparently, even with more than an hour to do so, the Orlando baggage handlers were unable to get my bag from an American Airlines airplane to a British Airways airplane.

Part of that could be related to the unbelievable sprawl of Orlando International Airport. It epitomizes everything I dislike about the state: it takes up a lot of room but has surprisingly poor usability. It's mostly mall, you see, with very small areas to wait for your flight.

I will never voluntarily go to Florida again. And they'd better put my bag on the next flight to London or I'll be really cross.

By the way, this is the first time a bag of mine has gone astray since the mid-1980s. Very few bags actually get lost or mishandled anymore. But the baggage desk at Gatwick admitted that Orlando is a particular problem for them, which reinforces my main point.

Now I get to spend part of my afternoon clothes-shopping instead of going to the Tate.

Tuesday 17 June 2014 14:43:08 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | Aviation | US | Travel#
Monday 16 June 2014

I am here:

Actually, despite being content to read on most flights, and despite being without a full-time job until Monday, I actually have some work to do for my oldest surviving and most loyal client. If I'm lucky, Orlando has WiFi, and I can upload the changes I'm making right now. If not, I'll have to do it tomorrow night in London.

This will be an unusual trip for me. Because I didn't know for sure if I'd have this week off until just a few weeks ago, it was challenging to book this trip on miles. I wound up booking two one-way trips, with indirect routes and with the return trip originating in a different country than the outbound arrival city. So today I'm going to London's Gatwick airport via Orlando, then Wednesday I'm taking the Eurostar to Lille, France, Thursday on the TGV to Paris–De Gaulle thence New York's JFK, finally returning Friday, again through JFK.

This will be the first time I've traveled through Gatwick since 11 June 1992, my first visit ever to Europe. American no longer travels there, and British Airways doesn't fly many North American routes from there. In fact, my flight tonight will be on the rare 3-class 777—so rare that SeatGuru doesn't even have the right seating plan for it.

Other than this patch that my client needs this week, I plan to do nothing of value for the next three days except read and ingest. (Writing blog entries counts as "nothing of value.") Allons-y!

Monday 16 June 2014 16:59:55 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel | Work#

It's a pity that he has to be boarded on his birthday, but as a dog, he probably doesn't think a whole lot about birthdays. At least he wasn't on the way to the car this morning:

For comparison, here's Parker at 13 weeks:

Monday 16 June 2014 10:11:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#
Sunday 15 June 2014

Apparently, extroverts will have to sit out the initial exploration of Mars:

[E]xtroverts tend to be talkative, but their gregarious nature may make them seem intrusive or demanding of attention in confined and isolated environments over the long term, the researchers say.

"You're talking about a very tiny vehicle, where people are in very isolated, very confined spaces," said study researcher Suzanne Bell, an associate professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. "Extroverts have a little bit of a tough time in that situation."

In one study of a spacecraft simulation, an extroverted team member was ostracized by two other members who were more reserved, Bell said. "They thought he was too brash, and would speak his mind too much, and talk too much," Bell said.

The new findings don't mean that extroverts can't go to Mars. More specific studies are needed to look at how extroverts fare on these teams, and whether certain kinds of training could help prevent problems, Bell said.

Seriously, though. Imagine six people confined in an El car for nine months. Forgetting how Sartrian that situation is on its face, it seems obvious that if there were more introverts than extroverts, the extroverts would be sent to play outside. Reverse the demographics and the introverts would kill themselves.

All right, perhaps it wouldn't be that dire. But one can see the difficulties.

Sunday 15 June 2014 09:37:19 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Travel#
Saturday 14 June 2014

Everyone outside the U.S. use chip-and-PIN credit cards. That we still use magnetic strips explains how the U.S. accounted for half of all fraudulent transactions worldwide in 2012. Come October 2015, we'll get to the worldwide standard:

The switch will cost retailers hundreds of millions of dollars. But credit card companies have pushed for the change for years. Beginning in October 2015, they will start leaning harder on banks and merchants by shifting the legal liability for fraud to the party with the least-sophisticated technology. That will be a powerful incentive for retailers to upgrade their systems.

Those of us who travel internationally for business are already used to the difference between American readers and those used in much of the rest of the world—and the accompanying inconveniences. Many automated machines, which are common at petrol stations and supermarkets, do not accept American swipe-and-sign cards at all. And tell a European cashier that you want to sign for a transaction and you will often be met with a bemused look. For those Americans who don't yet have chip-and-pin cards (and that's most of us, since few banks offered them before last year), the coming change will eliminate that awkwardness once and for all. The bottom line for business travellers: if you're not already using a pin with your credit cards, get used to the idea—and start thinking of a good one.

Yes, one of the annoyances of traveling abroad right now is that when I present my chip-and-sign card overseas, I still have to sign a little chit. My bank says they'll switch to PIN with my next card, coming soon.

Saturday 14 June 2014 10:26:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business | Travel#

As of yesterday around 4:15pm, I'm no longer with 10th Magnitude. I start a new role as an architect with West Monroe Partners' technology practice a week from Monday.

So, I'm technically unemployed for nine days. Which means I have lots of free time, right?

Well, later this morning I have a three-hour rehearsal for tomorrow's performance of Verdi's Requiem in Evanston. Tonight I'm going to see Dar Williams Honesty Room tour. And Monday I'm going to Europe for four days.

Maybe I should have scheduled a little down-time...

Saturday 14 June 2014 10:04:31 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Work#
Friday 13 June 2014

I was losing by 118 points to a really good Scrabble player. Then this happened:

That was fun.

Friday 13 June 2014 08:38:14 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Thursday 12 June 2014

The SR-20 was the first GA airplane with a parachute. It means emergencies are a lot less likely to kill you, as an instructor and student pilot discovered yesterday:

Yesterday there was another dramatic save, near the very busy suburban airport Hanscom Field in the western suburbs of Boston. As you can see in a TV news report here (not embeddable) the plane for some reason had an engine failure; the woman who was serving as flight instructor calmly reported the situation to the tower, directed the plane during its powerless glide away from the very crowded Burlington shopping mall area and toward a marsh, then pulled the parachute handle, and landed safely with the male flight student. The news station video shows flight instructor and passenger both walking out from the plane.

The LiveATC capture of the air traffic control frequency conveys the drama of the event—and also the impressive calm of all involved. These include the flight instructor, starting with her first report that she is unable to make it back to the airport; the controller, who is juggling that plane's needs with the other normal flow of traffic into Hanscom field; and another pilot who is (it appears) from the same flight club and who immediately flies over to check the disabled plane's condition from above. 

Of course, this works a lot better for a 1,300 kg four-seater than, for example, a 250,000 kg 777...

(Note: yesterdays accident involved a Cirrus SR-22, which is a slightly more powerful version of the SR-20.)

Thursday 12 June 2014 14:30:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

We've been using Microsoft Azure virtual machines for development for a while. This means we run our Visual Studio instances in the cloud up on special virtual machines that have nothing on them except the bare minimum required for writing software. This keeps different projects separate from each other, and also speeds up network access, which is useful for network-intensive applications.

We started noticing, however, that going to MSDN or Google or other big sites became...challenging. All of these sites started acting as if our VMs were located in Brazil, when we knew perfectly well that they were in Virginia. Microsoft has finally explained the problem:

IPv4 address space has been fully assigned in the United States, meaning there is no additional IPv4 address space available. This requires Microsoft to use the IPv4 address space available to us globally for the addressing of new services. The result is that we will have to use IPv4 address space assigned to a non-US region to address services which may be in a US region. It is not possible to transfer registration because the IP space is allocated to the registration authorities by Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

At times your service may appear to be hosted in a non-US location.

It is important to note that the IP address registration authority does not equate to IP address physical location (i.e., you can have an IP address registered in Brazil but allocated to a device or service physically located in Virginia). Thus when you deploy to a U.S. region, your service is still hosted in U.S. and your customer data will remain in the U.S.

In other words, Microsoft's cloud service is so popular that they have run out of addresses to assign to it. Microsoft, it should be noted, has tens of millions of IPv4 addresses available. (Of course, IPv4 has only 4.2 trillion possible addresses, though fully 43 billion are in private IP ranges.)

Thursday 12 June 2014 10:49:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cloud | Windows Azure#
Wednesday 11 June 2014

A whole list of interesting articles crossed my inbox overnight, but with only two days left in my job, I really haven't had time to read them all:

I can't wait to see what happens in the Virginia 7th this fall...

Wednesday 11 June 2014 09:48:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | US | Travel#
Tuesday 10 June 2014

Via the Atlantic, how far could the Proclaimers actually walk?

[W]hile "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" does a great job of laying out the folk-rockers' intentions to complete the full thou', it is lousy about providing the specifics of their journey. What direction are they walking, for instance – south toward London, or north to the frigid, rocky shores of the far Highlands? Then there's the problem that if they walked 500 x 2 miles in a straight line from any point in the U.K., they'd hit water. Would they stop and reconsider their travel plans (buy a jet-ski, perhaps)? Or would they keep on walking straight into the briny waves, plodding along the ocean floor to some remote island where their seagull poo-splattered lover is waiting?

It's a catchy song, but it leaves so many questions! Fortunately, there's a guy hard on the case to unravel its mysteries. Kenneth Field is a 40-something cartographic product engineer in Southern California who's made a fun map showing all the places the band could walk to in a 360 degree field if they began in Leith, the birthplace of twin-brother singers Craig and Charlie Reid.

And apparently, if you like that, there's a subreddit of map porn. I'll be back...

Tuesday 10 June 2014 14:20:02 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink#
Monday 9 June 2014

When I set up the appointment for Comcast to come out and install a new internet connection at IDTWHQ, I explained to them that (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable. In fact, they needed the building's account number to set up the service.

So when the installer got here at 11:45 (still between 8 and noon, at least) and noticed that (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable, he explained that he couldn't actually install my new Internet service because, it turns out, (a) I have a satellite dish and (b) my building has common cable, so they have to run a new coaxial cable through my wall.

They can send the drilling team out as early as June 26th, which is unfortunately during my first week at my new job.

In other words, I might have to suffer with this crap:

...for another three weeks.

And people wonder why American internet service is the worst in the OECD.

Monday 9 June 2014 12:33:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business#
Sunday 8 June 2014

Parker and I walked up to Ribfest yesterday (11 km round-trip). I had four 3-bone samplers:

  • Mrs. Murphy's Irish Bistro, of course. Fall-off-the-bone, tasty meat with a tangy, spicy whiskey-Guinness sauce. Yum. 3½ stars.
  • Wrigley BBQ, my favorite from last year, was a little less impressive this time. Tug-off-the-bone, well-smoked meat, not a lot of sauce. Still yum, but only 3 stars this year.
  • Smokin' Woody's: tug-off-the-bone, lean, smoked meat, with a good sweet/smoky sauce. 3 stars.
  • BBQ King Smokehouse from Woodstock, Ill.: the meatiest ribs I've had at Ribfest, with really good smoke and a good amount of sweet/smoky sauce. 3½ stars.

I still have a few tickets left, so I may go back for dinner.

Sunday 8 June 2014 12:56:00 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#
Saturday 7 June 2014

Parker and I haven't yet left for Ribfest because I've just spent two and a half hours debugging an application.

After upgrading the application to the current version of the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture™ the thing wouldn't start. I simply got an error message in plain text, "The page cannot be displayed because an internal server error has occurred." The Windows Application Log supplied this clue:

The worker process for application pool 'a177c227-f36e-4874-aefe-9b41ca0d14ec' encountered an error 'Cannot read configuration file ' trying to read global module configuration data from file '\\?\C:\Users\dab\AppData\Local\dftmp\Resources\02e946dc-c92e-4774-a19a-5b013a38da65\temp\temp\RoleTemp\applicationHost.config', line number '0'. Worker process startup aborted.

Searching through Stack Overflow gave me a few clues, but nothing concrete. So I had to go through the web.config file line by line until I found this:

<system.diagnostics>
	<trace>
		<listeners>
			<add type="Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics.DiagnosticMonitorTraceListener,
		Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics, Version=1.8.0.0, Culture=neutral, 
		PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" name="AzureDiagnostics">
				<filter type="" />
			</add>
		</listeners>
	</trace>
</system.diagnostics>

Deleting the configuration section altogether worked. So did changing the 1.8 to a 2.2. And now the application runs. And now Parker and I are going to get ribs.

The error message is just stupid programmers being lazy. It isn't really that hard to write error messages that tell users what has gone wrong. In this case, line number 0 wasn't the problem; it was farther down in the configuration file, and in fact it had very little to do with the configuration file at all.

I would like to have seen a message in the application log that "the system could not load Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics version 1.8." Why was that too hard for the Azure Emulator team?

Saturday 7 June 2014 13:22:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Windows Azure#

Thursday at lunchtime I caught some bridge maintenance in downtown Chicago:

Saturday 7 June 2014 09:51:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography#

Today is the annual Ribfest in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago. Parker and I will be heading out there for the 6th time, and enjoying the amazing weather (sunny and 22°C).

Here's our history so far:

2013:

2012:

2011:

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

2009:

2008:

Reviews and photos later today or tomorrow.

Saturday 7 June 2014 09:25:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

The Daily Currant's business model, explained:

[I]n The New Republic, Luke O'Neil argued that such stories "could do actual damage to political discourse and the media in general... Juicing an already true-enough premise with more unbelievability simply adds to the informational noise pollutionwithout even the expected payoff of a laugh." 

All legitimate gripes, but perhaps that's overthinking it for a site that's the product of under-thinking. The Daily Currant is trying to maximize clicks and shares, and has found a niche between The Onion and real news: all the believability of the latter, but all the libel protections of the former. There's a Catch-22 to this approach, though. As more people have become aware of The Daily Currantin December, Mediaite whined, "Just Stop It, Everyone: Internet Falls for Daily Currant Fake Story Once Again"suckers have become increasingly rare. The site is a victim of its own success.

No matter. The formula is easily replicable, as other web entrepreneurs and hucksters have discovered. This poor imitation of The Onion has itself spawned a legion of poor imitations, websites so devoid of infotainment value and so cynical in their click-baiting that they make the likes of Viral Nova and Upworthy look staid.

The author goes on to compare the Currant to "a potentially lucrative con predicated on exploiting the worst habits of social media driven news content."

Saturday 7 June 2014 08:42:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Blogs#
Friday 6 June 2014

Microsoft Azure is having some difficulties today in its East data center. It's causing hiccups. Nothing more. Just hiccups. But these hiccups are peculiarly fatal to the Weather Now worker process, so it keeps dying. Before dying, it texts me. So in the last 18 hours I've gotten about 30 texts from my dying worker process.

Maybe it's just telling me to go see Edge of Tomorrow?

Update, 15:15 CDT: Microsoft has finally updated the service dashboard to reflect the horkage.

Friday 6 June 2014 14:36:20 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Windows Azure#
Thursday 5 June 2014

Long-time readers know I rarely post directly about my personal life, but this one is kind of big.

After nearly three years, I'm moving from 10th Magnitude to take a new position as a .NET Architect with West Monroe Partners. I've learned a lot working with 10th, and I wish everyone there the best in the future.

I'll have more to say about this in the coming weeks. I'm excited about the change, and looking forward to some totally new challenges with WMP.

Thursday 5 June 2014 13:34:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Business | Work#

What's the ugliest thing you can do to a downtown city? Cut down all the buildings and put up a parking lot:

This seems kind of obvious, doesn't it? But then again, about 800 years ago someone cut down the last tree on Easter Island, so it's hard to underestimate the ability of people to make good decisions about land use.

Thursday 5 June 2014 13:14:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Wednesday 4 June 2014

Yesterday I mentioned three things that weren't connected except they all ended recently. This morning Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal has an op-ed about one of them:

HomeMade Pizza Co. was in the right business and exactly the wrong place.

We consumers indeed are buying more fresh prepared meals to eat at home or elsewhere, like the take-and-bake pizzas HomeMade hawked from 1997 until its abrupt closing Friday. These kinds of meals have become a $26 billion business in this country and are growing at a healthy clip.

But we're not buying most of those grab-and-go meals at stand-alone storefront operations, where costs for an operator like HomeMade, which had more than 20 outlets when it shut down, include the lease and utilities, and whatever it takes to let potential customers know that it's there and why it's worth a visit.

The fresh pre-prepared food business is proving a boon to food/drug stores, where almost three-quarters of these meals are being sold, according to NPD Group. Savvy supermarket operators are offering an expanding array of menu items, increasingly going beyond heat-and-serve home-style meals. Some have added restaurant-quality entrees, various cuisines and occasionally palate-challenging fare.

While you're chewing on that, here's another passing: the Cubs are ending their 90-year relationship with radio station WGN:

The team tomorrow will reportedly announce a new seven-year agreement with WBBM-AM/780 to air the team's games beginning in 2015, ending a run with WGN-AM/720 that dates back to 1924.

"The economic terms just don't make sense for us,” WGN Radio President Jimmy de Castro told media columnist Robert Feder. “So it's really not us saying we don't want them anymore. It's the Cubs saying that the economics they need are much greater than what we think they're worth or what we'll pay. They chose to go another way economically and made a decision to move on.”

Sic transit gloria etuli.

Wednesday 4 June 2014 09:42:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Cubs | Business#
Monday 2 June 2014

This is overdue, but I'm very happy about it:

When Santa Barbara startup FindTheBest (FTB) was sued by a patent troll called Lumen View last year, it vowed to fight back rather than pay up the $50,000 licensing fee Lumen was asking for. Company CEO Kevin O'Connor made it personal, pledging $1 million of his own money to fight the legal battle.

Now the judge overseeing the case has ruled (PDF) that it's Lumen View, not FindTheBest, that should have to pay [FTB's $200,000 legal] expenses. In a first-of-its-kind implementation of new fee-shifting rules mandated by the Supreme Court, US District Judge Denise Cote found that the Lumen View lawsuit was a "prototypical exceptional case."

These guys are extortionists, and I am overjoyed that the law finally recognizes them as such. FTB has a pending appeal on a RICO action against Lumen, which the district court denied. That would be even sweeter.

Monday 2 June 2014 17:57:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#

Three unrelated passings this weekend:

  • Chicago's NHL Blackhawks ended their season last night, losing 5-4 in overtime to the L.A. Kings. It's always nice when a Chicago sports team makes it to the post-season, and also disappointing when they don't make the finals. The Kings will play the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup.
  • Chicago-based HomeMade Pizza Co., started in 1997, abruptly ceased operations Friday, closing all their stores and online presence without notice. When the chain first started, it quickly became my mom's favorite take-out pizza. The company prepared raw pizzas that you would then bake at home, the idea being the pie would be hot and crispy when you ate it, because there would be no delivery time. Apparently that concept didn't scale to 40 stores in four states.
  • Spain's King Juan Carlos has announced his abdication after 44 years on the throne. He's 76 years old and believes his 45-year-old son, Prince Felipe, will have the "impulso de renovación, de superación, de corregir errores y abrir camino a un futuro decididamente mejor" (motivation of renewal, of action, of correcting errors and making way for a decidedly better future). No word yet on whether HM Queen Elizabeth II, now on the throne 52 years and whose own son is scarcely much younger than Juan Carlos, plans ever to retire.

None of these is connected, as far as I know.

Monday 2 June 2014 08:19:43 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | World#

My dad just sent me this. His comment: "This was done by somebody who either has Asperger's or way, way too much time on his hands."

Yah, but it's cool, right?

What is not so cool is that the Kings are up 4-3 with 17 left in the 3rd. If none of that makes any sense to you, clearly you don't care about hockey or Chicago sports.

Sunday 1 June 2014 21:14:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | 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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