The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Things I might have time to read this weekend

Too much going on:

Now, I will go back to drafting documentation while I wait for AT&T to reconfigure my DSL and kill my landline. I've had a POTS ("plain old telephone service") twisted-pair line longer than most people on earth have been alive. After today, no longer. I don't think I'll miss it, either. I only have it because I have a business-class DSL, which I don't need anymore, and the only people who call it want money from me.

Uh oh...

Via Sullivan, the European Union has given Cyprus the weekend to get itself put together...or else...

Cypriot negotiators have lots of perfectly sensible things they can tell the European purse-string holders about why this obsesssion with debt sustainability is silly. They can point to future natural-gas revenues, for instance, which give Cyprus the potential ability to pay of debts which seem huge right now. They can also point to the denominator here: if failure to reach a deal results in GDP collapsing, then the debt-to-GDP ratio will soar even if the debt level doesn’t rise at all. But the Europeans aren’t acting like impartial judges: by all indications, they’ve made up their mind.

Which leaves Cyprus in a very, very tough position. It can accept the idea of taxing bank deposits — or it can find itself tossed unceremoniously into the Mediterranean, left to fend for itself. Essentially, the EU is telling Cyprus that it can come up with any plan it likes, so long as the plan involves nothing but fiddling around with the Breakingviews deposit-tax calculator. You want to preserve all insured deposits? Fine, raise the tax on uninsured deposits to something over 15%.

In other words, the only real solution to this crisis is for the EU to go back in time and stop it from happening in the first place. And the next-best solution would be for the EU to stop being so self-defeatingly stubborn on debt ratios. But if that doesn’t happen, the Cypriot parliament is going to face an unbelievably tough vote at some point in the next few days. Will they essentially cede their sovereignty to unelected Eurocrats, and rubber-stamp a deal which looks very similar to the one they’ve already rejected once? Or, standing on principle, will they consign themselves to utter chaos and a very high probability of leaving the Eurozone altogether? Such decisions are not always made rationally.

Could Cyprus end the Euro? It's possible, and it could happen next week. Krugman has even more depressing analysis.

Yes, our cold spring is because of global warming

The WGN Weather Blog explains it:

The unseasonably chilly pattern which has descended on Chicago and the Midwest is being driven by a new round of atmospheric blocking in the arctic. The so-called Greenland block has returned and is predicted by global forecast models to dominate the closing weeks of March and spill over into early April....

Blocking patterns in the arctic, like the one now in place, occur when vast pools of warmer than normal air take up residence aloft. As the planet's arctic regions have warmed, these blocking patterns have occurred with increasing frequency and with a variety of impacts felt to the south in the mid-latitudes.

Climate researchers point to the growing volatility of mid-latitude weather as examples of the sorts of changes which may be expected to become more frequent in years and decades to come as additional warming takes place.

The vast reservoir of warmer than normal air aloft, which currently covers much of the arctic, extends from northern Russia across the North Pole and into Northeast Canada. Such pools of warmer than normal air act to dislodge the frigid air indigenous to the arctic, sending the chill cascading southward into portions of the Lower 48.

Yesterday Chicago got all the way up to -4°C, fully 33°C colder than the first day of spring last year. The arctic, however, is a little warmer. Climate-change deniers are therefore reminded, one hopes, of the difference between weather and climate.

Send to Kindle

Odd that I'm finding this out through the Chicago Tribune: has introduced a way for users to quickly save and send news articles as well as other items to their Kindle devices for later, off-line reading.

The new feature can be added by users in a variety of ways. Amazon has made it possible for users to send items to their Kindles through Web browser extensions for Google Chrome and Firefox, as a feature that can be installed on Macs or PCs, from Google Android mobile devices, or from users' emails.

Cool. Look for the button to appear on The Daily Parker very soon.

Now that I can send directly to Kindle, and after having Instapaper crash frequently on my Android device, I might switch. Though this does underscore the risks start-ups take when they develop relatively simple ideas into software. Other, larger companies can kill you.

Negligible marginal utility

Yeah, I kind of saw this coming, but it still pisses me off:

The U.S. trustee overseeing American Airlines' bankruptcy has asked the carrier to justify its offer of $19.9 million in severance pay to Chief Executive Tom Horton, part of compensation linked to its merger with US Airways Group.

American spokesman Andy Backover said in a statement the carrier did not believe the objection filed by the U.S. Trustee's office had merit. The matter is scheduled to be considered by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on March 27.

The company said the proposed employee arrangements were found to be reasonable by pay consultants retained by its unsecured creditors committee.

Let's review. Horton's contributions to American Airlines included:

Well, that's all I can see, and I've spent about 300 hours on their airplanes since he took the job. Seems like he's worth $20 million to me!

And those "pay consultants?" Three guesses who signed the checks. Any "pay consultant" who finds that the executive paying him is himself paid too much doesn't deserve the title.

Given events like these, it boggles the mind that people think corporate executives are thieves.

Has it been 10 years?

It scarcely feels like a decade since we invaded Iraq. Well, to me, sitting here in the middle of North America, it doesn't. I imagine it feels like more than 10 years to the people we invaded.

Among the articles I've read the past week or so, John Judis' post at New Republic stands out. He was one of the few insider journalists who opposed the war at the time; his recollection explains what it cost him:

I opposed the war, and didn’t listen to those who claimed to have “inside information” probably because I had come of age politically during the Vietnam War and had learned then not to trust government justifications for war. I had backed the first Bush administration’s Gulf War, but precisely because of its limited aims. Ditto the Clinton administration intervention in Kosovo. George W. Bush’s aims in Iraq were similar to American aims in South Vietnam. During those months leading up to the war, I kept having déjà vu experiences, which failed to interest my colleagues. Still, I wavered after Colin Powell’s thoroughly deceptive speech at the United Nations in February 2003, where he unveiled what he claimed was evidence of Iraqi nuclear preparations. I had to have an old friend from the anti-war days remind me again of the arguments against an invasion.

My own experience after Powell’s speech bears out the tremendous power that an administration, bent on deception, can have over public opinion, especially when it comes to foreign policy. And when the dissenters in the CIA, military, and State Department are silenced, the public—not to mention, journalists—has little recourse in deciding whether to support what the administration wants to do. Those months before the Iraq war testify to the importance of letting the public have full access to information before making decisions about war and peace. And that lesson should be heeded before we rush into still another war in the Middle East.

I wish I'd been blogging back then, because I would like a record of my own contemporary opposition to the war. At the time, I was working on a project in Richmond, Virginia, with some good ol' boys who really didn't like even the limited things I had to say about it. At least I didn't have to defend myself against the entire Washington press corps.

Ten years on, is our politicians learning have we learned anything? For our sake—and Iran's—I truly hope so.

Weather Now bug fixes deployed

I've fixed seven annoying bugs and added three minor features to Weather Now, including:

  • Fixed searching from the search box so you can enter an airport code directly;
  • Fixed the Last 24 hours page to show day and night icons properly;
  • Added a status page so users can peek under the hood; and
  • Tweaked a few things in the background worker process around logging and status update alerts.

A minor bug fix release like this used to take a couple of hours to deploy, because I had to update the code running on the web server file-by-file. I got the process down to about an hour—but I still had to bring the application offline to make the update.

Since I put it up in Microsoft Windows Azure, publishing an update takes about 15 minutes, is completely automated, and doesn't require taking the site down. The great Inner Drive migration continues to pay dividends.

Lowest electricity bill ever

Regular blog readers know that since moving to my current apartment in February 2008, the Inner Drive Technology International Data Center has occupied a couple square meters of my home office. I've also mentioned lower energy use since I started to move everything out of the IDTIDC and into Microsoft Azure.

Something else has happened to my electricity bill. In November, we citizens of Chicago voted to pool our electricity buying to get the lowest electricity cost possible. Well, the new regime kicked in last month, and the 660 kw/h I used in February cost 25% less than the 610 kw/h I used in January—which was the lowest use ever for this place.

It helps, also, that since moving my email to the cloud in June, I've used an average of 224 kw/h less electricity each month year-over-year.

I can't wait to see my bill for March. They read my meter on the 7th or 8th to prepare the bill I just got; the IDTIDC shut down on the 10th.

Cooler-than-normal March; quite a contrast

As I look out my window and see snow falling, I can't help thinking back to last March, in which we'd already had the third record-warm day in a row (27.8°C) on our way to the warmest spring in Chicago history.

This March, not so much:

So far, March has been both colder than average across all of Illinois and wetter than average across western and northern Illinois. The statewide temperature for March 1-14 was 0.2°C degrees, 3.0°C below average. That stands in stark contrast to last March when the statewide temperature for March 1-14 was 7.3°C, 4.1°C above average. That is a 7.1°C difference between the two periods.

The latest NWS forecasts show that rains of 25-50 mm or more could fall in the southern third of Illinois over the next five days. Also their 6-10 day and 8-14 days forecast show that colder and wetter than average conditions will prevail for the rest of March. Because of recent rains and melting snow, the NWS has issued flood warnings today on portions of the Mississippi, Illinois, and Wabash Rivers.

The next 8-14 days don't look so hot either:

Did I mention it's snowing right now? Happy St. Patrick's day.