The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Tomorrow: how far can I walk?

FOr a variety of reasons, I've set aside tomorrow to take a hike in Chicago, from home north along one of our Metra lines as far as I can go before saying "to hell with this." My guess is I'll get pretty far. Unfortunately, the weather forecast along the route looks iffy, so I might postpone it until Thursday.

My goal is to go on one walk that exceeds my personal record for distance/steps in one day, 27.08 km in 32,315 steps. I figure that will get me from my house to one of my childhood favorite restaurants, Walker Bros. Original Pancake House. In fact, it will take me past the one I grew up with (in Wilmette) on my way to one of the newer ones (in Highland Park).

Of course, it could rain. Or I could get tired. Or any number of things could happen. Which is why I'm going to walk along the Metra line that passes closest to my house, so I can bail.

We'll see. I think I'll make it all the way up there. But I'll be watching the weather carefully, and may go Thursday instead.

Ribfest 2016: Day two


OK, I am completely ribbed out. Yesterday I had 14 bones, today 12, which I think exceeds a full slab by a few.

Five of those bones (two yesterday, three today) were from The Piggery, because they were my favorites yesterday. Today they had a tiny bit less magic. Still 3½ stars, but not the 4 from before. They're still my favorites from this year, though.

I also sampled:

  • Austin's Texas Lightning, who had a meaty tug-off-the-bone sample with some nice char. 3 stars.
  • BBQ King Smokehouse gave me a better-than-expected sample with a tangy sauce and smoked meat that fell right off the bone. 3½ stars.
  • Celtic Crown had a decent showing, but nothing that would drag me out there. Decent meat, but very sweet sauce, otherwise just OK. 2½ stars.

It's also 29°C with a gross dewpoint, and it was even hotter at the festival. That might have affected my scoring today. It was hot yesterday, too, but it didn't feel as sticky.

It turns out there are more ribs in my future, even this month. But I think I'll skip the fest tomorrow and have some light salads and fruit instead.

Ribfest 2016: Day One

Last year, as in five of the six years before, I only went to Ribfest once, owing to the 11 km round trip distance. This year I only live 1.8 km away, so dammit, I'm going all three days.

Here's the report from this evening. I went with a friend so we could split samplers, and try more of them.

  • Mrs. Murphy's Irish Bistro. Like last year, excellent sauce. Unlike last year, they kind of gooped it on mediocre bones. So they only get 3 stars for 2016.
  • Mr. B's BBQ. You'd think that, because they're right on Lincoln Avenue where Ribfest is happening, they'd have a better product. Nope. The sauce was meh, the ribs were gristly, and we were totally unimpressed. 2 stars.
  • The Piggery. These were my favorite today: nice charred molasses sauce on tug-off-the-bone meat. 4 stars.
  • Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse. They only use wood, which gives the meat a nice, smoky flavor. But their sauces were only good, not great. We tried both the default sweet sauce and the hot Texas sauce, which was better. 3 stars.
  • Q BBQ. Good, solid entry this year. Tasty meat, tasty sauce. 3 stars.
  • The Smoke Daddy. The meat was good but the sauce we just didn't understand: a bean-based (?) savory sauce, probably their Mustard Q, that we weren't really into. So 3 stars.

So that's 6 of the 15. There are a couple of vendors I have no real interest in trying again, and I will definitely go back to Q's offering. And it's only an 18-minute walk away. So I'm hoping for good weather tomorrow and Sunday, and very light lunches.

(Note: this entry has been corrected.)

Killing your babies

Startup founder Tim Romeo decided to kill his startup right before they would have gotten a check for $500,000. Sounds crazy? No; he did the right thing:

[S]omething was wrong. It seemed trivial at first, but it bothered me. Despite glowing praise, our users were only using ContractBeast to create a small percentage of their total new contracts.

I spent the next two weeks visiting our beta users, looking over their shoulders as they worked, and listening to them explain how they planned on using the product. Pressing them directly on why they were not using ContractBeast to create all their contracts resulted in a lot of feature requests.

Now, talking with customers about features is tricky. Often you receive solid and useful ideas. Occasionally a customer will provide an insight that will change the way you look at your product. But most of the time, customers don’t really want the the features they are asking for. At least not very badly.

When users are unhappy but can’t explain exactly why, they often express that dissatisfaction as a series of tangential, trivial feature requests. ... These aren’t necessarily bad ideas, but they had nothing to do with why they were not using ContractBeast more extensively.

His blog post is good advice not just for startup founders, but for anyone writing software.

New personal record on Fitbit

After yesterday's epic walk (from which Parker recovered in just a couple of hours) I realized it wouldn't be that difficult to get another 10,000 steps. So I did:

That's a new PR. It was also 27.08 km—another PR.

So the top 5 (as I mentioned back in March) are now:

2016 Jun 8 32,315
2015 Apr 26 30,496
2016 Mar 8 29,775
2015 Jun 15 28,455
2015 May 2 26,054

I'm not moving as quickly today as I did yesterday, but I'm pretty happy about blowing past my previous PR.

Now I have plans for some day in the next week or so literally to walk as far as I can along the U.P. North line and then take the train home. Highland Park is about 28 km from my house, and it has a childhood favorite place to eat: Walker Bros. Pancake House (which, if you think about it, is a great place to end a 28-kilometer walk). And if I don't make it all the way there, I can simply take a train home.

Parker will not accompany me on that walk.

Bit of a hike

The weather today is the kind that we only get about 15 or 20 days of the year in Chicago. It's 19°C and totally sunny with a light breeze from the east. And I'm actually able to take advantage of it today.

That's why Parker and I just got back from a 2½ hour, 14.5 km walk.

Yes. We walked that far. He's now out cold, and I'm having a spot of lunch. And shortly a shower.

The total damage was 14.51 km in 2:24:57 (not including two stops at Starbucks along the way), for a pace of 9' 59" per kilometer—just a shade faster than 16 minutes per mile.

My Fitbit tells me I kept my heart rate between 115 and 125 the whole way, burned 1,289 calories, and took 17,429 steps. The last two kilometers were actually faster than the first two, because Parker always needs to get things out of his system in the first few minutes of a walk, and that takes time.

I don't think I'll make him walk any farther today, except to the front lawn.

We also got our first walk on The 606, Chicago's answer to the New York Highline:

Cranky Flier annoyed by American's changes

The Cranky Flier blog noted American Airlines' changes to its frequent-flier program (which I also noted yesterday) but thinks they dropped the ball on it:

Are you as unimpressed as I am? I get that there’s something to be said for conformity. It makes it easier for travelers to compare what they’ll get from each airline, but it also means that nobody’s program stands out. (Well, nobody except for Alaska Airlines, which is keeping its old style of program and will probably win even more fans.)

The problem here is that airlines have become too reliant on their frequent flier programs. It’s not about earning someone’s loyalty either. The award miles side of the house is all about making money. Airlines make a boat load of cash selling miles to partners, and they don’t want that to end. Then on the elite miles side, there is the issue of alliance-wide benefits. Plus, they need to convince people they have a chance of upgrading, even though that’s becoming less and less likely to occur every day.

I can only imagine that these constraints make airlines like American think inside a very small box when they try to rethink loyalty. Instead of actually making improvements, they just shuffle the deck chairs. What’s changed now with this new program? Well it’s a whole lot more complex, that’s for sure. And all this added complexity doesn’t solve the problem that airlines wanted to fix with their mileage-based programs. It just trades one problem for another.

He makes a good point. Unfortunately for me in 2017, it doesn't matter; my 8-year Platinum run is probably ending next March, because I'm just not traveling that much this year. Pity.

Neat Windows 10 trick

Senior Microsoft programmer Raymond Chen describes a feature in Windows 10 that is unusually useful:

Windows 10 brings the Xbox Game DVR feature to the PC. The Game DVR feature lets you record yourself playing a video game, so you can share the recording with your friends.

Suppose you have some program that you want to record, say for a bug report or for an instructional video. Just pretend it's a game:

  • Put focus on the program you want to record.
  • Press Win+G to open the Game Bar. If it asks whether you want to open the Game Bar, say, "Yes, this is a game."
  • Press the red circle to start recording, or press Win+Alt+R
  • Do the thing you want to record.
  • Open the Game Bar and press the red square to stop recording. Or use the hotkey Win+Alt+R
  • Optional: Open the Game Bar, click the gear icon, and uncheck "Remember this app as a game."

The recording is placed in your Videos\Captures folder.

Cool, right?