The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The hidden truth about astrology software

After the shocking disappearance of the Olson time zone database yesterday (described here and here), some things have become clearer overnight.

o The wonderful land of Oz has stepped up. Robert Elz, an Australian computer scientist who has actively supported the tzinfo project throughout, has revived the time zone mailing list maintained at the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). My, but the list was active overnight, with dozens of people volunteering to host the database, move it to non-U.S. servers, and continue to research and develop it.

o The current database is available from an Australian site at ftp://munnari.oz.au/pub/tzdata2011k.tar.gz. (This is the version running on Weather Now.)

o Astrolabe, Inc., the mom-and-pop Cape Cod outfit responsible for this insanity, has a suddenly-popular Facebook page upon which hundreds of people have expressed themselves. (I wonder if the company will figure out how to disallow wall postings? Oopsi.)

o Software developer Curtis Manwaring, CEO of Zodiasoft Technologies in Las Vegas, claims that he and Astrolabe have had a running fight for years about ownership of various software implementations of time zone data. Says Manwaring:

Gary Christen (CEO of Astrolabe) tried to hire me on three separate occasions and I refused. When Astrolabe obtained the ACS Atlas (when ACS went bankrupt in July 2008), I was concerned that I wouldn't have an atlas for my software anymore. The last time that they tried to hire me, the ACS Atlas became leverage to coerce me into working for them because I had no guarantee that they would give me access to the ACS Atlas. When I refused the last time, I managed to obtain a verbal agreement that I would send my customers to them for a special discount on the ACS Atlas and was relieved for a while. But over the next several months, my customers started complaining about the run around they were getting on the special deal that Gary promised my customers. Eventually one of my customers said that he thought that Astrolabe was trying to make me look bad and disadvantage my business by making it difficult to obtain the stand alone version of the ACS Atlas which is required by my software (but not Solar Fire which has the ACS Atlas bound with it). He was so fed up with the run around Astrolabe gave him that he formatted a database of latitudes and longitudes for me and asked me to add it to my software. That got me back on the issue of researching time zones after which I found the Olson time zone database. I subsequently found from the Olson sources that the ACS data was extremely unreliable, much more than I previously thought.

Note to Curtis, Gary, and everyone else involved in this nonsense: there's a difference between software, which enjoys copyright protection, and data, which does not. This is established, black-letter law in the U.S. (and in most other countries). The fact that both of you produce products that use the same data does not in itself constitute copyright infringement.

What this sounds like—and I'm sorry, Curtis, but you're in it up to your neck—is that you're both amateurs, and your narcissistic dispute has started claiming innocent lives. Arthur Olson and Paul Eggert were trying to help people, as part of the open, collaborative effort we in the software community like to call "open collaboration."

Now, I write software for money, and in fact I have a time zone factory written in .NET, that reads and parses the entire tzinfo database so you can use it in .NET applications. (Send me an email if you want to license it!)

But here's the thing: I know it's a lot less expensive for someone to license my tzinfo parser than to roll their own. Like, two or three orders of magnitude less expensive. And if someone else writes a better parser, they might take my customers away—but that's not copyright infringement (unless they actually use the same C# code or documentation), that's creation.

Speaking of professional software development, I have to start billing now. I'm glad Robert Elz has stepped up, along the dozens of other volunteers, to keep this hidden but vital software project going.

Time zone database shut down

The National Institutes for Health, through a quirk of history, maintainsed the worldwide-standard time zone database until today. A Massachusetts-based company, Astrolabe, Inc., has sued the people who maintain the database for copyright infringement. The company claims to have purchased the rights to The American Atlas, from which the time zone database derived some of its data. From the complaint:

Defendant Olson’s unauthorized reproduction of the Works have been published at ftp://elsie.nci.nih.gov/tzarchive.qz, where the references to historic international time zone data is replete with references to the fact thatthe source for this information is, indeed, the ACS Atlas.

Here are a couple of examples from the database:

# From Paul Eggert (2006-03-22):
# A good source for time zone historical data in the US is
# Thomas G. Shanks, The American Atlas (5th edition),
# San Diego: ACS Publications, Inc. (1991).
# Make sure you have the errata sheet; the book is somewhat useless without it.
# It is the source for most of the pre-1991 US entries below.

Here's an example from the data itself, in the Newfoundland section:

# Rule	NAME	FROM	TO	TYPE	IN	ON	AT	SAVE	LETTER/S
Rule	StJohns	1917	only	-	Apr	 8	2:00	1:00	D
Rule	StJohns	1917	only	-	Sep	17	2:00	0	S
# Whitman gives 1919 Apr 5 and 1920 Apr 5; go with Shanks & Pottenger.

I don't think anyone will deny that Arthur Olson, Paul Eggert, not to mention the hundreds of other people who have maintained the database for years, have used the book in question as a key reference. So here are the questions which, unfortunately, will take the court a couple of years to work out:

  1. Is data about when time zone rules changed throughout history protected under copyright?
  2. If so, who owns it?
  3. If someone owns it, is the Olson database a derivative work under copyright law?
  4. If the Olson database does, in fact, derive from the work in question, is it a fair use?
  5. Just how stupid are these astrologists, anyway?

Because what you may not know, dear reader, is that almost every Unix-based computer in the world uses this database to set its clock to local time. (All of the applications I've written, starting with Weather Now, use the database as well.) Shutting down the database project will require individual system administrators to update their local copies when rules change. It's not onerous, but it will lead to gaps, particularly in global applications like Weather Now.

What's even stupider about this lawsuit is that comments in the database encourage people to buy the book. So even if Astrolabe owns the copyright to the facts about time zone rules—a troubling proposition—their republication in the Olson database increases the likelihood that they'll make money off it.

Only, facts as such are not protected, so I can't see how Astrolabe can possibly win this suit. I will be contributing to Olson's and Eggert's legal defense fund once they get it set up.

Astrolabe doesn't need to look to the heavens to see how this will turn out.

Update: More here and here.

About this blog (v. 4.1.6)

I'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 5-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in February, but some things have changed. In the interest of enlightened laziness I'm starting with the most powerful keystroke combination in the universe: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

Twice. Thus, the "point one" in the title.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until a few months ago when I got the first digital camera I've ever had that rivals a film camera. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than ten years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago, the greatest city in North America, and the other ones I visit whenever I can.

I've deprecated the Software category, but only because I don't post much about it here. That said, I write a lot of software. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got about 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Another, non-trivial point. Facebook reads the blog's RSS feed, so many people reading this may think I'm just posting notes on Facebook. Facebook's lawyers would like you to believe this, too. Now, I've reconnected with tons of old friends and classmates through Facebook, I play Scrabble on Facebook, and I eagerly read every advertisement that appears next to its relevant content. But Facebook's terms of use assert ownership of everything that appears on their site, regardless of prior claims, which contravenes four centuries of law.

Everything that shows up on my Facebook profile gets published on The Daily Paker first, and I own the copyrights to all of it (unless otherwise disclosed). I publish the blog's text under a Creative Commons attribution-nonderivative-noncommercial license; republication is usually OK for non-commercial purposes, as long as you don't change what I write and you attribute it to me. My photos, however, are published under strict copyright, with no republication license, even if I upload them to other public websites. If you want to republish one of my photos, just let me know and we'll work something out.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

Noticing later sunrises

It happens every year, and every year it surprises me: from mid-August to mid-October, the days get shorter quickly. Three weeks ago I was waking up to daylight; this morning, I realized I was waking up to twilight. In three weeks it'll be dark at that hour. Right now, every day, the sun rises a minute later an sets a minute earlier.

Nothing profound or particularly surprising here. Just an observation.

Chicago Sunrise Chart, 2011-12

Welcome to the semi-annual update of the Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Date Significance Sunrise Sunset Daylight
2011
3 Jul 8:30pm sunset 05:20 20:30 15:09
17 Jul 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:24 14:53
9 Aug 8pm sunset 05:53 20:00 14:06
17 Aug 6am sunrise 06:00 19:48 13:48
29 Aug 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:16
15 Sep 6:30am sunrise 06:30 19:01 12:30
16 Sep 7pm sunset 06:32 18:59 12:27
23 Sep Equinox, 03:05 CDT 06:39 18:49 12:10
26 Sep 12-hour day 06:42 18:42 12:00
3 Oct 6:30pm sunset 06:50 18:30 11:39
13 Oct 7am sunrise 07:01 18:13 11:12
22 Oct 6pm sunset 07:11 17:59 10:48
5 Nov Latest sunrise until 5 Nov 2016
Latest sunset until Feb 29th
07:28 17:40 10:12
6 Nov Standard time returns
6:30am sunrise
Earliest sunrise until Feb 28th
06:29 16:39 10:10
16 Nov 4:30pm sunset 06:41 16:30 9:47
2 Dec 7am sunrise 07:00 16:21 9:20
8 Dec Earliest sunset of the year 07:06 16:20 9:14
21 Dec Solstice, 23:30 CST 07:15 16:23 9:08
2012
3 Jan Latest sunrise until Nov. 14th 07:19 16:32 9:13
28 Jan 5pm sunset 07:07 17:00 9:52
5 Feb 7am sunrise 07:00 17:11 10:10
21 Feb 5:30pm sunset 06:39 17:31 10:52
27 Feb 6:30am sunrise 06:30 17:38 11:08
10 Mar Earliest sunrise until Apr. 15th
Earliest sunset until Oct. 27th
06:10 17:52 11:42
11 Mar Daylight savings time begins
Latest sunrise until Oct. 21st
Earliest sunset until Sept. 20th
07:09 18:53 11:45
16 Mar 7am sunrise, 7pm sunset
12-hour day
07:00 18:59 11:59
20 Mar Equinox 00:14 CDT 06:53 19:04 12:10
3 Apr 6:30am sunrise (again) 06:29 19:19 12:50
13 Apr 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:17
21 Apr 6am sunrise 06:00 19:39 13:39
10 May 8pm sunset 05:35 20:00 14:24
15 May 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:05 14:35
14 Jun Earliest sunrise of the year 05:15 20:28 15:13
20 Jun Solstice 18:09 CDT
8:30pm sunset
05:16 20:30 15:14
26 Jun Latest sunset of the year 05:17 20:31 15:13

You can get sunrise information for your location at wx-now.com.

It's groundhog day...again...

First, a report out of Punxsutawney, Penn., that Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) did not see his shadow:

Punxsutawney Phil emerged from a tree stump at dawn and, unusually, did not see his shadow, signaling that spring is just around the corner, according to tradition.

"He found that there was no shadow," said Bill Deeley, president of a club that organizes Groundhog Day in the western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney. "So an early spring it will be."

Ah, but there's a catch:

"There is no question that Phil is capable of feeling empathy," Johnston said in an interview. "But he is absolutely incapable of error."

The rodent's predictions are "not burdened by being site-specific" and so can be sure to predict an early spring in some part of the world, Johnston added.

Who knew Phil was a lawyer? Also—wasn't there, you know, a blizzard last night?

While western Pennsylvania was spared the worst of the storm, many central and northern areas of the U.S. were hit by snow and ice that closed roads, shut down businesses, and grounded flights.

But the Punxsutawney crowd, which started arriving on Gobbler's Knob at 3 a.m., braved some of the worst weather in the last 20 years of Groundhog Day, said [Mike Johnston, vice president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, or board of directors].

Looking outside at the weather in Chicago, I hope Phil was thinking of the north-central U.S....

Update: The Tribune has video, and allows sharing, so:

 

The UK debates a weighty issue

Should they go to year-round Daylight Saving Time? Scotland says no:

Britain currently sets its clocks at Greenwich Mean Time in fall and an hour ahead of that in spring. (New York is generally five hours behind Britain; Western Europe is an hour ahead).

The problem is that while a clock change might bring afternoon joy to London, it would condemn Inverness in the far reaches of Scotland — in relative terms, about 700 miles north of Montreal — to long, dark winter mornings with sunrises as late as 10 a.m.

Even worse, many Scots feel, it would mean giving in to English politicians. Though the devolution of British politics has given Scotland its own legislature and responsibility for many of its own affairs, the clock is still controlled by Parliament in London.

(You can see what sunrises and sunsets would look like up there at Weather Now.)

Daylight Saving Time has generated controversy for almost a century now, with good and bad arguments on both sides. I'm almost indifferent, though I do get annoyed waking up in the dark at the beginning of November.

Chicago sunrise chart, 2011

Welcome to the semi-annual update of the Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)

Date Significance Sunrise Sunset Daylight
2011
3 Jan Latest sunrise until Oct. 29th 07:19 16:32 9:13
27 Jan 5pm sunset 07:08 17:00 9:51
5 Feb 7am sunrise 07:00 17:11 10:11
20 Feb 5:30pm sunset 06:40 17:30 10:50
27 Feb 6:30am sunrise 06:29 17:39 11:09
12 Mar Earliest sunrise until Apr. 17th
Earliest sunset until Oct. 26th
06:08 17:54 11:45
13 Mar Daylight savings time begins
Latest sunrise until Oct. 19th
Earliest sunset until Sept. 19th
07:07 18:55 11:48
17 Mar 7am sunrise, 7pm sunset
12-hour day
06:59 19:00 12:00
20 Mar Equinox 18:21 CDT 06:55 19:03 12:08
3 Apr 6:30am sunrise (again) 06:29 19:20 12:50
13 Apr 7:30pm sunset 06:14 19:30 13:15
22 Apr 6am sunrise 06:00 19:40 13:39
11 May 8pm sunset 05:35 20:00 14:25
16 May 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:05 14:35
15 Jun Earliest sunrise of the year 05:15 20:28 15:13
21 Jun Solstice 12:16 CDT
8:30pm sunset
05:16 20:30 15:14
27 Jun Latest sunset of the year 05:18 20:31 15:12
3 Jul 8:30pm sunset 05:20 20:30 15:09
17 Jul 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:24 14:53
9 Aug 8pm sunset 05:53 20:00 14:06
17 Aug 6am sunrise 06:00 19:48 13:48
29 Aug 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:16
15 Sep 6:30am sunrise 06:30 19:01 12:30
16 Sep 7pm sunset 06:32 18:59 12:27
23 Sep Equinox, 03:05 CDT 06:39 18:49 12:10
26 Sep 12-hour day 06:42 18:42 12:00
3 Oct 6:30pm sunset 06:50 18:30 11:39
13 Oct 7am sunrise 07:01 18:13 11:12
22 Oct 6pm sunset 07:11 17:59 10:48
5 Nov Latest sunrise until 5 Nov 2016
Latest sunset until Feb 29th
07:28 17:40 10:12
6 Nov Standard time returns
6:30am sunrise
Earliest sunrise until Feb 28th
06:29 16:39 10:10
16 Nov 4:30pm sunset 06:41 16:30 9:47
2 Dec 7am sunrise 07:00 16:21 9:20
8 Dec Earliest sunset of the year 07:06 16:20 9:14
21 Dec Solstice, 23:30 CST 07:15 16:23 9:08

You can get sunrise information for your location at wx-now.com.

Eclipse coming tomorrow

The earth will cast its shadow on the moon Monday night:

But on the longest night of the year, a full moon will disappear at 1:40 a.m. behind the Earth's shadow. There won't be another total lunar eclipse on the night of the winter solstice for 84 years.

Weather permitting — and the forecast isn't favorable in the Chicago area, calling for clouds building Monday and snow overnight — the eclipse will be visible everywhere in the continental United States, and at its darkest, the moon will be halfway up from the horizon in the south-southwest sky.

We'll be able to see the moon start to disappear around 12:30 am Central time, with a total eclipse from 1:40 am until 2:53 am.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast calls for snow, which in Chicago just makes everything look yellow. (Chicago uses sodium-vapor streetlights that cast banana-yellow light.) But if you're up, or you live west of here and have better weather, go out and look.

When daylight saving time goes too far

It's getting on toward 7:30 in Chicago, and the sun still hasn't risen yet. We return to standard time tonight, meaning the sun will rise at 6:30 tomorrow. Today, however, will be the latest sunrise in Chicago (and in the rest of those parts of the U.S. that observe daylight saving time) until 2021.

What's wrong with the last weekend in October? Or, as they do in parts of Europe, the last weekend in September? The "extra" hour of daylight in the evening has to come from somewhere. I, for one, prefer staying out after dark to waking up before dawn.