The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Getting back to usability

I had planned to write today about aviation weather radar, being an accidental landlord in Chicago, or the latest plan to replace a burned-down grocery in my old neighborhood. Instead, I'm going to gush a little about my new phone.

I've used a Windows HTC-8 for almost two years now, and I've been frustrated with it nearly the whole time. Today, while waiting out a thunderstorm at the local T-Mobile store, I decided to pick up a Samsung S5.

Instead of complaining about the HTC-8, I'll link to a comparison, and then list these things that made me giddy earlier today:

  • I have all the applications I've been missing again.
  • Android has a new, combined inbox for email they didn't have before, so I still get all my mail in one place. (This was the best feature of the Windows 8 phone.)
  • Wi-Fi calling.
  • Combined SMS and Google Hangouts.
  • An app to archive SMS. I've lost all my SMS messages for the past two years because Windows 8 doesn't have any way of extracting them.
  • Google Maps.

I could go on, and no doubt I will, but it's late in the day and I have to play with my phone some more.

Weather Now gazetteer now really, really fast

I mentioned over a month ago that, given some free time, I would fix the search feature on Weather Now. Well, I just deployed the fix, and it's kind of cool.

I used Lucene.NET as the search engine, incorporating it into the Inner Drive Gazetteer that underlies the geographic information for Weather Now. I won't go into too many details about it right now, except that I was surprised at how much the index writer was able to crunch and store (in Azure blobs). The entire index takes up 815 MB of blob space. That's so small a fraction of a cent per month I can't even calculate it right now.

The indexing process took about 6 minutes per 500,000 rows. (The entire database has 7.25 million rows.) It helped that I ran the indexing process on an Azure virtual machine, because at one point during index optimization I clocked the data throughput at 200 Mbps. Yes, two hundred megabits per second. The entire index ran in a little less than two hours on a VM while I was doing other things. And once the index initializes in the Weather Now app, searches only take a second or so.

Go ahead. Try a search. Put in your ZIP code or the name of a prominent building near you.

I still have a lot I want to do with the application, including updating it to a responsive theme and MVC, but this is a pretty big leap.

Another list of things to read

Ten days until I get a couple days off...

This is video of me and President Obama

Actually, it's a live feed from the ISS:


Live streaming video by Ustream

IFLS explains:

One of the latest missions from the ISS is kind of amazing. The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment consists of four cameras that have been attached outside of the ISS. Though temperature is controlled, the cameras are exposed to the radiation from the sun, which will allow astronauts to understand how radiation affects the instruments.

The cameras point down at Earth at all times, which makes for some breathtaking images. The feed will sometimes go down as the signal switches between the cameras, and it is hard to see when the ISS is on the dark side of the planet. If the cameras are down, the screen will be grey.

As I'm posting this, the ISS was just past the morning terminator, near the Philippines. It should fly almost directly over Chicago in 20 minutes or so. (The ISS orbits once every 92 minutes.)

Stuff I didn't get to this afternoon

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

Back to the mines...

Going outside to play

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.

Piece of CTA history

The Chicago Transit Authority cleaned out its attic recently and put a bunch of artifacts up for auction. The auction just ended, and I'm sorry to say I did not win anything.

I bid on a couple of 1990s-era station signs, one from Main and one from Davis. I didn't want to risk getting both so I dropped off the Davis auction once it hit $50. Because, rusty 30 x 45 cm sign with the paint chipping? Yeah, $50 sounds right.

But I kept going on the Main St. sign, using the ancient eBay technique of waiting until the last few seconds to make my last bid.

So, the first day of bidding, I put in $25. Auto-bids pushed right past me. Then I waited. Just now, with the bidding at $95, I put in what I thought was a ridiculous (but still acceptable) number: $130. Bam! Bidder #37522 auto-bid right past me!

Now, I'm thinking, as attractive an artifact as the sign might be, is it really worth $150? Oh, the pain, the pain...yes. All right. It's a unique part of history, part of my history in fact, so it's worth $150 to me. Bid.

D'oh! Bidder #37522 thinks it's worth more than $150, and his auto-bid won.

Well, I'm glad the sign is going to a good home. I hope Bidder #37522 finds a nice place on his wall for it.

But I have no idea what Bidder #37961 is going to do with the rail car he bought for $13,150...

(Fun fact: the CTA Gift Store sells signs.)

Update: Looking through the closed lots, I discovered that someone bought two sticks of rail for $50. Let's do the math here. The sticks are each 11.8 m long, and the description says they're 115-lb rail. That means the rail weighs 115 lbs per foot, so the two sticks together contain 4,068 kg of steel. I don't know scrap prices, but it seems to me that 4 tons of steel scrap might be worth more than $50. So assuming the costs of removing the rails aren't too high, someone may have just made a tidy profit on the auction.

Update: It turns out, scrap steel goes for about $350 a ton. So that $50 investment could bring the buyer a tidy $1300 profit. But then one has to ask, why didn't the CTA just sell the surplus rail for scrap in the first place?

Google's mapping strategy

This weekend's cover story in New York Times Magazine looks in detail at Google's grand plan to map everything:

Street View cars have already mapped six million miles. Depending on your perspective, that’s either a quite a lot (equivalent to 12 trips to the moon and back) or not much at all (only one-tenth of the world’s estimated 60 million miles of road). Either way, Google’s huge investment in the camera-equipped cars — not to mention trikes, boats, snowmobiles and, yes, rafts — has yielded the most detailed street atlas on earth.

Early last year, Google’s United States market share for where-type queries topped 70 percent, and Google started to get serious about recouping the fortune it has been sinking into making its map, putting a tollbooth in front of its application programming interface. Henceforth, heavy users would be charged for the privilege.

Today, Google’s map includes the streets of every nation on earth, and Street View has so far collected imagery in a quarter of those countries. The total number of regular users: A billion people, or about half of the Internet-connected population worldwide. Google Maps underlies a million different websites, making its map A.P.I. among the most-used such interfaces on the Internet. At this point Google Maps is essentially what Tim O’Reilly predicted the map would become: part of the information infrastructure, a resource more complete and in many respects more accurate than what governments have. It’s better than MapQuest’s map, better than Microsoft’s, better than Apple’s.

The article also looks at Open Street Map, the Wikipedia of GIS, and wonders whether Google's proprietary database will ultimately win.