The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How to conquer Chicago

Via the Atlantic Cities blog, this is pretty awesome:

World domination is all well and good, but sometimes taking over a city is more than enough for one night. That's the feeling that Luke Costanza and Mackenzie Stutzman had a few years back while playing the board game Risk in Boston. So they sketched out a rough map of the metro area, split neighborhoods into six distinct regions, and laminated the pages. Then they invited over a few more friends to test it out — and discovered it was a rousing success.

"That's when it kind of clicked that we could maybe make these for other cities," says Costanza. "It's just tons of fun to be able to play this classic game in a place that you know."

That initial urge to conquer the Bay has since expanded into Havoc Boards: a series of 15 Risk-style games that Costanza and Stutzman are funding through a Kickstarter campaign. Instead of limiting the action to the global stage, Havoc Boards offer a variety of territories for conquest. To date they've created boards for ten cities —Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles among them — as well as two countries, a continent, a college campus, and even the solar system.

Check it out:


Via Sullivan, scholar John Suiter discovered a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl" at Oregon's Reed College in 1956:

It’s also easy to forget that Allen Ginsberg’s generation-defining poem “Howl” was once almost a casualty of censorship. The most likely successor to Walt Whitman’s vision, Ginsberg’s oracular utterances did not sit well with U.S. Customs, who in 1957 tried to seize every copy of the British second printing. When that failed, police arrested the poem’s publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and he and Ginsberg’s “Howl” were put on trial for obscenity. Apparently, phrases like “cock and endless balls” did not sit well with the authorities. But the court vindicated them all.

The recording [linked above] sat dormant in Reed’s archives for over fifty years until scholar John Suiter rediscovered it in 2008. In it, Ginsberg reads his great prophetic work, not with the cadences of a street preacher or jazzman—both of which he had in his repertoire—but in an almost robotic monotone with an undertone of manic urgency. Ginsberg’s reading, before an intimate group of students in a dormitory lounge, took place only just before the first printing of the poem in the City Lights edition.

That's almost sixty years ago; the poet was 30. For what it's worth, I bought my copy at City Lights many years ago.

NPR's incredible visualization of Moore, Okla.

National Public Radio has created an interactive map that uses Google Maps and new satellite images Google obtained yesterday to show 10-meter images of the Oklahoma tornado's destruction:

This may be the best, most timely use of geographic information in a news presentation I've ever seen.

The images are stunning. I can only imagine what life must be like in Moore right now—and with the NPR app, it's a lot easier to understand.

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.

Douglas Adams was right

From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

From this week's news:

If calculations of the newly discovered Higgs boson particle are correct, one day, tens of billions of years from now, the universe will disappear at the speed of light, replaced by a strange, alternative dimension, one theoretical physicist calls “boring.”

“It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out. This has to do with the Higgs energy field itself,” [theoretical physicist Joseph] Lykken [of Fermilab] added, referring to an invisible field of energy that is believed to exist throughout the universe.

“Essentially, the universe wants to be in different state and so eventually it will realize that. A little bubble of what you might think of an as alternative universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us. So that’ll be very dramatic, but you and I will not be around to witness it,” Lykken told reporters before a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston this week.

And...has this happened already? We can't possibly know...but Douglas Adams might have known all along.

21st Century Rituals

Via Sullivan, a catalog of strange things we do with gadgets:

You’re on your cell phone, talking to a friend, pacing in circles, fidgeting with your hands, checking your cuticles–whatever it is you do while you’re on the phone. They’re odd, pointless behaviors, but we do them nonetheless, and a group of designers from the Art Center College of Design has taken it upon themselves to illustrate and document all of them (sort of like that Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology).

There’s the “Security Blanket” (checking your smartphone for no particular reason when faced with the slightest discomfort in a social situation), the “Halfway Courtesy” (taking one earbud out in order to show a person you’re listening to them), the “Haunted Interface” (performing actions an interface can’t react to, like shaking a video game controller), and many others. All of the actions are collected in a free ebook called Curious Rituals. Researcher Nicolas Nova explains in the book’s introduction.

Meanwhile, I'm doing my strange ritual of camping at Peet's Coffee before dawn to make sure I stay reasonably close to Chicago time for the weekend. Otherwise, Wednesday will be hell.

Under the hood of Weather Now

My my most recent post mentioned finishing the GetWeather component of Weather Now, my demo project that provides near-real-time aviation weather for most of the world. I thought some readers might be interested to know how it works.

The GetWeather component has three principal tasks:

In the Inner Drive Technology world, an Azure worker process uses an arbitrary collection of objects that implement the IWorkerTask interface. The interface defines Interval and LastRun properties and an Execute method, which is all the worker process needs to know. The tasks are responsible for their own lifespans, reentry prevention, etc. (That's another discussion.)

In order to decouple the data source (NOAA now, other sources in the future) from the application, I split the three tasks into two IWorkerTask classes:

  • The NoaaFileDownloadingWorkerTask opens an FTP connection to the NOAA public weather servers, retrieves the files it hasn't already retrieved, and stores the contents in Azure Blob Storage; and
  • The NoaaFileParsingWorkerTask pulls the files out of Azure Storage, parses them, and stores the results in an Azure SQL Database and Azure table storage.

I'm using Azure storage as an intermediary between the two sides of the process because my analysis led me to the conclusion that they're really independent of each other. Coupling of the two tasks in the current (2002) version of GetWeather causes all kinds of problems, not least that a failure in one task can stop the whole thing. If, as happens given the nature of the Internet, the FTP side has an unrecoverable problem, the application has to restart. In actual practice it simply kills itself and waits for the next time it runs, which can be a while because it's running on a Windows Server 2008 Scheduler job every 30 minutes.

The new architecture will allow the parser to run every minute or two, see if it has anything to do by looking at some metadata, and do its job if needed. I can change a system setting to stop it from running (for example, because I need to do some database maintenance), while letting the downloader continue to work separately.

On the other side, the downloader can run every 5 minutes, snatch the one or two files it needs from NOAA, and shut down cleanly without waiting for the parser. NOAA likes this because the connection is only open for a few seconds, instead of the 27 minutes it stays open right now. And if the NOAA server isn't available, so what? It's a clean shutdown and a clean start a few minutes later.

This design also allows me to do something else: manually upload files for parsing and storage. This helps with testing, migration, service interruptions—all things that the current architecture has made nearly impossible.

I'm not entirely done with the application (and while writing this I just thought of an improvement I'll need to make to prevent infinite retries), but it's close. And I'm really pleased with the application so far. Stay tuned; I can now set a tentative public launch date of March 31st.

Census Dotmap

This is exceedingly cool:

Inset from the Census Dotmap showing Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee

What is this

This is a map of every person counted by the 2010 US and 2011 Canadian censuses. The map has 341,817,095 dots - one for each person.


I wanted an image of human settlement patterns unmediated by proxies like city boundaries, arterial roads, state lines, &c. Also, it was an interesting challenge.

Who is responsible for this?

The US and Canadian censuses, mostly. I made the map. I'm Brandon Martin-Anderson. Kieran Huggins came to the rescue with spare server capacity and technical advice once this took off.

Unfortunately, I can't quite pick myself out of the crowd...

Jamming on the Codez

Over the last two days I've spent almost every working minute redesigning the 10th Magnitude framework and reference application. Not new code, really, just upgrading them to the latest Azure bits and putting them into a NuGet package.

That hasn't left much time for blogging. Or for Words With Friends. And I'm using a lot of Instapaper. Without Instapaper, I'd never get to read Wired editor Mat Honan drawing lessons from his epic hack last summer.