The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Coffee and maths

From Matthew Yglesias, information about coffee consumption worldwide, which apparently peaks in Finland:

The Swedes are actually a bit less coffee-mad than the Finns, Norwegians, Danes, or Icelanders but as you can see here all the Nordic peoples drink a ton of coffee, in the Swedish case a bit less than twice as much per capita as Americans do. The Södermalm area of Stockholm where Mikael Blonkvist and Lisbeth Salander live and Millenium and Milton Security are headquartered is just littered with coffee houses like nothing I’ve ever seen in America (incidentally, this is where I stayed when I was in Stockholm on the recommendation of a blog reader—it’s a hugely fun neighborhood, definitely stay there if you visit). Personally, I drink way more coffee than the average American and find this aspect of Swedish life congenial. Even I, however, had to balk at the extreme quantity of coffee I was served in Finland where consumption is absolutely off the charts.

And another from math teacher Dan Meyer:

It is exceptionally easy for me to treat the skills and structures of mathematics as holy writ. My default state is to assume that every student shares my reverence for the stone tablets onto which the math gods originally etched the quadratic formula. It is a matter of daily discipline to ask myself, instead:

  • what problem was the quadratic formula originally intended to solve?
  • why is the quadratic formula the best way to solve that problem?
  • how can I put my students in a position to discover the answers to (a) and (b) on their own?

This last is particularly intriguing because not only would I like those answers about the quadratic formula, I'd also like those answers about the Capital Asset Pricing Model and Black-Scholes.

Off to San Francisco this afternoon, to put off dealing with my head-exploding workload for three days. If the guy sitting in the row ahead of me leans back so I can't use my laptop, I will cry.

Anchor Brewing sold

Via reader MB, one of the best beers in the world has been sold to a pair of beer-loving entrepreneurs:

Fritz Maytag, the washing machine heir who launched the microbrewery movement, has sold Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco to a pair of Bay Area entrepreneurs who plan to preserve and expand the iconic brand.

No terms were disclosed for the sale of the 70-person Mariposa Street brewery and distillery that traces its roots to the Gold Rush, when local brewers produced a heady elixir known as steam beer.

In 45 years at the helm of Anchor Brewing, Maytag helped spark a revival in the craft of making beer by hand and inspired thousands of entrepreneurs to follow him in creating small, artisanal breweries.

Judging by the reactions of people in my class to a case we read on the Boston Beer Co., it's likely that overseas readers don't appreciate what Maytag did for beer lovers. Within a few hours of Chicago there are dozens of craft breweries, including Tyranena and, of course, Goose Island, two of the best in the world. Only Japan has anything like the American craft-brew culture, but sadly they don't export it. Neither do most of the craft brewers; their batches are too small even to ship farther than the next state over. So, in Chicago, I get to have a Mad Hatter, and in Raleigh I get to have a Angry Angel; but throughout this fine, beer-loving nation, we'll still have Anchor Steam.

Stopped moving for now

After five visits to O'Hare in 8 days, I'm going to stay in one spot for at least a week. Yesterday's 9:45 flight took off at noon, getting me home two hours before I'd planned (even the CTA cooperated), and except for having to get up at an obscenely early time this morning, everything went well.

Still, I have space for one more gratuitous photo of Half Moon Bay, which is a wonderful place to visit:

Once more into the air dear friends, once more

I'm leaving this:

For this:

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN CHICAGO HAS ISSUED A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW...WHICH IS IN EFFECT UNTIL 9 PM CST THIS EVENING.

At least I'll get there earlier than planned. I tried to get on the 11:30, but because the 7:30 had left at 9:30, and the 9:45 was delayed, they put me on the 9:45 which actually leaves (we hope) at 11. So instead of 7 hours at home before traveling again tomorrow, I get 9. I hope.

Update: Well, the 9:45 actually now leaves at 1pm, in theory, leaving me almost exactly no better off than the original plan. We'll see.

Spotted in North Beach

Someone had time to have the sign made up, then had the inclination to stick it on the construction site. That's kind of sad:

There's a building in Chicago, at the corner of Wacker and Clark, that could use similar treatment. Someday, there will be funding again. Someday.

As long as we're in San Francisco, how about an iconic shot of a successful construction project? Here you go:

Cool!

Usually, my July visits to my family in San Francisco allow me to get away from Chicago's oppressive heat. This year, both cities are about the same, San Francisco just a little warmer than usual, and Chicago...well, it's the coolest July of my life:

July has slipped to the coolest to date here in 42 years—its 68.7°F degree average temperature running nearly 5 degrees behind the long-term (138-year) average. Friday's 70°F high was the first time in 53 years a July 17 temperature failed to rise above 70—you'd have to travel back to a 64°F high 85 years ago to find a July 17 that was cooler.

The average high for July's first 17 days has been 77.5°F—the second coolest in the 50 years of O'Hare Airport weather records dating back to 1959. Only 1967's 76.2°F tally has been cooler.

Maybe Chicago will have a super-hot August this year. Like, when I'm in London....

Morning round-up

A few things of note happened while I was en route to San Francisco yesterday:

  • The Cubs continued winning, taking their second in a row after the All-Star break and moving up to second place, though only because they've beaten up the hapless (25-63) Nationals to do it.
  • Wisconsin officials announced a deal to buy new 320 km/h train sets for the Chicago to Milwaukee route. Initially plans call for allowing the trains to run at 176 km/h (40% faster than today) while a new, dedicated high-speed line is studied.
  • In San Francisco, BART, the light-rail agency, averted a strike that could cripple the area's transportation system. The agency's employees unanimously rejected management's last contract offer and walked away from negotiations, but the two sides have since resumed talks.
  • Finally, Walter Cronkite died last night at 92.

And that's the way it is.

Update: One more from my dad: a big weenie drove into a house in Wisconsin yesterday, no doubt because the driver was in mourning.

Tampa Bay at Athletics

While in San Francisco for the weekend, I decided to continue the 30-Park Geas by seeing what the Oakland A's were up to. Last place, it turned out; but then, so were their opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays.

From the moment you get off the BART, you know you're not going to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. Wrigley, for example, has less concrete and barbed wire:

Of course, Wrigley has fewer "World Champions" banners, too, but we'll skip that for now.

Not a bad game, on balance. The home team won, it turned out my Cubs hat was acceptable to the crowd (my brother had warned me that wearing the wrong hat in Oakland could result in ejection from the park...by the fans...over the railing), and my seat completely failed to suck:

The only bad parts, other than the park resembling in architecture and style (and, some might say, purpose) a medium-security prison: I forgot my camera, so I had to use my mobile phone to snap photos; and I couldn't find a score card. Oh well; still a fun game.

Fifteen down, 17 to go.

Metra: Party like it's 1979

Metra, which runs Chicago's heavy-rail commuter lines, hasn't changed much at all since the 1970s, as today's Chicago Tribune describes in sad detail:

Metra runs on paper, as in paper tickets. Although the majority of riders use monthly passes, passengers in January still bought more than 666,000 one-way tickets or used 10-ride tickets, which conductors have to punch individually.

... Other open rail systems have done away with punching and checking individual tickets. For example, conductors on Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority check tickets with hand-held electronic devices. ... On Caltrain, a commuter rail line operating between San Francisco and San Jose, passengers buy tickets from vending machines and conductors make random checks. Anyone without a ticket faces a $250 fine.

[And] it's cash or checks only on Metra. The line doesn't take plastic because of the processing fees that credit-card companies impose, Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

The article also mentions a lack of information about train whereabouts that even our CTA buses provide.

I think the article makes Metra sound better than it really is, simply by comparing it only to its American analogues. The authors ignore, presumably out of pity for Metra, the Shanghai Maglev at one extreme, or even more typical European rail systems like Berlin's S-Bahn and the UK's Oyster Card scheme as examples of how to modernize at the very least how people pay for transit.

All right, maybe Transport for London isn't the best example. Still, when Boston has free Wi-Fi and we can't even pay with credit cards, something is wrong. At least TfL has a dedicated express train running from Heathrow to central London (on which you can use your Oyster Card), and we have...the Blue Line. Sad, really.

Fresh air at the Justice Department

Two (probably related) items via Talking Points Memo: a reversal in a San Francisco death-penalty case, and a release of nine Bush Administration memoranda.

In the first case, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey had overruled the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco and pressed for the death penalty in a murder case. New AG Eric Holder has reversed the DOJ's position:

The Down Below prosecution has been a searing episode for the local U.S. attorney's office. The original prosecutor on the case, Richard Cutler, opposed seeking the death penalty against [defendant Emile] Fort and co-defendant Edgar Diaz. After the Justice Department took the opposite stance, the administration sent an investigator to San Francisco to question Cutler about the case. Cutler left the office soon thereafter.

... Fort's new deal will be much the same as the one Mukasey rejected....

The DOJ's document release sheds some light on the last eight years. Not much light, but it's an improvement over total darkness. Titles include:

  • Memorandum Regarding Constitutionality of Amending Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to Change the "Purpose" Standard for Searches (09-25-2001)
  • Memorandum Regarding Determination of Enemy Belligerency and Military Detention (06-08-2002)
  • Memorandum Regarding Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities within the United States (10-23-2001)

That last one, by John Yoo, should scare anyone who's ever read Orwell or Huxley.

Who else is glad we have a new President?