The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sun-Times beats Tribune in race to entropy

The Chicago Sun-Times has filed for Chapter 11 protection:

The publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and other Chicago-area papers emphasized that it will continue to operate its newspapers and online sites as usual "while it focuses on further improving its cost structure and stabilizing operations" during the Chapter 11 financial reorganization.

Tuesday's filing can't be characterized as a surprise. Many observers have marveled that the company has been able to stay on its feet as long as it has, given the pressures it faces.

What will replace newspapers? I orry that too many people forget why we have newspapers in the first place.

CTA Bus Tracker

Despite recently complaining about public transit in Chicago, I have to say I like ctabustracker.com, the Chicago Transit Authority's online bus tracker. It's a public-private venture with Google, and I think everyone benefits.

In fact, I'm writing this blog entry because I have 11 minutes before my bus comes, and it only takes me 4 minutes to shut down my laptop and get to the bus stop. This, I think, is the epitome of efficient labor markets.

All right, maybe not the epitome, but certainly a good example of them.

Ah, Chicago in the spring

This morning, consistent with other early spring mornings I remember from years past, Chicago is having a blizzard. We're on the backside (in so many ways) of a low-pressure center, getting some fresh spring breezes (41 km/h gusts out of the north), delightful spring warmth (0°C with a windchill of -6°C), and a gentle sodden wet heavy snowfall.

In other happy news, the New York Times health blog yesterday reported 86,000 emergency room visits each year by people who tripped over their pets:

That translates into about 240 people who are treated for injuries caused by pets every single day in the United States, [a CDC] study found.

Cats are involved in some of the falls, but dogs — man's best friend — are the real culprits, responsible for seven times as many injuries as cats, often while they’re being walked, the report found.

I can attest that dogs bolt sometimes, surprising both dog and owner when the dog's increased kinetic energy encounters the owner's dug-in heels.

Again with the broken parking meters!

The city of Chicago, apparently responding to citizen complaints, has started fixing broken parking meters on its own and billing the company:

Indications of a more urgent approach to fixing the problems became apparent Monday morning when the Tribune observed meter inspectors and repair personnel working downtown.

It followed a Tribune story on Friday that exposed the broad scope of the problems and how drivers and business owners are angry at the city, which watched rates quadruple this year as part of a 75-year deal to lease 36,000 meters to Chicago Parking Meters LLC for almost $1.2 billion.

There's not much more in the article. But I have to wonder, will the city actually collect the money it bills? And if not, will the city boot the company's office building?

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.

Only a week late

I've finally gotten around to producing a .kml file from my last flight, on the 14th. I flew Chicago Executive to Waukesha, Wis., thence Milwaukee (where I made two A320s wait for me, but not on purpose), thence Waukegan, Ill., which is the #1 practice-landing destination in the North Suburbs, as far as I can tell.

Good flight, about 2.2 hours total, all logged as cross-country. I haven't seen the bill yet, but the fuel surcharge dropped from $3.20 an hour to 30c, so right there I'm saving...two cups of coffee.

Obligatory airplane-on-little-airport-tarmac photo:

I should explain that it took a week to get this photo onto this blog because I left my camera in the airplane, and only this afternoon had time to go fetch it. That means I was more concerned with safety than, you know, cameras. Right.

Who didn't see this coming? Really?

It turns out, the privatization of Chicago's parking meters is becoming a total cluster:

During spot checks around the city, the Tribune found:

  • Outdated fee and violation-enforcement information still posted on many meters since the city switched from six parking zones to three.
  • Meters that, regardless of what the stickers indicate, charge the wrong hourly rates for the zone in which they are located, increasing the chance of vehicles being ticketed. For example, in the 1800 block of North Clybourn Avenue, an area where 25 cents is supposed to buy 15 minutes of parking time, meter No. 279089 provides only seven minutes for a quarter. A black marker was used to cover up the "15" on the meter's rate sticker with "7."
  • A surge in broken meters, many overstuffed with coins.
  • Stepped-up writing of tickets for parking-meter violations.

The parking-meter companies last weekend exercised an option in the contract that allows them to ticket vehicles parked at expired meters, Walsh said. Chicago police officers and parking enforcement aides also continue to write tickets, and the city will keep all fines collected.

Asked why the concessionaire would spend resources on ticketing even though it cannot keep any fines, Pete Scales of the Chicago Department of Budget and Management said, "That extra enforcement is an added incentive to fill the meters."

So, pop quiz for anyone who's taken Intro to Microeconomics: what are the incentives for either the parking meter company or the city to provide fair and accurate parking meters, or to keep them in good repair?

Pop quiz for second-year law students: Is a class action suit warranted, and if so, for what relief, and in which court?

About this blog

I'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 3-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page two years ago, so I thought it's time for a quick review.

Here are the main topics on the Daily Parker:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-leftie by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • Software. I own a micro-sized software company in Chicago, Illinois, and I have some experience writing software. 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.
  • 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.

This is public writing, too, so I hope to continue a standard of literacy (i.e., spelling, grammar, and diction) and fluidity of prose that makes you want to keep reading.

So thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

A tease of spring

Spring officially begins Friday at 6:44 CDT, but today we're getting a little hint of it. Right now it's 19°C in Chicago; if it can squeak up to 22°C it will be the warmest day since October 12th.

Another trivial tidbit: because the earth's atmosphere bends the sun's rays a little, today, and not the official equinox Friday, is the day when we have 12 hours of daylight. From tomorrow until September 25th, days are longer than nights just about everywhere between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle.

Update, 14:05 CDT: Yep, we just hit 22°C, warmest temperature in Chicago for 156 days. Why am I inside?