The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

News alerts to make the baby cheeses cry

The Tribune just foisted two news alerts on me that I already knew. First, the Cubs lost their 100th game, which, it turns out, has only happened three times in the last 140 freaking years. The Trib's lede is beautiful:

Fifty years ago this week, only 595 fans showed up at Wrigley Field for the opener of the Cubs-Mets series, the last time two teams with 100-plus losses faced each other.

The '62 Cubs — with future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Billy Williams and Ron Santo on the roster — wound up taking two of three from the expansion team, finishing with a franchise-worst 103 losses, to the Mets' major league record 120.

Wow. I mean, wow. It takes a special kind of baseball team to lose 103 games in a season, so the talent and vision that went into the Mets' 120 losses in 1962 defies rational belief. I am cowed. And I am also thankful no team has gotten to that record in my lifetime, if only because the Mets occupy the rung on my baseball ladder just above the American League and just below the one I try to scrape off before walking in the house. (The Astros occupy that rung, it turns out, only because they were the first team I ever saw play the Cubs).

All righty then. One must look forward, to the horizon of a National League win. And again, I say: Go Giants.

Almost forgot: The other news alert, announcing that the Tigers have eliminated the White Sox, did not distress me much, as it only concerns the minor leagues.

Truly impressive series to end the season

It is a mathematical certainty that the combined losses of the Astros and Cubs will get to 207 when the season ends Wendesday. They're playing each other right now, with the Cubs heading for their 100th loss of the year. One cannot but marvel at the prowess of both teams, both fighting quixotically for their respective honors. The Cubs can't possibly be the worst team in baseball this year, because the Astros have so totally dominated them in that respect. And yet, the Astros will move to the American League next year, meaning that both they and the Cubs will begin 2013 being the worst teams in their respective leagues as the new season begins.

New rule: Once your home team loses 100 games in a season, you get to pick another team to root for. And so I say, from now until the next opening day: Go Giants!

New record, but it's over

Chicago hit a new record for most consecutive months with above-average temperatures, which ended August 31st (only we didn't know for sure until yesterday):

For the first time in a year, Chicago has logged a month with below-normal temperatures. Averaging 17.8°C, September finished 0.3°C below normal, ending the city's record run of 11 above-normal months that began in October 2011.

Despite the lower-than-normal temperatures, sunshine was plentiful, averaging 75 percent of possible, the highest here since 2007 when 76 percent was recorded.

Climate-change deniers will no doubt take this as evidence that global warming has ceased. I mean, if there were global warming, shouldn't it always be above average?

Chicago regional transit fare systems to combine

Finally, by the end of 2014 Chicago will have one transit card to rule them all, called Ventra:

The CTA and the Regional Transportation Authority are leading an effort to create an open fare system in which bank-issued cards and universal transit cards will be accepted on CTA, Pace and Metra.

The RTA system faces a 2015 deadline to fully implement an integrated fare system. Part of the challenge is including Metra, which is slowly modernizing its antiquated fare-collection system that still involves conductors punching paper tickets and passes.

When Ventra begins next summer, CTA and Pace will continue to offer special fares for students and senior citizens and various-priced fare products, like 30-day and 7-day passes, and will still accept cash on buses.

The official site explains:

Here’s how it works:

Ventra Card: This contactless card works like the current Chicago Card Plus, only better! Just tap on a card reader for quick and easy boarding on trains and buses. Plus, you can manage your account and balance at Ventra vending machines in CTA stations, numerous retail locations, online or over the phone.

Ventra Ticket: These contactless tickets work just like the current magnetic stripe cards but are even easier to use. Just tap and ride! Choose from a single-ride or 1-day Ventra ticket.

Bankcard: Ventra introduces another way to pay for transit fares by using the bankcard already in your wallet. Simply register your personal bank-issued contactless credit or debit card, add transit passes and value or pay as you go for rides.

And someday, they hope, they'll have a mobile phone option.

Other transit systems, including those in San Francisco and London, have had similar systems for a while.

Rye sense of humor, distilled

A couple weeks ago, I finally tasted whisky from the FEW Distillery in Evanston, Ill. FEW is named for Frances Elizabeth Willard, who, in the mid-19th century, ran the Women's Christian Temperance Union and later bequeathed her house to the organization.

In other words, this is a distillery named after one of the leading advocates for prohibition, headquartered in a city that was dry for more than a century.

Also, FEW's master distiller, Paul Hletko, is one of the first people I met in law school. Mazel tov, Paul: you've made a great collection of spirits.

Link round-up

Before I forget, and get lost in my work again today:

All for now...

Chicago's digital infrastructure

Crain's Chicago Business yesterday ran the first part in a series about How Chicago became one of the nation's most digital cities. Did you know we have the largest datacenter in the world here? True:

Inside the former R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. printing plant on East Cermak Road, next to McCormick Place, is the world's largest, most-connected Internet data center, according to industry website Data Center Knowledge. It's where more than 200 carriers connect their networks to the rest of the world, home to many big Internet service providers and where the world's major financial exchanges connect to one another and to trading desks. "It's where the Internet happens," Cleversafe's Mr. Gladwin says.

Apparently Chicago also hosts the fifth-largest datacenter in the world, Microsoft's North Central Azure hub in Northlake. (Microsoft's Azure centers are the 5th-, 6th-, 9th-, and 10th-largest in the world, according to Data Center Knowledge.) And then there's Chicago's excellent fiber:

If all of the publicly available fiber coming in and out of the Chicago area were bundled together, it would be able to transmit about 8 terabits per second, according to Washington-based research firm TeleGeography. (A terabit per second is the equivalent of every person on the planet sending a Twitter message per second.)

New York would be capable of 12.3 terabits, and Washington 11.2 terabits. Los Angeles and San Francisco are close behind Chicago at 7.9 and 7.8 terabits, respectively. New York is the primary gateway to Europe, and Washington is the control center of the world's largest military and one of the main connection points of the Internet.

Chicago benefits from its midcontinent location and the presence of the financial markets. "The fiber optic lines that go from New York and New Jersey to Chicago are second to none," says Terrence Duffy, executive chairman of CME Group Inc., who says he carefully considered the city's infrastructure when the futures and commodities exchange contemplated moving its headquarters out of state last year because of tax issues. "It benefits us to be located where we're at."

Now, if I can just get a good fiber to my house...

Clybourn Corridor development

The area of Chicago approximately bounded by the river, North Ave., Clybourn St., and Division St. used to house factories, warehouses, loud Goth clubs, and—who could forget?—the Cabrini-Green towers. Here's the area in 1999:

Since the Whole Foods Market moved in and Cabrini-Green came down in the last few years, the area has changed. And over the next year or so, it will become unrecognizable to my dad's generation:

Target Corp. is readying a big box at Division and Larrabee streets that would extend the corridor by more than a half-mile from its heart at North and Clybourn avenues, where Apple Inc. has a store. Also imminent: Nordstrom Rack, Dick's Sporting Goods, Mariano's Fresh Market, Williams-Sonoma, Anthropologie and Sephora as well as a 14-screen movie theater.

The first of the new stores are set to open later this year. Deerfield-based CRM Properties Group Ltd. has leases with kitchen accessories seller Williams-Sonoma Inc. and Anthropologie, a women's apparel chain owned by Urban Outfitters Inc., for its site on Fremont Street, near Whole Foods' flagship store it completed in 2009 on Kingsbury Street.

To those of us who grew up in Chicago, this boggles the mind. The Target mentioned above will occupy the vacant Cabrini lots, for example. And Kingsbury St. no longer resembles a post-apocalyptic horror movie.

I can't wait to see the traffic, too...

Cubs announce 2013 schedule

Major League Baseball released its 2013 schedule today. Here are the highlights for the Cubs:

  • They start the season April 1st in Atlanta.
  • The home opener on April 8th will be against Milwaukee.
  • The first appearance at a park I haven't gotten to yet won't happen until they visit Seattle on June 28th; but:
  • ...with their first-ever trip to Oakland immediately following on July 2nd, I sense a trip to the West Coast coming next summer.
  • Same with back-to-back series in two other parks I haven't seen, Colorado (July 19-21) and Arizona (July 22-25).
  • They end the season in St. Louis, playing our arch-rivals, the Cardinals.

The Cubs will not be visiting New Yankee Stadium, Minnesota, Texas, or Toronto, the other four parks in the 30-Park Geas I haven't visited yet.

Chicago's local CBS affiliate has a Cubs-specific schedule.

Chicago Teachers Union strike, day 2

I'm trying to make sense of why the Chicago Teachers Union's fight with the Chicago Public Schools has blown up into a teachers' strike (the first in 25 years).

One of my neighbors, for years a member of the local school board, said "every parent in Chicago will vote against Rahm Emanuel" in the next Chicago mayoral election. My experience of the strike, however, was being trapped in the Loop for an hour yesterday as the teachers' rally outside the school board building stopped traffic.

So, in no particular order, here are some sources of information about the strike, its geneses, and its likely outcomes:

  • Washington Post reporter Dylan Matthews, writing on Ezra Klein's blog, modestly provides "Everything you need to know about the Chicago teachers’ strike, in one post". My key takeaway: the CPS faces a $665m deficit this year, despite moving millions from reserves, and next year faces a $1bn deficit. (I can't wait to see my 2013 property tax bills...)
  • The Tribune reports that CPS has offered 2% raises over the next four years and some concessions on its proposed policy of not calling laid-off teachers back in the order they were let go. The article doesn't make clear how the CTU disagrees with the proposal, saying the union hasn't released details.
  • The local NPR station, WBEZ, asks What's really driving teachers to strike? Teachers want air conditioning, smaller classes, more social workers, and yes, last-out-first-in recalls after layoffs.
  • CTU president Karen Lewis may have miscalculated, however, having "openly feuded with Chicago Public Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, accusing them of not caring about schoolchildren or their education," which made her no friends. Still, 90% of union membership voted to strike, so it looks like they may have gotten the leadership they wanted.
  • New York Times columnist Joe Nocera yesterday wrote a cogent and balanced summary of the issues that nonetheless drew a comparison between this fight and the auto manufacturing fights of the 1970s and 1980s, "with the two sides fighting each other so fiercely that neither noticed that imports were on the rise and globalization was making their squabbles irrelevant."
  • And, of course, both the CTU and CPS want everyone to remember the children, who certainly have their own opinions but aren't being asked by either side.

Even though I have a natural inclination to support labor in general and teachers in specific, it looks to me like the strike over-reached and may have handed the PR war to the city. Ultimately the CPS and CTU run up against arithmetic, and the annoying problem that only the U.S. government can print money. We can't pay for the schools we have right now (or, more precisely, for the teacher pensions we owe), so the teachers won't get everything they want. Are they willing to give back on pensions and salary in exchange for smaller class sizes and air conditioners? (Of course, how medieval are we as a city that we can't provide children with adequate classrooms in the first place?)

And again, the kids are getting the worst of it. As goes an African proverb, "when elephants wrestle, the grass suffers."