The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Potpourri, without the odor

Quick update:

  • The Titanic dinner at Mint Julep Bistro was wonderful. Rich's wine pairings especially rocked—as did his beef tournedos in port reduction. Mmm. Not so much fun was Metra's return schedule (featuring a 3-hour gap between 21:25 and 0:35), nor my reading of it (I did not remember this three-hour gap). The fine for taking public transit out to the suburbs (because driving to a 10-course, 9-wine-plus-apertif dinner seemed irresponsible) was $80, paid to the All-Star Taxi Service.
  • I did, in fact, buy a Kindle, and I love it. I've now read three books on it and numerous articles (converting a .pdf or text file costs no more than 10c for automatic downloads), and I hardly notice the machine. It only holds 1.5 GB of stuff, but the complete works of Shakespeare ($4) only takes up 4 MB so space is not exactly at a premium.
  • I may have a new release of Weather Now out today; if not, then tomorrow morning. I'll be writing over the next few days more about what's different, and why it took nearly two years to produce something that, to some, will look almost identical.
  • Tangentially about my Kindle and software releases, I'm now reading Almost Perfect (hat tip Coding Horror), Pete Peterson's account of the rise and fall of WordPerfect. It's a fascinating tale of what happens when everyone in the company is just like you, and when entrepreneurs can't let go.

Finally, in a tiny piece of good news, it looks like we'll have tolerable weather Friday for my first Cubs home game this season.

American to replace MD-80s at O'Hare

American Airlines, my carrier of choice, will finally replace its fleet of awful MD-80s, many of which it inherited from TWA:

The acquisition of 76 Boeing 737-800s through early 2011 represents a doubling of that airplane model flown by Ft Worth-based American.

All the new planes will be based at O'Hare International Airport.

The move also will lead to the eventual retirement of American's McDonnell Douglas MD-80s--a reliable but noisy aircraft that gulps 35 percent more fuel than the 737-800.

American plans to phase out its 280 MD-80s over about 10 years, said Dan Garton, the carrier's executive vice president of marketing.

"All of the new planes will be based at O'Hare..." Sigh. That makes me so happy.

High-speed rail corridor in Illinois? Define "high-speed"

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a Tribune article about how the U.S. lags the rest of the industrialized world in rail technology. The Economist this week continues the discussion:

There are reasons, however, to be cautious. First, the cost of any one project far exceeds the money available. California, which has the most advanced plan, would connect the state's biggest cities with trains running at more than 200mph. In November Californians approved $9.95 billion of bonds for the project. On top of this, officials hope to get $12 billion-16 billion from Washington. The plan is expected to cost $40 billion in all. But the stimulus contains only $8 billion for the whole country.

Second, many plans would make trains high-speed only in a relative sense. Proposals that are cheaper than California’s are also much slower. A plan for the Chicago-St Louis line, for example, would speed up trains from 79mph to only 110mph. Multiple road crossings require trains to move more slowly than in Europe. Adding to the problem, most passenger trains run on track owned by freight railways. Congestion makes service less reliable.

I'm actually sad to see $2 gasoline again, because I think a couple years of gas prices around $4 (or even $9, like in Europe) would finally give us a decent rail system. So the next time I fly to London I'll take solace in the Heathrow Express when I get there, and try to forget about the Blue Line that brought me to O'Hare. (Though, in fairness to the CTA, in the past two years they have cut the trip from the Loop to O'Hare from an hour and a quarter down to 40 minutes.)

Slow news day

Wow, so I'm out of touch for a few hours, and this happens:

  • The Federal judge in the Ted Stevens corruption trial has ordered a criminal investigation of the prosecutors who tried the case. It may be surprising, but apparently a heavily-politicized Republican Justice Department may have deliberately thrown it. Hmm.
  • The Canadian dude who stole a Cessna yesterday was apparently attempting suicide by fighter jet, but for some reason opted out of suicide by crashing into the ground, and so will now face Federal prosecution.
  • As absentee ballots get counted in Minnesota's (longest-in-history) U.S. Senate race, Democrat Al Franken's lead has opened up to 312. Republican former Senator Norm Coleman has vowed to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where he hopes to get five more votes. His lawyer, by the way, is the same guy who got five extra votes for Dubya in 2000.
  • And, oh yeah, Vermont legalized gay marriage, overriding the governor's veto to do so.

OK, I have about 90 minutes to enjoy (*kaff*) downtown Houston before going to my first Cubs game of the season. Then I'm going to an odd little bar that I discovered when I worked in this fine city back in 2001. In fact, my hotel room looks out over the dazzling, deodorant-stick-shaped building that the client I worked for owned before they went bankrupt spectacularly later in the year. Hmmmm...can't remember their name... I'll have to compare photos of the building to help me remember.

Resuming the Geas

No, I'm not talking about those annoying smelly birds that take airplanes out of the sky. I mean the 30-Ballpark Geas, which resumes today in Houston.

The last game I attended really showcased the Cubs ability to blow a game, but at least were in first place; so they are today after beating Houston last night 4-2. I'm looking forward to either a 2-0 season opening, or at least having enough beer that it doesn't matter.

Photos and results tomorrow afternoon.

Reading a METAR

Here's an interesting meteorological aviation record (METAR) code, describing unusual events in Chicago for this late in the year:

KORD 060151Z 02020G25KT 1/2SM R14R/4000V5500FT SN FG BKN006 OVC012 01/M01 A2971 RMK AO2 PK WND 02027/0118 SLP066 SNINCR 1/1 P0012 T00061011 $

Hmmm....what does all that mean?

KORD: That's Chicago O'Hare International, the offical weather station for my home city.

060151Z: The record is from the 6th at 1:51 Zulu, or 8:51 pm CDT. Twenty minutes ago.

02020G25KT: The winds are from the north (20°) at 20 knots gusting to 25 knots. This is officially known as "inside-out umbrella speed." More locally, at least in my world, it's known as "Parker-would-you-@&%(*!-hurry-up" speed.

1/2 SM: Visibility is half a mile. (R14R/4000V5500FT means on runway 14R visibility is variable betwen 4000 ft and 5500 ft.)

SN FG: There is snow and fog.

OVC012: There is an overcast cloud layer at 1200 ft above the ground, roughly around the 70th floor of the Hancock Center.

01/M01: The temperature is a balmy 1°C with a dewpoint of -1°C, just the right temperature for really heavy and wet snow. And fog.

A2971: The barometric pressure (altimeter reading) is 29.71 inches, indicating a low pressure zone.

RMK: Remarks follow. Oh, do they.

PK WND 02027/0118: There was a peak, 1-minute wind of 27 knots at 01:18 Zulu, 8:18 pm CDT.

SLP066: Sea-level pressure was 1006 hPa. Because Chicago is less than 200 m above sea level, though, this isn't the most helpful measurement. Nor is it the most interesting remark; no, that's:

SNINCR 1/1: Snow is increasing rapidly at the rate of 1 inch per hour. Yummy.

P0012: A total of 0.12 inches of precipitation fell in the last hour. Snow, though. In April.

T00061011: More precisely than reported in the "official" METAR, the temperature was 0.6°C and the dewpoint was -1.1°C.

$: The weather instruments need maintenance, no doubt because they're dumbfounded that there's a blizzard on April 6th.

So now you have a thorough explication of the current METAR code describing for pilots the weather that (a) they shouldn't really fly through and (b) I just walked my dog in. In April.

My friend in Kyiv, which was 15°C and sunny today, actually sent me a message to laugh at me. Kyiv. The capital of Ukraine. Which actually has spring weather in April.

I'm going to go cry now, and thank the Baseball Powers that Be for scheduling the Cubs opener tomorrow in Houston.

Even bad news helps about buses

I've come out in favor of the CTA Bus Tracker because it provides very helpful information when you need it. Like recently, as I watched the #22 pass my winter office while getting my coat on, I checked the next bus time. Fourteen minutes. Phooey. What about the #36, which passes a block away? "Arriving." Yep, I can see it passing a block away. Next one in 16 minutes. Phooey.

The problem is, it's a 15-minute walk.

So while the CTA Bus Tracker saved me waiting in the cold for longer than it would take to walk home, the CTA itself spaced the buses so far apart that any advantage from having the information was lost by having to walk home after all.

And yes, the next #22 passed me right on time as I walked past my home stop.


Elected office as a criminal enterprise...that's the Chicago way!

U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald announced a new, 16-count indictment (pdf) of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich today, with a new twist:

The RICO conspiracy count alleges that Blagojevich personally, the Office of the Governor of Illinois and Friends of Blagojevich were associated and, together, constituted the "Blagojevich Enterprise," whose primary purpose was to exercise and preserve power over Illinois government for the financial and political benefit of Blagojevich....

As part of the racketeering conspiracy, Blagojevich allegedly permitted [defendants Christopher] Kelly and [Tony] Rezko to exercise substantial influence over certain gubernatorial activities, as well as state boards and commissions, knowing that they would use this influence to enrich themselves and their associates. In return, Kelly and Rezko allegedly benefitted Blagojevich by generating millions of dollars in campaign contributions and providing financial benefits directly to Blagojevich and his family.

Look, I know Chicago tolerates a certain, baseline level of corruption, but it's usually like calling your alderman to get a pothole fixed in exchange for, you know, a couple-two-tree votes in April. But this? Yeah, even Chicagoans recoil at the brazenness. Let's all just hope Fitzgerald doesn't pull a Spitzer...