Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Sunday 19 October 2014

And still in London. Postings should resume tomorrow.

Sunday 19 October 2014 14:11:04 BST (UTC+01:00)  |  | London | Travel#
Thursday 16 October 2014

This is only my 7th time at O'Hare in the past month, but since two of those times were yesterday and the day before, it feels like I just never left. Today, though, I'm going to the Ancestral Homeland. That makes it all better.

Well, almost. I mean, it's still O'Hare. And Heathrow isn't exactly the jewel in the British crown, either. And so far this week I've flown the equivalent of a trans-Atlantic trip already.

No matter. Boarding in 20 minutes; dinner in London tonight. Mustn't grumble.

Thursday 16 October 2014 08:06:05 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | London | Travel#
Wednesday 15 October 2014

The New Republic today looks into the Mormon practice of baptizing dead people, and the church's related efforts to preserve genealogical information:

“The core concept of why this church cares so much about genealogy stems back to the notion that families can be eternal organizations past death,” [Jay] Verkler, [CEO of Family Search, the Mormon organization that manages the vault's records and promotes genealogy throughout the world], explained. “Members of the church seek out their ancestors because we think we have a duty to them to help them understand this gospel that we understand, and we think we can actually be together.”

The church’s most ambitious project is its online tree. Anyone who logs in to Family Search may record and research his or her family history there, but what distinguishes this tree from all the other online services is that the church is trying to connect all the branches, using its massive records and the activities of users to build a big tree of all of humanity. The endeavor must be, to some extent, possible. If anyone has the records to create this structure—a family history of all of the documented individual members of the human race, this group does. But the distinctive element of the LDS tree is that it’s collaborative: People can log on and add names and link them to documents and write personal stories—and once they have done that, their fifth cousin once removed may also jump online and edit that information, changing a relative’s name, linking it to other documents, or deleting the story altogether. No one I spoke to at Family Search seemed to think this would be a problem, but surely everyone’s version of her own family is different from that of her cousins?

In the religion I'll someday build a church around—The Church of Latter-Day Atheists—people will be able to make a record of their ancestors and note that the ancestors truly don't care about the living, for the simple reason that the dead don't have anything to care with. But hey, if the Mormon church wants to spend tens of millions on building a complete genealogical database, mazel tov. A few centuries from now either everyone alive today will be Mormon or no one will. I'm not sure how either side of that divide will prove it, though.

Wednesday 15 October 2014 12:06:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Religion#

Ubiquitous WiFi is of the benefits of flying on American's new 737-800s, especially on 4-hour flights between the West Coast and Chicago. And early-morning flights have a large proportion of business travelers. So imagine the collective despair of all the laptop-toting worker bees on my flight this morning when the entire entertainment system (which includes WiFi) was dark and inert.

Then, suddenly, the entertainment system rose like Frankenstein's monster and a wild hope leapt into our hearts.

Yes! We can post to Facebook from this airplane.

Oh, and we can work on our PowerPoint presentations, too. Yay.

Wednesday 15 October 2014 11:32:41 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 14 October 2014

Microsoft's Scott Hanselman provides a list:

"Knowing computers" today is more than just knowing Office, or knowing how to attach a file. Today's connected world is way more complex than any of us realize. If you're a techie, you're very likely forgetting how far you've come!

The #1 thing you can do when working with a non-techie is to be empathetic. Put yourself in their shoes. Give them the tools and the base of knowledge they need.

  • Backup everything. Is your entire company on your 10 year old computer’s desktop? Look for Backup options like CrashPlan, DropBox, OneDrive, etc. Literally ANYTHING is better than leaving documents on your computer’s desktop.
  • Learn to use search to find your files. Press the Windows key and just start typing on Windows, or use Spotlight (Command-Spacebar) on Mac.
  • Don’t CC more than 10 of your friends or neighbors. At that point, consider another way to talk to them. Some of your friends may not want their email given to the world. Perhaps this is a time to use BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) so you don't expose everyone's email address to each other?

Techies should read this post to understand what their non-techie friends don't understand. Everyone else should just read it.

Tuesday 14 October 2014 07:57:28 MDT (UTC-06:00)  |  | Blogs | Cool links#

I'm on my first of four flights over the next week. I expected the trip I'm on right now (to L.A.), but didn't have any confirmation until Friday. The trip Thursday, to the Ancestral Homeland, was planned in late August.

Despite the efficiency of getting from home through the TSA checkpoint at O'Hare in under 45 minutes, I still really would rather have slept another two hours this morning.

One other thing: the 7am flight is popular with business travelers, as evidenced by the 26 people on the upgrade waiting list. I have never seen an upgrade waiting list that long. The only people in first today either paid for their tickets or paid for lots of others to get Executive Platinum status. I don't anticipate—nor do I especially want—that level. But it would be nice, occasionally, to get bumped up when I have work (or serious napping) to do.

Time for more caffeine...

Tuesday 14 October 2014 08:31:11 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Monday 13 October 2014

Via the Illinois State Climatologist, NOAA has put out a two-page brochure outlining the El Niño forecast for this coming winter, and its benefits to the Chicago area:

While no two El Niño events are alike, the typical winter weather pattern brings the polar jet stream farther north than usual, across Canada, while the Pacific jet stream remains in the southern U.S. As a result, the upper Midwest to Great Lakes area can be warmer than normal, with drier-than-normal conditions across the Great Lakes toward the Ohio River Valley, and with less snow than usual in the upper Midwest Confidence in these patterns is higher with stronger El Niño events.

Odds still favor an El Niño forming by mid to late fall, with a 60-70% chance of development. There is a 30-40% chance for neutral conditions to continue through this winter, with a near-zero chance for La Niña to develop.

After last year's brutal winter, the worst we've had in 35 years, the phrase "warmer and drier than normal" sounds great. I vote Yes.

Monday 13 October 2014 13:11:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

The Cranky Flyer took note of an application American Airlines filed last week requesting the Department of Transportation force Delta to give up one of its Tokyo Haneda slots:

Haneda is just much closer to Central Tokyo and is generally the preferred airport if you can get there. Plus, you avoid having to deal with Godzilla. For years after Narita opened, however, only Narita was allowed to handle international traffic. Haneda was still an incredibly important airport with 747s packed to the gills flying around Japan, but it wasn’t until the last few years that international flights were allowed to start creeping in to Haneda.

The crux of the argument is that Delta isn’t really using its [Seattle-to-Haneda] slot.... American calls it “near-dormant,” and that is true. This winter, Delta is doing the bare minimum. It’s flying one week every 90 days on the route and that’s it. In other words, between now and March 29, Delta will fly from Seattle to Haneda only 17 times. That’s nuts, but it’s technically enough to consider the slot active. What American is saying is that even if it meets the rules, we only have 4 slots and the feds should think about how to get the most value out of them.

This doesn't affect Chicago, from which American, JAL, United, and ANA all have daily non-stops to Narita. Getting to Haneda from Chicago requires a lengthy or retrograde connection that obviates the time savings in Japan. (By "retrograde," the fastest routing to Haneda from Chicago goes through Toronto.)

Speaking of Chicago aviation, as of this morning the Aurora ARTCC is back to full operations after the arson attack last month.

Monday 13 October 2014 12:13:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World | Travel#
Sunday 12 October 2014

It wasn't the fastest race ever, but at 2:04:11, it was pretty fast:

Eliud Kipchoge didn’t hesitate to press his advantage over Kenenisa Bekele in the news conference before Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

“I have more experience,” Kipchoge said.

And Kipchoge used it to drop first Bekele and then everyone else, as he won the race in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 11 seconds.

Kipchoge, who collected $155,000 for the win and a time bonus, led a Kenyan sweep of the podium. Sammy Kitwara was second in 2:04:28, with Dickson Chumba third in 2:04:32.

But for real speed, the wheelchairs can fly:

Illinois' Tatyana McFadden won the women's wheelchair race in 1:44.50. Joshua George, also of Illinois, won the men's wheelchair race in 1:32.12.

Parker and I just walked over to the course (it's a block away), and already it's like the event never happened. The logistics involved in this race are phenomenal.

Sunday 12 October 2014 15:49:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

Parker and I raced the elite men in the marathon this morning. Even with a 10 km head start, we still only got to Addison and Lake Shore at the 35-minute mark before they caught up:

The weather couldn't be better for a marathon. At race time it was 11°C and clear with a south breeze to push the runners along.

The fastest men in the world should cross the finish in about 45 minutes.

Sunday 12 October 2014 09:12:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#
Saturday 11 October 2014

It's sunny and cool, and I have no remaining responsibilities that I know of for the afternoon. So Parker and I are going for a long walk.

Oh, and: Go Giants.

Saturday 11 October 2014 13:55:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker | San Francisco | Weather#
Friday 10 October 2014

The Chicago Tribune has been plugging away on the scandal of Chicago's red-light camera program. Yesterday the city's Inspector General weighed in:

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson reported that city transportation officials identified likely causes for just three of the dozen most dramatic spikes cited in the Tribune's 10-month investigation, putting the blame on faulty equipment and inaccurate camera settings.

Ferguson said his office was unable to find reasons for any of the other anomalies, citing missing or destroyed records and his office's desire to quickly respond to public concerns raised by the Tribune's July report. The inspector general relied heavily on work conducted by the city Transportation Department and longtime camera operator Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., which was fired amid charges top company executives paid up to $2 million in bribes to win the Chicago contract.

At the same time, Ferguson said City Hall's oversight "was insufficient to identify and resolve the types of issues identified in the Tribune report."

Yes, that's right. The IG couldn't find anything because the relevant records had been destroyed. Well, except for this:

The inspector general did resolve a more recent controversy involving the red light program — disclosing that the Emanuel administration quietly issued a new, shorter yellow light standard this spring that generated 77,000 tickets that would not have been allowed before the rule change.

The administration defended the $100 tickets as valid but agreed to Ferguson's recommendation to end the new practice of issuing citations with yellow light times below 3 seconds.

Yes, Chicago's yellow lights are only 3 seconds long. That may be fine at a small intersection between two-lane roads, but it's completely inadequate for larger intersections, according to proposed standards.

It's also dangerous. And when intersections become less dangerous, red-light cameras cease to be effective. It's a strange phenomenon.

Friday 10 October 2014 16:36:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Politics | US#

Over the next 10 days I have four long flights, one round-trip to Los Angeles and one to London. Even though I'll have to work a bit on all four of them, I'm also getting ready to have some quality reading time. (In fact, there will be at least one afternoon in London spent reading and drinking beer, as usual.)

To start, I've added two challenging books to my Kindle: Cervantes' Don Quijote (in the original Spanish) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (in the original Middle English). I've never read either; both will push me linguistically. (And now that I'm thinking about it, I'm also adding a Spanish-English dictionary...)

Also, I've sent these articles to the device:

The L.A. trip was expected, as it's a follow-up to the trip I took last week, but it's still weirdly timed. And poor Parker will be boarded forever. Of course, when I take the recycling out to the alley, clearly I've been gone forever when I return, so that's not exactly a neutral benchmark.

Friday 10 October 2014 11:29:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | London | Travel#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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