Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 21 August 2014

Philip Shorer on the Atlantic's CityLab blog argues for a 4-day work week:

Beyond working more efficiently, a four-day workweek appears to improve morale and well-being. The president of the UK Faculty of Public Health told the Daily Mail that a four-day workweek could help lower blood pressure and increase mental health among employees. Jay Love of Slingshot SEO saw his employee-retention rate shoot up when he phased in three-day weekends. Following this line of thought, TreeHouse, an online education platform, implemented a four-day week to attract workers, which has contributed to the company's growth.

In this scenario, employees still work 40-hour weeks, but they do so over the course of four days rather than five. This arrangement still sounds sub-optimal, though, as working at full capacity for 10 hours is more demanding than doing so for eight. Despite that, the employees at Stephens’s company still preferred 40 hours in four days to 40 hours in five days. They might be even happier—and work even better—if they worked fewer hours in addition to fewer days.

Of course, counting travel, as a consultant I frequently do four 10-hour days followed by an 8-hour day. Cutting one of those out might be a good thing.

Thursday 21 August 2014 16:01:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Business#

The Wall Street Journal explains why the Cubs can sell 38,000 seats and only get 19,000 asses in them:

Since 2009, ticket sales are down almost 6,500 a game. Where have all the Cub fans gone?

The answer may be that they've in effect awakened from a beer-soaked party.

Over the first four years of Ricketts ownership, attendance sank 13.7%. It is flat so far this year versus 2013, but the figures don't include the legions of no-shows. "I have plenty of friends with tickets who can't get rid of them," said Jon Greenberg, executive editor of Team Marketing Report.

Count me in that group. After sitting through six innings of last night's sad 8-3 loss against the Giants (in which the Giants hit and fielded better than any team I've seen this season), we left shaking our heads. We've still got tonight's game available, plus the 4:05 pm back half of Tuesday's game, but we can't sell them. The Cubs will count our tickets as "paid attendance" even though no one will be using them.

It's even odds whether we're going to renew our season tickets next year, especially if the Cubs don't drop the prices. Unfortunately, it's even worse odds that the Cubs will end the season out of last place.

Thursday 21 August 2014 09:05:36 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Baseball | Cubs#
Wednesday 20 August 2014

I'm waiting for Azure to provision a virtual machine for me, so I thought I'd solve a nagging annoyance.

Even though I travel a lot, I don't have a good carry-on-sized bag. My medium-sized travel bag, which has been around about ten years, goes into the hold of the airplane and sometimes I don't see it again for an hour after landing at my destination. This is especially irksome when I go on a 3-day business trip.

So I've been thinking about replacing my medium-sized bag with a smaller one. I've got it nailed down to two: the REI Wheely Beast Duffel and the Travelpro Luggage Crew 9. Both are about the same size, have good (independent) reviews, cost about $150, and would allow me to donate my current medium-sized travel bag to whomever wants it. (That last bit is because the bag actually belonged to an ex.)

This isn't the biggest decision I'll make all year, but the reduction in irritation it brings will be welcome, especially given the number of 3-day business trips I expect to take this fall.

Wednesday 20 August 2014 10:47:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Travel | Work#
Tuesday 19 August 2014

I had planned to write today about aviation weather radar, being an accidental landlord in Chicago, or the latest plan to replace a burned-down grocery in my old neighborhood. Instead, I'm going to gush a little about my new phone.

I've used a Windows HTC-8 for almost two years now, and I've been frustrated with it nearly the whole time. Today, while waiting out a thunderstorm at the local T-Mobile store, I decided to pick up a Samsung S5.

Instead of complaining about the HTC-8, I'll link to a comparison, and then list these things that made me giddy earlier today:

  • I have all the applications I've been missing again.
  • Android has a new, combined inbox for email they didn't have before, so I still get all my mail in one place. (This was the best feature of the Windows 8 phone.)
  • Wi-Fi calling.
  • Combined SMS and Google Hangouts.
  • An app to archive SMS. I've lost all my SMS messages for the past two years because Windows 8 doesn't have any way of extracting them.
  • Google Maps.

I could go on, and no doubt I will, but it's late in the day and I have to play with my phone some more.

Tuesday 19 August 2014 17:00:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Monday 18 August 2014

And wow, is it frustrating.

I mentioned last week that my cousin, a professional musician, had replaced his old stage piano and given me the old one. I implied but never stated explicitly that I took many years of piano lessons as a child, ending about 30 years ago. Off and on since then I've picked up some music and banged away at it in a practice room—I was a music major for a year, after all—but I haven't done anything of significance in such a long time I'd almost forgotten what it was like.

So I've been practicing again, and it's incredibly frustrating.

Take Petzold's simple Menuet in G that ever kid learns. In only two or three playings, I could get my right and left hands to sail through it independently at about 132 to the quarter note. Putting them together even at 108 was excruciating, however. Fingers on one hand would fire out of sequence while the other hand stammered along like a wounded cicada; transitions I'd practiced two dozen times would fall apart for no reason; my mind would go blank for half a second causing the whole edifice to fall. And this is the 16-bar Petzold menuet, not a freakin' prelude and fugue, FFS.

Yes, this is normal, I know. It's just that I'd forgotten. And also that I'm doing pieces every 10-year-old can do. But after only a couple of hours, I got two Petzold menuets back to fighting strength (at least until the next time I practiced), so it's more encouraging than discouraging.

And finally, I'm experiencing the chagrin that adults have always felt. Remember when your parents told your teenaged ass you'd kick yourself for giving up piano/horseback riding/competitive Yahtzee when you got older? They were right.

Monday 18 August 2014 11:43:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Writing at The Dish, Freddie deBoer argues that we made police misconduct inevitable:

But as we did with the presidency, the military, the intelligence services, and soldiers, we responded to 9/11 by buffeting our police officers with obsequious respect and endless displays of extreme gratitude. We feted them at football games and through parades in their honor. We plastered stickers celebrating them on our cars. We exhorted each other to “thank a first responder today.” We set about to create a culture of unwavering, unquestioning, credulous support for our police, and that has everything to do with today’s problems.

None of this should be surprising. In times of crisis, people often retreat to militarism, nationalism, and extreme respect for authority.

[W]hen you give any group carte blanche to do what they want, and make it clear that you will support them no matter what, how can you be surprised when they abuse that generosity? It’s human nature: people who are subject to little or no review will inevitably behave badly. No group can be expected to police itself; that’s why the foundation of our democracy is the separation of powers, the way in which different parts of government are expected to audit each other. Ultimately, though, the most important form of audit comes from the people themselves. Only the citizenry can ensure that our systems remain under our democratic control, and this function is especially important concerning the conduct of those who have the capacity to legally commit acts of violence– and to define for themselves what acts of violence are legal, whether those definitions are official or merely ad hoc. Well, we have abdicated that responsibility, and in that vacuum, misconduct, brutality, and corruption have rushed in. The problem is endemic. I don’t believe that all cops are bad, or even the majority, but I also don’t believe that this is a “few bad apples” problem. A few bad apples could not cause a problem as widespread and constant as the one we’re witnessing now.

I really hope the pendulum has started swinging back to center.

Monday 18 August 2014 11:23:30 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 17 August 2014

The Chicago Air and Water Show may not happen today because of rare weather conditions:

[T]he Chicago National Weather Service said "rare low clouds" are impacting the Air and Water show. Low clouds have a ceiling height of 1,000 feet, the weather service said. Only 2 to 3 percent of August days have had low clouds since 1973, the weather service said.

Now, skipping the foggy understanding of weather terms and government agencies the ABC reporter showed in that paragraph, it doesn't look good for the show. Right now conditions the lakefront has low instrument meteorological conditions due to a 125 m ceiling (somewhere around the 60th floor of most downtown buildings) and 6 km visibility. The latest forecast calls for more clouds.

We've had a cool, wet summer, following a record-cold winter, so Lake Michigan is just a huge fog maker lately. Yesterday was warm and sunny, but in the past 12 hours a low pressure system has passed directly overhead bringing northeast winds and draping a cold front across the region. It's 6°C warmer in Aurora and Kankakee than it is in Waukegan or Racine, for example.

So, thousands of people are disappointed today. Still, it's quiet and cool in Lincoln Park right now. That's not a horrible outcome.

Sunday 17 August 2014 13:38:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Weather#
Friday 15 August 2014

Two of my favorite authors, Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan, recently had a long phone conversation (which Harris transcribed) about Israel. I haven't finished reading it, but as I respect both men, I consider this a must-read.

Also, I'm back in Chicago, possibly for two whole weeks. That said, the Cleveland Client was pretty happy with our work and may move to the next phase, so I may be going back there soon.

Friday 15 August 2014 10:46:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World | Travel | Work#
Thursday 14 August 2014

I mentioned over a month ago that, given some free time, I would fix the search feature on Weather Now. Well, I just deployed the fix, and it's kind of cool.

I used Lucene.NET as the search engine, incorporating it into the Inner Drive Gazetteer that underlies the geographic information for Weather Now. I won't go into too many details about it right now, except that I was surprised at how much the index writer was able to crunch and store (in Azure blobs). The entire index takes up 815 MB of blob space. That's so small a fraction of a cent per month I can't even calculate it right now.

The indexing process took about 6 minutes per 500,000 rows. (The entire database has 7.25 million rows.) It helped that I ran the indexing process on an Azure virtual machine, because at one point during index optimization I clocked the data throughput at 200 Mbps. Yes, two hundred megabits per second. The entire index ran in a little less than two hours on a VM while I was doing other things. And once the index initializes in the Weather Now app, searches only take a second or so.

Go ahead. Try a search. Put in your ZIP code or the name of a prominent building near you.

I still have a lot I want to do with the application, including updating it to a responsive theme and MVC, but this is a pretty big leap.

Thursday 14 August 2014 16:23:11 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Cloud | Cool links | Weather | Windows Azure#

On Saturday, an 18-year-old black man was shot to death while running away from a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, the town has imploded.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an editorial yesterday calling on Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to get involved. The governor put out a statement saying nothing of substance.

Meanwhile, the New Republic has three stories in the last 24 hours:

Add James Fallows to the list of people (of whom Radley Balko has done the most reporting) saying "enough with the militarization of police!"

The events in Ferguson this past week should make all Americans nervous. This isn't who we are. At least, not since the civil rights crackdowns at the end of the Jim Crow era. Enough.

Update: Josh Marshall is calling Ferguson an example of the Hollywoodization of policing, while Dilbert creator Scott Adams wants the U.S. military to disarm the Ferguson police.

Thursday 14 August 2014 09:45:42 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US#
Wednesday 13 August 2014

Yep. As I feared, the Indians game last night got postponed, but not before the Tribe got ahead by one. And then:

In the moments shortly before the Tribe's game against the D-backs was postponed, [Cleveland players] Aviles, Kipnis and Chisenhall sprinted from the dugout, ran across the tarp and slid headfirst through the puddles and raindrops to the delight of the fans who remained. It was an entertaining ending to a game that was wiped out following a delay that lasted three hours and 40 minutes.

Cleveland's lone run came courtesy of an RBI double in the third inning by Kipnis, who no longer has that hit on his statistical record.

That may or may not have made him easily swayed by Aviles.

"I lost my double, so I was emotional. And an RBI," Kipnis said with a smirk. "I didn't know which way was up. I was easily influenced."

So, everything that we saw there yesterday...didn't count. Because in baseball, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes...it rains.

Regardless, thanks to the Cleveland Client for taking us to Progressive Field. And in no small irony, the tickets we used were from a previous rain-out, so if they want, the people who took us can go to the game today at 4:05 pm. Which—wait for it—might be rained out.

Wednesday 13 August 2014 08:51:56 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Baseball | Travel | Weather | Work#

Really a sad week in American entertainment. Lauren Bacall died today at 89.

If you haven't seen To Have and Have Not, stream it tonight:

Tuesday 12 August 2014 22:12:12 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
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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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