Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 9 July 2014

The Tribune reported about half an hour ago that the Cubs have agreed to the Mayor's proposal and will scale back their signage plans:

The Cubs agreed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s requested conditions in order to present its latest renovation proposal Thursday to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, including reducing the size of signs along exterior outfield walls and to continue negotiating with rooftop owners who have said the signs will hurt their businesses, according to a City Hall source.

The changes requested by the city include reducing the size of the signs along the exterior outfield walls and increase spacing between them, as well as eliminating plans for sliding concession windows for the exterior brick wall at Waveland and Sheffield avenues. The team also agreed to drop enlarged openings in the outfield brick wall for new bullpens, a change the team previously announced.

But Crain's Joe Cahill has a snarkier view of the Ricketts' plans:

After looking over the Chicago Cubs' latest proposal for new advertising signs at Wrigley Field, I'm more convinced than ever that they're really committed to winning.

Why? Because their plan to install seven big signs at a ballpark that has been free of the visual clutter found in most big league stadiums means they won't be able to count on Wrigley Field to draw crowds win or lose. The retro charms of Wrigley Field are the reason why the Cubs have done well financially while doing poorly on the field for so many years, a rare feat for a sports franchise.

But it seems to me they're messing with a unique asset. Wrigley Field has been an annuity of sorts, generating reliable income for decades. Altering it is a risky business move.

It seems that way to us fans, too. As much as I'd like to see the Cubs in the Series, do I really have to give up historical Wrigley Field to get there? Cahill might not be joking, but only just.

Wednesday 9 July 2014 16:03:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Cubs#

For the last couple of days, I've had trouble getting to Microsoft's Azure blog. From my office in downtown Chicago, clicking the link gives me an error message:

The resource you are looking for has been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

However, going to the same URL from a virtual machine on Azure takes me to the blog. So what's going on here? It took a little detective work, but I think Microsoft has a configuration error one of a set of geographically-distributed Azure web sites, they don't know about it, and there's no way to tell them.

The first step in diagnosing a problem like this is to see if it's local. Is there something about the network I'm on that prevents me from seeing the website? This is unlikely for a few big reasons: first, when a local network blocks or fails to connect to an outside site, usually nothing at all happens. This is how the Great Firewall of China works, because someone trying to get to a "forbidden" address may get there slowly, normally, or not at all—and it just looks like a glitch. Second, though, the root Azure site is completely accessible. Only the Blog directory has an error message. Finally, the error message is coming from the foreign system. Chrome confirms this; there's a HTTP 200 (OK) response with the content I see.

All right, so the Azure Blog is down. But that doesn't make a lot of sense. Thousands of people read the Azure blog every day; if it were down, surely Microsoft would have noticed, right?

So for my next test, I spun up an Azure Virtual Machine (VM) and tried to connect from there. Bing! No problem. There's the blog.

Now we're onto something. So let's take a look at where my local computer thinks it's going, and where the VM thinks it's going. Here's the nslookup result for my local machine, both from my company's DNS server and from Google's 8.8.8.8 server:

Now here's what the VM sees:

Well, now, that is interesting.

From my local computer, sitting in downtown Chicago, both Google and my company's DNS servers point "azure.microsoft.com" to an Azure web site sitting in the North Central U.S. data center, right here in Chicago. But for the VM, which itself is running in the East U.S. data center in southern Virginia, both Microsoft's and Google's DNS servers point the same domain to an Azure web site also within the East U.S. data center.

It looks like both Microsoft and Google are using geographic load-balancing and some clever routing to return DNS addresses based on where the DNS request comes from. I'd bet if I spun up an Azure VM in the U.S. West data center, both would send me to the Azure blog running out there.

This is what massive load balancing looks like from the outside, by the way. If you've put your systems together correctly, users will go to the nearest servers for your content, and they'll never realize it.

Unfortunately, the North Central U.S. instance of the Microsoft Azure blog is down, has been down for several days, and won't come up again until someone at Microsoft realizes it's down. Also, Microsoft makes it practically impossible to notify them that something is broken. So those of us in Chicago will just have to read about Azure on our Azure VMs until someone in Redmond fixes their broken server. I hope they read my blog.

Wednesday 9 July 2014 10:26:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Blogs | Cloud | Security | Windows Azure#
Tuesday 8 July 2014

The heirs of actor John Wayne, who manage his likeness and other trademarks associated with him, have sued Duke University to resolve a long-running dispute over the name:

Duke University has been fighting with the late actor's heirs over "Duke" trademarks (restaurant services, gaming machines, celebrity licensing services, etc.) for nearly a decade, and last year, the school stepped forward after John Wayne's family attempted to register "Duke" for all alcoholic beverages except beer.

The school told the Trademark Office, "Consistent with its policies and in order to prevent tarnishment of its brand, [Duke University] does not permit use of confusingly similar marks associated with unapproved goods or services, of uncertain quality and/or unregulated by [Duke University]." Duke University, established in 1838, added that what the actor's heirs wanted to grab threatened its own hold on a variety of food products and beverages.

John Wayne Enterprises is now going to federal court over the objection, asserting jurisdiction in the Central District of California because the school actively recruits students there, raises money there, maintains alumni associations there and sells university-related products there.

One thing that the private research university doesn't do? "Duke University is not and never has been in the business of producing, marketing, distributing, or selling alcohol," states the complaint. "On information and belief, the actual and potential customer base of Duke University is vastly different from the customer base of JWE."

The actor's family now is seeking a declaratory judgment that there is no likelihood of confusion and that its attempts to register and use "Duke" alcohol will not dilute Duke University's own rights.

Later, I'll be going to the Duke of Perth to duke this out with my friend Earl.

Tuesday 8 July 2014 15:25:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | US#
Monday 7 July 2014

To lose one partially-completed airplane is unfortunate; to lose six smacks of carelessness:

Nineteen cars in a 90-car BNSF Railway Co train loaded with six 737 narrow-body fuselages and assemblies for Boeing's 777 and 747 wide-body jets derailed near Rivulet, Montana on Thursday.

Oops. At least no one was hurt.

Photo: Kyle Massick, Reuters

Monday 7 July 2014 17:06:42 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#

Via Calculated Risk, the Atlantic cautions people not to freak out about 20-somethings living at home:

More than ever, young people are living in their parents' basements.

You've surely heard that one before. The Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Republic, Salon, and others have repeated it over and over in the last few years. More than 15.3 million twentysomethings—and half of young people under 25—live "in their parents’ home," according to official Census statistics.

There's just one problem with those official statistics. They're criminally misleading. When you read the full Census reports, you often come upon this crucial sentence:

It is important to note that the Current Population Survey counts students living in dormitories as living in their parents' home.

Calculated Risk explains the economics:

This is an important point since there is a long term trend for higher school enrollment (so we shouldn't "freak out" about the reported increase in young people living at home).

And higher school enrollment generally means lower labor force participation (as I've pointed out before, the decline in the overall labor force participation rate is due to several factors, but two of the most important are aging of the baby boomers and more younger people staying in school).

Mission accomplished. I will no longer worry about Milennials living with their parents.

Monday 7 July 2014 09:23:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 6 July 2014

Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart . (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx .)

In the early part of July, we hardly notice sunrises and sunsets. Days are long, it's still light out at 9pm (in Chicago), and we commute to work in broad sunlight. About a month from now we'll get a twinge when the sun sets at 8pm, and then, faster and faster, we'll notice the days getting shorter and our morning commutes getting darker.

Meh. That's in a month. Let's just enjoy the daylight we have now.

Date Significance Sunrise Sunset Daylight
2014
2 Jul 8:30pm sunset 05:20 20:30 15:10
16 Jul 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:24 14:54
9 Aug 8pm sunset 05:53 19:59 14:06
16 Aug 6am sunrise 06:00 19:50 13:50
29 Aug 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:16
14 Sep 6:30am sunrise 06:30 19:02 12:32
15 Sep 7pm sunset 06:31 19:00 12:22
22 Sep Equinox , 21:29 CDT 06:38 18:48 12:10
25 Sep 12-hour day 06:42 18:43 12:01
3 Oct 6:30pm sunset 06:50 18:29 11:39
12 Oct 7am sunrise 07:00 18:14 11:14
21 Oct 6pm sunset 07:10 18:00 10:50
1 Nov Latest sunrise until 1 Nov 2016
Latest sunset until Mar 5th
07:24 17:45 10:21
2 Nov Standard time returns
Earliest sunrise until Mar 2nd
06:25 16:44 10:19
6 Nov 6:30 sunrise 06:30 16:39 10:09
15 Nov 4:30pm sunset 06:41 16:30 9:49
2 Dec 7am sunrise 07:00 16:21 9:20
8 Dec Earliest sunset of the year 07:06 16:20 9:13
21 Dec Solstice , 17:03 CST 07:15 16:23 9:07
2015
4 Jan Latest sunrise until Oct 29th 07:19 16:33 9:14
28 Jan 5pm sunset 07:08 17:00 9:53
5 Feb 7am sunrise 07:00 17:11 10:11
20 Feb 5:30pm sunset 06:40 17:30 10:50
27 Feb 6:30am sunrise 06:29 17:39 11:09
7 Mar Earliest sunrise until Apr 12th
Earliest sunset until Oct 30th
06:17 17:48 11:31
8 Mar Daylight savings time begins
Latest sunrise until Oct 25th
Earliest sunset until Sep 22nd
07:15 18:49 11:34
17 Mar 7am sunrise, 7pm sunset
12-hour day
06:59 19:00 12:00
20 Mar Equinox 17:45 CDT 06:54 19:03 12:08
4 Apr 6:30am sunrise (again) 06:29 19:20 12:50
13 Apr 7:30pm sunset 06:14 19:30 13:15
22 Apr 6am sunrise 06:00 19:40 13:39
11 May 8pm sunset 05:35 20:00 14:25
16 May 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:05 14:35
14 Jun Earliest sunrise of the year 05:15 20:28 15:12
20 Jun Solstice 11:38 CDT
8:30pm sunset
05:16 20:30 15:14
27 Jun Latest sunset of the year 05:18 20:31 15:12

You can get sunrise information for your location at wx-now.com.

Sunday 6 July 2014 08:55:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Astronomy#

Way back in the Ford and Carter administrations, part of my family lived in Manhattan Beach, Calif., a close-in suburb of L.A. During that period, Steven Spielberg made Jaws.

And then this happened yesterday:

A swimmer was attacked by a shark Saturday morning. The unidentified victim, described as a long-distance swimmer between 35 and 40 years of age, suffered a single bite wound on the right side of his rib cage. He was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and was described as stable.

Witnesses told authorities that the shark bit the anchovies-and-sardines bait on the hook a fisherman had thrown into the water from the edge of the pier. They said the shark was hooked for about 45 minutes and was thrashing around in the water when he bit the swimmer about 9:30 a.m.

“He was trying to get off the line,” said Capt. Tracy Lizotte, a Los Angeles County lifeguard at the beach. “He was agitated and was probably biting everything in his way and then the swimmer swam right into the shark's line.”

So, sharks rarely attack people, but this one was provoked. OK. But I used to boogie board by that pier.

Sunday 6 July 2014 08:14:07 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Saturday 5 July 2014

Nothing of political or social import this morning. Just a photo from yesterday, of my friend's 20-month-old daughter climbing up a slide. I watched this kid go up and down this slide structure like she owned it. I'm no developmental psychologist, but it sure seemed to me she was way ahead of where a 20-month-old would ordinarily be in spatial reasoning and motor control.

Plus she's damn cute:

Saturday 5 July 2014 08:40:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Friday 4 July 2014

Embattled clothing retailer American Apparel tweeted an Independence Day ad yesterday showing a stylized photo of the 1986 Challenger explosion with the hashtags "#smoke" and "#clouds." (I will not post the image here.)

Shortly after, they tweeted a heartfelt apology blaming the child that somehow they put in charge of social media. Unfortunately, they also have a child, Ryan Holiday (born in June 1987), running their entire marketing department, who threw his social media flunky under the bus to cover his own ignorance and ineptitude. The apology reads as follows:

We deeply apologize for today's Tumblr post of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The image was re-blogged in error by one of our social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event. We sincerely regret the insensitivity of that selection and the post has been deleted.

So, Ryan Holiday is an asshat (which one could infer from his writings), and obviously running with scissors in his current job. Note to Ryan: don't blame your subordinates in public for your own screw-up, especially when the purported cause of that person's mistake is a characteristic you share. And note John Luttell (interim CEO of American Apparel): Cleaning up Dov Charney's brand damage should begin with replacing your marketing director.

I wish, I really wish, more Americans knew something about history.

Friday 4 July 2014 09:21:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Business#
Thursday 3 July 2014

I love the night buses in London. Given my habit of staying on Chicago time, I've ridden my share of them. (If American 90 arrives after 11:30pm, I'm guaranteed to do so.) So today's story in the Atlantic's CityLab blog about the phenomenon made me smile:

You see, London’s night buses are actually the great, unsung glory of the city’s travel network. Compared with cabs, they’re dirt cheap (they cost the same as a regular daytime bus), come extremely frequently and cover a wide area, and go quickly through the mainly car-free nighttime streets. This could be why they’re so popular, carrying 42 million passengers a year. There’s more to them than even all that: Night buses have played a huge role in opening up London’s nightlife to everyone, especially to people whose modest means or far-flung suburban homes make cab fares seem exorbitant.

It is true that night buses often smell of kebabs, London's alcohol-sponge of choice, and they can be noisy and crammed. They’re popular with a certain group of British exhibitionists that can only really enjoy themselves by seeing their revels reflected in other people’s eyes. “I exist! I’m fun!” their behavior screams, making fellow passengers disbelieve the latter and wish the former wasn’t true. You also rub up against people you might not choose to. I was part of one ugly incident in which some guys apologized for flicking ketchup sachets at my sleeping friend, explaining that they’d only done so because they “thought he was homeless." Still, the party-on-wheels thing can be fun, and almost cozy at times. A fellow passenger once sewed up the ripped hem of my friend’s 1950s ballgown, and I’ve been not-disagreeably hit on with the immortal opener, “Would you like a chip?” Most of the time, I’ve just sat down, not been bothered by anyone, then hopped off at my destination.

Meanwhile, over at the Economist's Gulliver blog, a reminder that it can be cheaper to take Eurostar to Paris and fly from DeGaulle than to fly out of London, and what an independent Scotland might do about this:

It is a complicated issue. Although British airlines hate APD, especially as tough competition from continental European carriers for transatlantic passengers means they find it hard to pass on the whole cost to customers, there is not much evidence that low airline taxes are correlated with broad economic success. My colleague has called for a rethink of the tax; I would like to see some more evidence of its impact before joining that campaign.

Nevertheless, Alex Salmond, Scotland's nationalist first minister, clearly thinks cutting APD is a winning issue. And Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways, seems to agree. He has warned that English travellers will simply drive across the border to avoid the tax if Scotland becomes independent. Perhaps the real question is whether Mr Salmond's campaign promise, and pressure from airlines and travellers, will force David Cameron's government to reconsider its own support for Britain's high air travel taxes. I wouldn't bank on it.

London transport: always an adventure. And still better than anything in the U.S.

Thursday 3 July 2014 15:04:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | London | Travel#

Last night I got an email from Microsoft saying the Windows Azure subscription that I got through work was disabled because it had run out of credits.

Some context:

  • The Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) gives developers access to all of Microsoft's software development projects, along with a monthly credit to use Windows Azure that can go as high as $150. Because West Monroe Partners wants to make sure all of us have the right tools, we get the subscriptions with the $150 credit.
  • I activated my MSDN subscription a year ago, and so far have used only $7.25 of Azure services.
  • Yesterday I spun up a JDK 7.2 virtual machine (VM), which, at 33c per hour, was unlikely to bust my Azure credit limit. Plus, I shut it down when I was done, having used only 2 hours of computing time.

Here's what I missed when I spun up the VM:

(Click on it to see full-size.)

Even at full size you probably didn't notice the little warning box lower-right that says, in 9-point type, "You selected an image that has special pricing information. Learn more." You also probably didn't realize that the special pricing image means Microsoft will disable your Azure account if you don't give them money once you spin up this VM.

I'll skip to the end. Here is the relevant part of the message I sent to Microsoft Customer Support after I resolved the ensuing hilarity:

All right, now that I’ve managed to re-enable my subscription after wasting an hour of my life, I have four serious complaints.

Complaint #1: Shutting down an entire Azure subscription without warning because it has a 34c balance—thirty four U.S. cents—is unacceptable.

Complaint #2: The Azure account portal (account.windowsazure.com) does not work with Microsoft Internet Explorer 11. The login session does not propagate to the dialog box that takes billing information. I had to make the change using Google Chrome.

Complaint #3: The Azure account, but not the subscription, already had payment information available. Yet the portal prevented me from merely applying the existing payment information to the new subscription at the “remove spending limit” dialog box.

Complaint #4: If, despite all common sense and reason, a change to the subscription could result in the subscription being disabled without notice, a very small “Pricing Information” note is insufficient warning. The portal should have an unambiguous, impossible-to-miss step in the virtual machine configuration dialog box.

Is this looking a gift horse in the mouth? No. This is a benefit Microsoft provides developers so we developers can learn their products and sell them. So the horse isn't exactly a gift; it's a demonstrator. And for a few hours last night, mine wouldn't leave his stall.

Thursday 3 July 2014 09:47:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Windows Azure#
Wednesday 2 July 2014

Ed Kilgore thinks so:

Many fair-minded people look sympathetically at the plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases as people who just want to be left in peace to nourish their eccentric and non-scientific views about the sacred human dignity of zygotes. But it’s impossible, of course, to divorce those views from the consequences for the affected employees. And so long as such companies operate in the secular world, they benefit like other secular entities from the various investments and subsidies our society makes available, even though they seem to be asserting the right to unilaterally disregard laws and policies that allegedly violate their tender consciences.

More to the point, Hobby Lobby’s political and religious allies would if given the power to do so impose their beliefs about zygotes on the rest of us. It’s not as though a Supreme Court decision providing an exemption from the relevant provisions of the Affordable Care Act will create some sort of truce in the culture wars, or convince the Christian Right to live and let live with the wicked citizens of this sinful society. Their extremist position on abortion and contraception is, after all, just a subset of a more generalized hostility to feminism and the very idea of sexual or reproductive rights.

Seriously, I hope these decisions are more like Plessy than Bakke, and are someday (soon) seen as rear-guard actions against a liberalizing society that the extreme right can't ever hope to live in.

Wednesday 2 July 2014 09:45:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
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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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