Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Thursday 24 July 2014

Capital punishment is apparently not barbaric enough in itself in Arizona, where another botched execution has made national—but, strangely, not local—news:

A condemned Arizona inmate gasped and snorted for more than an hour and a half during his execution Wednesday before he died in an episode sure to add to the scrutiny surrounding the death penalty in the U.S.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne's office said Joseph Rudolph Wood was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.

The case has highlighted scrutiny surrounding lethal injections after two controversial ones. An Ohio inmate executed in January snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack in April, minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs weren't being administered properly.

Arizona uses the same drugs — the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone — that were used in the Ohio execution. A different drug combination was used in the Oklahoma case.

Josh Marshall commented, "As much as it's treated as sick or a joke, firing squad really would be a vastly more humane form of execution than the one we now have."

Or, you know, not killing people, the way they don't do it anywhere else in the West.

Wednesday 23 July 2014 21:41:12 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 22 July 2014

Downloading to my Kindle right now:

...and a few articles I found last week that just made it onto my Kindle tonight.

Oh, and I almost forgot: today is the 80th anniversary of John Dillinger's death just six blocks from where I now live.

Tuesday 22 July 2014 18:22:54 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | Kitchen Sink | Parker | US#

Business travel has certain built-in costs. All we business travelers really want in a hotel is a decent night's sleep. Alas, alas. Here's the review I just submitted to TripAdvisor about how one engineering decision can make someone want to leave and never come back:

I'm now in my second stay at the Aloft Beachwood in as many weeks. As a traveling professional, I often spend time in places without cute bistros or even sidewalks to put them on, where four nights out of seven I'm surrounded by decor I can't even describe to my gay friends without making them cry, where—just a second, I have to wave my arms in front of the thermostat.

Welcome to the Aloft, where the thermostats are programmed to destroy your sleep. I imagine this saves the hotel money. You may imagine that this choice stands proxy to innumerable others that will make you wish for the luxury of a Hyatt Place or Marriott Courtyard.

(Hold on, I have to throw something at the thermostat again.)

On my first night here, last Monday, I discovered that the hotel put motion sensors in the thermostats to save money. I discovered this because, last Monday, the A/C would turn off just as I was almost, but not quite, asleep. Like tonight, the room was too warm to turn the A/C off completely; but last Monday, I didn't discover this until Midnight, so I didn't jam the A/C down to 65 and stack pillows next to the desk.

But the staff here are great, every one of them. They're the only reason I'm giving this sleep-deprivation-chamber 3 stars. Everyone who works here has been helpful, good-natured, and truly concerned that between the A/C and the master light switch controlling all of the lights in the room (including the reading lamps), Aloft has some changes they need to make. And if I ever meet the person who made the decision to put 3-minute timers on the thermostats, I'm going to—

Dang. A/C stopped again.

I wish I were exaggerating. The hotel opened eight months ago, so they've had time to fix this. That means this is a deliberate engineering choice, like Clippy or the Ctrl-F fail in Outlook.

Also, I'm a big believer in second chances, and in travel loyalty programs. But if I can't get this solved to my satisfaction in the next hour (meaning, if I can't get my room cool enough that I can turn the A/C off so it doesn't keep waking me up), I'm out of here in the morning. There's a perfectly serviceable Marriott walking distance away.

Monday 21 July 2014 22:43:27 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Travel | Work#
Monday 21 July 2014

Since Cabrini-Green came down a couple of years ago, developers have salivated over the possibilities for the Near North area. This morning's Crain's has the latest:

Construction crews recently were busy drilling holes for the foundation of an 18-story, 240-unit apartment building at Division and Howe streets, one of several private developments sprouting just steps from the former Cabrini-Green towers.

“The skyline's going to change really quickly over there,” says Matt Edlen, director of Midwest and East Coast acquisitions at Portland, Oregon-based Gerding Edlen Development Inc., which is building the apartment tower. “There's so many possibilities for that neighborhood and how it comes together.”

It's coming together already. A Target store opened north of Gerding's site last fall, and a developer is negotiating to buy a parcel just northeast of the store and may build apartments there, says Chicago-based Baum Realty Group LLC Vice President Greg Dietz, who's selling the property. He declines to identify the developer. Chicago-based Structured Development LLC and John Bucksbaum are building 199 apartments and 360,000 square feet of retail space on the former site of the New City YMCA at Clybourn Avenue and Halsted Street. And a 190,000-square-foot retail-and-office development and new store for boating retailer West Marine are in the works at Division and Halsted streets.

Crain's, concerned exclusively with business, doesn't ask: what happened to all the previous residents? I guess, once you've gotten rid of all the poor people, they're someone else's problem.

Monday 21 July 2014 07:37:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Sunday 20 July 2014

Once the Tribune published a story about strange, unexplained spikes in red-light traffic camera tickets, even Ted Baxter could foresee the lawsuit. But even before that scandal, there was this one, which has also spawned a lawsuit:

Matthew Falkner, who received a red-light ticket for $100 in January 2013, alleges in the suit that Redflex was only able to generate more than $100 million in revenue over the last 11 years because it had bribed a city official to get the contract.

The lawsuit alleges a former employee of Redflex blew the whistle on an improper relationship between the company and a Chicago Department of Transportation official in charge of the red-light camera program and that bribes given to that city official helped secure the city's contract for Redflex.

Ah, Mayor Daley, why again did you decide to retire at the end of your last term?

Sunday 20 July 2014 13:09:24 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#
Saturday 19 July 2014

Pilot and journalist James Fallows has an op-ed in today's New York Times explaining how MH17 was following the rules:

Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off on Thursday, its crew and dispatchers would have known that a few hours earlier Ukrainian authorities had prohibited flights at 32,000 feet and below across eastern parts of their country, “due to combat actions ... near the state border” with Russia, as the official notice put it, including the downing of a Ukrainian military transport plane earlier in the week.

Therefore when they crossed this zone at 33,000 feet, they were neither cutting it razor-close nor bending the rules, but doing what many other airlines had done, in a way they assumed was both legal and safe. Legal in much the way that driving 63 in a 65-mile-per-hour zone would be.

And safe, not just for regulatory reasons, but because aircraft at cruising altitude are beyond the reach of anything except strictly military antiaircraft equipment. During takeoff and landing, airliners are highly vulnerable: They are big, they are moving slowly and in a straight line, they are close to the ground. But while cruising, they are beyond most earthbound criminal or terrorist threats.

This is why, even during wartime, airliners have frequently flown across Iraq and Afghanistan. The restricted zone over Ukraine was meant to protect against accidental fire or collateral damage. It didn’t envision a military attack.

The rebels are reportedly blocking access to the crash site, while the Ukrainian government says it has proof Russia supplied the missile that killed 298 civilians.

And with two 777 hull losses in three months, Malaysia Airlines' future is in doubt.

The drumbeat continues.

Saturday 19 July 2014 14:00:45 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Friday 18 July 2014

Stuff to read this weekend, perhaps on my flight Sunday night:

Now back to the mines. Which, given the client I'm working on, isn't far from the truth.

Friday 18 July 2014 11:55:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | US | World | Travel#
Thursday 17 July 2014

I'm still outraged at the Russian thugs who shot down MH17 today. But a couple of other things were noteworthy:

  • Someone, possibly Chinese military, infiltrated the e-QIP database that the Office of Management and Budget maintains to keep security clearance information. Schneier points out, "This is a big deal. If I were a government, trying to figure out who to target for blackmail, bribery, and other coercive tactics, this would be a nice database to have."
  • In a turn of events that should surprise no one whose IQ crests 90, it turns out that Stand Your Ground laws actually increase crime, assuming you think shooting people is a criminal act. In states that have adopted these insane laws, more people are shot to death but the overall crime rate stays the same.
  • Someday, I want to go to the Farnborough air show. So, apparently, does the F-35, which wasn't able to fly there this time.

All right. I've got about two hours until my flight leaves—yay, consulting!—and I actually have work to do. But in case I was distraught at having to stay home for three consecutive days, it turns out I get to come back here Sunday night. Again: yay, consulting!

Thursday 17 July 2014 18:18:24 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | US | World#

Rebel forces in southeastern Ukraine appear to be responsible for downing a civilian plane with 295 passengers and crew aboard. The U.S. has confirmed someone shot the plane down with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile:

An unnamed American official has confirmed that the Malaysian passenger jet that crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday was shot down, according to multiple media reports.

The official told CNN that a radar spotted a surface-to-air missile track an aircraft right before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed. According to the official, another system captured a "heat signature" right at the time the plane was struck.

The missile, suspected to be a Russian-made Buk, is capable of hitting aircraft well over 20 km above the ground; MH17 was flying at 10 km.

James Fallows reports that American airplanes have been prohibited from the area since April:

Nearly three months ago, on the "Special Rules" section of its site, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration put out an order prohibiting American pilots, airlines, charter carriers, and everyone else over whom the FAA has direct jurisdiction, from flying over southern parts of Ukraine.

Rebel forces appeared to take responsibility for the attack, even after learning the plane was civilian, but took down the smoking-gun post when they discovered it wasn't Ukrainian.

This is a developing situation, and because the crash site is in rebel-held territory, it might be some time before all the details emerge. For now, it appears that Russian separatists murdered nearly 300 people. What they hoped to accomplish by attacking an airplane is beyond me. That they downed this airplane is sickening.

Thursday 17 July 2014 18:04:16 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation | World#

Via the Economist's Gulliver blog, Airbus has taken out a patent on the worst airplane seats imaginable:

Airbus’s patent says that traditional seats cannot be narrowed any further, or the pitch reduced much more, in order to accommodate extra passengers. Therefore, carriers will have to redesign the seats if they want to cram in more flyers. Its suggestion is a fold-down saddle, a small backrest and a couple of retractable armrests. Certainly no tray-tables, underseat storage or pockets to keep your sick bag in. This, it reckons, will allow airlines to wedge a third more people on to a plane—that’s an extra 63 passengers on one of Ryanair’s Boeing 737-800s. It would only be for flights lasting "a few hours" but judging by the pictures in the patent application (above), it doesn’t look like a fun ride.

Their blog entry has an illustration that I simply can't reproduce out of sadness.

Thursday 17 July 2014 06:37:16 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Aviation#

The Atlantic's CityLab blog, of course:

For all the monorail enthusiasts out there just now learning that New York once had its own single-track wonder, put your excitement on hold. For on this date in 1910, during its inaugural journey, the monorail lurched over, sending scores of people to the hospital.

The painful incident can be traced to the slick salesmanship of one Howard Tunis, who did so well demonstrating his novel design for an electric monorail at a 1907 exposition in Virginia that he gained the attention of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. The IRT, the original operator of New York's subway line, asked Tunis if he could assemble a similar prototype for use up north. That the inventor did, and soon enough it was ready on a track stretching from a railroad station on the borough's mainland a short distance down to City Island.

Now, if I only had time to read the article...

Thursday 17 July 2014 06:31:22 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel#
Tuesday 15 July 2014

Microsoft veteran Raymond Chen explains why Ctrl-F doesn't "find" in Outlook, like it does in every other modern application across the universe:

It's a widespread convention that the Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut initiates a Find operation. Word does it, Excel does it, Wordpad does it, Notepad does it, Internet Explorer does it. But Outlook doesn't. Why doesn't Outlook get with the program?

Rewind to 1995.

The mail team was hard at work on their mail client, known as Exchange (code name Capone, in keeping with all the Chicago-related code names from that era). Back in those days, the Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut did indeed call up the Find dialog, in accordance with convention.

And then a bug report came in from a beta tester who wanted Ctrl+F to forward rather than find, because he had become accustomed to that keyboard shortcut from the email program he used before Exchange.

I'll let Chen give you the punchline.

Tuesday 15 July 2014 17:13:10 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Software | Business#

For once I'm not ranting about politics. No, check out these spite houses:

About a century ago, a Bay Area man named Charles Froling was just learning that he wouldn't be able to build his dream house. An inheritance had gifted him a sizable chunk of land, but municipal elders in the City of Alameda had decided to appropriate most of it to extend a street. So Froling sadly rolled up his blueprints and murmured, "Ah well, that's life."

No, of course he didn't do that. Having a constitution made from equal parts righteous indignation and pickle juice, the frustrated property owner took what little land he had left and erected a stilted, utterly ridiculous abode. The house measured 54 feet long but only 10 feet wide, as if a tornado had blown away two-thirds of the original structure.

They have art. I can't tell if the houses depicted are cozy or horrifying, though.

Tuesday 15 July 2014 16:47:13 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | Geography | 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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