Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 3 March 2015

Yeah, when my friend sent me an email about "Spocking the five" yesterday, I read it a couple of times before giving up, too. But the Bank of Canada has no problem with it:

It turns out there's not a lot of logic in the belief that it's against the law to Vulcanize Sir Wilfrid Laurier's likeness on the $5 bill.

The death of Leonard Nimoy last week inspired people to post photos on social media of marked-up banknotes that show Canada's seventh prime minister transformed to resemble Spock, Nimoy's famous "Star Trek" character.

For years, Canadians have doodled Spock's pointy Vulcan ears, sharp eyebrows and signature bowl haircut on the fiver's image of Laurier, the first francophone PM.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal to deface or even mutilate banknotes, the Bank of Canada said Monday -- although the publication of a banknote's likeness is still prohibited, except under certain conditions.

In other words, you're allowed to do this:

Photo: Tom Bagley, The Canadian Press

LLAP, Canada.

Tuesday 3 March 2015 10:58:04 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | World#
Monday 2 March 2015

CitiLabs' Feargus O'Sullivan thinks London should stop looking to New York for guidance and concentrate on a city closer to home:

[L]et me outline the difficulties the U.K. capital faces. London's property prices are spiraling, products of a housing drought that's turning decent apartments affordable on a working class wage into urban legends. The city's inequality chasm is widening inch-by-inch, and once economically diverse neighborhoods risk becoming monocultures. This has helped to deaden and marginalize aspects of the city's cultural life that made London vibrant in the first place—a lesser point than displacement, no doubt, but a problem nonetheless. Meanwhile, the city's regenerative energies are ignoring the small print of daily livability and being channeled into ridiculously flashy grand projects that see the city as a mere display cabinet in which to cluster expensive, largely functionless infrastructural tchotchkes.

Does this all sound familiar, New Yorkers?

What makes [London mayor Boris] Johnson's NY-LON obsession more frustrating is that London actually has a far more relevant role model closer to home. It's a place that has strong historical connection with London, a city whose architecture and cultural life London long strove to emulate. Obviously, I'm talking about Paris.

It's worth a (quick) read.

Monday 2 March 2015 13:05:27 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | London | World#

Posting might be a bit slower than normal this week given three full rehearsals in advance of our concert at Rockefeller Chapel on Saturday.

Also, we're pretty much sick of the weather here. February tied with 1875 for the coldest ever, at -9.7°C, and third-snowiest, with 681 mm. That last comes with a star as this was one of only 6 Februaries in history in which we had snow on the ground for the whole month.

Oh, and the forecast through our concert calls for significantly below-average temperatures until Sunday, except for Tuesday, when we'll have freezing rain and snow. Yum.

Monday 2 March 2015 09:35:28 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink | Weather#
Friday 27 February 2015
Friday 27 February 2015 13:33:23 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Depending on tomorrow's weather, this month might be the coldest February in Chicago history:

As of Friday morning, the average temperature for the month was -9.33°C, surpassing the average of -9.27°C in 1936 that is currently ranked the second coldest February, according to the National Weather Service.

Could Chicago see its coldest February ever? That record, an average of -9.67°C, was set way back in 1875.

Oh, and:

This month currently ranks as the third snowiest February on record with 671 mm recorded at O'Hare International Airport. The second snowiest February was back in 1896 with 706 mm, according to the weather service.

We're overjoyed, really, this is a great honor.

Friday 27 February 2015 11:44:45 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

My old company wants to add 200 people in 2015:

A Chicago consulting firm plans to hire 200 people this year, a one-third expansion of its staff, to keep up with increased business from middle-market companies needing help with business and technology strategies.

The 200 new hires will be primarily project managers and experts in banking, retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and energy and utilities.

Of West Monroe’s 600 current employees, 400 work at the Chicago headquarters, which the company is expanding by 8,000 square feet, bringing the total space to 50,000 square feet, primarily to handle the expansion of a call center in which technologists solve clients’ problems.

Well, 200 new employees are a lot to absorb. I'm still absorbing it myself. I may have a more considered reaction later, but at the moment, I'm wondering where they expect to find 200 qualified people in the current environment.

I'll be watching this closely.

Friday 27 February 2015 11:14:25 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Work#
Thursday 26 February 2015

CityLab's Eric Jaffe takes a good look:

Let's acknowledge, right from the start, that there's a lot to like about Chicago's long-awaited, much-anticipated Central Loop BRT project, which is scheduled to break ground in March. The basic skeleton is an accomplishment in its own right: nearly two miles of exclusive rapid bus lanes through one of the most traffic-choked cities in the United States. The Central Loop BRT will serve six bus routes, protect new bike lanes, connect to city rail service, and reduce travel times for about half all people moving through the corridor on wheels. Half.

Officially, CTA says the Ashland plans are proceeding at pace. The agency is considering public feedback gathered during community meetings in 2013 and working through the "higher-than-anticipated number of comments," as part of the standard procedure for a federal environmental analysis. Meantime, CTA continues to pursue funding for the project's next design. Spokesman Steele says it's "too soon to tell" what a timeline for the corridor will be.

BRT solves the problem of getting people around quickly without building new rail lines. Chicago's geography makes BRT development a lot easier than it would be in other cities as well. It would be cool if, a year from now, I'm whizzing to the Loop in 20 minutes by bus, instead of my current 40.

Thursday 26 February 2015 12:18:01 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | US | Travel#
Wednesday 25 February 2015

This morning's -10°C temperatures weren't that much better than yesterday's, but it still felt warmer, maybe because we got all the way up to -2°C by 6pm.

The sun may also have helped:

More cold coming. Spring, too, should be here in a couple of weeks months.

Wednesday 25 February 2015 09:16:40 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Chicago's municipal election last night failed to elect a mayor:

Chicago's incumbent mayor now is destined for an April 7 runoff election against Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in an unpredictable battle over the city's future and the right way to get there.

With just 5 percent of precincts yet to report, Emanuel had 199,861 votes, a bit over 45.4 percent. He hovered at that level most of the evening.

It was agonizingly close for him, but still short of the 50 percent-plus-one vote he needed to avoid a runoff.

So, six weeks from now, we have another election. It's not clear at this point which of them will win, because all of Emanuel's challengers appear to be endorsing Garcia now.

Wednesday 25 February 2015 09:12:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US#
Tuesday 24 February 2015

The temperature in Chicago hasn't gone above freezing for 12 days, and got down to -20°C only last night. So right now, at -2°C, and with the sun out, it feels positively tropical.

Unfortunately, the forecast doesn't show us actually getting above-freezing temperatures as far out as it goes. Medium-term forecasts also show below-normal temperatures all the way out through mid-March. And in the latest bit of good news, the Great Lakes are almost 86% covered in ice, close to the record of 94.7% set in 1979. For perspective, a year ago the lakes got up 93% coverage and the last ice didn't completely melt until June 12th.

So, we could be in for another chilly spring and cool summer, followed by (one hopes) a mild autumn, just like last year.

And because warmer temperatures to the west of us seem to have caused this pattern to emerge both last year and this year, it could become a permanent feature of north-eastern North America's climate.

Tuesday 24 February 2015 16:24:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Between rehearsals, work, and life, I haven't had a lot of time during the day to goof off keep abreast of world developments. So here's what got sent to my Kindle just today:

Also, if you live in Chicago, go vote today.

Tuesday 24 February 2015 10:07:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | US | World | Weather#
Monday 23 February 2015

Saturday night I attended the Chicago Symphony's performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto #24 and the Requiem, both pieces I know well. I was disappointed, particularly in Riccardo Muti's direction of the Requiem.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus comprise some of the best musicians in the world. The CSC, in fact, had a reputation for being the best chorus in the world when I was growing up. But Saturday, they seemed robotic. Every note, rhythm, cutoff, dynamic, and pronunciation was perfect; and yet, the performance was boring. It was like watching a 1-0 baseball game that goes into extra innings. Every play might be perfect but the overall effect is "so what?"

Chicago Classical Review writer Lawrence Johnson heard the same thing:

Muti used the traditional Süssmayr completion as well as a now-untraditional full complement of the CSO Chorus. While grand in sonic scale, the chorus sounded top-heavy in this repertory, even with dexterous balancing.

Still, everything was technically in place, tempos well-judged and the orchestral playing as refined and responsive as one would expect, with standout turns by the basset horns of John Bruce Yeh and J. Lawrie Bloom, bassoonist William Buchman and a rich and rounded trombone solo from Michael Mulcahy in the “Tuba mirum.”

Yet the overall effect was of an emotionally cool and expressively straitened performance, lacking intensity, energy and an engagement with the spiritual drama of the mass setting. Everything emerged clearly and forcefully yet the roiling drama and interior introspection were only fitfully evident.

The CSO Chorus, directed by Duain Wolfe, performed with customary polish and corporate cohesion, though here too there was little expressive warmth and too much generalized singing in ensemble passages. Perhaps the performance will fill out over the weekend, but Thursday night it felt very much like a firmly drawn outline of the score rather than a deep and probing account of the drama within.

What would have made it better? Vocal lines that went someplace; a smaller group; and in some parts, quicker tempi.

I texted a friend later on: "Epiphany: Apollo can be a better chorus than CSC." We'll prove it a week from Saturday at our spring concert, too. (Saturday March 7th, 7:30pm, Rockefeller Chapel. Buy tickets now!

Monday 23 February 2015 09:50:16 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Kitchen Sink#

Last week, Parker's daycare and boarding facility had a serious scare when two men stole one of their vans:

The van was found abandoned near 21st and Wabash — dogs still inside — by a Good Samaritan who notified authorities. On Wednesday, two gunmen took the van, which was left running and unattended in the 800 block of West Superior, police said. Though the driver wasn’t in the van when it was taken, the robbers did point a gun at someone who tried to stop them, police said.

Joseph Giannini, owner of the dogsitting service that owned the van, Urban Out Sitters, said the incident was “probably the most devastating thing I’ve had to deal with” in 15 years of business.

He said a driver he employed was getting ready to take the dogs home when one of the armed men approached and told him to get out of the van — a story that doesn’t precisely match the version of the offense police gave later Thursday.

Late Friday night, Giannini sent out an email laying out in detail what happened:

In the video footage, the two assailants approached the vehicle. The vehicle was not running or left unattended. The driver had two keys one was in the van ashtray, the other with him on his key ring. He thought he locked the car, as we have a two key system in place. In the footage, you can see the van’s exhaust spurt out by the engine being turned over. The van was located directly near the front door of the facility (with the driver only steps away in front of the van) by the time he could get the vehicle, the two men already started the car, reversed the van, and sped away. At this point, the driver and a UOS dog walker immediately jumped into action, got in their car and bike to follow the carjacked vehicle. The driver (witness) and walker chased after the van and the driver confronted the two thieves at one of the intersecting streets near Milwaukee, Chicago and Ogden area. At this point the driver (witness) cornered them. At the vehicle one of the thieves in the van pointed a gun at the driver (witness) and told him to exit away from the vehicle. I was shocked and appreciative how he put his life in a dangerous situation by chasing and confronting the assailants. UOS is working diligently with investigators (which you can verify) to get camera footage from the blue light cameras showcasing the secondary confrontation Urban Out Sitters is also organizing a search for the two assailants by offering a reward to anyone who may know who they are.

Going forward, all of their vans and dogs will have GPS trackers on them. I'm not sure I'm thrilled with Parker having the tag on all the time when he's not at UOS, simply because I take him with me a lot. ("Ride in the CAR? Ride in the CAR? Who's a good dog?")

I'm glad the dogs got home safely, and that it wasn't as cold Wednesday night as it was other nights last week. I'm sticking with UOS as I have for 7 years so far.

Monday 23 February 2015 09:35:52 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Parker#
Friday 20 February 2015

A joint US-UK operation has obtained the master encryption keys to billions of mobile phones:

The hack was perpetrated by a joint unit consisting of operatives from the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The breach, detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document, gave the surveillance agencies the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data.

With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments. Possessing the keys also sidesteps the need to get a warrant or a wiretap, while leaving no trace on the wireless provider’s network that the communications were intercepted. Bulk key theft additionally enables the intelligence agencies to unlock any previously encrypted communications they had already intercepted, but did not yet have the ability to decrypt.

Oh, goody. Essentially, if you have a phone with a SIM card (in the U.S., that means you have AT&T or T-Mobile), the NSA and Britain's GCHQ can listen in to your conversation in real time. (The article goes into some good technical depth about the exploits and how they did it.)

Of course, they would have to be looking for you in order to do that, but still. This is the kind of revelation that (a) makes me think Edward Snowden may not have been such a bad guy after all, and (b) that because so few people care, the world is a scarier place.

By the way, I'm right now reading The Honourable Schoolboy, having finished Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in London last weekend. I'm rooting for Smiley and Westerby just the same. But you know, the USSR had 15,000 nuclear bombs pointed at us, and Western spying back then was aimed at the USSR, not at its own citizens.

Friday 20 February 2015 16:19:56 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | London | World | Security#

Yesterday was 17°C below normal in Chicago, the 8th consecutive day of frigid temperatures here, including a new record low maximum yesterday of -16°C. And while 19 states had record lows yesterday, western states are baking:

"Winter seems to have completely forgotten about us out here," Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University, told the Associated Press. "If we could find a way of sending [the Northeast] snow out here, we'd really, really appreciate that."

- Las Vegas [had a] record high of 26°C, and Reno had its warmest Valentine's Day on record (as well as a record high) when the thermometer hit 23°C. Salt Lake City (16°C) and Pocatello, Idaho (13°C) broke their daily high temperature records on Valentine's Day as well.

- Phoenix has seen high temperatures in the 80s [Fahrenheit] since Feb. 5, with the exception of one Thursday which recorded a high of 26°C.

Thank a meandering jet stream and a strong polar vortex over eastern Canada, which sounds familiar. The vortex is forecast to hang around through next week. Add frozen Great Lakes and we could have a very cool spring.

Friday 20 February 2015 10:53:25 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is the Chief Technology Officer of Holden International 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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