Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Saturday 28 March 2015

One of the biggest perks of being a CTO is that I get to roll out really fun initiatives every so often. Our CEO has a Microsoft Surface 2, and he's had such success with it that we decided to make it our official laptop replacement.

I made one moderately-annoying error in rolling out Surface Pro 3 tablets to seven people who were waiting for laptops: I failed to give the less-technical users guidance on how to set up user accounts. We're fixing it, but we still have some confusion around the idea that multiple authentication providers can use the same account name. Think about it: Microsoft and Google will both allow you to set up accounts with a gmail.com email address, and even let you use that address as the user name; but they're separate accounts, and Microsoft has no way of knowing if you've changed your Google password. But users who always set up the same account name and password (please do not do this! Get a password manager instead) get into the habit of logging in to things the same way, and don't have the mental model of the difference between a username-password combination and an actual authenticated identity.

Despite the hiccup rolling them out, they've been a success. They have about a quarter the mass of a laptop but most of the power. For most users, who rarely create 50 MB presentations and who have never tried to debug a 50,000-line MVC application, even the entry-level Surface Pro 3 is more power than they'll ever use.

After having mine a little more than a week, I have to say it's my favorite tablet so far. First, it runs Windows 8 (and in July I'm upgrading to Windows 10). So it behaves exactly like my laptop. In fact, since I use my Microsoft ID to log into both my main laptop and my Surface, all my preferences and settings are synchronized (including WiFi passwords, I was surprised to discover), making it even easier to switch between them.

Second, the keyboard and stylus work better than I was expecting. I have an ASUS 700 with a keyboard attachment that I never use, principally because the keyboard, which functions as an extension battery, weighs almost as much as the tablet. But the Surface keyboard is light and makes sense as a cover. The stylus also gives me more control over routine point-and-click tasks than I've been able to achieve on my ASUS. I'm still not as proficient with it as I am with an ordinary mouse, but I'm getting there. I'd probably like it even more if I were a graphic artist.

I've got a couple of annoyances with the device, but nothing that's a deal-breaker. I may catalog them later. For now, I'm pretty satisfied with the thing, and I'm even happier that it lets me leave my laptop at my office most of the time. If only it could drive a pair of 24-inch monitors through DVI...then I could actually develop software on it.

Friday 27 March 2015 20:02:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Business | Cool links#
Friday 27 March 2015

Under international treaties, German flag carrier Lufthansa could face huge compensation claims after one of its pilots apparently intentionally crashed an A320 into the Alps on Tuesday:

Under a treaty governing deaths and injuries aboard international flights, airlines are required to compensate relatives of victims for proven damages of up to a limit currently set at about $157,000 — regardless of what caused the crash.

To avoid liability, a carrier has to prove that the crash wasn't due to "negligence or other wrongful act" by its employees, according to Article 21 of the 1999 Montreal Convention.

That would be a difficult argument to make when a pilot intentionally crashes a plane into a mountain, and one that Lufthansa would likely avoid as it could further damage the brand, [German aviation lawyer Marco] Abate said.

Abate said that in German courts, damages for pain and suffering typically don't exceed 10,000 euros ($11,000). However, Lufthansa could face much bigger claims for loss of financial support. If the breadwinner of a family was killed in a plane crash, the survivors can sue for years of lost income, Abate said.

The difference between U.S. and European procedures might be a problem for Lufthansa. In the U.S., pilots are never left alone in the cockpit; in Europe—at least until this week—there was no comparable practice.

Friday 27 March 2015 16:23:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | World#
Thursday 26 March 2015

One of my Canadian friends has a friend who made a shrimp cannon. No kidding:

Thursday 26 March 2015 15:29:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#

Sigh. I just don't have the slacker skills required to read these things during the work day:

Continuing, now, with a database migration...

Thursday 26 March 2015 15:17:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | US#
Wednesday 25 March 2015

Yah, Utah, for finding yet one more way to take us back to the 19th Century:

In 2011, the European Union banned the export of lethal injection drugs to the United States in an effort to save America from itself. The reasoning behind the embargo was queasily naïve: Without the drugs, European legislators reasoned, American officials would be at a loss to carry out executions, and the practice would perhaps come to an end. Though the ban did slow the rate of American executions, it now seems Europe’s humanitarians underestimated old-fashioned American ingenuity. On Monday, Utah’s governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law that will allow firing squads to be used in place of lethal injections should the drugs be unavailable.

Comfort does not come any colder. It is the year 2015, and we Americans are idly musing about what particular methods kill people most harmlessly. There probably are, as Stroud and McCoy suggest, only miniscule differences in suffering when most viable methods are carried out precisely, because life is fragile and relatively easy to snuff. The bizarre reality, then, is that we are content to argue about the last two or three minutes of a person’s life, when the entire procedure of a death sentence is an experiment in torture.

The debate over particular death penalty methods obscures the cruelty of the entire scheme.

Capital punishment is, to me, a prima facie violation of the 8th Amendment. Unfortunately it's not unusual in the U.S. We're the only country in our peer group—the most advanced and powerful nations on the planet—who kill prisoners and children. It needs to stop. I'm glad Illinois ended the practice years ago, but it's not enough.

Wednesday 25 March 2015 14:07:53 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Tuesday 24 March 2015

With meetings and a new developer on the team occupying almost all my time today, I've put these things aside for the half-hour I have at 6:30 to read them:

Now to jot down some policies on our new Microsoft Surface setups...

Tuesday 24 March 2015 16:32:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US | Cool links | Windows Azure#
Monday 23 March 2015

The northern hemisphere's first full day of astronomical spring was Saturday. Yesterday, this is what it looked like in Chicago:

And here's this morning:

And, more than likely, it'll be sunny and warm on Wednesday. The snow on the ground this afternoon should be gone by then.

Chicago weather certainly builds character.

Monday 23 March 2015 14:23:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Sunday 22 March 2015

Excellent take-down of one of my least favorite historical figures by Bruce Levine:

Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

For Rand, all altruists were manipulators. What could be more seductive to kids who discerned the motives of martyr parents, Christian missionaries and U.S. foreign aiders? Her champions, Nathaniel Branden still among them, feel that Rand’s view of “self-interest” has been horribly misrepresented. For them, self-interest is her hero architect Howard Roark turning down a commission because he couldn’t do it exactly his way. Some of Rand’s novel heroes did have integrity, however, for Rand there is no struggle to discover the distinction between true integrity and childish vanity. Rand’s integrity was her vanity, and it consisted of getting as much money and control as possible, copulating with whomever she wanted regardless of who would get hurt, and her always being right. To equate one’s selfishness, vanity, and egotism with one’s integrity liberates young people from the struggle to distinguish integrity from selfishness, vanity, and egotism.

The whole thing is a good Sunday afternoon read.

Sunday 22 March 2015 12:41:56 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Religion#

Retail genetic-research company 23 And Me analyzed the genetics of the blue dress phenomenon:

For one, there was no clear genetic association with seeing either a blue and black dress versus seeing white and gold one, according to Fah Sathirapongsasuti, PhD, a computational biologist here at 23andMe.

That doesn’t mean there is no association, it just means that we didn’t find one that met our threshold for a strong association. We did see a small effect size for a genetic variant in the gene ANO6. While this may or may not be significant, it’s interesting because ANO6 is in the anoctamins gene family, which includes the gene ANO2. The gene ANO2 is involved in light perception, so this might be something that warrants further study. But as we said, the association we saw did not show a big effect. Others who’ve looked at the possible genetic influence of how people perceive the color of the dress also did not find a strong genetic association, finding, for instance, that identical twins also reported seeing different colors.

According to 23andMe’s data at around 20 years of age, customers were split evenly between those who saw a white and gold dress versus those who saw blue and black. But as customers get older the proportion of those who see white and gold increased up until the age of 60 when more than three quarters of those surveyed said they see a white and gold striped dress instead of blue and black one. This effect is more dramatic in men where the proportion of men seeing white and gold increases by almost 15% around the age of 40.

Their more detailed conclusions—or lack of conclusions—are pretty interesting.

Also, for those keeping score at home, the dress is really blue no matter what you perceive.

Sunday 22 March 2015 09:38:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Cool links#

The French abbey Mont-Saint-Michel was completely cut off from land yesterday as once-in-a-century tides flowed into the English Channel:

Tens of thousands of curious visitors have crowded historic Mont Saint-Michel and other beauty spots along the French coastline with the promise of a ‘tide of the century’, but it may not have lived up to everyone's expectations.

Anticipating a wall of water that could equal the height of a four-storey building, tourists and locals staked out positions around the picturesque landmark last night and again today, including the partially-washed out causeway as the tide retreated.

They travelled to France’s northern coast for the first giant tide of the millennium, with experts predicting that it could reach as high as 14 m - 5½ m above normal - thanks to the effects from yesterday’s spectacular solar eclipse.

And once the tide flowed out, people had the rare opportunity to walk across the salt flat to the Mont. The tides were so high that UK authorities closed the Thames barrier for the 175th time in its 30-year history.

According to the Daily Mail, "the last 'tide of the century' occurred on March 10, 1997 and the next will take place in March 2033."

Sunday 22 March 2015 08:24:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Astronomy#
Saturday 21 March 2015

In the past week I've gotten almost 100,000 steps (and 73 km ) of walking, including a few relatively long ones today. This also takes into account the 10% hit to my counts from moving my Fitbit to my left hand.

The best part of all this is that I can eat more. Like last night, when I consumed Lao's Sze Chuan in mass quantities.

As this may, in fact, be the most interesting thing I can report this weekend, maybe I need to get out more. Or stay in and read more. But I've got at least another 3,000 steps to walk before I get home.

And I'm really hungry.

Saturday 21 March 2015 18:03:15 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
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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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