Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Tuesday 30 September 2014

For more than four years, I have not failed to post an above-average number of entries each day. Since its official launch in November 2005, I've averaged about 1.28 entries per day. As of the last entry, the 39th for September, the average was 1.25. This makes it 1.33.

It's a simple target, really: 40 or 41 per month, depending on the number of days in the month. Since one of the stated purposes of the blog is to encourage daily public writing, meeting this target is almost a requirement.

Someday, probably early in 2015, the average daily rate will exceed 1.32, and I'll have to write 41 or 42 per month to keep the long-term trend positive. And someday I'll slip. But not this month. Oh, no. This month, I'm posting 40.

See you in October.

Tuesday 30 September 2014 08:17:11 MDT (UTC-06:00)  |  | Blogs#

Little coincidences like this amuse me. I'm currently flying over Kansas, and I just got a New Republic update containing a readout by John Judis on the conservative hell that is below me:

And yet for all his easygoing appeal, [Republican Kansas governor Sam] Brownback—who has long been fascinated by John Brown—is a true radical at heart. According to the author Jeff Sharlet, Brownback became involved with the Fellowship, a secret group that fused political conservatism with fervent Christian belief, as early as 1979, when he was an intern for Dole in the capitol. When he ran for Congress in 1994, he became a vocal leader in the pro-life crusade. And once in Washington, Brownback positioned himself even to the right of Speaker Newt Gingrich, admonishing Gingrich for failing to balance the budget and championing a bill that would have eliminated four Cabinet departments. In 1996, after Dole resigned from the Senate, Brownback won Dole’s seat. As a senator, his greatest triumph came when he led the charge against Bush’s Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, whom he suspected of being squishy on abortion.

After he had ousted the moderate Republicans, Brownback was able to push an ideologically pure agenda with almost no real opposition. He obtained the power to nominate judges. He reduced tax cuts on the wealthy even more: The rate for the top bracket fell from 6.45 percent to 3.9 percent, and Brownback promised to eventually reduce it to zero when revenues from other sources made up for any potential losses. The economic benefits, he boasted, would be immense.

By June of 2014, the results of Brownback’s economic reforms began to come in, and they weren’t pretty. During the first fiscal year that his plan was in operation, which ended in June, the tax cuts had produced a staggering loss in revenue—$687.9 million, or 10.84 percent. According to the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department, the state risks running deficits through fiscal year 2019. Moody’s downgraded the state’s credit rating from AA1 to AA2; Standard & Poor’s followed suit, which will increase the state’s borrowing costs and further enlarge its deficit.

By the way, Thomas Frank's book about the state's descent into madness is worth a read.

Tuesday 30 September 2014 08:54:40 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Friday's fire at the Air Route Traffic Control Center outside Chicago caused massive disruptions in U.S. aviation, but the FAA handled it pretty well:

O'Hare is among the busiest airports in the world, and a main hub for United Airlines, one of the largest carriers. Hundreds of flights were cancelled, and tens of thousands of passengers delayed or stranded as the wave of flight disruptions spread beyond Chicago.

Yet by early this week, the situation was already improving. One of the FAA's most important facilities may have been badly damaged, but the agency quickly redeployed workers to other air traffic control centres. By Sunday, the agency was bragging that its controllers "safely managed about 60% of typical traffic...at O'Hare and over 75% at Midway." Those numbers continued to improve on Monday, and the FAA said it had "set a target" to return the damaged facility to full operations by October 13th.

My flight today (the one I'm on right now) got off the ground on time, with no problems. That's one of two advantages of early flights: the airplane has to be there the night before, which gives the airline plenty of time to notify passengers of cancellations or delays. (The other advantage is surface traffic. I got from my house, to O'Hare, and through security, in 48 minutes, which I think is a record for me.)

Also, I'm on one of American's brand-spanking-new 737-800s, and it's kind of cool. I wish the monitor at my seat showed something other than a hung "waiting for content to load" screen, but the larger bins, LED lighting, and new seats are all kind of cool.

Tuesday 30 September 2014 08:35:48 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago | Travel | Work#
Monday 29 September 2014

CityLabs has a cool pictoral on the evolution of Manhattan's Meatpacking District from the mid-1980s to now:

From the High Line to the expensive shops and restaurants along the old cobblestone streets, everything looks quite different from when Brian Rose first brought his camera to the Meatpacking District. A young photographer in 1985, Rose spent a few days that winter walking around the area in the mid-afternoon, after the meat markets closed and before the sex clubs opened. Right around the time Rose took his photos, one of those clubs, The Mineshaft, was shut down by the city for permitting "high-risk sexual activity" during the worsening AIDS epidemic.

Rose never got around to printing the film from that shoot—until 2012. Blown away by what he saw when compared his photographs to those same streets and buildings today, he decided to re-create each shot. The result is an incredible set of then-and-nows in the new book Metamorphosis: Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013.

The neighborhood's transformation is epic, especially if you spent time in New York over the last 30 years.

Monday 29 September 2014 13:20:06 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | Photography#
Sunday 28 September 2014

It's a beautiful fall Sunday in Chicago.

Except the Bears lost to the Packers. Oh well.

Sunday 28 September 2014 17:41:39 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Chicago#
Saturday 27 September 2014

Yesterday morning, someone set fire to the Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Aurora, Ill., effectively shutting down half the country's aviation:

Brian Howard, 36, remains hospitalized with self-inflicted wounds following the incident that grounded nearly 2,000 flights in Chicago and wreaked havoc on air travel nationwide. He is expected to survive.

The effects of the fire will continue to be felt at both Chicago airports through the weekend as stranded travelers scramble to find seats on other flights. United Airlines, the biggest carrier at O'Hare International Airport, said it may cancel up to one-third of its 480 scheduled O'Hare departures on Saturday.

The fire caused all radio frequencies to go dead and prompted the center to shift to its back-up system until it was shut down completely by the evacuation, employees said. The stoppage brought both O'Hare and Midway airports to a complete standstill. The FAA halted all flights in the Chicago area as well as flights heading to the region.

Such a scenario - called "ATC Zero,'' short for a complete halt to air traffic - hasn't occurred since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, officials said.

The Aurora ARTCC (called "Chicago Center" over the air) monitors all flights within a couple hundred kilometers of Chicago, including all approaches to and departures from O'Hare and Midway. That one employee can do this suggests there might be some avenues to improving security at the ARTCC...

I'll be interested to learn how much this cost the airlines. Thousands of flights cancelled in one day, at a major hub airport for the two largest airlines in the world? Not going to be pretty.

Saturday 27 September 2014 12:05:55 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation | Chicago#
Friday 26 September 2014

And it's 5pm. And I'm still working on Thursday's work. Ex-cellent!

While I'm figuring out what part of the week I missed, read about how a group photographers explored subterranean London.

Friday 26 September 2014 17:08:08 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | London | Photography#
Thursday 25 September 2014

Last night I got to see the Cubs win their home closer. I'll have photos this weekend.

After the game I played a game of Euchre at a local pub, and got dealt an extraordinary: Right bower, left bower, trump ace, trump king, off ace. This hand is literally the second-best hand possible in the game. (Having trump queen instead of an off ace would be best.*) I made only one mistake: instead of slamming down all five cards at once and grinning stupidly, I slammed down the top four cards, grinned stupidly, and then got upbraided by my partner for not dropping the whole load at once.

We went on to win the game 10-4, so my partner didn't upbraid me much.

Fun night.

* As a reader pointed out, this is not technically true. Any other trump card would have the same effect as the off-ace, since any other trump in the game would be exposed when I played the right and left bowers. Yes, my readers are that nerdy.

Thursday 25 September 2014 15:03:01 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

CityLabs' Laura Bliss wonders if straight-sided pint glasses should go away:

Let's start at the beginning. A shaker glass was, and is, the 16-ounce glass half of a Boston cocktail shaker. They've been stocked behind bars for mixing drinks since the early 20th century, long before their takeover of American draft, as if waiting in the wings.

Enter the post-War years, a time when American beer entered a long, steady decline. Prohibition had forced the vast majority of small breweries out of business, leaving mostly larger brands like Schlitz, Anheuser-Busch, and Coors in operation. If you wanted a draft beer, this meant you were kind of drinking yellow, flavorless stuff—and in large quantities, since it had such low alcohol content.

Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at The Brooklyn Brewery and author of the Oxford Companion to Beer, surmises that this dearth of quality beer (though with plenty of mass-market brew to go round) was the shaker glass's opportunity to rise. Why bother with a fancy glass when you're drinking nothing special? "Complaining that your glass wasn't good enough for your beer would have been like complaining your paper plate wasn't good enough for Wonder Bread," he says.

[The proper] glass is a tulip, Oliver explained, in which the beer's complex flavors and aromas can escape, and where a nice head of foam can form. The shaker glass, detractors point out, functionally negates both of those things from happening, with its wide mouth and straight edges. Fancier glasses do more to promote the beer's aesthetic qualities.

On the other hand, the glasses are very convenient for bar owners, they're sturdy, and they're unpretentious. So no, they're not going anywhere.

Thursday 25 September 2014 14:58:04 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 23 September 2014

A friend living in Greensboro, N.C., flagged a Times article about North Carolina's struggling to deal with the influx of northern progressives:

Last year, aided by a new Republican governor, Pat McCrory, the legislature enacted one of the most far-reaching conservative agendas in the country, passing a “flattened” income tax that gives big breaks to the wealthy as well as new rules that limit access to voting, expand rights for gun owners and add restrictions for abortion providers.

And yet, in a tight race that could decide control of the United States Senate, it is Democrats who hold the advantage here in registered voters. Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is preparing to face Thom Tillis, the state House speaker, a Republican, and Democrats have 2.7 million registered voters to the Republicans’ two million. About 1.8 million registered voters are not affiliated with a party.

The North Carolina of 2014, it seems, is neither red nor blue, but a shade of deep Dixie purple. It is a state where Republicans could retain control of the legislature for years, thanks to an aggressive 2011 redistricting and also because of white conservatives’ abandonment of the Democratic Party after years of post-Civil War fealty.

But it is also a state where a modern-day Democratic candidate like Ms. Hagan — or even like Hillary Rodham Clinton — may still dream of a statewide victory.

I remember the big joke in the Triangle was about the town of Cary. The name, locals said, stood for "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees." Seems like the Yankees might have busted out.

Tuesday 23 September 2014 13:20:26 EDT (UTC-04:00)  |  | US | Raleigh#
Monday 22 September 2014

Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel explains, it depends:

No doubt today (September 22) will be announced as the “first day of fall” because of the fall or autumnal equinox. However, that concept refers to the date when we get equal amounts of daylight and dark.

Climatologists and meteorologists prefer to use calendar months to define the four seasons in the US. For example, fall would start September 1 and end on November 30. Not only is this more convenient, because you can use monthly data, but it lines up better with the typical or average temperature pattern for Illinois. Unfortunately, the meteorologists would describe this three-month period as “meteorological fall”. However, I would argue it is “climatological fall” since we are looking at long-term average to determine the season.

In summary, while the four equinox and solstice events are interesting, they are not really the best way to define the start of seasons in Illinois. Starting dates of March 1 for spring, June 1 for summer, September 1 for fall, and December 1 for winter are better aligned with the climatological data.

But if you prefer to use the September equinox as your official beginning of fall, that event will take place at 21:29 CDT (02:29 UTC) tonight.

And for you pagans out there, may you have a balanced and warm equinox.

Monday 22 September 2014 17:09:37 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Astronomy#

Poor Parker. I picked him up from boarding yesterday afternoon, and he had to go back again this morning. I've got a one-day trip to Pittsburgh early tomorrow morning. So not a lot of time at home.

Today's lighter at work than any last week, fortunately. Just prepping for tomorrow.

I'm hoping for a more regular, Chicago-based schedule once my project kicks off again.

Monday 22 September 2014 11:09:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Travel | Work#
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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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