Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 21 November 2014

Chicago's temperature dropped below freezing last Wednesday morning and has stayed there since. It's -13°C now, the coldest it's been during this period.

Fortunately some warmer, wetter air is pushing in from the south, and should arrive after midnight. The forecast calls for sustained 9°C temperatures (and non-stop rain) from Saturday morning through Monday afternoon, when another cool air mass will slide into the region and freeze us out again.

Welcome to winter in Chicago. Warm rain and frigid dryness, for three months.

Friday 21 November 2014 07:09:47 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Via the Illinois State Climatologist, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center has released the latest outlook for December through February:

First, there are two important notes about the winter forecast. One is that El Niño has not arrived yet, and if it does, it is expected to be mild.

The other point is that the current conditions are not always a reliable predictor of future conditions. In other words, just because we are having a cold November (9 degrees below average), that does not doom us to another cold winter. To give a recent example, November of 2012 was 1.3 degrees below average, while the following winter of 2012-13 was 3.0 degrees above average.

The first panel shows the temperature odds for December-February, our core winter months. Southern Illinois has a slightly elevated chance of colder-than-average temperatures as does most of the southern states. There is a stronger chance that temperatures will be above-average on the West Coast and Alaska.

The El Niño was earlier forecast to be slightly stronger than the current forecast has it, which is disappointing. We're still experiencing frigid temperatures here, and it's not even December yet. El Niño can mitigate the cold in Chicago if it's strong enough. Now it looks like we're going to have the usual amount of chill. Fie.

Thursday 20 November 2014 18:55:58 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Thursday 20 November 2014

Yes, I'm actually in training this week that is required of everyone at my level. This morning we did an exercise on meeting planning. Our table came up with the following responses to the "Meeting Expectations/First Five Minutes" part:

  • Show appreciation for the meeting: "Mr. Wirtz, thank you for taking some time to meet with me today."
  • Confirm available time for meeting: "You mentioned you had about 15 minutes this morning. Is that still the case?"
  • Offer a look back...how did we get here? "As you will recall, yesterday we discussed releasing my godson from the personal service contract he has with you, in exchange for $10,000 in cash."
  • Briefly state the goals / objectives for the meeting: "I was hoping that we could revisit that conversation today, and that you would reconsider your position."
  • Agenda: "To help us meet these goals, I thought the following agenda might help us. First, I will make you an offer you can't refuse, and second, you will sign the release my attorney has prepared."
  • What other areas to be covered? "I assure you, if you do not consider my offer, you will cover the release in a personal and compelling way."
  • Brief introductions of...
    • Your firm's capabilities: "I am not sure you know about my organization, but perhaps I could provide a brief overview."
    • Your team/colleagues in the meeting: "Let me introduce you to my colleague, Luca Brasi."
  • Have a few "Killer Questions" that initiate dialogue: "Now that you understand Luca's role in this meeting, would you please sign this release now?"
  • Listen, be present, and probe; be "sincerely curious" in your follow-up questions: "I insist that this is the best offer you will ever receive from me, and I am eager to learn your position on it immediately."
  • Begin to wrap up with a few minutes remaining: "Thank you for your time. I am pleased that we were able to come to an agreement so quickly."
  • Summarize what you have heard: "I understand that you are also pleased with the outcome, and that $2,000 is a sufficient release fee, as we have just agreed."
  • Define specific next steps and, if appropriate, schedule follow-up meeting: "You will very likely not see me again, but I assure you, if a subsequent meeting is needed, perhaps because you have discussed this meeting with your colleagues or the Attorney General, Mr. Brasi will follow up with you in a timely and decisive fashion."

The other scenarios we batted around the table were more, ah, risqué, to say the least.

Thursday 20 November 2014 10:35:07 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Jokes | Kitchen Sink | Work#

Mayor William Ogden inaugurated the Galena & Chicago Union R.R. on this date in 1848:

In the fall of 1848, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad began laying track. On November 20, a group of distinguished citizens boarded Chicago’s first train. They sat on wooden benches in a pair of crude baggage cars, pulled by a wood-burning steam engine. Ogden gave the signal, and they chugged off at a breath-taking fifteen miles-per-hour. In a half-hour they reached the end of track, eight miles out on the prairie, in what is now Oak Park.

Ogden had provided the rides for free, as a publicity stunt. And it worked–the riders were enthusiastic. On the way back to the city, two of the passengers spotted a farmer driving a load of wheat and hides behind a pair of oxen. The passengers were merchants. They had the train stopped, bought the wheat and hides, and hauled in the railroad’s first load of freight.

The railroad evolved into the Chicago & North Western, and then got absorbed into Union Pacific in the 1990s. But it still runs down the same track along Lake Street—the right-of-way first laid out 166 years ago.

Thursday 20 November 2014 10:00:32 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Geography | Kitchen Sink#
Wednesday 19 November 2014

Since we can't really see it in the middle of November in Chicago, here's what we're missing, sped up 58 times:

Wednesday 19 November 2014 06:56:34 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Astronomy#
Tuesday 18 November 2014

A couple of incidents recently got me to look up some teaching materials I created just after college to teach high-school students the basics of logical argument. Specifically, I wanted them to learn the names of basic logical fallacies to arm them against irrational persuasion (e.g., religion, politics, and advertisements).

The two most egregious arguments made in my presence within the past few days used arguments to pity and to the people, and in one case someone made an argument that a prima facie argument to force was, in fact, a meaningful choice. Here is what those terms mean, and how the arguments were made.

An argument to pity (argumentum ad misericordiam) is an appeal to your compassion rather than to your logic. It looks like this:

  • "These children are suffering; give us money to help them." (Giving the person money may not do anything to help the children; the appeal is trying to short-circuit your bullshit detector by making you feel bad for the kids.)
  • "Please don't give me a bad grade for this assignment, because bad grades will trigger my depression." (It's unfortunate that the student will feel down because of the grade; but that's not an argument in favor of a higher grade.)

An argument to the people (argumentum ad populi) is an appeal to your sense of belonging, or not wanting to be left out:

  • "Buy our product because all the cool kids have one." (The merits of the product and the cool kids' decision to buy it are completely separate concepts.)
  • "Four out of five people agree our gum tastes better." (Whether you find the gum tasty has nothing to do with anyone else's opinion.)

An argument to force (argumentum ad baculum) is an appeal to your self-preservation; it's a threat, not an argument:

  • "Clean your room or you're grounded." (There is no evidence about the benefits of cleaning your room, only a threat if you fail to clean it. The kids liked this example the best, I'm told.)
  • "Use our product if you don't want morning breath." (The advertiser shows a link between something he calls “morning breath” and the mouthwash, but does not define “morning breath.” Instead, he plays on the audience’s fear that “morning breath” will harm their social standing. Fear, in this case, is a force.)
  • Your grandmother says, "Eat this or I'll kill you." (She has not made an argument about the value of eating her food; she has made a threat, which is irrational. Also, if she were Jewish, she would have said "Eat this or I'll kill myself," which is also a threat of force.)

So, the person I overheard said, "Even if someone holds a gun to your head, that's still a choice." No, it's not; it's a mortal threat, which completely removes the possibility of choice.

I don't expect that people will refuse to make decisions based on these fallacies, but I have a fantasy that people will at least recognize that they are not rational arguments. Doing something on the basis of an irrational argument is, it follows, irrational. And people who learn to recognize these fallacies have a better chance of making rational choices instead.

Tuesday 18 November 2014 17:41:31 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

We're joking in Chicago right now that we've skipped November and December and gone straight through to mid-January. Only, it's not really a joke, as temperatures early this morning got down to -12°C, almost 11°C below normal for November 18th—and, in fact, 3°C below normal for January 18th.

Moreover, the Northern Hemisphere today has greater snow cover this early than at any time since 1966. Fully 50% of the Continental U.S. is covered by snow, which is more than 3 times average.

Does this mean we'll have a colder-than-average winter? No. Chicago's forecast calls for above-normal temperatures this weekend followed by seasonal (read: above-freezing) temperatures through the first week of December. That will make Apollo's next performance, the wreath-laying ceremony at the Art Institute the day after Thanksgiving, more bearable.

This week has been barely bearable, though. But we press on; we persevere; we get our FitBit numbers in, even though bits of our bodies have frozen off.

Tuesday 18 November 2014 13:55:53 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#
Monday 17 November 2014

A pretty Dutch village outside Amsterdam is really a nursing home for dementia patients:

Today, the isolated village of Hogewey lies on the outskirts of Amsterdam in the small town of Wheesp. Dubbed “Dementia Village” by CNN, Hogewey is a cutting-edge elderly-care facility—roughly the size of 10 football fields—where residents are given the chance to live seemingly normal lives. With only 152 inhabitants, it’s run like a more benevolent version of The Truman Show, if The Truman Show were about dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Like most small villages, it has its own town square, theater, garden, and post office. Unlike typical villages, however, this one has cameras monitoring residents every hour of every day, caretakers posing in street clothes, and only one door in and out of town, all part of a security system designed to keep the community safe. Friends and family are encouraged to visit. Some come every day. Last year, CNN reported that residents at Hogewey require fewer medications, eat better, live longer, and appear more joyful than those in standard elderly-care facilities.

There are no wards, long hallways, or corridors at the facility. Residents live in groups of six or seven to a house, with one or two caretakers. Perhaps the most unique element of the facility—apart from the stealthy “gardener” caretakers—is its approach toward housing. Hogeway features 23 uniquely stylized homes, furnished around the time period when residents’ short-term memories stopped properly functioning. There are homes resembling the 1950s, 1970s, and 2000s, accurate down to the tablecloths, because it helps residents feel as if they’re home. Residents are cared for by 250 full- and part-time geriatric nurses and specialists, who wander the town and hold a myriad of occupations in the village, like cashiers, grocery-store attendees, and post-office clerks. Finances are often one of the trickier life skills for dementia or Alzheimer’s patients to retain, which is why Hogewey takes it out of the equation; everything is included with the family’s payment plan, and there is no currency exchanged within the confines of the village.

What are the odds that something like that could happen in the U.S. health-care system? When they're ringing my curtain down, I want to move to the Netherlands.

Monday 17 November 2014 11:58:37 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US | World#

And no, I didn't lose a bet.

Monday 17 November 2014 09:26:10 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Work#
Sunday 16 November 2014

I didn't even realize until just now I failed to post anything yesterday or today. I guess the weekend intervened. (Maybe the 18,000 steps I took yesterday had something to do with it.)

This coming week I'll be in all-day training from Tuesday to Friday, which may have some effect on posting. Or not, depending on how interesting the training is.

Sunday 16 November 2014 16:11:49 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | Work#
Friday 14 November 2014

While not the Polar Vortex of yore, it's definitely colder in Chicago now, even a little below normal. In any event, Wednesday and yesterday were the first two days that failed to get above freezing since March 4th and 5th, 253 days ago.

And it snowed yesterday. Again, not horribly unreasonable for mid-November, but not entirely common, either. But nothing so far suggests that our mild summer will be followed by a really cold winter; and in fact, the long-range forecasts are pretty normal.

Friday 14 November 2014 09:49:15 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Chicago | Weather#

Damion Searls, writing for Paris Review, finds the link between language and the soon-to-be-extinct penny:

One thing we’ll lose, when the penny eventually goes the inevitable way of the half cent and the Canadian penny (extinct as of 2012), is the last possible link between our language of money and the everyday physical world.

A quarter is a fourth of a dollar, a dime a tenth (Old French dîme, Latin decima), a cent a hundredth or one percent—all math. Anyway, a cent is not a piece of money: a U.S. penny is technically a cent or one-cent coin, but in spoken language, a cent is a value and a penny is a coin. We offer someone our two cents, not two pennies; pennies can clink in your pocket, cents can’t. (When Americans adopted the British term penny in 1793, they took over the distinction, too: in England between pennies and pence.)

As for penny, its etymology is uncertain, though the ending implies a Germanic origin—the word used to be penning, with an -ing, like shilling and farthing, instead of a -y. The root may be Pfand, which turned into the English word pawn meaning “a pledge or token”: in that case, penny basically just means money. Or it may derive from the German Pfanne, “pan,” the round metal thing that you cook in. My head says it’s pawn: the pan pun sounds like classic folk etymology that somebody simply made up. But my heart belongs to Pfanne: surely the original coin goes back to some concrete reality, an object of actual use.

That said, the American penny isn't going anywhere. It's going to keep coming back like a bad...yeah.

Friday 14 November 2014 09:01:38 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink | US#
Thursday 13 November 2014

The Atlantic's CityLab blog brings us the work of Ignacio Evangelista, who has photographed European border crossings abandoned after the Schengen treaty came into effect:

Evangelista has photographed many of these checkpoints over the last couple of years. Aptly titled "After Schengen," his project reinforces the suddenness with which many of Europe's border crossings went silent. Brightly colored vehicle gates remain at some boundaries, but they stand open, implying a warmer "Welcome," rather than "Stop!" (the latter can still be found on weathered signs and asphalt).

Despite the irrationality sometimes associated with national borders, the Schengen Treaty is as much an anomaly as it is an achievement. Many nations within the Schengen Area—Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Spain, France, and others—once represented a web of ambitious empires. The sudden abandonment of border crossings displayed in Evangelista's work, therefore, offers a reminder that Europe is in fact enjoying an historic era of peace.

I love borders. I have an idea for a coffee-table book, exploring borders and boundaries at various levels of abstractions, that I may just do someday.

One of these borders will surely be in the Baltics. The weirdest border checkpoint I saw was in Talinn, Estonia, at the ferry terminal. Finland and Estonia are both in the Schengen zone, but 25 years ago they were practically different civilizations.

Thursday 13 November 2014 14:08:33 CST (UTC-06:00)  |  | Geography | Photography#
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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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