The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mama took it away after all

The last Kodachrome processing machine is gone:

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced [to Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas], transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: "The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010."

I used the film for close to 90% of my color work from 1983 to 2000, when I took my last Kodachrome photo at Lake Sacandaga, N.Y. Red always made the most striking Kodachrome slides; I don't know if a scanner exists that can duplicate it:

Boston Public Garden, 10 May 1986

But wow, was that film hard to use. It had an exposure latitude of about 1 stop, meaning you had to hit the exposure dead on to get a usable shot. A slight underexposure bias seemed to yield richer colors, so I always set my meter down a third of a stop (to ASA 80 when using Kodachrome 64, for example). And it was slow, so slow; until Kodachrome 200 came down in price in 1986, I used 64 (or even 25) most of the time. As side effect, it forced wider apertures to use reasonable shutter speeds in anything but bright sunlight. And at about 60c per shot (including developing), it led to more considered shooting. I probably wouldn't have gotten this using a digital camera or a faster film, for example:

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, Burlington, Vt., 26 September 1992

I miss Kodachrome, but not enough to keep shooting with it. I just hope the dyes last for another 50 years or so, and that sometime before they fade too much I find a scanner that can capture their true colors.

Rolle, Switzerland, 17 June 1992

Facebook cross-posting

I keep getting asked about my Facebook notes: why did I leave out the punchline? Where's the rest of the post? Why do you post three at once at odd hours?

The simple explanation: I post on my blog, The Daily Parker, throughout the day; Facebook reads the blog's RSS feed at 8-hour intervals; and the RSS Feed only has the article blurb. Facebook also rearranges embedded links and photos, so sometimes pictures attached to blog entries just seem to vanish.

Fascinating, no?

Health Care and the Commerce Clause

Constitution scholar and writer Garrett Epps lays out the case for the constitutionality of requiring Americans to "maintain a minimum level of health insurance." Well, for starters, it doesn't:

This snappy apothegm is the logical equivalent of saying that the Defense Appropriations Act "requires that every United States citizen, other than those who leave the country, engage in accepting a minimum level of protection by the United States military." The provisions of the Health Care Act provide a benefit. The majority of Americans, who already have health coverage (and seem, by and large, to regard this coverage as worth bargaining for) will simply see improvements in their existing health care benefits, such as an end to lifetime benefit limits and the right to include older adult children on their policies. A significant number of others who are currently uninsured will become eligible for government-funded health insurance.

There will remain a small but significant number of Americans who can afford health care insurance but choose not to buy it. But contrary to the sound bite above, even they are not required to "maintain a minimum level of health insurance." If they wish to keep their uninsured status, they may do so by paying an addition to their income tax bills--ranging from as little as $695 for an individual taxpayer to $2085 for a family of six or more. The claim that the government is "forcing individuals to buy a commercial product" is worse than spin; it is simply false.

He sums up:

The doctrine under which the Act is being assailed quite simply constitutes a threat to most of the significant advances in federal law of the past 100 years: federal pension programs, national wildernesses and parks, consumer protection, environmental regulation, and most particularly statutory guarantees of civil rights.

It's not coincidental that right now Ron Paul laments the Civil Rights Act and that Haley Barbour speaks fondly the segregated South, that anti-immigrant extremists target birthright citizenship, or that right-wingers seek to wreck the Constitution with an old-South style amendment letting states repeal federal laws. A decision to void the Act would furnish a powerful precedent for those who would "restore" a libertarian dreamland that never existed, and that for most of us would quickly become a nightmare.

The next year will be interesting. The U.S. might become a 21st-Century nation. Or we might remain the only developed country without this basic protection.

148 years too late

Via Bruce Schneier, a retired CIA codebreaker recently decoded a message sent to Confederate Lt. Gen. John Pemberton in July 1863:

The encrypted, 6-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton's surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.

The message is from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton.

"He's saying, 'I can't help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there,'" Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright said of the author of the dispiriting message. "It was just another punctuation mark to just how desperate and dire everything was."

That day, 4 July 1863, the Union not only captured Vicksburg but also prevailed at Gettysburg. Historians generally agree the two victories effectively ended any possibility of the Confederacy winning the war, though they would continue to fight for another 20 months.

The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:

"Gen'l Pemberton:

You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen'l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy's lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch from General Johnston."

The last line, Wright said, seems to suggest a separate delivery to Pemberton would be the code to break the message.

The news story has more details about how they found the message, and how they broke the code.

Chicago sunrise chart, 2011

Welcome to the semi-annual update of the Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at

Date Significance Sunrise Sunset Daylight
3 Jan Latest sunrise until Oct. 29th 07:19 16:32 9:13
27 Jan 5pm sunset 07:08 17:00 9:51
5 Feb 7am sunrise 07:00 17:11 10:11
20 Feb 5:30pm sunset 06:40 17:30 10:50
27 Feb 6:30am sunrise 06:29 17:39 11:09
12 Mar Earliest sunrise until Apr. 17th
Earliest sunset until Oct. 26th
06:08 17:54 11:45
13 Mar Daylight savings time begins
Latest sunrise until Oct. 19th
Earliest sunset until Sept. 19th
07:07 18:55 11:48
17 Mar 7am sunrise, 7pm sunset
12-hour day
06:59 19:00 12:00
20 Mar Equinox 18:21 CDT 06:55 19:03 12:08
3 Apr 6:30am sunrise (again) 06:29 19:20 12:50
13 Apr 7:30pm sunset 06:14 19:30 13:15
22 Apr 6am sunrise 06:00 19:40 13:39
11 May 8pm sunset 05:35 20:00 14:25
16 May 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:05 14:35
15 Jun Earliest sunrise of the year 05:15 20:28 15:13
21 Jun Solstice 12:16 CDT
8:30pm sunset
05:16 20:30 15:14
27 Jun Latest sunset of the year 05:18 20:31 15:12
3 Jul 8:30pm sunset 05:20 20:30 15:09
17 Jul 5:30am sunrise 05:30 20:24 14:53
9 Aug 8pm sunset 05:53 20:00 14:06
17 Aug 6am sunrise 06:00 19:48 13:48
29 Aug 7:30pm sunset 06:13 19:30 13:16
15 Sep 6:30am sunrise 06:30 19:01 12:30
16 Sep 7pm sunset 06:32 18:59 12:27
23 Sep Equinox, 03:05 CDT 06:39 18:49 12:10
26 Sep 12-hour day 06:42 18:42 12:00
3 Oct 6:30pm sunset 06:50 18:30 11:39
13 Oct 7am sunrise 07:01 18:13 11:12
22 Oct 6pm sunset 07:11 17:59 10:48
5 Nov Latest sunrise until 5 Nov 2016
Latest sunset until Feb 29th
07:28 17:40 10:12
6 Nov Standard time returns
6:30am sunrise
Earliest sunrise until Feb 28th
06:29 16:39 10:10
16 Nov 4:30pm sunset 06:41 16:30 9:47
2 Dec 7am sunrise 07:00 16:21 9:20
8 Dec Earliest sunset of the year 07:06 16:20 9:14
21 Dec Solstice, 23:30 CST 07:15 16:23 9:08

You can get sunrise information for your location at

What I *should* have asked Santa for

Throughout my career in software development, I have spent many, many hours in meetings. Endless meetings. Soul-sucking meetings. Insurance companies are the worst, and they hire lots of developers, which just increases the aggregate lifetime meeting time-suck of the average developer.

It's fun to figure out after the meeting not only how much time just disappeared from the universe, but also how much it cost. So I am overjoyed to discover that Scott Adams sells this on his website:

When meetings are running nearly four hours long and your coworkers are sharing tales of their weekend escapades or botched nose jobs and you'd rather just be sitting at your cube getting some actual work done, motivate people to stay on task with TIM...Time Is Money calculator.

I'm not alone in wanting this. The item is on backorder until—I am not making this up—groundhog day.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Reader MB sent some art from Murphy, N.C.:

She writes:

[I] saw your request for winter wonderland pictures on Facebook and thought you may be interested to see what Murphy, N.C., looked like during the past few days. We were supposed to get a max of 8 cm on the 25th according to initial reports, but I think the total was closer to 40 cm as of 10am [Monday] morning when the sun finally decided to show its face.

Meanwhile, the rest of the East Coast continues to dig out. Today's snow pack map from NOAA's snow center still shows pretty heavy coverage from Maine to the Carolinas:

New bits up at Weather Now

I've just pushed out an interim build of the Inner Drive Technology demonstration project, Weather Now. In addition to fixing a couple of annoying bugs, I added a significant new feature. The weather lists on the home page now can show whatever text I want for the weather station names. Before, it could only show their official designations, which made the lists harder to use.

You can see how useful this is immediately. The list of NFL football games now shows you what game the weather goes with. Also, I added arbitrary sort ordering and station begin/end times, so the lists you see today may not be the same as the lists you see tomorrow.

These features take the site a half-step closer to the next major release, due at the end of January, that will allow you—yes, you—to set up your own lists. That feature set will take a while to develop, which explains why I wanted to get this half-point release out first.

Didn't like your gifts? Amazon has a patent for that

I'm not entirely sure what I think of this:

Amazon is working on a solution that could revolutionize digital gift buying. The online retailer has quietly patented a way for people to return gifts before they receive them, and the patent documents even mention poor Aunt Mildred. Amazon's innovation, not ready for this Christmas season, includes an option to "Convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred," the patent says. "For example, the user may specify such a rule because the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user." In other words, the consumer could keep an online list of lousy gift-givers whose choices would be vetted before anything ships.

The proposal has also brought into focus a very costly part of the e-retailing business model: Up to 30 percent of purchases are returned, and the cost of getting rejected gifts back across the country and onto shelves has online retailers scrambling for ways to reduce these expenses.

Amazon's patent is 12 pages long, with numerous diagrams, including a "Gift Conversion Rules Wizard" that shows how a user could select rules such as, "No clothes with wool." The document makes for curious reading, reducing the art of gift giving to the dry language of patentry.

So, someone buys you a gift through Amazon, who in turn send you an email warning you about the gift, so you can take the money the other person paid and apply it to something you would prefer. That seems kind of...rude, don't you think?

On the other hand, it might cut economic deadweight loss around the holidays....

The patent is number 7,831,439.

Always look on the bright side of airports

The Economist's Anthony Gardner didn't mind getting stranded:

Sure, there were dark moments. The first came with the news that our delayed flight from Cairo to Heathrow was being diverted to Brussels; the second, when we learnt that all the airport hotels were full. But thereafter things began to look up. Though it was after midnight by the time Egyptair despatched us to the Hotel Le Plaza in the city centre, its elegant lobby told us that we had landed firmly on our feet.

Brussels—a city I had never previously had a chance to explore—looked magical through a veil of snowflakes. The scene at the Grande Place could not have been more Christmassy: a large, brightly-lit tree; a life-size crib with real sheep; stalls selling Glühwein and waffles. As we feasted on moules et frites in a cosy restaurant with an open fire, our ordeal felt like a holiday at someone else’s expense.

In fairness, one should note that Brussels' city center and Newark's airport have different, ah, characteristics. A year ago I had a 13-hour delay at Heathrow—but I also had an Oyster Card. Never mind my winter coat was in checked baggage; I popped out of the Tube at Piccadilly, bought a warm-enough jacket for £20, and spent the day wandering London.

This demonstrates a problem with most American airports: they aren't near anything. We joke about Newark, but at least from there you can catch a commuter train straight to Penn Station in midtown Manhattan. If you're stuck at LaGuardia or Kennedy, you're really stuck, unless you're happy taking a bus for an hour or taking the A train through some "colorful" parts of New York.

Chicago, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, and to some extent Philadelphia have relatively easy access from the airport to the interesting parts. Stuck at Mid-Continent International? Maybe you find yourself at Hartsfield for a few hours? Enjoy. At least you're not in Denver International, an hour away from the city by car, without any reasonable transit options.

So, sure, Mr Gardner had a delightful time stranded in Brussels. Who wouldn't, in his circumstances? I only hope that my friends who can't get home today and can't leave the airport either manage to stay sane.