The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sun-Times beats Tribune in race to entropy

The Chicago Sun-Times has filed for Chapter 11 protection:

The publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and other Chicago-area papers emphasized that it will continue to operate its newspapers and online sites as usual "while it focuses on further improving its cost structure and stabilizing operations" during the Chapter 11 financial reorganization.

Tuesday's filing can't be characterized as a surprise. Many observers have marveled that the company has been able to stay on its feet as long as it has, given the pressures it faces.

What will replace newspapers? I orry that too many people forget why we have newspapers in the first place.

CTA Bus Tracker

Despite recently complaining about public transit in Chicago, I have to say I like, the Chicago Transit Authority's online bus tracker. It's a public-private venture with Google, and I think everyone benefits.

In fact, I'm writing this blog entry because I have 11 minutes before my bus comes, and it only takes me 4 minutes to shut down my laptop and get to the bus stop. This, I think, is the epitome of efficient labor markets.

All right, maybe not the epitome, but certainly a good example of them.

When stupidity just isn't a complete answer

Via TPM Muckraker, the Boston Globe reports today that the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation moved from bonds into stocks just before the market fell last fall:

The agency refused to say how much of the new investment strategy has been implemented or how the fund has fared during the downturn. The agency would only say that its fund was down 6.5 percent - and all of its stock-related investments were down 23 percent - as of last Sept. 30, the end of its fiscal year. But that was before most of the recent stock market decline and just before the investment switch was scheduled to begin in earnest.

... Charles E.F. Ponzi Millard, the former agency director who implemented the strategy until the Bush administration departed on Jan. 20, dismissed such concerns. Millard, a former managing director of Lehman Brothers, said flatly that "the new investment policy is not riskier than the old one."

...The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation may be little-known to most Americans, but it serves as a lifeline for the 1.3 million people who receive retirement checks from it, and the 44 million others whose plans are backed by the agency.

The agency was set up in 1974 out of concern that workers who had pensions at financially troubled or bankrupt companies would lose their retirement funds. The agency operates by assessing premiums on the private pension plans that they insure. It insures up to $54,000 annually for individuals who retire at 65.

Josh Marshall pointed out two things: first, this is akin to an insurance company taking out hurricane policies and investing the premiums in beachfront property; and second, perhaps most relevant, Charles Millard was formerly the head of Lehmann Brothers.

Now imagine if Shrub had gotten his wish to privatize Social Security....

Kindle zeitgeist

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wrote this evening about his own thoughts about physical books vs. Kindle:

I've always been an inveterate collector of books. Not in the sense of collectibles, but in the sense that once I buy a book, I never let it go. As I made my way through adulthood it was while dragging a tail of several hundred books along with me.

... Don't get me wrong. Book books still have some clear advantages. Kindle is a disaster with pictures and maps. But I didn't realize the book might move so rapidly into the realm of endangered modes of distributing the written word. I was thinking maybe decades more. The book is so tactile and personal and much less ephemeral than the sort of stuff we read online.

I thought about this also. I love books. I have two shelves yet to read, in fact, and it would be a lot easier to take them on trips with me if they weighed 290 grams instead of, say, 100 times that. Still not completely sold, though. Maybe next month.

Ah, Chicago in the spring

This morning, consistent with other early spring mornings I remember from years past, Chicago is having a blizzard. We're on the backside (in so many ways) of a low-pressure center, getting some fresh spring breezes (41 km/h gusts out of the north), delightful spring warmth (0°C with a windchill of -6°C), and a gentle sodden wet heavy snowfall.

In other happy news, the New York Times health blog yesterday reported 86,000 emergency room visits each year by people who tripped over their pets:

That translates into about 240 people who are treated for injuries caused by pets every single day in the United States, [a CDC] study found.

Cats are involved in some of the falls, but dogs — man's best friend — are the real culprits, responsible for seven times as many injuries as cats, often while they’re being walked, the report found.

I can attest that dogs bolt sometimes, surprising both dog and owner when the dog's increased kinetic energy encounters the owner's dug-in heels.

An unexpected beneficiary of economic slowdown

The Economist reports that traffic to Internet dating sites is up:

[A]long with discount retailers and pawnbrokers, online-dating sites such as and have seen business look up. There are several theories to explain why. It may be that people have more time to devote to their private lives as the economy slows; that uncertain times increase the desire for companionship; or that living alone is expensive, whereas couples can split many of their costs.

At OkCupid, which is aimed at a more casual, youthful crowd, there has been a jump in membership ... says Sam Yagan, OkCupid's boss. ... OkCupid has the advantage of being free, which has proved popular with people looking for partners for what Mr Yagan euphemistically calls "cheap entertainment." After all, if you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend, he says, "you can just play Scrabble instead of going out for the evening."

(Is that what people call it these days? "Hey honey, wanna get a triple word score?")

The dangers of cut-and-paste coding

Last night, while studying for an economics exam, I took a moment to execute the following SQL against a client's production database:

UPDATE table_name
SET column_a = 'Equipment', column_b = 'Equipment'
WHERE column_a = 'Boojums'

UPDATE table_name
SET column_a = 'Borfins', column_b = 'Equipment'
WHERE column_a = 'Nerfherders'

The client called this morning to ask why the application suddenly had two different types of equipment, one which looked suspiciously like a collection of borfins.

You can see what I did, of course. I copied the first statement and forgot to change the copy's second argument. And I quite deservedly looked stupid.

What makes this even funnier: I executed the statement against a staging server first, carefully (I thought) checked the results, and then executed it against the production server. This is why having someone else do quality assurance is a good thing for most programmers.

Again with the broken parking meters!

The city of Chicago, apparently responding to citizen complaints, has started fixing broken parking meters on its own and billing the company:

Indications of a more urgent approach to fixing the problems became apparent Monday morning when the Tribune observed meter inspectors and repair personnel working downtown.

It followed a Tribune story on Friday that exposed the broad scope of the problems and how drivers and business owners are angry at the city, which watched rates quadruple this year as part of a 75-year deal to lease 36,000 meters to Chicago Parking Meters LLC for almost $1.2 billion.

There's not much more in the article. But I have to wonder, will the city actually collect the money it bills? And if not, will the city boot the company's office building?

The perfect crime?

Via the New York Times Freakonomics blog, Germany's Der Spiegel reports an unusual acquittal:

German police say at least one of the identical twin brothers Hassan and Abbas O. may have perpetrated a recent multimillion euro jewelry heist in Berlin. But because of their indistinguishable DNA, neither can be individually linked to the crime. Both were set free on Wednesday.

... DNA [found at the crime scene] led to not one but two suspects -- 27-year-old identical, or monozygotic, twins with near-identical DNA.

German law stipulates that each criminal must be individually proven guilty. The problem in the case of the O. brothers is that their twin DNA is so similar that neither can be exclusively linked to the evidence using current methods of DNA analysis. So even though both have criminal records and may have committed the heist together, Hassan and Abbas O. have been set free.

Of course, society's to blame, but this is kind of cool.

Know your enemy

Though, as Mark Morford explains, you need to choose one first:

Communists had their turn. Feminists. Hippies. Then came the evil homosexual people, with their famous, much-lauded agenda to destroy the holy sanctimony of Christian marriage via encouraging girls to smoke and listen to punk rock, teaching interior decorating to straight boys and convincing innocent church pastors and Republican senators to fellate them in cheap motel rooms. The horror!

But no longer. Proposition 8 and The Ugly Mormon Uprising of 2008 notwithstanding, the gays have nearly completed their vile mission. They are everywhere. They are almost normal. ...

Which leaves us a gaping hole, an urgent question in need of an answer. Who's next? Whom will the pseudo-moralists in America accuse of trying to convert our innocent children to their depraved ways? ... Will it be, say, the polyamorists? Vegetarians? Yoga teachers? Polyamorist vegetarian yoga teachers who like anal sex and Ecstasy and really strong coffee? We must ponder. We must find out.

I less-than-three Morford.