The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

New time-wasting project ahead

Sometimes upgrading or replacing something can expose deficiencies in one's own processes.

Last week, my four-year-old MP3 player died. It's pretty sad, actually. It's tiny (20 GB) hard disk just stopped spinning. So, not wanting to hear every background conversation of everyone in my client's office, I decided to replace it.

After much evaluation I chose the Apple iPod Classic 120. Then I fired up iTunes and sync'd up my library.

It turns out, that phase in the late 1990s when I ripped all of my CDs in Microsoft .wma format—not such a good idea ten years later. It also turns out, all those CDs I ripped at 64 kHz to save space—the new iPod has good-enough sound reproduction that I can hear it. And another thing, all those album art JPEG images I routinely deleted until about 2005, again to save space—yeah, the new iPod shows album covers, but (duh!) only when they're available.

So, now that terabyte hard drives cost about $150, and I have an iPod with excellent sound reproduction and the ability to show full-color album covers, I have a new project: re-rip all the CDs I ripped before mid-2006, this time at 256 kHz and retaining the album art.

There are only 700 or so. Shouldn't take too long...

Eat, bubbe! Eat!

One of my oldest friends—I mean, 5th-grade-old—opened a restaurant this past fall: Mint Julep Bistro, 53 W. Slade St., Palatine, +1 (847) 934-3000. The Chicago Tribune has now reviewed it:

Without reservations on a recent Saturday, we waited in the intimate lounge where, to management's credit, nobody pushed apps or booze on us. But we wanted both, and it fortunately didn't take long to fill our order. There's plenty of bourbon and a lovely wine list by the glass/bottle. We bypassed the bourbon (we’ll be back for that) and ordered a glass of French viognier ($6.25) and a winter white ale ($4.25) to accompany an order of three scrumptious, sizable crab cakes ($10.50). Fall-apart tender and made with the prime meat from the claw, the cakes were further enhanced with the well-balanced remoulade sauce.

But don't fill up too much. The menu is big, with one tempting entree after another starring seafood, beef, poultry and a vegetarian platter. (We heard a grateful remark from a nearby diner, who hadn't expected that.) I opted for seafood, and the menu’s plainly titled Shrimp 'n Grits ($16) belied a far more evocative entree: Six firecracker shrimp elegantly plated with a trio of perfectly fried, crunchy-tender grit cakes in a velvety bourbon cream sauce. Rich and almost over the top. My companion’s butcher’s cut steak ($22), a grilled-to-order cut from meat above the filet, arrived with melt-in-your-mouth acorn squash and potato-andouille hash that offered a fresh departure from plain mashed spuds.

Both chefs made appearances throughout their restaurant, stopping at tables and chatting with the clientele. Nice touch.

It's a long haul from the city, but some of us have plans to go back up there again soon. Rich, the aforementioned friend, has a smoker, and the pulled pork is worth the trip.

Long way home

It seems like a month, but it's only two days, 30 km of walking, fewer mojitos than planned (probably a good thing), less sunscreen than required (probably a bad thing) and other lists of things I did right and things I did wrong. Oh, and almost 500 photos taken, three books read, less than €100 spent (never mind how many US dollars), and 2,600 email messages dealt with, of which 1,200 went into the junk folder, 400 more should have, and 290 were status messags from various applications and processes running in the Inner Drive Technology Worldwide Data Center.

I'll be sorting through all of that tomorrow. At the moment, I'm at Princess Juliana Airport in Sint Maarten, waaiting for my plaane to Miaami.

Photos and cetera should start tomorrow.

Out of the office

I was traveling yesterday, which prevented me from commenting on Lincoln's 200th Birthday, Darwin's 200th birthday, and the NAACP centennial. All three events deserved recognition, but fortunately, the other seven million bloggers in the U.S. covered them just fine.

As for the travel, I have only once in my life gone someplace just because it was warmer than Chicago; today, briefly, I'm back in the same place. Tonight I press on to the Mecca (or Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, depending on which monotheistic faith you follow) of aviation; photos and description to follow, I hope next week. Also, I'll be accepting donations of spare livers on Tuesday as I expect mine will need replacing by then. That is, if I ever drink again, which this afternoon seems unlikely.

Right now, though, it's 1°C in Chicago and 27°C here, so I'm going back outside now.

Better driving through variable tolling

Now that Illinois has started the long process of removing our ex-governor's name from tollway signs, this essay from the New York Times' Freakonomics blog extolling the virtues of congestion tolling is worth a read:

[I]t can be hard to convey this because the theory behind tolling is somewhat complex and counterintuitive. This is too bad, because variable tolling is an excellent public policy. Here's why: the basic economic theory is that when you give out something valuable — in this case, road space — for less than its true value, shortages result.

Ultimately, there’s no free lunch; instead of paying with money, you pay with the effort and time needed to acquire the good. Think of Soviet shoppers spending their lives in endless queues to purchase artificially low-priced but exceedingly scarce goods. Then think of Americans who can fulfill nearly any consumerist fantasy quickly but at a monetary cost. Free but congested roads have left us shivering on the streets of Moscow.

(In an odd bit of timing, the concepts of "shortage" and "free goods" will be on my Intro to Microeconomics exam next Thursday.)

Now, living as I do only a 20-minute bus ride from the Chicago Loop, and dreading any time I have to use one of our area's expressways, I think congestion pricing makes perfect sense. Especially when you see, for example, the traffic loads on the Kennedy Expressway during the week. Check this out:

This shows the average travel times from the Circle (downtown Chicago) to O'Hare, a distance of about 27 km. The blue line shows inbound traffic, the red line, outbound. At 40 minutes, the average speed is 40 km/h; normal expressway speeds (90 km/h) get you to O'Hare in under 20 minutes.

Ah, but see this week's chart:

Yes. This week, on average, the trip from O'Hare to downtown took almost an hour during the morning rush period. (For the record, the El takes 35 minutes, you can spend the time reading, the odds of dying are much lower, and it only costs $2.25, as opposed to typical Loop parking lots which cast $28.00.)

Now imagine you had the option of paying $5 to use the reversible lanes, knowing the trip would take 20 minutes. Is 40 minutes worth $5 to you? Forty extra minutes of sleep, 40 minutes with the kids, 40 minutes doing something other than stop-and-go traffic moving slower than a bicycle?

Two on technology

The first, from the Poynter Institute, concerns how Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm's staff made Twitter into journalism:

I tuned in an Internet broadcast of ... Granholm's annual state of the state speech because it was expected to be laden with energy and environment issues. On impulse I logged into Twitter and asked my followers if there had been a hashtag established for the speech. There was: MiSOTS (Mich. State of the State).

To my amazement, the hashtag had been established by the governor's staff—who were tweeting major points of Granholm's speech as she made them.

Meanwhile, many, many, many other people used this hashtag to challenge points, support points, do some partisan sniping, question assumptions, add perspective, speculate about what was going on, and provide links to supporting information—including a transcript of the speech and the opposite (Republican) party's response.

(Emphasis in original.)

The second, Mark Morford musing about technology in general:

To paraphrase a renowned philosopher, we just keep making the pie higher. This is the nature of us. It is, in turns, both wonderful and terrifying.

It seems there are only two real options, two end results of our civilization's grand experiment. Either the stack becomes so high -- with our sense of wonder and integrity rising right along with it -- that it finally lifts us off the ground and transports us to some new realm of understanding and evolution, or it ultimately topples over, crashes and mauls everything that came before, because we just didn't care enough to stop and smell the astonishment.

You have but to remember: How many ancient, advanced civilizations have collapsed under the weight of their own unchecked growth, their own technological advances, their own inability to stay nimble and attuned to the crushing marvel of it all? Answer: all of them.

Both are worth reading in full.

Geeks and economics

In case you were thinking about building one, Rick Gold has calculated the approximate price of constructing your own Death Star:

While watching [Star Wars], an odd question popped into my head, “How much would it cost to build the damn thing?”. Impossible to figure out? Truthfully … yes. A complete and utter waste of time, absolutely! So why not try and find out!

... Add it up, and we have a figure of exactly $15,602,022,489,829,821,422,840,226 and 94 cents. Tell you what, I’ll pitch in the 94 cents.

In other words, only 1.15 trillion times the U.S. debt. And that doesn't include feeding the Stormtroopers.

Announcing the Original Meaning Society

While I am, with the rest of Chicago, holding my breath to learn how extensively fire damaged the 130-year-old Holy Name Cathedral this morning, I actually hit my head on my shower wall when a reporter at WBEZ described the fire as "tragic."

I am almost certain it wasn't a tragic fire, but I'm willing to bend on that one if it turns out (a) a person who (b) through his own character flaws (c) accidentally set it (d) killing himself in the process. There are other scenarios that would be tragic, too. But none at all is likely.

I have gotten so tired of lazy writers calling things tragic when the things in question don't involve human beings failing because of their own character flaws. Enough.

An example may help (yes, I'm poking Alanis Morrisette): If it rains on a couple's wedding day, that's unfortunate. If the bride and groom are both meteorologists, that's ironic. If one of them dies—say while trying to kill the other because of the botched weather forecast—that's tragic. If, however, they finally get married at the end, that's comic.

The tragedy and the irony of all this, of course, is that I believe languages evolve and generally (but not in this specific case) like that, and this post will probably get me written off as a crank.

The first day of the Obama Administration

Life goes on:

Now I'm going back to the NPR story about all the stuff we're not shipping from our major ports.