Monday, February 28, 2011

The Chicago Municipal Device, Hidden in Plain View

RIP, Frank W. Buckles, the last doughboy. The nation salutes you, sir, or at least it should.

Woke up to an ice glaze this morning. On all the nearby sidewalks that is, and our deck as well. February's way of giving us a parting finger. It's been resentful for millennia now about being the shortest month. But the gesture was in vain, since the Sun emerged mid-morning and liquefied the ice. Good riddance, February, don't bother us again for 11 months.

I understand why people aspire to be snowbirds. I doubt that I will ever want to maintain two residences, but if I did, I wouldn't just go south for the winter, I'd really go south. Uruguay, maybe, or New South Wales, where it isn't just a mild winter, it's summer. Any fool can go to Arizona or Florida for winter.

For now, I'm looking forward to examining greater Chicago in more detail as the weather warms. Next time I go downtown, for instance, I'm going to look for the city's "Municipal Device," something I didn't know about until very recently. I've seen it, of course; the design is part of the bright lights of the Chicago Theater marquee, for instance. It just never occurred to me that it meant anything.

Essentially, the Municipal Device of Chicago is a Y shape, and it's been incorporated as a design element in a number of structures in the city. The device even has an official status. With certain exceptions, city-owned vehicles must be marked with it. The origin of the symbol is the Chicago River, which forks into North and South branches downtown. More of a T shape, if you asked me -- a T shape bent by blows from a hammer -- but Y works too.

The device's uses are well illustrated at the fine Public Art in Chicago blog as well as equally fascinating Forgotten Chicago. I especially like the way it's been worked into that steel framework of the Division Street bridge. That's about as Chicago as you can get.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Down on the Content Farm

Google search algorithms might as well be sorcery as far as I can understand them, but I was glad to hear about the recent change to the algorithms. "This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites — sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful," the official Google blog said last week. "At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites — sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on."

Like I said, sorcery, but I hope it's true. My livelihood in large part depends on value-add content for web sites. You'd think that any publication, online or on paper, would want that kind of content, but it isn't so. As long as I've been in publishing, there have been publishers with very little interest in the actual content of their publications. Editorial was something to fill the space around the ads, a necessary nuisance.

The migration to electronic media has made no difference to this line of thinking. How else to account for "content farms" that pump out poorly written, or maybe stolen content, with a business model that looks to produce editorial (content) as cheaply as possible. This kind of dumbass publisher would use a random-word generator for content if he could get away with it. Why? Because it doesn't really matter what the content says, as long as eyeballs look at it.

That might be a reasonable approach for a few publications, such as those monthly circulars that feature mostly coupons for local businesses. But for those that need readers to read them? (Then again, I understand that original content is very important to Groupon, which might be one of the elements of its success.)

Naturally, every publisher gives lip serve to high-quality editorial. But it doesn't take long for most editors and writers to figure out which publishers really believe it and which don't. Fortunately, some publishers do care about their content, and pay for it, though of course it's possible to disagree about what constitutes high-quality editorial. I'm glad to say that all of the publishers I write for now strive for good editorial. I hope the shift at Google helps encourage that kind of thinking.


Thursday, February 24, 2011


Even Life in its heyday couldn't deliver the astonishing caches of photos now routinely available on line. These collections have the power of immediacy too, even though they document far-flung places: for example, images from bleeding Libya and suffering New Zealand. The medium also suits historic images, such as an achievement from nearly a half-century ago.

Since Libya's back in the news, it occurred to me that I couldn't remember many of the details of the 1986 U.S. raid on the country, though I remember finishing a swim that April evening at one of Nashville's YMCAs and collecting my membership card at the front desk. Behind the desk sat a small black-and-white TV, and a number of people were gathered around, watching it. President Reagan was on, making his speech about the attack. I watched it too.

So I read about the incident today. By chance I also learned about Ferdinandea, a volcanic seamount between Sicily and Tunisia that has, at certain times, emerged from the sea to become an island, only to sink again. I found out about the island/seamount because one line in the Wiki entry on the raid piqued my curiosity: "In 1986, US warplanes mistook the undersea shoal of Ferdinandea, near Sicily, for a Libyan submarine and dropped depth charges on it."

I was intrigued because the shoal had an interesting name. Ferdinandea is well described in this interesting blog, which discusses at some length about rival claimants to the island the last time it was an island, in 1831. I'm glad I live in a world of such oddities.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Snowdrops & Rainflakes

At about 7 pm today, rain and snow started falling at the same time. I heard the distinctive sound of raindrops falling onto various surfaces, but I could also see the distinctive silhouettes of snowflakes passing in front of outdoor lights. I was driving home with Ann when it first started, and upon arrival, she didn't want to go inside. So we stayed outside for about 20 minutes and kicked a soccer ball around.

Our field was the same back yard one as last summer, but less 40 or so degrees Fahrenheit. We left vivid footprints in the new snow, crunching the frozen ground as we chased the ball not very seriously. Out near the far fence was a lightly frozen puddle where the ball would sometimes wander. We left footprints there, too, cracking the ice and squishing the mud below in a two-part sound.

A pop of lightning high overhead followed by thunder snow interrupted the game, and we both decided to go inside. Snow had accumulated on the back of my coat, so when I took it off a cascade of frozen water went inside my shirt and down my back. That was good for a laugh. For Ann.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Union Shield

Uneventful weekend around here, with reports of tumult in exotic places -- Benghazi, Manama, Madison -- leaking in through electronic media. Also, there seems to be an election under way in Chicago, unusual because no one named Daley is on the ballot. Another thing that didn't happen here was more blizzard. I hear Minnesota and the UP got most of that; we just got a dusting of snow last night, following clouds and rain much of the rest of the weekend.

Recently I ran across a slide show on -- interesting that the term "slide show" has a new lease on life, now that actual slides are relics -- called [Six] money habits that are illegal. Mostly pedestrian stuff, such as lying on a loan application or writing bad checks. But one was odd: "Color printers, scanners and copiers make it surprisingly easy for just about anyone to replicate U.S. or foreign currency," it said. "But it is, in fact, illegal to print your own money and try to spend it to buy goods or services."

Odd because who doesn't know that? And whose habit is that, anyway? Besides people who are already criminals, that is. Maybe "habit" wasn't quite the word for that headline.

At the bank today I noticed some dollar coins and half dollars in the tray, so I got some instead of one of the (genuine) paper notes I was going to ask for. "We don't have them most of the time," the teller said. "Only if someone brings them in."

I was hoping for an obscure president on the dollar coin. William Henry Harrison, maybe. Or Tyler or Taylor or Pierce. But no, I got some Lincolns, which was all he had. That's the most recent release, the last one of 2010. Not a bad coin, but he's on a lot of things. On its web site, the U.S. mint has a canned history of his presidency, most interesting for its list of "Coinage Legislation under President Abraham Lincoln." I didn't know that he signed bills authorizing mint branches in Denver, which operates to this day, and Carson City, set up to handle all the silver being mined out west in those days. Also, "Act of March 3, 1865, authorized coinage of the 3-cent piece."

Numismatic nerds, as I once was, know that that means the 3-cent nickel, since a 3-cent silver piece had first been first issued in the 1850s. Silver was in short supply due to the war, however, so nickel was the replacement, even before nickel was used in 5-cent pieces, which began in 1866 (U.S. half dimes contained silver in the mid-19th century). The U.S. 3-cent coin did not survive the 19th century, like the half cent, 2-cent and my own favorite, the 20-cent piece, which was the Susan B. Anthony dollar of its time.

The Lincoln dollar inspired me to take a closer look at the Union Shield cent now in circulation. Last year it became the permanent replacement for the Lincoln Memorial cent, something I didn't realize until a few months ago, because I'm not the numismatic nerd I once was. I like it much better than the Lincoln Memorial design. The memorial is a fine structure in situ, but that doesn't come across very well on the coin. Something like the way the reverse of the modern nickel doesn't do Monticello justice. I remember when I visited Monticello I thought, "That's the building on the nickel?"

The Union Shield design also revives a lost bit of Americana, as generally obscure now as the 3-cent nickel. The new reverse was designed by Lyndall Bass and engraved by Joseph Menna of the mint (note their initials under ONE CENT). Take a moment to look at one of the coins. The penny might not have much of a future, so it might be the last new reverse for the storied Lincoln cent.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kup's Statue

Back again on Tuesday. I should take "Presidents Day" seriously, after all. Maybe even call it Washington • Adams • Jefferson • Madison • Monroe • Adams • Jackson • Van Buren • Harrison • Tyler • Polk • Taylor • Fillmore • Pierce • Buchanan • Lincoln • Johnson • Grant • Hayes • Garfield • Arthur • Cleveland • Harrison • Cleveland • McKinley • Roosevelt • Taft • Wilson • Harding • Coolidge • Hoover • Roosevelt • Truman • Eisenhower • Kennedy • Johnson • Nixon • Ford • Carter • Reagan • Bush • Clinton • Bush • Obama Day, but that seems like a mouthful.

The winding double-decker Lower Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago is unlike any other road I know. Astonishingly, Lower Wacker even has its own Yelp page. I didn't know that roads had Yelp reviews, but come to think of it, there's no reason they couldn't. Lake Shore Drive has even more reviews. The category is "local flavor."

I ought to write at greater length about Lower Wacker someday, but I didn't go to there on Tuesday. Instead I spent a while on Upper Wacker, where I took a close look at this statue, which is near the intersection of Wabash and Wacker. The lighting wasn't ideal in mid-morning, but I managed a passable image.

It's Irv Kupcinet, of all people. The world's a large place, but I suspect he's one of the few 20th-century newspaper gossip columnists to become a life-sized bronze on a major metropolitan thoroughfare. Just a hunch. The statue's not that new, having been dedicated in 2006, but Wacker hasn't been a haunt of mine since before that, so this was my first good look at it.

"Kup," as he was known professionally, died at 91 years of age in 2003. Evidently some well-connected Chicagoans wanted, or at least approved of, a statue in his honor. Mayor Daley probably had to sign off on it more than anyone, and he has a quote praising Kup on a plaque on the plinth. Donors are listed below Daley, including some instantly recognizable wealthy Chicago families and a handful of corporations. It's good to see that the Sun-Times chipped in, since in his heyday Kup helped them sell a lot of papers. Preston Jackson, a professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute, did the sculpture, though the plaque omits that information.

An article called "The Lost World of Kup," published by Chicago Magazine not long after his death, noted that "at his peak, Kup was a celebrity news machine -- producing six columns a week, moderating a late-night TV talk show, delivering color commentary on radio for the Chicago Bears."

That would have been 50 or 60 years ago. But Kup's Column in the Sun-Times was around long after that, as recently as at the time of his death, when his assistant was actually writing the thing. I don't know anyone my age or younger who paid any attention to it.

By the end, according to Chicago Magazine, " 'Kup's Column' had long since lost its spark... the column survived for the last decade and a half as an echo of another time and another city. That city came alive in the dark. It sparkled with glamour and intrigue and featured Hollywood stars, powerful politicians, mobsters who 'owned the night,' as one woman put it, and grateful press agents who sent crates of loot to accommodating reporters. Kup's Chicago existed largely in a handful of smoky venues with evocative names like the Chez Paree, the London House, the Black Orchid, and Club Alabam..." The entire article is here.

Now the statue carries on a struggle against obscurity on behalf of Kup, as new generations mature who have never heard of him. He stands across the river from where the Sun-Times Building used to be (Trump is there now), holding a bronzed version of a newspaper, a dying medium, under his bronze arm.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shangri-La Interrupted

Back when I first toured Trump Chicago in early 2008, I took note of the project not too far away, on the other (south) side of the Chicago River, which had just begun construction. Called Waterview Tower and Shangri-La Hotel, it too was to be a high-end hotel/condo mixed-use development of large proportions, like Trump's building. Developers were thinking big back in the mid-2000s, after all. The idea was that many buyers would not be Chicago residents at all, merely the ultrarich who would want a residence in Chicago for those occasions they came to town.

The Trump Organization had better timing. Better luck, in other words, though the number of businessmen who will admit that luck has been a factor in whatever success they've had is vanishingly small. Trump was planning his Chicago structure as early as 2001. It was, in fact, scaled down on the drawing board from "the tallest building in the world" right after September 11, 2001, to something a little less tall. In any case, Trump Chicago managed to get it out of the ground and mostly built before the Panic of 2008. Or just as importantly for a real estate project, before the Credit Freeze of 2007. (Events that deserve capitalization.)

Waterview Tower and Shangri-La Hotel, by contrast, wasn't so lucky. Crain's Chicago Business noted last November that "the original developer... had planned a 90-story tower with 233 condos and 200 hotel rooms but never secured a construction loan to fund the project and ran out of money in 2008. After 16 months of litigation over more than $100 million in unpaid bills, a consortium of contractors... took over the property in May [2010] and has been seeking buyers ever since."

So far, no dice. And so the building stands there partly finished at the corner of Wacker Dr. and Clark St., a very prominent place in downtown Chicago. The place was a little eerie. There was no activity of any kind that I could see, just the shell of a building.

Such is real estate. People imagine that real estate developers are loose cannons, but no. They would be if they could be, but in fact they answer to the money men.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Trump Chicago

I'm glad I went downtown today instead of last Tuesday, during a period of deep cold, or the Tuesday before last, when the Blizzard of '11 was preparing to slap metro Chicago around. It wasn't exactly warm today, but not so cold that I couldn't walk without much discomfort from Union Station to the Trump International Hotel & Tower to attend an event there. I hadn't been inside the property since it was so new that the hotel was getting ready for its soft opening and the top of the tower wasn't yet completed -- about three years ago.

Trump Chicago still looks like this from the street. I considered taking some pictures inside, but I didn't really have time for it. Besides, the meeting space and corridors I saw, while poshly elegant in precisely the way you'd expect -- except maybe the deco touches in the lamps -- didn't offer up the kinds of things I like to take pictures of. Such as anything under the category of Odd Hotels at Hotel Chatter.

I will say this about the place: Every hotel employee I encountered, maybe a half dozen or so, was extremely solicitous, even if it was just in the tone of voice as they greeted me. That can't be an accident. It has to be Trump Organization training, which must put an emphasis on paying attention to anyone and everyone who comes through the door. You can't tell just by dress any more who has the big bucks, and of course Trump wants its guests to part with some of those bucks in return for the experience of the property.

I noticed for the first time a large steel plaque on N. Wabash Ave., fixed like a sign in the sidewalk near the entrance of the hotel. It said: "Trump International Hotel & Tower • Recognized by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat as the • TALLEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD WITH AN ALL-CONCRETE STRUCTURE • Second Tallest Building in North America • Sixth Tallest Building in the World... 21 October 2009."

There's the Trump braggadocio the world knows and doesn't love. I was glad to see it.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 14, 2011

False Spring in the Great Lakes Glop

It's a false spring, but I'll take it. Today I enjoy such small pleasures as walking on my driveway without much risk of slipping, hearing the drip of water from the downspouts, and going outside without the heaviest of heavy coats. The night was winter clear, which is about the best you can get in the Great Lakes glop (megapolis), though the Moon is getting pretty large, and beginning to wash things out of the sky even if the suburban lights do not.

"Megapolis" (and "megaregion") are too clinical. Especially when you see them depicted on a map. I prefer "glop" to describe an agglomeration of urban areas, but that's just an idiosyncratic choice. Years ago I read an '80s dystopian science fiction novel that involved a post-United States North America (plague, I think), some android-human lovin', a worldwide Internet sort of thing that the characters could plug their brains directly into, pop music based on 20th-century ambulance sirens, pirates who harvested organs for transplant from people they murdered, and whatnot.

The vast, essentially lawless urban areas that had been metro New York, Chicago and Los Angeles were referred to as glops. That's a detail that stuck with me, even though the name of the book and author have not.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Downhill Runs

A warm-up began over the weekend and great meltage is ahead, at least until Thursday or Friday this week. But on Saturday there was still plenty of snow on the ground, even though it was above freezing all day. An ideal time for sledding.

Our location for sledding is a catchment not too far away. We were surprised that no one else was there. The place has been a lot busier on a lot colder and windier days, but then again maybe most sledders have already had enough for the season. We hadn't gotten around to it until this weekend.

This is Ann and a friend of Lilly's preparing for a run.

Which they completed in short order.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Crunky Vessel in the Fog

Unreasoning, stupid cold today. But they say it will be above freezing beginning sometime over the weekend. That will seem like resort weather. People will start wearing shorts until the next arctic blast (and there's bound to be at least one more).

Actually, even single-digit temps don't discourage a handful of shorts-wearing fanatics. Last Saturday, temps about 10° F., I was in line at a post office when in walks a fellow in a reasonably suitable winter coat but also shorts and tennis shoes. A shortish but stocky fellow, he must have been about my age, with short, vaguely military hair, a fair number of forehead wrinkles and an enormous, unlit cigar stuck in his mouth the entire time he was in line behind me. For some reason, he reminded me of Sgt. Fury, someone I hadn't thought about in years, but I doubt this guy was ever on a secret mission to kidnap Hitler.

When I scanned Temmy's Sweet Flakes yesterday, I couldn't stop at just one scan -- who can? -- especially when I had an empty box of Crunky around the house. Usually I don't want one enough to pay $2+, but I spied one at a serious discount at an Asian grocery store not long ago.

Unlike Temmy's, I've known about Crunky for many years. It didn't take me long to find Crunky at convenience- and grocery stores in Japan, along with a lot of other native confections. Except that, as a Lotte product, Crunky isn't quite native to Japan, but to Japan and Korea.

Lotte HQ might be in Japan, but it was established by a Korean who grew up in Japan, and its presence is much larger in South Korea than Japan. Except for its delightfully fractured name, Crunky is something like Nestle's Crunch, though not as sweet.

The founder of Lotte, one Shin Kyuk-Ho, is apparently still alive at 89. This is my favorite line in his Wiki stub: "He currently resides in South Korea for odd months and in Japan for even months. [citation needed]" If I had more energy for research tasks that don't pay, I might try to find that citation. I hope it's true. A billionaire without some eccentricities is no fun at all.

Crunky's OK. But it never was my favorite East Asian chocolate. Another Lotte product, Vessel in the Fog, was. I've never seen it for sale in the United States. It's a smooth confection with a great, inexplicable name.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Temmy's Sweet Flakes

Part of getting ready for Ann's recent birthday party involved visiting a nearby dollar store. I hadn't been there in a few months, and it looks like the place is under new management. Or at least the franchiser told current management that basic merchandising -- in this country, anyway -- doesn't include leaving piles of goods on aisle floors in jumbles. In other words, the place has been tidied up. Remarkable how much of a difference that makes in improving the tone of the store.

Serendipity was with me. I happened across some 7 oz. boxes of Temmy's Sweet Flakes, a brand I'd never heard of. Discounted to 50¢, it was an easy impulse buy, and wasn't the first time I've chanced across an odd brand of cereal. It also happened that I had a box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes at home, so I could make a direct comparison between the two, both in ingredients and taste.

The ingredients are similar, if in fact Temmy's "corn" means "maize," as it does in Frosted Flakes. Temmy's doesn't have as much sugar as Frosted Flakes, and no corn syrup. It's sweet, but not nearly as sweet as the cereal that Tony the Tiger shills. Also, Temmy's has no added vitamins. All together, it's a pleasant, crunchy breakfast cereal.

Where's it from? I checked that almost before anything else on the box, which says Product of Egypt. That made my day, or my hour anyway. Egyptian cereal: Gives you the energy you need for a full day of civil disobedience.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Groundhog Day Again

Turns out there's a fair amount of rumination on the subject of how long Phil Connors (Bill Murray) spends in a February 2 time-loop in Groundhog Day. That came to mind because we watched it the other day. Not February 2, as it happened, but Sunday, February 6. Close enough.

The only time I'd seen the movie before was a few years after it was released, so long ago that it was on videotape. It's more remarkable than I remembered, though I remembered liking it 15 years ago. "Bloody brilliant," as the fellow at Obsessed With Film puts it, who also says "normal people should be happy to just watch, and accept that Phil Connors is stuck repeating his one day endlessly over and over until he finds himself."

I'll go along with that. But I was also interested to learn that Woodstock, Ill., not far northwest of where I live, is passed off as Punxsutawney, Pa., for the most part. A couple of sources tell me that there's a plaque on the Woodstock main square marking the place where Phil Connors had his encounter with insurance salesman Ned "the Head" Reyerson and stepped in a cold puddle. Next time I'm in Woodstock, and we go now and then, I'm going to look for that. That's my kind of landmark.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 07, 2011

Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi

This is an interesting graphic. But what's the point? Africa's big all right. Number two after Asia in the all-continent square mile/square kilometer challenge. Everyone ought to know that, though I'm sure many people don't.

But if suddenly everyone in the world knew how big Africa is in the scheme of continents, it would follow that -- what? Africa would be held in higher regard because it's so big?

What would the graphic mean if, instead of the U.S., China, India and various European countries, you put in Canada and Russia? Africa's roughly 11,730,000 sq. mi.; Russia measures about 6,601,000 sq. mi.; and Canada comes in at 3,855,000 sq. mi. or so. That is, Russia and Canada would be short of filling up Africa by a Chad or Mali or the like.

This too is an interesting map, courtesy that endlessly interesting blog, Strange Maps. The numbers are a little old now, but the comparisons are probably still apt. Illinois' budget problems have been compared to Greece or Ireland, which might be appropriate in terms of relative debt load, but simply in terms of GDP, the state's failure would be more like an implosion of Mexico. Also remarkable is that, after decades of decline, Michigan still has an Argentine-sized economy.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 06, 2011


More snow last night. But only about an inch, so the main effect was covering up the bumps and irregular mounds created by the intense shoveling and snowblowing of the last few days. Weather chronologists say that this has been the snowiest February on record in the Chicago area -- which was already the case by February 2.

So we turn to indoor activities. Lately we've acquired Just Dance 2, a Wii game. Usually I'm off doing something else when the girls or the girls and their friends are playing with it, but I can hear songs from its eclectic selection of dance tunes. The other day I was in the kitchen when I heard:

Lover the of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on

What? A disco song about Rasputin? One that manages to rhyme "Rasputin" with "queen" and "machine"?

Sure enough, the Euro-disco group Boney M -- the creation of a German producer -- released just such a song in 1978. If I heard it then, I don't remember, and I think I would have remembered a song about Rasputin, whatever the genre. With certain exceptions, Euro-disco did not play much on American airwaves at the time, and I wouldn't have sought it out in those pre-Internet days. The only song of Boney M's I vaguely think I heard back then was "Rivers of Babylon."

The video for "Rasputin" is all kinds of funny, often unintentionally. Sorry to say, however, that the male member of the group, Bobby Farrell -- wearing the faux beard in the video, which must have made the lip-synching easier, and dancing up a storm -- was in the news recently for dying. On December 29 (N.S.) in St. Petersburg, same day and city as Rasputin.

Naturally, the mad monk's famed death is mentioned by the song too.

Lover the of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Russia's greatest love machine
He drank it all and said, "I feel fine"

More than anyone would need to know about "Rasputin" is

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 03, 2011

2,100 Miles of Hyperbole

I came across an online slideshow today called "A New American Tradition: Snowstorm Hyperbole." My own favorite cited headline is the "Storm for 2100 Miles." Still, it was hard not to be a little hyperbolic about the recent blizzard.

Look at it -- as geosynchronous satellite did two days ago. How blasé do you have to be to be unimpressed by such a kick-ass storm?

Of course, it wasn't enough to receive nearly two feet of snow at a single blast. Afterwards, the temps slid into the cellar. When I got up this morning, various sources put the outside temperature at -8 F. or so (zero at O'Hare, where the record-keeping is done). By afternoon, we'd gained about 20 degrees, which is cold enough by my reckoning.

School was canceled again today, partly due to the chill, but also (I think) because it was only supposed to be a half-day anyway, with parent-teacher meetings slated for the other half. They too have been canceled.

Such is February in these parts. Whatever hyperbole spawned by the storm is now part of the event. The snow has been (mostly) pushed out of the way, and that's that, until the air warms up a little and all these water ice crystals continue on their way to the Mississippi River. Hope that process is nice and slow.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


We were in the bull's-eye of the Big Blow of '11. I suspect the NWS isn't calling it that; maybe just a "significant wintertime weather event." But blow it did. Constant heavy snow and strong winds roared through from before sunset yesterday until sometime this morning, when it devolved into light snow and light winds, leaving behind more snow than I've ever seen at our present house, and almost as much as in 1999, when we lived in west suburban Westmont.

News reports say 20.2 inches of snow this time, compared with 21.6 inches in 1999. The number-one recorded total for snowfall in Chicago remains January 26-27, 1967, at 23 inches. I wasn't around for that one, but for all I know that was the same weather event that made it snow heavily that one time when I lived in Denton, Texas, as a small child. "Heavily" in that context being two or three inches.

This is a view from our front door this morning. Only a few minutes earlier, someone had whizzed by on a snowmobile going down the street, which was mostly still buried.

We heard a little thunder snow at about 9 last night, but it wasn't much more than a few rumblings. I woke up at 3 in the morning for no particular reason and took the opportunity to peer out of the upstairs bathroom window. Everything looked exactly the same as six hours before -- that is, as if a giant feather pillow had been torn open and the contents filled the air, blown around by one of those industrial-sized fans. It wasn't until late morning today that the clouds cleared away and the sun, absent many days now, made an appearance.

The wind had left behind all kinds of odd-pattern drifts. The north and east sides of my house hardly had any snowy buildup, while the south -- and I assume west, but I haven't been over there -- caught drifts higher than my waist. This is what my back door looked like before I shoveled a path to it from the garage.

The problem was that my shovel was just outside the back door, which was impossible to open more than an inch or two. Or at least the shovel I usually use for snow. There was another one, a little shorter and a little less useful, in the garage. So I went outside by the front door and made my way along the northern and eastern edges of my house to the driveway, part of which was partly clear because of the odd winds. A three-foot drift ten feet wide and ten feet long blocked the garage door, but I was able to edge my way around the car we park outside -- its north- and east-facing sides provided a path, too -- and make it into the garage. Shorter shovel in hand, I cleared a shovel-sized path across the driveway drift, passed the backyard gate, dug to the deck and then reached to the back door to fetch the longer shovel.

That was as slow-going as it sounds. It was the longest time it's ever taken me simply to go from my front door to my garage to my back door. But at least I didn't get stuck somewhere in my car, such as on Lake Shore Drive.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Frosty Tempest

Sure enough, at about 3 this afternoon, after a light snow last night and an entirely gray day with more light snow, the blizzard let loose: high winds, the air full of snow, low visibility. The girls were all home by just after 3, and Yuriko by 4:30.

Also during the afternoon, the school district sent out an e-mail canceling school tomorrow. Then it followed that up with a robo-call to make sure we got the message.

The blizzard blows even now. There might be two feet of snow on the ground before it's done. But we'll get through in some comfort, provided ComEd keeps the juice flowing. If not, we'll get through in some discomfort. And what if the electricity failed as I was posting to Blogger? Would I be cut off in mid--

No, it doesn't work that way, any more than someone would chisel Argghhh on the wall as he was dying.