The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Annual pseudo-flu

I got my Covid and flu boosters yesterday afternoon, which my body noticed around midnight. I spent a couple of hours overnight with a mild (<2°C) fever and feeling generally unpleasant. Last year's jabs worked, as far as I know. I hope this year's do as well.

Right now, though, I could use a nap. And both my arms are sore.

Two more senior Navy jobs blocked by Coach Tuberville

Former college football coach Tommy Tuberville, now a United States Senator grâce a the wisdom and good sense of the fine people of Alabama, continues to degrade the United States military by preventing the US Senate from confirming 301 (and counting) general and flag officers from formally taking the jobs they're already doing. Earlier this month, the commanders of the Naval Air Forces and Naval Sea Systems Command retired, passing their responsibilities—but, crucially, not their policy-setting powers—to their putative successors. US Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ), a retired US Navy Captain and 4-time Space Shuttle astronaut, stopped just short of calling Tuberville an idiot on today's NPR Morning Edition.

In other news:

Finally, John Scalzi's blog turned 25 today, making the Hugo-winning author a relative new arrival to the blogging scene, at least when compared with The Daily Parker.

Run, you clever unit tests, and pass

The first day of a sprint is the best day to consolidate three interfaces with three others, touching every part of the application that uses data. So right now, I am watching most of my unit tests pass and hoping I will figure out why the ones that failed did so before I leave today.

While the unit tests run, I have some stuff to keep me from getting too bored:

Finally, the 2023 Emmy nominations came out this morning. I need to watch The White Lotus and Succession before HBO hides them.

Update: 2 out of 430 tests have failed (so far) because of authentication timeouts with Microsoft Key Vault. That happens on my slow-as-molasses laptop more often than I like.

Converting office buildings to apartments

The New York Times today has an interactive feature explaining how converting pre-war offices to apartments is a lot easier than converting modern office buildings. Simply put, before the 1940s, no one had air conditioning, so the buildings had more light and air:

These kinds of buildings, often dating to the early 20th century, make for simpler conversions because the same logic that shaped how they were designed as offices a century ago determines how apartments are planned today. Both share a rule of thumb that no interior space be more than 8 or 9 meters from a window that opens.

Iconic prewar skyscrapers like the Empire State Building were designed to this standard, and with this smallest unit in mind: a single rentable office 3 to 6 meters wide and about 8 meters from the windows to the common corridor. That was just the right amount of space for a receptionist’s anteroom and a windowed office.

Dan Kaplan, a senior partner with the architecture firm FXCollaborative in New York, identifies the private-eye suite in any film noir as a classic example: frosted glass doors, a secretary framed by interior transom windows, and then the detective in his private office flooded with natural light.

But the conversion puzzle gets more complex with offices built after World War II. That’s because the modern office has strayed far — increasingly far — from the window rule.

Two inventions liberated office space from the window: air-conditioning and the fluorescent light bulb. Just as the elevator and steel-cage construction enabled buildings to grow taller in the late 19th century, the architectural historian Carol Willis has written, fluorescent lighting and air-conditioning enabled their floor plates to become much deeper.

Then local rules add still more complexity: Maybe the building has to meet stricter seismic requirements as an apartment than as an office (much of the West Coast), or the whole facade must be replaced to meet current wind-load standards (hurricane-prone places). Or you can only convert 18 of the 32 existing office floors into residential use (in Manhattan, such use caps depend on a building’s age and location). Or units must average at least 500 square feet in size per building (downtown Chicago). Or every legal bedroom must have its own working window (New York requires this but Philadelphia and San Francisco don’t).

Still, the commercial real-estate collapse of the last three years has made conversions imperative in big-city downtowns like the Chicago Loop.

The result, probably in only a few years, will be to transform former dense commercial districts like the Loop into dense mixed-use districts that people want to live in. 

Three articles about urban issues

I see a connection between all of these.

First, the city has accepted six proposals to convert office buildings on LaSalle Street to apartments. I used to work in one of them, so that should be interesting. These will go through community review, and will cost over $1 billion, but could bring almost 2,000 apartments to the Loop.

Second, Zurich Re and Motorola have separately sued the Chicago suburb Schaumburg, Ill., one of the most dismal suburban hellscapes I've ever seen, to get the $100 million in tax breaks the village promised before the pandemic. The village offered these incentives to get the two corporations to build sleek new office buildings surrounded by parking lots that they hoped would bring in $300 million a year in secondary benefits to the village. Then came the pandemic. Since no one really wants to go to Schaumburg voluntarily, everyone is SOL here.

Finally, a man recently won a $91 million settlement after a car crashed through a 7-11 in Chicago and injured him. It turns out, a car crashes through a 7-11 on average 20 times a day in the U.S., in part because the company doesn't want to spend the $2,000 per store to put up bollards, and in part because cars and people should not occupy the same infrastructure at the same time.

What do these things have in common? They're all points in evidence that pedestrian-focused urban development makes a lot more sense than the horrific car-focused alternatives.

Long weekend

Both of our Messiah performances went well. We had too few rehearsals and too many new members this year to sing the 11 movements from memory that we have done in the past, which meant that all us veterans sang stuff we'd memorized with our scores open. So like many people in the chorus, I felt better about this year than I have since I started. We got a decent review, too.

Also, we passed a milestone yesterday: 1,000 days since my company closed our Chicago office because of the pandemic, on 16 March 2020. Four days later, the state issued the first stay-at-home order. I didn't go back into the office until June 22nd.

Foggy Hallowe'en

A week after moving, I'm averaging 30 minutes more sleep and my Body Battery score is back to normal levels after two weeks of waking up like a zombie. I might even have all the boxes unpacked by this time next year.

Meanwhile, me shifting a couple tonnes of matter a few hundred meters did not affect the world's spin by any measurable amount:

Finally, the Tribune reviewed a new New York-style pizzeria in East Lakeview that...doesn't sound like it sells the greasy slices I used to get on Lexington after midnight. But I'll try it.

Lunch reading

I'm starting to adapt my habits and patterns to the new place. I haven't figured out where to put everything yet, especially in my kitchen, but I'll live with the first draft for a few weeks before moving things around.

I'm also back at work in my new office loft, which is measurably quieter than the previous location—except when the Metra comes by, but that just takes a couple of seconds.

I actually have the mental space to resume my normal diet of reading. If only I had the time. Nevertheless:

Finally, does anyone want to go to New York with me to see a play about Robert Moses starring Ralph Fiennes? Apparently tickets are only $2,000 a pop...

How the brain manages illness

As I sit at my desk, sniffling and nursing a scratchy throat from all the dust my packing has thrown up, I found a pair of articles quite timely.

From the Washington Post, new research explains how your brain manages illnesses on your body's behalf:

Two recent studies published in Nature report that specific parts of the brain rapidly respond to illness and coordinate how the body counters it. This new understanding may also hold clues about why some people continue to have chronic problems such as long covid months after a bout of infection.

Big or small, warm or coldblooded, vertebrate or invertebrate, animals also contend with life-threatening infections from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens and “have some sort of response that’s very similar to this,” said [said Anoj Ilanges, a biologist at the Janelia Research Campus], who co-wrote one of the studies.

We tend to look like we are not doing much when we are sick — we are, after all, probably in bed and not moving — but the brain is hard at work. The researchers looked for genetic markers of activity in the brain soon after they injected their mice with a pro-inflammatory agent. “Surprisingly, if you look at the brain, there’s high levels of activity across many regions,” Ilanges said.

James Fallows might find that interesting if he weren't really done with his bout of long Covid:

I was annoyed to become infected, mainly because of the time-sink and inconvenience it involved. But in my 12-day run of testing positive (and being isolated) in June, Covid as I experienced it was a nuisance but not a “problem.”

But starting about six weeks ago, I was aware of feeling just … bad. This is the time to bring up another relevant background point, which is that the most robust part of my inevitably aging body has been its cardiovascular system.

To skip ahead in the story, all the complaints I’d had, even the finger-tingling, appeared to fit one of the ever-emerging, still-not-understood patterns of Covid after-effects. I don’t know whether to call this “long Covid,” or whether it has any bearing to Covid at all

After hearing my symptoms, our nurse-practitioner ordered a range of tests, including a blood reading that is not part of the routine lab panel. This was for the level of vitamin B12 in my system.

As it happened, the test showed a low B12 level. And as it also happens, in the ever-expanding realm of what’s known or guessed about Covid effects, one possibility involves B12 absorption.

Like Fallows, I also got Covid in June, and I felt less productive and less active this summer than in previous years. Maybe Covid?