The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Gonna be a hot one

I've got a performance this evening that requires being on-site at the venue for most of the day. So in a few minutes I'll take two dogs to boarding (the houseguest is another performer's dog), get packed, an start heading to a hockey rink in another city. Fun! If I'm supremely lucky, I'll get back home before the storm.

Since I also have to travel to the venue, I'll have time to read a few of these:

Finally, the Post examined a Social Security Administration dataset yesterday that shows how baby names have converged on a few patterns in the last decade. If you think there are a lot of names ending in -son lately (Jason, Jackson, Mason, Grayson, Failson...), you're not wrong.

When the rain comes

I took Cassie out at 11am instead of her usual 12:30pm because of this:

The storm front passed quickly, but it hit right at 12:30 and continued for half an hour with some intensity. It'll keep raining on and off all day, too.

Other things rained down in the past day or so:

Finally, Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock has died at age 53 of cancer. No word whether the production of the 2004 documentary contributed to his early demise.

Two houses, unalike in dignity...

I'll lead off today with real-estate notices about two houses just hitting the market. In Kenilworth, the house featured at the end of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles can be yours for about $2.6 million. If you'd prefer something with a bit more mystique, the Webster Ave. building where Henry Darger lived for 40 years, now a single-family house, will also soon hit the market for $2.6 million. (That house is less than 300 meters from where my chorus rehearses.)

In other news:

Finally, Industry Ales, the new brewery-taproom at 230 S. Wabash Ave., hopes it survives. So do I. But I'll make sure to get it on the Brews & Choos reviews list very soon.

When opponents become cartoon villains

If South Dakota governor and unapologetic puppy-killer Kristi Noem (R, obviously) becomes the XPOTUS's running mate this year, the GOP will have outdone its own Doctor Evil mindset. And yet, that is not the worst thing happening in the world today:

  • A California judge has ruled a recent state law requiring municipalities to undo discriminatory zoning laws unconstitutional, though it's not clear how long that ruling will stand.
  • Do you own a GM car made in this decade? It may be spying on you, and sharing your driving history with your insurance company without your consent.
  • After a non-profit group suggested merging the CTA, Metra, and Pace, the Illinois House has started the legislative process to do just that.
  • Ezra Klein takes us through the history of the infamous Noe Valley public toilet in San Francisco, which took years to get through the planning process, increasing its cost at every step.
  • Remember: public policy led to the proliferation of trucks masquerading as cars that endanger pedestrians, pollute neighborhoods, and generally look ugly.

Finally, Josh Marshall points out that while he (and I) support the basic aim of student protests against the Gaza war—Israel must stop killing people in Gaza—we do not support the groups organizing those protests at Columbia and other universities, almost all of which call for the destruction of the Jewish state. I'm also somewhat anxious about the normal propensity of young people to demand easy answers to complex questions becoming a democracy-ending problem later this year. I mean, if you think students are always on the right side of history, I need to direct your attention to China in 1966 and one or two other examples. Children don't do nuance.

Coding continues apace

I'm almost done with the new feature I mentioned yesterday (day job, unfortunately, so I can't describe it further), so while the build is running, I'm queuing these up:

All right! The build pipelines have completed successfully, so I will now log off my work laptop and order a pizza.

The Internet runs on Doug's code, and Doug just got pwned by the SVR

Remember this XKCD from 2020? With a little help from what researchers think may be the Russian government, that little brick wobbled a bit in the past few days:

The cybersecurity world got really lucky last week. An intentionally placed backdoor in xz Utils, an open-source compression utility, was pretty much accidentally discovered by a Microsoft engineer—weeks before it would have been incorporated into both Debian and Red Hat Linux.

It was an incredibly complex backdoor. Installing it was a multi-year process that seems to have involved social engineering the lone unpaid engineer in charge of the utility.

I simply don’t believe this was the only attempt to slip a backdoor into a critical piece of Internet software, either closed source or open source. Given how lucky we were to detect this one, I believe this kind of operation has been successful in the past. We simply have to stop building our critical national infrastructure on top of random software libraries managed by lone unpaid distracted—or worse—individuals.

The Economist has it in the King's English:

xz Utils is open-source software, which means that its code is public and can be inspected or modified by anyone. In 2022 Lasse Collin, the developer who maintained it, found that his “unpaid hobby project” was becoming more onerous amid long-term mental-health issues. A developer going by the name Jia Tan, who had created an account the previous year, offered to help. For more than two years they contributed helpful code on hundreds of occasions, building up trust. In February they smuggled in the malware.

Jia Tan’s patient approach, supported by several other accounts who urged Mr Collin to pass the baton, hints at a sophisticated human-intelligence operation by a state agency, suggests The Grugq.

Analysis by Rhea Karty and Simon Henniger suggests that the mysterious Jia Tan made an effort to falsify their time zone but that they were probably two to three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time—suggesting they may have been in eastern Europe or western Russia—and avoided working on eastern European holidays. For now, however, the evidence is too weak to nail down a culprit.

Sleep well...

Another busy day

Getting ready for a work trip on Monday plus (probably) having to do a demo while on the work trip means I spent most of the day getting ready for the demo. In a bit of geography fun, because the participants in the demo will be in six different time zones from UTC-7 (me) to UTC+10 (the client), I got the short straw, and will (probably) attend the demo at 3:30 am PDT.

I say "probably" because the partners on the call may take mercy on me and let me brief them instead of monitoring the technology in the actual meeting. Probably not, though.

So in this afternoon's roundup of news and features, I'll start with:

  • Teresa Carr's report in Undark explaining how people in "eccentric time localities" (i.e., on the western edges of time zones) experience negative effects that people east of them don't.
  • President Biden's budget proposal includes a $350 million grant to extend the CTA Red Line.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the country's most-senior Jewish official, gave a scathing speech in the Senate this morning calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) to resign and hold elections. Josh Marshall puts this in context. (tl;dr: it's a big deal, and Schumer is really the only one in Congress with the heft and history with Israel to make this speech.)
  • US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who faces 18 felony counts in Federal court, may run for re-election as an independent so that he can use his campaign funds to pay his legal bills. Why anyone would give him money to do this I cannot determine.
  • Chevrolet and other car manufacturers routinely hand over data about how you drive to a company that then hands that data to your auto insurer, because the US does not yet have anything like the GDPR.
  • Julia Ioffe outlines how Ukraine can (sort of) win against Russia if it can hold out until 2025.
  • Hopewell Brewing and other Illinois craft brewers have started selling THC-infused beer, taking advantage of a loophole in both the state's brewing and cannabis laws.

I will now check the weather radar to see how wet I'm going to get on the way home...

Cheap, unserious imitations

The top story this hour, which should surprise no one who can read a poll, is that US Senator Krysten Sinema (?-AZ), who pissed off every Democrat in Congress over her only term in the Senate, has decided not to run again. Since the Democratic Party had already fielded a candidate against her, this makes her completely irrelevant, instead of just mostly irrelevant. The November election will pit Republican Kari Lake against Democrat Ruben Gallego.

Meanwhile:

  • Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling compiled all of the XPOTUS's nonsense utterances from just the past weekend, in case you needed more evidence that he's pretty well into his age-related dementia, or if you believe the Internet, syphilis. (Only one of those things is curable, by the way.)
  • The mayor of Dalton, Ill., has vetoed a resolution of the Board of Trustees to have the FBI and state attorney general investigate her for misusing village funds. The mayor claims the board met illegally, because it didn't meet in the Village Hall—to which she has withheld the keys from them. It turns out, the FBI has already started investigating.
  • Speaking of clowns, soon-to-be-ex Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) still thinks she can get back into Congress after moving out of her current district, despite (a) being perceived as a carpetbagger by literally everyone in the new district, and (b) pissing off literally everyone on her staff.
  • Don't by cheap Chinese-made video doorbells from Walmart or Amazon, because they're trivially easy to hack. (Google Nest is not, however.)

Finally, if you'd like a little peace and quiet, a group of six Hebridean islands off the west coast of Scotland have two job openings with pretty good salaries: a general physician spot that pays £150,000 and a teaching position at £69,000 (class size: 6), not including a £10,000 "hello" payment to get you to your new home. The islands have a combined population of 4,000 (people; they have many more sheep than that) and a guarantee you will never get stuck in a motorway tailback.

Getting warmer?

The temperature at Inner Drive Technology World HQ bottomed out this morning, hitting -4.8°C at 10:41 am, and it may even end the day above freezing. So this mercifully-short cold snap won't keep us out of the record books, just as predicted. It's still the warmest winter in Chicago history. (Let's hope we don't set the same record for spring or summer.)

Meanwhile, the record continues to clog up with all kinds of fun stories elsewhere:

  • Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has led his party in the Senate since the Cretaceous, announced he will step down from leadership in November, handing some other schmuck clean-up duties after the electoral disaster likely to befall the party on the 5th of that month.
  • After the unhinged ruling on embryo "personhood" the Alabama Supreme Court handed down last week, Republicans across the country have fallen over themselves saying they want to protect IVF treatment while they vote against protecting IVF treatment. Jamelle Bouie runs down some of the dumbass things Republicans have said on the ruling, with a cameo from the dumb-as-rocks junior US Senator from Alabama, who sounded more like Nigel Tufnel than usual.
  • Aaron Blake pointedly contradicts the usual "bad for Biden" story line by putting President Biden's Michigan-primary win last night in perspective.
  • Bruce Schneier looks at the difficulties insuring against cyber crime, one of the problems we're also solving at my day job.
  • New York prosecutors said the Art Institute of Chicago exhibited "willful blindness" in 1966 when it acquired art looted by the Nazis, an accusation the museum denies.
  • Harry Windsor, the Duke of Sussex, lost his case against the UK Home Office, in which he sued to keep his publicly-funded security detail the same size as it was when he actually did his job as the Royal Spare. The high court (the rough equivalent of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in this case) ruled that the relevant agency had made a perfectly rational decision as the Duke now lives in California, doesn't do bugger-all for the UK, and is a whiny prat to boot.

Finally, Chicago Transit Authority president Dorval Carter took a—gasp!—CTA train to a city council hearing, at which he promised the CTA could be the best transit system in the world if only the State of Illinois would give it more funding. The very last thing I did in Munich on Sunday was to take the S-Bahn to the airport at 7am, so I can assure you money isn't the CTA's only impediment to achieving that lofty goal.

(Also, I just realized that This Is Spinal Tap turns 40 on Saturday. Wow.)

Facebook and surveillance

Consumer Reports released a paper last month detailing how many companies track the average Facebook user:

Using a panel of 709 volunteers who shared archives of their Facebook data, Consumer Reports found that a total of 186,892 companies sent data about them to the social network. On average, each participant in the study had their data sent to Facebook by 2,230 companies. That number varied significantly, with some panelists’ data listing over 7,000 companies providing their data.  The Markup helped Consumer Reports recruit participants for the study. Participants downloaded an archive of the previous three years of their data from their Facebook settings, then provided it to Consumer Reports.

One company appeared in 96 percent of participants’ data: LiveRamp, a data broker based in San Francisco. But the companies sharing your online activity to Facebook aren’t just little-known data brokers. Retailers like Home Depot, Macy’s, and Walmart, all were in the top 100 most frequently seen companies in the study. Credit reporting and consumer data companies such as Experian and TransUnion’s Neustar also made the list, as did Amazon, Etsy, and PayPal.

The data examined by Consumer Reports in this study comes from two types of collection: events and custom audiences. Both categories include information about what people do outside of Meta’s platforms.

In the report, Consumer Reports calls for a number of policy proposals covering data collection practices, some of which could be part of a national digital privacy law, something that the organization has long advocated for.

We need a European Union-style regulatory regime to protect our privacy. The companies won't do it without regulation.