The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What news?

Oh, so many things:

Finally, after it took the Ogilvie Transportation Center Starbucks over 30 minutes to make my iced tea this morning (and I ordered it from 15 minutes away on my inbound train), it turns out the Starbucks staffing algorithm might be to blame. This is why I only get that one drink from Starbucks: it's really hard to screw up and usually takes them half a minute. Fortunately, I got my morning coffee at the cute local bagel shop on my walk to Cassie's day camp (and they gave Cassie a dog treat to boot), so I wasn't feeling homicidal.

Statistics: 2023 (media edition)

Some Daily Parker followers expressed interest in what books I read this year. So instead of just counting them in the annual statistical roundup, I've decided to list most of the media that I consumed last year in a separate post.

Books

In 2023 I started 39 and finished 37 books, not including the 6 reference books that I consulted at various points. It turns out, I read a lot more than in 2022 (27 started, 24 finished), and in fact more than in any year since 2010, when I read 51.

Notable books I finished in 2023 include:

  • Isaac Asimov, Foundation (1951) and Foundation and Empire (1952), neither of which has aged that well. I can forgive Asimov for not knowing how computers would work in the future, but I had a lot of trouble with the rampant sexism.
  • Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop (2013). I admire Balko's police reporting, and I found his explanation of the militarization of local American police forces compelling. Things haven't gotten better since he wrote the book, alas.
  • Iain Banks, the first 3 novels of The Culture series (1987–1990). I loved them and have books 4 and 5 already lined up.
  • Nicholas Dagen Bloom, The Great American Transit Disaster (2023). Bloomberg's CityLab newsletter recommended this. I recommend it, but as someone who loves urban planning and transit policy, I found it depressing.
  • Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). I meant to read this book ages ago and finally got to it last winter. Loved it.
  • Christopher Buehlman, The Blacktongue Thief (2021). Buehlman's alter-ego is Christophe the Insultor, whose show I've caught at the Bristol Faire many times before 2020. I zipped through this novel in a few days, and was just now pleased to find he wrote a sequel, due out in June.
  • James S.A. Corey, The Expanse series, books 6-9 (2016–2021) plus Memory's Legion (2022). I started the series in late 2022 and finished it in March. I think The Expanse might be the best hard sci-fi of the decade.
  • James Fell, Shit Went Down: Number 2 (2022). A daily history lesson with lots of swearing and a deep hatred of Nazis. I read it a few pages at a time throughout the year.
  • S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders (1967). A friend's favorite book from childhood and a classic that I just never got around to reading. Stay golden, Ponyboy.
  • Hugh Howey, the Silo series (2011–2013). Fun sci-fi that I wanted to read after watching the Apple TV series. Knocked it off in 3 weeks over the summer.
  • Peter Kramer, Death of the Great Man (2023). Recommended by James Fallows. Absolutely hilarious satire of what might happen were a certain corpulent, quasi-fascist US President to die in mysterious circumstances in his psychiatrist's office.
  • Steven Levitzky and Daniel Ziblatt, Tyranny of the Minority (2023). The follow-up to the authors' 2018 book How Democracies Die. Explains in detail how the Republican Party has manipulated our system of government to stay in power despite having unpopular policies.
  • Alexandra Petri's US History: Important American Documents (2023). Hilarious satire from one of my favorite Washington Post columnists.
  • qntm (Sam Hughes), Valuable Humans in Transit (short stories, 2020–2022) and There Is No Antimimetics Division (2021). Based on Hughes' work in the SCP Foundation Wiki, these weird sci-fi stories will creep you out. I started Antimimetics on the flight from London to Prague and finished it at lunch the next day. Really fun stuff.
  • Richard Reeves, Dream Horders (2017). Lays out how the upper-middle class has tilted things to preserve its own wealth and privilege at the expense of everyone else. I don't agree with all his conclusions, and it's a bit dry, but I'm glad I read it.
  • John Scalzi, Starter Villain (2023). I love Scalzi so much that Villain is my fourth signed first-edition directly from the man. I especially loved that much of the action takes place in Barrington, Ill., in a pub clearly based on one a friend of mine used to co-own.
  • Bruce Schneier, A Hacker's Mind (2023). Excellent book by one of the industry's greatest security thinkers.
  • Daniel Suarez, Daemon (2017) and Freedom™ (2021). A long-time friend recommended these books. Burned through each in two days in June, ordering the second one before I'd finished the first.
  • Kelly & Zach Weinersmith, A City on Mars (2023). I finished this Sunday night so it would make this list. Excellent and funny in-depth analysis of how our species could colonize other planets, and the problems that make doing so unlikely for the next few centuries, if ever. Zack Weinersmith writes the hilarious Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic.

Other media

I also saw 30 movies (but only one in a theater) and attended 13 concerts and theater performances, plus watched quite a bit more TV than usual because Cassie draped herself across my lap making it difficult to get up:

  • Films I would recommend: American Sniper (2014), Barbie (2023), Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid* (1983), Dune* (2021), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Enola Holmes (2019), Free Guy* (2022), Greyhound (2023), Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (2023), John Wick 4 (2023), Jung_E (정이, 2023), M3GAN (2023), No Hard Feelings (2023), Nope (2022), Oppenheimer (2023), and Risky Business* (1983). (* denotes a re-watch from a previous year)
  • Films I would not recommend: After.Life (2009), The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (2023), Drinking Buddies (2013), The Flash (2023), Someone I Used to Know (2023).
  • Live performances: C21 Women's Ensemble; Bach, Brandenburg Concerti, Lincoln Center Chamber Orchestra; Bach, Mass in b-minor, Music of the Baroque; Brahms, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Grant Park Music Festival; Constellation Men's Ensemble; Dar Williams; Stacy Garrop's Terra Nostra, Northwestern University Orchestra; Hadestown; comedian Liz Miele; Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris Chorus; and NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
  • TV shows: Black Mirror series 6; The Book of Boba Fett; Carnival Row; Foundation (2021); Generation V season 1; Good Omens series 2; House MD seasons 6-8; Invasion (2022); The Last of Us; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; The Mandalorian season 2; The Orville season 1; The Peripheral; Reacher (2022); Severance; Silo; Slow Horses; Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4; Star Trek: Picard season 3; Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2; Travelers; The Witcher season 3.

I don't know whether I'll read or watch more in 2024, but I hope it's at least as enjoyable as 2023.

In other news of the day...

It's only Wednesday? Sheesh...

  • The Writers Guild of America got nearly everything they wanted from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (i.e., the Astroturf organization set up by the big studios and streamers to negotiate with the Guilds), especially for young writers and for hit shows, but consumers should expect more bundling and higher monthly fees for shows in the future.
  • Josh Marshall suspects that the two competing storylines about the XPOTUS (that he's about to return to power, but he's also losing every legal battle he fights) are actually just one: his "current posture of bravado and menace – while real enough as a threat – is simply his latest con, concealing a weaker and more terrified reality."
  • Jamie Bouie marvels that Justice Clarence Thomas (R$) wins the trifecta: "We have had partisan justices; we have had ideological justices; we have had justices who favored, for venal reasons, one interest over another. But it is difficult to think of another justice, in the history of the Supreme Court, who has been as partisan and as ideological and as venal as Thomas...."
  • Melissa Gira Grant profiles US District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk (R-NDTX), a Christian nationalist who rose through the Federalist Society pipeline to a lifetime appointment where he will push his Victorian-era views on the people of Texas for the next 30 years or so.
  • North Korea vomited up US Army Private 2nd Class Travis King, having used him for the little he was worth after the soon-to-be-dishonorably-discharged soldier illegally entered the kingdom in July.
  • Kelli María Korducki worries that "in the age of AI, computer science is no longer the safe major," not realizing, perhaps, that the most effective programmers are and have always been liberal arts majors.

Finally, yet another fact that will make everyone I know feel old: today is Google's 25th birthday. And yes, the Daily Parker has been around longer trillion-dollar search company. We just haven't had our IPO yet.

Perfect early-autumn weather

Inner Drive Technology WHQ cooled down to 14°C overnight and has started to climb up into the low-20s this morning, with a low dewpoint and mostly-clear skies. Perfect sleeping weather, and almost-perfect walking weather! In a few minutes I'm going to take Cassie out for a good, long walk, but first I want to queue up some stuff to read when it's pissing with rain tomorrow:

Finally, my indoor Netatmo base station has picked up a funny mid-September thing: cicadas. The annual dog-day cicadas have only a few more days to get the next generation planted in the ground, so the remaining singletons have come out this morning instead of waiting for dusk. As you can see, the ones in the tree right outside the window closest to the Netatmo have been going at it since dawn:

The predominant species in my yard right now are neotibicen pruinosus, or "scissor-grinder" cicadas. But we also have our share of other species in Northern Illinois. And, of course, next May: Brood XIII comes out. That'll be fun (especially for Cassie)!

Those who can't create, execute

Writing for The New Yorker, Inkoo Kang summarizes why the film industry seems in precipitous decline lately:

To survey the film and television industry today is to witness multiple existential crises. Many of them point to a larger trend: of Hollywood divesting from its own future, making dodgy decisions in the short term that whittle down its chances of long-term survival. Corporations are no strangers to fiscal myopia, but the ways in which the studios are currently squeezing out profits—nickel-and-diming much of their labor force to the edge of financial precarity while branding their output with the hallmarks of creative bankruptcy—indicate a shocking new carelessness. Signs of this slow suicide are all around: the narrowing pipelines for rising talent, the overreliance on nostalgia projects, and a general negligence in cultivating enthusiasm for its products. Writers and actors have walked out to demand fairer wages and a more equitable system, but they’ve also argued, quite persuasively, that they’re the ones trying to insure the industry’s sustainability. Meanwhile, studio executives—themselves subject to C-suite musical chairs—seem disinterested in steering Hollywood away from the iceberg. This is perhaps because the landscape is shifting (and facets of it are shrinking) so rapidly that they themselves have little idea of what the future of Hollywood might look like.

Some of the first Cassandras to draw the public’s attention to this slo-mo self-sabotage were the striking writers. W.G.A. members have expressed alarm not only that their profession has become devalued and unstable through low pay but also that the paths that allowed newcomers to eventually become showrunners, which have existed for the past half century, have been eroded by the studios.

The movies may be in grimmer shape. The industry’s pursuit of I.P. at the expense of originality has all but trained younger audiences not to expect novelty or surprise at the multiplex, assuming that they’re going to the theatre at all. Hollywood has never been known for overestimating the audience’s intelligence, but it’s hard not to wonder how it is supposed to be inculcating a love of cinema in children—that is, future moviegoers—when the splashiest films on offer are explicitly buckets of regurgitation.

Barbie,” meanwhile, saw the director Greta Gerwig infuse the half-century-old blond blank slate with her own idiosyncratic anxieties to produce a Zeitgeist-capturing film with an unmistakable authorial imprimatur. But Hollywood’s ignoring the obvious takeaway, which is that viewers appreciate novelty. Instead, Mattel has announced that it will follow up “Barbie” by raiding its toy closet for more I.P., and has put dozens of projects based on its products into development.

Last week I finished, at some personal cost, a slog through a streaming show I had hoped to like: the third season of Star Trek: Picard. I loved Star Trek as a kid, and I thought most of TNG worked. (TNG may look clunky today, but the original series looked clunky in 1988, just as today's ultra-low-gamma, poorly-mixed film will look horrible in 2050.)

I note this because it disappointed me for all the reasons that the film industry disappoints everyone today: poor writing, poor storytelling, yet one more whack at the empty Star Trek piñata, and poor writing. I imagine ST:P came out of the dreaded mini-rooms from writers who got paid little and probably threw out their AA pins when they saw the final product.

Every so often, an industry blows up. Film won't disappear in my lifetime: people have watched visual stories since they first sat around campfires a hundred millennia ago. But we may have reached the end of the amazing and original movies and films that started with Life Goes On and Babylon 5 in the 1990s through Battlestar Galactica and Deadwood in the 2000s. Go watch a 1970s sitcom and weep.

How is it already dinner time?

I had a rehearsal for next week's Mozart performances this morning, then I walked the dog and went to the grocery store. Somehow it's almost 6pm now.

One quick thing: Good Omens Season 2 hit yesterday, and I watched the first three episodes. In episode 2, starting at 22:35, David Tennant has a scene with someone he knows really well. And in episode 3, at 28:33, look carefully at the manufacturer's name in the close-up; it's a lovely nod to Sir Terry.

I might not post tomorrow as I'm taking a day trip to Michigan. Enjoy the weekend.

Clearer air on an "inside" day

I had one of those "why am I working inside today?" moments when I got my lunch a few minutes ago. The obvious answer—Cassie needs dog food—doesn't always work when it's 27°C and sunny. It did get me to re-evaluate my dinner plans, however. Cooking pasta just doesn't appeal when my favorite sushi place has an outdoor patio that allows dogs.

Meanwhile, I'm adding a feature that might take the remainder of this sprint as it completely changes how we store and present 3rd-party calculation results to the end user. Previously we just presented the user's most recent calculation on the results page. But our pesky users seem to want to see their previous calculation results as well. Since we were throwing those away when the user made a new calculation, I have some work to do.

Meanwhile:

  • Via Bruce Schneier, the Gandalf AI app lets you socially-engineer an AI to get its password. Schneier himself hasn't gotten past Level 7, so good luck to you.
  • Tyler Austin Harper sees an uncomfortable connection between the movies Oppenheimer and Barbie, both of which open this weekend.
  • Office furniture brokers have a glut of inventory as post-pandemic return-to-office plans get slower and slower.
  • Today is the anniversary of Massachusetts Commodore Dudley Saltonstall's incompetent attack on the British garrison at present-day Penobscot, Maine, in 1779, that should remind all y'all commando wannabes what happens when amateurs attack a vastly superior professional force. (Also a reminder that Benjamin Franklin's diplomacy really won our War of Independence, not George Washington's soldiering.)
  • In what can't be politely described, so I'll call it a dick move, Universal Studios denuded a stand of trees along Barham Blvd. in Los Angeles to harass the striking writers and actors who had used the trees for shade in the 32°C heat. And the suits continue to wonder why everyone roots for the talent.
  • Of course, the suits broke the business in the first place, so maybe that has more to do with it.

Finally, now that Cassie has had her birthday photo and her sardine dinner, it's time for her bath. Wow, does she need one. And she's going to get one tomorrow morning, traumatizing though it is for her.

Of note, Monday afternoon

Just a few items for my reading list:

  • The Supreme Court's Republican majority have invented a new doctrine that they claim gives them override any action by a Democratic administration or Congress.
  • John Ganz thinks all Americans are insane, at least when it comes to conspiracy theories.
  • Chicago's Deep Tunnel may have spared us from total disaster with last week's rains, but even it can't cope with more than about 65 mm of rain in an hour.
  • Oregon's Rose Quarter extension of Interstate 5 will cost an absurd amount of money because it's an absurdly wide freeway.

Finally, for those of you just tuning in to the multiple creative labor actions now paralyzing the film industry, the Washington Post has a succinct briefing on residuals, the principal point of disagreement between the suits and the people actually making films.

They've stopped acting because they're pissed

The Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA voted to strike today, halting most TV and film production worldwide (and even ending the Oppenheimer red carpet). The Times explains:

About 160,000 television and movie actors are going on strike at midnight, joining screenwriters who walked off the job in May and setting off Hollywood’s first industrywide shutdown in 63 years.

The leaders of the union, SAG-AFTRA, approved a strike on Thursday, hours after contract talks with a group of studios broke down. Actors will be on the picket line starting on Friday.

“What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor,” said Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA’s president. “When employers make Wall Street and greed their priority and they forget about the essential contributors who make the machine run, we have a problem.”

While some actors do get $15 million for a single movie, most just do their jobs and hope they get a fair wage. They also hope that the studios will pay them when their work gets re-run, which still happens on network television but not, it turns out, on streaming services:

In December, 2020, in the depths of pandemic winter, the actress Kimiko Glenn got a foreign-royalty statement in the mail from the screen actors’ union, sag-aftra. Glenn is best known for playing the motormouthed, idealistic inmate Brook Soso on the women’s-prison series “Orange Is the New Black,” which ran from 2013 to 2019, on Netflix. The orchid-pink paper listed episodes of the show that she’d appeared on (“A Whole Other Hole,” “Trust No Bitch”) alongside tiny amounts of income (four cents, two cents) culled from overseas levies—a thin slice of pie from the show that had thrust her to prominence. “I was, like, Oh, my God, it’s just so sad,” Glenn recalled. With many television and movie sets shuttered, she was supporting herself with voice-over jobs, and she’d been messing around with TikTok. She posted a video in which she scans the statement—“I’m about to be so riiich!”—then reaches the grand total of twenty-seven dollars and thirty cents and shrieks, “WHAT?”

When “Orange” premièred, ten years ago this week, it broke ground in multiple ways. ... A decade on, however, some of the cast feel disillusioned about how they were compensated, both during the original run and in the years since. Television actors have traditionally had a base of income from residuals, which come from reruns and other forms of reuse of the shows in which they’ve appeared. At the highest end, residuals can yield a fortune; reportedly, the cast of “Friends” has each made tens of millions of dollars from syndication. But streaming has scrambled that model, endangering the ability of working actors to make a living.

Netflix didn’t share its viewership numbers (and still mostly doesn’t), making it harder for the actors to negotiate higher salaries. But the “Orange” cast could tell that the show was a megahit from their overnight fame.

Despite the Beatlemania-like fame, many cast members had to keep their day jobs for multiple seasons. They were waiting tables, bartending. DeLaria continued doing live gigs to keep up with her rent.

We saw this with video recordings and cable. We'll see it with the next technology that comes along. Because as in all fields, the owners of the businesses want to make money, and if they can get labor (or anything else considered "supply") cheaper, they do.

Pity the Emmys won't have a script this year. Or actors. Or, possibly, a telecast.

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.