The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Millennium Park before the millennium

I don't know the provenance of this photo, but it appears to be taken from near the top of the Prudential Building at 135 E. Randolph St., summer of 1968:

Here's approximately the same view from last year (via Google Earth):

What a difference 55 years makes. I especially like how we removed all the surface parking lots and hid them under the park. And I'll be there—under the park—tomorrow morning for another Brews & Choos expedition.

In other Chicago history, today is the 45th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park.

People doing it completely wrong

If he were even a tiny bit better as a human being, I might have some empathy for the old man clearly suffering from some kind of dementia who spoke in Doral, Fla., yesterday. But he's not, so I don't. I mean...just read the highlights.

In other news:

Finally, I got two emails through the contact-us page from the "Brand Ambassador & Link Approval Specialist" at a little company in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick demanding that we remove a link from a post to their site. Each email was clearly the output of an automated process that must have scraped every post on The Daily Parker—all 9,479 of them—more than once, because each email had a different fully-qualified domain name and most of the links they included were for category or history pages. Clearly the BALAS hadn't actually read the post that contained the link. 

The request read: "We kindly request the immediate removal of these links to SchengenVisaInfo.com from your page because SchengenVisaInfo maintains strict editorial control over the information it provides. As such, we do not endorse the linking of our website without our prior consent."

This is dumb for several reasons. First, the emails provide clear evidence that they ran a bot over The Daily Parker more than once, which is rude. Second, this particular link could only benefit the complaining firm as it appeared in context as a way of finding out more about exactly what the company offered. And finally, before you send an email like that, you should confirm that the site you're complaining to won't ridicule you and your firm in a subsequent post.

Of course I removed the link. There are many better sources of information on the topic out there.

(Note to self: remove the company's name before posting!)

Tuesday afternoon links

It has started raining in downtown Chicago, so it looks like Cassie and I will get wet on the walk home, as I feared. I still have a few tasks before I leave. I just hope it stays a gentle sprinkle long enough for us to get home from doggy day care.

Just bookmarking these for later, while I'm drying out:

  • Researchers concluded that the problem with online misinformation and epistemic closure comes from people, not technology. Apparently we generally look for information that confirms our existing biases. Who knew.
  • Chicago has more lead pipes than any other North American city--and more regulation, labor issues, and general corruption, too. We might replace all the pipes by 2075; not so much the corruption.
  • Shocking absolutely no one, a study has found that drinking alcohol on an airplane is worse that doing it on the ground.

Finally, former US Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) died today, just as climate change once again contributed to a massive storm flooding neighboring Texas. I mention that because Inhofe, who served in the Senate until he was 88 years old, refused to believe that the planet had gotten warmer, and did his best to keep the US from entering the 21st Century by any reasonable measure. Oh, and he was also an asshole pilot who once nearly hit a bunch of construction workers because he wanted to land on a closed runway. He may be mourned somewhere, but the Daily Parker is glad to see him underground. So, presumably, is the FAA.

Feeling stuck?

The New York Times had two opinion pieces today that seemed to go together.

In the first, literary critic Hillary Kelly notes the prevalence of pop-culture stories about people not so much in dystopia, but stuck in something else:

On one sci-fi show after another I’ve encountered long, zigzagging, labyrinthine passageways marked by impenetrable doors and countless blind alleys — places that have no obvious beginning or end. The characters are holed up in bunkers (“Fallout”), consigned to stark subterranean offices (“Severance”), locked in Escher-like prisons (“Andor”) or living in spiraling mile-deep underground complexes (“Silo”). Escape is unimaginable, endless repetition is crushingly routine and people are trapped in a world marked by inertia and hopelessness.

The resonance is chilling: Television has managed to uncannily capture the way life feels right now.

We’re all stuck.

What’s being portrayed is not exactly a dystopia. It’s certainly not a utopia. It’s something different: a stucktopia. These fictional worlds are controlled by an overclass, and the folks battling in the mire are underdogs — mechanics, office drones, pilots and young brides. Yet they’re also complicit, to varying degrees, in the machinery that keeps them stranded. Once they realize this, they strive to discard their sense of futility — the least helpful of emotions — and try to find the will to enact change.

I think she has a point. And just a few stories later, we get a glimpse of why that kind of story may reflect the experiences of our 2020s existence. Urbanist Stephen Smith has studied residential elevators, here and in the rest of the world, and concluded that the particular failings of the way we build elevators in the US reflect larger failings that have held us back from addressing problems that Europe and the rich Asian countries have already solved:

Elevators in North America have become over-engineered, bespoke, handcrafted and expensive pieces of equipment that are unaffordable in all the places where they are most needed. Special interests here have run wild with an outdated, inefficient, overregulated system. Accessibility rules miss the forest for the trees. Our broken immigration system cannot supply the labor that the construction industry desperately needs. Regulators distrust global best practices and our construction rules are so heavily oriented toward single-family housing that we’ve forgotten the basics of how a city should work.

Similar themes explain everything from our stalled high-speed rail development to why it’s so hard to find someone to fix a toilet or shower. It’s become hard to shake the feeling that America has simply lost the capacity to build things in the real world, outside of an app.

Behind the dearth of elevators in the country that birthed the skyscraper are eye-watering costs. A basic four-stop elevator costs about $158,000 in New York City, compared with about $36,000 in Switzerland. A six-stop model will set you back more than three times as much in Pennsylvania as in Belgium. Maintenance, repairs, and inspections all cost more in America too.

The U.S. and Canada have also marooned themselves on a regulatory island for elevator parts and designs. Much of the rest of the world has settled on following European elevator standards, which have been harmonized and refined over generations. Some of these differences between American and global standards only result in minor physical differences, while others add the hassle of a separate certification process without changing the final product.

As kids in the 1970s we dreamt of flying cars and arcologies. As I shuffle through middle age in the 2020s, I dream of the social safety net and built environments that Europe takes for granted. Give me a train to New York that takes 5 hours and the end to people going bankrupt because of a treatable illness and you can keep your flying car.

Long but productive day

I'm trying to get home a little earlier than usual, so this will be a lazy post. Stuff to read:

  • Hillary Clinton, who has debated both President Biden and the convicted-felon XPOTUS, has thoughts on tomorrow night's event.
  • Dana Milbank doesn't mourn Rep. Jamaal Bowman's (D-NY) loss last night, and neither do I.
  • If you hate corporations, you might want to support President Biden's increase to the corporate income tax as well as to his proposed increase in the share-buyback tax.
  • The village of Wheaton, Ill., would rather have 165 car crashes and multiple pedestrian fatalities on a stretch of stroad by a school and retirement community than spend $865,000 on a traffic light. (I mean, better that they didn't build the stroad in the first place, of course.)
  • A new report says that cancelling New York City's congestion tax will kill 100,000 jobs.

Finally, today is the 50th anniversary of the very first time a UPC got scanned in a grocery store. Happy shopping.

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.

China launches overnight Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong service

Imagine an overnight train from New York to Miami that takes 12 hours. China just opened a $165 train that does about the same thing:

From Hong Kong to Beijing, the overnight trip takes 12 hours 30 minutes, and it covers roughly the same distance as a flight from New York to Miami or Los Angeles to Dallas. It complements the 8 hour 15 minute day train that has run for years.

The overnight trip to Shanghai takes 11 hours. The corresponding day train takes just 7 hours 47 minutes.

We can have similar rail lines and options, if we choose to. The Federal Railroad Administration has in fact published plans that call for HSR service between cities of similar (or longer) distances. For example, the Midwest Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between St. Paul and Nashville, while the Southeast Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between Nashville and Orlando.

Together, the plans would create a single HSR line of about 1,500 miles. So, a family in St. Paul could board a sleeper train in the evening and be at Orlando’s Disney World by mid-morning the next day—rested and ready to go, instead of stressed out from driving and poorer from a hotel stay.

I will grant two things that make this a difficult problem for the US: the fifth amendment and our psychotic relationship with cars. The first requires that the government provides just compensation for any property it takes, and buying the land to create a grade-separated high-speed rail line would not be cheap. China just kicks people off their land.

The second is that we've spent a century subsidizing cars and building our physical environment around cars, which prevents even reasonable people from understanding the basic economics behind highways. (Or, if you're the Chicago Tribune editorial board, the basic understanding of how traffic works.)

Still, it frustrates me to no end that we're not even discussing it.

In the early autumn I'm going to get on a train in London, change in Paris, and get off the train in Marseille, which will take about 7 hours, depending on how tight I want to make the connection between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. I'll get to St Pancras about half an hour before the train, very likely from a hotel a few blocks away, and when I get off the train in Marseille, I'll have another walk of a block or two to that hotel. Contrast with my flight home from Marseille, which, including half an hour by transit to the Provence airport, customs, emigration in France and immigration into the UK, will take about the same length of time. And then I'll be at Heathrow, an hour from central London.

I once made it from central Richmond, Va., to a friend's apartment in Murray Hill, Manhattan, in just over 5 hours, door to door. So I know the US has the ability to build real high-speed trains. But will I ever see one in my lifetime?

Definitely summer in Chicago

Cassie and I just got back from a short walk around the block. We did a 45-minute walk at 7:15, when we both could still tolerate the temperature, but just now my backyard thermometer shows a temperature of 33.1°C with a dewpoint of 23.3°C, which gives us a heat index of 38.5°C (101.4°F). Honestly, I prefer winter to this.

The National Weather Service predicts the heat wave could extend through the week.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

Finally, author Edward Robert McClelland visited all 77 community areas in Chicago, and lived to write about it.

Frazzled morning

I started my day with overlapping meetings, a visit from the housekeeping service, more meetings, a visit from an electrician, and just now discovered that a "new" bug report actually relates a bug we introduced on June 20th last year, but only now got reported. Oh, also: it's 25°C and sunny.

At least it's Friday.

And I guess I can read some of these tomorrow morning:

Finally, the Chicago White Sox set a new team record yesterday: 14 losses in a row. They play the Red Sox tonight at home; can they make it 15 straight losses?

Another boring release

Every other Tuesday we release software, so that's what I just did. It was so boring we even pushed the bits yesterday evening. In theory we always have a code-freeze the night before a release, but in fact we sometimes have just one more thing to do before we commit this last bit of code...

And yet, the world outside keeps becoming less boring:

Finally, one of Chicago's oldest and most popular Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, Angelic Organics, announced this season would be their last. I used to have a subscription, which resulted in a lot more kale than I ever wanted, but also some of the freshest produce I've ever had. They'll be missed.