The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

First look at the Boeing 797?

Via Cranky Flyer, blogger Jon Ostrower has a look at early drawings of Boeing's next transport airplane, which could fly as early as 2025:

The yet-to-be-launched NMA is slated to arrive in 2025. First with the base model, the NMA-6X (225 passengers at 5,000nm) and the NMA-7X (265 passengers at 4,500nm) two years later, according to two people familiar with Boeing’s planning today.

Elements adapted from existing aircraft are apparent across this early iteration of the NMA design: A 737 Max-style tail cone, larger 787/777X-sized cabin windows, and a 757/767/777-style wind screen. The door arrangement matches that of Boeing’s last “small twin,” the 767-200, very strongly suggesting a twin-aisle design.

Equally important is what’s not visible. The angle doesn’t show the most distinctive – and potentially technically challenging – aspect of the design. The ovoid shape of the fuselage isn’t readily apparent, but the curve in the future nose hints at the ‘hybrid design.”

The aim of such a design is to maximize the passenger space in the cabin; notionally a seven-abreast 2-3-2 twin-aisle economy arrangement above the floor with room for a single-aisle-sized cargo hold below, according to those familiar with the design. The debate between North American and Asian airlines over the shape and capacity of the belly (and ensuing wing-sizing and engine thrust capabilities) was detailed last week by Bloomberg News’ Julie Johnsson.

These early images only hint at Boeing's direction. The final airplane design will look much different. But Boeing's strategy is interesting, and probably the right one: build a fuel-efficient mid-size airplane for trans-Atlantic flights to add a host of new city pairs to the mix. Just as one example, American has sometimes flown a 767 from Raleigh, N.C., to London; I've been on the flight a few times. It's always half-empty. That's a perfect route for a 737-size airplane that has the range of a 787.

Of course, I live in Chicago, which still has the second-busiest airport in the world, and from where one can get a nonstop flight to almost as many countries as from Heathrow. But having more city pairs could reduce the pressure on cities like Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles, and make flying overseas more convenient for everyone.

I'm looking forward to riding on the 797 in a few years. We'll see what it looks like, and how scared Airbus is, well before then.

The Athropic Shadow

An article in this month's Atlantic points out that we humans can wonder how we got here only because we got here:

After all, there are 100-mile impact craters on our planet’s surface from the past billion years, but no 600-mile craters. But of course, there couldn’t be scars this big. On worlds where such craters exist, there is no one around afterward to ponder them. In a strange way, truly gigantic craters don’t appear on the planet’s surface because we’re here to look for them. Just as the wounds of the returning planes could reflect only the merely survivable, so too for our entire planet’s history. It could be that we’ve been shielded from these existential threats by our very existence.

“Observer selection effects are really the kind of effects where the data you get is going to be dependent, in some sense, on survival, or that you as an observer exist,” [Anders Sandberg, a senior research fellow at University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute] says. “Now this gets really interesting and scary when we apply it to our own survival.”

“Maybe the universe is super dangerous and Earth-like planets are destroyed at a very high rate,” Sandberg says. “But if the universe is big enough, then when observers do show up on some very, very rare planets, they’ll look at the record of meteor impacts and disasters and say, ‘The universe looks pretty safe!’ But the problem is, of course, that their existence depends on them being very, very lucky. They’re actually living in an unsafe universe and next Tuesday they might get a very nasty surprise.”

If this is true, it might explain why our radio telescopes have reported only a stark silence from our cosmic neighborhood. Perhaps we’re truly extreme oddballs, held aloft by a near-impossible history—one free from lifeless water world.

We see this on smaller scales when, for example, extremely lucky people start to think they succeeded entirely because of their own efforts. But that's a different topic. Sort of.

What is the plural of "alma mater?"

Two of my almae matres yesterday advanced in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. One of them, Duke, didn't exactly struggle, so I'll just acknowledge them for now. Another of them, Loyola University Chicago, didn't even expect to get to the tournament, so their win yesterday felt really great:

Donte Ingram’s 3-pointer just before the final buzzer delivered the 11th-seeded Ramblers’ first NCAA tournament victory in 33 years — a 64-62 upset of No. 6 seed Miami.

As the players partied Thursday afternoon, a 98-year-old nun who serves as the team chaplain was pushed onto the corner of the hardwood in her wheelchair. With TV camera crews trained on her, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt folded her hands in her lap and smiled, waiting for an embrace from each player as he exited the court.

“She’s just so special, her spirit,” Ingram said. “She’s just so bright.”

After his divine 3-pointer and celebration, Ingram spotted Sister Jean’s outstretched arm as he ran off the court. The undisputed team MVPs for the day hugged.

Call the duo The Shot and The Prayer.

Don't tell anyone, but I'm considering skipping out for a couple of hours to meet some friends at a local wings place. Duke plays Rhode Island tomorrow afternoon, and Loyola plays Tennessee tomorrow evening. (Here's the official NCAA bracket.)

Warming Arctic, chilling Northeast

Writing in the New York Times, University of Washington professor Cecilia Bitz sounds a four-klaxon alarm about the rapidly-warming Arctic:

In late February, a large portion of the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole experienced an alarming string of extremely warm winter days, with the surface temperature exceeding 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

These conditions capped nearly three months of unusually warm weather in a region that has seen temperatures rising over the past century as greenhouse gas concentrations (mostly carbon dioxide and methane) have increased in the atmosphere. At the same time, the extent of frozen seawater floating in the Arctic Ocean reached new lows in January and February in 40 years of satellite monitoring.

In recent years, the air at the Arctic Ocean surface during winter has warmed by over 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. So was this recent spate of warm weather linked to longer-term climate change, or was it, well, just the weather?

What we can say is this: Weather patterns that generate extreme warm Arctic days are now occurring in combination with a warming climate, which makes extremes more likely and more severe. What’s more, these extreme temperatures have had a profound influence on sea ice, which has become thinner and smaller in extent, enabling ships to venture more often and deeper into the Arctic.

This coincides with an article in the Washington Post describing new research that the unusually cold and snowy winter just ended in the Northeast U.S. and in Europe is a direct consequence of warmer Arctic weather:

The study, titled “Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States,” shows that severe winter weather, late in the season, has increased over the eastern United States since 1990 as the Arctic has dramatically warmed, faster than any other part of the world.

When the Arctic is warm, the study finds, cold weather and heavy snowfalls in the eastern United States are two to four times more likely than when it is cold.

“This paper argues that the weather was cold not in spite of climate change but likely because of climate change,” said Judah Cohen, lead author of the study.

As Arctic temperatures have warmed in recent decades, late winter weather severity has increased in the East while decreasing in the West, the study found.

Because the increase in winter weather severity in the East has been most pronounced in February and March, when the biggest winter storms tend to form, major East Coast cities have seen an uptick in the frequency of crippling snowstorms. “We found a statistically significant increase in the return rate of heavier snowfall in Boston, New York  and Washington,” Cohen said.

Scientists haven't found the exact causes of the relationship, but evidence for the correlation got a lot more significant this year. But the prediction that anthropogenic climate change would lead to a feedback loop and rapidly-warming Arctic, in combination with extreme weather events elsewhere at the same time, has been around for decades. We're now seeing the predictions come true.

In other words, we're going to experience harsh winters in places that haven't had them for a few years, before the ocean becomes so warm that weather patterns shift again, probably suddenly (i.e., within a couple of decades). We don't know what the next pattern will look like. But we can predict it will be more extreme, and that beachfront property in the mid-Atlantic looks like a bad investment.

Ides of March reading list

I'm writing a response to an RFP today, so I'll have to read these when I get a chance:

There were two more stories in my inbox this morning, but they deserve their own post after lunch.

Historical population data, visualized

Citylab's Map of the Day today comes from Northeastern University history professor Benjamin Schmidt. It visualizes population data from three data sets, one of which came from a single Wikipedia editor:

This is a narrative description of the city populations dataset I’ve assembled for the Creating Data project. The headline here is: Wikipedia editors have created a much more comprehensive database of American city and town populations than historians have had to this point.

I’m writing it up separately and releasing it before any other components of the project for two reasons. First, the data is useful: there are a wide variety of fields where a more comprehensive, long-term database of city sizes is useful, and I’ve already spoken to a few people for whom it might be useful. (If you wish to download the data, you can do it from the github site for this dataset.)

Second, I wanted to use it to try a beta launch for some of the narrative display elements of this project. I’m trying something here that’s a central part of the full project: finding ways to explore through historical data that allow both narrative and exploratory data analysis.

It's one of the most interesting geographic data visualizations I've seen in a while. You don't have to be a geography nerd to enjoy it.

Hell of a week

In the last seven days, these things have happened:


Can't wait to see what the next week will bring...

Gun stupidity

Soon-to-be-ex-Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have required licensing for gun stores:

The governor, who is a hunter and told the station he is a member of the National Rifle Association, noted that the federal government already regulates firearms retailers. He said the proposal would create bureaucracy "that doesn't really keep our communities safer."

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly sent the bill to Rauner a couple of weeks ago, and the governor could have waited to act until after his March 20 primary matchup against state Rep. Jeanne Ives. She voted against the legislation and pushed Rauner not to sign it. Instead, the governor’s veto will come a week before the election and could take a line of attack away from the more conservative Ives.

In the weeks since the bill landed on Rauner’s desk, Democrats including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago aldermen have pressured the governor to sign it.

“The governor's decision was cruel, it was cold and it was calculated to benefit his own politics at the expense of public safety. "When is the right time? Only one person can answer that," Emanuel said in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a gun-rights activist who touted her shooting skills was shot in the back by her toddler.

Long weekend; just catching up

Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.

Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:

Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.