The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How will we react to aliens?

According to a new study, it seems to depend on how big they are:

Michael Varnum, a psychologist at Arizona State University and a member of its new Interplanetary Initiative, is trying to anticipate this response.

The scientists asked 500 people to describe their reactions to a hypothetical discovery of alien microorganisms. Respondents also had to predict how humanity at large would react. Like the journalists, people in the study used positive words. There were no characteristics that set responses apart, not a person's income, ethnicity, political orientation or traits such as neuroticism or agreeableness. But people felt that the rest of the country would be generally less agreeable.

That may be because “most Americans tend to think, on any desirable trait or ability, that they're better than the average person,” Varnum said.

So tiny aliens are OK, but larger ones are scary? Has no one read The Andromeda Strain?

Teenagers and Fitbits

A recent study found that activity trackers can actually de-motivate teenagers:

The problem with the monitors seemed to be that they had left the teenagers feeling pressure and with little control over their activities, as well as self-conscious about their physical abilities, said Charlotte Kerner, a lecturer in youth sport and physical education at Brunel University London, who led the study. The result was frustration, self-reproach — and less, not more, movement.

“You can’t just give a child a Fitbit for Christmas and expect them to be active,” Kerner said. “They will need educating on how best to negotiate the features.” Nudge them to set realistic step counts and other fitness goals, she says, and to consider whether they want to share their results with friends. For many young people, fitness may be better achieved in private.

I would be interested in why this happens, and how prevalent it is in adults. For some adults, like me, having an activity tracker is really motivating. I've arranged my life in part to make sure I get lots of steps, often more than 4,500 by the time I've gotten to work in the morning (or 9,000 if I walk the whole way).

Teenagers, though, really resent being told what to do. I wonder how this study could be altered to reduce that part of adolescent psychology.

Update: I just discovered that, when I hit 10,611 steps today, I'll have 15 million lifetime steps on Fitbit. Cool.

Really, he's nuts

I'd rather have an incompetent, sane person as president (see, e.g., most of the past Republican presidents) than an incompetent, insane one. But ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya:

And why would the Republican Party allow all of this to continue? Gosh, who can say.

This administration, summarized

Michele Goldberg today:

If you think 2017 was bad, imagine an America without allies fighting another two-front war, this one involving nuclear weapons, under the leadership of the most hated president in modern history, while a torture apologist runs the C.I.A. The world right now is a powder keg. Trump, an untethered maniac, sits atop it, flicking a lighter that Republicans in Congress could take away, but won’t. If everything goes up in flames, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Why imagine? He's literally insane.

Who's in charge of the CFPB?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's director resigned last week and named his chief of staff, Leandra English, acting director. Citing a statute predating the Dodd-Frank Act (which created the CFPB), the Trump Administration appointed the current OMB Director, Mick Mulvaney, to run the CFPB.

The result is chaos:

On Monday, Mulvaney occupied the CFPB director’s office, dispensed excellent New England doughnuts and emailed the agency staff to “disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as Acting Director.” English, for her part, sent her own email greetings to agency staff — and filed a lawsuit calling Mulvaney “the person claiming to be acting director” and herself “the rightful director” of the CFPB.

The legal question turns on whether the FVRA gives the president an option for appointing its head — i.e., the deputy or someone else — or whether the text of Dodd-Frank forecloses that option. The FVRA says it is the “exclusive means” of filling a position, except if another statute specifies a particular acting successor. English’s proponents argue that Dodd-Frank does precisely that. Better yet, in doing so it uses the word “shall,” not “may.” That word “shall” is significant, legal scholars such as Marty Lederman emphasize.

The Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, by contrast, issued an opinion defending the president’s right to use the FVRA procedure. Perhaps more surprisingly, so did the CFPB’s own general counsel Mary McLeod. Quoting an earlier Office of Legal Counsel opinion, McLeod concluded the fact that the FVRA “is not exclusive does not mean that it is unavailable.”  That is to say, the FVRA may not be the only way to handle the matter, but it is a possible (an “available”) way, and it’s up to the president to make the call — as other legal scholars such as Adam White emphasize.

On Tuesday, a district court judge declined to grant a temporary restraining order against Mulvaney’s claim to the CFPB throne. That does not settle the merits of the case, of course. And in the meantime, other subplots abound.

One is that the judge in the case, Timothy Kelly, was appointed by Trump and only took the bench in September.

The whole analysis is worth a read. Because like just about every other action of the current administration, it's bloody insane.

 

Uptown rats, downtown rats

A graduate student in New York has studied the genetic makeup of the city's rat populations, and discovered a divide between uptown and downtown:

As a whole, Manhattan’s rats are genetically most similar to those from Western Europe, especially Great Britain and France. They most likely came on ships in the mid-18th century, when New York was still a British colony. Combs was surprised to find Manhattan’s rats so homogenous in origin. New York has been the center of so much trade and immigration, yet the descendants of these Western European rats have held on.

When [Fordham University graduate student Matthew] Combs looked closer, distinct rat subpopulations emerged. Manhattan has two genetically distinguishable groups of rats: the uptown rats and the downtown rats, separated by the geographic barrier that is midtown. It’s not that midtown is rat-free—such a notion is inconceivable—but the commercial district lacks the household trash (aka food) and backyards (aka shelter) that rats like. Since rats tend to move only a few blocks in their lifetimes, the uptown rats and downtown rats don’t mix much.

I think rats are cool. I know they carry diseases and they have generally unpleasant habits in many cases, but they're symbiotic with us and they're all over every urban environment in the world. Also they make great pets—not New York feral brown rats, mind you, but your typical Norway lab rat is a pretty chill companion.

Only six strange things?

The Post's Aaron Blake, writing about yesterday's odd story of Project Veritas being kind of stupid, provides six examples of how they were stupid:

4. She used her real name and left a paper trail

The above Web page was a GoFundMe account seeking to raise money for the relocation to New York of a woman named Jaime Phillips. One of the donors to it matches the name of Phillips's daughter, according to public records.

So Phillips apparently went to work as a covert operative, still used her real name and left a paper trail suggesting that she was working for such an organization.

Yeah. I'm not sure why that was 4th, but it's still definitely a top-5 idiotic thing.

Making ride-shares pay for roads

CityLab has an interesting suggestion to manage the externalities of Uber and Lyft:

The policy journey of São Paulo, Brazil, a vast metropolitan region of 20 million people, has been telling. The city council initially banned all ride-hailing services via apps, spurred on by allies of the taxi industry. Other parties, recognizing the inevitable popularity of Uber as well as two more homegrown companies, 99 and Easy Taxi, pushed back. The compromise allows the companies to operate, but charges them for the use of streets per mile. A sliding scale was established—more if in the city center during peak hours with only one passenger; less for more passengers, cars in underserved areas, electric vehicles, women drivers, and accessible vehicles. A standing committee meets regularly on whether the charge needs to be modified. In the process, the city gets some raw data that can help with mobility policy.

The charges—for the privilege of using a public asset, the roadways, for commercial purposes—are estimated to bring in $50 million per year. Nearly a year after the policy was set, the experiment is going well, said Ciro Biderman, who recently left his position as chief innovation officer for São Paulo, where he led the design and rollout of the charges on transportation network companies.

Imagine, charging private companies a fee to use public assets.

Don't criticize what you don't understand

Jaime Peters approached the Washington Post with a story about Republican Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. The Post this afternoon published a story about her:

A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.

In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public.

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.

But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias.

The best bit is about Philips' GoFundMe campaign.

But I digress. It's fascinating how much effort O'Keefe's organization puts into this crap, and how they're going after organizations that know a whole lot more about investigation than they do. I'm reminded of the scene in the last Superman movie where Batman is punching a Kryptonite-weakened Superman in the face...as the Kryptonite wears off. By punch #3, Superman is just looking at him like, "Dude." That seems to be where WaPo is with these clowns.

Illinois electric utility adds power for the Cloud

The Cloud—known to us in the industry as "someone else's computers"—takes a lot of power to run. Which is why our local electric utility, ComEd, is beefing up their service to the O'Hare area:

Last month, it broke ground to expand its substation in northwest suburban Itasca to increase its output by about 180 megawatts by the end of 2019. Large data centers with multiple users often consume about 24 megawatts. For scale, 1 megawatt is enough to supply as many as 285 homes.

ComEd also has acquired land for a new substation to serve the proposed 1 million-square-foot Busse Farm technology park in Elk Grove Village that will include a data center component. The last time ComEd built a substation was in 2015 in Romeoville, to serve nearby warehouses. In the past year, Elk Grove Village issued permits for four data center projects totaling 600,000 square feet and $175 million in construction. If built, it's a 40 percent increase in total data center capacity in the village.

Insiders say Apple, Google, Microsoft and Oracle have taken on more capacity at data centers in metro Chicago in the past year or so.

One deal that got plenty of tongues wagging was from DuPont Fabros Technology, which started work earlier this year on a 305,000-square-foot data center in Elk Grove Village. DuPont, which recently was acquired by Digital Realty Trust, pre-leased half of it, or about 14 megawatts, to a single customer, believed to be Apple.

One of the oldest cloud data centers, Microsoft's North Central Azure DC, is about three kilometers south of the airport here. Notice the substation just across the tollway to the west.