The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.)

Vrooooom

Since I learned how to drive a car, I've wanted to pick up a BMW in Munich. The European Delivery program allowed Americans to buy a made-to-order car at their local dealer, pick it up in Munich, drive it around Europe for up to 6 months, drop it off at an Atlantic port (Antwerp, I think), and drive it home from your local dealer about 12 weeks after that. Because of tax incentives from the German government and other factors, the purchase price of the car and delivery to your local dealer cost almost exactly what it would cost without picking it up here.

Sadly, it appears that program has ended, in part because of the pandemic, but also because BMW now builds most of its North American cars in North America. You can always go to Spartanburg, S.C., I suppose, but that isn't quite the same thing.

If I ever get a huge bonus or win the lottery, I'd buy a BMW anyway; specifically, the 330eX, their 4-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid. I'm sure my Prius Prime gets much better efficiency (and costs about half what the 330eX would), but having owned two BMWs before, I can assure you a BMW is much more fun to drive.

So with no way to buy a BMW this weekend, I at least got to the source:

And continuing a theme of this weekend, I got there on a fast, quiet, modern subway train:

Unrelated to anything transportation-related, I have an update on Cassie and her friend Butters from the latter's humans. Both girls like food:

And they both like naps:

Now that I've had a quick lunch of Schweinswurst, Käse, Oliven, und ein Shoko-croissant, I am going to take a walk through the Isarvorstadt neighborhood just to my southwest.

Updates, on dogs, trains, and walks, as conditions warrant.

Metra to dip toe into early-2000s technology

Before I even took off from Chicago on Wednesday morning, I snarked a bit on the widening gulf between US and European technology, particularly in public transport. I don't think Chicago's regional heavy-rail agency, Metra, heard me specifically, but it seems they have committed to introducing electric trains on one currently-Diesel route before the end of the decade:

Metra plans to buy battery-powered trains that could hit the rails as early as 2027 on the Rock Island line, potentially fast-tracking a move to greener and more frequent off-peak service.

The commuter rail agency’s board voted Wednesday to pay $154 million for eight two-car, zero-emission trains from Stadler U.S., of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The trains, unveiled by the Stadler U.S.’ Swiss parent company last year, are a significant departure from Metra’s well-known diesel locomotives and cars.

The Stadler trains have low-level boarding and ADA-compliant lifts. Each two-car powered train seats 112 people, with trailer cars seating about 46. The cars are connected by open gangways. Half of the trailer cars would include ADA-accessible bathrooms.

In its statement, Metra said the new trains could help achieve its vision of providing more frequent all-day service. The first sets are expected to be delivered in 2027 or 2028, Metra said.

So, the Rock Island line gets Saturday and Sunday electric trains only half a century after the all-electric S-Bahn opened here in Munich.

Which reminds me, on Tuesday coming home from work I discovered that the 13-year project to construct a single goddamn Metra station officially concluded with the opening of the inbound Leland Avenue ramp at Ravenswood, almost 7 months after the rest of the station opened:

But hey, the Metra Rock Island District will get eight two-car electric trainsets—made by a Swiss company—within the next four years.

The OTHER lounge

I forgot that one of the perks of flying in international first class—even if it's a miles ticket—is access to American's Flagship Lounge. I have to say, I see the appeal.

But like so much in the United States, the top-tier lounge in Chicago has roughly the same amenities and food as the regular lounges in Europe and Asia.

I'm heading to Munich, as mentioned earlier, in part to enjoy modern technology, now that my own country has drifted to the back of the pack amongst its peer countries. It's very frustrating, to put it mildly, that the Most Powerful Nation in the History of the Planet™ can't figure out how to build a high-speed train, for example.

The same thing happened to Rome, of course. By the 1st century CE, Rome had the largest empire and most powerful military the world had ever seen till then, but Constantinople had already started to pull ahead in technology. By 500 CE, Rome had become a provincial outpost with ruined monuments, and Constantinople was beyond anything the Romans could imagine.

Reading list for this week

As I'm trying to decide which books to take with me to Germany, my regular news sources have also given me a few things to put in my reading list:

Finally, the North Atlantic has near-record jet streams again this week, approaching 360 km/h, and shaving 45 minutes off the DC–London route. I would love that to happen Wednesday.

$350 million in fines

New York Justice Arthur Engoron just handed the XPOTUS a $350 million fine and barred him and his two failsons from running a business in New York for years:

The decision by Justice Arthur F. Engoron caps a chaotic, yearslong case in which New York’s attorney general put Mr. Trump’s fantastical claims of wealth on trial. With no jury, the power was in Justice Engoron’s hands alone, and he came down hard: The judge delivered a sweeping array of punishments that threatens the former president’s business empire as he simultaneously contends with four criminal prosecutions and seeks to regain the White House.

Mr. Trump will appeal the financial penalty — which could climb to $400 million or more once interest is added — but will have to either come up with the money or secure a bond within 30 days. The ruling will not render him bankrupt, because most of his wealth is tied up in real estate.

Of course he'll appeal, but New York doesn't give him many grounds to do so. And given the scale of the fraud he perpetrated on the State, even this eye-watering sum will probably survive scrutiny from the appellate court.

In other news this afternoon:

Finally, the Tribune has a long retrospective on WGN-TV weather reporter Tom Skilling, who will retire after the 10pm newscast on the 28th.

More info about the Divvy situation

After posting this morning about all the injured and lame e-Divvy bikes around Chicago, a Daily Parker reader just sent me this story from last November, reporting that Divvy planned to (and presumably did) switch its maintenance subcontractor on February 1st of this year:

Periodically we do a [Request for Proposals]," the Lyft staffer said. "We want the best operations and service delivery for our city partners and customers. Motivate's contract was running out on February 1, so we held a competitive procurement process. Both Motivate and Shift were interested in the new contract. Shift runs bike-share systems in Toronoto, Detroit, and Portland, Oregon." Shift also currently operates Divvy's electric scooter fleet.

There's evidence this management switch could be good news for Divvy riders. The system's recent challenges with out-of-service bikes and ineffective rebalancing are well-documented. And then there was the embarrassing July 2022 spotting of a massive number of dysfunctional Divvies sitting in a vacant lot across the alley from the bike-share system's service warehouse at 2132 W. Hubbard St. in West Town. That was definitely not a good look for Motivate, which was managing Divvy's bike maintenance operations at the time.

While the machinations going on right now at Divvy are a little complex, there's no reason to believe they'll be bad for customers or employees.

I mean, except for the transition period, one supposes...

What's going on with our e-bikes?

Divvy, Chicago's bike-share program, seems to have some issues lately. For about two weeks now, almost no electric bikes have shown up on the app. This one, for example, clearly needs some TLC, and it's invisible online:

I counted half a dozen in my neighborhood that have dead batteries. My friends in other neighborhoods describe similarly grim situations, or worse: one rack in Lakeview had nothing but broken bikes, and showed 0 available on the app.

Divvy's Twitter feed doesn't provide much insight, either. They can only repeat "we'll have our Operations Team check it out!" so many times before it becomes self-parody.

On top of the subscription price increase that took effect last week, I and other users have gotten a bit annoyed. Divvy, what gives?

Who could have predicted this?

Metra's new fare structure took effect this morning, along with the planned closure of every ticket window that still existed. It was therefore crucially important that the Ventra app (now the only way to pay for tickets) updated properly overnight. Alas:

Commuters faced an extra headache Thursday as the Ventra app crashed on the first day of new Metra procedures and prices, including the closure of ticket windows.

An alert on the Metra website informs riders that the app is down and technical crews are working to solve the issue.

“It’s not the way we would have liked it to go,” Metra spokesperson Meg Reile said.

Metra is working with Cubic, the company that runs the app, to get it up and running as soon as possible, Reile said.

On my train this morning, the conductor announced that he knew the app was down, so we should enjoy the ride. I expect they lost tens of thousands in revenue today.

As of this writing, the app appears to be working! And I have just purchased my monthly ticket for February.

I'll update the Brews & Choos page later today.

Over-zealous PEAs

A few months ago a Chicago Parking Enforcement Agent (PEA) tried to give me a ticket while I was paying for the parking spot online. I kept calm and polite, but I firmly explained that writing a ticket before I'd even finished entering the parking zone in the payment app might not survive the appeal.

Yesterday I got another parking ticket at 9:02pm in a spot that has free parking from 9pm to 9am. The ticket actually said "parking expired and driver not walking back from meter." Note that the parking app won't let you pay for parking beyond 9pm in that spot. Because, again, it's free after 9pm. That didn't stop the PEA, so now I actually will appeal, and I'll win. But it's a real pain.

Again, I thank Mayor Daley for jamming through the worst public financial deal in the history of the United States.

Meanwhile, I didn't have time to read all of these at lunch today:

  • Almost as shocking as the realization that privatizing parking meters games the system in favor of private interests against the general public, it turns out so do traffic impact studies.
  • The Illinois Board of Elections voted unanimously to reject an effort to keep the XPOTUS off the Republican Party primary ballot, citing an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that excludes the Board from constitutional questions.
  • Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (R) won't win the Republican nomination for president this year, but she will make the XPOTUS froth at the mouth.
  • Of course, she and others in her party persist in trying to make their own voters froth at the mouth, mostly by lying to them about the state of the economy, cities, and other things that have gone pretty well since 2021.
  • Of course, perhaps the Republican Party lies so much to cover their demonstrable incompetence at governing?
  • Christopher Elmensdorf warns that the clean energy bill winding through the Democratic offices on Capitol Hill will lead to endless NIMBYism—not to mention bad-faith blockage by fossil-fuel companies.
  • For only $120,000 a year, this consultant will get your kid into Harvard.
  • Helmut Jahn's new building at 1000 S. Michigan Ave. looks super cool.

I will now go back to work. Tonight, I will schedule my parking appeal. Updates as conditions warrant.