The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What are the odds of this?

North suburban New Trier High School—one of the richest public schools in the world—has a world-record 44 sets of twins (and one set of triplets) in the 10th grade class alone. I'm going to ask Deeply Trivial to help figure out, what is the probability this happened entirely by chance?

Kathy Routliffe has the story for Pioneer Press:

Their numbers are noteworthy, given that the class has slightly more than 1,000 students, according to New Trier officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the rate of U.S. twins at 33.5 per 1,000 births in 2015, making New Trier's sophomore class statistically impressive.

Even more so is the fact that some sophomore twins chose not to take part in the project, and that other New Trier classes also boast twins, Winnetka campus principal Denise Dubravec said Wednesday.

Most, 22 sets of twins, and the triplets, come from Wilmette. Many were part of Ryan and Luke [Novosel]'s first record-setting effort: They got their fifth grade class at Wilmette's Highcrest Middle School certified for the same record back in 2013, with 24 sets.

Guinness officials certified the numbers last May, although they didn't send word to Ryan and Luke until January, Fendley said. When they did, Ryan and Luke learned their class set two records, one for the most number of twins, and one for the highest numbers of multiples, thanks to the triplets.

Seriously, there has to be a non-random cause here. Fertility treatments, maybe?

(Incidentally, a number of my close family members and some friends attended NTHS, and I grew up in a neighboring district.)

Another ruling in the gig economy

The Federal court in the Northern District of California ruled today that GrubHub delivery drivers are contractors, not employees:

The ruling may have far-reaching implications for other sharing economy companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., whose business models are built on pairing customers with products and services through apps and typically avoid the costs of traditional employment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco concluded Thursday, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, that a gig-economy driver doesn't qualify for the protections of employees under California law.

Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University, said Corley's decision is a “doubly big” win for GrubHub due to California's relatively high standard for establishing workers as independent contractors.

“If they can make it here, they can more likely make it anywhere,” Garden said. “It is also the first federal court to reach a verdict on whether workers in the gig economy are employees or not, so companies like Uber and Lyft will also be celebrating this win.”

(Of course, Uber may not survive its ongoing struggle with the Justice Department for other reasons, but that's not the point.)

Judge Corley admonished the state legislature to fix the problem this case exposed: “Under California law whether an individual performing services for another is an employee or an independent contractor is an all-or-nothing proposition,” she wrote. “With the advent of the gig economy, and the creation of a low wage workforce performing low skill but highly flexible episodic jobs, the legislature may want to address this stark dichotomy.”

We can expect multiple lawsuits in other Federal circuits any day now. 

Bracing for it

While we hope it will not repeat early February 2011, we expect to get up to 300 mm of snow overnight and into tomorrow here in Chicago:

The Chicago area is under a winter storm warning from Thursday evening through Friday night, with the National Weather Service warning that "travel will be very difficult to impossible at times, including during the morning commute."

Much of the area should see 6 to 10 inches of snow between 6 p.m. Thursday and 9 p.m. Friday, though some areas to the north of the city could get hit with a foot of snow while areas to the south could get almost nothing.

Between 6 p.m. and midnight, forecasts predict a little over an inch in Chicago and more in outlying areas. From midnight to 6 a.m. Friday, another 3.3 inches could fall, making for a messy morning commute. During the 12-hour stretch between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., about 5 more inches could fall, according to the weather service.

"The morning commute is going to be rough," said Amy Seeley, a meteorologist with the weather service. "It will be more impacted than the evening commute."

The storm is approaching out of Montana and South Dakota and is expected to follow Interstate 80 corridor through Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Well, tomorrow should be loads of fun...

File that under "B" for "Bad OpSec"

Via Bruce Schneier (and other sources), the Australian government suffered one of its worst-ever disclosures of secrets caused by not looking through used furniture:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase.

And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.

The found documents ranged from embarrassing (to both major Australian parties) to seriously top secret (troop deployments, police investigations). In response, the Australian government is calling for increased penalties for publishing or even possessing secret documents—but as Schneier points out, in this case that would have made the breech immeasurably worse for Australia:

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

In all, it's a reminder of the security adage that no security system can completely protect against human stupidity.

American mobile phone customers, do this now

I got a weird text from T-Mobile a few minutes ago:

T-Mobile Alert: We have identified an industry-wide phone number port out scam and encourage you to add account security. Learn more: t-mo.co/secure

Well, that does not sound good.

And it's not. Apparently thieves have found that American mobile phone providers are unusually helpful when it comes time to steal mobile phone numbers (called "SIM hijacking") or to port those numbers to third-party mobile providers. In both cases, the thieves now have a way to bypass any three-factor authentication (TFA) you may have set up with, for example, your bank.

T-Mobile at least offers a service called "Port Authentication" which lets you set up a 6- to 16-digit PIN that you must have to make any changes to your account—like, for example, getting a new SIM. After getting the text alert, and validating it with trusted online sources, I immediately called 611 and set up port authentication.

There are a couple of other things you should do:

  • Lock your phone all the time, with something very hard to subvert, like a strong password. If you must use a convenience feature like iris or fingerprint authentication, make sure the phone still requires a password on reboot.
  • Set your phone up so that it doesn't display the contents of texts or IMs when your phone is locked.
  • Encrypt your phone, so that even if all your other security is bypassed, you won't be stuck.

Seriously, this all costs you nothing and can save you a fortune.

A mollusk told a crustacean to GFY. What happened next will terrify you

In all seriousness, self-cloning crayfish are kind of freaky:

In 2003, scientists confirmed that the marbled crayfish were indeed making clones of themselves. They sequenced small bits of DNA from the animals, which bore a striking similarity to a group of crayfish species called Procambarus, native to North America and Central America.

For nearly two decades, marbled crayfish have been multiplying like Tribbles on the legendary “Star Trek” episode. “People would start out with a single animal, and a year later they would have a couple hundred,” said [German biologist Frank] Lyko.

Many owners apparently drove to nearby lakes and dumped their marmorkrebs. And it turned out that the marbled crayfish didn’t need to be pampered to thrive. Marmorkrebs established growing populations in the wild, sometimes walking hundreds of yards to reach new lakes and streams. Feral populations started turning up in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine in Europe, and later in Japan and Madagascar.

Cloning works in the short term, but not for very long. Sex is useful in fighting disease:

If a pathogen evolves a way to attack one clone, its strategy will succeed on every clone. Sexually reproducing species mix their genes together into new combinations, increasing their odds of developing a defense.

The marbled crayfish offers scientists a chance to watch this drama play out practically from the beginning. In its first couple decades, it’s doing extremely well. But sooner or later, the marbled crayfish’s fortunes may well turn.

“Maybe they just survive for 100,000 years,” Dr. Lyko speculated. “That would be a long time for me personally, but in evolution it would just be a blip on the radar.”

One question the Times did not answer: how do they taste?

Setting up lunchtime reading

Over the weekend I made a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, and today I'm going to spend some time taking it off its Azure Web Role and moving it to an Azure Website. That will (a) save me money and (b) make deployments a lot easier.

Meanwhile, a number of articles bubbled up overnight that I'll try to read at lunchtime:

Back to Azure deployment strategies.

The peasants have no bread

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tweeted early yesterday the great news about the tax breaks ordinary people are experiencing:

Never mind all the Democrats who call the GOP’s tax bill a deficit-busting giveaway to the rich; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has been enthusiastically promoting it as a middle-class tax windfall.

He’s been coaching other Republican lawmakers to sell the $1.5 trillion tax cut to voters, and telling people on Twitter to check their paychecks for wage hikes. The bill — which was deeply unpopular when it passed along party lines in December — is now breaking even in a new opinion poll.

So Saturday morning, by way of good news, Ryan’s Twitter account shared a story about a secretary taking home a cool $6 a month in tax savings.

Wow. An extra $1.50 a week will make a huge difference to that taxpayer. That might even let her eat cake.

The administration's insane attack on law enforcement

Confronted with the options that these guys are master strategists or they're not even thinking about their next move, Occam's Razor suggests we're dealing with serious stupidity here:

The war between the president and the nation’s law enforcement apparatus is unlike anything America has seen in modern times. With a special counsel investigating whether his campaign collaborated with Russia in 2016 and whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in 2017, the president has engaged in a scorched-earth assault on the pillars of the criminal justice system in a way that no other occupant of the White House has done.

At the start of his administration, Mr. Trump targeted the intelligence community for his criticism. But in recent months, he has broadened the attacks to include the sprawling federal law enforcement bureaucracy that he oversees, to the point that in December he pronounced the F.B.I.’s reputation “in tatters” and the “worst in history.”

In his telling, that bureaucracy, now run by his own appointees, is a nest of political saboteurs out to undermine him — an accusation that raised fears that he was tearing at the credibility of some of the most important institutions in American life to save himself.

This is insane. Even the Republicans in Congress who are enabling this behavior must know, on some level, it's insane.

In other news, the next presidential term begins in only 1,081 days...

The plan

Today I plan to take Parker on a decent walk before it gets cold and starts snowing. I'm also working on a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, including looking into creating an API against which I can write a React/Relay front-end.

Also I have a lot of reading to catch up on, some of which I may write about.

In other words: a quiet Saturday at home.