The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Under vacuum

So, this might be happening at my house next weekend:

The "sous vide" part of sous vide cooking refers to the vacuum-sealed bags that are often called for when you're using the technique. (The French phrase literally means "under vacuum.") However, these days, when someone says "sous vide cooking," they're generally referring to any kind of cooking that takes place in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath, whether you're actually using a vacuum-sealed bag or not.

Sous vide cooking offers unparalleled control over whatever it is you are trying to cook, whether it's steaks and chopsshrimp and lobstervegetables, or even large cuts of meat like pork shouldersand legs of lamb. With fast-cooking foods, like steaks and chicken breasts, sous vide removes all the guesswork involved in traditional methods. No poking with a thermometer, no cutting and peeking, no jabbing with your finger—just perfect results every single time.

A sous vide circulator mysteriously arrived at Inner Drive World Headquarters yesterday. We're going to start with eggs and work our way up to a venison steak. Yum.

Welcome (and overdue) feature in Chrome

The January release of Google Chrome will prevent videos from auto-playing:

Starting in Chrome 64, which is currently earmarked for a January 2018 release, auto-play will only be allowed when the video in question is muted or when a "user has indicated an interest in the media."

The latter applies if the site has been added to the home screen on mobile or if the user has frequently played media on the site on desktop. Google also says auto-play will be allowed if the user has "tapped or clicked somewhere on the site during the browsing session."

"Chrome will be making auto-play more consistent with user expectations and will give users more control over audio," writes Google in a blog post. "These changes will also unify desktop and mobile web behavior, making web media development more predictable across platforms and browsers."

I mean, really. The more advertisers annoy the shit out of us, the less effective it will be effective.

The second-most disgusting thing you'll read today

While not quite as viscerally grotesque as a 140-tonne fatberg, new details about the failures at Equifax that led to its massive data breach are still pretty disgusting:

Equifax has confirmed that attackers entered its system in mid-May through a web-application vulnerability that had a patch available in March. In other words, the credit-reporting giant had more than two months to take precautions that would have defended the personal data of 143 million people from being exposed. It didn't.

As the security community processes the news and scrutinizes Equifax's cybersecurity posture, numerous doubts have surfaced about the organization's competence as a data steward. The company took six weeks to notify the public after finding out about the breach. Even then, the site that Equifax set up in response to address questions and offer free credit monitoring was itself riddled with vulnerabilities. And as security journalist Brian Krebs first reported, a web portal for handling credit-report disputes from customers in Argentina used the embarrassingly inadequate credentials of "admin/admin." Equifax took the platform down on Tuesday. But observers say the ongoing discoveries increasingly paint a picture of negligence—especially in Equifax's failure to protect itself against a known flaw with a ready fix.

(Emphasis mine.)

Whenever people conservatives say that private industry is better at solving problems than government, I just think about some of the companies I've worked for, stir in crap like this, and laugh out loud.

The most disgusting story you'll hear all day

A 140-tonne blob of fat and other horrible things is blocking a sewer in East London:

What has been named the Whitechapel fatberg is a rock-solid agglomeration of fat, disposable wipes, diapers, condoms and tampons. It was discovered to the east of the city’s financial district, occupying a sixth of a mile of sewer under Whitechapel Road, between one of London’s largest mosques and a pub called the Blind Beggar, where walking tours are taken to reminisce about a notorious gangland murder.

Thames Water, the capital’s utility, said the fatberg weighed as much as 11 of the city’s double-decker buses: more than 140 tons. That is 10 times the size of a similar mass that the company found beneath Kingston, in South London, in 2013, and declared the biggest example in British history.

To prevent the contents of the sewer from flooding streets and homes nearby, the utility is sending an eight-member team to break up the fatberg with highpowered jet hoses and hand tools. The task is expected to take them three weeks, working seven days a week.

I mean...yuck. Citylab explains how fatbergs form:

But while it’s easy to shudder at, there is no easy fix for the fatberg problem, especially in a city like London where rising population is matched with an antiquated sewer system. “London is a sort of perfect storm for the phenomenon,” says Dr. Tom Curran, a lecturer at University College Dublin’s School of Biosystems & Food Engineering department, who has studied the problem extensively. Curran says that another problem, in addition to the growing population and various utilities sharing responsibility for the sewer networks, is the burden that the commercial sector places on the aging pipes. “London has a very high concentration of restaurants, hotels, pubs and takeaways, so you have a readily available source of grease waste,” Curran says.

The materials with which cities are built exacerbate the problem, too. Urban waste water often develops a high calcium content after flowing through or over calcium-rich concrete. When that water mixes with cooking grease in the sewer, it transforms the fat into a dense lump via saponification—yes, believe it or not, fatbergs are created by the same chemical process as bars of soap.

And quit flushing "disposable" wipes.

Mispronouncing street names

Historian John Schmidt posted today about the 11 most-mispronounced street names in Chicago:

(1) Devon. Like those posts note—and like most Chicagoans I know—I pronounce it dee-VAHN.

(2) Leavitt. Forget the part that looks like “leave.” It’s LEV-itt.

(3) Paulina. Not pronounced like the girl’s name. The street is pull-EYE-nuh.

That last one is part of a joke: What are the three street names that rhyme with female anatomy? Paulina, Malvina, and Lunt.

It also reminds me of Yuri Rasovsky's infamous 1972 recording, "The Chicago Language Tape:"

Not many of those street names sound like that after 45 years. But it's still hilarious if you're familiar with the city.

Sit down, Don, you fat motherf----r

Jeet Heer grapples with the depressing reality that we'll never be completely free of Donald Trump during his lifetime:

For argument’s sake, let’s assume the best-case scenario: that we somehow manage to survive Trump’s first term and send him packing in 2020. At the moment, the odds of him winning reelection appear about equal to those of the Titanic triumphantly resurfacing under its own steam. His approval ratings are at historic lows, and he evinces no interest in finding a way to expand his base. The doting crowds he still draws at his campaign-style rallies convince him that he’s beholding—and beloved by—a majority of Americans, since those are the only moments he ever comes face-to-face with a citizen unpossessed of either a trust fund or a hedge fund.

So: What happens after Trump finds out that America has rejected him in favor of whatever crooked, terrorist-loving, jobs-destroying candidate the Democrats have decided to nominate? Nothing dignified. For starters, he’ll likely skip his successor’s “fake inauguration” and stage his own swearing-in, surrounded by what he will tout as the biggest crowd of onlookers in the history of onlooking. There is no scenario in which Trump will accept that he has lost fair and square; no matter how resounding his margin of defeat may be, he will begin his post-presidency by howling about massive voter fraud and political witch hunts and the failure of whatever attorney general has replaced Jeff Sessions to put his opponent behind bars. In his mind, Trump will still be president, and he will devote himself to a lifelong and evidence-free campaign to expose the conspiracy that illegally deposed him.

All Trump ever wanted to do was to play the president, a role that will be immeasurably easier once he’s actually out of office. Sarah Palin tried and failed to become a TV star after leaving office. Trump enacted that strategy in reverse. As ex-president, he will be perfectly positioned to return to his natural habitat, the simulacrum of “reality TV.”

He's right, sadly. And we still have 1,225 days until this term is over.

Statistical sins: smoking v. e-cigratettes

Deeply Trivial finds evidence for why there is little evidence about the safety of e-cigarettes:

[T]he statistical sin here isn't really something the researchers have done (or didn't do). It's an impossibility created by confounds. How does one recruit people who have only smoked e-cigarettes or who at least have very little experience with regular cigarettes? What's happening here is really an issue of contamination - a threat to validity that occurs when the treatment of one group works its way into another group. Specifically, it's a threat to internal validity - the degree to which our study can show that our independent variable causes our dependent variable. In smoking research, internal validity is already lowered, because we can't randomly assign our independent variable. We can't assign certain people to smoke; that would be unethical. Years and years of correlational research into smoking has provided enough evidence that we now say "smoking causes cancer." But technically, we would need randomized controlled trials to say that definitively. 

That's not to say I don't believe there is a causal link between smoking and negative health outcomes like cancer. But that the low level of internal validity has provided fuel for people with an agenda to push (i.e., people who have ties to the tobacco industry or who otherwise financially benefit from smoking). Are we going to see the same debate play out regarding e-cigarettes? Will we have to wait just as long for enough evidence to accrue before we can say something definitive about e-cigarettes?

For my part, their safety or lack of to the smoker makes little difference to me. I just don't like people blowing their exhaust fumes into my environment.

Change to Illinois small business insurance

With only a very small group to insure, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois is leaving the Obamacare exchange for small businesses:

Calling all small businesses with a Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois plan through the Obamacare public health insurance exchange: Look out for an email this week informing you that the state's largest insurer is officially leaving the online marketplace.

That leaves small employers looking for an exchange plan for 2018 with one option: downstate Health Alliance. Chicago-based Blue Cross, which has a dominating market share in Illinois among consumers and small businesses alike, still plans to woo small employers with plans off the exchange.

To be sure, the so-called Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, where small businesses nationwide can buy coverage on the federally-run online marketplace HealthCare.gov, never gained steam for a host of reasons. For one, small employers prefer trusted brokers instead of using their time to navigate the incredibly complex world of health insurance.

Blue Cross disclosed in August that it planned to leave SHOP, while the insurer proposed rate hikes for individual plans sold on the exchange. The online marketplace wasn't the most effective way to offer employers choice, said Brian Cheney, Blue Cross vice president of the small business market. Besides, businesses can buy the same sets of Blue Cross plans and rates on and off the exchange.

BCBSIL has no plans to leave the individual Obamacare exchange.

Slosh modeling started here

The science of modeling hurricane storm surges started here in Chicago after the seiche of 1954:

When the surge hit Chicago, it hit a city that housed one of the world’s great meteorology departments, at the University of Chicago. One of its professors was the meteorologist George Platzman....

The meeting of those two freak concepts—real but rare deadly Great Lakes storm surges, and the bizarre possibility of an atomic bomb detonating in Lake Michigan—along with his computer-forecasting experiments, led Platzman to take up the nonexistent science of storm-surge prediction, beginning with an attempt to reverse-engineer the 1954 tragedy. His first model, in 1958, got the timing right, but was off by half on the height of the surge; nonetheless, it was used to accurately predict a 1960 Lake Michigan storm surge on Chicago, resulting in a public warning that may have saved lives.

Five years later, Platzman published a much more ambitious run at the phenomenon, crunching 20 years of hourly wind and water-level data at six weather stations on Lake Erie. He also used a much more sophisticated model than his 1958 study—which didn’t include wind stress—a level of complexity only possible in the computer age. And it worked, with an accuracy of about 90 percent.

The models improved into today's SLOSH model, which meteorologists have been using with abandon the past two weeks.