The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Not looking good in Houston

Hurricane Harvey has dropped so much rain on Houston that two 1930s-era dams have been overwhelmed for the first time in history:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Tuesday morning that water was spilling from around the dam gates of the Addicks Reservoir, which has been overwhelmed by extreme rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. Officials said they expect the Barker Reservoir, to the south of Addicks, to begin overflowing similarly at some point Tuesday.

A Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist said the overflow from the reservoirs would eventually flow into downtown Houston.

The reservoirs, which flank Interstate 10 on the west side of Houston, flow into the Buffalo Bayou and are surrounded by parks and residential areas. Water levels in the two reservoirs had already reached record levels Monday evening, measuring 32 m at Addicks and 30 m at Barker.

Engineers were unable to measure water levels at the Barker Reservoir on Tuesday because its gauge was flooded overnight, said Jeff Lindner, the Harris County flood control meteorologist.

In response, City Lab asks, why can't the U.S. manage flooding?

For New Orleans, whose below-sea-level position makes it particularly imperiled, the August floods were a reminder of something we should take much more seriously than we have. We ought to apply more aggressively the lessons we claimed to be learning from the Dutch after Katrina. It’s a course of action that would amount to a sea change in how we approach the wet threat that surrounds us on every side.

We need to get as smart and wily about water as Rotterdam. New Orleans’s continued viability as a population center and commercial hub depends on it. We must learn to live with water, to absorb rainfall and storm surge in massive retention facilities, to designate greenspaces that double as parks. We need to stop paving our yardsto make nifty little pads for the family car. We need to build absorbent rooftop gardens on as many buildings as can be put to that purpose.

Speaking of, I'm planning to visit New Orleans this weekend. Harvey is expected to pass northwest of the city tomorrow and land in the Tennessee Valley by Friday afternoon. I'm still bringing water shoes and an umbrella.

Thoughts on a day that seemed cooler earlier

Walking to work is an easy way to hit my step goal before lunch. It's 6.75 km and 8,500 steps. At just over an hour, it takes only about 20 minutes longer than the bus or 30 minutes longer than the train.

The problem is the dewpoint. When I left my house, the temperature was a delightful 19°C...and the dewpoint was a sticky 17°C. By the time I'd gone ten blocks I was already uncomfortable.

Note to self: bring a fresh shirt when you walk to work, no matter what the weather looks like.

Monday afternoon I'll-read-this-later summary

Articles I haven't got time to read until later:

That's all for now. Busy weekend behind me, another one ahead.

Have a Zima with your Zestimate

On Tuesday, a Federal judge in Chicago dismissed with prejudice a case against Zillow that alleged its "Zestimates" made houses harder to sell:

In the suit, first filed in May, Glenview homeowner and attorney Barbara Andersen alleged that the estimates Zillow posts with for-sale listings essentially act like an appraisal of exact market value. Under Illinois law, only licensed appraisers can issue an appraisal. Andersen's suit alleges Zillow is engaging in illegal practices.

Not so, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve wrote in her dismissal. "The word 'Zestimate'—an obvious portmanteau of 'Zillow' and 'estimate'—itself indicates that Zestimates are merely an estimate of the market value of the property," St. Eve wrote.

"We always say that the Zestimate isn't an appraisal," [Zillow's] Emily Heffter told Crain's earlier this year. "It's a starting point that people can use when they're working with a professional appraiser or a professional agent to determine the home's value."

St. Eve also wrote that Zillow's estimates do not constitute an invasion of privacy because they are based on public records, with additions submitted by the homeowners if they choose to.

It zeems obvious, when you think about it.

Existence proofs and military robots

Via Bruce Schneier, an essay on how the fact that something appears in nature means it can exist, and what this means for military robots:

In each of the [Planet Earth II] documentary’s profiles of monkeys, birds, and lizards, I saw what technologists refer to as an “existence proof.” Existence proofs are the simplest way to resolve an argument about what is technologically possible. Before 1900, people argued whether building a human-carrying powered airplane was possible. In 1903, the Wright Brothers ended the debate with an existence proof. As I watched Planet Earth II, I saw existence proof after existence proof of technological capabilities that, applied to warfare and espionage, would make global militaries and intelligence agencies significantly more powerful – but also significantly more vulnerable.

I realized Hollywood has it all wrong. The future of military robotics doesn’t look like The Terminator. It looks like Planet Earth II.

Imagine a low-cost drone with the range of a Canada goose, a bird that can cover 1,500 miles in a single day at an average speed of 60 miles per hour. Planet Earth profiled a single flock of snow geese, birds that make similar marathon journeys, albeit slower. The flock of six-pound snow geese was so large it formed a sky-darkening cloud 12 miles long. How would an aircraft carrier battlegroup respond to an attack from millions of aerial kamikaze explosive drones that, like geese, can fly hundreds of miles? A single aircraft carrier costs billions of dollars, and the United States relies heavily on its ten aircraft carrier strike groups to project power around the globe. But as military robots match more capabilities found in nature, some of the major systems and strategies upon which U.S. national security currently relies – perhaps even the fearsome aircraft carrier strike group – might experience the same sort of technological disruption that the smartphone revolution brought about in the consumer world.

The next war won't look anything like the last one. (Then again, it never does.)

Possibly the worst self-inflicted data disclosure in history

It's hard to overstate how bad this is. Via Bruce Schneier, it turns out that the Swedish Transport Ministry outsourced its database hosting to IBM, which subcontracted the work to a Serbian company with ties to the Russian military. And what databases did Sweden wind up hosting in its "Cloud" facility in Serbia? All of them:

Part of what IBM contracted to was run, and which was run from Serbia, was the Swedish government’s secure intranet – the SGSI, the Secure Government Swedish Intranet. This network is in turn connected to the European Union’s STESTA, which is a European Union secure network. This is what the Swedish Transport Agency gave staff in Serbia administrative network accessto, and it is no conspiracy theory that Serbia is a close military ally with Russia. While it can’t be proven in this specific case that high-value military information in Serbia’s hands also comes into Russia’s hands, it’s one of those things that should just be assumed in the general case.

The net effect here is that the EU secure Intranet has been leaked to Russia by means of deliberate lawbreaking from high ranking Swedish government officials. Even if there are additional levels of encryption on STESTA, which there may or may not be, this has “should never happen” written all over it.

Sweden's own data, leaked through this outsourced administration, include:

  • The weight capacity of all roads and bridges (which is crucial for warfare, and says a lot about what roads are intended to be used as wartime airfields);
  • Names, photos, and home addresses of fighter pilots in the Air Force;
  • Names, photos, and home addresses of everybody and anybody in a police register, all of which are classified;
  • Names, photos, and home addresses of all operators in the military’s most secret units – equivalent to the SAS or SEAL teams;
  • Names, photos, and home addresses of everybody in a witness relocation program or who has been given protected identity for other reasons;
  • Type, model, weight, and any defects of any and all government and military vehicles, including their operator, which says a ton about the structure of military support units....

There isn't a desk in the world sturdy enough for the massive head impacts that the rest of the worlds' security forces are perpetrating on them right now.

Stunning.

Just add water

...to your whisky:

[A]dding water releases molecules that improve the flavor. Water and ethanol don’t make for a perfectly uniform mixture. Aromatic compounds could become trapped in ethanol clusters and never reach the surface. Our tongues are only capable of identifying the flavors, sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory), so aroma is really important for detecting all the other flavors that connoisseurs appreciate in whiskey.

Guaiacol is what gives whiskey that smoky, spicy, peaty flavor. Chemically, guaiacol is similar to a lot of other whiskey aroma compounds like vanillin (with the scent of vanilla) and limonene (citrus). These and other flavor compounds are not attracted to water and are more likely to become trapped in ethanol clusters.

So, just add a couple of drops to your dram, especially if it's cask-strength. But start with good whisky; diluting crap won't improve it.

ACLU changes its policy after Charlottesville

The organization will no longer defend armed hate groups:

The change in policy followed the ACLU of Virginia’s decision to file suit to ensure that an assortment of white supremacist groups could hold the now-notorious “Unite the Right” rally earlier this month in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park. While the ACLU wasn’t responsible for the fatal violence that ensued, the entire organization was convulsed in the fallout. One ACLU of Virginia board member resigned in protest. In a historic gesture, three California affiliates broke with the Virginia branch and the national organization to condemn the lawsuit. “If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution,” they said.

In a statement to the New Republic, an ACLU spokesperson said the new policy will be applied on a “case by case” basis, meaning greater scrutiny will be applied to possible clients. “If we determine that any potential client intends to subvert their rights under the First Amendment to cause violence, we wouldn’t represent them. The First Amendment doesn’t protect violence, that hasn’t changed,” Noa Yachot said.

Interesting. And sad. But necessary.

Astronomical

I'm back home, and I've shoved all the Scotland photos out of the way so I could post this:

I didn't notice until I processed the photos from my 7D, but there are two solar storms visible: one at about 3 o'clock and the other, fainter one at about 1 o'clock.

We're already looking into a vacation in Chile in the summer of 2019...