The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Even better weather

We're now on the third day of spring weather even though spring doesn't technically begin (for climatologists, anyway) until Thursday. Yesterday we got up to 12°C, even more spring-like than Sunday's 10°C. (Those high temperatures are normal for March 31st and 23rd, respectively.)

Today's forecast high is 17°C—normal for April 24th and, if it actually happens, a new record for February 27th. (Note that the current record, 16.7°C, was set in 2016.)

Two things to note: first, weather ≠ climate, though you would be forgiven for freaking out at the Washington Post's latest news on the topic.

Second, this has given me a great opportunity to get steps in.

For the first time ever, I've gotten back-to-back 25,000-step days: 28,828 on Sunday and 28,293 yesterday. This included a lunchtime hike from my office to the end of the 606 Trail and back:

I've hit 25,000 steps only 15 times out of the 1,223 days I've had a Fitbit. That's 1.22%. For comparison, I've hit 20,000 steps only 66 times (5.56%), and 30,000 steps only 6 times (0.49%). I last hit 30,000 on May 27th (33,241), and last hit 25,000 (before Sunday) on August 29th (26,914).

So here's the question: can I do 30k today? Yes. But I'm not entirely sure how yet. Stay tuned.

The definition of "ridiculous"

The best President we have, who got deferments from service during the Vietnam War because of "bone spurs" in his heels, fantasized yesterday about charging into a school shooting unarmed:

Speaking to a meeting of the country’s governors at the White House, Mr. Trump conceded that “you don’t know until you test it.” But he said he believed he would have exhibited bravery “even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.”

As Mr. Trump skipped from one possible solution to another, he mused about the “old days,” when potential criminals could be locked in mental hospitals, and he vowed to ban “bump stocks,” an accessory that can make a semiautomatic weapon fire rapidly, more like an automatic rifle. But he dropped any mention of raising the age required to purchase a rifle to 21 from 18, something he said last week he supported, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Obviously no one wants to see another school shooting, and no reasonable person wants to see the President of the United States involved in a gunfight. But someone surrounded by what Aaron Sorkin once called "the best-trained armed guards in the history of the world" probably shouldn't boast about courage he clearly doesn't have. I mean, the man is afraid of stairs; what would he do when confronted with a rifle?

How even 35% of the country could approve of someone this ridiculous holding the office he does without, you know, ridiculing this behavior, is beyond my ken.

Function following forms

Designer Josh Gee spent two years trying to put Boston city government forms online:

Getting city workers to accept online submissions rather than traditional paper ones is the bulk of this work. On average, it took me about 30 minutes to make a digital form and five weeks to meet with, earn the trust of, and get buy-in from the employees who would use it. Even if they were excited, the nitty gritty details took a lot of back and forth.

While I avoided a bunch of process change, there were some takeaways that I think are useful for anyone working to move government forms online:

  • There is huge demand to move forms online — I had expected to drag departments online kicking and screaming. Instead, the majority of departments were eager to move things online and thrilled to have a partner with the technical knowledge, mandate, and tools to do that.
  • Flexibility about form structure and questions — I initially thought there would be a strong demand for submissions that look exactly like current paper forms. That hasn’t been the case. In all but one or two cases, I was not only able to move forms online, but also suggest changes that made forms shorter, more clear, and more accessible.
  • Excited about future change — Early on I began to notice a pattern. A few weeks after I moved a form online, some departments would to reach back out and ask for tools to help them manage digital submission, “This has been absolutely amazing. It would be great if I could approve it and then send it to Steve for his signature”. I thought a lot about the phrase salami slicing. If I tried to change everything about the way these departments worked right off the bat, they would have resisted every step of the way. Moving just a part of their workflow online made them eager to go completely digital.

This is close to home as my company is right now engaged in an effort to do this sort of thing for the U.S. Military Enrollment Processing Command. It's not easy.

Blogging A to Z challenge...accepted

This year, The Daily Parker will participate in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge.

Since I've posted an average 1.31 times per day since the modern era* of this blog began in November 2005, and an average of 39.6 times every April, posting at least 26 entries this coming April isn't the challenge. (Also, given trends, it's possible my 6,000th modern-era post will be one of them.)

No, the challenge will be coming up with 26 entries on one specific topic, and making them worth reading. Keep reading to see (a) what topic I pick and (b) how I do.

Sign-up opens March 5th.

* braverman.org had a proto-blog starting in May 1998. Let that sink in. We didn't even call it "blogging" back then.

Another spring day

Yesterday I did, in fact, hit 25,000 steps. I ended the day with 28,828. I considered going for one more 15-minute walk to hit 30,000, but decided I'd had enough for the day, and went to bed—and got 7½ hours of sleep.

This morning it was once again clear and crisp (but above freezing), so I walked to work, just over 6 km and one hour of walking, and about 7,000 steps. So at 11am, I've already got 9,200. With a forecast 11°C and an Apollo Chorus rehearsal 5 km away, I might hit 20,000 again today.

Tomorrow's forecast looks even better for walking. Wednesday looks OK, too. And then it will rain all day Thursday. Still, I'm confident of making a pretty good showing in a Fitbit challenge going on this week.

And as we have just a two more days of meteorological winter, I'm also ever more confident that January 1st will remain the coldest day of 2018. (We'll see what happens in late December.)

And with that, I'm off to Starbucks, and probably 10,000 steps before noon.

Spring day

Finally! It's a clear, sunny, above-freezing day in Chicago with no snow left on the ground. So far I've gotten over 20,000 steps, and if I keep walking around various neighborhoods, I'll clear 25,000. (I've done that only 13 times since October 2014. I've hit 20,000 on 66 days, or about 5% of the time.)

Of course, that means not a lot of blog posting this weekend. Sorry.

The middle of nowhere

...is Glasgow, Montana:

[R]esearch, published in Nature last month, allows us to pin down a question that has long evaded serious answers: Where is the middle of nowhere?

To know, you’d have to catalogue and calculate the navigation challenges presented by the planet's complex, varied terrain and the dirt tracks, roads, railroads and waterways that crisscross it. You'd then need to string those calculations together, testing every possible path from every point to every other point.

Armed with this data, and hours and hours of computer time, The Washington Post processed every pixel and every populated place in the contiguous United States to find the one that best represents the “middle of nowhere.”

Congratulations, Glasgow, Mont.!

Of all towns with more than 1,000 residents, Glasgow, home to 3,363 people in the rolling prairie of northeastern Montana, is farthest — about 4.5 hours in any direction — from any metropolitan area of more than 75,000 people.

Looking at Google Maps, it seems the nearest airport with a nonstop flight to London (one of my yardsticks) is most likely Calgary, Alb., 622 km away as the crow flies, or 760 km by the shortest land route. (For comparison, Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters is 14 km away from such an airport.)

I'd bet they've got pretty good stargazing there, though.

Similar origins, different outcomes

The Washington Post has a long biography of two men born into wealthy New York City families just after World War II but have arrived at different places:

They are the sons of wealth, brought up in families accustomed to power. They were raised to show and demand respect, and they were raised to lead.

They rose to positions of enormous authority, the president of the United States and the special counsel chosen to investigate him. They dress more formally than most of those around them; both sport meticulously coiffed hair. They have won unusual loyalty from those who believe in them. They attended elite all-male private schools, were accomplished high school athletes and went on to Ivy League colleges. As young men, each was deeply affected by the death of a man he admired greatly.

Yet Robert Swan Mueller III and Donald John Trump, born 22 months apart in New York City, also can seem to come from different planets. One is courtly and crisp, the other blustery and brash. One turned away from the path to greater wealth while the other spent half a century exploring every possible avenue to add to his assets.

At pivotal points in their lives, they made sharply divergent choices — as students, as draft-age men facing the dilemma of the Vietnam War, as ambitious alpha males deciding where to focus their energies.

It's a long read, but worth it for Mueller's story. You can't help respecting the guy, even if you've never seen him in person. As for the President...well, his story is better known, and instills in me a somewhat different reaction.

The consequences of Parkland

The shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week have galvanized students across the country. Here are three of the more thoughtful reactions.

First, David Kurtz at TPM Prime (sub.req.) thinks these murders might finally, and suddenly, break the NRA's choke-hold on the Republican Party:

The NRA’s power lies in having made anything other than maximal support for gun rights a nearly impossible position for Republican officeholders to sustain. The very definition of Republican is to be lockstep in opposition to gun control. That wasn’t always true. The politicization of the GOP that saw the winnowing of moderate Republicans, especially in the Northeast, accelerated the process of making absolutism on guns a defining feature of the modern GOP, more so even than opposition to abortion.

The challenge for the NRA has been to continue to raise the price of apostasy on guns for Republican officeholders high enough and fast enough that it outpaces the cost of holding the line through the carnage of the last decade. It’s a breathtaking political calculation all the way around. Again, I go back to Newtown. For GOP elected officials, it’s safer to cluck and shake your head over Newtown and do nothing than to break with the NRA and the party. Until that calculation changes, nothing else will.

But when it does change, it will change everything.

WaPo's Paul Waldman explains why the Parkland students have made the pro-gun right wing so angry:

The plainer reason is that as people who were personally touched by gun violence and as young people — old enough to be informed and articulate but still children — the students make extremely sympathetic advocates, garnering attention and a respectful hearing for their views. The less obvious reason is that because of that status, the students take away the most critical tool conservatives use to win political arguments: the personal vilification of those who disagree with them.

So right now, conservatives are engaged in a two-pronged attempt to take it back. On the more extreme side, you have the social media trolls, the conspiracy theorists, the more repugnant media figures, who are offering insane claims that the students are paid agents of dark forces, and can therefore be ignored. On the more allegedly mainstream side, you have radio and television hosts who are saying that the students are naive and foolish, and should not by virtue of their victimhood be granted any special status — and can therefore be ignored.

Meanwhile, writing for the New York Times, Michael Ian Black argues that part of the problem is how too many boys are "trapped in an outdated model of masculinity"

...where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.

And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage. We’ve seen what withdrawal and rage have the potential to do. School shootings are only the most public of tragedies. Others, on a smaller scale, take place across the country daily; another commonality among shooters is a history of abuse toward women.

To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not.

Are we finally at a point where we can prevent gun murders without adding more guns to the mix? Do we all have to live in fear of angry men with military-grade weapons?

And let's remember one of the best public service announcements on the topic:

Frequency vs efficiency

Pilot Patrick Smith takes airlines to task for scheduling lots of little planes instead of fewer, larger planes as they did in the past:

What’s happened is three things. First, aircraft and engine technology has advanced to the point where smaller jets with limited capacity can be profitable even on long segments. And many of these planes are operated by low-paying regional carriers, two whom the airlines have outsourced much of their domestic flying. Second, the U.S. airline industry has fragmented. There are more airlines flying between more cities. Probably the biggest factor, though, is the way airlines have come to use frequency as a selling point. In a lot of ways, frequency of flights has become the holy grail of airline marketing. Why offer three daily nonstops to LAX using 300-seat planes, when you can offer six flights using 150-seat planes? And so here we are: there are city-pairs all across America connected by a dozen, fifteen, or even twenty flights a day — all in narrow-body jets carrying fewer than 200 people.

Airlines don’t sell frequency so much as they sell the promise, or the illusion of it. Under optimum circumstances, it works for both the industry and its customers. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, it can be a disaster. The question for the consumer is this: would you prefer ten flights a day that might arrive on time, or five flights a day that will arrive on time?

He included in his post photos of American DC-10s at LaGuardia in the 1980s, which I can scarcely remember. But I do remember that the Boeing 757 was designed to get 250 passengers to that specific airport, with its relatively short runways that end in Flushing Bay.