The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Could have been worse

An Air France A380 carrying 520 passengers lost an engine over the Atlantic this weekend:

“Flight 066 landed without further damage at the Goose Bay military airport in Canada and all of the 520 people on board were evacuated with no injuries,” an Air France spokesman in Paris said.

Video and photo images posted on social media, apparently by passengers or their relatives, showed extensive damage to the front of the outer starboard engine, with part of its external cowling stripped away.

The cause of the problem was unknown, with one of the plane’s passengers suggesting that a bird might have collided with the engine which was damaged.

There are many potential causes of the engine losing its cowling in flight, but a bird strike at FL400 is not likely one of them.

Also, the passengers were never in any danger. Four-engine planes have to be able to fly upwards of 275 km on two engines to pass certification.

New project meetings

Yesterday and today I've been in meetings all day starting a new project at work. Unusually for my career, the project is not only a matter of public record, but the work will be in the public domain. That's right: I'm doing a project for the largest organization in the world, the United States Government.

Some parts of the project touch on confidential information, and I'm going to remain professionally discrete about the project details. But the project itself is unclassified, and we have permission from the sponsor to discuss it openly.

I'll have more about it tomorrow, including a photo or two I never thought I'd be able to take, let alone share publicly. Stay tuned.

What does Tinder know about you?

Via Bruce Schneier, a British reporter requested her data dossier from Tinder. As with so many other things in life, she was shocked, but not surprised:

The dating app has 800 pages of information on me, and probably on you too if you are also one of its 50 million users. In March I asked Tinder to grant me access to my personal data. Every European citizen is allowed to do so under EU data protection law, yet very few actually do, according to Tinder.

With the help of privacy activist Paul-Olivier Dehaye from personaldata.io and human rights lawyer Ravi Naik, I emailed Tinder requesting my personal data and got back way more than I bargained for.

Some 800 pages came back containing information such as my Facebook “likes”, my photos from Instagram (even after I deleted the associated account), my education, the age-rank of men I was interested in, how many times I connected, when and where every online conversation with every single one of my matches happened … the list goes on.

What will happen if this treasure trove of data gets hacked, is made public or simply bought by another company? I can almost feel the shame I would experience. The thought that, before sending me these 800 pages, someone at Tinder might have read them already makes me cringe.

Tinder’s privacy policy clearly states: “you should not expect that your personal information, chats, or other communications will always remain secure”. As a few minutes with a perfectly clear tutorial on GitHub called Tinder Scraper that can “collect information on users in order to draw insights that may serve the public” shows, Tinder is only being honest.

But as Schneier points out, "It's not [just] Tinder. Surveillance is the business model of the Internet. Everyone does this."

On assholes and disagreements

Two articles crossed my laptop today. First, from New York, Stanford professor Robert Sutton makes an argument that "we are living in Peak Asshole:"

Sutton doesn’t want to be, you know, an asshole: “Most of politics is everybody calling everybody else assholes.” And assholism, after all, is contagious. “Nasty behavior spreads much faster than nice behavior, unfortunately,” Sutton says. As he points out in his book, research shows that even a “single exposure” to negative behavior, like receipt of an insulting email, can turn a person into a “carrier.” “Literally like a common cold,” he adds. Similarly, when the president calls his detractors “haters and losers” in a tweet, when the wallpaper of life is made up of faces that belong to certified assholes like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Don Jr., etc., etc., ad infinitum, it most likely has a trickle-down effect. “The more assholes you’re around, the more asshole-y you get.” But there are other factors that have led to this explosion of assholes, Sutton points out, everything from heat and crowding to imbalances in power and the wealth gap. “The research says that when we’re in those situations, there’s envy going up, and sort of disdain goes down.” Research also shows that technology has increased the “asshole problem,” as Sutton puts it, because people are much more likely to be mean if they don’t have to make eye contact. And because technology has created the expectation for things to happen faster, and at all hours of the day, hurriedness and sleep deprivation have become major factors.

Although the new book seems exceptionally well timed, Sutton finished writing before the election, and he notes in it that he doesn’t buy into the adage that assholes finish first. The presence of a major-league asshole in the Oval Office would seem to prove him wrong, but Sutton stands by this theory. “The evidence generally is that when you treat people badly, the only time it really seems to work is if you’re in a zero-sum game and it’s a shorter-term game,” he explains. “And my perspective is that even if you’re in the zero-sum game, where the assholes get ahead, there’s all this negative carnage. The people around them, their physical and mental health and personal relationships, they all suffer. And I don’t want to go to Trump too much, but God, look how many people he’s gone through.” In the long run, he concludes, “people who treat each other with some civility generally do better.”

Very much in the same vein, New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens gave a lecture in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday about the dying art of disagreement:

To say the words, “I agree” — whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith — may be the basis of every community.

But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree.

And the problem, as I see it, is that we’re failing at the task.

There’s no one answer [about why this is happening]. What’s clear is that the mis-education begins early. I was raised on the old-fashioned view that sticks and stones could break my bones but words would never hurt me. But today there’s a belief that since words can cause stress, and stress can have physiological effects, stressful words are tantamount to a form of violence. This is the age of protected feelings purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.

The mis-education continues in grade school. As the Brookings findings indicate, younger Americans seem to have no grasp of what our First Amendment says, much less of the kind of speech it protects. This is a testimony to the collapse of civics education in the United States, creating the conditions that make young people uniquely susceptible to demagogy of the left- or right-wing varieties.

Both articles are worth reading.

Illiberalism on campuses

Via Andrew Sullivan's essay today in New York, Brookings released a poll this week that shows disturbing trends among college students' attitudes about free speech:

[A]mong many current college students there is a significant divergence between the actual and perceived scope of First Amendment freedoms. More specifically, with respect to the questions explored above, many students have an overly narrow view of the extent of freedom of expression. For example, a very significant percentage of students hold the view that hate speech is unprotected. In addition, a surprisingly large fraction of students believe it is acceptable to act—including resorting to violence—to shut down expression they consider offensive. And a majority of students appear to want an environment that shields them from being exposed to views they might find offensive.

We don’t need to turn middle and high school students into experts on constitutional law. But we can do a better job of giving them a fuller explanation of the scope of the First Amendment, and the fact that it protects the expression of offensive views. And, I would hope that we can do a better job at convincing current and future college students that the best way to respond to offensive speech is with vigorous debate, or peaceful protest—and not, as many seem to believe, with violence.

Sullivan thinks about the results:

Today’s students neither comprehend nor support the very concept of free speech, which is foundational to a liberal democracy. A full 19 percent even believe that physical violence is now justifiable to shut down speakers who engage in the vaguely defined term “hate speech.” That’s one in five students endorsing physical coercion. Antifa really is making headway, isn’t it? A small majority, 51-49, supports shouting down speakers you disagree with — and that goes to 62 percent of students who identify as Democrats.

We often discuss these things in the media without understanding the core ideas that animate them. But it’s important to understand that for the social-justice left, there is nothing irrational about any of this. If you take their ideas seriously, oppressive speech is violence and self-defense is legitimate. Violence is therefore not some regrettable incident. Violence to achieve liberation is a key part of the ideology they believe in.

Put another way, intolerance for opposing views is no longer just a feature of the right.

Pirates may be to blame for the U.S. not being Metric

The Système International d'unités, also known as the Metric System, is the most widely-used system of measuring things in the known universe. Of the 7.57 billion people in the world, somewhere around 7.2 billion use SI. The laggards are almost all here in the United States.

Sarah Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post Science Alert today, blames English privateers:

In 1793, botanist and aristocrat Joseph Dombey set sail from Paris with two standards for the new "metric system": a rod that measured exactly a metre, and a copper cylinder called a "grave" that weighed precisely one kilogram.

He was journeying all the way across the Atlantic to meet Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson - a fellow fan of base-ten systems who, Dombey hoped, would help persuade Congress to go metric.

Then a storm rolled in, knocking Dombey's ship off course. The unlucky academic was washed into the Caribbean - and straight into the clutches of British pirates.

The brigands took Dombey hostage and looted his equipment. The luckless scientist died in prison shortly after his capture; his belongings were auctioned off to the highest bidders.

France sent a second emissary to promote the metric system. But by the time the replacement arrived, America had a new secretary of state, Edmund Randolph, who apparently didn't care much for measurement.

As the person who sent me this article said, perhaps the pirates just preferred saying "yarrrrd?"

But really, I put this into the same category of "American exceptionalism" that keeps us executing criminals, not getting passports, and thinking that we're somehow #1.

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 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.