The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Yes, it's getting hotter

We have lovely weather in Chicago today—24°C and sunny—but summer has been pretty warm so far. It's been worse in other places. The Times demonstrates today that this is a worldwide trend:

During the base period, 1951 to 1980, about a third of summers across the Northern Hemisphere were in what they called a “near average” or normal range. A third were considered cold; a third were hot.

Since then, summer temperatures have shifted drastically, the researchers found. Between 2005 and 2015, two-thirds of summers were in the hot category, while nearly 15 percent were in a new category: extremely hot.

Practically, that means most summers today are either hot or extremely hot compared to the mid-20th century.

The Climate Prediction Center calls for above-average chances (+33% to +50%) for above-normal temperatures throughout the U.S. through August, except for parts of the Southwest that are normally too hot for humans. The forecast for August through October calls for 40%+ probabilities of above-normal temperatures throughout all the U.S., particularly along the Gulf, Atlantic, and Bering coasts. The MET predicts the same for most of the world.

 

New hints about dog domestication

Via Deeply Trivial, a new study published last week provides new evidence that only a few genetic changes made wary wolves into friendly dogs:

Not much is known about the underlying genetics of how dogs became domesticated. In 2010, evolutionary geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University and colleagues published a study comparing dogs’ and wolves’ DNA. The biggest genetic differences gave clues to why dogs and wolves don’t look the same. But major differences were also found in WBSCR17, a gene linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans.

Williams-Beuren syndrome leads to delayed development, impaired thinking ability and hypersociability. VonHoldt and colleagues wondered if changes to the same gene in dogs would make the animals more social than wolves, and whether that might have influenced dogs’ domestication.

The team notes, for instance, that in addition to contributing to sociability, the variations in WBSCR17 may represent an adaptation in dogs to living with humans. A previous study revealed that variations in WBSCR17 were tied to the ability to digest carbohydrates — a source of energy wolves would have rarely consumed. Yet, the variations in domestic dogs suggest those changes would help them thrive on the starch-rich diets of humans.

I hope they're not barking up the wrong tree here.

Could be worse. Will be worse.

Heading home from New York just now, and came across an infographic from today's Chicago Tribune about the weather in Chicago on this day in 1934. My heavens. After 21 days of 32°C-plus temperatures, Midway Airport hit 43°C on July 23rd, with the official temperature at University of Chicago hitting 41°C the next day—the hottest temperature officially recorded in Chicago history. (Lakeside temperatures were 9°C cooler than even a short distance inland.)

It's not quite that hot today, but it could be again in a few years. Regularly. But at least it won't be as bad for us as for the folks in the Southwest and Southeast.

Everything but the parents

A new apartment building called "Common Damen" is geared towards millennials who don't want to make commitments:

All furnishings (beds, couches, etc.) are included in the rent, as well as utilities, cable, high-speed WiFi, in-unit laundry, a cleaning service every other week, and an on-site group leader who organizes events like potluck dinners, yoga and book clubs.

“Renters are able to walk right in and have many of the things it could take years to establish — a place in a great neighborhood, access to their workplace and popular destinations, a core social network. For people who are mobile, professional, and have other priorities besides owning property, this is an ideal solution," [the developer] said.

So, for about the same rent as your own 1-bedroom apartment on the same block, you can live with random roommates for a few months with all the comforts of your parents' house, including, possibly, a random couple living in the master suite.

I don't know whether this is a good idea or evidence of the ever-extending adolescence of millennials. Possibly it's just an effort to capture consumer surplus from them?

Not sure that's a bad thing...

I just saw a comment on a review site listing the following as a "con" for a particular Web-based product:

I really feel like this company doesn't fix problems that only affect a couple of customers. Instead they prioritize fixes that affect the whole system and only fix specific problems when they have time.

Yes. Also, you might be interested to learn that businesses try to make profits by selling things for more than it cost to obtain them.

On behalf of the company in question—a small business in Chicago whose principal constituents are non-profit organizations with budgets under $1m—you're either new to this whole "commerce" thing or you have a magnificently droll sense of humor. Either way, good day to you, sir. I said good day!

Maybe someday the U.S. will catch up to Europe and Canada

Specifically today, I'm talking about chipped credit cards, which the rest of the world has had for years longer than we have, and they're a lot less annoying. Bloomberg's Ben Steverman explains why:

It's an awkward and irritating experience, and payment companies are aware of the problems. "Some places, it's seamless and beautiful," said Robert Martin, North American vice president of security solutions at Ingenico Group, the second-largest maker of payment terminals in the U.S. "Other places, not so much. But we're learning." 

Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes. To connect to card networks, retailers use a countless array of software providers and payment processors. Payments can also be linked to more than a dozen other applications controlling store operations, from coupons to inventory. If not configured perfectly, this tangle of systems and vendors can slow chip transactions to a crawl. 

Customers' experience with chip cards should improve gradually, one upgrade at a time, as the systems become more standardized, industry experts say. Slow transactions and confusing interfaces will disappear, or retailers risk losing customers to rivals with more pleasant checkout experiences.

Once again, the U.S. is way behind the rest of the world. In the U.K. and Canada, about 40 percent of Visa's transactions are contact-less, the payment network says. In Australia, the number is 85 percent.

And let's not forget: in the rest of the world they use chip and PIN systems, which are far more secure than chip and signature. Maybe someday...

Friday afternoon link round-up

While I'm trying to figure out how to transfer one database to another, I'm putting these aside for later reading:

Back to database analysis and design...

Certified Independent Craft Beer?

A group of 800 breweries—including Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada—has joined an initiative to differentiate their brands from the big guys:

The initiative, which was spearheaded by the trade group for independent craft brewers, is intended to differentiate "true" craft beers from those made by the likes of MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch and Heineken.

To qualify to use the seal, breweries cannot be more than 25% owned or controlled by any alcohol company that's not itself a craft brewer. Its annual production also can't exceed 6 million barrels.

Distribution contracts frequently allow major beer brands to dictate where their beer is placed on shelves, for instance. And Big Beer has successfully driven independent beers out of some stadiums, music venues and chain restaurants by asking distributors to stock their craft brands instead of independents.

Brewers say these concerns have only been exacerbated by Big Beer's incursion into craft. The acquisition of independent breweries, they argue, has eroded the few advantages the indies had: higher-quality beers in different styles and a cooler, vastly less corporate brand.

Since 2011, Anheuser-Busch has bought Goose Island, Blue Point, Karbach, Golden Road, Devil's Backbone, Elysian, Ten Barrel, Breckenridge, Four Peaks and Wicked Weed. MillerCoors now owns Terrapin; Heineken has Lagunitas; and Constellation owns Ballast Point Brewery.

We'll see how this initiative fares. Most of the beer I drink qualifies as independent, but Lagunitas still makes some pretty good brews.

A small man gives a small speech in Poland

Looking back on speeches American presidents have made in Europe, James Fallows points out just how much President Trump diminished our country and its ideals when he spoke in Warsaw this week:

When John F. Kennedy gave his celebrated remarks in Berlin a few months before his death, he presented both the United States and free West Berlin as proud illustrations of a larger idea: “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’” (You can read the text of the speech, and see a video of its still-remarkable five-minute entirety, here.)

Nearly 25 years later, when Ronald Reagan went to the Berlin Wall, he gave a speech that became famous for its rhetorical plea, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” But the surrounding tone was like Kennedy’s.

How was Trump’s speech, which you can read here, different?

The minor problem was the routine neuralgia of Trump’s “formal” (from a script) rhetoric. These included the almost willfully pedestrian language (has no one there bothered to read even the great conservative orators, from Churchill to Reagan?). And the off-hand misstatements of fact, as when Trump discussed NATO obligations as if they were club-dues on which members were in arrears. And the unique-to-Trump phenomenon of his ad-libbed “Hey, that’s interesting!” commentary when he comes across information in a prepared text that is apparently new to him. This was most breathtaking in today’s speech when he read a line about Poland fighting simultaneously against Hitler’s Nazi army and Stalin’s Soviet army in 1939, and then said: “That's trouble. That's tough.”

But the major departure in Trump’s speech was its seeming indifference to the American idea. At least when speaking to the world, American presidents have emphasized an expanded “us.” All men are created equal. Every man is a German. Ich bin ein Berliner. Our realities in America have always been flawed, but our idea is in principle limitless. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Trump gave grace-note nods to goals of liberty and free expression. Mainly, though, he spoke not about an expanded us but instead about us and them. He spoke repeatedly about our “heritage,” our “blood,” our “civilization,” our “ancestors” and “families,” our “will” and “way of life.” Every one of these of course has perfectly noble connotations. But combined and in practice, they amount to the way the Japanese nationalists of the early 20th century onward spoke, about the purity of “we Japanese” and the need to stick together as a tribe. They were the way Mussolini spoke, glorifying the Roman heritage—but again in a tribal sense, to elevate 20th century Italians as a group, rather than in John F. Kennedy’s allusion to a system of rules that could include outsiders as civis romanus as well. They are the way French nationalists supporting Marine LePen speak now, and Nigel Farage’s pro-Brexit forces in the U.K., and “alt-right” activists in the United States, and of course the Breitbart empire under presidential counselor Steve Bannon. They rest on basic distinctions between us and them as peoples—that is, as tribes—rather than as the contending ideas and systems that presidents from our first to our 44th had emphasized.

Every day this man remains in office, we are diminished just a little bit more.