The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Long weekend; just catching up

Saturday and Sunday, the Apollo Chorus sang Verdi's "Requiem" three times in its entirety (one dress rehearsal, two performances), not including going back over specific passages before Sunday's performance to clean up some bits. So I'm a little tired.

Here are some of the things I haven't had time to read yet:

Other stuff is going on, which I'll report when I have confirmation.

Florida votes to secede from the Eastern time zone

Florida's legislature has voted overwhelmingly to change the state's clocks:

The Florida Senate passed the Sunshine Protection Act on Tuesday, three weeks after the state’s House of Representatives, and sent it to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature or veto. (Asked on Wednesday whether Mr. Scott would sign it, and why or why not, his press secretary, Lauren Schenone, said only, “The governor will review the bill.”) The margins of victory in both chambers were overwhelming — 33 to 2 in the Senate and 103 to 11 in the House — and the measure has considerable public support.

The problem? Florida doesn’t have the authority to adopt daylight saving time year-round.

15 USC 260a allows states to adopt year-round standard time, but not year-round daylight saving time. The Department of Transportation is in charge of what states go in what time zones.

In any event, what the bill's sponsors really want, but didn't know how to ask for, is to move Florida from the Eastern time zone (UTC-5 standard and -4 DST) to the Atlantic time zone (UTC-4 standard), and then exempt the state from DST. The intent is simply to put Florida on UTC-4 year-round.

What would that look like, though? From mid-March to early-November, it would look exactly the same, since they're on UTC-4 when on Eastern Daylight Time. Sunrises in would occur between 7:30am mid-March and 6:30am mid-June, sunsets between 7:30pm mid-March and 8:15pm mid-June.

In the winter, mornings would be pretty dark, but there'd be a lot of evening light. The sun would rise just after 8am on December 21st, but set around 6:30pm. In Jacksonville, way up north, the sun would rise about 20 minutes later. But farther west, in Pensacola, the sun wouldn't come up until 8:45am on December 21st, potentially obviating any benefit of the sun setting close to 7pm.

Note that Pensacola, at 87°11' W, is almost due south of Chicago. Miami (80°17' W) is nearly due south of Pittsburgh. But Florida's latitude reduces the differences between summer and winter daylight hours, compared with what we experience farther north.

Should Florida move to UTC-4? It might not be a bad move, if having daylight extend later in the evening makes up for the later sunrises. It would not, however, actually change the astronomical reality of how many hours of daylight they get.

We'll see if the Department of Transportation or the U.S. Congress gives them the authority to hop.

Youth is wasted on the young, EU railways edition

The European Union will let every 18-year-old citizen travel its railways for free this summer:

This summer, the European Commission is offering 18-year-old European residents a free Interrail ticket—a rail pass that permits travel across 30 European countries for a month. What’s more, they’re not just offering it to one or two teenagers. With a budget of €12 million for this year, the commission plans to fund trips for 20,000 to 30,000 young people, with the possibility of more passes in the years to come. Exact details of how to apply and who will be get an Interrail pass, worth up to €510 ($628), will be released in the next few months. But one thing is already clear: A large town’s worth of European 18-year-olds will be able to travel from Lapland to Gibraltar by train this summer, and the price they will pay is precisely nothing.

Visiting any major European station 25 years ago, you would have found the summer platforms packed with young people using Interrail passes, heading off to pretty much wherever they fancied on a whim. Its price—a then-steep £27.50 ($38) when first launched in 1972—meant that the experience was largely confined to young people who had middle- or upper-income parents, or who had jobs to help them save up. In an era when flights were still an exorbitant luxury and part-time jobs for teenagers more readily available, it was still a great deal. Night trains made it possible to cut accommodation costs, and the sheer range of countries included—all of Western Europe and even much of the Eastern bloc before 1989—was dizzying.

I got a 15-day pass in 1992 for about $300, or about $500 today. I wish I could do that again. Oh to be 18 and European...

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.

Too many apartments?

Crain's reported today that rents in Class-A properties in Chicago's Loop area have remained steady despite 4,500 new units hitting the market in 2017:

Demand for downtown apartments has been especially robust as job growth has picked up: Downtown Chicago added 19,448 workers in 2017, a 3.4 percent increase, the biggest annual gain in at least five years, according to Integra. That's one reason a key measure of apartment demand, absorption—the change in the number of occupied units—rose to 3,385 units in 2007, a record.

Still, developers threatened to ruin the fun. Even though absorption soared last year, it couldn't keep up with the a 4,500-unit increase in supply last year. Last fall, with the leasing season ending, many buildings offered generous concessions—two months of free rent over a 12-month lease wasn't uncommon—to attract renters.

Yes, but the Tribune says another 7,000 apartments will be built before the end of 2019:

While only about 3,000 apartment units are expected to be completed this year, developers next year could challenge the record number of downtown apartments — 4,350 units — built in 2017, Integra Realty Resources executives said Tuesday during the firm’s annual apartment and condominium forecast luncheon.

The firm projects that about 4,200 units will be completed in 2019.

The rate of downtown apartment construction is being closely watched amid concerns of an oversupply. Yet even amid the frenzied pace of construction, 2017 also brought a record for absorption: 3,385 units, a 31 percent increase from 2016. Absorption measures the change in the number of leased apartments compared with the previous year.

So what's going on? Shouldn't rents change one way or the other? The Atlantic suggests an answer:

Airbnb’s great contribution was to allow travelers to live as locals do—in the busy downtown residential areas, near the best restaurants, bars, and other local hangouts. Business travelers might prefer the amenities of a hotel. But what Airbnb offered was a superior simulacra of the local experience for leisure travelers—for an affordable price, which happened to support some local dwellers’ income.

But Airbnb's success also encouraged dubious behavior on the part of “commercial” power users—property owners who listed downtown units (especially second residences) all year long, as if they were hotel rooms. Why would would that be a problem? Open apartments occupied for much of the year by Airbnb-using travelers reduce the number of available homes to people who want to move into that building. High demand, plus lower supply, leads to higher prices. Several studies—including research from Harvard, MIT, UCLA, USC, and the University of Massachusetts Boston—have come to the same conclusion: Airbnb altogether drives up the price of rent in many neighborhoods. 

Increasing supply, not completely accounted for by absorption, should be pushing rents lower in downtown areas. But speculators (i.e., people buying apartments to list on AirBnB) are driving the price up.

As both a landlord and a renter, I'm watching this closely.

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

Peace in our time, canid edition

Coyotes and red foxes seldom interact in the wild, as foxes tend to give coyotes a wide berth. In urban areas, however, they seem to get along just fine:

Over the years, foxes and coyotes, like so many other wild species, have settled in the city, and they’re inevitably here to stay. It’s not uncommon to see them scampering across their neighborhoods. Some animal species have adapted to thrive amid the human-dominated landscape of high rises, fragmented green space, and heavy traffic. Now, at least in the case of these two wildlife predators, they may be changing their behavioral instincts to coexist with each other—thanks in part to the abundance of food.

[A recent] study has found instances where the two species forage for food at roughly 90 m from one another without incident. And in a rarely seen moment captured in Madison by PBS for their documentary, “Fox Tales,” a vixen remains alert as a pair of coyotes scavenges alarmingly close to a den with her pups inside. Drake said the interaction happened weekly for over a month, and yet there was no attempt for the mother to move her den.

Both species seem to live pretty close to me in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. I've seen more than one coyote on my street. (Fortunately, while foxes may not bother them, they still run away from humans.) I'm also seeing fewer rats. So, hey, foxes and coyotes are both welcome in Chicago, as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad they're not competing.

Buy me a ticket

Eurostar will launch London-to-Amsterdam service on April 4th. Airlines are worried:

Currently, a Londoner bound for Amsterdam by train can expect the journey to take a little under five hours, with a change of trains in Brussels. The new service will reach speeds of up to 186 miles per hour and cancel the need to change in Brussels, shaving off over an hour.

The prospect has already generated a palpable buzz, and the 900 tickets offered a day (starting at a reasonable $47 one way) are likely to sell out fast. But it’s not clear how the service will fare if it extends beyond two trains a day (as it likely will) on a route where price competition with airlines is already fierce. ... Can a train trip that takes more than than three-and-a-half hours succeed in competing with a flight time of scarcely an hour?

The tentative answer provides an interesting snapshot of just how much European travel has changed: 20 years ago, a train taking more than three hours would struggle to compete with an hour-long flight. Today, however, such as service is at a distinct advantage. It’s not necessarily the case that speed and comfort have necessarily skyrocketed for train travel (though there are indeed more fast routes now on offer). It’s because—especially for shorter distances—flying has become increasingly hellish and time-consuming.

Yep. And seriously, €50 return fares to Amsterdam sound really enticing. Hell, at €100, it's still cheaper than flying and takes less time. St. Pancras is in the center of London; Amsterdam's Centraal station is (you will be surprised to learn) also central. Next time I'm in the UK, I will seriously consider taking a day-trip to the Netherlands.

Friday afternoon link round-up

Where to start?

And now, a stand-up meeting.

Increasing inequality correlates with urbanization: Richard Flordia

Writing for CityLab today, Richard Florida cautions that Republican policies will increase the wealth and political divides in the country (which, after all, may be their plan):

[T]he declining parts of America now control our politics, and not just nationally, but also in the states. As Brownstein sums up: “The nation is poised for even greater tension between an economic order that increasingly favors the largest places—and a political dynamic that, for now, sublimates them to the smaller places that are economically falling behind.”

Far from Making America Great Again, Trump and the GOP are putting into place a backward-looking economic and social policy that threatens to undermine the key pillars of American innovation and economic prosperity. They are curtailing immigration and excluding global talent; slashing federal spending for research and development; lashing out at gay and women’s rights; cutting back on spending for state universities; and making efforts to undermine and preempt cities.

Once America’s innovative engine is dismantled, and talented people start to go elsewhere, it will be hard to put it back together again. For the first time in a very long time—perhaps since the Civil War—America’s divides threaten to put it on the wrong side of history.

After reading Why Britain Is At War over the weekend, and remembering Before the Deluge from a couple of years ago, I have to say the GOP's strategy sounds familiar. And troubling.