The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Looking forward to Arsenal v Lincoln Yards

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has announced a joint venture with Sterling Bay, the developer building on the former Finkl Steel site in Lincoln Park (mentioned here last week), to bring professional soccer back to Chicago:

Sterling Bay will develop and own the stadium, and will keep an ownership stake in the USL franchise it bought last year. Ricketts will be the team’s majority owner.

The Tribune in October reported that Sterling Bay was proposing a stadium on the site, as part of its effort to bring Amazon or another large corporation to the mixed-use development as an office tenant.

Chicago’s USL team is expected to begin playing in 2021.

The stadium and training facility will be available to youth and professional athletes, and also will have community and cultural events, according to the news release.

The stadium is planned along the west side of the river.

I'm looking forward to the Lincoln Yards development. The Finkl Steel plant, though an economic powerhouse for decades in Chicago, was also a huge, ugly, and polluting bunion at the foot of the Lincoln Park community area. Like other former industrial areas near to downtown (including, or perhaps especially, the New East Side), almost any mixed-use commercial/residential development is preferable at this stage of Chicago's life.

Also, I think an English Premier League vs. Chicago football match would be loads of fun.

Biggest plane ever now at O'Hare

British Airways has started daily service between Chicago and London on the Airbus A380:

Last year, British Airways said it would begin using the A380 on one of two daily flights between Chicago and London. The aircraft seats up to 469 passengers in four cabins, including 14 first-class suites, 97 lie-flat business-class seats and 55 premium economy seats, with the remaining 303 in coach, British Airways said.

It’s only within the past couple of years that O’Hare has had facilities to accommodate the A380, which is 72.5 m long and 24 m high, with a 79.5 m wingspan. O’Hare has had a runway big enough for the A380 since 2013 but lacked gates that fit two-level planes at the time.

There is a non-zero chance, therefore, that I will fly on one of these bad boys before 2018 ends. (It's not a great chance, but it's at least a chance.)

New deal to extend 606 Trail

Sterling Bay, the company developing the Finkl site in Lincoln Park, has reached a deal with the Chicago Terminal Railroad to extend the 606 Trail across the Chicago River:

Sterling Bay, which plans a big development on the former Finkl steel plant site and neighboring parcels, has resolved its dispute with a rail company that owns train tracks that run across riverside land and on to Goose Island.

The rail company, Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings, infuriated Sterling Bay and Goose Island landlords last fall when it rolled a couple dozen empty tanker cars across the Finkl property and onto Goose Island and left them there.

In October, Sterling Bay asked a federal agency to force Iowa Pacific to give up the tracks, arguing that they would derail development in the area. Other landlords complained that Iowa Pacific stored the cars on Goose Island merely to shake them down for money to remove the cars.

But the fight didn't last long: In January, an Iowa Pacific unit, the Chicago Terminal Railroad, gave up, agreeing not to oppose Sterling Bay's application with the federal Surface Transportation Board to force the rail company to abandon the tracks, according to a recent decision by the board.

The proposed extension to the trail would also include moving and modernizing the Metra station at Clybourn Junction.

Y is for Y2K (and other date/time problems)

Blogging A to ZI should have posted day 25 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge. yesterday, but life happened, as it has a lot this month. I'm looking forward to June when I might not have the over-scheduling I've experienced since mid-March. We'll see.

So it's appropriate that today's topic involves one of the things most programmers get wrong: dates and times. And we can start 20 years ago when the world was young...

A serious problem loomed in the software world in the late 1990s: programmers, starting as far back as the 1950s, had used 2-digit fields to represent the year portion of dates. As I mentioned Friday, it's important to remember that memory, communications, and storage cost a lot more than programmer time until the last 15 years or so. A 2-digit year field makes a lot of sense in 1960, or even 1980, because it saves lots of money, and why on earth would people still use this software 20 or 30 years from now?

You can see (or remember) what happened: the year 2000. If today is 991231 and tomorrow is 000101, what does that do to your date math?

It turns out, not a lot, because programmers generally planned for it way more effectively than non-technical folks realized. On the night of 31 December 1999, I was in a data center at a brokerage in New York, not doing anything. Because we had fixed all the potential problems already.

But as I said, dates and times are hard. Start with times: 24 hours, 60 minutes, 60 seconds...that's not fun. And then there's the calendar: 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 (or 366) days...also not fun.

It becomes pretty obvious even to novice programmers who think about the problem that days are the best unit to represent time in most human-scale cases. (Scientists, however, prefer seconds.) I mentioned on day 8 that I used Julian day numbers very, very early in my programming life. Microsoft (and the .NET platform) also uses the day as the base unit for all of its date classes, and relegates the display of date information to a different set of classes.

I'm going to skip the DateTime structure because it's basically useless. It will give you no end of debugging problems with its asinine DateTime.Kind member. This past week I had to fix exactly this kind of thing at work.

Instead, use the DateTimeOffset structure. It represents an unambiguous point in time, with a double value for the date and a TimeSpan value for the offset from UTC. As Microsoft explains:

The DateTimeOffset structure includes a DateTime value, together with an Offset property that defines the difference between the current DateTimeOffset instance's date and time and Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Because it exactly defines a date and time relative to UTC, the DateTimeOffset structure does not include a Kind member, as the DateTime structure does. It represents dates and times with values whose UTC ranges from 12:00:00 midnight, January 1, 0001 Anno Domini (Common Era), to 11:59:59 P.M., December 31, 9999 A.D. (C.E.).

The time component of a DateTimeOffset value is measured in 100-nanosecond units called ticks, and a particular date is the number of ticks since 12:00 midnight, January 1, 0001 A.D. (C.E.) in the GregorianCalendar calendar. A DateTimeOffset value is always expressed in the context of an explicit or default calendar. Ticks that are attributable to leap seconds are not included in the total number of ticks.

Yes. This is the way to do it. Except...well, you know what? Let's skip how the calendar has changed over time. (Short answer: the year 1 was not the year 1.)

In any event, DateTimeOffset gives you methods to calculate time and dates accurately across a 20,000-year range.

Which is to say nothing of time zones...

Three on climate change

Earlier this week, the Post reported on data that one of the scariest predictions of anthropogenic climate change theory seems to be coming true:

The new research, based on ocean measurements off the coast of East Antarctica, shows that melting Antarctic glaciers are indeed freshening the ocean around them. And this, in turn, is blocking a process in which cold and salty ocean water sinks below the sea surface in winter, forming “the densest water on the Earth,” in the words of study lead author Alessandro Silvano, a researcher with the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

In other words, the melting of Antarctica’s glaciers appears to be triggering a “feedback” loop in which that melting, through its effect on the oceans, triggers still more melting. The melting water stratifies the ocean column, with cold fresh water trapped at the surface and warmer water sitting below. Then, the lower layer melts glaciers and creates still more melt water — not to mention rising seas as glaciers lose mass.

"The idea is that this mechanism of rapid melting and warming of the ocean triggered sea level rise at other times, like the last glacial maximum, when we know rapid sea level rise was five meters per century,” Silvano said. “And we think this mechanism was the cause of rapid sea-level rise.”

Meanwhile, Chicago magazine speculates about what these changes will mean to our city in the next half-century:

Can Chicago really become a better, maybe even a far better, place while much of the world suffers the intensifying storms and droughts resulting from climate change? A growing consensus suggests the answer may be a cautious yes. For one, there’s Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies how global warming affects regional economies. In the simulations he ran, as temperatures rise, rainfall intensifies, and seas surge, Chicago fares better than many big U.S. cities because of its relative insulation from the worst ravages of heat, hurricanes, and loss of agriculture.

Indeed, the Great Lakes could be considered our greatest insurance against climate change. They contain 95 percent of North America’s supply of freshwater—and are protected by the Great Lakes Water Compact, which prohibits cities and towns outside the Great Lakes basin from tapping them. While aquifers elsewhere run dry, Chicago should stay flush for hundreds of years to come.

“We’re going to be like the Saudi Arabia of freshwater,” says David Archer, a professor of geophysical science at the University of Chicago. “This is one of the best places in the world to live out global warming.”

There’s just one problem: Water, which should be our salvation, could also do us in.

The first drops of the impending deluge have already fallen. Every one-degree rise in temperature increases the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water vapor by almost 4 percent. As a result, rain and snow come down with more force. Historically, there’s been a 4 percent chance of a storm occurring in any given year in Chicago that drops 5.88 inches of rain in 48 hours—a so-called 25-year storm. In the last decade alone, we have had one 25-year storm, plus a 50-year storm and, in 2011, a 100-year storm. In the best-case scenario, where carbon emissions stay relatively under control, we’re looking at a 25 percent increase in the number of days with extreme rainfall by the end of the century. The worst-case scenario sees a surge of 60 percent. Precipitation overall may increase by as much as 30 percent.

And in today's Times, Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey argue that cars are ruining our cities as well as our climate:

[T]he truth is that people who drive into a crowded city are imposing costs on others. They include not just reduced mobility for everyone and degraded public space, but serious health costs. Asthma attacks are set off by the tiny, invisible soot particles that cars emit. Recent research shows that a congestion charge in Stockholm reduced pollution and sharply cut asthma attacks in children.

The bottom line is that the decision to turn our public streets so completely over to the automobile, as sensible as it might have seemed decades ago, nearly wrecked the quality of life in our cities.

We are revealing no big secrets here. Urban planners have known all these things for decades. They have known that removing lanes to add bike paths and widen sidewalks can calm traffic, make a neighborhood more congenial — and, by the way, increase sales at businesses along that more pleasant street. They have known that imposing tolls with variable pricing can result in highway lanes that are rarely jammed.

We're adapting, slowly, to climate change. Over my lifetime I've seen the air in Chicago and L.A. get so much cleaner I can scarcely remember how bad it was growing up. (Old photos help.) But we're in for some pretty big changes in the next few years. I think Chicago will ultimately do just fine, except for being part of the world that has to adapt more dramatically than any time in the last few thousand years.

Construction complication in Dunning

No, not the Dunning of Kruger fame; Dunning, the community area on the far northwest side of Chicago.

Workers building a new school in the neighborhood discovered that not only was it the former site of a poor house, but also that 38,000 people may be buried there:

“There can be and there have been bodies found all over the place,” said Barry Fleig, a genealogist and cemetery researcher who began investigating the site in 1989. “It’s a spooky, scary place.”

Workers have until April 27 to excavate and clear the site, remediate the soil and relocate an existing sewer line. The school is scheduled to open in time for the 2019-20 academic year, though a spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools would not say what type of school it will be.

Fleig said he’s “nearly certain” there are no intact caskets buried underneath the proposed school grounds — bodies were primarily buried in two formal cemeteries, though scattered human remains have been discovered during previous construction projects near the campus.

In 1854, the county opened a poorhouse and farm and gradually added an insane asylum, infirmary and tuberculosis hospital to the property. At its peak, a thousand people were buried on the grounds each year.

The state took over in 1912 and changed the official name to Chicago State Hospital. Buildings were shuttered in 1970 and operations moved west of Oak Park Avenue to what is now Chicago-Read Mental Health Center. 

In 1854, the site would have been a few hours' ride from the city. So I'm glad to see that the American tradition of dumping the poor in places where they can't possible thrive was as strong then as now. I'm a little shocked that a pauper's cemetery acquired so many corpses in sixty years, though.

The Caribbean recovers

Climate change, in part, destroyed two of my favorite places in the world last year, but they're recovering slowly. Yesterday, the New York Times reported on the progress of both. First, Sint Maarten:

Passengers arriving at Princess Juliana International Airport, on the Dutch side of the island earlier this month, were directed onto the tarmac, past the battered terminal to a white wedding-style tent for immigration. Outside the parking lot, the Pink Iguana, a tugboat turned dockside bar, remained capsized in the water. Down the road, Maho Village (http://www.mahovillage.com/) was practically a ghost town. Of the roughly 40 bars, shops, restaurants and clubs along its entertainment strip, only a pharmacy, grocery store, real estate office and a few restaurants had reopened. All four of its seaside resorts — Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa, Sonesta Ocean Point Resort, the Royal Islander Club La Plage and Royal Islander Club La Terrasse — are undergoing major reconstruction. None are scheduled to open before summer or fall.

Yet with another hurricane season fast approaching, much of the tourist zone is not only rebuilding, but undergoing a multimillion-dollar face-lift. The Maho Group alone is putting more than $50 million into a revamp of the Sonesta Resorts, including overhauling the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, and incorporating a new contemporary design. Sonesta’s Casino Royale, the largest on the island, with more than 21,000 square feet of gaming, plans to reopen this summer with two new bistro-style al fresco restaurants and a rooftop bar and lounge. Shiny new rental cars awaits visitors at the Alamo rental office. The Rainbow Café (http://rainbowcafe.fr/en/home/) in Grand Case has a new whitewashed deck, a reconfigured layout, and chic red-and-white furnishings. “Everything is destroyed, so I tried to do something better,” the owner, Gobert Douglas, said with a French accent. Pointing out that he could have spent less on the renovation, he said, “I prefer to do this, change the floor, all the seating, all the style of the restaurant to make it new.”

I'm glad to see it. When I last visited the island, I spent some time outside the tourist regions and interacting with the people who lived there. It's not an easy life at the best of times. With tourism almost destroyed and their own infrastructure barely usable, it's no wonder both countries on the island have come together to restore what they could. I hope to visit again within the next year.

Vieques, which is part of the United States, also suffered tremendously in the last hurricane season. They've started putting the pieces back together as well:

Locals in frayed T-shirts and dreadlocks rubbed shoulders with people who’d arrived on dinghies from sailboats bobbing in deeper water, and a few other visitors from colder climates. The first one I met, Stephen, from Atlanta, had been a regular visitor since 2000.

“I’ve always thought of Vieques as ‘my’ island,” said Stephen, who was making his second visit since the storms. He’d discovered it when he was living in Boston and spotted a cheap flight to San Juan. “My copy of ‘Let’s Go’ suggested Vieques as a pretty good day trip. So I left my rental car on the ferry dock in Fajardo, figuring I’d be back that night. I ended up staying the whole week.”

Others lured by Vieques’s beauty, lack of pretension and low cost of living, have lived here for decades: In my short stay I ran into a museum director, an academic, artists, a retired nurse and a couple from Colorado, Norm and Deb, who had retired early and moved to the island sight unseen to live, as they put it, “on purpose.” Stephen was staying at El Blok, a Brutalist-style cement hotel at one end of the Malecón. When it opened in 2014 it was hailed as hip, chic and a little fancy, with a menu created by a famous chef — something of an anomaly on Vieques. Now the building has a plywood facade painted with the slogan “Vieques Se Levanta” — Vieques Will Rise. Workers head to the bar after sunset, and the vibe is friendly and a little raucous.

That the rest of the U.S. has made it so difficult for Vieques to rebuild is, I think, criminal. Especially if you put "America First," though those are exactly the people who have prevented restoration funding from flowing to the island.

If you're interested, click through for some of my earlier posts about Vieques and Sint Maarten.

Politically-motivated Spam from an island nation's PR department?

Over the past few weeks I've gotten several emails from someone purporting to be "Jess Miller" in New Zealand, mentioning she'd noticed a post I did on the Maldives in 2012. That post reported on the violent coup d'état that overthrew the democratically elected government of the island nation just southwest of the Indian subcontinent. And just a few weeks ago, the military dissolved Parliament and threw the country into more unrest. The U.S. State Department has issued a level-2 caution. Understandably, tourism has declined somewhat, which is a pity because it's unlikely the country will exist after another 50 years of climate-change-induced sea-level rise.

Anyway, "Jess" sent me an email about my "wonderful blog post" and called out "a solid blog post [she'd] read in the past," which turned out to be the U.K. Foreign Office travel warning about the place.

Then there's the punchline: "Jess" wants to cross-post with her "best things to do in the Maldives" article on her own site.

I think the best thing to do in the Maldives right now is not to go there.

So, "Jess," your article is very attractive and I think a wonderful list of things to do once the government of the Maldives returns to civilian control, their economy stops its free-fall, tourists stop getting robbed in their hotel rooms, and climate change goes into reverse so they stop suffering the existential peril that is driving all these problems.

Any takers on a bet that "Jess" has funding from a Maldives tourist agency?

Warming Arctic, chilling Northeast

Writing in the New York Times, University of Washington professor Cecilia Bitz sounds a four-klaxon alarm about the rapidly-warming Arctic:

In late February, a large portion of the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole experienced an alarming string of extremely warm winter days, with the surface temperature exceeding 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

These conditions capped nearly three months of unusually warm weather in a region that has seen temperatures rising over the past century as greenhouse gas concentrations (mostly carbon dioxide and methane) have increased in the atmosphere. At the same time, the extent of frozen seawater floating in the Arctic Ocean reached new lows in January and February in 40 years of satellite monitoring.

In recent years, the air at the Arctic Ocean surface during winter has warmed by over 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. So was this recent spate of warm weather linked to longer-term climate change, or was it, well, just the weather?

What we can say is this: Weather patterns that generate extreme warm Arctic days are now occurring in combination with a warming climate, which makes extremes more likely and more severe. What’s more, these extreme temperatures have had a profound influence on sea ice, which has become thinner and smaller in extent, enabling ships to venture more often and deeper into the Arctic.

This coincides with an article in the Washington Post describing new research that the unusually cold and snowy winter just ended in the Northeast U.S. and in Europe is a direct consequence of warmer Arctic weather:

The study, titled “Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States,” shows that severe winter weather, late in the season, has increased over the eastern United States since 1990 as the Arctic has dramatically warmed, faster than any other part of the world.

When the Arctic is warm, the study finds, cold weather and heavy snowfalls in the eastern United States are two to four times more likely than when it is cold.

“This paper argues that the weather was cold not in spite of climate change but likely because of climate change,” said Judah Cohen, lead author of the study.

As Arctic temperatures have warmed in recent decades, late winter weather severity has increased in the East while decreasing in the West, the study found.

Because the increase in winter weather severity in the East has been most pronounced in February and March, when the biggest winter storms tend to form, major East Coast cities have seen an uptick in the frequency of crippling snowstorms. “We found a statistically significant increase in the return rate of heavier snowfall in Boston, New York  and Washington,” Cohen said.

Scientists haven't found the exact causes of the relationship, but evidence for the correlation got a lot more significant this year. But the prediction that anthropogenic climate change would lead to a feedback loop and rapidly-warming Arctic, in combination with extreme weather events elsewhere at the same time, has been around for decades. We're now seeing the predictions come true.

In other words, we're going to experience harsh winters in places that haven't had them for a few years, before the ocean becomes so warm that weather patterns shift again, probably suddenly (i.e., within a couple of decades). We don't know what the next pattern will look like. But we can predict it will be more extreme, and that beachfront property in the mid-Atlantic looks like a bad investment.