The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What to do while waiting for tonight's deployment

We have a deployment at work tonight at 5pm (because in financial firms, you always deploy at 5pm on Friday). Fortunately, we've already done a full test, so we're looking forward to a pretty boring deployment tonight.

Fortunately, we have the Internet, which has provided me with all of these things to read:

Back to planning for next week's post-deployment fixes.

The sad story of Cityfront Center

Today's Chicago Tribune lays out a cautionary tale about Cityfront Center, a downtown Chicago development that hasn't lived up to its developer's promises:

The goal was a “progression of spaces which are intended to unify the entire mixed-use project,” according to a 1987 document signed by then-planning commissioner Elizabeth Hollander and Chicago Dock’s president, Charles R. Gardner.

Thirty-one years later, no one disputes that Cityfront Center is a real estate success, even though it includes Chicago’s most infamous hole in the ground — the foundation for the unbuilt Chicago Spire, the twisting, 2,000-foot condominium tower that went bust in 2008.

The area, which turned out to be a better site for apartments than offices, is home to thousands of residents and generates tens of millions of dollars in annual property tax revenue.

Promenades are about moving; plazas are where you stop and take in the city. They are its living rooms. But Cityfront Center’s plazas don’t issue much of a welcome.

The problems begin at what’s supposed to be the western gateway to the district — Pioneer Court, a large but underachieving expanse of pavement at 401 N. Michigan Ave., next to the new Apple store.

On the plaza’s north side are rows of trellislike pavilions, trees and shrubbery. While those features provide much-needed places to sit, they block the view into the heart of Cityfront Center and partly obstruct the path to it. They even end in a cul-de-sac of fountains that forces pedestrians to retrace their steps.

Getting from one of Cityfront Center’s plazas to the other, it turns out, is no walk in the park.

The article has detailed maps and photos that show, in painful detail, how urban planners really need to brush up on A Pattern Language again.

World's longest flight returns

On Thursday, Singapore Airlines reinstated its nonstop flight from Newark, N.J., to Singapore—an 18-hour, 45-minute marathon that covers 16,734 km:

What accounts for this sudden ultra-long-haul boom? Partly, it is technological advances. The Singapore-Newark flights will use new Airbus A350-900 ULR (ultra-long-range) planes, which are made of lightweight carbon-fibre materials, have extra fuel capacity, and conserve fuel by using only two engines rather than the typical four on long-haul jumbo jets. Singapore will also make these marathon flights more bearable with a few comfort upgrades. There will be no economy seats—just premium economy and business class—and only a total 161 seats compared to 253 on the carrier’s current A350-900s. The airline also claims an upgraded food menu and a range of entertainment options will help whittle away the many hours on board.

Here's FlightAware's map of that first flight, and GC Map's.

Remarkably, you can get a business class ticket on the flight for only $5,300, according to Hipmunk. (That's remarkable because a business class ticket to London for the same dates would be $8300 on American or $7650 on British.)

Who wants to go with me?

Why American transit systems suck

Anyone who has traveled from the US to Canada or Europe notices quickly that their transit systems simply work better. Londoners may moan about the Tube, but one can get from any part of Greater London to any other at almost any time of day using trains or buses.

Writing for Citylab, Jonathan English explains why and how the rest of the world got it right and we got it so very wrong:

[T]o briefly summarize: Transit everywhere suffered serious declines in the postwar years, the cost of cars dropped and new expressways linked cities and fast-growing suburbs. That article pointed to a key problem: The limited transit service available in most American cities means that demand will never materialize—not without some fundamental changes.

Many, though not all, major cities in the U.S. have a number of rail lines radiating out of their centers. Most of them are only used by freight or a few commuter train trips a day. It’s a huge, untapped resource. There’s no reason why those railway lines can’t be turned into what are effectively subway lines—high-capacity routes that allow people to get across the city quickly—without the immense cost of tunneling. In Europe, what we usually call “commuter rail” operates frequently, all day, and cost the same fare as other local transit. That’s the difference between regional rail and commuter rail. A transit system with service that is only useful to 9-to-5 commuters to downtown will never be a useful one for most people.

Fares need to be low enough that people can afford to take transit. New York City will soon join other cities like Tucson and Ann Arbor in having discounted fares for low-income people. That is important to make transit accessible to everyone. But fair fares isn’t just about keeping fares low. It’s also about eliminating arbitrary inequities. People shouldn’t have to pay a transfer penalty or a double fare just because they switch from bus to rail, transfer between agencies, or travel across the city limits. A transfer is an inconvenience—you shouldn’t have to pay extra for it.

Fares should be set for the convenience of riders, not government agencies. A trip of a similar distance should have a similar fare, regardless of whether it’s on a bus or train, or if you have to cross city limits. Commuter rail shouldn’t be a “premium service” that only suburban professionals can afford.This is the kind of unfairness that infuriates people and drives them away from transit.

Chicago, by the way, has contemplated a regional farecard system for decades. Maybe someday...

Bye bye Beetle

VW will stop making the original People's Car later this year:

The streets of American cities were once carpeted in Bugs. From 1968 to 1973, more than a million were sold every year. In 1972, when it passed the 15 million mark, the Bug overtook the Ford Model T as the best-selling vehicle on the planet.

Yesterday, the German automaker announced that it would be killing the Beetle brand for the 2019 model year, news that surprised zero industry observers—these plans have been known for years—but still generated an involuntary spasm of nostalgia. Volkswagen, after all, has been making Beetles of one kind or another since the 1930s.

The Bug, like the many other, even tinier city cars that emerged from Europe after World War II, may have been similarly austere, but its heart was light, its face was friendly and round, and it was made for a youthful and urban world. You could stuff a family of five in there, or 18 college kids. You could park it anywhere. If it broke, you could pull the engine out and fix it on your kitchen table. For millions of young people—students, moms, working parents—the cheap, gas-sipping VW was your ticket to selfhood. Ford may have built the automobile age, but the Beetle conquered the city.

For the record, I was once one of 13 high-schoolers in an original VW Beetle.

Sick on flying?

The Economist's Gulliver blog this morning asked exactly the same question I did when I woke up: how likely is it to get ill from flying on an airplane? Not very:

Planes are widely regarded as flying disease-incubators. If one passenger is sick with a contagious disease and coughing those germs into the air, it makes sense for fellow-flyers to feel that the germs will simply be inhaled by everyone else on the flight, since there is nowhere else for the things to go.

In reality, though, the situation is not that bad. Allen Parmet, a former US Air Force flight surgeon who serves as an aerospace medicine consultant, explained recently to The Verge, a technology and science news site, that infections actually don’t spread well on planes. The reason is the very dry air in the cabin. Many bacteria die in the low humidity. As for viruses, they travel on water droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. But these water droplets also evaporate in the low humidity, and the plane’s fast airflow from ceiling to floor prevents them from travelling far.

[M]ost viruses take days to show symptoms, and there were indications that the illness was contracted by people before they boarded the plane. This tale will probably end the usual way. A few passengers, by the laws of probability, will get sick in the coming week, and they will assume it had something to do with all the germs floating around the plane. It may not be true, but it is for them a satisfying enough explanation.

Well, sure, but I swear the dozen or so babies and toddlers running around (literally) my cabin earlier this week may have contributed to how I felt today.

Heading home

I'm sitting in Heathrow Terminal 5 watching planes take off and hoping space opens up in the pay-as-you-go lounge. Wow, do I miss having airline status.

Obviously posting will be light today. Tomorrow I hope to get my annual Parker Day photo, just a few days late.

I feel the Source!

I mentioned earlier today (yesterday BST) that I sought the Source. Here it is:

That monument marks the official head of the River Thames, though in September after a long, dry summer, there isn't a lot else that would convince you. Still, boundaries and origins have always fascinated me, so I just had to see it.

Naturally, the closest pub to the monument capitalizes on its notoriety:

Also just as naturally, my trip to Kemble required a totally unanticipated hour and 20 minutes in Swindon, which...well, let me save a thousand words:

Yeah...I don't even know the American analogy to it, but my money's on Elgin: the train doesn't stop in the best spot, but otherwise it's a decent exurb with a history.

Tomorrow I'm staying entirely in London, and planning on going to pub quiz at my second-favorite pub in the world, now that I know they have pub quiz Monday nights. Right now, I aim to finish Redshirts, which I started in Kemble. And then go to sleep. Because my stay-on-Chicago-time strategy has not worked entirely according to plan.