The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

Boring branding, boring cities

Writing for CityLab, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research fellow Aaron Renn warns cities against falling into the "branding trap:"

Here’s a transit-focused video Atlanta made as part of its Amazon HQ2 bid, meant to convey that the city is home to “innovation” and is “business friendly.” It likewise showcases buses and subways as its means of ground transportation, even though only about 10 percent of the city’s commuters use public transportation, and ridership has been fading in recent years. Atlanta is a quintessential car city. There’s not much in here that links to what most people would think of when “Atlanta” comes to mind, except its airport. It’s curious that they tapped more into stereotypes of Seattle and its frequent rains than they did those of their own town.

Atlanta and Houston are major cities with strong identities. They are much more than a collection of generic urban elements. Why cities with great identities and heritages of their own so seldom lead with them is something of a mystery. If you want to see great marketing videos of cities, you almost are forced to look at what private companies are doing. Look, for example, at the famous “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler Super Bowl ad with Eminem from 2011, which managed to honestly portray the decay and struggles of the city, while playing up the resolve of its residents and the city’s history as a key music center. Indeed, the ad did a much better job of selling Detroit than Chryslers.

The problem with the typical approach extends beyond just marketing. It has tangible consequences. A brand is really a city’s conception of itself. By selling itself as a facsimile of something its not, a city ends up turning that into reality. Thus, so many urban places today seem vaguely the same—a blur of Edison-bulbed eateries and mid-rise “one plus five” apartment buildings (in which up to five stories of wood frame construction are built atop a concrete first floor). These buildings, which all look vaguely the same with their multi-shaded exterior panels that seem destined to date quickly, are now obligatory elements in densifying urban neighborhoods, as critics have observed,

In a much-discussed New York magazine essay, Oriana Schwindt dubbed this “the unbearable sameness of cities.” Traveling to the city nearest the geographic center of each state, she described how she constantly kept seeing the same Ikea lights in coffee shops she’d visit. “And it wasn’t just the coffee shops—bars, restaurants, even the architecture of all the new housing going up in these cities looked and felt eerily familiar."

It's possible that Atlanta and Houston are simply as boring as their branding suggests. I've been to both; that's my hypothesis. So maybe this is less a dire affliction of some city branding efforts and more truth-in-advertising?

Home sick and tired

I'm under the weather today, which has helped me catch up on all these stories that I haven't gotten to yet:

And now, I will nap.

My geas will be cooked in 2019

Just a quick update on the 30-Park Geas. It happens that I'll be in New York on 31st March for an unrelated reason, but as the Yankees will be in town that day, I can knock off my 28th park. Which means I'll have 4 left. So today I booked a trip to Arlington, Texas, and Denver in April (yes, I'll be in Denver on 4/20), and plan to catch the last two parks in June.

The last one, of course, will be the Cubs at St. Louis.

Updates as conditions warrant.

We're #1 again!

At least by one metric, O'Hare has pipped Atlanta and gotten back to the top of the league table for total annual aviation operations:

O’Hare saw 903,747 flights in 2018, up 4.2 percent compared with the previous year, while Atlanta hosted 895,502 flights, up 1.8 percent, the FAA said. Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth and Denver were in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively.

O’Hare also handled more than 83.4 million passengers last year, a 4.5 percent increase over 2017, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Both O’Hare and Midway Airport together saw more than 105 million passengers, a new record, the city said.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is still No. 1 in terms of passenger volume, and has held the crown of world’s busiest airport by that measure for 20 years. But a travel industry analyst said the new numbers are “excellent news” for Chicago, which is embarking on an $8.5 billion O’Hare modernization.

The article implies to big factors in the statistic: first, O'Hare now has six parallel runways instead of six intersecting ones, meaning traffic can flow much more easily. But second, American and United rely more on smaller, sub-50-seat airplanes than Delta does, which means more operations but fewer enplanements. So, it's a mixed bag, good for Chicago in some ways but not great for travelers at O'Hare.

Olé, olé olé olé!

Oh, I love these stories. On today's Daily WTF, editor Remy Porter describes the world I grew up in, where dates were dates and 30 December 1899 ruled them all:

If you wanted to set a landmark, you could pick any date, but a nice round number seems reasonable. Let's say, for example, January 1st, 1900. From there, it's easy to just add and subtract numbers of days to produce new dates. Oh, but you do have to think about leap years. Leap years are more complicated- a year is a leap year if it's divisible by four, but not if it's divisible by 100, unless it's also divisible by 400. That's a lot of math to do if you're trying to fit a thousand rows in a spreadsheet on a computer with less horsepower than your average 2019 thermostat.

So you cheat. Checking if a number is divisible by four doesn't require a modulus operation—you can check that with a bitmask, which is super fast. Unfortunately, it means your code is wrong, because you think 1900 is a leap year. Now all your dates after February 28th are off-by-one. Then again, you're the one counting. Speaking of being the one counting, while arrays might start at zero, normal humans start counting at one, so January 1st should be 1, which makes December 31st, 1899 your "zero" date.

Our macro language is off-by-one for the first few months of 1900, but that discrepancy is acceptable, and no one at Microsoft, including Bill Gates who signed off on it, cares.

The Basic-derived macro language is successful enough inside of Excel that it grows up to be Visual Basic. It is "the" Microsoft language, and when they start extending it with features like COM for handling library linking and cross-process communication, it lays the model. Which means when they're figuring out how to do dates in COM… they use the Visual Basic date model. And COM was the whole banana, as far as Windows was concerned- everything on Windows touched COM or its successors in some fashion. It wasn't until .NET that the rule of December 30th, 1899 was finally broken, but it still crops up in Office products and SQL Server from time to time.

The .NET epoch began 1 January 2000. Except for DateTimeOffset values, whose epoch began on the non-existent date 1 January 0. Or DateTime values (now deprecated) which start at the beginning of the Gregorian calendar in 1753. (Same with SQL Server datetime types.)

The bottom line: dates are hard.

My next side-trip from London

...will be to Bletchley Park:

The National Museum of Computing is a must-see if you are ever in the UK. It was a short 30ish minute train ride up from London. We spent the whole afternoon there.

There is a rebuild of the Colossus, the the world's first electronic computer. It had a single purpose: to help decipher the Lorenz-encrypted (Tunny) messages between Hitler and his generals during World War II. The Colossus Gallery housing the rebuild of Colossus tells that remarkable story.

We saw the Turing-Welchman Bombe machine, an electro-mechanical device used to break Enigma-enciphered messages about enemy military operations during the Second World War. They offer guided tours (recommended as the volunteers have encyclopedic knowledge) and we were able to encrypt a message with the German Enigma (there's a 90 second video I made, here) and decrypt it with the Bombe, which is effectively 12 Engimas working in parallel, backwards.

I wanted to understand the computing power these systems had then, and now. Check out the website where you can learn about the OctaPi - a Raspberry Pi array of eight Pis working together to brute-force Engima. You can make your own here!

Yes, there's a Raspberry Pi Enigma-cracker. If only we'd had one in 1940...

Oh, goody: from freeze to flood

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the entity responsible for our sewers and rivers in Chicago, warns that the record-breaking warm-up currently underway could overwhelm the system:

As the warmer temperatures melt existing snow, the potential for flooding increases because the frozen ground is unable to absorb water and snow, causing runoff to flow immediately into sewers.

Sewer systems, therefore, can become overwhelmed from the combination of normal sewage flow, rain and snow melt, a scenario that often leads to flooding, according to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

MWRD said Friday that it’s preparing for potential flooding by lowering water levels in Chicago-area waterways to make room for runoff. The agency will also rely on its network of tunnels and reservoirs, which it said are ready to hold more than 11 billion gallons of water.

The agency is also asking Chicago-area municipalities and the public to help prevent flooding by reducing water use, such as by postponing high-water consumption activities like bathing, showering, running the dishwasher and washing clothes.

Well, that stinks. Or rather, we will stink. And let's not even think about what a Δ42.8°C warm-up will do to our roads.

Articles that annoyed me today

In descending order of pissed-off-making:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called making Election Day a holiday "a power grab," because more people voting does in fact take power away from the Republican Party. (We used to call this sort of thing a gaffe.)
  • US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized adolescent Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert for exactly the things The Daily Parker has criticized him for all along. "It appears that you have enriched yourself while driving the company into bankruptcy," said Warren. No kidding. (She didn't annoy me; Lampert did.)
  • Restaurants have gotten so loud even restaurant critics have noticed: "Those beautiful, minimalist spaces that are so in vogue reflect sounds, making it hard to hear your dining companions."
  • The tolerant, thoughtful guys over at Immigration and Customs Enforcement set up a fake university to find and deport people committing immigration fraud through student visa abuse. (I'm not as much annoyed as concerned when law enforcement uses blatant deception to catch people, but I agree that policing student visas is appropriate.)
  • Lack of sleep has become a national health crisis. (I almost forgot to add that I've averaged 6½ hours for the first 30 nights of 2019, getting 7 hours only 9 times this year, according to my Fitbit.)

And with that last one, I may now go take a nap.

One month of Prius

In the month I've owned my Prius, I've driven 439 km and used 8.8 L of fuel. That's a fuel economy of 0.5 L/100 km. My old BMW got around 12 L/100 km, for comparison. Most of the time I don't even use gasoline, because she can run about 35 km on battery power, and I rarely drive farther than that in a day.

I also haven't named her yet—until now. I'm going with Hana (はな or 初夏), which means "early summer." Fitting for a car meant to help prevent global warming.

She's still this pretty: