The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Quick links

A couple stories of interest:

OK, back to being really too busy to breathe this week...

City approves $8.5 bn airport ordinance

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved a massive package to restore O'Hare to its former glory as the busiest airport in the world:

With legal approvals in hand and O'Hare's tenant airlines scheduled to formally sign new lease deals later today, the path appears clear to implementing a plan that, if all goes as scheduled, will add 3 million square feet of terminal space and 30 to 35 additional gates for planes to load passengers, up from 185 now, by 2026.

City aviation officials say doing so will attract an additional 20 million passengers a year to O'Hare (up a quarter from today), many of them arriving on lucrative international flights, an area in which O'Hare has fallen behind competitors such as Los Angeles International and Atlanta's Hartsfield. And if those targets are reached, the plan sets the stage for further terminals in the future.

With American Airlines having dropped its earlier opposition to the deal, the last potential obstacle melted away when African-American and Latino aldermen agreed to set up a working group, or commission, that will regularly monitor activity and report back to aldermen on whether minority businesses and workers are receiving an adequate piece of construction and related legal and financial contracts.

The gate expansion follows a decade in which O'Hare added or lengthened several runways and converted many of them from a diagonal configuration to six east-west parallel runways. Most of that work already has been completed, with more expected soon.

O'Hare's mostly-complete runway project vastly increased the number of operations (takeoffs and landings) the airport could handle, well beyond the capacity of the terminals. The new terminals and gates should alleviate that.

Passengers will also finally have the ability to change from international arrivals to domestic departures without collecting their luggage, which right now makes O'Hare a real pain in the ass for inbound international travelers.

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.

First look at the Boeing 797?

Via Cranky Flyer, blogger Jon Ostrower has a look at early drawings of Boeing's next transport airplane, which could fly as early as 2025:

The yet-to-be-launched NMA is slated to arrive in 2025. First with the base model, the NMA-6X (225 passengers at 5,000nm) and the NMA-7X (265 passengers at 4,500nm) two years later, according to two people familiar with Boeing’s planning today.

Elements adapted from existing aircraft are apparent across this early iteration of the NMA design: A 737 Max-style tail cone, larger 787/777X-sized cabin windows, and a 757/767/777-style wind screen. The door arrangement matches that of Boeing’s last “small twin,” the 767-200, very strongly suggesting a twin-aisle design.

Equally important is what’s not visible. The angle doesn’t show the most distinctive – and potentially technically challenging – aspect of the design. The ovoid shape of the fuselage isn’t readily apparent, but the curve in the future nose hints at the ‘hybrid design.”

The aim of such a design is to maximize the passenger space in the cabin; notionally a seven-abreast 2-3-2 twin-aisle economy arrangement above the floor with room for a single-aisle-sized cargo hold below, according to those familiar with the design. The debate between North American and Asian airlines over the shape and capacity of the belly (and ensuing wing-sizing and engine thrust capabilities) was detailed last week by Bloomberg News’ Julie Johnsson.

These early images only hint at Boeing's direction. The final airplane design will look much different. But Boeing's strategy is interesting, and probably the right one: build a fuel-efficient mid-size airplane for trans-Atlantic flights to add a host of new city pairs to the mix. Just as one example, American has sometimes flown a 767 from Raleigh, N.C., to London; I've been on the flight a few times. It's always half-empty. That's a perfect route for a 737-size airplane that has the range of a 787.

Of course, I live in Chicago, which still has the second-busiest airport in the world, and from where one can get a nonstop flight to almost as many countries as from Heathrow. But having more city pairs could reduce the pressure on cities like Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles, and make flying overseas more convenient for everyone.

I'm looking forward to riding on the 797 in a few years. We'll see what it looks like, and how scared Airbus is, well before then.

Ides of March reading list

I'm writing a response to an RFP today, so I'll have to read these when I get a chance:

There were two more stories in my inbox this morning, but they deserve their own post after lunch.

Hell of a week

In the last seven days, these things have happened:

Meanwhile:

Can't wait to see what the next week will bring...

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.