The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Places I've never been before

I had thought about going to see the Chelsea v Bournemouth match at Stamford Bridge today, and even tried to get tickets online for weeks. But getting an English Premier League ticket when you're not a club member is a bit like trying to get a Yankees-Red Sox ticket at Fenway day of game.

I did, however, (a) see Stamford Bridge and (b) buy a shirt, so I feel a bit like I participated.

On the way back, I walked through Brompton Cemetery, which, like Graceland Cemetery back home, is something very close by that I haven't seen before. It was worth the detour:

Note how not very green the place is right now. The UK really hasn't gotten a lot of rain this summer. It's quite grim.

I will now take a brief nap before heading out to Hampstead Heath on my way to Southampton Arms. And if my favorite pub in the UK is also closed, I will...go somewhere else, I suppose.

Bad timing, good timing

My strategy of sleeping until noon (i.e., 6am Chicago time) to avoid shifting my body clock didn't exactly work this trip. That's because, unfortunately, my hotel's air conditioning is being replaced. Fortunately I'm here now, when it's 23°C, not a month ago when it was 34°C. And fortunately, my windows open. That means I had the windows wide open last night, which, unfortunately, meant the sun poured in starting around 6am. Fortunately, I have this view:

And the hotel left a couple of big fans in the room, fortunately.

Then, unfortunately, this terribly disappointing thing is also going on right now:

That's The Blackbird, my second-favorite pub in London, undergoing a gut rehab, apparently. It closed mid-July and won't open again until mid-October, according to my hotel's staff.

But fortunately, the Prince of Teck is just down the road a bit, and they have a pretty good Full English breakfast:

Now, having only gotten four hours of sleep last night, I'm going to have a kip. Because fortunately, I have absolutely nothing scheduled for today.

All good things

A couple of streaks ended today.

First, the good one: after 221 days, I finally got to fly somewhere. That's the longest I've gone without traveling by air since 1980, or possibly earlier.

Second, the bad one: after 82 days, I finally missed 10,000 steps, owing to the above-mentioned flying. That's the longest stretch of 10k-plus days I've had since getting a Fitbit. (I would have made it, too, if it weren't for those meddling time zones.)

Finally, there is a crushing disappointment that I will share tomorrow morning. Well, maybe not crushing, but certainly disappointing. And temporary, it seems, but coinciding exactly with my trip here. So, boo.

The Mindset List, class of 2022

Most people starting college this year were born in 2000. Let that sink in. Then read this:

  1. They are the first class born in the new millennium, escaping the dreaded label of “Millennial,” though their new designation—iGen, GenZ, etc. — has not yet been agreed upon by them.
  2. Outer space has never been without human habitation.
  3. They have always been able to refer to Wikipedia.
  4. They have grown up afraid that a shooting could happen at their school, too.
  5. People loudly conversing with themselves in public are no longer thought to be talking to imaginary friends.

It gets worse from there. (Worse, I suppose, if you realize that these kids are 30 years younger than you are.)

I'm traveling today, so this may be my last post of the Summer of 2018. Posting resumes from the Ancestral Homeland tomorrow.

The history (and recurrence) of gentrification

Chicago-based writer Daniel Kay Hertz finds that reactions to gentrification, and its effects, have remained the same for over a century:

I’ve been struck by the Groundhog Day quality of thinking on these changes. Decade after decade, observers alternately wonder at the latest clique of young, middle-class white people to have chosen to live in a less privileged urban neighborhood, and then predict that clique’s imminent demise, a return to the “natural” order of things.

As early as the 1920s, the sociologist Harvey Zorbaugh quoted people who swore that time was up for the residents of Tower Town, Chicago’s bohemian answer to New York City’s Greenwich Village, as young artists abandoned it. (Many of those who left just settled a short walk up the lakefront in what we now call Old Town.) Zorbaugh himself was convinced that the Gold Coast, the last inner city stronghold of Chicago’s upper class, had barely ten years left before the rich realized they would have fewer headaches farther from the chaos of the downtown Loop. (A century later, the Gold Coast is still, well, Gold.)

Often, even the gentrifiers themselves don’t quite believe that what they’ve created can last. Into the 1970s—when parts of Lincoln Park had already become wealthier than many white-collar suburbs—a Lincoln Park neighborhood association director fretted that one wrong development might push the area towards a “ghetto.”

Why have we found it so hard to believe that a generations-old trend of growing affluence at the core of a major city could be durable? And why has it proven so durable?

Hertz provides some pretty compelling and well-researched answers.

New personal record

It's official: until noon today, I hadn't left the state of Illinois for 215 days, 20 hours, and 15 minutes. Then I crossed into Wisconsin and stayed about a hundred meters over the border for a few hours. The previous record was 214 days and change, set when I was, oh, 11.

Today is also the 30th anniversary of the day I arrived at university. Tomorrow, I'll have art, unless I lose my nerve.

Also, it was really, really warm today. But that wasn't a record, just a bad day to spend outside.

Falling into the sun is hard

In the geocentric model of how things work, it's really easy for you to fall directly toward Earth. This happens because you are already moving fast enough to have a very small delta vee with the surface at any particular moment. Not so falling into the sun, which is so hard, we only just launched the first probe that can do it on purpose:

The reason has to do with orbital mechanics, the study of how natural forces influence the motions of rockets, satellites, and other space-bound technology. Falling into the sun might seem effortless since the star’s gravity is always tugging at everything in the solar system, including Earth. But Earth—along with all the other planets and their moons—is also orbiting the sun at great speed, which prevents it from succumbing to the sun’s pull.

This arrangement is great if you’d like to avoid falling into the sun yourself, but it’s rather inconvenient if you want to launch something there.

“To get to Mars, you only need to increase slightly your orbital speed. If you need to get to the sun, you basically have to completely slow down your current momentum,” says Yanping Guo, the mission-design and navigation manager for the Parker Solar Probe. Based at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Guo has been working on the probe for about 17 years.

Probes bound for deep-space destinations like Mars can piggyback off Earth’s momentum to fly faster. For a spacecraft to launch toward the sun, on the other hand, it must accelerate to nearly match the Earth’s velocity—in the opposite direction. With the planet’s motion essentially canceled out, the spacecraft can surrender to the sun’s gravity and begin to fall toward it. But this is almost impossible with current rocket technology, so spacecraft have to get some help, in the form of slingshot maneuvers off other planets, called gravity assists.

Douglas Adams, therefore, was partially correct: generally speaking, if you throw yourself at the sun, you will miss (and wind up in a stable orbit). NASA has just started the process of hitting it.

Hot times in the New York subway

The New York City subway, with its passive air exchange system and tunnels too small for active ventilation or air conditioning, have gotten excessively hot this summer:

On Thursday, temperatures inside at least one of the busiest stations reached 40°C—nearly 11°C warmer than the high in Central Park.

The Regional Plan Association, an urban planning think tank for the greater metropolitan area, took a thermometer around the system’s 16 busiest stations, plus a few more for good measure, and shared the data with CityLab. A platform at Union Square Station had the 40°C reading at 1 p.m., which was the hottest they found, although Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall and Columbus Circle weren’t far off at 39°C and 38½°C, at around 10 and 11 a.m., respectively. Twelve out of the 16 busiest stops boiled at or over the 32°C mark in the late morning and early afternoon.

One might think that subway stations would offer crisp respite to sweaty New Yorkers, being underground and all. But you’d be wrong. Heat doesn’t only “rise”—it just diffuses to cooler areas, which can include below-ground spaces. Plus, only a few of the city’s 472 stations are equipped with air conditioning; most rely on a passive ventilation system better known for their Marilyn Monroe moments above ground. This system was built in the days before AC, and the MTA says it’s not possible to squeeze the station-cooling machinery that other metro systems have inside New York’s narrow tunnels. Meanwhile, the units that cool passengers inside cars actually shed heat into the stations as trains pass through.

That onboard air-conditioning can fail, too. The MTA has also seen a rising number of complaints about overheated cars in recent years. In today’s issue of Signal Problems, his indispensable newsletter focused on subway accountability, the journalist Aaron Gordon reports that “about two percent of all subway cars in service on any given day might not have working A/C,” according to the MTA. That means at least 100 cars are roasting passengers on any given day this summer.

This problem also bedevils the London Underground.

Meanwhile, here in Chicago, we're having our 73rd day this year above 27°C, just 10 short of the record. Given the normal number of temperatures that warm between now and October, I think we'll probably set a new one.

And the sunlight here looks eerily orange and hazy today, because of climate change-driven wildfires out west.

Welcome to the future.

Fallows on the Seattle plane crash

Friday evening, a baggage worker at SEATAC airport outside Seattle stole an empty commuter plane and crashed it into an uninhabited part of an island in Puget Sound. Pilot and journalist Jim Fallows has an analysis:

Bizarre, frightening, and tragic this certainly was. Was it a sign of an alarming failure in security practices, and some press accounts immediately asserted? (For instance, from the UK’s Telegraph, soon after the event: “It has raised fundamental questions about airline security at America’s major airports after the mechanic was able to board the plane, taxi onto the runway and take off without being stopped. Aviation experts questioned what the authorities would have been able to do if the pilot was determined to fly the plane into a city rather than do loop-the-loops.”

Maybe this will be the appropriate response when more facts are known. For the moment, as is usually the case with aviation disasters, many of the most important questions about what happened are impossible to answer right away.

I hope that, when the facts are in, the response to this odd, sad incident will resemble what the aviation system usually does with its failures, rather than the way the political system often behaves. That is, I hope it serves as a source of guidance for further threat reduction, rather than as fuel for panic and finger-pointing about the modern realities that some “What if?” will always remain.

What a strange story.

The TSA finally talks frankly about security

Bruce Schneier says that the TSA's thoughts about security at smaller airports are exactly the conversation they should be having:

Last week, CNN reported that the Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating security at U.S. airports that fly only smaller planes -- 60 seats or fewer. Passengers connecting to larger planes would clear security at their destinations.

To be clear, the TSA has put forth no concrete proposal. The internal agency working group's report obtained by CNN contains no recommendations. It's nothing more than 20 people examining the potential security risks of the policy change. It's not even new: The TSA considered this back in 2011, and the agency reviews its security policies every year.

We don't know enough to conclude whether this is a good idea, but it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. We need to evaluate airport security based on concrete costs and benefits, and not continue to implement security theater based on fear. And we should applaud the agency's willingness to explore changes in the screening process.

There is already a tiered system for airport security, varying for both airports and passengers. Many people are enrolled in TSA PreCheck, allowing them to go through checkpoints faster and with less screening. Smaller airports don't have modern screening equipment like full-body scanners or CT baggage screeners, making it impossible for them to detect some plastic explosives. Any would-be terrorist is already able to pick and choose his flight conditions to suit his plot.

And just think, it's only taken 15 years and $45 billion to get here...