The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Really gross September weather

It can get warm in Chicago in September, but not usually this warm. The forecast today calls for 34°C with a dewpoint above 21°C, the epitome of the worst July weather we get here.

The culprits are the tropical systems currently destroying islands in the Atlantic. A dome of unseasonably warm air has stalled over the eastern US and Canada, because Jose and Maria are dumping energy into the air right off shore.

So, today's temperatures will be 12°C above normal and will likely surpass the record 33°C set in 1970. Same tomorrow. Saturday and Sunday will also be hot but probably not quite as hot—though, I have to say, 31°C still really sucks the day after the September equinox.

The gross weather pattern should clear out by Wednesday. I really hope so; I want autumn.

Update: Yesterday's 33.3°C high also broke a record (32.7°C set in 1933).

Pirates may be to blame for the U.S. not being Metric

The Système International d'unités, also known as the Metric System, is the most widely-used system of measuring things in the known universe. Of the 7.57 billion people in the world, somewhere around 7.2 billion use SI. The laggards are almost all here in the United States.

Sarah Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post Science Alert today, blames English privateers:

In 1793, botanist and aristocrat Joseph Dombey set sail from Paris with two standards for the new "metric system": a rod that measured exactly a metre, and a copper cylinder called a "grave" that weighed precisely one kilogram.

He was journeying all the way across the Atlantic to meet Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson - a fellow fan of base-ten systems who, Dombey hoped, would help persuade Congress to go metric.

Then a storm rolled in, knocking Dombey's ship off course. The unlucky academic was washed into the Caribbean - and straight into the clutches of British pirates.

The brigands took Dombey hostage and looted his equipment. The luckless scientist died in prison shortly after his capture; his belongings were auctioned off to the highest bidders.

France sent a second emissary to promote the metric system. But by the time the replacement arrived, America had a new secretary of state, Edmund Randolph, who apparently didn't care much for measurement.

As the person who sent me this article said, perhaps the pirates just preferred saying "yarrrrd?"

But really, I put this into the same category of "American exceptionalism" that keeps us executing criminals, not getting passports, and thinking that we're somehow #1.

Maria hits Vieques head-on; Puerto Rico now getting full storm

Hurricane Maria's eye passed directly over Vieques earlier this morning and has now struck Puerto Rico proper:

Hurricane Maria roared ashore Wednesday as the strongest storm to strike Puerto Rico in more than 80 years, knocking out power to nearly the entire island and leaving frightened people huddled in buildings hoping to ride out withstand powerhouse winds that have already left death and devastation across the Caribbean.

The storm first slammed the coast near Yabucoa at 6:15 a.m. as a Category 4 hurricane with 250 km/h winds — the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 160-km-long island as winds snapped palm trees, peeled off rooftops, sent debris skidding across beaches and roads, and cut power to nearly the entire island.

In an unfortunate twist, some residents of Vieques had stocked up on critical supplies in advance of Irma only to donate what they had left to harder-hit areas such as Tortola and St. Thomas. Residents rushed to restock before deliveries to the island stopped and the power flickered off yet again.

There isn't much news coming out of Vieques yet, but having been there less than a year ago, I can't imagine that much of it remains standing. The shops and restaurants on Calle Flamboyan are (were?) less than 50 m from the beach, and barely 3 m above the Caribbean. I hope everyone got out OK.

More Caribbean islands slammed

This hurricane season may not break records for numbers or aggregate storm severity, but it will probably do so for destruction and cost. With St Martin and Barbuda all but destroyed, it looks like Vieques and Culebra are next:

Hurricane Maria went through an astonishingly quick transformation from a minimal hurricane to a Category 5 monster in less than 24 hours. As of 9 p.m. ET [Monday], Maria had maximum sustained winds of 250 km/h, and the island of Dominica was right in the path of the worst of the storm's winds. 

The National Hurricane Center has warned Maria is now a "potentially catastrophic" storm. This is the only Category 5 storm to strike Dominica on record, and may be among the fastest rates of intensification of any hurricane on record.

The National Weather Service office in San Juan issued a statement on Monday afternoon warning of the massive threat this storm poses to the island. The winds alone could cause locations to be "uninhabitable for weeks or months," the Weather Service stated, in addition to warning of a potentially deadly storm surge along the coast.

I visited Vieques in November, and I've visited St Martin twice before. I hope both islands recover quickly.

Note to Scott Adams and other climate-change deniers: The intensity and destruction of this year's hurricanes don't prove human-caused climate change. They are predicted consequences of human-caused climate change. By "predicted" I mean that, 20 or 30 years ago, climatologists warned this is exactly what would happen as the planet got warmer.

Lord Protector of the Realm

I did my undergraduate thesis on King Edward VI of England, and the coups (attempted and successful) against his two Lords Protector. A Lord Protector watches over a King basically by being acting King until the King reaches majority around age 18. Edward died at 15, so his Lords Protector were really the monarchy for the six years Edward sat on the throne.

Fast forward 450 years, and it looks like we're back to that arrangement:

[President Trump is] still unprincipled, ill-informed, lazy, and mercurial. Trump continues to act like a 13-year-old trapped in the body of a 71-year-old world leader, as if his prefrontal cortex never developed beyond adolescence. Trump is all libido, lacks impulse control, and is prone to poor decision-making.

By this account, Trump is so immature that he needs his media diet and social life heavily controlled; he can’t be trusted not to make a rash decision based on the incomplete or conflicting information he’s given.  In other words, he’s a man-child more than a world leader.

Giving this much power to Kelly is disturbing for a number of reasons. If [Chief of Staff John] Kelly did control Trump, that would make the presidency closer to a monarchy with a child ruler, with the real power residing in close advisers. Moreover, despite claims that Kelly is a non-ideological pragmatist who runs a tight ship, there’s little reason to trust him; he can be as extreme as Trump’s other advisers. According to The New York Times, in a discussion about the fate of the Dreamers, Kelly “likened Mexico, one of the United States’ most important trading and law enforcement partners, to Venezuela under the regime of Hugo Chávez, the former leader, suggesting it was on the verge of a collapse that would have repercussions in the United States.” This is a false and hysterical view of Mexico, one of the most stable democracies in Latin America.

In short, Kelly is trying to exert a level of power no White House official should have, and he’s not even succeeding.

Woe to thee, O Land, when thy King is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning.

Under vacuum

So, this might be happening at my house next weekend:

The "sous vide" part of sous vide cooking refers to the vacuum-sealed bags that are often called for when you're using the technique. (The French phrase literally means "under vacuum.") However, these days, when someone says "sous vide cooking," they're generally referring to any kind of cooking that takes place in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath, whether you're actually using a vacuum-sealed bag or not.

Sous vide cooking offers unparalleled control over whatever it is you are trying to cook, whether it's steaks and chopsshrimp and lobstervegetables, or even large cuts of meat like pork shouldersand legs of lamb. With fast-cooking foods, like steaks and chicken breasts, sous vide removes all the guesswork involved in traditional methods. No poking with a thermometer, no cutting and peeking, no jabbing with your finger—just perfect results every single time.

A sous vide circulator mysteriously arrived at Inner Drive World Headquarters yesterday. We're going to start with eggs and work our way up to a venison steak. Yum.

Welcome (and overdue) feature in Chrome

The January release of Google Chrome will prevent videos from auto-playing:

Starting in Chrome 64, which is currently earmarked for a January 2018 release, auto-play will only be allowed when the video in question is muted or when a "user has indicated an interest in the media."

The latter applies if the site has been added to the home screen on mobile or if the user has frequently played media on the site on desktop. Google also says auto-play will be allowed if the user has "tapped or clicked somewhere on the site during the browsing session."

"Chrome will be making auto-play more consistent with user expectations and will give users more control over audio," writes Google in a blog post. "These changes will also unify desktop and mobile web behavior, making web media development more predictable across platforms and browsers."

I mean, really. The more advertisers annoy the shit out of us, the less effective it will be effective.

The second-most disgusting thing you'll read today

While not quite as viscerally grotesque as a 140-tonne fatberg, new details about the failures at Equifax that led to its massive data breach are still pretty disgusting:

Equifax has confirmed that attackers entered its system in mid-May through a web-application vulnerability that had a patch available in March. In other words, the credit-reporting giant had more than two months to take precautions that would have defended the personal data of 143 million people from being exposed. It didn't.

As the security community processes the news and scrutinizes Equifax's cybersecurity posture, numerous doubts have surfaced about the organization's competence as a data steward. The company took six weeks to notify the public after finding out about the breach. Even then, the site that Equifax set up in response to address questions and offer free credit monitoring was itself riddled with vulnerabilities. And as security journalist Brian Krebs first reported, a web portal for handling credit-report disputes from customers in Argentina used the embarrassingly inadequate credentials of "admin/admin." Equifax took the platform down on Tuesday. But observers say the ongoing discoveries increasingly paint a picture of negligence—especially in Equifax's failure to protect itself against a known flaw with a ready fix.

(Emphasis mine.)

Whenever people conservatives say that private industry is better at solving problems than government, I just think about some of the companies I've worked for, stir in crap like this, and laugh out loud.

The most disgusting story you'll hear all day

A 140-tonne blob of fat and other horrible things is blocking a sewer in East London:

What has been named the Whitechapel fatberg is a rock-solid agglomeration of fat, disposable wipes, diapers, condoms and tampons. It was discovered to the east of the city’s financial district, occupying a sixth of a mile of sewer under Whitechapel Road, between one of London’s largest mosques and a pub called the Blind Beggar, where walking tours are taken to reminisce about a notorious gangland murder.

Thames Water, the capital’s utility, said the fatberg weighed as much as 11 of the city’s double-decker buses: more than 140 tons. That is 10 times the size of a similar mass that the company found beneath Kingston, in South London, in 2013, and declared the biggest example in British history.

To prevent the contents of the sewer from flooding streets and homes nearby, the utility is sending an eight-member team to break up the fatberg with highpowered jet hoses and hand tools. The task is expected to take them three weeks, working seven days a week.

I mean...yuck. Citylab explains how fatbergs form:

But while it’s easy to shudder at, there is no easy fix for the fatberg problem, especially in a city like London where rising population is matched with an antiquated sewer system. “London is a sort of perfect storm for the phenomenon,” says Dr. Tom Curran, a lecturer at University College Dublin’s School of Biosystems & Food Engineering department, who has studied the problem extensively. Curran says that another problem, in addition to the growing population and various utilities sharing responsibility for the sewer networks, is the burden that the commercial sector places on the aging pipes. “London has a very high concentration of restaurants, hotels, pubs and takeaways, so you have a readily available source of grease waste,” Curran says.

The materials with which cities are built exacerbate the problem, too. Urban waste water often develops a high calcium content after flowing through or over calcium-rich concrete. When that water mixes with cooking grease in the sewer, it transforms the fat into a dense lump via saponification—yes, believe it or not, fatbergs are created by the same chemical process as bars of soap.

And quit flushing "disposable" wipes.