The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog


I just got in to Helsinki. I wrote the following on the flight:

29 June 2010, 18:33 EDT, 10,500 m over the Maine-New Hampshire border

Finnair’s A330 business class is the most comfortable experience I’ve ever had on an airplane[1]. First off, the plane is brand-new. It’s quiet, clean, and (not surprisingly) very European-looking. But this isn’t your grandfather’s Airbus. Dig it:

  • Finnair has introduced new seats in business class. The left side alternate 2-1-2, the middle are all paired, and the right side—where I sat—is a staggered single column. The staggering allows them to put more seats in the cabin while also allowing the seats to fold completely flat, which is the whole point of upgrading on an overnight flight. But the arrangement also means every seat but four are aisle seats. (Seats 1A, 3A, 5A, and 7A are trapped window seats.)
  • The business class seats also have universal power outlets (fits North American, British, European, and I think Russian plugs), a 5v USB connector for recharging electronics, and an RJ-45 network connection. I didn’t have an RJ-45 cable with me so I have no idea what network it connects to.
  • The airplane has a freaking nose camera that the pilots turned on for the takeoff and landing rolls. It also has a belly camera that allows you to look straight down. Both are accessible in flight through the entertainment center. When the nose camera came on as we taxied into position on the departure runway, I just boggled. This was the coolest thing I had ever seen on a commercial airplane. The belly camera, while also a seriously cool feature, has less practical benefit because the field of view almost exactly the wrong scale. At 10.5 km up it shows an area probably no larger than 1km across—too big to see anything in detail but too small to see a more complete picture.
  • Finnair’s in-flight navigation software is the best I’ve seen, except for one of the screens where the animators got clever. Oddly, at one of the scales it shows, it depicts shipwrecks. As we passed over New England it highlighted the wrecks of the Andrea Doria and the Thresher, which I suppose is an advertisement for the safety of air travel over sea travel, but still.
  • Outboard washrooms have windows. It seems silly when you read it, but it’s actually kind of cool.
  • What a yummy wine list—in 9 languages[2]. Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut 2003 to start, a white Burgundy from Rully, a lovely Douro, and a 1995 Niepoort Colheita for dessert. And, of course, Finlandia.

I’m almost disappointed I’ll be asleep for a several hours.

There is no reason I can see that American Airlines can’t do this as well. Or British Airways for that matter. Maybe the two largest carriers in the oneworld alliance are just too big. Maybe Finland just has higher standards of comfort than the U.S. and U.K. Or maybe my experience flying back to the U.S.—in coach—will change my mind.

I will ponder these things over dinner...

[2] Finnish, Swedish, English, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Hindi, and (I think) Urdu. (I’ll confirm the last one with a classmate when I get to St. Petersburg.)

Update, 00:46 UTC, about 1,700 km southwest of Iceland:

The dinner service done, the cabin crew dimmed the lights, but so gently one might worry he was going blind. Also, because we’re so far north, the left side of the plane looks to be in a permanent sunset. The flight map shows us skimming the dark side of the terminator without ever quite diving in all the way. Plus, the local time in Helsinki is 3:50: just 30 minutes or so before sunrise. I might not get much sleep after all.

Later update, 00:51 UTC

I wrote too soon. They just killed the lights with a switch. It’s suddenly dark in the cabin. I shall therefore dim my laptop, which, because it has an ambient light sensor, is fighting me on this...

Still later update, 00:57 UTC

The almost-full moon just popped above the horizon. It’s still not completely dark out there though.

Checking in

I'm right now at JFK on my way to Europe, to attend the CCMBA residency in St. Petersburg. This is just about the first moment I've had to chill in a couple of days. Thus the dearth of posts recently.

First, I want to build a copy of Scott Adams's house:

My home office is designed with a sound baffle. It's a 10-foot diagonal hallway between my office door and the main office space. It's a kill zone for sound waves, and it works like a charm. The house has no carpets, so sound carries, but none of it makes it to my desk. The master bedroom has the same feature.

... We made room for the oversized kitchen and the theater by leaving out rooms you normally find in a home. We left out the fancy foyer, formal living room, and formal dining room. Our dining table, which hasn't arrived yet, will float just off the kitchen and double as the main thoroughfare for the downstairs. That way we avoid extra walls and hallways that ruin the flow of a house.

Second, and more importantly, my friend DC got a new puppy, Rex:

He's a pure-bred German Shepherd dog, and he's just a sweetie. He's also drooling; he, like lots of puppies, gets car sick. He made it all the way to O'Hare but by then his forelimbs were covered in drool. Poor puppy. DC reports he eats a quarter of his weight in food every day, so I'm kind of glad he didn't lose it in the car.

Reaction to The Warmest May

My last post ("Warmest May in 131 years") got some reaction on its cross-posting to Facebook:

YK: 131 years is a drop in the ocean in geological time. Why is this drop so significant? Never seen any satisfactory answers to that question except maybe some looks of intimidation about how 'obvious' the answer was. Poor communication or maybe nothing compelling to communicate?

The Daily Parker: The sharp rise in global temperatures over the past 150 years is unprecedented in the planet's history. Yes, the earth has been warmer, and it's been colder—but (a) the evidence is clear that a 2-5°C rise in this short amount of time has never happened before barring asteroid impact or supervolcano eruptions; and (b) there is a statistically significant correlation between human-caused gas emissions and the temperature rise.

YK: What science can go back 4 billion years and offer that level of precision over a 150 year period of time? Sorry, I don't buy it. Show me the evidence.

TDP: That's just it: looking at 150 years over even a few million, the spike would be vertical. There have been large rises in temperature, but over millennia. We've got ice cores going back half a million years, and geological evidence for a few hundred million before that. I think we can exclude from the argument the time when the planet was a molten rock without an atmosphere through the time it had an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere capable of supporting air-breathing life. So, for the last 500 million years, there have been swings up to 9°C, but never so fast, and never (with the exception of the K-T extinction) so devastating to life. What level of evidence do you require to recognize human-caused climate change, short of palm trees in Saskatchewan?

YK: I don't claim to be an expert in climate change, because I don't believe you can gain that 'knowledge' by reading or hearing people talk about it informally. Here is an example of something I looked for and read to learn more about it. Let me know if you can point me to something as equally well researched that can refute or at least cause me to question the observations and/or conclusions in this.

TDP: OK: UNFCCC, NASA, USGS, National Academies...again, what's the threshhold for you? What level of evidence will be sufficient to convince you?

YK: Read my article. You throw your stuff my way and don't bother to reciprocate the effort. Scientists who don't agree at least look at each other's evidence, and not just promote their own. (I write [that] with confidence because I know you couldn't have read the link I posted in 8 minutes.)

TDP: In fairness, you're right I haven't read it, but I'm downloading it now. While we're digesting each others' documents, consider this: If we shift resources to combatting climate change, for example by moving away from petroleum, reducing energy consumption overall, limiting meat production, etc., we could take a 1-2% GDP hit over the next century. Maybe 3% of GDP. If the consensus is wrong, and we've spent that 3% of GDP, we'll still have better resource use, healthier people, and fewer farting cows—all of which may very well boost GDP.

But if the consensus is right, and we do nothing, then we'll lose Miami, Bangladesh, and (truly a catastrophe) Jones Beach, Long Island.

What do you think about doing a thorough, evidence-driven risk analysis and then acting on it?

YK: If it can be proven or shown as a viable theory that we're f'ing up our planet and that we could do something to improve the situation, of course I'd be all for it. I just don't believe in any 'noble lie' scenario a la Plato. Show me the evidence or a reasoned theory and I'll come to my own conclusion on the matter. But I am against 'forcing' people to act against their will 'for their own good.' I am not a statist or a totalitarian or a believer in tyranny. If the best our 'leaders' can do is point guns at the populace to 'make them do the right thing' then I'm afraid we need to re-evaluate our status as citizens in this country.

My real reaction to the warmest May is: "Man, this May was so much more pleasant than last year in Chicago. Last year's late spring/all summer was the most disappointing in my 10 year experience living here."

The debate continues.

Warmest May in 131 years

Remember all those climate-change deniers going on about snow this past winter? New data from NASA might change some minds:

Especially warm temperatures—close to five degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average—occur over most of the Arctic, including the northernmost reaches of North America, northwestern Greenland, and most of the northern coast of Eurasia. Unusually warm conditions also extend southward into Eastern Europe and Siberia. In Antarctica, warm conditions appear in some inland areas and especially over the Antarctic Peninsula.

Temperature anomalies in May continued a much longer trend. GISS compared the January–May mean surface temperature anomalies for 2010 to those of 2005 and 1998 (the two warmest years on record). January–May anomalies show 2010 to be the warmest out of 131 years (2005 is the fourth warmest and 1998 is the fifth warmest). Moreover, Arctic temperature anomalies are especially pronounced, and have been since the turn of the twenty-first century.

And about that snow this winter: "Sea ice retreat and snow melt reduce Earth’s albedo, which can lead to increased warmth and further melting. Scambos explains that, although the Northern Hemisphere experienced significant snowfall in early 2010, spring melt was rapid, exposing land surfaces to sunlight sooner than usual."

6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6...70-68

The longest tennis match in history has ended:

When John Isner finally won the longest match in tennis history, he collapsed on the Wimbledon grass and then summoned one last burst of energy, springing to his feet to applaud along with the crowd.

The American hit a backhand winner to win the last of the match’s 980 points, and he took the fifth set Thursday against Nicolas Mahut, 70-68.

The first-round match took 11 hours, 5 minutes over three days, lasting so long it was suspended because of darkness — two nights in a row. Play resumed Thursday at 59-all and continued for more than an hour before Isner won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68.


Personalizing machines

Diane will understand why Wired editor Jonah Lehrer keeps his crappy GPS. Not because her GPS is crappy, but because "Jack" talks to her:

I have a complicated relationship with my GPS unit. On the one hand, it rarely works. Here's what happened the last time I turned it on. First, there was a five minute delay while it searched for the satellite signal. Then, it couldn't find the street I was searching for. Then, it found the street but lost the satellite signal. Then, it regained the signal but sent me in the wrong direction. And then, after I'd already gotten accurate directions off my phone, the GPS unit finally decided that it knew where I was going. In other words, the device sucks.

But here's the funny part: I still use the device every time I'm even a little lost or unsure of where I'm going. In fact, I sometimes turn the machine on even when I know exactly where I'm headed. Why? I'm not quite sure. Although the device drives me crazy, and I'm constantly complaining about it (see above), I also enjoy interacting with that posh British voice emanating from the gadget, as it mispronounces every street name and tells me to take the wrong turn. When I'm alone in the car, the stupid piece of plastic feels like a companion.

... Why, then, am I so indulgent of my GPS unit? The answer, I think, has to do with the facade of agency. This machine speaks to me, calmly telling me where to go and why it's failing to telling me where to go. Sometimes, when the gadget is really struggling, I get the sense that it wants to apologize, that it feels bad it's so utterly ineffective.

For the record, "Jack" is Australian. And I have to laugh the way "he" reacts when Diane decides to follow a different route than Jack plotted for her: he seems to sigh and, with the patience of someone training a puppy, tells her he's "recalculating." We really aren't far away from Genuine People Personalities, are we?

"Ring of Fire" over central U.S.

That's what the WGN Weather Blog calls the circle around a dome of hot air stretching from Texas to the Atlantic:

Yesterday this combination brought the second heavy squall line across Chicago that pinned me down at my client offices. The one last Friday had 75 km/h winds that punched out windows at Willis Tower, a few blocks away. Last night's encouraged the city to turn on the civil defense sirens:

The National Weather Service said funnel clouds were spotted in the leading edge of the storms, but there have so far been no confirmed reports of tornado touchdowns. ... Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications activated emergency storm warning sirens at about 6:15 p.m. after a funnel cloud was spotted in the south suburbs, said Will Knight, a spokesman for the agency. Sirens could heard in various parts of the city, including the Loop.

Back when I grew up, the monthly siren tests (first Tuesday of the month at 10am) were tornado drills from February to October. We'd all line up along the wall and cover our heads until the sirens stopped. They still creep me out a little.

Today promises milder temperatures and winds out of the north—a typical cold-front passage. By Sunday, though, temperatures here will creep back into the 30s C and bring more storms.

North Carolina 13th

As I checked email for one last time before going to bed, I found out who won the Republican primary in North Carolina's 13th district, in which I've spent considerable time this year. Meet Bill Randall, who will challenge incumbent Representative Brad Miller (D) on November 2nd:

As Talking Points Memo said last week, "But surprisingly, as oil poured into the gulf and Obama threw resources and rhetoric at the problem, the 'it's all a giant conspiracy' theory didn't catch on."

Perhaps when people talk about "tea parties" they refer to a different kind of tea than they serve at Starbucks? Just a thought.

Finally, a reminder to all my friends in the district: please, don't take it for granted Brad Miller will get re-elected. Sanity still needs your vote in November.