The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Dark when I get up

When I visit my folks in northern California for short visits, I use the same trick to ward off jet lag that I use in London: I stay on Chicago time. This means, however, that I get up around 5:30 and hike over to the Peet's to work until everyone else wakes up.

Combine that with this being the end of August and it really brings home how short the days are getting. At home I've already noticed how gloomy it is at 6:30; here, I'm leaving the house at 5:45, almost an hour before sunrise. The last time I visited California, in May, I walked to the coffee shop at dawn. Today I thought it prudent to bring a flashlight.

Chicago has lost 74 minutes of daylight since August 1st, and will lose another 100 minutes by the end of September.

We'll also get cooler weather, changing leaves, sweaters, and longer walks with Parker, so it's not all bad.

Learning French in Middlebury

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates spent seven weeks this summer at an immersion French course at Middlebury College:

I was there to improve my French. My study consisted of four hours of class work and four hours of homework. I was forbidden from reading, writing, speaking, or hearing English. I watched films in French, tried to read a story in Le Monde each day, listened to RFI and a lot of Barbara and Karim Oullet. At every meal I spoke French, and over the course of the seven weeks I felt myself gradually losing touch with the broader world. This was not a wholly unpleasant feeling. In the moments I had to speak English (calling my wife, interacting with folks in town or at the book store), my mouth felt alien and my ear slightly off.

he majority of people I interacted with spoke better, wrote better, read better, and heard better than me. There was no escape from my ineptitude. At every waking hour, someone said something to me that I did not understand. At every waking hour, I mangled some poor Frenchman’s lovely language. For the entire summer, I lived by two words: “Désolé, encore.”

From this he examines scholastic opportunity and achievement, how different ethnic groups approach intellectuals in their midst, and class conflict in general, as only Coates can. It's a good read.

Not my grandfather's climate

Jim Angel, the Illinois State Climatologist, wrote yesterday that Chicago-area precipitation seems to have shifted around 1965:

First of all, northeast Illinois (Cook and several surrounding counties – see map below) has experienced a shift in precipitation over the last 120 years. This plot shows the amounts for each year as green dots, and an 11-year running average showing longer periods of dry conditions (brown) and wet conditions (green). There is a pretty remarkable shift from a drier climate between 1895 and 1965 with lots of brown, towards a wetter climate from 1966 to present where green dominates.

If you compare the average annual precipitation between the two periods, you get 836 mm for the earlier period and 935 mm for the later period. That is a 99 mm increase, or about 12 percent.

Of course, we have still experienced drought conditions in this later wet period, as noted in 2005 and 2012. However, the wetter years far outnumber the dry years since 1965. BTW, this pattern is not unique. I have seen this across the state.

So, with slightly warmer weather, milder winters, and more precipitation, it looks like Illinois might suffer less from climate change than other parts of the country. However, those conditions have led to increasing insect populations and more-frequent large precipitation events, with non-trivial costs.

At least we're not in South Florida, which not only faces complete inundation from rising sea levels, but also a climate-denying Congressional delegation.

The throughput is not to the swift

On those rare occasions when I opt for it, I usually enjoy having in-flight WiFi. At this particular moment, however, I'm staring down another two hours of flying time with WiFi throughput under 200 kbps. That speed reminds me of the late 1990s. You know, half the Web ago.

This is painful. I'm not streaming video, nor am I connected to a remote server like the guy next to me. I'm just trying to get some documents written. I believe I will have to write a complaint to GoGo Inflight, as this throughput is completely unacceptable.

But enough about that minor sadness; I've found something truly horrible.

Everyone who took English 1 at my college had to read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. (I would actually extend this mandate to everyone on the planet who speaks English if I had the power.) In the essay, Orwell calls out a specific passage from Ecclesiastes to show how business English can destroy thought:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He renders it in modern English thus:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Two things. First, "modern" English in 1946 seems a lot like modern English in 2014. Frighteningly so.

Second, there are worse translations of that passage in actual, printed Bibles. Now, I'm not a religious person, as even a causal reader of this blog knows. But I have an appreciation for language. So it pains me to see that some people learned Ecclesiastes 9:11 like this:

I saw something else under the sun. The race isn't [won] by fast runners, or the battle by heroes. Wise people don't necessarily have food. Intelligent people don't necessarily have riches, and skilled people don't necessarily receive special treatment. But time and unpredictable events overtake all of them.

("GOD'S WORD® Translation")

Or this:

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn't always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn't always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don't always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

NO! No, no, NO! This isn't a children's book. Why does anyone need to dumb it down? I mean, fine, vernacular and all, but can't we at least keep the poetry?

It's no wonder the religious right have such poor cognitive skills. The one book they were allowed to read as children has been reduced to pabulum.

United Uber Chicago?

United Airlines and Uber have quietly entered into a partnership to help United passengers get rides out of O'Hare (hat tip RM):

United launched the service Thursday that allows passengers to use the United Airlines mobile app to find UberTaxi information including the types of vehicles available, estimated wait times and prices.

The airline’s passengers can hook-up with the Uber service by using the airline’s mobile app to select a ride, at which point they are either directed to the Uber app to complete the transaction or to sign-up for an Uber account.

Only UberTaxi cars can participate, because they're licensed cab drivers.

Meanwhile, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn vetoed legislation that would have made it more difficult for Uber and its competitor, Lyft, to operate in Chicago, and Uber is coming under fire for poaching drivers from the competition.

American vs. Orbitz: Who's going to win?

Cranky Flier has his hypothesis:

From everything I understand, this particular spat is really about economics and there’s not some underlying hidden issue. While published commissions have disappeared, agencies with heft like Orbitz still do get paid by airlines. They also get paid by the reservation systems they use. How does the reservation system get the money to pay them? They make the airlines cough it up. So really when someone books on an online travel agent site, the airlines are paying for it twice. The airlines have to look at the total amount and decide whether or not its worth the price to play.

Now, if you’re a traveler and you go to Orbitz, you aren’t going to see American or Southwest. ... Sure, United and Delta can pick up some of the slack, but Orbitz becomes significantly less useful domestically. International is a different story, I suppose. That being said, if you really love using an online travel agent, then why not just use Expedia now? There is real risk for Orbitz.

There is also real risk for American, but it’s less than it probably would have been in the past. Before consolidation took hold, there were so many airlines out there you might not notice, as a consumer, that American had disappeared. But now, you’ll notice. At the same time, American has upped the percentage of traffic coming direct, so Orbitz really feels more pressure now than it would have in the past. The balance of power has shifted.

As a loyal oneworld frequent flier, I almost always go to directly (though I sometimes follow up by checking Hipmunk when I see suspicious direct pricing). But for occasional passengers, the Orbitz is a useful resource. And if Orbitz no longer shows American Airlines prices, will United and Delta raise theirs?

Are zombie bikes coming to Chicago?

Electric bikes that move between bike share stations may solve the bike-rebalancing problem:

The goal of this research is to derive algorithms directing the vans and trucks that bike-share operators use to shuffle bikes from station to station within a city. Trouble is, rebalancing is a moving target with several layers of complexity. You not only need to predict how many bikes a station will need at a certain time, but you need to minimize the (costly and time-consuming) movement of these vans and trucks—and you need to do it all while the system is in use.

Algorithms aren't the only option. Wald reports that at least one researcher is modeling a system in which driverless bike-share trucks could rebalance stations automatically. Of course, an easier way would be for bike-share systems to use electric bikes that shuffled themselves. But the thought of a bike traveling without a rider does bring up the problem of, you know, balance.

Meanwhile, Chicago's Divvy system will add another 100 or more stations next year, all the way up into Rogers Park and down to the far South Side.

Scott Walker may lose his job, because of Obamacare

Noam Scheiber writes today that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other right-wing Republicans are fighting the most important elections in this cycle:

But consider what happens if Republicans fail to win the Senate, in which case Walker’s re-election may loom even larger. The GOP will be coming off its third disappointing election in four cycles. Some Republicans will insist it’s long past time to moderate the party’s stance on issues like immigration and gay rights, as they did after the 2012 drubbing. But those voices will almost certainly be drowned out by right-wingers who say Republicans haven’t stood firmly enough in defense of conservative principles. And Walker, the governor who managed to destroy the left and live to tell about it in a swing state, will loom as an incredibly appealing model. His brand of aggressively partisan, aggressively conservative politics will immediately vault him to the top tier of presidential candidates for 2016.

Of course, if the GOP loses the Senate and Walker loses, too, I have no illusions that the GOP’s moderate reformers will suddenly win out. The party that rallied around Ted Cruz and ousted Eric Cantor partly over his supposed liberal heresies isn’t tacking to the political center any time soon. But, in a way, that’s exactly the point. What makes Walkerism so dangerous is that it puts a moderate face on what’s actually a pretty extreme set of policies. A politician working from Walker’s playbook can always say he or she is out to save taxpayers money and make government more efficient even as they’re really out to upend a decade-olds arrangement between workers and employers. (If you think Walkerism would stop at public employees unions, I have a beautiful timeshare in Green Bay to sell you...)

But why is Walker in so much trouble, despite surviving his recall election 53-47? Possibly because people really wanted the Medicaid money he turned down:

To get a look at whether a Republican governor’s policy stances matter, I re-plotted some of the relevant polling data. This time, I used two symbols to represent a governor’s stance on Medicaid expansion (and other aspects of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act):

According to these data points, Republican governors who bucked their party’s stance and accepted the policy are faring better with voters—in these races, an average of 8.5 percentage points better.

We've got two months until the election, so a lot could happen. But this is starting to look like the pendulum swinging back to center. And wow, do I hope so, because these right-wingnuts have been so depressing for so long...

Plugged back in

Someimes—rarely—I disconnect for a couple of days. This past weekend I basically just hung out, walked my dog, went shopping, and had a perfectly nice absence from the Web.

Unfortunately that meant I had something like 200 RSS articles to plough through, and I just couldn't bring myself to stop dealing with (most) emails. And I have a few articles to read:

Now back to your regularly-scheduled week, already in progress...