The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

It's the little things

There was a bit of Karmic balancing today, if you believe in those things. Even though I got some really good news after lunch, I also experienced something that broke a little piece off my heart before lunch.

I've been freelancing from my home office for a while, so Parker has had a lot of walks. And this morning, after my coffee, he got a good 40-minute, 4½ km walk around the neighborhood. No worries there; he loves his walks.

Except, just after lunch, I wanted to go outside again, and he didn't. This is unprecedented. I asked him if he wanted to GO OUTSIDE?! He sighed, got up, ambled over to me, sighed again, lay down, and—I'm not anthropromorphising here—shrugged as much as a dog can shrug.

Obviously we went for the walk. But it was slower than usual, and shorter. He really just wanted to have his nap. He did some perfunctory business early on and then pulled back for home before relenting and letting me take him another couple of blocks.

As much as he's able to communicate, he told me he just really wanted to nap, OK? And I communicated, as best I can to him, that he'd feel better after a walk. And he did; but less than a minute after getting home, he bumped me with his head and sidled off to the (incredibly inconvenient) spot in the hallway he likes to occupy where he took a two-hour nap.

Parker will be 10 next week. He's a good-sized dog, half German shepherd and half who-knows-what. Bigger dogs don't live as long as smaller dogs, though no one really knows why. So he's getting up there.

Don't get me wrong; he's in great health, and his vet says he presents as a 6- or 7-year old. But today, he didn't want to go for a walk, for the first time in our entire experience together. And it made me think about Matthew Inman's "Dog Paradox" cartoon.

I see patterns in small data sets, which is one of the reasons I'm really good at my job. Today Parker showed me a pretty big data point. So as excited as I am about the really great news I can't share publicly yet, it's balanced by a major indication that Parker's getting older.

He's going to refuse more walks. He's going to have trouble keeping up with me on hikes. He's going to hesitate and sigh more often before climbing stairs. He's not going to see much of Hillary's second term, if any of it.

This is the deal I made with him in September 2006: I'm his human. He knows it, too. But today I got a really painful reminder that I'm only his human for a short time.

Well, we knew this was coming

American Airlines is changing the way it apportions miles and awards tickets. As predicted, they're moving to a dollars-per-mile system that rewards travelers for spending more money on the airline. Instead of just needing 50,000 miles to get to Platinum, you also need 6,000 elite qualifying dollars.

They're also adding a new level, Platinum Pro, at 75,000 elite-qualifying miles, which would have helped me more than once.

In all, the system seems fair, and pretty much everyone new it was coming. I'll be interested to see how it works in practice.

Another armchair diagnosis that doesn't change anything

Richard North Patterson, writing in Huffington Post, outlines one more time how Donald Trump's obvious personality disorder disqualifies him from political office of any kind:

There is only one organizing principle which makes sense of his wildly oscillating utterances and behavior - the clinical definition of narcissistic personality disorder.

The Mayo Clinic describes it as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.” This is bad enough in selecting a spouse or a friend. But when applied to a prospective president, the symptoms are disqualifying.

With Trump ever in mind, try these. An exaggerated sense of self-importance. An unwarranted belief in your own superiority. A preoccupation with fantasies of your own success, power and brilliance. A craving for constant admiration. A consuming sense of entitlement. An expectation of special favors and unquestioning compliance.

Yes. It seems unlikely that anyone who has observed Trump in the past 30 years could have missed this. But Patterson is really concerned about how major media outlets seem to be ignoring this:

It has been three weeks since this damning tape surfaced. The story vanished in a day. Confronted with the ["Miller"] tape on Today, Trump told an obvious lie - “it was not me on the phone” - wrapped in his ineradicable narcissism : “I have many many people who are trying to imitate my voice and... you can imagine that... Let’s get on to more current subjects.”

The media complied.

But there is nothing more “current” or important than Donald Trump’s psychological fitness to be president. All the hyperventilation of the media - parsing his “positions”, pontificating on his” strategy” and intuition- is a poisonous form of the “political correctness” he otherwise deplores, normalizing the abnormal by shoehorning him into the usual analytic boxes. And what it yields is, in great part, rubbish.

I really, really hope that logic and reason prevail in November. Because it's going to be a long-enough five months more of stories like this; I just can't take four years of it.

So long, Miami Beach

As the election gets closer, we need to remember that climate change is real and will affect hundreds of millions of people in the next few decades—despite what one of the candidates seems to think. Here's an article from The New Yorker back in December that puts the issue in stark relief:

To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars. It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in [University of Miami's Geological Sciences chair Hal] Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later—and probably sooner—the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.

The latest data from the Arctic, gathered by a pair of exquisitely sensitive satellites, show that in the past decade Greenland has been losing more ice each year. In August, NASA announced that, to supplement the satellites, it was launching a new monitoring program called—provocatively—Oceans Melting Greenland, or O.M.G. In November, researchers reported that, owing to the loss of an ice shelf off northeastern Greenland, a new “floodgate” on the ice sheet had opened. All told, Greenland’s ice holds enough water to raise global sea levels by twenty feet.

Against this backdrop, South Florida still stands out. The region has been called “ground zero when it comes to sea-level rise.” It has also been described as “the poster child for the impacts of climate change,” the “epicenter for studying the effects of sea-level rise,” a “disaster scenario,” and “the New Atlantis.” Of all the world’s cities, Miami ranks second in terms of assets vulnerable to rising seas—No. 1 is Guangzhou—and in terms of population it ranks fourth, after Guangzhou, Mumbai, and Shanghai. A recent report on storm surges in the United States listed four Florida cities among the eight most at risk. (On that list, Tampa came in at No. 1.) For the past several years, the daily high-water mark in the Miami area has been racing up at the rate of almost an inch a year, nearly ten times the rate of average global sea-level rise. It’s unclear exactly why this is happening, but it’s been speculated that it has to do with changes in ocean currents which are causing water to pile up along the coast. Talking about climate change in the Everglades this past Earth Day, President Obama said, “Nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in South Florida.”

An interactive map the New York Times produced in 2012 should scare the bathing suits off Floridians, too.

Then and now

Chicago historian John R. Schmidt frequently has "Then and Now" features where he shows a part of the city as it appeared when he was a kid against how it appears now. I just found a trove of historical photos produced by the Illinois Dept. of Transportation, including a few dozen from my neighborhood, so I can play the same game.

Here's the intersection of Sheridan, Broadway, and Montrose, looking west down Montrose, from March 1936, more than 80 years ago:

Here's this past Tuesday:

Though some of the details have changed, both buildings flanking the north side of Broadway still exist. But the Wilson Yard development, from 2006, has taken over most of the area between Broadway and the El tracks. And past the El, the mature trees have changed the character of Montrose.

Another thing I notice about photos of Chicago and other U.S. cities before about 1990: the haze. Starting in the 1970s in California and the 1980s elsewhere, governments cracked down on air pollution. Chicago in 1936 would have been intolerably polluted to Millennials. The top photo gives a hint of why.

Want shorter lines at the airport? Think through security

Pilot Patrick Smith outlines, one more time, a number of sensible ways to shorten airport security lines while providing better security overall:

As I’ve argued for years, there are two fundamental flaws in our approach. First is the idea that every single person who flies, from infant children to elderly folks in wheelchairs, is seen as a potential terrorist of equal threat. Second, and and even more maddening, is the immense amount of time we spend rifling through people’s bags in the hunt for harmless liquids, pointy objects, and other perceived “weapons.” In a system that processes more than two million passengers every day of the week, neither of these tactics is effective or sustainable. Our approach is so flawed, and so bogged down in ridiculous, wasteful nonsense, that it can hardly move under its own weight. Yet all we hear about is how to add yet more layers of fat to the system.

Does anybody remember the comedy of errors that allowed the so-called “Underwear Bomber” to make his way onto a Detroit-bound flight out of Amsterdam? Here was a Nigerian citizen who’d spent time in Yemen, traveling on a one-way ticket, and whose own father had tried to warn American authorities about him. And here we are confiscating plastic squirt-guns and rubber swords from four year-old kids at regional airports in Utah.

The trouble isn’t that we have “too much security” per se. It’s that we have too much security in the wrong places. The solution isn’t pouring more and more money into a defective strategy. It’s changing that strategy.

Amen. Again. Because Smith isn't advocating anything new; he's been saying all this for years, as have Schneier, former TSA directors, other pilots, and on and on. What's it going to take to change our ridiculous policies?

Curious

Scott Hanselman suggests that, rather than dividing the world into technologists and non-techies, the division is simply about curiosity:

I took apart my toaster, my remote control, and a clock-radio telephone before I was 10. Didn't you? What's the difference between the people that take toasters apart and the folks that just want toast? At what point do kids or young adults stop asking "how does it work?"

There's a great interview question I love to give. "When you type foo.com into a browser, what happens? Then what happens? Then what happens?" I ask this question not because I care how deep you can go; I ask because I care how deep you care to go. Where does your interest stop? How do you THINK it works? Where does technology end and where does the magic (for you) begin? HTTP? TCP? DNS? Voltage on a wire? Registers in chips? Quantum effects?

Perhaps curiosity is an innate thing, perhaps it's taught and encouraged, but more likely it's a little of both. I hope that you're stretching yourself and others to ask more questions and explore the how and why of the world around you.

And he has a great quote on Twitter (from himself): "Non-technical people, here's a secret. We tech folks have no idea what the problem is. We just try to narrow it down, removing variables."