The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Blogging A-to-Z Challenge Topic 2018

Blogging A to ZAs I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, The Daily Parker will participate in this year's Blogging A-to-Z Challenge. Today's the official Theme Reveal day. My topic will be: Programming Concepts using Microsoft C# .NET.

My topics will include:

  • Compilers vs Interpreters
  • Generics
  • Human factors (and errors)
  • LINQ
  • Polymorphism

...and will finish with a real-world practical example on April 30th.

I will also keep up my annoying political and Parker posts through April. And, full disclosure, many of the 26 A-to-Z posts will be technical and more involved than just linking to a Washington Post article. Because of that, and because I want a consistent publication cadence, I'm going to write them ahead of time, even if it's just the night before.

A-to-Z posts will start at noon UTC (7am Chicago time) on April 1st and continue through the 30th, with Sundays off. You can find them directly through their A-to-Z Tag. Enjoy!

Politically-motivated Spam from an island nation's PR department?

Over the past few weeks I've gotten several emails from someone purporting to be "Jess Miller" in New Zealand, mentioning she'd noticed a post I did on the Maldives in 2012. That post reported on the violent coup d'état that overthrew the democratically elected government of the island nation just southwest of the Indian subcontinent. And just a few weeks ago, the military dissolved Parliament and threw the country into more unrest. The U.S. State Department has issued a level-2 caution. Understandably, tourism has declined somewhat, which is a pity because it's unlikely the country will exist after another 50 years of climate-change-induced sea-level rise.

Anyway, "Jess" sent me an email about my "wonderful blog post" and called out "a solid blog post [she'd] read in the past," which turned out to be the U.K. Foreign Office travel warning about the place.

Then there's the punchline: "Jess" wants to cross-post with her "best things to do in the Maldives" article on her own site.

I think the best thing to do in the Maldives right now is not to go there.

So, "Jess," your article is very attractive and I think a wonderful list of things to do once the government of the Maldives returns to civilian control, their economy stops its free-fall, tourists stop getting robbed in their hotel rooms, and climate change goes into reverse so they stop suffering the existential peril that is driving all these problems.

Any takers on a bet that "Jess" has funding from a Maldives tourist agency?

Lying down with dogs

The New York Times last week suggested that people who sleep with their dogs sleep just as well as those whose dogs sleep elsewhere:

The dogs wore a device called a Fitbark, an activity tracker that attaches to the collar and records whether an animal is at rest and sleeping or active and at play. The people wore an Actiwatch 2, an activity monitor that records people’s movements and whether they are sleeping soundly or not. Both monitors were set to sample movement every minute, while the humans also kept a sleep diary.

Over seven days of testing, the researchers found that with a dog in the bedroom, both the humans and the dogs slept reasonably well. Humans had a mean sleep efficiency, or the percentage of time spent asleep while in bed, of 81 percent, while dogs had a sleep efficiency of 85 percent. Levels over 80 percent are generally considered satisfactory. People slept slightly better when the dog was off the bed; dogs slept the same whether they were on the bed or in another location in the bedroom.

Dr. Carlo Siracusa, a veterinarian and the director of animal behavioral science at Penn Vet in Philadelphia, added that a dog sleeping in the same room or bed with humans won’t make Sparky think he’s top dog. “Dogs can distinguish between the relationship with its human fellows and other dogs, and the way in which they regulate their interactions with humans in the house is not trying to establish a hierarchy,” he said.

First, don't think for a moment that I haven't considered getting a Fitbark for Parker. I've always been curious what he does at day camp; I suspect he sleeps about 90% of the time.

Second, no matter how well Parker sleeps, there are sometimes days like last Thursday when he woke up with an urgent matter that he immediately discussed with the bedroom floor, even though I could have gotten him outside in seconds had he asked.


Almae Matres both advance

Duke advanced yesterday to the Sweet 16. Cool, but their 87-62 win over Rhode Island wasn't exactly a fair fight.

Loyola, though. Loyola advanced on a hail-Mary three-pointer with 3 seconds left on the clock:

Loyola did it again with a 63-62 NCAA tournament thriller against No. 3 seed Tennessee to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985 — the last time the Ramblers were in the tournament.

On Saturday night, it was guard Clayton Custer who delivered a game-winning 15-foot jumper with 3.6 seconds left on the clock. In the first round two nights before, it was senior Donte Ingram who nailed a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining against No. 6 seed Miami to make Loyola a tournament sweetheart.

If Thursday’s victory goes down in Loyola history as “The Shot,” this one will be known forever as “The Bounce."

Custer’s shot from the right side near the free-throw line ricocheted high off the rim to the top of the backboard before rattling through the basket — stunning the Volunteers and adding to what has been a wild NCAA tournament littered with defeated higher seeds.

Nice work, Ramblers. Nice work. Good luck tomorrow to both teams, with Duke against whoever wins today's Syracuse-Michigan State game, and Loyola set to play the winner of tonight's Nevada-Cincinnati game.

1.5 Gs

As of just a few moments ago, I passed 1.5 billion seconds old.

Yes, this is a thing most people don't really think about, but as someone who works in software, this actually has some significance—and another Y2K problem that will occur just a few months before I get to 2.0 Gigaseconds (Gs) in 2038.

The problem is a thing called the Unix epoch. Computers can only count as high as they have bits to count. Unix computers, which include Macs and most of the infrastructure of the Internet, count time in seconds from 1 January 1970 00:00 UTC, which was (at the moment I'm typing this) 1,521,383,994 seconds ago.

Everyone knows computers can count to awesomely huge numbers. But you need to give them enough bits to do that. Unix time is measured by a 32-bit number, which can count up to 232-1, or 4,294,967,295 (in binary, a 32-item string of 1s), which is enough seconds to count just over 136 years.

But you sometimes want to measure things that happened in the past, so Unix time takes the first bit of the 32-bit number and makes it a sign. If the first bit is 0, the time is in the present. If it's 1, the time is the number of seconds before the beginning of the epoch. So this cuts the measurable period in half, to 68 years. Specifically, Unix time rolls over at 3:14:08 on 19 January 2038.

The fix is simply to use a bigger number. Today, 64-bit numbers are no big deal, and they give you 263-1 (9,223,372,036,854,775,807) seconds to work with in either direction. That's roughly 292 billion years, which is sufficient to measure most human-scale activities.

So, knowing all this, and knowing that I was born in the first year of the Unix epoch, it wasn't difficult to figure out my "epoch" birth moment at 9:12 CDT this morning.

But there's a catch. As I mentioned, computers count by 2s, not by 10s, so this entire post is a lie. I'm not 1.5 Gs old; I'm just over 1,500,000,000 seconds old. 1.5 x 230 (i.e., 1.5 giga anything) is 1,610,612,736, so I won't be 1.5 Gs old until Unix moment 1,631,995,056, which will be 18 September 2021 at 19:57:36 UTC.

So check back in three and a half years. I'm sure I'll have another post about this nonsense then.

(For those of you keeping score at home, I was 1.0 Gs old on 13 September 2004 at 20:09:04 CDT, during a lull in blogging. Else I'm sure I would have mentioned this then.)

First look at the Boeing 797?

Via Cranky Flyer, blogger Jon Ostrower has a look at early drawings of Boeing's next transport airplane, which could fly as early as 2025:

The yet-to-be-launched NMA is slated to arrive in 2025. First with the base model, the NMA-6X (225 passengers at 5,000nm) and the NMA-7X (265 passengers at 4,500nm) two years later, according to two people familiar with Boeing’s planning today.

Elements adapted from existing aircraft are apparent across this early iteration of the NMA design: A 737 Max-style tail cone, larger 787/777X-sized cabin windows, and a 757/767/777-style wind screen. The door arrangement matches that of Boeing’s last “small twin,” the 767-200, very strongly suggesting a twin-aisle design.

Equally important is what’s not visible. The angle doesn’t show the most distinctive – and potentially technically challenging – aspect of the design. The ovoid shape of the fuselage isn’t readily apparent, but the curve in the future nose hints at the ‘hybrid design.”

The aim of such a design is to maximize the passenger space in the cabin; notionally a seven-abreast 2-3-2 twin-aisle economy arrangement above the floor with room for a single-aisle-sized cargo hold below, according to those familiar with the design. The debate between North American and Asian airlines over the shape and capacity of the belly (and ensuing wing-sizing and engine thrust capabilities) was detailed last week by Bloomberg News’ Julie Johnsson.

These early images only hint at Boeing's direction. The final airplane design will look much different. But Boeing's strategy is interesting, and probably the right one: build a fuel-efficient mid-size airplane for trans-Atlantic flights to add a host of new city pairs to the mix. Just as one example, American has sometimes flown a 767 from Raleigh, N.C., to London; I've been on the flight a few times. It's always half-empty. That's a perfect route for a 737-size airplane that has the range of a 787.

Of course, I live in Chicago, which still has the second-busiest airport in the world, and from where one can get a nonstop flight to almost as many countries as from Heathrow. But having more city pairs could reduce the pressure on cities like Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles, and make flying overseas more convenient for everyone.

I'm looking forward to riding on the 797 in a few years. We'll see what it looks like, and how scared Airbus is, well before then.

The Athropic Shadow

An article in this month's Atlantic points out that we humans can wonder how we got here only because we got here:

After all, there are 100-mile impact craters on our planet’s surface from the past billion years, but no 600-mile craters. But of course, there couldn’t be scars this big. On worlds where such craters exist, there is no one around afterward to ponder them. In a strange way, truly gigantic craters don’t appear on the planet’s surface because we’re here to look for them. Just as the wounds of the returning planes could reflect only the merely survivable, so too for our entire planet’s history. It could be that we’ve been shielded from these existential threats by our very existence.

“Observer selection effects are really the kind of effects where the data you get is going to be dependent, in some sense, on survival, or that you as an observer exist,” [Anders Sandberg, a senior research fellow at University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute] says. “Now this gets really interesting and scary when we apply it to our own survival.”

“Maybe the universe is super dangerous and Earth-like planets are destroyed at a very high rate,” Sandberg says. “But if the universe is big enough, then when observers do show up on some very, very rare planets, they’ll look at the record of meteor impacts and disasters and say, ‘The universe looks pretty safe!’ But the problem is, of course, that their existence depends on them being very, very lucky. They’re actually living in an unsafe universe and next Tuesday they might get a very nasty surprise.”

If this is true, it might explain why our radio telescopes have reported only a stark silence from our cosmic neighborhood. Perhaps we’re truly extreme oddballs, held aloft by a near-impossible history—one free from lifeless water world.

We see this on smaller scales when, for example, extremely lucky people start to think they succeeded entirely because of their own efforts. But that's a different topic. Sort of.

What is the plural of "alma mater?"

Two of my almae matres yesterday advanced in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. One of them, Duke, didn't exactly struggle, so I'll just acknowledge them for now. Another of them, Loyola University Chicago, didn't even expect to get to the tournament, so their win yesterday felt really great:

Donte Ingram’s 3-pointer just before the final buzzer delivered the 11th-seeded Ramblers’ first NCAA tournament victory in 33 years — a 64-62 upset of No. 6 seed Miami.

As the players partied Thursday afternoon, a 98-year-old nun who serves as the team chaplain was pushed onto the corner of the hardwood in her wheelchair. With TV camera crews trained on her, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt folded her hands in her lap and smiled, waiting for an embrace from each player as he exited the court.

“She’s just so special, her spirit,” Ingram said. “She’s just so bright.”

After his divine 3-pointer and celebration, Ingram spotted Sister Jean’s outstretched arm as he ran off the court. The undisputed team MVPs for the day hugged.

Call the duo The Shot and The Prayer.

Don't tell anyone, but I'm considering skipping out for a couple of hours to meet some friends at a local wings place. Duke plays Rhode Island tomorrow afternoon, and Loyola plays Tennessee tomorrow evening. (Here's the official NCAA bracket.)

Warming Arctic, chilling Northeast

Writing in the New York Times, University of Washington professor Cecilia Bitz sounds a four-klaxon alarm about the rapidly-warming Arctic:

In late February, a large portion of the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole experienced an alarming string of extremely warm winter days, with the surface temperature exceeding 25 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

These conditions capped nearly three months of unusually warm weather in a region that has seen temperatures rising over the past century as greenhouse gas concentrations (mostly carbon dioxide and methane) have increased in the atmosphere. At the same time, the extent of frozen seawater floating in the Arctic Ocean reached new lows in January and February in 40 years of satellite monitoring.

In recent years, the air at the Arctic Ocean surface during winter has warmed by over 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. So was this recent spate of warm weather linked to longer-term climate change, or was it, well, just the weather?

What we can say is this: Weather patterns that generate extreme warm Arctic days are now occurring in combination with a warming climate, which makes extremes more likely and more severe. What’s more, these extreme temperatures have had a profound influence on sea ice, which has become thinner and smaller in extent, enabling ships to venture more often and deeper into the Arctic.

This coincides with an article in the Washington Post describing new research that the unusually cold and snowy winter just ended in the Northeast U.S. and in Europe is a direct consequence of warmer Arctic weather:

The study, titled “Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States,” shows that severe winter weather, late in the season, has increased over the eastern United States since 1990 as the Arctic has dramatically warmed, faster than any other part of the world.

When the Arctic is warm, the study finds, cold weather and heavy snowfalls in the eastern United States are two to four times more likely than when it is cold.

“This paper argues that the weather was cold not in spite of climate change but likely because of climate change,” said Judah Cohen, lead author of the study.

As Arctic temperatures have warmed in recent decades, late winter weather severity has increased in the East while decreasing in the West, the study found.

Because the increase in winter weather severity in the East has been most pronounced in February and March, when the biggest winter storms tend to form, major East Coast cities have seen an uptick in the frequency of crippling snowstorms. “We found a statistically significant increase in the return rate of heavier snowfall in Boston, New York  and Washington,” Cohen said.

Scientists haven't found the exact causes of the relationship, but evidence for the correlation got a lot more significant this year. But the prediction that anthropogenic climate change would lead to a feedback loop and rapidly-warming Arctic, in combination with extreme weather events elsewhere at the same time, has been around for decades. We're now seeing the predictions come true.

In other words, we're going to experience harsh winters in places that haven't had them for a few years, before the ocean becomes so warm that weather patterns shift again, probably suddenly (i.e., within a couple of decades). We don't know what the next pattern will look like. But we can predict it will be more extreme, and that beachfront property in the mid-Atlantic looks like a bad investment.

Ides of March reading list

I'm writing a response to an RFP today, so I'll have to read these when I get a chance:

There were two more stories in my inbox this morning, but they deserve their own post after lunch.