After taking Cassie on a 45-minute walk before the heat hits us, I've spent the morning debugging, watching these news stories pile up for lunchtime reading:
- The US Supreme Court once again upheld Obamacare, with only Alito and Gorsuch dissenting.
- The Illinois legislature passed a common-sense gun control law, supported by the State Police, that largely brings us back in line with the rules we had in the 1990s.
- Illinois Deputy Governor Dan Hynes has resigned (ahem) ahead of the 2022 election.
- The BBC fact-checks this week's Iranian elections.
- Dana Milbank fact-checks Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has started repeating Republican Party lies about BLM and our election. Writing in the Atlantic, Anna Nemtsova says Putin has nothing to offer the West because he has dropped all pretense of liberalism.
- National Geographic has a photo essay of 20 natural wonders that disappeared in the past few years.
- After the warmest first half of June in history, Northeastern Illinois (i.e., Chicago) is in a severe drought that tonight's thunderstorms won't actually help. But Illinois has nothing on the southwestern US, which has it far, far worse, including forecast 50°C temperatures over large areas of Arizona and California.
Finally, Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has revealed conceptual drawings for a moon base.
Oh, to be a dog. Cassie is sleeping comfortably on her bed in my office after having over an hour of walks (including 20 minutes at the dog park) so far today. Meanwhile, at work we resumed using a bit of code that we put on ice for a while, and I promptly discovered four bugs. I've spent the afternoon listening to Cassie snore and swatting the first one.
Meanwhile, in the outside world, life continues:
- Ukrainian police arrested members of the Cl0p ransomware gang, seizing money and cars along with the cybercriminals.
- Amtrak, the US passenger rail network, plans to expand its service over the next few years, for example by going to places that people want to go. (Sure, Las Cruces, N.M., might be a wonderful tourist destination, but why doesn't the train go to Las Vegas too?)
- Astronomer Seth Shostak, who works on SETI, expects any aliens who visit us to have non-biological forms, while physicist Mark Buchanan tells SETI to stop trying to contact them in the first place because they'll kill us all.
- Scientists have found that a Korean War-era technique of reading weather data could reduce contrails by 50% or more.
- On this day in 1858, Abraham Lincoln addressed the Illinois Republican Convention, saying "a house divided against itself cannot stand."
- Whiskey Advocate explains how to "build your best Old Fashioned."
And right by my house, TimeLine Theater plans to renovate a dilapidated warehouse to create a new theater space and cultural center, while a 98-year-old hardware store by Wrigley Field will soon become apartments.
Parker would have turned 15 today. I'm of course very glad to have Cassie, but I do miss my bête noir quite a bit.
I spent nearly three days debugging a configuration issue that I resolved by simply deleting the wonky Azure App Service and rebuilding it from the CI pipeline. It's hard to find a real-world analogy. The total time required to simply start over (given the automation we've spent two years building) was less than an hour, meaning had I done that Thursday morning, instead of trying to fix the unfixable problem, I'd have saved myself a net 22 hours of grief.
A nearly-comical coalition of political parties in Israel successfully achieved the only thing they agreed on by removing Benjamin Netanyahu from power yesterday:
The long and divisive reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, the dominant Israeli politician of the past generation, officially ended on Sunday night, at least for the time being, as the country’s Parliament gave its vote of confidence to a precarious coalition government stitched together by widely disparate anti-Netanyahu forces.
Naftali Bennett, a 49-year-old former aide to Mr. Netanyahu who opposes a Palestinian state and is considered to the right of his old ally, replaced him as prime minister after winning by just a single vote. Yair Lapid, a centrist leader and the new foreign minister, is set to take Mr. Bennett’s place after two years, if their government can hold together that long.
They lead a fragile eight-party alliance ranging from far left to hard right, from secular to religious, that few expect to last a full term and many consider both the embodiment of the rich diversity of Israeli society but also the epitome of its political disarray.
Mr. Netanyahu’s departure was a watershed moment for politics in Israel. He had been in power for so long that he was the only prime minister that many young adults could remember. For many, he had grown synonymous not only with the Israeli state, but also with the concept of Israeli security — and an Israel without him seemed almost inconceivable to some.
Of course, he could return pretty soon if the government collapses. Given the past few years of Israeli history, that seems more likely than not. On the other hand, Netanyahu can't govern from jail...
So far today, Cassie and I have taken 2½ hours of walks, and she's taken about twice that in naps while I read in the sunroom with a nice breeze blowing over me. In other words, nothing to blog about today.
Welp, I was about 99% correct, but this week they had over 100 correct answers, so no prize:
It’s the John A. Blatnik Bridge connecting Duluth and Superior. It was finished in 1961, when I was about 10, and I remember my first drive over the bridge on the day it officially opened — five kids, mom and dad in the Plymouth, topping out 120 fucking feet(!) above the harbor surface. At that time, it was the highest distance above earth I had ever been. The Blatnik Bridge had replaced a swinging bridge that carried trains as well as cars across the harbor.
As for the exact location and window? 212 Piedmont Avenue [in Duluth, Minn.]
I got right block, but the wrong house. My guess:
I was so sure it was an East Coast bridge that I spent half an hour ranging up and down from Virginia to PEI looking for east-west rivers that a bridge that size could cross. Then I started searching for bridge types, and found https://bridgehunter.com/. Eventually I looked up the Bayonne Bridge to figure out what type it was (steel through arch), and just started looking at all of them, comparing the photos with the VFYW. I’d find one that looked promising, then examine Google Maps to find other features I’d noticed: industry on both sides of the river, the bridge coming to a T intersection on the near side with another highway, a rail yard between the photographer and the bridge, and a Y intersection close aboard to the photo at just the right angle to the bridge.
Once I found the John A. Blatnik Bridge in Duluth, things came together quickly. Here’s the map I drew in my head with my guess about where the photographer must have been (first photo). Then I zoomed in north of the rail yard and started looking for the weird Y intersection that ended in “W **** St” (second photo).
Ah, well. This week's contest looks very French, but I'll find out with everyone else next Friday.
After 448 days, the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago have lifted all capacity limits and most other intrusive Covid-19 mitigation factors. We haven't gone completely back to normal, but it feels a lot more so than it did even a month ago.
The Tribune has a round-up of what rules remain in place and what has lifted. Mainly we still need masks on public transit and in places where owners or managers require them, and some "Covid theater" will continue where people demand it. But restaurants, movie theaters, and grocery stores can now go back to business as usual.
Even before today, some businesses had changed their signs to require masks only for unvaccinated customers. I will continue to mask up in those places, as well as in confined areas where I can't predict whether the people around me have gotten their jabs. If I'm in an airplane or a hospital, I'll even use a KN-95 instead of a decorative cloth mask.
Still, it's really (mostly) over. And we're all incredibly relieved.
Many of the top contenders for the bottom position on the US House of Representative's intellectual achievement league table have only recently joined the august body. First-term representatives Lauren Boebert (R-CO), a high-school dropout, and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), have backed up their sterling educational credentials with solid records of stupidity. Of course, US Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) would win by two lengths if he served in the House instead of the Senate. Fortunately, the House has Jim Jordan (R-OH) to represent the same demographic (stereotypical meathead football coaches with neolithic political views).
Yesterday, however, Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a perennial contender and multiple-year winner of the award, lowered the bar dramatically with a truly remarkable idea he shared with the House Natural Resources Committee and an associate deputy chief of the US Forest Service:
"I was informed by the immediate past director of NASA that they've found that the moon's orbit is changing slightly and so is the Earth's orbit around the sun. We know there's been significant solar flare activity," he said. "And so, is there anything that the National Forest Service or BLM can do to change the course of the moon's orbit or the Earth's orbit around the sun? Obviously, that would have profound effects on our climate."
Eberlien responded, smiling, "I would have to follow up with you on that one, Mr. Gohmert."
"If you figure out there's a way in the Forest Service you could make that change, I'd like to know," Gohmert said.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) helpfully provided an answer for his astronomy-challenged colleague:
Gohmert, now in his 7th term in Congress, faces no significant challenger in 2022. And with this, he may not face a serious challenge to his title of Dumbest in Congress for the 13th year running.
Work continues on the Ravenswood Metra station, letting us commuters believe that finally! we might not have to stand in the rain waiting for an inbound train sometime this autumn. Until then, we still have to wait on a rickety wooden platform that now extends four meters from the original rickety wooden platform, meaning we have a worse station experience than our great-grandparents would have when the station opened in the 1890s. Of course, once we board the trains, our overall travel experience on Metra more resembles our grandparents': some of the rail cars (carriages) that Metra operates date back to the 1950s, though the Union Pacific routes mostly seem to have cars built in the 1980s and early 2000s.
So imagine my glee when I read this press release from French manufacturer Alstom:
Alstom has received an initial order from Metra, the commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area serving the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, to supply 200 push-pull commuter rail cars. This follows Metra Board of Directors’ approval in January 2021 to award Alstom a vehicle procurement contract for up to 500 rail cars. This initial order of 200 rail cars is worth approximately €650 million.
The multilevel cars incorporate new design features to improve passenger experience, including: a streamlined, modern and welcoming interior, equipped with USB plugs and boasting large windows and a layout to improve passenger flow and traveller comfort; seating and spacing to allow for additional ridership and physical distancing; touchless doors; improved bogie design for improved ride quality; and multiple wide doors on each side of the cars to reduce passenger boarding times and improve access to passenger areas.
They even have a slick video, which I would expect as part of a $800m contract.
The combination of the new Ravenswood inbound platform and the slick new French cars will make parts of Metra's network almost as good as London's was in 1990. All Metra needs to do to get us into the 2000s is to get rid of their mobile soot factories diesel locomotives, but I fear that kind of infrastructure modernization would require the replacement of one of the country's main political parties with an real one.