The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Partial solar eclipse this evening

The total lunar eclipse two weeks ago required getting up early in the morning and trying to find the moon through trees and Chicago street lights. Late this afternoon, Chicago (and most of North America to the west) will get a much better show from the moon as it partially obscures the sun.

Starting around 16:35 CDT this afternoon, the moon will creep in front of the sun, reaching maximum eclipse right at sunset (17:59 CDT).

Of course, this being Chicago, and despite the crystal-clear blue skies above the city right now, the forecast for this afternoon calls for increasing clouds and showers. Because we won't actually see the eclipse, that just means it will get dark and gloomy an hour before sunset.

And look at that sunset time. That's right, last night was the first sunset since March 8th to occur before 6pm.

Ah, well. If you live west of Chicago, you'll get a good show from the moon this afternoon, with less gloom and more astronomical coolness. Enjoy.

Light and dark

Vox's Sarah Cliff reports some data from health gadget maker Jawbone about when we go to sleep, and for how long:

Jawbone's data shows that, on average, no major American city gets the National Institute of Health recommended seven hours of nightly sleep. You see that in the light green areas [on the interactive map], which tend to surround large populations.

Jawbone also put together a map of when people go to sleep. And there you see mostly people who live in large cities and college towns staying up later. That shows that people in Brooklyn, NY tend to have the latest bed time in the United States (they turn down, on average, at 12:07 a.m.) where as people living in Maui, Hawaii get to bed the earliest at 10:31 p.m.

In a similar vein, people in Massachusetts are grumbling about their time zone again, thinking that year-round daylight saving time (or year-round observance of Atlantic Standard Time) will somehow make life better:

As sunset creeps earlier—it’s down to 6:19 p.m. today in Boston—we’re already dreading what happens a month from now: Clocks turn back. The first Sunday morning, it’s fantastic. An extra hour of sleep! Later that day, though, the honeymoon ends. Why is it pitch black before dinner?

The same weekend we experience these conflicting emotions, Americans in Arizona and Hawaii will do something foreign to most of us: They won’t change their clocks.

More evening daylight could be part of a broader solution to retain the bright young people who come to New England from afar to our world-class colleges and universities. Retaining college graduates is so important to our region that the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is studying the issue. But consider the actual experience of students who come to Boston for their education: On the shortest evening of the year, the sun sets here at 4:11. When they graduate, they might find themselves with options in New York, where the shortest day extends to 4:28, or Palo Alto, where it’s 4:50! Shifting one time zone would give us a 5:11 sunset—a small but meaningful competitive change.

Well, sure, but the sun would rise as late as 8:15 am in December, which would cause parents to complain. (For an excellent takedown of the Globe's argument, check out Michael Downing's Spring Forward.)

Lunar eclipse tonight will be creepy

The earth will blot out the sun tonight, if you're standing on the moon, but the earth's atmosphere will bend red light just enough to put on a great show:

Much of North America will have front-row seats for this special sky show, which will particularly favor the western part of the continent. Sky-watchers there will be able to see the entire eclipse unfold high in the western skies; East Coast observers will see much of the first half of the eclipse. For early risers in the East, the full moon will be sinking below the western horizon around sunrise, just as the total eclipse is getting under way.

The eclipse begins with the partial phase, when the moon enters Earth's dark shadow (also called the umbra shadow). That begins at 2:15 a.m. PDT (5:15 a.m. EDT). Then the umbral shadow will spread across the moon's disk, moving from left to right.

At 3:25 a.m. PDT (6:25 a.m. EDT) totality begins, when the moon is fully engulfed in the umbral shadow and turns a shade of orange red. The deepest or midpoint of the eclipse will be at 3:55 a.m. PDT, and totality continues until 4:24 a.m. PDT. The last phase of the partial eclipse ends at 5:34 a.m. PDT.

I'll at least get up to check the weather on my mobile around 5:30am tomorrow, and if it's clear, Parker might get a really-freaking-early walk. In Chicago, the moon will be close to the western horizon, but it should still be visible.

Then, on the 23rd, a partial solar eclipse will be visible throughout most of the United States and Canada from 16:43 Chicago time until sunset. Peak eclipse occurs at 17:43 Chicago time as the sun is close to the western horizon.

And for those of you who thought of it immediately, turn around, bright eyes.

Darktober

There are so many things in life we know intellectually but forget in reality before getting an unhappy reminder. The ever-later sunrises in October, for example, just suck, but we forget.

Since the end of daylight saving time moved from early October to early November in 1986 and 2007, October mornings are just grim, especially when it's overcast and gloomy, like today. The sun rises in Chicago before 7am until October 12th, but even at 6:45 (like today) many people still wake up before dawn.

My second-favorite city in the world has it worse, though. London sees the sun come up around the same time as Chicago in the middle of September, but today the sun came up there well after 7a. The day before the UK goes back to GMT at the end of October, London's sunrise is a depressing 7:43a on the 25th, but it gets worse for them. Boxing Day (December 26th) doesn't see the sun until 8:07a.

Chicago's latest sunrise this year is 7:24a on November 1st. Because Chicago isn't as far north as London, our midwinter sun comes up a few minutes earlier, at 7:19a on January 4th.

So much for quantifying misery. It's all cyclical. October mornings can just be depressing, though.

When does autumn begin?

Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel explains, it depends:

No doubt today (September 22) will be announced as the “first day of fall” because of the fall or autumnal equinox. However, that concept refers to the date when we get equal amounts of daylight and dark.

Climatologists and meteorologists prefer to use calendar months to define the four seasons in the US. For example, fall would start September 1 and end on November 30. Not only is this more convenient, because you can use monthly data, but it lines up better with the typical or average temperature pattern for Illinois. Unfortunately, the meteorologists would describe this three-month period as “meteorological fall”. However, I would argue it is “climatological fall” since we are looking at long-term average to determine the season.

In summary, while the four equinox and solstice events are interesting, they are not really the best way to define the start of seasons in Illinois. Starting dates of March 1 for spring, June 1 for summer, September 1 for fall, and December 1 for winter are better aligned with the climatological data.

But if you prefer to use the September equinox as your official beginning of fall, that event will take place at 21:29 CDT (02:29 UTC) tonight.

And for you pagans out there, may you have a balanced and warm equinox.

September already?

Good morning. It's the 1st day of September, 2014, and meteorological summer is over. School is back, Labor Day is upon us (but only in the U.S., where it doesn't remind anyone of actual labor struggles), and I've had Parker for 8 full years. (The annual Parker Day photo will have to wait until he and I are both back home. I know, this is the second year running that I've missed the day itself. I hope he forgives me.)

On the whole, summer wasn't bad. Autumn should be fine as well: I'm attending a dear friend's wedding this month, going to London next month, and in between, aiming to walk Parker as much as our legs can carry us. Cleveland will be involved as well, though to what extent, I don't yet know.

Still, I'm not sure where summer actually went. May doesn't seem that long ago.

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.

Matthew Yglesias trolls the IANA Time Zone list

He thinks we should all use GMT instead:

[W]ithin a given time zone, the point of a common time is not to force everyone to do everything at the same time. It's to allow us to communicate unambiguously with each other about when we are doing things.

If the whole world used a single GMT-based time, schedules would still vary. In general most people would sleep when it's dark out and work when it's light out. So at 23:00, most of London would be at home or in bed and most of Los Angeles would be at the office. But of course London's bartenders would probably be at work while some shift workers in LA would be grabbing a nap. The difference from today is that if you were putting together a London-LA conference call at 21:00 there'd be only one possible interpretation of the proposal. A flight that leaves New York at 14:00 and lands in Paris at 20:00 is a six-hour flight, with no need to keep track of time zones. If your appointment is in El Paso at 11:30 you don't need to remember that it's in a different time zone than the rest of Texas.

Sigh.

It's even easier to get people to use International System measurements than to get them to understand the arbitrariness of the clock, but let's unpack just one thing Yglesias seems to have missed: the date.

Imagine you actually can get people in Los Angeles to use UTC. Working hours are 16:00 to 24:00. School starts at 15:45 (instead of ending then). In the summer, the sun rises at 12:30 and sets at 02:00.

Wait, what? The sun sets at 2am? So...you come home on a different day? That makes no sense to most people.

Yes, in a world where people are unwilling to give up their 128-ounce gallons and 36-inch yards in favor of 1000-milliliter liters and 100-centimeter meters, a world where ice freezing at 32 and boiling at 212 makes more sense than freezing at 0 and boiling at 100, a world where Paul Ryan is thought to be a serious person, we're not moving away from the day changing while most people are asleep.

And don't even get me started on the difference between GMT and UTC.

Unexpected master class

Imagine you're sitting on your front stoop, strumming your guitar, and Eric Clapton comes out of nowhere to give you some pointers.

That's about what happened to me today. Earlier this week, Jon Skeet (described by Scott Hanselman as "the world's greatest living programmer) noticed something I posted on the IANA Time Zone list, and asked me about the Inner Drive Time Zone library.

So I sent him the package.

And this afternoon, he sent me a benchmark that he wrote for it. Just like that.

Of course, the benchmark showed that my stuff was about 10% as fast as the Noda Time library, an open-source project he curates. So, having a couple of hours for "personal development time" available, I optimized it.

The specific details of the optimization are not that interesting, but I managed to more than double the library's performance by changing about ten lines of code. (It's now 20% as fast as Noda.) Along the way I exchanged about 10 emails with Skeet, because he kept making really crack suggestions and giving me valuable feedback about both my design and his.

That was cool.