The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Light, air, dog

The environmental change I alluded to yesterday went much more smoothly than anticipated.

When I moved to my current place, I put Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters (IDTWHQ) in the room that most clearly said "office," the one off the kitchen with all the built-in bookshelves and the A/V stack the previous owners left behind. It faces south, but it has bay windows covered in ivy, providing subdued indirect light in the summer and lots of direct sunlight in the afternoon from October to March. While the bay windows provide some ventilation, the room gets a bit stuffy when they're closed, and doesn't really get much airflow when they're open. Also, the geometry of the room never quite worked with my desk. I had to squeeze around it to get into my chair, making the whole thing feel a bit constraining.

Add in 3-5 days of working from home every week, with my work laptop and secondary monitor occupying a hunk of real estate on the desk while dropping wires and power cables on the floor between the door and Cassie's bed, and the whole thing has felt really cramped for the last 18 months:

That, my friends, is bad feng shui.

Meanwhile, my easternmost room, overlooking the leafy side-street I live on, naturally became a sunroom:

I mean, light, air, and about half the time a dog on the couch? What's not to love? In fact, now in the second summer of working from home 60% or more, most days I wanted to sit on that couch with Cassie and read—especially when the weather permitted me to open all nine of those windows.

So, with a little help from Comcast to fix the cable running into my living room, yesterday I moved my office into the sunroom. Even with my work crap still occupying the same hunk of real estate, it just looks and feels so much better:

And the office? It became a sitting room:

I don't know how much I'll actually sit there, but its proximity to the kitchen means that when I entertain, people will use it for kitchen-adjacent overflow.

Cassie, naturally, freaked out a bit, and it took some coaxing for her to get back on the couch (probably because it was in the wrong place!). But as I write this, she's in the room with me, psychically commanding me to take her outside.

I don't understand why I didn't do this last year. It would have made the pandemic lockdown a ton more enjoyable. I mean, it only took me six years to configure my place in Lincoln Park correctly, but that had to do with the physical constraints imposed by having an entire server rack in one corner of the living room in an era before gigabit wi-fi. (The server rack had to go next to the POTS line jack because I used a DSL, and running a network cable through the walls to the other side of the living room was the only real option.)

This room really does feel better. And tomorrow, after Chicago's fever breaks, I'll open the windows.

Two big wins for all of us

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation this morning:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Tuesday he would resign from office, succumbing to a ballooning sexual harassment scandal that fueled an astonishing reversal of fortune for one of the nation’s best-known leaders.

Mr. Cuomo said his resignation would take effect in 14 days. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, will be sworn in to replace him.

“Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” Mr. Cuomo said from his office in Manhattan. “And therefore that’s what I’ll do.”

The resignation of Mr. Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, came a week after a report from the New York State attorney general concluded that the governor sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, including current and former government workers, by engaging in unwanted touching and making inappropriate comments. The 165-page report also found that Mr. Cuomo and his aides unlawfully retaliated against at least one of the women for making her complaints public and fostered a toxic work environment.

Good. He needs to go. And yes, I am happy that my party threw the book at one of our own. We hold ourselves accountable, unlike the other guys.

But that's not all the Democratic Party did today. We also passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in the Senate with the support of nine Republicans:

The 69-to-30 vote follows weeks of turbulent private talks and fierce public debates that sometimes teetered on collapse, as the White House labored alongside Democrats and Republicans to achieve the sort of deal that had eluded them for years. Even though the proposal must still clear the House, where some Democrats recently have raised concerns the measure falls short of what they seek, the Senate outcome moves the bill one step closer to delivering President Biden his first major bipartisan win.

The bill proposes more than $110 billion to replace and repair roads, bridges and highways, and $66 billion to boost passenger and freight rail. That transit investment marks the most significant infusion of cash in the country’s railways since the creation of Amtrak about half a century ago, the White House said.

The infrastructure plan includes an additional $55 billion to address lingering issues in the U.S. water supply, such as an effort to replace every lead pipe in the nation. It allocates $65 billion to modernize the country’s power grid. And it devotes billions in additional sums to rehabilitating waterways, improving airports and expanding broadband Internet service, particularly after a pandemic that forced Americans to conduct much of their lives online.

If this bill becomes law, it's possible that within my lifetime the United States could have the same quality of roads, bridges, and trains that Western Europe has today. (NB: I expect to live at least another 50 years.)

Meanwhile, as if to underscore this week's IPCC report, the dewpoint outside my window right now has almost reached 26°C, giving us a delightful heat index of 38.7°C. Even Cassie didn't want to be outside for her lunchtime walk.

Update: the 2pm readings at O'Hare show even lovelier weather: temperature 33°, dewpoint 25°C, heat index 40.4°C. Bleah.

Vaccines, climate change, and trains

Those topics led this afternoon's news roundup:

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 6th periodic report on the state of the planet, and it's pretty grim. But as Josh Marshall points out, "Worried about life on earth? Don’t be. Life’s resilient and has a many hundreds of millions of years track record robust enough to handle and adapt to anything we throw at it. But the player at the top of the heap is the first to go."
  • Charles Blow has almost run out of empathy for people who haven't gotten a Covid-19 jab. Author John Scalzi takes a more nuanced view, at least distinguishing between the people who peddle the lie and those who merely buy it.
  • A research group has discovered how they can own your locked-down computer in about 30 minutes with a few tools, but at least they also tell you how to lock it down better.
  • Almost half of Amtrak's $66 billion cash infusion will go to making New York City more navigable. I want my HSR to Milwaukee, dammit!
  • Sometime last week, a Russian capsule accidentally fired a thruster, sending the International Space Station into a 540-degree roll.

Finally, long-time police reporter Radley Balko exposes the lie that keeps innocent people in jail.

Sunday morning reading (and listening)

Just a couple of articles that caught my interest this morning:

Finally, today is the 65th anniversary of the collision between the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket in which 1,646 people were saved before the Doria sank.

More stuff to read

I know, two days in a row I can't be arsed to write a real blog post. Sometimes I have actual work to do, y'know?

Finally, as I've gone through my CD collection in the order I bought them, I occasionally encounter something that has not aged well. Today I came across Julie Brown's "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun," which...just, no. Not in this century.

Floods in Northwest Europe

Hundreds of people are missing and dozens confirmed dead in some of the worst flooding in European history:

Following a day of frantic rescue efforts and orders to evacuate towns rapidly filling with water unloosed by violent storms, the German authorities said late Thursday that after confirming scores of deaths, they were unable to account for at least 1,300 people.

That staggering figure was announced after swift-moving water from swollen rivers surged through cities and villages in two western German states, where the death toll passed 90 on Friday in the hardest-hit regions and other fatalities were expected.

The devastation caused by the severe weather came just days after the European Union announced an ambitious blueprint to pivot away from fossil fuels over the next nine years, as part of plans to make the 27-country bloc carbon-neutral by 2050. Environmental activists and politicians were quick to draw parallels between the flooding and the effects of climate change.

“The water is still flowing knee-high through the streets, parked cars are thrown sideways, and trash and debris are piling up on the sides,” Alexander Bange, the district spokesman in the Märkische region of North Rhine-Westphalia, told the German news agency D.P.A.

I hope the rains abate long enough, and the rivers empty quickly enough, to limit the damage and deaths that continue today.

More heat records out west

On Friday, Death Valley National Park hit 55°C—130°F—on Friday and 54°C yesterday. Friday's temperature tied the record for the highest-known temperature on the planet:

As the third massive heat wave in three weeks kicked off in the West on Friday, Death Valley, Calif., soared to a searing 130 degrees. If confirmed, it would match the highest known temperature on the planet since at least 1931, which occurred less than a year ago.

Death Valley also hit 130 degrees last August, which at the time preliminarily ranked among the top three highest temperatures ever measured on the planet. It is still being reviewed by the World Meteorological Organization, which is the arbiter of international weather records.

The 130-degree reading observed Friday and last August only trail two other high temperatures ever measured on the planet: 1) The high of 134 set in Death Valley on July 10, 1913, and 2) a 131-degree reading from Kebili, Tunisia, set July 7, 1931.

But Christopher Burt, an expert on world weather extremes, questions the legitimacy of both of those measurements. He called the 1913 Death Valley reading “essentially not possible from a meteorological perspective” and wrote that the 1931 Tunisia reading has “serious credibility issues.”

In other words, the 130-degree readings from Death Valley on Friday and last year, if validated, may be the highest pair of reliably measured temperatures ever observed on Earth.

The National Weather Service forecasts today's high will hit 54°C again. By the time the heat wave finally breaks (sort of) on Tuesday, the weather station will have tied the record for the most consecutive days above 52°C (125°F):

The record for the number of consecutive days at 125 degrees or higher is 10, set in 1913 (June 28-July 5). This year, Death Valley hit 126 on July 7 and will likely continue that stretch of days with 125-plus temperatures through Tuesday. This would be eight straight days, which would be the second-longest streak in recorded history (tying eight days in 2013).

"An anomalously strong high pressure system overhead will remain overhead for multiple days," said Chelsea Peters, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. "When the overnight low is warmer than the previous day's and similar temperature trends are expected, the daytime high would likely end up being just as hot, or hotter than the previous day."

Here in Chicago, we've got an England-like 20°C with very English rain, which could continue through Tuesday.

Even Chicago will have climate-related troubles

Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (which I read last November while staring out at one of them), explains in yesterday's New York Times how climate change will cause problems here in Chicago:

[T]he same waters that gave life to the city threaten it today, because Chicago is built on a shaky prospect — the idea that the swamp that was drained will stay tamed and that Lake Michigan’s shoreline will remain in essentially the same place it’s been for the past 300 years.

Lake Michigan’s water level has historically risen or fallen by just a matter of inches over the course of a year, swelling in summer following the spring snowmelt and falling off in winter. Bigger oscillations, a few feet up or down from the average, also took place in slow, almost rhythmic cycles unfolding over the course of decades.

No more.

In 2013, Lake Michigan plunged to a low not seen since record-keeping began in the mid-1800s, wreaking havoc across the Midwest. Marina docks became useless catwalks. Freighter captains couldn’t fully load their ships. And fears grew that the lake would drop so low it would no longer be able to feed the Chicago River, the defining waterway that snakes through the heart of the city.

That fear was short-lived. Just a year later, in 2014, the lake started climbing at a stunning rate, ultimately setting a record summertime high in 2020 before drought took hold and water levels started plunging again.

Egan explains in detail what that means for us, culminating in the harrowing near-disaster of 17 May 2020, when record rains combined with a record-high lake to make draining downtown Chicago almost impossible.

I should note that, after falling for 11 consecutive months, the lake has started to rise again (blue line), and we haven't even gotten down to our long-term average (green line):

I've said for decades that Chicago will fare better than most places, but that doesn't mean we'll have it easy. Nowhere will.

The forecast didn't lie

At the moment, the 10 hottest places in the world are all in the Pacific Coast states and British Columbia. The Dalles, Ore., hit 48°C at 4pm Pacific; Portland hit 46°C, the same as Palm Springs, Calif.; and even Lytton, B.C., reports 46°C right now—the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada. All of those figures exceed yesterday's forecast and broke all-time records set just yesterday.

It's bonkers. And it won't be the last time this happens.

Here in Chicago we have a perfectly reasonable 26°C. I'll keep it.

Record heat in the Pacific Northwest

Portland, Ore., hit an all-time high temperature of 43°C yesterday, with a forecast of 45°C today:

The National Weather Service issued an Excessive Heat Warning for much of Oregon and Washington with historic highs -- and historic lows -- forecast across the region. Starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, the warning took effect as a massive ridge of high pressure encompasses the Pacific Northwest, leading to triple digits all weekend and through Monday.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, the temperature at the Portland International Airport reached 103 degrees, according to the NWS. This not only broke the previous high-temperature record for this day (which was set at 102 degrees back in 2006), but also broke the record for the month of June.

An hour later, Portland hit 107 degrees, tying the all-time record high that has only been felt three times in recorded history from 1965 to 1981.

But the heat didn't stop there. Notching up one more degree, Portland set a new record for the hottest day.

During this heatwave, the Portland metro area and the Willamette Valley can expect to see anywhere from 105 to 110 degrees, with the hottest day likely being Sunday, where the afternoon high in Portland is 110.

Seattle also had ludicrous heat. And the excessive drought covering 26% of the Western states doesn't help, as it has encouraged a persistent high-pressure area over the region that keeps it hot and dry.

But nope, no climate change! Move along!