The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Plug-in hybrid car + city living

Many people, particularly in the US, have suffered recently because of their choices to live in places without meaningful alternatives to driving, their neighbors' choices not to fund meaningful alternatives to driving, and a war in Eastern Europe that has directly and indirectly raised worldwide oil prices to real values not seen since 1973.

I feel a bit of smugness coming on. See, my house has a Walk Score of 95 and a transit score of 81. I live within 1500 meters (about a mile*) of two rapid-transit train lines and a heavy-rail line, not to mention nine bus routes, three of which operate 24 hours a day. I live within a short walk of multiple grocery stores, bars, restaurants, my Alderman's office, a Target, and basically everything I need.

Also, when my last car gave up the ghost 3½ years ago, I decided to get a plug-in hybrid. It can go about 40 km (25 miles) on a charge, so I hardly ever have to use its gasoline engine when I run ordinary errands.

So yesterday, when I drove to Bloomington, Ill., and back (round-trip: 466 km, 291 mi), I had to fill up for the first time since March 25th. Over the 100 days I went without buying gasoline, I drove 1,400 km (900 mi) and burned 34 L (9 gal) of gas, for an average economy of 2.4 L/100 km (97.9 MPG). In 3½ years I've driven 20,000 km (12,300 mi) and spent $395 on gasoline.

I know many people can't make the same choices I've made, but as a nation, we could make better transit and regulatory choices so that my experience is much more common.

* I'm going to translate everything into American** measurements for the benefit of readers who need to think about these concepts.

** Sure, they're technically "Imperial" measurements, but as that Empire no longer exists, and its remaining bits use the International System (SI), really the only people who need translations live in the United States.

Hottest day in 10 years–almost

Chicago's official temperature last hit 38°C (100°F) on 6 July 2022, almost 10 years ago. As of 4pm O'Hare reported steady at 37°C (98°F) with the likelihood of breaking the record diminishing by the minute. At Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters, we have 37.2°C, still climbing, but leveling off.

In other hotness around the world:

Finally, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officials captured a 95-kilogram, 5.4-meter Burmese python, the largest ever discovered in the state. Apparently it had recently dined on a deer. So far they have found over 15,000 of the snakes, none of them quite so large.

Update: Not that I'm complaining, but after holding just under 37°C for three hours, the temperature finally started to drop. At 6pm O'Hare reported 36°C. So no record.

Santa Cruz votes to keep abandoned rail line

In what one Daily Parker reader describes as "a Twitter fight come to life," the city of Santa Cruz, Calif., voted to keep an abandoned, unusable railway through its downtown because of the possibility that, in some possible future, trains might once again take passengers to Watsonville:

On June 7, about 70% of Santa Cruz County voters chose to reject a measure called the Greenway Initiative, which would have supported ripping out a portion of the tracks and replacing them with a bike path and pedestrian trail along the old train corridor. Instead, voters affirmed a plan to cling  to the rails and to the possibility of introducing regular passenger train travel, along with building some form of adjacent walkway.

The decisive vote was less of a mandate and more of a symbolic gesture, according to the Santa Cruz County counsel, because what comes next will be decided by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, which owns the rail line and has already been developing plans to create a combined rail-and-trail route to connect the beach city of Santa Cruz with Watsonville, a working-class, predominately Latino city about 20 miles down the coast.

“A train in 25 to 30 years does nothing in the next 25 to 30 years,” said Bud Colligan, a venture capitalist and local philanthropist who donated $20,000 to the measure and was one of its leading backers. “The train is completely unfunded; there’s no plan, we don’t have the population or the tax base to support it, and the likelihood of that happening is next to zero.”

But the fight over the measure was not just a battle of the train-lovers versus the bike-lovers, both of whom profess to have environmental sustainability as their goal. Backers of the Greenway Initiative, which raised more than $450,000, included tech founders and philanthropists like Colligan and leaders of the area’s agriculture industry, fueling suspicions from some locals about their motivations. One of the clearest could have been rail NIMBYism — a desire to keep Watsonville residents from easily accessing more-affluent coastal Santa Cruz neighborhoods. Another was the potential of legal settlements for landowners whose property neighbored the train. 

The Daily Parker reader quoted above described the fracas as "fighting about style and culture:"

It was the techies/business money vs the hippies. Trail or no trail, if they want to restore that train line, the tracks need to be replaced. And now we just have an eyesore through town, no money and no cross town path for car alternatives at all. It is the most asinine fight I’ve ever witnessed.

Fortunately, Santa Cruz has no other problems that require practical government intervention, so the energy expended over this vote was well-spent.

Meanwhile, former Chicago mayor, neighbor of mine, and current US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel absolutely loves Japanese trains and takes them everywhere. Because when the population density is high enough, trains make a lot of sense.

About the Acme products on my street...

National Geographic examines the growing number of large carnivores moving to urban areas, including Chicago's coyotes, who have nearly doubled their numbers in the last 8 years:

While black bears have reclaimed about half their former range and now live in some 40 states, coyotes—native to the Great Plains—have taken the U.S. by storm in recent decades. They now can be found in every state except Hawaii and most major cities. The metropolis most synonymous with the urban coyote is Chicago, home to as many as 4,000 of the animals.

Stan Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist with Ohio State University and the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, began studying Chicago’s coyotes in 2000, not long after the animals started showing up there. Back then, Gehrt thought his project would last a year. More than two decades later, he’s still at it. “We consistently underestimate this animal and its ability to adjust and adapt,” Gehrt says. “They push the boundaries of what we perceive to be constraints.”

At the beginning of Gehrt’s research, he thought coyotes would be restricted to parks and green spaces, but he was wrong. “Now we have coyotes everywhere—every neighborhood, every suburban city, and downtown.”

Indeed, coyotes have succeeded despite our best efforts to eradicate them. At least 400,000 are killed each year, about 80,000 by a federal predator control program primarily out West. Vehicle strikes are the main cause of death for Chicago’s coyotes, but the animals have learned to avoid cars and can even read stoplights. (Go inside the secret lives of Chicago’s predator.)

Meanwhile, Bloomberg runs the numbers that show how living in cities is significantly safer (from humans, anyway) than living in exurban or rural areas.

Regulate crypto! And guns, too

Even though it seems the entire world has paused to honor HRH The Queen on the 70th anniversary of her accession, the world in fact kept spinning:

Blogger Moxie Marlinspike wrote about their first impressions of web3 back in January. I just got around to reading it, and you should too.

Oh, and plastic recycling doesn't work, and probably can't.

And here, a propos of nothing, is a photo of St Boniface Cemetery I took this morning:

Sticking with the good news for now

Because it's the first day of summer, I'm only posting fun things right now. First, I'd like to thank Uncle Roger for upping my egg fried rice game. Here's my lunch from earlier today. Fuiyoooh!

Around the time I made this delicious and nutritious lunch, a friend who teaches music in a local elementary school sent me a photo of the family of ducks she escorted from one side of the school to the other:

In other good news:

  • Believe it or not, today is the 55th anniversary of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I remember the day in 1987 when it really was "20 years ago today." People born on that day are now old enough to be president. Yeek.
  • Chicago's heavy-rail system, Metra, will start offering unlimited system-wide monthly passes for $100 at the end of this month. Unless you live on the Rock Island or Metra Electric lines. Hiyaaah!

And...well, that's it for good news. Check back later when I have regular, horrifying news.

Monty and Rose live on

The endangered piping plovers who nested at Montrose Beach the last three years have gone. Monty died suddenly last week, and Rose has not returned to Chicago. (Maybe Monty died of a broken heart?)

But a report from Duluth, Minn., has cheered the Chicago birding community:

A week after one of Chicago’s two beloved Great Lakes piping plovers died suddenly at Montrose Beach comes a bright spot: One of their chicks is alive and well and hanging out in Minnesota.

Imani, a chick born to Monty and Rose last year, was spotted this week in Duluth, Minn. The (most likely) male appears to be making it his summer nesting home after wintering in the South.

Imani was one of two chicks born last year to Monty and Rose, the piping plovers who captured Chicago’s heart after choosing Montrose Beach as their summer nesting grounds in 2019. It was the first time the rare species of piping plover nested in Chicago in five decades.

We haven't come close to preventing the extinction of this subspecies of piping plover, but at least the efforts of volunteers and birdwatchers in Chicago has given them one more generation.

Monty the piping plover dies suddenly

The male of the Montrose Beach endangered piping plover couple, who has spent the last three weeks waiting for his true love to return, died yesterday:

“It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Monty, one of the Montrose Beach piping plovers,” said Irene Tostado, of the Chicago Park District.

Tamima Itani, of the Chicago Piping Plovers group, shared more details, saying Monty died Friday afternoon.

“He was observed gasping for air before dropping and passing away,” said Itani.

Great Lakes piping plovers numbered only 26 known individuals as recently as 1990, but conservation—like the protection given Monty and Rose since they arrived in Chicago three years ago—has brought the number up to about 140.

Sad news indeed.

Earth Day

Today we celebrate the big rock that gives us days in the first place. One out of 364 is pretty good, I guess. And there are some good stories on my open browser tabs:

Finally, the Defense Department will open a Defense Innovation Unit just down the street from my current office in June. I knew about these plans a couple of years ago when I worked on an unclassified project for the US Military Enrollment Processing Command and was looking forward to it. I'm glad it's finally gotten to Chicago.

Head (and kittens) exploding!

Leading off today's afternoon roundup, The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) announced today that Netflix has a series in production based on his game Exploding Kittens. The premise: God and Satan come to Earth—in the bodies of cats. And freakin' Tom Ellis is one of the voices, because he's already played one of those parts.

Meanwhile, in reality:

  • A consumers group filed suit against Green Thumb Industries and three other Illinois-based cannabis companies under the Clayton Act, alleging collusion that has driven retail pot prices above $8,800 per kilo. For comparison, the group alleges that retail prices in California are just $660 per kilo. (Disclosure: The Daily Parker is a GTI shareholder.)
  • Illinois Governor JB Pritzker (D), one of the indirect defendants in the pot suit, signed a $46 billion budget for the state that includes $1.8 billion in temporary tax relief. Apparently, I'll get a $50 check from the State that I can apply to the $600 increase in property taxes Cook County imposed this year, which is nice, but I think the state could have aimed a bit lower on the income cap for that rebate and given more help to other people.
  • Shortly after US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle (a 35-year-old who never tried a case and who graduated summa cum mediocrae laude from the legal powerhouse University of Florida just 8 years ago and earned a rare "not qualified" rating from the ABA upon her appointment in 2020 by the STBXPOTUS) ruled against the CDC in a case brought by an anti-masker, the DOT dropped mask mandates for public transport and air travel in the US. In related news, the Judge also said it's OK to piss in other people's swimming pools and up to the other swimmers not to drink the water.
  • While the Chicago Piping Plovers organization waits for Monty and Rose to return to Montrose Beach, another one of the endangered birds has landed at Rainbow Beach on the South Side. He appears more inclined to rent than buy, but local ornithologists report the bird has a new profile on the Plōvr dating site.
  • NBC breaks down the three biggest factors driving inflation right now, and yes, one of them is president of Russia. None, however, is president of the US.
  • Along those lines, (sane) Republican writer Sarah Longwell, who publishes The Bulwark, found that 68% of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the XPOTUS won the 2020 election, but "the belief that the election was stolen is not a fully formed thought. It’s more of an attitude, or a tribal pose." Makes me proud to be an American!

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, two interesting bits. First, a new paper explains how a bad actor can introduce a backdoor into a machine learning training session to force specific outcomes (explained in plain English by Cory Doctorow). Second, an attacker used a "flash loan" to take over the Beanstalk crypto currency voting system and stole $182 million from it. Because Crypto Is The Future™.