The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mostly tangential news

Today I'll try to avoid the most depressing stories:

  • The North Shore Channel Trail bridge just north of Lincoln Avenue opened this week, completing an 11 km continuous path from Lincoln Square to Evanston.
  • Experts warn that herd immunity (a) is an economic concept, not a health concept and (b) shouldn't apply to humans because we're not herd animals.
  • Wisconsin remains in total chaos today after the state supreme court terminated Governor Tony Evans' stay-at-home order, approximately two weeks before a predictable, massive uptick in Covid-19 cases.
  • Delta Airlines has decided to retire its fleet of 18 B777 airplanes years ahead of schedule due to an unexpected drop in demand for air travel.
  • The pro-contagion, rabid right-wingers flashing placards saying "Be Like Sweden" clearly have no comprehension of Sweden's efforts to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
  • US retail sales declined 16.4% in April, pushing the total decline since February to nearly 25%, the worst decline in history.
  • Wired has a portrait of Marcus Hutchins, the hacker who stopped the WannaCry virus from killing us all and then went to jail for his previous activities designing and spreading malware.
  • Andrew Sullivan tells the story of Samuel Pepys, "the very first pandemic blogger."

Finally, Vanity Fair has reprinted its 1931 cover article on Al Capone, which seems somehow timely.

Madam, I'm February 2nd

Today is 2020-02-02, which is 02/02/2020 in the U.S. and 02.02.2020 in Europe. There's a thing going around the Internet today that this is the first time in 909 years that both ways of representing dates have been palindromes on the same date. They put the previous instance as 01/01/1010.

Unfortunately that's not true. This has never happened before, for a few reasons:

  • Representing dates as a string of numbers only started, as far as I can tell, in the mid-19th century.
  • As recently as the middle of the 20th Century much of Europe would have written the month as a Roman number, e.g. 2.II.2020.
  • In the year 1010, the year began sometime in the spring (possibly March 25th under the Julian calendar). So the entire concept of numbering months would have made no sense.
  • The United States didn't exist in 1010.

So this is an example of someone noticing a numeric pattern that only makes sense in the modern world and extrapolating that ad absurdam.

If you like palindromes and absolutes that actually do have the same meaning when representing dates in the 11th century as today, you should look at 27 February 2019, which was Julian day number 2458542.

Another anniversary

Twenty years ago today, I launched wx-now.com. It's now on version 4.5 with version 5 in the works (when I get the time).

The earliest view on the Wayback Machine comes from late 2000, but the design looks similar enough to the first beta version on 11 November 1999.

Hard to believe I've had two websites in continuous operation for over 20 years.

Incomprehensible privacy policies

Kevin Litman-Navarro, writing for the Times, analyzed dozens of privacy policies online for readability and brevity. The situation is grim:

The vast majority of these privacy policies exceed the college reading level. And according to the most recent literacy survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of Americans may struggle to comprehend dense, lengthy texts. That means a significant chunk of the data collection economy is based on consenting to complicated documents that many Americans can’t understand.

Despite efforts like the General Data Protection Regulation to make policies more accessible, there seems to be an intractable tradeoff between a policy’s readability and length. Even policies that are shorter and easier to read can be impenetrable, given the amount of background knowledge required to understand how things like cookies and IP addresses play a role in data collection.

“You’re confused into thinking these are there to inform users, as opposed to protect companies,” said Albert Gidari, the consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

As data collection practices become more sophisticated (and invasive), it’s unlikely that privacy policies will become any easier to comprehend. And if states continue to draft their own data protection laws, as California is doing with its Consumer Privacy Act, privacy policies could balloon with location-specific addendums.

Litman-Navarro called out the BBC for its readable, short policy that explains to normal people exactly how the Beeb will use their data. He also called out AirBnB for the opposite: a lawyerly document of incredible length that tells users nothing.

Here at the Daily Parker, we only collect your personal information (specifically, your email address and name) if you give it to us through the Comment form, and we don't show your email address to anyone. Sometimes we will use it to get in touch with you directly about a comment you've left. Otherwise we treat it as we treat our own private information. Clear?

Critics of the Web—30 years ago

Alexis Madrigal takes a look at criticisms of the World Wide Web from when it was new:

Thirty years ago this week, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at CERN, the European scientific-research center. Suffice it to say, the idea took off. The web made it easy for everyday people to create and link together pages on what was then a small network. The programming language was simple, and publishing was as painless as uploading something to a server with a few tags in it.

Just a few years after the internet’s creation, a vociferous set of critics—most notably in Resisting the Virtual Life, a 1995 anthology published by City Lights Books—rose to challenge the ideas that underlay the technology, as previous groups had done with other, earlier technologies.

Maybe as a major technological movement begins to accelerate—but before its language, corporate power, and political economics begin to warp reality—a brief moment occurs when critics see the full and awful potential of whatever’s coming into the world. No, the new technology will not bring better living (at least not only that). There will be losers. Oppression will worm its way into even the most seemingly liberating spaces. The noncommercial will become hooked to a vast profit machine. People of color will be discriminated against in new ways. Women will have new labors on top of the old ones. The horror-show recombination of old systems and cultures with new technological surfaces and innards is visible, like the half-destroyed robot face of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

Then, if money and people really start to pour into the technology, the resistance will be swept away, left dusty and coughing as what gets called progress rushes on.

The whole piece is worth a read.

Thank you for de-linting my blog

This week, I got an email from the SEO coordinator at Alaska Airlines:

My name is Shawn with Alaska Airlines. I'm reaching out concerning a specific link on blog.braverman.org. As you may have heard, Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America last year. We are in the process of updating all Virgin America links to go directly to our website, https://www.alaskaair.com.

We want to make sure your readers are being sent to the correct place!

We would really appreciate it if you could update the link and anchor text, Virgin America, on this page: http://blog.braverman.org/2009/09/default to:https://www.alaskaair.com and Alaska Airlines. 

Please let me know if you have any questions.

If you're not the appropriate person to contact about this, can you put me in contact with the right person?

(The actual post he meant me to change is here.)

See, Alaska took over Virgin America, and now they want to scrub the Internet of all references to the old airline. I politely told Shawn that, no, I was not about to change a 9-year-old blog post to send Virgin down the memory hole.

He replied that he understood, but could I just change the URL to point to Alaska Air at least?

No, Shawn. I'm not editing the post, full stop. It reflects the state of the world in 2009, and to me, it's a document that needs to remain unaltered.

I'm sure the SEO coordinator of an airline believes that it's a doubleplusgood thing to help people who may inadvertently discover a blog post from 2009 not get misdirected. But the whole thing really creeped me out. Alaska or one of its vendors had to go through every one of the over 6,500 posts I've written looking for references to Virgin America, and then Shawn had to field my response to his (no doubt automated) email request. That's a lot of effort to pretend Virgin America never existed.

Did I mention Virgin America Airlines? Just making sure.

States can charge sales tax on Internet purchases now

The Supreme Court handed down its ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. this morning:

Brick-and-mortar businesses have long complained that they are disadvantaged by having to charge sales taxes while many of their online competitors do not. States have said that they are missing out on tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that helped spur the rise of internet shopping.

On Thursday, the court overruled that ruling, Quill Corporation v. North Dakota, which had said that the Constitution bars states from requiring businesses to collect sales taxes unless they have a substantial connection to the state.

South Dakota responded to Justice Kennedy’s invitation by enacting a law that required all merchants to collect a 4.5 percent sales tax if they had more than $100,000 in annual sales or more than 200 individual transactions in the state. State officials sued three large online retailers — Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg — for violating the law.

Here's a really interesting bit: "KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which THOMAS, GINSBURG, ALITO, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., and GORSUCH, J., filed concurring opinions. ROBERTS, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined."

Ginsburg siding with Thomas and Alito against Roberts, Sotomayor, and Kagan? That's just weird.

More stuff to read

What a day. I thought I'd have more time to catch up on reading up to this point, but life intervened. So an hour from now, when I'm cut off from all telecommunications for 9 hours, I plan to sleep. And if I wake, I'll read these articles that I'm leaving open in Chrome:

And now, I head to my airplane.

Travel day; link round-up

I'm heading back to the East Coast tonight to continue research for my current project, so my time today is very constrained. I hope I remember to keep these browser windows open for the plane:

So much to do today...and then a short, relaxing, upgraded flight to BWI.