The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Life in an advanced nation

I like traveling to Europe because it reminds me that technology can combine with public services in ways we will not see in the U.S. for 30 years. Yesterday it was a magic button that made a taxi appear in seconds. Today it was a bit of wasted time that led to two discoveries, one of which was that I wasted time.

My business colleague and I, used to very long lines to get paper train tickets as well as some predictions about our cognitive abilities at 5:15 tomorrow morning, decided to swing by the local train station to get our airport express tickets. It turns out, they don't use them. You simply swipe your credit card at a small kiosk and—bam—you have a ticket good for six months.

In other words, we could have simply walked to the train station tomorrow morning, swiped our cards, and climbed aboard, without waiting in line and without getting a paper ticket.

My colleague, having noticed that coming in from the airport no one challenged us for our tickets, asked, "how does that even work?"

I thought about it and realized that in Norway, very few people steal public services. Also the conductors have handheld computers that can read credit cards and match them with pre-payments.

Imagine if Metra did that. It might be convenient. Or if Metra and the CTA could get their asses moving on making Ventra cards good for both. It might wind up being something like the Clipper Card in San Francisco, a transit card that works on most public transport.

The basic point is, how much lost productivity do we have in the U.S. because we under-fund public services to the point where they can't invest in cost-saving technology? And what will it take to get Americans to stop voting for people like Bruce Rauner, who is guaranteed to try starving Chicago-area public transport for four more years?

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.

Getting lucky on Hotwire

I enjoy a healthy dose of randomness when traveling, because it means sometimes you get a hotel room with this view:

It's hard to see, but I'm looking directly at AT&T Park, where the Cubs are playing in about two hours. Since they won last night, I fully expect they've used up their allotted runs for the rest of May, but it will still be fun to see a baseball game.

Early-morning walks

When I go anywhere for only a couple of days, I try not to shift my body clock. It prevents jet lag, mostly.

This weekend I'm at my folks' house outside San Francisco, which has a two-hour time difference from Chicago. That is why I woke up at 5am and walked to the local Peet's Coffee, as I usually do.

This trip I may allow my clock to drift westward, though. I'm going to Tuesday night's Cubs game at AT&T Park at 7:05pm—9:05pm Central time—and would like to see the whole game. The Cubs might even win. I mean, they have a 1-in-3 shot, right?

I do like getting to the Peet's this early, though. First, the just-before-dawn walk is quiet and even a little spooky down the local bike trail, but today I got a tremendous view of the crescent Moon and Venus, which are passing just 2° from each other this morning. I'm never up this early at home unless I'm still up, which hasn't happened in years anyway.

Second, the Peet's is quiet right now. In two hours it'll be packed with families and locals (the fishermen who stay here for hours at a time most mornings are more colorful than any of the characters at the Alibi Room). Time to write for a bit, and wait for the rest of my family to wake up.