The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

End-of-summer reading

Only about 7 more hours of meteorological summer remain in Chicago. I opened my windows this afternoon for the first time in more than two weeks, which made debugging a pile of questionable code* more enjoyable.

Said debugging required me to put these aside for future reading:

Finally, one tiny bit of good news: more Americans believe in evolution than ever before, perhaps due to the success of the SARS-COV-2 virus at evolving.

Goodbye, Summer 2021. It's been a hoot.

* Three guesses who wrote the questionable code. Ahem.

Shit Went Down

Having finished Hard Times, I started a new book last night, and realized right away it will take me a year to read. The book, Shit Went Down (On This Day in History) by James Fell relates an historical event for each day of the year. The recommendation came from John Scalzi's blog. I have about 60 recommendations from Scalzi's blog now, and someday I might read a fraction of those books.

Fell's book reminds me that on this day in 1925, a jury in Dayton, Tennessee, convicted John Scopes of teaching human evolution in a state-funded school. Despite the wonderful things that have come out of Tennessee, the state's constant competition with neighboring Mississippi and Alabama for the "stupidest legislation of the decade" award always entertains. My friends from the state assure me that smart people actually do live there, but their protestations have less of a persuasive effect given they left Tennessee at the first opportunity.

In any event, I really need to carve out more time for reading. Come on, UK, open up to vaccinated visitors already! I need the airplane time.

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.

New US climate normals have arrived

The decennial update of the 30-year US climate normals dropped this afternoon. They show the US has gotten measurably warmer over the 1981-2010 normals:

NOAA’s new U.S. Climate Normals give the public, weather forecasters, and businesses a standard way to compare today’s conditions to 30-year averages. Temperature and precipitation averages and statistics are calculated every decade so we can put today’s weather into proper context and make better climate-related decisions.

Normals are not merely averages of raw data. Thirty years of U.S. weather station observations are compiled, checked for quality, compared to surrounding stations, filled in for missing periods, and used to calculate not only averages, but many other measures. These then provide a basis for comparisons of temperature, precipitation, and other variables to today’s observations.

As anticipated, changes have occurred in averages since the last ten-year update.

For instance, the north-central U.S. Temperature Normals—for those in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest—have cooled from 1981–2010 to 1991–2020, especially in the spring. The South and Southwest are considerably warmer. Normals were also generally warmer across the West and along the East Coast.Precipitation-wise, the Southwest was drier; wetter averages emerged in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, especially the Southeast in the spring.

[L]ong-term trends from decade to decade can affect baseline “normal” weather conditions. For instance, the last decade includes the warmest seven years on record for the globe, according to NCEI.

Chicago got just a little warmer and just a little wetter, as anticipated. Southwest Texas got much warmer and dryer. And Florida is still part of the US. Two of these things are suboptimal.

And if you aren't sure climate change is happening, check this out:

Sure Happy It's Thursday! Earth Day edition

Happy 51st Earth Day! In honor of that, today's first story has nothing to do with Earth:

Finally, it looks like I'll have some really cool news to share about my own software in just a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Biggest aviation news since 1903

This morning, around 2:30 Chicago time, we flew an aircraft over an alien planet:

At about 3:30 a.m., the twin, carbon-fiber rotor blades began spinning furiously, and the chopper, called Ingenuity, lifted off the surface of the Red Planet, reaching an altitude of about 10 feet, where it hovered, turned and landed softly in an autonomous flight that lasted just 30 seconds, the space agency said.

Inside the flight operations center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, engineers broke into applause when confirmation of the flight arrived, more than three hours after the flight, in a data burst that traveled 178 million miles from Mars to Earth.

To make the brief flight, Ingenuity’s technology had to overcome Mars’s super-thin atmosphere — just 1 percent the density of Earth’s — which makes it more difficult for the helicopters’ blades, spinning at about 2,500 revolutions per minute, to generate lift.

As President Biden once said, this is a big fucking deal.

What I'm reading today

A few articles caught my attention this week:

Also, I'm just making a note to myself of Yuriy Ivon's rundown on Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB, because I'm using it a lot more than I have in the past.

What is normal, really?

Well, if you're a climatologist, it's a calculated value based on a 30-year period, updated every 10 years. And the 19991-2020 climate normals for the US will come out this May. Meanwhile, the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) has released some teaser images:

NOAA senior science writer Rebecca Lindsey explains:

These images are a sneak peak at how the new normals for winter temperature (top) and precipitation (bottom) are different from the current normals, which cover 1981-2010. Consistent with the long-term warming trend, winter is warmer across most of the contiguous United States, but the amount of warming ranges from nearly 0.0 (light pink) to 1.5 degrees [Fahrenheit] (darker pink) Fahrenheit depending on the location. There are even a few small areas of the Northern Plains where the normal winter temperature for 1991-2020 is slightly cooler than the 1981-2010 normal (light blue).

There’s a lot more variation in the changes in winter precipitation, which includes both rain and snow. The map shows the percent difference in normal winter precipitation in the new normal versus the old normals. The Northern Plains and Upper Midwest have seen the biggest percent increases in normal winter precipitation, while the biggest percent decreases occurred in the Southwest and Southern Plains, including Colorado’s Eastern Plains. (In absolute terms, these changes are equivalent to only fractions of an inch of liquid water because these locations are normally quite dry during the winter.)

Having seen other preliminary data, I expect that the December temperature normals will be the most surprising. Also, NCEI will prepare a second full set of 15-year normals covering 2006-2020 as well. It wasn't reported whether NCEI will produce 15-year normals on a 5-year schedule, however.

Ten years ago

This week in 2011 had a lot going on. Illinois governor Pat Quinn (D) signed legislation that abolished the death penalty in the state on March 9th, for starters. But the biggest story of 2011 happened just before midnight Chicago time on March 10th:

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced the strongest earthquake in its recorded history. The earthquake struck below the North Pacific Ocean, 130 kilometers (81 miles) east of Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region, a northern part of the island of Honshu.

The Tohoku earthquake caused a tsunami. A tsunami—Japanese for “harbor wave”—is a series of powerful waves caused by the displacement of a large body of water. Most tsunamis, like the one that formed off Tohoku, are triggered by underwater tectonic activity, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Tohoku tsunami produced waves up to 40 meters (132 feet) high,

More than 450,000 people became homeless as a result of the tsunami. More than 15,500 people died.

Of somewhat lesser importance, on this day in 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on The WB.

It does not seem like 10 (or 24) years ago.

The pandemic is still making us crazy

I read three things to reinforce this today. First, National Geographic acknowledges the global mental health crisis, and how we're procrastinating more as a result:

People don’t necessarily procrastinate because they are lazy. Procrastination has roots in our evolutionary development, with two key parts of the brain vying for control.

“Procrastination is an emotion-focused coping strategy,” says Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. “It is not a time-management problem; it is an emotion-management problem.”

Experts who study procrastination define it as the voluntary delay of an intended act despite the fact that you can expect to be worse off in the long run by putting off the task. We know the task doesn’t go away, but sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us. Our “present self” calls the shots, and our “future self” suffers because of it.

Neuroscientists have found that procrastination is a battle between an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system and a relatively younger part known as the prefrontal cortex.

However, when strong emotions such as anxiety and fear become overwhelming, the impulsive limbic system can still win out.

Paul Krugman today describes another form of insanity, in which the states of Texas and Mississippi (34th and 46th in public education rankings, respectively) have consigned a non-zero number of people to death because of the politics of masks:

Wearing a mask in public, like holding it in for a few minutes, is slightly inconvenient, but hardly a major burden. And the case for imposing that mild burden in a pandemic is overwhelming. The coronavirus variants that cause Covid-19 are spread largely by airborne droplets, and wearing masks drastically reduces the variants’ spread.

So not wearing a mask is an act of reckless endangerment, not so much of yourself — although masks appear to provide some protection to the wearer — as of other people. Covering our faces while the pandemic lasts would appear to be simple good citizenship, not to mention an act of basic human decency.

Refusing to wear a mask has become a badge of political identity, a barefaced declaration that you reject liberal values like civic responsibility and belief in science. (Those didn’t used to be liberal values, but that’s what they are in America 2021.)

I don’t know how many people will die unnecessarily because the governor of Texas has decided that ignoring the science and ending the mask requirement is a good way to own the libs. But the number won’t be zero.

Finally, I got a lengthy email today that someone sent through Weather Now, for some reason, warning me of the dangers of vaccination:

I was praying and fasting, regarding the Covid-19 vaccine during the time I’ve received this dream:

In my dream, God took me into the near future of America. I was overlooking America (like a birds eye view), and I looked to my right of America (the Eastside) and was overlooking New York State as well.. And I saw millions of people in America, had received the Covid-19 vaccine.

And also throughout America, I could see 5G towers monitoring VERY closely the covid-19 vaccinated individuals (victims).

When I saw this, I immediately asked God, “How are they completely connected to these 5G towers and the towers to them?” Right after I asked God this, He took me to a hospital in New York. There, I saw a doctor giving a patient, the covid-19 vaccine. (The doctor and patient couldn’t see me.)

But while the doctor was injecting into the patient’s arm, the covid-19 vaccine shot.. I saw hundreds/thousands of little specs of microchips, [nanobots] INSIDE the covid-19 vaccine, flowing through the shot, and into that individual.

The email went on like this for five pages. I selected only the most coherent bits for this message. I should point out, however, that the IP address from which the message originated is in Vietnam, so I'm not too worried there's an unhinged fundamentalist trying to save my soul through a weather application's feedback page. I am worried that fear leads to stupidity (a crucial step Yoda forgot to mention) and stupidity leads to people believing crazy things.

Craziness usually follows plagues. Let's hope we get through our crazy period as rationally as we can.