The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Statistics: 2019

As I've done several years running, I'm taking a look at my statistics for the past year:

  • I flew the fewest air miles since 1999 (14,462 against 1999's 11,326), and took only 9 trips out of town (up 1 from 2018). As in 2018, I took 11 flights, but because I took two road trips I wound up visiting 9 states (Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Colorado) and 2 foreign countries (UK and Ontario, Canada) to 2018's 8 and 1, respectively.
  • I posted 551 times on The Daily Parker, up 33 from last year and a new all-time annual record! (The previous record was 541 in 2009.)
  • Parker got 187 hours of walks, up 54 hours and 40% from last year.
  • I got 5,135,518 Fitbit steps and walked 4,630 km, down 2½% from last year. But I went 207 days in a row, from April 15th to November 7th, hitting my 10,000-a-day step goal, which I did 352 times overall. Also during the year I passed 25,000,000 lifetime steps and 20,000 lifetime kilometers.
  • Reading jumped a lot. I started 36 books in 2019 and finished 33, up 50% from 2018, and my best showing since 2010 (when I spent several days on airplanes and read 51 books). With at least three trips to Europe planned for 2020, both my flying and my reading should improve.

Let's see what 2020 brings. I'm especially bummed that my Fitbit numbers declined, even though Parker got 40% more walk time. (But he walks 40% more slowly than last year, so...)

Same job, new title

For the past seven months I've worked as a contract development lead in Milliman's Cyber Risk Solutions group. Today I officially convert to a new full-time role as Director of Product Development for Cyber Risk Solutions.

We have a lot to do in 2020, and I'll post about it what I can. So far we've started building "a new generation risk platform which uses an ensemble of cutting edge techniques to integrate what is known, knowable and imaginable about complex risks in order help risk managers identify, assess and monitor dynamic, high velocity, complex risk such as cyber," as the partner in charge of my practice says. It's cool shit, I say. And I'm happy to make Milliman my permanent home.

The role now shifts a little bit from building out the minimum-viable product to building out the team. I'll still have to write a lot of software, but I'll also expand our partnerships with teams in London, Sydney, and Lyon, and will probably have to visit at least two of those places more than once in 2020. In fact, at minimum I'll be in the London office four times, probably six. The only one sad about this is Parker.

And as an example of how great the management team is, they're starting me today so that my benefits kick in tomorrow. That was a very cool gesture.

Watch this blog for more updates.

Wild weather continues

Yesterday we broke a heat record; today the temperature feels more or less normal for late December; this weekend it will get warm again. Welcome to Chicago:

The record-breaking warmth comes on the heels of another historic ranking. With a high of 57 Wednesday, this year now ranks No. 2 on the list of warmest Christmas Days in Chicago since the mid-1800s, when records started being kept. The warmest Dec. 25 ever in Chicago was 17°C degrees in 1982.

But after the daytime high pushes the record for warmest Dec. 26 further out of reach, the city should brace for a rollercoaster of cold and warm days, [meteorologist Mark] Ratzer warned.

“Very late afternoon, it looks like probably just after dark, so between 5 and 7, a front will go through, and we’ll cool down markedly,” Ratzer said. “We’ll drop pretty quickly into the single-digits Celsius, which isn’t that bad, but overnight we’ll be back around freezing.”

After a brisk Friday, the temperature again will rebound into the low-teens Celsius in time for a mild and comfortable weekend, although it will be rainy, he said.

“Then we’ll cool off again by Monday,” Ratzer said.

Parker did not like the change at all, moping around on his two walks today like the ancient dog he has become. Maybe this weekend he'll feel more spring in his step again?

Dog behavior in the news

Two articles came out today about dogs. The first, in the New York Times, explores how dogs became so indiscriminately friendly:

In the early 2000s, when Dr. [Clive] Wynne began research on dogs, one of his experiments was a follow-up on the work of Dr. [Brian] Hare who had concluded that dogs were better than wolves or other animals at following human directions. In particular, dogs followed human pointing better than other animals. Dr. Wynne and Monique Udell, an animal behaviorist at Oregon State University, expected to confirm Dr. Hare’s findings.

The wolves they chose to work with were hand-raised and socialized at Wolf Park, in Lafayette, Ind. Dr. Wynne said he found the wolves were as good at following human pointing as the best pet dogs.

Dr. Hare and his colleagues responded by questioning whether the experiments were really comparable, maintaining that dogs have an innate ability to follow human pointing without the special attention the wolves were given. The debate continues.

The second part of Dr. Wynne’s argument has to do with how social dogs are. There is no question that they bond with people in a way that other canines do not. Dr. Wynne recounted an experiment showing that as long as puppies spend 90 minutes a day, for one week, with a human any time before they are 14 weeks old, they will become socialized and comfortable with humans.

The Washington Post reported on economics research that put the economic value of a dog at about $10,000:

For the study, the authors asked nearly 5,000 dog owners about their willingness to pay for a hypothetical vaccine that would reduce their dog’s risk of death from a particular canine virus from 12 percent to 2 percent in a given year.

Rather than simply ask, “How much would you be willing to pay” for such a vaccine, respondents were given specific price points, ranging from $5 to $3,000, and asked if they whether they would be willing to pay that amount.

The end result: a distribution of nearly 5,000 responses that allowed the researchers to identify an average acceptable price point of somewhere between $500 and $900. That’s the cost, in other words, of a 10 percentage point mortality reduction for a dog.

The study's authors intended the $10,000 figure as an approximation. I can tell you, however, that in the year from April 2018 to March 2019, my dog cost considerably more than $10,000. (I'll have the exact figure this weekend.)

Back home, stuff can wait

I didn't get nearly as much sleep as usual on this trip, compared with other weekends in London, so I'll have to figure out why before next time. But Parker and I are home now, and if I can stay up until 10pm (at least), I should get things back on track.

Of course, between now and Sunday I have two rehearsals and two performances of Aleko and Everest. I think sleep planning might be in order.

Oh, and Chicago had record cold last night: -14°C. Glad I missed it.

Parker update

The old dog had a semi-annual vet visit yesterday. He's now had all his shots, including the 3-year rabies booster, which twinged a little because of the high probability that he'll never have another one. That said, he's as healthy as a 13-year-old dog can be.

So while he may never need another rabies booster, he's probably going to live long enough to get one.

Frank Bruni's timely column yesterday

I don't know that Frank Bruni reads The Daily Parker, but his column yesterday made for a nice coincidence with my post earlier today:

My interactions in Central Park are partly about having a dog but just as much about what the dog encourages, even compels: spending time in public spaces that are open to everyone and well situated and appealing enough to guarantee that people from all walks of life cross paths.

And we need dogs, or at least we’re better off with them. They yank us outside of our narrowest selves. They force us to engage. In a perfect world, we’d do that on our own, but in this one, Regan plants herself squarely in front of a Central Park sprinkler, opens her jaws wide, treats the spray as an unusually emphatic water fountain and attracts an eclectic cluster of admirers who then fall easily into chitchat — about the cooling weather, the blooming skyline, new movies, old routines — that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise. We walk away feeling a little less isolated, a little less disconnected. I know I do.

Parker has certainly done the same for me that Regan has done for Bruni. And here's to a few more years with him.

Ribfest 2019 after-munching report

This year, I went whole hog and got a 3-day pass to Chicago's main Ribfest. So this past weekend, I had a lot of ribs.

First, I should note that on days 2 and 3 I took friends. This is important because if you share four 3-bone samplers with someone you don't feel like you ate an entire pig as you stagger home from the event. Or five samplers. Not that I ate that many ribs on Friday...maybe.

Second, the weather Saturday and Sunday ranged from cool and damp to cool and rainy. Between that and arriving Friday evening just after opening, I didn't see the balls-to-the-wall crowds that I've usually encountered. Here's Saturday evening, after the rain stopped:

Contrast with, for example, 2013:

(Parker, having just turned 13, didn't go this year, poor old dog.)

Having three days, I got to try a lot of ribs:

  • City BBQ, locations in Downers Grove and Orland Park: smoked, tug off the bone, firm meat; original sauce was sweet-tangy, "brush fire" sauce was a little spicier. Not great, 2½ stars.
  • Austin Texas Lightning (two visits), itinerant: Smoked for 4 hours, then grilled. Tangy original sauce, good kick on the spicy one. Tasty meat but a lot of salt. Not bad. 3 stars.
  • Famous Dave's, national chain: Pretty good meat, tug-off-the-bone; sauces all right, sauces OK but with lots of HFCS, so I have to ding them for that. 2½ stars.
  • Fireside Grill (two visits), right in my neighborhood: tug off the bone, good crunchy finish on the grill, ladled-on sauce with good spice and flavor. My favorite from Friday. 3½ stars; will visit soon.
  • Big Joe's Backyard BBQ, Homer Glen, Ill.: Dry meat, overcooked; sauces was eh, way too sweet. Good-sized bones. 2½ stars.
  • Base Hit BBQ (two visits), Austin neighborhood of Chicago: Fall-off-the-bone, really tasty meat, nice char, excellent sauce. My favorite from this year's Fest. Worth a trip out to the West Side. 4 stars.
  • Mrs Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro, Chicago: My favorite from years past, and still good, but their sauce tasted sweeter to me this year (which is not a good thing for my palette). Fall off the bone meat, really tasty. 3 stars.

On Sunday I also stopped by itinerant Chicago BBQ, which was just as itinerant as in years past, and just as acceptable. 3 stars.

Now: was the $100 3-day pass a good deal? It came with $50 in food tickets (which I used, and then some, because 3-bone samplers cost $8), free entry to the festival (a $30 value), skip-to-the-front access for drinks (saved some time), and air conditioned bathrooms (nice to have with their real soap and running water). I will probably do it again next year, especially if we have a hot June, which will make the cooler bathrooms maybe worth $20.

But before that, on July 4th, I'll bring Parker to the Windy City Ribfest less than 400 meters from my front door.