The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Is it post-empire time yet?

I can't quite draw a line between all of these stories, but it feels like I should:

Finally, a million-liter aquarium in a central Berlin hotel collapsed spectacularly today, causing millions of euros of damage. No people were hurt but 1,500 tropical fish drowned or froze to death in the aftermath.

Disaster averted in London, but not elsewhere

A little less than 50 years ago, the Greater London Council finally abandoned a plan from 1966 that would have obliterated Earls Court, Brixton, Hampstead, and many other central neighborhoods:

If events had turned out differently, Southwyck House would be perched on the edge of the Motorway Box, a 50-mile, eight-lane ring road built across much of inner suburban London, including Brixton. This was only part of the planners’ ambitions. The Box, or Ringway One as it was later titled, was to be the first of three concentric gyratories. Together they would have displaced up to 100,000 people.

Baffling as the idea might seem now, it must be viewed in the context of a time when politicians and planners were panicked about imminent gridlock across the UK’s towns and cities as ever more vehicles took to the roads.

The solution they collectively turned to was the inner-city motorway, an innovation that arguably changed postwar cities as fundamentally as modernist architects’ tower blocks. Here was an entirely new type of street, one that did away with shop fronts, pedestrians, chance encounters or indeed anything recognisably human-scale. For the first time in centuries of urban life, a street was not a public realm, just a conduit between private spaces.

In 1969, while the Ringways plan was being finalised, New York’s mayor, John Lindsay, scrapped [Robert] Moses’ proposal for a massive freeway across lower Manhattan, after pressure from a new breed of activists who had started to ask, for the first time in the automobile era, whether cities should be designed around motor vehicles or human beings.

Most prominent was Jane Jacobs, the visionary urbanist and writer whose idea of a successful city centred on a necessarily organic and unplanned “ballet” of street-based life proved hugely influential in subsequent decades.

Such radical ideas were less embedded in London, and opposition to the Ringways came mainly from a string of small and fragmented local campaigns. But a near-miracle was at hand. In 1970, with the GLC on the verge of starting construction, [Prime Minister Harold] Wilson’s [Labour] government unexpectedly ordered a public inquiry, seemingly spooked by the scale of what was about to be done.

If only other cities had stopped the destruction in time. Here in Chicago, we have three major expressways converging on downtown. In all three cases the construction devastated neighborhoods (usually Black and brown ones) and permanently separated others. They're ugly, and they don't really work; induced demand destroyed their utility almost immediately. And here we are, in 2022, with the city proudly announcing that the "spaghetti bowl," where three massive highways meet just west of Downtown, will reopen this week after a $800 million rebuilding effort.

Cities can recover, but at great expense and often only because an unrelated disaster forces them to act. (See, e.g., San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway and Rochester, New York's Inner Loop North.) And yet here we are, with 100 years of data about the external costs of high-capacity, limited-access highways in urban areas, unwilling to remove them. Even in places where residents almost universally want the roads removed, politicians refuse to act.

When they write America's obituary, they will list "cars" as one of its causes of death. I'm glad London avoided it.

Finally turning in

We've got a big demo at 8am that we've just put to bed, which means I get to go to bed. While the pipelines ran I came across Cory Doctorow's latest post on how DRM ruins everything:

[In 2002,] we warned that giving manufacturers the power to restrict how you configured your own digital products would lead them to abuse that power – not to prevent copyright infringement, but to shift value from you to them. The temptation would be too great to resist, especially if the companies knew they could use the law to destroy any company that fixed the anti-features in their products.

For brain-wormed market trufans, the digital media dream was our nightmare. It was something I called "the urinary tract infection business model." With non-DRM media, all the value flowed in a healthy gush: you could buy a CD, rip it to your computer, use it as a ringtone or as an alarmtone, play it in any country on any day forever.

Everywhere we find DRM, we find fuckery. Even if your cable box could be redesigned to stop spying on you, you'd still have to root out spyware on your TV. Companies like Vizio have crammed so much spyware into your "smart" TV that they now make more money spying on you than they do selling you the set.

Remember that the next time someone spouts the lazy maxim that "If you're not paying for the product, you're the product." The problem with Vizio's TVs isn't that they're "smart." The problem isn't that you're not paying enough for them.

The problem is that it's illegal to unfuck them, because Vizio includes the mandatory DRM that rightsholders insist on, and then hide surveillance behind its legal minefield.

This all starts with the idea that the problem with "content" is that Congress gave us, the public, too many rights under copyright, and that nickel-and-diming us to buy those rights a la carte would fix this problem. 20 years later, the benefits of this system are thin gruel indeed, and the costs keep mounting.

At least you can still read The Daily Parker for free.

And now, I'm off until the demo.

How is it 6:30?

With tomorrow night having the earliest sunset of the year, it got dark at 4:20 pm—two hours ago. One loses time, you see. Especially with a demo tomorrow. So I'll just read these while devops pipelines run:

Finally, John Seabrook takes a few pages to explain how to become a TikTok star. Hint: do it before you turn 22.

Making progress at work, slacking on the blog

Clearly, I have to get my priorities in order. I've spent the afternoon in the zone with my real job, so I have neglected to real all of this:

Finally, because only one guy writes about half of the songs on top-40 radio, modulations have all but disappeared from popular songs.

Darkest nights of the year

In Chicago, from November 15th to December 31st, the sun sets before 4:30pm. Not much before; for about 11 days, it sets within a few seconds of 4:20pm before getting just a few seconds later.

The only point I'm making is: it's dark already. Cassie has gotten exactly one walk in full daylight a day for the last week, and that will likely continue.

Ah, winter.

Oh, and the Fourth Circuit has once again (metaphorically) called XPOTUS-appointed Federal Circuit Judge Aileen Cannon an idiot.

Winter is here

Meteorological winter begins in the Northern Hemisphere today. In Chicago right now we have sunny skies and a normal-for-December 2°C. And any day above freezing between December 1st and March 1st works for me.

Meanwhile:

Finally, on a whim I looked back at my posts from 10 years ago, and I came across this painful memory of debugging an Azure 1.8 deployment. And 15 years ago we got our first snowfall of the season. Ah, memories.

Slash and burn for sanity

Even though I'm president of a medium-sized non-profit organization who understands the importance of keeping in touch with constituents, I have run out of patience. For the last couple of weeks, I have mercilessly unsubscribed from every mailing list that sent me more than two emails a week. I might wind up missing a couple of them, but my dog, some of them just would not shut up.

The worst offender was my undergraduate university. In the last week, until I finally unsubscribed from them just now, they've sent me about 20 emails asking for money. "Last chance!" "Really last chance!" "Our matching fund expires in two hours!" "Our matching fund expires in 30 minutes!" "Our matching fund expired just now but send us a couple of bucks anyway!"

Actually, that's not true: the worst offender—even post-election—is my political party, because I've given to so many campaigns over the years. Listen, swing-state Senator: I gave you $100 in 2018, you won, stop bothering me. I'm not giving you more money until 2024. And I'm annoyed you've sent me about 825 emails on behalf of every other member of the Democratic Party in your state.

STFU. Just, STFU.

My organization decided not to send a Giving Tuesday email this year, and we've limited email blasts to two on behalf of partner organizations promoting actual performances and one for ourselves promoting Messiah (tickets still available!). Even then, our unsubscribe rate hit record levels this week. Maybe there's a correlation?

I know fist-hand how difficult non-profit organizations have it this year. But please, guys, stop with the emails. Just. Stop.

</rant>

Spring, fall, winter...Chicago?

It's 14°C right now, going down to -3°C tonight. Then it's back up to 8°C on Friday. Because why wouldn't the beginning of winter feel like April?

While you ponder that, read this:

Finally, Whisky Advocate has a good explainer taking the water of life from barrels in Scotland to the glass in your American kitchen.