The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Who played, who won, and who died?

Last night HBO aired the series finale of Game of Thrones, the TV adaptation (and extension of) George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. After 73 episodes, perhaps a quarter-million deaths, and 4 years of screen time expanded over 9 years of our time, what have we got?

I think we've got two distinctly different shows, and the second of them, starting with the 6th season, was distinctly less satisfying than the first.

I'm not alone. Here are just a few of the critics on last night's finale:

  • Spencer Kornhaber from the Atlantic complains that "[t]he finale gave us yet another historic reversal, in that this drama turned into a sitcom. Not a slick HBO sitcom either, but a cheapo network affair, or maybe even a webisode of outtakes from one." Shirley Li simply says the show "failed Cersei."
  • From the Times, Jeremy Egner asks, "All hail king who?"
  • Mother Jones digs into the ecological catastrophe of the dragons.
  • The Tribune's Steve Johnson actually found it satisfying, but he felt the person who "won" the game was "a compromise choice in the logic of the series, and he felt like a compromise choice in the moment Sunday night, as we were realizing this is what all of this has been leading to.
  • The Guardian's Lucy Mangan calls this season "a rushed business" that "wasted opportunities, squandered goodwill and failed to do justice to its characters or its actors," but "the finale just about delivered."
  • Over at Vox, Todd VanDerWerff's take on the finale was simply: "Huh." "(Is [Grey Worm] a freshman poli-sci major who’s like, 'Well, if America could just start over ...'?)"

Meanwhile, everyone with a production company has started trying to make the next big hit. Good luck with that. Whatever it is, it will likely fall victim to the problem that faces every television show: it's a business first, and a show second.

Must be spring

Yesterday evening, I needed to wear earmuffs and gloves when walking Parker because of the 7°C weather. Yes, it's the middle of May, but we've had a really screwy spring this year.

Today I don't need gloves. Our official temperature bloomed from 8°C to 26°C in the past six hours. Even close to the lake, where I live, it's already warmer outside than inside—and I had the heat on briefly this morning!

Today the forecast looks hot and humid, before temperatures plunge again Sunday night. Then hot again next weekend. And maybe seasonally appropriate when meteorological summer begins two weeks from today.

Who knows. Welcome to Chicago in spring.

Laughed out of court

Federal judge Amit Mehta could not believe the arguments the president's lawyer, William Consovoy, made on Monday:

Consovoy, a beefy former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, offered two related points:

(A) Congress can’t issue a subpoena or otherwise probe a president unless it is doing so for a “legitimate legislative purpose.”

(B) Any “legitimate legislative purpose” Congress could conceivably devise would be unconstitutional.

As a result, Consovoy argued, Congress can’t investigate to see if a law is being broken, can’t inform the public of wrongdoing by the executive and can’t look for presidential conflicts of interest or corruption, because that would be “law enforcement.”

I can't believe these arguments either. Dana Milbank suggests that Consovoy expects to drag out the appeals process and essentially run out the clock on Congress's ongoing investigations.

This may explain why Democratic activist Tom Steyer released this ad yesterday:

Pretty damning stuff. And it gets to the frustration that many of us feel.

I'm willing to give the House Democrats more time. But just a little. Because we need to get the facts out there before the next election.

More news today

Though we'll probably talk about this week's news out of Mauna Loa for many years to come, other stories got to my inbox today:

And finally, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild has a new Summer Passport program that entitles people to a free membership after getting stamps at 40 brewpubs and taprooms between now and August 10th. Forty breweries in 87 days? Challenge...accepted!

A warm, cozy feeling at Mauna Loa

The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached 415 ppm on Friday:

In poetic punctuation to that point, Arkhangelsk, Russia, near the Arctic Ocean, recorded a temperature of 29°C Saturday:

In Koynas, a rural area to the east of Arkhangelsk, it was even hotter on Sunday, soaring to 87 degrees (31 Celsius). Many locations in Russia, from the Kazakhstan border to the White Sea, set record-high temperatures over the weekend, some 30 to 40 degrees (around 20 Celsius) above average. The warmth also bled west into Finland, which hit 77 degrees (25 Celsius) Saturday, the country’s warmest temperature of the season so far.

Across the Arctic overall, the extent of sea ice has hovered near a record low for weeks.

Data from the Japan Meteorological Agency show April was the second warmest on record for the entire planet.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.

Why is 415 ppm a "symbolic threshold?" Because for years, climate scientists have believed that at 415 ppm, we can't undo the damage; we can only slow it down a little. Even if we return to pre-industrial levels (280 ppm), we now have too much carbon in the atmosphere to stop radical climate change:

For the planet itself, 415 ppm is no BFD. Over the past 4 billion years or so, it’s been much, much higher. But for us humans, 415 is a very dangerous number. The last time CO2 levels were at 415 ppm, during the Pliocene period about 3 million years ago, there was plenty of life on Earth, but the Earth itself was a radically different place. Beech trees grew near the South Pole. There was no Greenland ice sheet, and probably not a West Antarctic ice sheet, either. Sea levels were 50 or 60 feet (or more) higher.

That’s the world we’re creating for ourselves by pushing carbon dioxide levels to 415 ppm. Right now, a lot of atmospheric warming is being absorbed in the oceans. But those oceans are like a big flywheel, and the heat will be radiated out. That means, among other things, goodbye ice sheets, hello condo diving in Miami.

One way to think about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is as a thermostat for the planet. As you’ll remember from third-grade science class, carbon dioxide is exhaled by animals, including humans, and inhaled by plants. It is also released when plants and animals decay, volcanoes erupt, and, most importantly, when we burn fossil fuels. Last year, we dumped about 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. The more coal, oil and gas we burn, the faster that number rises. Before the Industrial Revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 ppm. Sixty years ago, it was 315 ppm. For the past few years, it has been rising by about 2 or 3 ppm a year.

That might not sound like much. However, carbon dioxide molecules happen to be very good at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Scientists have understood this very well since the 19th century. Carbon dioxide molecules are like the prison guards of the Earth’s atmosphere — they let sunlight in, but they don’t let heat out. Scientists argue about exactly how efficient carbon dioxide is at warming the Earth, but there is basic agreement that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels from 280 ppm will warm the Earth’s atmosphere by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

We predicted this in time to slow it down or even stop it. Nice work, team.

What to teach new coders

Scott Hanselman recommends teaching systems thinking over technical coding:

I told this young person to try not to focus on the syntax of C# and the details of the .NET Framework, and rather to think about the problems that it solves and the system around it.

This advice was .NET specific, but it can also apply to someone learning Rails 3 talking to someone who knows Rails 5, or someone who learned original Node and is now reentering the industry with modern JavaScript and Node 12.

Do you understand how your system talks to the file system? To the network? Do you understand latency and how it can affect your system? Do you have a general understanding of "the stack" from when your backend gets data from the database makes anglebrackets or curly braces, sends them over the network to a client/browser, and what that next system does with the info?

Squeezing an analogy, I'm not asking you to be able to build a car from scratch, or even rebuild an engine. But I am asking you for a passing familiarity with internal combustion engines, how to change a tire, or generally how to change your oil. Or at least know that these things exist so you can google them.

This is why I'm a fan of Hanselman. He's right. Learning technical skills is easy; learning how to think is hard.

Stevens' own private Heller

Former Associate Justice John Paul Stevens believes District of Columbia v Heller was "unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during [his] tenure on the bench:"

The text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains its purpose: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” When it was adopted, the country was concerned that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states.

Throughout most of American history there was no federal objection to laws regulating the civilian use of firearms. When I joined the Supreme Court in 1975, both state and federal judges accepted the Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Miller as having established that the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of the militia and applied only to weapons used by the militia. In that case, the Court upheld the indictment of a man who possessed a short-barreled shotgun, writing, “In the absence of any evidence that the possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”

So well settled was the issue that, speaking on the PBS NewsHour in 1991, the retired Chief Justice Warren Burger described the National Rifle Association’s lobbying in support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment in these terms: “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

And after Heller came Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs...and on and on.

A long wait for a quick test

Scientists will soon have access to samples from a box of moon rocks that no one has opened since Neil Armstrong sealed it on the moon 50 years ago:

The upcoming experiments, on vacuum-sealed cores and a long-frozen rock, can be performed only once, at the precise moment the samples are opened. That’s why the materials have been held back since they were retrieved from the moon, said Ryan Zeigler, who curates the Apollo rocks collection. NASA was waiting for the right scientists, with the right technologies, at the right time.

With Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary this year and renewed interest in the moon ahead of a proposed return mission, Zeigler said, the right time is now.

Before the Apollo 11 mission, scientists couldn’t agree on where the moon came from. It’s a misfit in the solar system — much larger relative to its planet than almost any other moon. Some speculated that it was once an independent object that was “captured” by Earth’s gravity. Others proposed that the satellite formed in orbit alongside Earth when the planets were coalescing out of a primordial dust disc. Many grade-school textbooks taught that it was, in fact, a blob of Earth that had been flung away by our planet’s spin; the Pacific Ocean was thought to be a scar from this ancient loss.

All of those theories had to be discarded as soon as scientists saw the first Apollo rocks.

About 4.5 billion years ago, the theory goes, a long-gone giant planet called Theia, named for the mother of the Greek moon goddess, smashed into the newly formed Earth. The impact shattered both Theia and the proto-Earth and splashed millions of tons of material into space. Some of the rock coalesced in orbit around the Earth, and our satellite was born. The heaviest bits sank to the moon’s center, while the light minerals floated to the top of the worldwide magma ocean and crystallized, forming the thin anorthosite crust. The rocks and dust retrieved by Armstrong and Scott are relics of this long-ago tumult.

How cool! And how loony, in a sense. I can't wait to see whether they get evidence in support of the hypothesis.