The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Universal farecards? Yes, please

Traveling to San Francisco and London as often as I do underscores to me how crappy some things are in Chicago. Take our ridiculous transit fare systems. Metra, the heavy-rail system, still uses little paper tickets, while Ventra only works on CTA buses and trains. I want one card that would let me tap in and tap out of any public transit service in the city.

Citylab says this may be coming soon, at least to some cities:

Unified mobile ticketing means riders no longer need to worry about having the right change for the bus, or having time to buy a train ticket at the station after hitting a major traffic jam. And there’s seamless transitioning between modes of transit. But the digitization creates a lot of savings for the transit agencies themselves.

Then there’s the data. When transit operators have a massive live stream of data on how many people are buying tickets, where they are, where they’re headed, it allows for much more responsive management. They can tweak bus routes based on how the customers actually buy bus tickets and ride. Granted, this approach can’t truly transform American cities until everyone has access to the critical technology.

Given the speed of technological change in Chicago, we can probably expect this in the mid-2040s.

Dreams, inspiration, and evidence

My friend Sara, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, wrote in her blog today about dreaming's influence on inspiration, and incidentally why psychoanalysis isn't science:

REM (dream) sleep specifically is associated with increased abstract reasoning as well as increasing the strength of normally weak associations in the brain (see here). What that means is, two different things that your waking brain might not even see a connection between could become associated rather easily in a dream. Our brain does this kind of linking (neural networking) naturally, and it's a great way to learn new things - by connecting new knowledge you need to memorize to something you already know. Just as you can connect any actor to Kevin Bacon, you can connect any concept in your brain to another. Some connections are more direct than others.

Of course, Freud and other psychoanalytic theorists would state that these strange juxtapositions are simply your subconscious trying to work out any conflicts you're having in your life. In fact, pretty much everything goes back to this idea of the subconscious, at least for psychoanalysts.

Why do we need ... theory and hypothesis if Freud's and other psychoanalysts' theories can sum much of this up, in a neat, Oedipus-complex-themed package? After all, parsimony is an important aspect of science - the simplest explanation tends to be the best one, in the absence of evidence to support one over the other.

But that's the thing - the various social psychological theories outlined above have just that: evidence. Specifically empirical evidence, which is pretty important for science, something I've also blogged about before. In fact, psychoanalytic theories lack the basic ingredients that make them at all scientific: the ability to test these concepts (we call this 'testability') and, if they are false, demonstrate that (we call this 'falsifiability'). If there really are subconscious forces operating in your brain, trying to give you glimpses of what's really bothering you (latent content) but hiding behind symbolism (manifest content), how would we even begin to test this? After all, they're subconscious. But for social psychological theories, such as priming, we may know what evidence we would observe if priming happened and what we would observe if it isn't happening.

You can read Sara's other thoughts on psychology and horror movies at Deeply Trivial.

You can see my house from here

NASA released a really cool video yesterday:

The agency explains:

The images were captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth. From its position between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR conducts its primary mission of real-time solar wind monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

EPIC maintains a constant view of the fully illuminated Earth as it rotates, providing scientific observations of ozone, vegetation, cloud height and aerosols in the atmosphere. Once EPIC begins regular observations next month, the camera will provide a series of Earth images allowing study of daily variations over the entire globe. About twice a year the camera will capture the moon and Earth together as the orbit of DSCOVR crosses the orbital plane of the moon.

These images were taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16, showing the moon moving over the Pacific Ocean near North America. The North Pole is in the upper left corner of the image, reflecting the orbital tilt of Earth from the vantage point of the spacecraft.

I love living in the future; don't you?

Feeling like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis

While eating lunch, I read this cheerful article from Rolling Stone:

Thanks to the pressure we're putting on the planet's ecosystem — warming, acidification and good old-fashioned pollution — the oceans are set up for several decades of rapid change. Here's what could happen next.

The combination of excessive nutrients from agricultural runoff, abnormal wind patterns and the warming oceans is already creating seasonal dead zones in coastal regions when algae blooms suck up most of the available oxygen. ...

These low-oxygen regions could gradually expand in size — potentially thousands of miles across — which would force fish, whales, pretty much everything upward. If this were to occur, large sections of the temperate deep oceans would suffer should the oxygen-free layer grow so pronounced that it stratifies, pushing surface ocean warming into overdrive and hindering upwelling of cooler, nutrient-rich deeper water.

Enhanced evaporation from the warmer oceans will create heavier downpours, perhaps destabilizing the root systems of forests, and accelerated runoff will pour more excess nutrients into coastal areas, further enhancing dead zones. ...

Evidence for the above scenario comes in large part from our best understanding of what happened 250 million years ago, during the "Great Dying," when more than 90 percent of all oceanic species perished after a pulse of carbon dioxide and methane from land-based sources began a period of profound climate change. The conditions that triggered "Great Dying" took hundreds of thousands of years to develop. But humans have been emitting carbon dioxide at a much quicker rate, so the current mass extinction only took 100 years or so to kick-start.

Good thing we don't eat plankton, because there won't be much left in a few decades.

Oh, wait...

Saturday's concert

Sometimes it takes a while for me to pull things off my phone, like this photo from Pentatonix' show at Allstate Arena last Saturday:

Funny thing about that: when we found our original seats, in the last row way above stage right, our view of the stage was blocked by a temporary platform directly next to us. An usher came by and handed us 10th-row seats directly below us. Nice upgrade.

Peace dividend

The ink on the Iranian nuclear deal isn't dry yet, but already American and European companies are starting to benefit:

Iran plans to buy as many as 90 planes per year from Boeing and Airbus to revamp its antiquated fleet once Western sanctions are lifted, its state news agency IRNA quoted a senior aviation official as saying on Sunday.

"Iran will buy a total of 80-90 planes per year from the two aviation giants in the first phase of renovating its air fleet," said Mohammad Khodakarami, the caretaker director of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, according to IRNA.

"We will purchase planes from Boeing and Airbus in equal numbers," Khodakarami was quoted as saying, adding that Iran would initially need to add at least 80 planes to its fleet each year. That would mean a total of 300 planes within five years, he added.

So over the next five years, the U.S. and Europe will get a small ($2 billion) bump in GDP. And Iran will have flyable civilian airplanes again, but no atomic bombs. Everyone wins!

Eventful weekend

I've had a lot going on over the past couple of weeks so posting has been a little slow. I spent yesterday at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, following Saturday night's Pentatonix (and, right, Kelly Clarkson) performance, following running around during the day Saturday trying to get everything done ahead of both those events.

I'm a little fried. I'm also apparently slowing my average posting rate, having failed two months in a row to post 40 times. Before June 2015, the last time I failed to post 40 times was in November 2010, during my last month of business school.

Things are moderating, however, and I should resume the usual schedule soon.