After taking Cassie on a 45-minute walk before the heat hits us, I've spent the morning debugging, watching these news stories pile up for lunchtime reading:
- The US Supreme Court once again upheld Obamacare, with only Alito and Gorsuch dissenting.
- The Illinois legislature passed a common-sense gun control law, supported by the State Police, that largely brings us back in line with the rules we had in the 1990s.
- Illinois Deputy Governor Dan Hynes has resigned (ahem) ahead of the 2022 election.
- The BBC fact-checks this week's Iranian elections.
- Dana Milbank fact-checks Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has started repeating Republican Party lies about BLM and our election. Writing in the Atlantic, Anna Nemtsova says Putin has nothing to offer the West because he has dropped all pretense of liberalism.
- National Geographic has a photo essay of 20 natural wonders that disappeared in the past few years.
- After the warmest first half of June in history, Northeastern Illinois (i.e., Chicago) is in a severe drought that tonight's thunderstorms won't actually help. But Illinois has nothing on the southwestern US, which has it far, far worse, including forecast 50°C temperatures over large areas of Arizona and California.
Finally, Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has revealed conceptual drawings for a moon base.
Oh, to be a dog. Cassie is sleeping comfortably on her bed in my office after having over an hour of walks (including 20 minutes at the dog park) so far today. Meanwhile, at work we resumed using a bit of code that we put on ice for a while, and I promptly discovered four bugs. I've spent the afternoon listening to Cassie snore and swatting the first one.
Meanwhile, in the outside world, life continues:
- Ukrainian police arrested members of the Cl0p ransomware gang, seizing money and cars along with the cybercriminals.
- Amtrak, the US passenger rail network, plans to expand its service over the next few years, for example by going to places that people want to go. (Sure, Las Cruces, N.M., might be a wonderful tourist destination, but why doesn't the train go to Las Vegas too?)
- Astronomer Seth Shostak, who works on SETI, expects any aliens who visit us to have non-biological forms, while physicist Mark Buchanan tells SETI to stop trying to contact them in the first place because they'll kill us all.
- Scientists have found that a Korean War-era technique of reading weather data could reduce contrails by 50% or more.
- On this day in 1858, Abraham Lincoln addressed the Illinois Republican Convention, saying "a house divided against itself cannot stand."
- Whiskey Advocate explains how to "build your best Old Fashioned."
And right by my house, TimeLine Theater plans to renovate a dilapidated warehouse to create a new theater space and cultural center, while a 98-year-old hardware store by Wrigley Field will soon become apartments.
As much fun as Cassie and I have had over the last few days, the news around the world didn't stop:
- After 448 days, Illinois will finally reopen fully on Friday.
- Security expert Tarah Wheeler, writing on Schneier.com, warns that our weapons systems have frightening security vulnerabilities.
- Fastly's content-delivery network (CDN) collapsed this morning, taking down The New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg News, and other major properties; no word yet on the cause, but we can guess.
- About 12,000 volunteer software developers around the world contributed to the Mars Helicopter project through GitHub.
- Josh Marshall looks at the burn-it-all-down ethos of defeated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our own XPOTUS.
- Alexandra Petri wonders why anyone would buy a Swiss Army knife when an AR-15 does the job better?
- ProPublica divided income tax by (unrealized) wealth growth and found that the wealthiest 25 Americans paid almost no income tax from 2014 to 2018; however, they did not apply that methodology to the millions of middle-class families whose 401(k) funds appreciated, which would show that most people paid smaller percentages than they thought.
- Earth's CO2 levels have reached 419 ppm, a level not seen since around the time humans and chimpanzees split from their last common ancestor.
Finally, journalist Jack Lieb filmed D-Day using a 16mm home movie camera, which you can see on the National Archives blog. It's really cool.
Two travel stories arrived in my mailbox overnight. First, China has landed a probe on Mars, becoming the third country in history to do so:
The touchdown makes China the second country in history to deposit a rover on the surface of Mars. After months in orbit around the red planet, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft released the Zhurong rover for a landing in Utopia Planitia, a vast plain that may once have been covered by an ancient Martian ocean. The 529-pound rover survived a perilous descent to the surface, including atmospheric entry, slowing from supersonic speeds with a parachute, and finally using retrorockets to safely alight on the ground.
China will openly share the data from Tianwen-1 and Zhurong the same way it has shared data from its lunar exploration missions, Long says, benefiting planetary scientists around the world.
The mission will also set the stage for China’s next planned voyage to Mars—an audacious sample-return attempt scheduled to launch around 2028. Beyond Mars, the country has plans to launch a Jupiter probe, including a possible landing on the moon Callisto, to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid, and to send a pair of Voyager-like spacecraft toward the edges of the solar system.
Closer to home, after suspending service last year because of the pandemic, Greyhound Canada announced this week that it has decided to completely end all Canadian services:
The bus company says all of its remaining routes will cease operations as of midnight Thursday.
The iconic bus carrier pulled out of Western Canada in 2018.
It then put its remaining routes in Ontario and Quebec on pause when COVID-19 hit in 2020, but now it is pulling out of domestic Canadian service permanently.
The federal [New Democratic Party] also laid blame on the government. "The loss of all remaining Greyhound bus routes leaves many communities without affordable, safe passenger transportation," Transportation Critic Taylor Bachrach said in a release. "And it disproportionately affects the most marginalized residents, including Indigenous people and seniors."
Rural areas will suffer the most, as since Greyhound's suspension last year left many without any long-distance transportation services.
Hello, CDC? I'd like to report some side-effects of my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. To wit: All I wanted to do on Friday was sleep. When I finally slept, my left arm was sore enough to wake me up a couple of times. But hey, I planned to sleep in yesterday anyway, so no biggie.
Cassie had other ideas. She poked her nose in my ear at 6:30. I shooed her away. At 6:45, she decided that the squirrel or bird or whateverthefuck outside had to die, and that was the end of my slumber for good.
According to my Garmin watch, the day I adopted Cassie I had averaged 7:48 of sleep a night for the preceding 30 days. My 7-day moving average hung out around the same value. As of today, my 30-day average has fallen to 7:17, and my 7-day moving average is 7:08 this morning. Most of this is Cassie. I have to go to bed at 10 to get a full night's sleep because the sun wakes her up at 6 and she wakes me up a few minutes later.
Now she's conked out on my office floor, and I desperately want a nap.
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.
It's exactly 0°C in Chicago this afternoon, which is a bog-standard temperature for February 3rd. And it's sunny, which isn't typical. So, with the forecast for a week of bitter cold starting Friday evening, I'm about to take a 30-minute walk to take advantage of today's weather. First, though:
Early February is also the time of year when we start imagining spring. Tomorrow's sunrise is at 7am for the first time since December 1st, and we had 10 hours of daylight last week for the first time since mid-November. Yes, Chicago typically has an Arctic blast sometime during February. But Spring begins in 25 days. We can make it.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago/Clearing) will lose his job later today after serving in the role since 1983. Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside) received 69 votes (of a required 60) in the Democratic Caucus this morning, making his accession to the Speaker's chair all but guaranteed when the whole House votes in a few minutes to elect the Speaker. Welch will become the first Black Speaker in Illinois history.
In other news:
- The Illinois legislature ended its previous legislative session earlier today by passing a 700-page criminal justice overhaul bill that ends cash bail and requires every law-enforcement officer in the state to wear a body camera, among other reforms. Governor Pritzker is expected to sign the bill this week.
- Ross Douthat holds out hope that the "divide between reality and fantasy" in the Republican Party may lead to the party's disintegration.
- Earth's rotation has picked up a tiny bit of extra speed that may require a negative leap second soon.
Too bad those shorter days haven't added up to a quicker end to the current presidential administration. At least we have less than a week to go before the STBXPOTUS is just some guy in a cheap suit.
Here's the semi-annual Chicago sunrise chart. (You can get one for your own location at http://www.wx-now.com/Sunrise/SunriseChart.aspx.)
An interesting thing happens in 2021: on November 6th at 7:30:11, we'll have one of the latest sunrises possible—indeed, the latest sunrise in 47 years. I found only one occasion from 1975 to 2040 when the sun rises later: at 7:30:35 on 6 November 2032.
The last time the sun rose after 7:30 was at 7:31:26 on 26 February 1974, after Chicago started daylight saving time on 6 January 1974, due to the oil crisis. Chicago also observed year-round daylight saving time during World War II, from 9 February 1942 until 30 September 1945. Chicago's latest-ever sunrise occurred at 8:19:17 on 4 January 1943.
Anyway, here's the chart for the next 12 months:
||Latest sunrise until Oct 28th
||Earliest sunrise until Apr 19th
Earliest sunset until Oct 24th
||Daylight saving time begins
Latest sunrise until Oct 15th
Earliest sunset until Sep 17th
||7am sunrise, 7pm sunset
||Equinox 04:37 CDT
||6:30am sunrise (again)
||Earliest sunrise of the year
||Solstice 22:32 CDT
||Latest sunset of the year
||Equinox, 14:21 CDT
||Latest sunrise until 6 Nov 2032
Latest sunset until Feb 27th
||Standard time returns
Earliest sunrise until Feb 26th
Latest sunset until Jan 9th
||Earliest sunset of the year
||Solstice, 9:59 CST
You can get sunrise information for your location at wx-now.com.
December 7th is usually the day when the sun sets earliest in the Northern Hemisphere. In Chicago this evening, that meant 16:20, a few minutes ago. We get back to 16:30 on New Year's Eve and 17:00 not until January 27th. We didn't see the sun today at all, though.
So in the dark gloaming, I will (a) try to get my 10,000 steps for the day, and (b) try to find some fresh-ish basil for dinner.