The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The UK's reputation in Europe

Whether you prefer "shooting oneself in the foot" or "circular firing squad" as your metaphor, the UK's flailing with just a week left to go before crashing out of the EU has disappointed many people in Europe:

For politicians, diplomats and officials across the continent, the past two-and-a-half years of the Britain’s fraught, seemingly interminable and increasingly shambolic departure from the EU have proved an eye-opener.

Some have responded with humour. Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, said recently that if she had one, she would call her cat Brexit: “It wakes me up miaowing because it wants to go out. When I open the door, its sits there, undecided. Then it looks daggers at me when I put it out.”

Others have found it harder to laugh. To the shock of many, ;Brexit has revealed a country they long looked up to locked in a narrative of its own exceptionalism, talking mainly to itself, incoherent, entitled, incapable of compromise (with itself or its neighbours), startlingly ignorant of the workings of an organisation it has belonged to for nearly 50 years, and unrealistic.

Only, Britain has been here so many times before. Crashing out of India so hard that the country hasn't had a day of peace in 70 years? Check. Getting rolled by the Soviets after putting a Soviet spy in charge of rooting out Soviet spies? Check. Appeasing a fascist regime bent on European hegemony? Check.

And now, it seems, Russia has rolled them again, as no country stands to gain more from Brexit than they. And still they're flailing about, going through the worst Constitutional crisis (self-inflicted!) since the 17th Century.

It's really sad.

Critics of the Web—30 years ago

Alexis Madrigal takes a look at criticisms of the World Wide Web from when it was new:

Thirty years ago this week, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at CERN, the European scientific-research center. Suffice it to say, the idea took off. The web made it easy for everyday people to create and link together pages on what was then a small network. The programming language was simple, and publishing was as painless as uploading something to a server with a few tags in it.

Just a few years after the internet’s creation, a vociferous set of critics—most notably in Resisting the Virtual Life, a 1995 anthology published by City Lights Books—rose to challenge the ideas that underlay the technology, as previous groups had done with other, earlier technologies.

Maybe as a major technological movement begins to accelerate—but before its language, corporate power, and political economics begin to warp reality—a brief moment occurs when critics see the full and awful potential of whatever’s coming into the world. No, the new technology will not bring better living (at least not only that). There will be losers. Oppression will worm its way into even the most seemingly liberating spaces. The noncommercial will become hooked to a vast profit machine. People of color will be discriminated against in new ways. Women will have new labors on top of the old ones. The horror-show recombination of old systems and cultures with new technological surfaces and innards is visible, like the half-destroyed robot face of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

Then, if money and people really start to pour into the technology, the resistance will be swept away, left dusty and coughing as what gets called progress rushes on.

The whole piece is worth a read.

Chicago's sinking, but don't worry

Wherever a landmass had several kilometers of ice on top, it deformed. Glaciers covered much of North America only 10,000 years ago. Since they retreated (incidentally forming the Great Lakes and creating just about all the topography in Northern Illinois), the Earth's crust has popped back like a waterbed.

Not quickly, however.

But in the last century, Chicago has dropped about 10 cm while areas of Canada have popped up about the same amount:

In the northern United States and Canada, areas that once were depressed under the tremendous weight of a massive ice sheet are springing back up while others are sinking. The Chicago area and parts of southern Lake Michigan, where glaciers disappeared 10,000 years ago, are sinking about 10 to 20 cm each century.

One or 2 millimeters a year might not seem like a lot, but “over a decade that’s a centimeter. Over 50 years, now, you’re talking several inches,” said Daniel Roman, chief geodesist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a slow process, but it’s a persistent one.”

While Chicago’s dipping is gradual, this dynamic could eventually redefine flood plains and work against household sewer pipes that slope downward to the sewer main.

The same phenomenon has affected the UK as well. Scotland is popping up and England is sinking, as are other pairs of regions similarly glaciated. (Sterling, however, has a long way to go...)

Changing ideas of romance, or just more awareness?

Writing for the Washington Post, columnist Monica Hesse examines how our understanding of the famous V-J Day photo of George Mendonsa kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman have changed between then and Mendonsa's death this week:

Within 24 hours of his passing, a Sarasota, Fla., statue that re-created his and Friedman’s famous kiss was defaced. On Friedman’s aluminum leg, in red spray paint, someone had written, “#MeToo.”

As much as any image, the picture of Mendonsa and Friedman has defined American perception of romance. It’s Richard Gere nipping at Julia Roberts’s fingers with a jewelry box; it’s John Cusack with a boombox beneath Ione Skye’s window. Mendonsa’s grip around Friedman’s waist is fervent; her body is limp as if overwhelmed by the passion of his embrace. Behold, the superlative ideal of a perfect kiss.

Maybe it could be wonderful and exciting to be kissed, by surprise, by a stranger, at the end of a long and terrible war. But when you hear Friedman’s description of it, the whole thing starts to sound unpleasant. The whole photo starts to look unpleasant, too: the way her head is locked into the crook of his elbow, unable to move or avoid his lips.

I’d like to think of it more as a statement of fact. Today, this iconic photo might be considered an assault. It doesn’t mean Mendonsa was a monster. It doesn’t mean humans were bad in 1945. It just means that stories don’t always behave as we’d like. Our fantasies can be punctured by the reality of other people’s feelings.

Friedman said she and Mendonsa kept in occasional contact and exchanged holiday cards. When a Life photographer invited the pair to reunite in Times Square in 1980, she went. But she said she didn’t want to reenact the kiss.

A kiss based on one person’s joy and another person’s non-consenting shock isn’t really a perfect kiss. And actually, it never was.

What images from 2019 will look weird in 2094? Someone with a time machine, please let me know.

Two stories of North American irrationality

First, William Giraldi, writing in Medium, proclaims "[e]verything you need to know about the mess that is America in 2019 can be explained by our deepening national belief that Bigfoot is real:"

Bigfooters believe they are questing for bipedal apes in California, but they are really questing for their own lost boyhoods, their Boy Scout days, those formative experiences in the woodlands of fancy and faith, and for the thrill of certain belief as it was before the adult world broke in to bludgeon it.

Remember that preadolescent frisson, the dread-tinged excitement of knowing, absolutely knowing, that monsters were real, not the myths, folklores, and allegories that adulthood insists they are? If Wordsworth laments adulthood’s injection of sobriety and rationality into the childhood sublime, Bigfooters aren’t having it. They’ve found a means of resurrecting that boyish wonder, of plugging back into the child’s reciprocal, imaginative bond with nature. If it comes at the cost of evidence — to say nothing of dignity — since when have children ever bothered with evidence? These scientists and their mocking, scoffing facts are a drag. What did John Keats says about Isaac Newton’s achievements with light? “He destroyed the poetry of a rainbow by reducing it to a prism.”

In concert with their wish to plug back into their boyhoods, these men, loose in the woods, are searching for the approval and acceptance of other men. No optional male group endeavor, none, is exempt from this law, one that hearkens back to the mastodon hunt, during which a male proved himself worthy of the clan and thus worthy of the protection and resources the clan controlled.

Which isn’t to say that time in the woods is idyllic. Believer and journalist John Green, the grandfather of Sasquatchia, once wrote, “The average sasquatch hunter is so pig-headed that two of them together are pretty sure to have a falling out before long… People who will go hunting for an animal that is rejected by the world of science and almost everybody else are bound to be people who don’t pay much attention to any opinion but their own, and expect not only to have an opinion but to act on it.”

Remember Jonathan Swift: “Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired.”

Our second story comes from the CBC via IFLScience, showing that our Canadian neighbors have shown a disturbing lack of immunity to our American anti-intellectualism.

It seems a Vancouver dad worried so much about the (totally discredited) myth that vaccines cause autism that he didn't get his kids vaccinated. Flash forward 10 years and add a family trip to Vietnam, and one of his kids became Patient Zero in a British Columbia measles outbreak:

[Emmanuel] Bilodeau believes one of his three sons contracted measles during a family trip to Vietnam earlier this year and that it has since spread at the French-language schools his children attend.

Bilodeau said he brought his sons to a travel clinic on Broadway Street before their trip where they received other vaccinations, but not for measles.

It was on the plane ride home that his 11-year-old son began experiencing symptoms, including fever.

Measles. In 2019. In Canada, which has perhaps one of the three or four most advanced health-care systems the world has ever seen.

So, go ahead and believe in 3-meter-tall ape-people wandering the forests of Oregon, but try to apply some logic and rationality to life-or-death decisions like whether to prevent people from getting a disease so easy to prevent we had almost eradicated it before the beginning of this century.

John Dingell's last words

Former Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) died February 7th. He dictated his reflections on public service and the United States to his wife, which the Post published as an Op-Ed on Friday:

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today, the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.

In my life and career, I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

Thank you for your service, Congressman. You will be missed.

Olé, olé olé olé!

Oh, I love these stories. On today's Daily WTF, editor Remy Porter describes the world I grew up in, where dates were dates and 30 December 1899 ruled them all:

If you wanted to set a landmark, you could pick any date, but a nice round number seems reasonable. Let's say, for example, January 1st, 1900. From there, it's easy to just add and subtract numbers of days to produce new dates. Oh, but you do have to think about leap years. Leap years are more complicated- a year is a leap year if it's divisible by four, but not if it's divisible by 100, unless it's also divisible by 400. That's a lot of math to do if you're trying to fit a thousand rows in a spreadsheet on a computer with less horsepower than your average 2019 thermostat.

So you cheat. Checking if a number is divisible by four doesn't require a modulus operation—you can check that with a bitmask, which is super fast. Unfortunately, it means your code is wrong, because you think 1900 is a leap year. Now all your dates after February 28th are off-by-one. Then again, you're the one counting. Speaking of being the one counting, while arrays might start at zero, normal humans start counting at one, so January 1st should be 1, which makes December 31st, 1899 your "zero" date.

Our macro language is off-by-one for the first few months of 1900, but that discrepancy is acceptable, and no one at Microsoft, including Bill Gates who signed off on it, cares.

The Basic-derived macro language is successful enough inside of Excel that it grows up to be Visual Basic. It is "the" Microsoft language, and when they start extending it with features like COM for handling library linking and cross-process communication, it lays the model. Which means when they're figuring out how to do dates in COM… they use the Visual Basic date model. And COM was the whole banana, as far as Windows was concerned- everything on Windows touched COM or its successors in some fashion. It wasn't until .NET that the rule of December 30th, 1899 was finally broken, but it still crops up in Office products and SQL Server from time to time.

The .NET epoch began 1 January 2000. Except for DateTimeOffset values, whose epoch began on the non-existent date 1 January 0. Or DateTime values (now deprecated) which start at the beginning of the Gregorian calendar in 1753. (Same with SQL Server datetime types.)

The bottom line: dates are hard.

My next side-trip from London

...will be to Bletchley Park:

The National Museum of Computing is a must-see if you are ever in the UK. It was a short 30ish minute train ride up from London. We spent the whole afternoon there.

There is a rebuild of the Colossus, the the world's first electronic computer. It had a single purpose: to help decipher the Lorenz-encrypted (Tunny) messages between Hitler and his generals during World War II. The Colossus Gallery housing the rebuild of Colossus tells that remarkable story.

We saw the Turing-Welchman Bombe machine, an electro-mechanical device used to break Enigma-enciphered messages about enemy military operations during the Second World War. They offer guided tours (recommended as the volunteers have encyclopedic knowledge) and we were able to encrypt a message with the German Enigma (there's a 90 second video I made, here) and decrypt it with the Bombe, which is effectively 12 Engimas working in parallel, backwards.

I wanted to understand the computing power these systems had then, and now. Check out the website where you can learn about the OctaPi - a Raspberry Pi array of eight Pis working together to brute-force Engima. You can make your own here!

Yes, there's a Raspberry Pi Enigma-cracker. If only we'd had one in 1940...