The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What I'm reading today

A few articles caught my attention this week:

Also, I'm just making a note to myself of Yuriy Ivon's rundown on Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB, because I'm using it a lot more than I have in the past.

What is normal, really?

Well, if you're a climatologist, it's a calculated value based on a 30-year period, updated every 10 years. And the 19991-2020 climate normals for the US will come out this May. Meanwhile, the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) has released some teaser images:

NOAA senior science writer Rebecca Lindsey explains:

These images are a sneak peak at how the new normals for winter temperature (top) and precipitation (bottom) are different from the current normals, which cover 1981-2010. Consistent with the long-term warming trend, winter is warmer across most of the contiguous United States, but the amount of warming ranges from nearly 0.0 (light pink) to 1.5 degrees [Fahrenheit] (darker pink) Fahrenheit depending on the location. There are even a few small areas of the Northern Plains where the normal winter temperature for 1991-2020 is slightly cooler than the 1981-2010 normal (light blue).

There’s a lot more variation in the changes in winter precipitation, which includes both rain and snow. The map shows the percent difference in normal winter precipitation in the new normal versus the old normals. The Northern Plains and Upper Midwest have seen the biggest percent increases in normal winter precipitation, while the biggest percent decreases occurred in the Southwest and Southern Plains, including Colorado’s Eastern Plains. (In absolute terms, these changes are equivalent to only fractions of an inch of liquid water because these locations are normally quite dry during the winter.)

Having seen other preliminary data, I expect that the December temperature normals will be the most surprising. Also, NCEI will prepare a second full set of 15-year normals covering 2006-2020 as well. It wasn't reported whether NCEI will produce 15-year normals on a 5-year schedule, however.

Ten years ago

This week in 2011 had a lot going on. Illinois governor Pat Quinn (D) signed legislation that abolished the death penalty in the state on March 9th, for starters. But the biggest story of 2011 happened just before midnight Chicago time on March 10th:

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced the strongest earthquake in its recorded history. The earthquake struck below the North Pacific Ocean, 130 kilometers (81 miles) east of Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region, a northern part of the island of Honshu.

The Tohoku earthquake caused a tsunami. A tsunami—Japanese for “harbor wave”—is a series of powerful waves caused by the displacement of a large body of water. Most tsunamis, like the one that formed off Tohoku, are triggered by underwater tectonic activity, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Tohoku tsunami produced waves up to 40 meters (132 feet) high,

More than 450,000 people became homeless as a result of the tsunami. More than 15,500 people died.

Of somewhat lesser importance, on this day in 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on The WB.

It does not seem like 10 (or 24) years ago.

The pandemic is still making us crazy

I read three things to reinforce this today. First, National Geographic acknowledges the global mental health crisis, and how we're procrastinating more as a result:

People don’t necessarily procrastinate because they are lazy. Procrastination has roots in our evolutionary development, with two key parts of the brain vying for control.

“Procrastination is an emotion-focused coping strategy,” says Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. “It is not a time-management problem; it is an emotion-management problem.”

Experts who study procrastination define it as the voluntary delay of an intended act despite the fact that you can expect to be worse off in the long run by putting off the task. We know the task doesn’t go away, but sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us. Our “present self” calls the shots, and our “future self” suffers because of it.

Neuroscientists have found that procrastination is a battle between an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system and a relatively younger part known as the prefrontal cortex.

However, when strong emotions such as anxiety and fear become overwhelming, the impulsive limbic system can still win out.

Paul Krugman today describes another form of insanity, in which the states of Texas and Mississippi (34th and 46th in public education rankings, respectively) have consigned a non-zero number of people to death because of the politics of masks:

Wearing a mask in public, like holding it in for a few minutes, is slightly inconvenient, but hardly a major burden. And the case for imposing that mild burden in a pandemic is overwhelming. The coronavirus variants that cause Covid-19 are spread largely by airborne droplets, and wearing masks drastically reduces the variants’ spread.

So not wearing a mask is an act of reckless endangerment, not so much of yourself — although masks appear to provide some protection to the wearer — as of other people. Covering our faces while the pandemic lasts would appear to be simple good citizenship, not to mention an act of basic human decency.

Refusing to wear a mask has become a badge of political identity, a barefaced declaration that you reject liberal values like civic responsibility and belief in science. (Those didn’t used to be liberal values, but that’s what they are in America 2021.)

I don’t know how many people will die unnecessarily because the governor of Texas has decided that ignoring the science and ending the mask requirement is a good way to own the libs. But the number won’t be zero.

Finally, I got a lengthy email today that someone sent through Weather Now, for some reason, warning me of the dangers of vaccination:

I was praying and fasting, regarding the Covid-19 vaccine during the time I’ve received this dream:

In my dream, God took me into the near future of America. I was overlooking America (like a birds eye view), and I looked to my right of America (the Eastside) and was overlooking New York State as well.. And I saw millions of people in America, had received the Covid-19 vaccine.

And also throughout America, I could see 5G towers monitoring VERY closely the covid-19 vaccinated individuals (victims).

When I saw this, I immediately asked God, “How are they completely connected to these 5G towers and the towers to them?” Right after I asked God this, He took me to a hospital in New York. There, I saw a doctor giving a patient, the covid-19 vaccine. (The doctor and patient couldn’t see me.)

But while the doctor was injecting into the patient’s arm, the covid-19 vaccine shot.. I saw hundreds/thousands of little specs of microchips, [nanobots] INSIDE the covid-19 vaccine, flowing through the shot, and into that individual.

The email went on like this for five pages. I selected only the most coherent bits for this message. I should point out, however, that the IP address from which the message originated is in Vietnam, so I'm not too worried there's an unhinged fundamentalist trying to save my soul through a weather application's feedback page. I am worried that fear leads to stupidity (a crucial step Yoda forgot to mention) and stupidity leads to people believing crazy things.

Craziness usually follows plagues. Let's hope we get through our crazy period as rationally as we can.

Waiting for one CI build, then another

It's every other Tuesday today, so I'm just waiting for the last continuous-integration (CI) build to finish before deploying the latest software to our production environment. So far, so boring, just the way I like it. Meanwhile, in the real world:

  • In a symbolic but meaningless vote, all but 5 Republican members of the US Senate voted to let the XPOTUS off the hook for inciting an insurrection against, well, them, as this way they believe they get to keep his followers at no cost to themselves. If this past year were a novel, the next sentence might begin with "Little did they know..." Which, you know, describes those 45 Republicans to a T.
  • Dutch police arrested more than 180 people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam for rioting against Covid-19 lockdowns: "A leading Dutch criminologist, Henk Ferwerda, said the riots involved 'virus deniers, political protesters and kids who just saw the chance to go completely wild – all three groups came together.'"
  • Air travelers across the US can rejoice that CNN Airport News will go away on March 31st.
  • Over 1 teratonne of ice melted over each of the past few years, increasing concerns about global sea level rises.
  • Two mathematicians argue that time-travel paradoxes don't exist, because the universe routes around them.

Finally, snow continues to fall in Chicago, so far accumulating to about 100 mm by my house and as of noon about 125 mm at O'Hare. Calling this a "snowstorm" seems a bit over the top as it's coming down at under 10 mm per hour and forecast to stop before too long. Plus it's barely below freezing for now—but forecast to cool down to -11°C by Wednesday night before creeping above freezing Friday and Saturday. So we might have a blanket of snow for a bit. Still, it's the most snow we've gotten all season, with less than 5 weeks to go before meteorological spring starts March 1st. I'm OK with this mild winter, though it might presage a very hot summer.

Good morning!

Just an hour or so into the first business day of 2021, and morning news had a few stories that grabbed my attention:

Finally, don't eat icicles. They're basically frozen bird poop.

Lazy Sunday morning reading

A couple of articles piqued my interest over the last day:

Finally, with only a few days left in December, we have now had 5 days this month with more Americans dead from Covid-19 than died on 9/11, and the STBXPOTUS won't sign even the miserly, half-assed recovery bill that Republicans in the Senate would agree to. January 20th can't come soon enough.

Studying how dogs age

How did I miss this Times article from November?

Lab tests can tell how old a human is just from the pattern of methylation. Thanks to this research, the same can be done for dogs. The results will help researchers studying aging in dogs to translate findings to humans. None of this research was done on dogs kept in a laboratory. All of the dogs in the aging comparison study were pet Labrador retrievers and the owners gave permission for blood samples.

Scientists are unsure about whether the physical decline seen in aging in dogs and humans, in fact in all mammals, is related to the process of development in earlier life, or whether the decline is a different process altogether. The researchers found that the pattern of methylation suggested that the same genes may be involved in both processes.

Good methods of comparing dog and human ages are important. Dogs are increasingly seen as good models for human aging because they suffer from it in many of the same ways humans do. As the Dog Aging Project, which is collecting genetic and other information from a vast number of pet dogs, puts it on its website, the goal of the research is “Longer, healthier lives for all dogs … and their humans.”

I miss my aging dog. And the day this article was published, Parker was old indeed.

Floating holiday: achievement unlocked

My company gives us the usual American holidays off, and adds two "floating holidays" you can take whenever you want. I took my first one in January and just remembered last week that I hadn't taken the second one. So I took it today. Which gave me some time to read a bunch of things:

Finally, the list I posted Wednesday needs an update. In October 1918, influenza killed 195,000 Americans, or an average of 6,290 per day. So clearly most of that month set records well above the records we set this week.

Mixed news on Tuesday morning

Today's news stories comprise a mixed bag:

Finally, a little sweetness for a cold December day: Whisky Advocate has a recipe for bourbon balls that I hope someone will try and share with me. I'll even supply the bourbon.