The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Feeling stuck?

The New York Times had two opinion pieces today that seemed to go together.

In the first, literary critic Hillary Kelly notes the prevalence of pop-culture stories about people not so much in dystopia, but stuck in something else:

On one sci-fi show after another I’ve encountered long, zigzagging, labyrinthine passageways marked by impenetrable doors and countless blind alleys — places that have no obvious beginning or end. The characters are holed up in bunkers (“Fallout”), consigned to stark subterranean offices (“Severance”), locked in Escher-like prisons (“Andor”) or living in spiraling mile-deep underground complexes (“Silo”). Escape is unimaginable, endless repetition is crushingly routine and people are trapped in a world marked by inertia and hopelessness.

The resonance is chilling: Television has managed to uncannily capture the way life feels right now.

We’re all stuck.

What’s being portrayed is not exactly a dystopia. It’s certainly not a utopia. It’s something different: a stucktopia. These fictional worlds are controlled by an overclass, and the folks battling in the mire are underdogs — mechanics, office drones, pilots and young brides. Yet they’re also complicit, to varying degrees, in the machinery that keeps them stranded. Once they realize this, they strive to discard their sense of futility — the least helpful of emotions — and try to find the will to enact change.

I think she has a point. And just a few stories later, we get a glimpse of why that kind of story may reflect the experiences of our 2020s existence. Urbanist Stephen Smith has studied residential elevators, here and in the rest of the world, and concluded that the particular failings of the way we build elevators in the US reflect larger failings that have held us back from addressing problems that Europe and the rich Asian countries have already solved:

Elevators in North America have become over-engineered, bespoke, handcrafted and expensive pieces of equipment that are unaffordable in all the places where they are most needed. Special interests here have run wild with an outdated, inefficient, overregulated system. Accessibility rules miss the forest for the trees. Our broken immigration system cannot supply the labor that the construction industry desperately needs. Regulators distrust global best practices and our construction rules are so heavily oriented toward single-family housing that we’ve forgotten the basics of how a city should work.

Similar themes explain everything from our stalled high-speed rail development to why it’s so hard to find someone to fix a toilet or shower. It’s become hard to shake the feeling that America has simply lost the capacity to build things in the real world, outside of an app.

Behind the dearth of elevators in the country that birthed the skyscraper are eye-watering costs. A basic four-stop elevator costs about $158,000 in New York City, compared with about $36,000 in Switzerland. A six-stop model will set you back more than three times as much in Pennsylvania as in Belgium. Maintenance, repairs, and inspections all cost more in America too.

The U.S. and Canada have also marooned themselves on a regulatory island for elevator parts and designs. Much of the rest of the world has settled on following European elevator standards, which have been harmonized and refined over generations. Some of these differences between American and global standards only result in minor physical differences, while others add the hassle of a separate certification process without changing the final product.

As kids in the 1970s we dreamt of flying cars and arcologies. As I shuffle through middle age in the 2020s, I dream of the social safety net and built environments that Europe takes for granted. Give me a train to New York that takes 5 hours and the end to people going bankrupt because of a treatable illness and you can keep your flying car.

Slow Sunday

Before I take Cassie on yet another 30-minute walk (how she suffers!), I'm going to clear some links:

OK, Cassie has roused herself, and probably needs to pee. Off we go.

Mentally exhausting day, high body battery?

My Garmin watch thinks I've had a relaxing day, with an average stress level of 21 (out of 100). My four-week average is 32, so this counts as a low-stress day in the Garmin universe.

At least, today was nothing like 13 March 2020, when the world ended. Hard to believe that was four years ago. So when I go to the polls on November 5th, and I ask myself, "Am I better off than 4 years ago?", I have a pretty easy answer.

I spent most of today either in meetings or having an interesting (i.e., not boring) production deployment, so I'm going to take the next 45 minutes or so to read everything I haven't had time to read yet:

All righty then. I'll wrap up here in a few minutes and head home, where I plan to pat Cassie a lot and read a book.

Cheap, unserious imitations

The top story this hour, which should surprise no one who can read a poll, is that US Senator Krysten Sinema (?-AZ), who pissed off every Democrat in Congress over her only term in the Senate, has decided not to run again. Since the Democratic Party had already fielded a candidate against her, this makes her completely irrelevant, instead of just mostly irrelevant. The November election will pit Republican Kari Lake against Democrat Ruben Gallego.

Meanwhile:

  • Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling compiled all of the XPOTUS's nonsense utterances from just the past weekend, in case you needed more evidence that he's pretty well into his age-related dementia, or if you believe the Internet, syphilis. (Only one of those things is curable, by the way.)
  • The mayor of Dalton, Ill., has vetoed a resolution of the Board of Trustees to have the FBI and state attorney general investigate her for misusing village funds. The mayor claims the board met illegally, because it didn't meet in the Village Hall—to which she has withheld the keys from them. It turns out, the FBI has already started investigating.
  • Speaking of clowns, soon-to-be-ex Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) still thinks she can get back into Congress after moving out of her current district, despite (a) being perceived as a carpetbagger by literally everyone in the new district, and (b) pissing off literally everyone on her staff.
  • Don't by cheap Chinese-made video doorbells from Walmart or Amazon, because they're trivially easy to hack. (Google Nest is not, however.)

Finally, if you'd like a little peace and quiet, a group of six Hebridean islands off the west coast of Scotland have two job openings with pretty good salaries: a general physician spot that pays £150,000 and a teaching position at £69,000 (class size: 6), not including a £10,000 "hello" payment to get you to your new home. The islands have a combined population of 4,000 (people; they have many more sheep than that) and a guarantee you will never get stuck in a motorway tailback.

Busy day

Inner Drive Technology's new computer arrived two days early, so there was a flurry of activity around lunchtime that postponed Cassie's mid-day walk. We just got back from that...but now I've got to do my real job while the new computer installs tons of software.

As someone who paid $200 for four 1-megabyte SIMMs back in the day, I'm absolutely astounded at the tiny 4-terabyte SSD that I snapped into the new machine, and which cost $260.

OK, back to work. Friday I'll have a retrospective on Inner Drive Technology office layouts. Tonight I'm setting up IDTWHQ 6.1.

Finally replacing an elderly desktop machine

The computer I'm using to write this post turns 8 years old on April 6th. It has served me well, living through thousands of Daily Parker posts, two house moves, terabytes of photographs, and only one blown hard drive.

So I have finally broken down and ordered a new one: a Dell Precision 3460 that will sit on my desk instead of under it, and will run Windows 11 with TPM 2.0 instead of warning me that it doesn't have the right hardware to get the latest OS.

The new computer will have an 13th Gen Intel Core i5-13600 processor with burst speeds up to 5 GHz, an nVidia T1000 graphics card with 3 DP outputs right on the chassis, a 512 GB SSD as a boot drive, and a pair of 32 GB 4800 MHz DIMMS that I ordered separately. Plus, instead of decrypting and re-encrypting my 4 TB, 7200-RPM data drive, I'm just going to get a 4 TB M.2 2280 SSD, because they're actually less expensive and use less power than the one in my 2016 box.

Unfortunately I'll need to completely replace my 14-year-old Dell monitor, and get an HDMI-to-DP conversion cable for my newer (2018-vintage) monitor, but neither of those things is terribly expensive these days.

I've also updated the math on the March 2016 post announcing my previous computer, to show the progression of computing technology over the past 8 years:

Bought Config, Processor, Ram, HDD $ then $ 2024
Jan 2024 Desktop, Core i5 5.0 GHz, 64 GB, 512 GB SSD + 4TB SSD Data $2009 $2009
Mar 2016 Desktop, Xeon 6C 2.4 GHz, 40 GB, 512 GB SSD + 2TB Data $3406 $4406
Dec 2013 Laptop, Core i7 2.4, 12 GB, 512 GB SSD $1706 $2247
Nov 2011 Laptop, Core i5 2.2 GHz, 8 GB, 256 GB SSD $795 $1078
Nov 2009 Laptop, Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz, 4 GB, 250 GB $923 $1309
Oct 2008 Desktop, Xeon 4C 2.0 GHz, 8 GB, 146 GB $1926 $2728
Feb 2007 Laptop, Centrino 2.0 GHz, 2 GB, 160 GB $2098 $3163
Jun 2005 Laptop, Pentium M 2.8 GHz, 2 GB, 60 GB $1680 $2650
Oct 2003 Laptop, Pentium M 1.4 GHz, 1 GB, 60 GB $1828 $3031
Oct 2002 Laptop, Pentium 4 1.7 GHz, 512 MB, 40 GB $2041 $3453
Mar 1999 Desktop, Pentium 3 500 MHz, 256 MB, 20 GB $2397 $4457
May 1995 Desktop, Nx 586 90 MHz, 32 MB, 850 MB $2206 $4446
Oct 1991 Desktop, 80386 33 MHz, 4 MB, 240 MB $2689 $6003

I mean, wow. I fully expect to be amazed at the speed—and the video.

I will say that my hope that the computer I bought in March 2016 would last at least 4 years came true twice over. In fact, from 1991 to 2016, I upgraded my main computer about every 2.7 years on average. Only two made it past 5 years, but only by 4 and 6 months.

It's been a really great machine. And I'm sure I'll discover that it can do one or two things that my new box can't, just like this one lost a couple of features I still sometimes miss. (My 2008 desktop could make mix CDs. I've never set this one up to do that.)

Just a few transport-policy articles

Anyone who has read The Daily Parker knows I desperately hope the US and Canada get over their suburban growth pattern psychopathy sometime before I die. Any actuarial table you consult will suggest the declining likelihood of that happening. Still, a guy can dream. (Or move to Continental Europe, I suppose.)

Thus my interest in these two stories today. First, from the New York Times, a report about the repeated failures of self-driving cars to operate safely in urban environments:

In San Francisco, more than 600 self-driving vehicle incidents were documented from June 2022 to June 2023, according to the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency. After one episode where a driverless car from Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, ran over and dragged a pedestrian, California regulators ordered the company to suspend its service last month. Kyle Vogt, Cruise’s chief executive, resigned on Sunday.

To handle the fallout, San Francisco has designated at least one city employee to work on autonomous car policies and asked two transportation agencies to compile and manage a database of incidents based on 911 calls, social media posts and employee reports.

Last year, the number of 911 calls from San Francisco residents about robotaxis began rising, city officials said. In one three-month period, 28 incidents were reported, according to a letter that city officials sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Waymo said it had rolled out a software update to its cars in October that would let firefighters and other authorities take control of the vehicles within seconds.

My surmise from 30 years of writing software professionally and dealing with non-technical executives is simple: they rushed technology to market before it was ready (which is nearly universal), but this particular technology can kill people (which is very rare).

Another thing: self-driving cars don't add much at all in places that have adequate public transit. (By "adequate" I mean Chicago and New York, not Amsterdam, which has really amazing public transit.)

Speaking of non-technical executives rolling something out over the objections of engineers, Wired reports that the City of New Orleans tried to dole out licenses for short-term rentals like Airbnb through a lottery:

The plan was simple: Carve up the city into blocks and use a hand-cranked lottery machine to draw numbers, allowing one rental property per residential block. For the winners, the prize was a license to keep listing their property on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. For the losers, despair.

But the controversial rules, enacted in March 2023, led to just one lottery before being temporarily halted by a federal judge in August. As the city awaits a final decision, short-term rentals in New Orleans have been left in limbo. The city has said it is no longer accepting applications for the short-term rental licenses it requires hosts to have, nor is it renewing existing ones. And, until the court makes a final ruling, the lottery balls have stopped spinning and the city has halted enforcement of its latest licensing rules.

I'm now living in the third consecutive housing development that bans short-term leases, and in fact as president of my last HOA I proposed the bylaws change to extend the minimum lease period to 6 months from 3.

I don't think Airbnb is bad, necessarily. In Chicago, with our 6% vacancy rate and pretty reasonable house prices for a city our size, we can absorb a few thousand Airbnb units. But in many cities, where zoning has created a housing crisis, Airbnb makes things worse by taking units off the market.

Went to the doctor, and guess what he told me?

Sadly, my doctor did not tell me to try to have fun no matter what I do, though we did have a brief conversation about which Bourbons we both like. Nope, he just said I'm perfectly healthy: I exercise enough, I eat right, I don't drink too much, my vital signs are perfect, and I get enough sleep. Doctor visits should be like software releases: boring.

If only that were true elsewhere:

Finally, for those of you just tuning in, Chicago-based Motorola invented cell phones. And today marks (only!) the 40th anniversary of David Meilahn making the world's first commercial cellular telephone call from Chicago's Soldier Field. Meilahn won a race to get his phone turned on and dialed in order to get that bit of recognition.

On a more serious note, I haven't commented on the war in Gaza yet because I haven't sifted through all the propaganda and disinformation enough. Julia Ioffe said a lot of what I'm thinking on Monday, but right now, no one can hear us moderates. I plan to address it soon. Maybe my lone center-left voice will end 3,000 years of conflict peacefully, who knows?

The GOP Clown Caucus lights the tent on fire

House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) lost the first procedural vote to prevent a second vote aimed at kicking him out of the Speaker's chair, which will probably result in him getting re-elected in a few days. The Republicans in Congress simply have no one else who can get 218 votes for Speaker. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) would get 214, but no Republican would ever vote for him. And my party's caucus have absolutely no interest in helping the Romper Room side of the aisle get its own house in order.

Fun times, fun times.

In other news:

  • Former US Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) wants his party to grow up. Of course, he's (a) writing in (b) the New York Times, so there's little danger of the children currently running his party to read it.
  • The US Supreme Court has the opportunity this term to undo a century of regulation, thrusting us back into the early Industrial Age and making life miserable for everyone in the country who doesn't have billionaire friends.
  • Live attendance at performing arts events in Chicago has dropped 59% from pre-pandemic levels, which we in the Apollo Chorus have noted and do not like one bit.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency will test the national alert system starting at 2:20 pm EDT tomorrow, most likely scaring the bejezus out of a sizeable portion of the Boomer generation.
  • Chivas Bros. announced a plan to build a new distillery on Islay, which would be the 12th operating on the small island in the Western Hebrides. Seriously: the island is almost exactly the same size as the city of Chicago (620 km²) but with almost exactly 1,000th the population (3,000), and it will have twelve distilleries by 2026.
  • A bar three blocks from my house bet everyone's drinks bill that the Chicago Bears would win their game against Kansas City on Sunday. They lost. In fact, the Bears are now the only major-league sports team in the United States that hasn't won since Elon Musk took over Twitter.

Finally, next week the western hemisphere will see an annular solar eclipse, so named because the moon won't completely cover it, leaving a ring (or annulus) of fire around it. Chicago will get to about 45% coverage, with maximum darkness around noon. Next April, however, we get a total solar eclipse, with the path of totality passing just a couple hundred kilometers south of us.

Friday lunchtime reading

It never stops, does it? And yet 100 years from now no one will remember 99% of this:

  • A group of psychiatrists warned a Yale audience that the XPOTUS has a "dangerous mental illness" and should never get near political office again. Faced with this obvious truth, 59% of Republicans said they'd vote for him in 2024.
  • Timothy Noah looks at the average age of the likely nominees for president next year (79) and the average age of the US Senate (60-something) and concludes our country needs a laxative. (Literally so in millions of cases.) Good thing US Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she'll run again next year, after she turns 84. Unfortunately, while I agree in principle with Andrew Sullivan's desire to see President Biden "leave the stage," all the alternatives seem worse to me.
  • Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL, age 78) has gotten some pushback from an even bigger dick, Justice Samuel Alito (R-$), because the Senator said it would look unethical if the Justice participated in a case involving a reporter who interviewed the Justice about his unethical behavior. But Samuel says he was ethical; and, sure, he is an honourable man.
  • Adolescent narcissist Elon Musk cut Internet coverage to the Ukrainian armed forces just as it started a surprise attack against Russia's Black Sea fleet, apparently at the behest of a Russian official. Josh Marshall calls this clear and convincing evidence that "[y]ou simply can’t have critical national security infrastructure in the hands of a Twitter troll who’s a soft touch for whichever foreign autocrat blows some smoke up his behind. But that's what we have here."
  • The Federal Transit Administration has finally committed $2 bn to expanding Chicago's Red Line subway to 130th St., a project first proposed in (checks notes) 1969. And who says the United States has the worst public transit funding in the developed world, other than all the urbanists who have ever studied the problem?
  • What do you get when you cross ChatGPT with Google Assistant (or Alexa or Siri)? Don't worry, Bruce Schneier says we'll find out soon enough.
  • "Boundaries" has a specific, limited meaning in psychology, not even close to the way most people use the word: "while the proliferation of therapeutic terms has given people access to necessary mental health tools, people may overgeneralize concepts such as boundaries and triggers, and use them to rationalize certain behaviors."

Finally, Guinness set the opening date for its new brewery in Chicago's Fulton Market district: Thursday September 28th. The Brews and Choos Project will visit soon thereafter.