The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Busy day in the news

So many things this morning, including a report not yet up on WBEZ's website about the last Sears store in Chicago. (I'll find it tomorrow.)

  • Jennifer Rubin advises XPOTUS "critics and democracy lovers" to leave the Republican Party.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) completely caved against a unified Democratic Party and will vote to extend the (probably-unconstitutional) debt limit another three months.
  • An abolitionist's house from 1869 may get landmark approval today from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. (It's already in the National Register of Historic Places).
  • Could interurban trains come back?
  • Arts critic Jo Livingstone has a mixed review of No Time to Die, but I still plan to see it this weekend.
  • 18 retired NBA players face wire-fraud and insurance-fraud charges for allegedly scamming the NBA's Health and Welfare Benefit Plan out of $4 million.
  • Even though we've had early-September temperatures the past week, we've also had only 19% of possible sunlight, and only 8% in the past six days. We have not seen the sun since Monday, in fact, making the steady 19°C temperature feel really depressing.
  • Two new Black-owned breweries will go on the Brews and Choos list soon.
  • Condé Nast has named Chicago the best big city in the US for the fifth year running.

Finally, President Biden is in Chicago today, promoting vaccine mandates. But because of the aforementioned clouds, I have no practical way of watching Air Force One flying around the city.

Update, 12:38 CDT: The sun is out!

Update, 12:39 CDT: Well, we had a minute of it, anyway.

New phone, who dis?

After 2½ years and one unfortunate crunching sound last week, I've finally gotten a new phone. I decided to go with the Samsung Galaxy S21. So far, I like it, though with any new hardware you also get new software. Some of the basic apps work differently.

Switching phones got really easy in the past couple of years, though. The only dicey part came when I had to transfer all my multifactor codes over. And I have to keep my old phone handy for a while in case I missed one.

Now my eyes hurt from squinting at all the screens for two hours, though.

Yes, software is an ongoing F-up

Remy Porter, owner of the hilarious blog The Daily WTF, responded to Facebook's catastrophic BGP update by pointing out how software actually gets made:

IT in general, and software in specific, is a rather bizarre field in terms of how skills work. If, for example, you wanted to get good at basketball, you might practice free-throws. As you practice, you'd expect the number of free-throws you make to gradually increase. It'll never be 100%, but the error rate will decline, the success rate will increase. Big-name players can expect a 90% success rate, and on average a professional player can expect about an 80% success rate, at least according to this article. I don't actually know anything about basketball.

But my ignorance aside, I want you to imagine writing a non-trivial block of code and having it compile, run, and pass its tests on the first try. Now, imagine doing that 80% of the time.

It's a joke in our industry, right? It's a joke that's so overplayed that perhaps it should join "It's hard to exit VIM" in the bin of jokes that needs a break. But why is this experience so universal? Why do we have a moment of panic when our code just works the first time, and we wonder what we screwed up?

It's because we already know the truth of software development: effing up is actually your job.

You absolutely don't get a choice. Effing up is your job. You're going to watch your program crash. You're going to make a simple change and watch all the tests go from green to red. That semicolon you forgot is going to break the build. And you will stare at one line of code for six hours, silently screaming, WHY DON'T YOU WORK?

Yep. And still, we do it every day.

First Monday of October

The United States Supreme Court began their term earlier today, in person for the first time since March 2020. Justice Brett Kavanagh (R) did not attend owing to his positive Covid-19 test last week.

In other news:

So how did facebook.com disappear from root DNS, the day after 60 Minutes aired a segment on Haugen?

Burned property records still haunt Chicago

The Great Chicago Fire started 150 years ago this coming Thursday. It not only destroyed almost every building in the city, but also it burned up official property records. Even today the consequences linger:

Official property deeds stored in the Cook County Courthouse were destroyed when the building went up in flames in October 1871, as were many private records kept at home.

Stored on microfilm in filing cabinets at the Cook County Court Archives and in boxes at the archives’ warehouse is a set of documents, some dating back nearly 150 years and often handwritten, called the “burnt records.” These are records of some of the attempts to reestablish property ownership after the Great Chicago Fire.

The archives estimate there were at least 1,767 burnt records cases in the decades after the fire. But details about the documents are scarce, and the exact number of cases is unknown. Many may be missing entirely.

Other property owners turned to private records. Decades before the fire, firms had begun keeping their own indexes and abstracts of land transactions. These records were saved from the fire — often dramatically, according to legends passed down through generations of abstract and title companies — and they were given legal status in Illinois courts when state legislators passed the Burnt Records Act.

The story also explains why a single grave sticks out of an industrial site on the south side.

End leaf blowers now!

James Fallows and I share a hatred of the infernal machines:

Pound for pound, gallon for gallon, and hour-for-hour, the two-stroke gas powered engines in leaf blowers and similar equipment are vastly the dirtiest and most polluting kind of machinery still in legal use.

How can such little engines do so much damage? It’s all about technological progress, and the lack of it:

Over the past 50 years, gasoline engines for trucks and automobiles have become so much more efficient that they have reduced most of their damaging emissions-per-mile by at least 95 percent. This is not even to mention the rapid onset of electric-powered vehicles.

Two-stroke engines, by contrast, are based on long-obsolete technology that inefficiently burns a slosh of oil and gasoline, and pumps out much of the unburned fuel as toxic aerosols.

There is an obvious, rapidly improving alternative. That is battery-powered equipment (to say nothing of rakes).

I want them banned in Chicago. Let's start here.

Chicago Public Media buys the Sun-Times

Well, this took me by surprise:

The board of directors of Chicago Public Media, the parent of public radio station WBEZ-FM, voted late Wednesday to pursue an acquisition of the Chicago Sun-Times, the next step in a process that could lead to the combination of two city newsrooms.

Both organizations have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to hammer out a partnership. Chicago Public Media also announced that Chicago tech entrepreneur Matt Moog, who has served for a year as interim CEO of the local National Public Radio affiliate, will become the new CEO. Nykia Wright, meanwhile, will remain CEO of the Sun-Times.

The two newsrooms would “create one of the largest local nonprofit news organizations in the nation and be a national model for the future of local journalism,” a joint statement issued Wednesday evening stated, adding that the two organizations “would continue to serve their respective audiences.”

The potential arrangement seems a bit unusual, with a nonprofit journalism institution combining with a for-profit one, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute. But it is becoming more common for legacy newspapers to convert to nonprofit status.

Though questions remain about what a deal would look like between the Sun-Times and WBEZ, joining forces would make sense for both organizations, said Tim Franklin, senior associate dean at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. 

WBEZ could "tap into the breaking-news muscle of the Sun-Times," he said. The Sun-Times, in turn, could get more stability around its ownership structure.

I think this is fantastic. It would certainly change the tenor of the tabloid Sun-Times, and might make me reconsider my subscription to the Chicago Tribune. (I already contribute monthly to WBEZ.)

This is one to watch.

Union Pacific gets court permission to stop operating Metra trains

The Union Pacific Railroad, which currently operates about 35% of all Chicago commuter trains, has won a major ruling from a Federal judge that clears the way for it to stop operating those trains:

UP wants out of the commuter business, saying it wants to focus on its its freight service. It has noted that almost all other Metra service now is operated by the commuter rail agency itself, sometimes on tracks it owns itself and at other times on track leased from freight railroads. 

Metra’s position is that in the absence of a discontinuance agreement, UP had to continue to run the trains and ancillary services, such as ticket collection, under “common carrier” provisions that governed railroads nationally for more than a century.

Both sides asked Judge Jorge Alonso for summary judgement. Last week he ruled against Metra.

Effectively, Alonso held, common-carrier rules were substantially eased after the creation of Amtrak, the national passenger carrier, and other deregulation actions by Congress in recent decades. Any remaining common-carrier question that requires federal approval would under the law cover only freight, not passenger, service, he added, but UP is moving to stop only commuter service, not freight.

In a statement, Metra said only that “We are reviewing the ruling and our options.”

UP in its own statement promised not to do anything abrupt that would interfere with service.

Well, that's fun. In 2019, the three Metra lines UP operates had about 27 million of the entire network's 74 million passenger trips, including (I estimate) about 300 of mine, so there is no way the lines will simply shut down. Metra will almost certainly take over operations and pay UP for track and signal use, just like they do on other lines. We'll see how this plays out.

Sure Happy It's Tuesday

Actually, I'm ecstatic that a cold front blew in off the lake yesterday afternoon, dropping the temperature from 30°C to 20°C in about two hours. We went from teh warmest September 27th in 34 years to...autumn. Finally, some decent sleepin' weather!

Meanwhile:

And though the article could use an editor, Whisky Advocate has a short bit on Aaron Sorkin's love of whisky in his movies.

You're right, we experts don't know anything

As a follower of and contributor to the Time Zone mailing list, I have some understanding of how time zones work. I also understand how the official Time Zone Database (TZDB) works, and how changes to the list propagate out to things like, say, your cell phone. Most mobile phone operators need at least a few weeks, preferably a few months, to ensure that changes to the TZDB get tested and pushed out to everyone's phones.

If only the government of Samoa knew anything at all about this process:

The sudden dumping of Daylight Savings Time by the Government last week left much of the nation waking up in confusion on Sunday as their phones and other devices automatically updated to show the wrong time.

At the time of writing mobile phones and other cellular-enabled devices and computers were displaying the time as 10 am when, in fact, under the new policy it was 9 am. 

Many Samoans who rely upon their phones as alarm clocks were awoken or arrived at church early because of the automatic update to their mobile devices.

The decision taken by the Cabinet to not activate daylight savings time this year was apparently made earlier this month. 

The coordinators of the TZDB hold their collective breaths each year while waiting for certain religious authorities to decide when to change the clocks in about a dozen populous countries in the Middle East and Africa. But those countries know about the tight timing and work with IANA and their mobile providers to prevent exactly what happened today in Samoa.

It turns out, no one even bothered to tell us that Samoa had cancelled daylight saving time until yesterday, and no one in Samoa's government ever sent us the official notice from 10 days ago.

Nice work, guys.

Nobody ever listens to poor Zathras.