The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why doesn't the AP want me to give them money?

I spent way more time than I should have this morning trying to set up an API key for the Associated Press data tools. Their online form to sign up created a general customer-service ticket, which promptly got closed with an instruction to...go to the online sign-up form. They also had a phone number, which turned out to have nothing to do with sales. And I've now sent two emails a week apart to their "digital sales" office, with crickets in response.

The New York Times had an online setup that took about five minutes, and I'm already getting stuff using Postman. Nice.

Meanwhile:

Finally, I've got a note on my calendar to check out the Karen's Diner pop-up in Wrigleyville next month. Because who doesn't want to be abused by servers?

Really gross afternoon

We've had rain since about 9am while the temperature has held onto 1°C with two hands and a carabiner, so neither Cassie nor I will get our quota of walks this afternoon. But that does give me extra time to digest all this:

  • James Fallows eulogizes his old boss, President Jimmy Carter.
  • After listening to yesterday's oral arguments, the Washington Post team covering Gonzalez v Google doesn't think the Supreme Court will overturn Section 230.
  • A history teacher wants to help Bloomington, Ill., move past its anti-urbanist land use policies.

Oh, and I had some work to do as well.

Taking a break from heads-down coding

I spent the morning going over an API for standards and style, which will result in an uncomfortably large commit before I leave the office today. I prefer smaller, more focused commits, but this kind of polishing task makes small code changes all over the place, and touches lots of files.

So while I have my (late) lunch, I'm taking a break to read some news:

Finally, the Securities and Exchange Commission has fined the Mormon Church $5m for failing to disclose its holdings as required by law. As the Church has some $32 billion in holdings worldwide, that $5m fine will sure sting.

Three articles about urban issues

I see a connection between all of these.

First, the city has accepted six proposals to convert office buildings on LaSalle Street to apartments. I used to work in one of them, so that should be interesting. These will go through community review, and will cost over $1 billion, but could bring almost 2,000 apartments to the Loop.

Second, Zurich Re and Motorola have separately sued the Chicago suburb Schaumburg, Ill., one of the most dismal suburban hellscapes I've ever seen, to get the $100 million in tax breaks the village promised before the pandemic. The village offered these incentives to get the two corporations to build sleek new office buildings surrounded by parking lots that they hoped would bring in $300 million a year in secondary benefits to the village. Then came the pandemic. Since no one really wants to go to Schaumburg voluntarily, everyone is SOL here.

Finally, a man recently won a $91 million settlement after a car crashed through a 7-11 in Chicago and injured him. It turns out, a car crashes through a 7-11 on average 20 times a day in the U.S., in part because the company doesn't want to spend the $2,000 per store to put up bollards, and in part because cars and people should not occupy the same infrastructure at the same time.

What do these things have in common? They're all points in evidence that pedestrian-focused urban development makes a lot more sense than the horrific car-focused alternatives.

Nice puppy

One of my neighbors sent this to the HOA mailing list this morning:

Since the guy didn't have a box marked "Acme," and since the rabbit he seems to have under his paw looks quite dead, he's welcome to stay on our block.

We'll see a lot more of them in the next few weeks, it turns out. It's coyote cuffing season:

Late winter is coyote mating season, which reaches its peak toward the end of February. And that’s leading to more sightings than usual by humans — even in downtown Chicago — as the animals are a bit bolder and on the move in their search for a soulmate. (Yes, coyotes mate for life.)

“Just because you see a coyote isn’t a cause for alarm,” said Dan Thompson, ecologist with the DuPage County Forest Preserve District. “The more we can understand they’re just trying to live their lives, the more we can safely share our neighborhoods.”

Cities like Chicago have developed management plans that emphasize coexistence with coyotes, not their removal.

The Urban Coyote Research Project has been tracking coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan area since 2000. The project’s studies show that the animals are highly adapted to urban areas, except for collisions with cars, and they generally go about their business without attracting attention. Coyotes also provide benefits like helping to control the populations of rats, white-tailed deer and even Canada geese by eating their eggs.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Mr Latrans! And I hope you find the Mrs Latrans of your dreams. Just keep culling the rabbits, yes?

Neunundneunzing Luftballons

With everything else going on in the world, the Chinese balloon that the US shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Monday has gotten a lot of attention.

First, Spencer at Legal Eagle takes on the legalities of us shooting it down:

Julia Ioffe too:

The local photography buff raced to get his camera and used it to snap a photo that quickly went viral. “I had posted a couple of photos just to social media, just joking, like I thought I saw a UFO,” the photographer, Chase Doaktold the local news station. “It was just right here. I was literally just right here in the vicinity of my driveway.” 

Well, it seemed that Chase Doak and his camera forced the Biden administration to go public earlier than it wanted—if it wanted to at all. It also didn’t help that the Pentagon scrambled fighter jets to try to shoot the balloon down that afternoon while closing the civilian airport in Billings, only to determine that the debris radius—the undercarriage, the Pentagon later said, was the size of three buses—would be massive. Moreover, the Defense Department wondered, what if, in shooting at the balloon, it merely blew a hole in it, causing it to slowly drift down to the ground for hundreds of miles, landing god knows where? So the generals recommended against shooting at the thing while it was still over land and the jets were called back, but by this point the Chinese balloon was out of the proverbial bag, and held the entire nation in its thrall.

It was the perfect story for this nation of ours. Both parties now agree that China is a threat to U.S. interests and the balloon became a brilliant image and political foil. It allowed Republicans to paint Joe Biden as weak on China for not immediately blasting the thing out of the sky (though they would, I’m sure, have blasted him as reckless for any resulting damage on the ground). And when the Sidewinder did hit its target, shattering the spy balloon over the Carolina coast, it allowed Democrats to show their boss as cool and in control. 

For national security types in D.C., however, it was a deeply weird and somewhat frustrating event. “I really would like fewer news cycles about the balloon,” one Congressional aide who works on intelligence matters groaned. “It’s like this was a TV episode written by Hollywood,” added one former senior national security official. “It’s not the most significant intrusion by the Chinese. They got, like, 5 million Americans’ personal data when they hacked the Office of Personnel Management and they got the SF86’s of everyone who served in the Obama administration,” the official continued, referring to the form one has to fill out to get a security clearance.

Boy, was it. “It’s the length of a narrative arc that Americans can pay attention to,” the official said. “The Ukrainians are coming up on a year of fighting. That’s too long for Americans.” Sad but true.

Meanwhile, the US says the balloon was part of a larger surveillance program:

The surveillance balloon effort, which has operated for several years partly out of Hainan province off China’s south coast, has collected information on military assets in countries and areas of emerging strategic interest to China including Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, according to several U.S. officials, who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

While most of China’s long-range surveillance efforts are conducted by its expanding military satellite array, PLA planners have identified what they consider to be an opportunity to conduct surveillance from the upper atmosphere at altitudes above where commercial jets fly, using balloons that fly between 60,000 and 80,000 feet or higher, officials said.

In recent years, at least four balloons have been spotted over Hawaii, Florida, Texas and Guam — in addition to the one tracked last week. Three of the four instances took place during the Trump administration but were only recently identified as Chinese surveillance airships. Other balloons have been spotted in Latin America and allied countries in the Pacific, officials have said.

And, of course, Weekend Update led with it:

 

The future of aviation looks buoyant

Eli Dourado takes a deep dive into the engineering and economics that could raise a fleet of 25,000 autonomous cargo airships, each two Chicago city blocks long floating just 1,500 meters over your head while carrying 500 tons of cargo:

Let’s say airships captured half of the 13 trillion ton-km currently served by container ships at a price of 10¢ per ton-km. That would equal $650 billion in annual revenue for cargo airships, notably much bigger than the $106 billion Boeing reports for the entire global air freight market. If one company owned the cargo airship market, taking only half of only the container market, it would be the biggest company in the world by revenue.

How many airships would we need to fill that demand? A lot. If each airship can carry 500 tons, cruises at 90 km/h, and is utilized two-thirds of the time, that adds up to around 260 million ton-km per year per airship. To produce 6.5 trillion ton-km per year would require 25,000 such airships. This is about the number of airliners in the world today.

Cargo airships would probably be among the easiest vehicles to make unmanned. The sky is big and empty, but it’s especially empty over the ocean at the lowish altitudes, below airliners’ Class A airspace, where airships would fly. Even when you get over land and near landing facilities, airships are slow moving relative to other aircraft, so there is time for a remote pilot to take over if any off-nominal condition occurs.

In my experience, once you start thinking about giant cargo airships, it’s hard to stop.

Try to actually picture it in your mind—an object the size of the Empire State Building floating across the sky a thousand feet above your head. They would be so common that you would see them daily, driving commerce and extending the gains from trade further than ever before. They would, of course, obey every law of physics, but to our minds trained on today’s mundane reality, they would appear to defy gravity.

For me, they would carry symbolic value. Every time I saw one, I’d remember that great things are possible.

I think the economics make sense, especially his math on using hydrogen instead of helium as the lifting gas. I hope I live long enough to see these things above Chicago.

Long but productive day

I finished a couple of big stories for my day job today that let us throw away a whole bunch of code from early 2020. I also spent 40 minutes writing a bug report for the third time because not everyone diligently reads attachments. (That sentence went through several drafts, just so you know.)

While waiting for several builds to complete today, I happened upon these stories:

Finally, a school district food service director ordered more than 11,000 cases of chicken wings worth $1.5m over the last three years, which the State's Attorney says never got to the kids.

And now, since the temperature has risen from this morning's -17°C all the way up to...uh...-11.4°C, I will now walk the adorable creature who keeps nosing me in the arm as I type this.

So much warmer!

It got practically tropical this afternoon, at least compared with yesterday:

Cassie and I took advantage of the no-longer-deadly temperatures right at the top point of that curve to take a 40-minute, 4.3 km walk. Tomorrow should stay as warm, at least until the next cold front comes in and pushes temperatures down to -18°C for a few hours Thursday night.

I'm heading off to pub quiz in a few minutes, so I'll read these stories tomorrow morning:

OK, off to empty the dog, refill the dog, and scoot over to Sketchbook Skokie for a shellacking. (Our sports person can't make it tonight.)

The Tory catastrophe

Two writers in the Times looked at two different aspects of the Conservative party's ongoing vandalism to the United Kingdom. First, David Wallace-Wells tracks the post-Brexit economic declines:

By the end of next year, the average British family will be less well off than the average Slovenian one, according to a recent analysis by John Burn-Murdoch at The Financial Times; by the end of this decade, the average British family will have a lower standard of living than the average Polish one.

On the campaign trail and in office, promising a new prosperity, Boris Johnson used to talk incessantly about “leveling up.” But the last dozen years of uninterrupted Tory rule have produced, in economic terms, something much more like a national flatlining. In a 2020 academic analysis by Nicholas Crafts and Terence C. Mills, recently publicized by the economic historian Adam Tooze, the two economists asked whether the ongoing slowdown in British productivity was unprecedented. Their answer: not quite, but that it was certainly the worst in the last 250 years, since the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Which is to say: To find a fitting analogue to the British economic experience of the last decade, you have to reach back to a time before the arrival of any significant growth at all, to a period governed much more by Malthusianism, subsistence-level poverty and a nearly flat economic future.

As Burn-Murdoch demonstrates in another in his series of data-rich analyses of the British plight, the country’s obvious struggles have a very obvious central cause: austerity. In the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, and in the name of rebalancing budgets, the Tory-led government set about cutting annual public spending, as a proportion of G.D.P., to 39 percent from 46 percent. The cuts were far larger and more consistent than nearly all of Britain’s peer countries managed to enact; spending on new physical and digital health infrastructure, for instance, fell by half over the decade. In the United States, political reversals and partisan hypocrisy put a check on deep austerity; in Britain, the party making the cuts has stayed steadily in power for 12 years.

Over two centuries, a tiny island nation made itself an empire and a capitalist fable, essentially inventing economic growth and then, powered by it, swallowing half the world. Over just two decades now, it has remade itself as a cautionary tale.

The Tories' lazy malfeasance in promoting and then implementing Brexit may also unwind 25 years of community-building on Eire in ways literally everyone predicted, says writer Christopher Caldwell:

Ireland remains part of the European Union but Northern Ireland no longer is — and yet the two parts of the island are bound by trade and a 25-year-old peace treaty that helped defuse a terrorist conflict between Protestant unionists and Catholics.

Those loose ends were tied up in a little-understood clarification of Brexit called the Northern Ireland protocol, ratified in January 2020. It looked like a mere codicil three years ago; now it looks like a serious diplomatic blunder that could threaten Britain’s territory and the region’s peace.

[Former Prime Minister Theresa] May promised — too hastily, in retrospect — to honor the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement among Britain, Northern Ireland’s political parties and the Republic of Ireland. One of the main things the agreement did was to bind together the economies of Ireland’s north and south. But adapting that arrangement to a post-Brexit world came at a steep constitutional price for the north. To protect the European single market against smuggling and the transfer of unauthorized goods through Northern Ireland, a customs border would be established between Northern Ireland and Britain. To administer the single market, the European Court of Justice was given authority to interpret E.U. law in Northern Ireland.

Caldwell seems to favor UK independence from the EU, but he makes a good point. Something has to give. And it looks like even odds whether Brexit winds up unifying Eire into one Republic of Ireland, or reigniting the Troubles. Can't wait to find out...