The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

I filled my tank today, oh boy

Remember how I love my car? I love it even more today, and I'm a bit spooked by its costs.

A new filling station opened up about 1500 m from my house, and they have the lowest gas prices around. Even though I last filled my car on November 24th, in Indiana, and even though I've driven 1,623 km since then, I still had half a tank of gas. So for $10, I put 21 L of regular into the tank, which means my car cost me 0.6¢ per kilometer to operate over the last 144 days, and I got an average of 1.3 L/100 km fuel economy.

I have not paid that little for fuel—47.5¢/L—since January 2004. (In fairness, the car I owned then used premium gas.)

That said, I have not seen that fuel price in real terms since 2002. In fact, back when I bought my first car in June 1989, regular gas cost 32.5¢/L, which would be 67.6¢/L adjusted for inflation.

We live in very strange times.

And you thought things were getting better

The number of new Covid-19 cases per day may have peaked in Illinois, but that still means we have new cases every day. We have over 10,000 infected in the state, with the doubling period now at 12 days (from 2 days back mid-March). This coincides with unpleasant news from around the world:

  • Covid-19 has become the second-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 12,400 deaths per week, just behind heart disease which kills about 12,600.
  • More than 5 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total unemployed to 22 million, the highest percentage of Americans out of work since 1933. April unemployment figures come out May 8th, when we will likely have confirmation of a 13-15% unemployment rate. Note that the unemployment rate was the lowest in history just two months ago.
  • Consumer spending on nearly everything except groceries has fallen, in some places catastrophically. Chicago's heavy-rail authority, Metra, has seen ridership fall 97% system-wide and predicts a $500 million budget deficit this year. (For my own part, since my March 31st post on the subject, my spending on dining out, lunch, and groceries combined has fallen 70% month-over-month.)
  • UK Foreign Secretary (and acting Prime Minister) Dominic Raab announced today that lockdown measures would continue in the UK "for at least the next three weeks," reasoning that premature relaxation would lead to a resurgence of the virus as seen worldwide in 1918.
  • FiveThirtyEight explains why Covid-19 has caused so much more disruption than Ebola, SARS-1, and swine flu.
  • Talking Points Memo takes a deeper look at the hidden mortality of Covid-19.
  • Brian Dennehy has died at 81.
  • Chicago could get 75 mm of snow tonight. In April. The middle of Spring. FFS.

But we also got some neutral-to-good news today:

I pitched the Goat-2-Meeting to my chorus board for our next meeting, and unfortunately got told we don't donate to other NPCs. I guess we're not a bleating-heart organization.

What could possibly go wrong?

We all know President Trump's pathologies pretty well by now. Between the malignant narcissism and his natural distrust for anyone who knows more than he does on a particular subject, plus his well-documented habit of believing things he wants to believe instead of the black-and-white reality right in front of him, it doesn't take an Oliver Sacks to guess how he has reacted to everyone telling him he can't simply restart the economy on May 1st. And, sadly, he does not disappoint:

Over the weekend, the president said he would weigh multiple factors to arrive at the "toughest" decision of his administration to date. Trump signaled that he has consulted his top health professionals, business leaders and others whom he described as "smart people" in recent days. The ultimate call "will be based on a lot of facts and instincts," he said. In a Fox News phone interview Saturday, Trump said he would come to a conclusion "fairly soon."

But Trump seemed to telegraph his eagerness to restart much of the U.S. in a tweet Sunday evening, urging governors to perfect their testing abilities and to "be ready, big things are happening. No excuses!"

Trump has said he would like to reopen the country with a "big bang."

The motivation to restart the economy — even piecemeal — sooner rather than later may be based on a political calculation by the president that he needs to demonstrate that things are "on the upswing."

Naturally, Dr Anthony Fauci, who as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become the de facto spokesperson for the government on the realities of the pandemic, has drawn the president's ire, given the inevitability he would have to contradict the most prolific liar in US history. Greg Sargent:

As part of this latest exercise in blame-shifting, Trump has taken his first public shot at Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and his own administration’s leading medical expert. Trump angrily retweeted a call for Fauci’s firing, while again hailing his own early restrictions on travel from China and furiously bashing the media for failing to recognize that decision’s foresight and brilliance.

As for reopening the economy, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden published his plan yesterday:

First, we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly. That means social distancing has to continue and the people on the front lines have to get the supplies and equipment they need. President Trump needs to use his full powers under the Defense Production Act to fight the disease with every tool at our disposal. He needs to get the federal response organized and stop making excuses. For more Americans to go back to their jobs, the president needs to do better at his job.

Second, there needs to be widespread, easily available and prompt testing — and a contact tracing strategy that protects privacy. A recent report from Mr. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services made clear that we are far from achieving this goal.

Third, we have to make sure that our hospitals and health care system are ready for flare-ups of the disease that may occur when economic activity expands again. Reopening the right way will still not be completely safe. Public health officials will need to conduct effective disease surveillance. Hospitals need to have the staff and equipment necessary to handle any local outbreaks, and we need an improved federal system to get help to these places as needed.

Imagine if the incumbent president had a plan—any plan—other than "May 1st." Because if we simply go back to pre-pandemic norms then, it will indeed be a May Day situation.

How shelter-in-place has affected sleep

Fitbit reported earlier this month that, following shelter-in-place orders, people go to sleep later but sleep more:

Based on our review of aggregated and anonymized data, we saw that in locations with shelter-in-place mandates, bedtime and bedtime consistency shifted. 

For the most part, people are going to bed later but getting more sleep, as well as more quality rest. For those whose quality of sleep has improved, they have been spending more time in deep and REM sleep.

Even though sleep duration has been longer, it is still important to maintain bedtime consistency for many health reasons. While going to bed later and waking up later makes sense for now, it will be important to try to keep up that consistency even when our schedules change.

According to my Fitbit, I've increased my average night's sleep by 4 minutes and got to sleep an average of 9 minutes later between Decemeber and the last 30 days. My "sleep score" (a proprietary Fitbit metric that ranges from 0 to 100) also went up an average of 4 points also. I'm actually trying to increase my average night's sleep by another 10 minutes, but it's harder than it seems.

Day 22: in which our hero suffers a poignant loss

...as I took the last squares of toilet paper from the roll this morning. I had to dig into the Strategic TP Reserve just to meet ends.

Before I round up the depression and sadness from around the world this morning, I would like to point out that yesterday's high temperature of 27°C at O'Hare was the warmest we've seen since the 30°C we had on October 1st, 189 days earlier. I opened all my windows, and Parker got his pace up just a little bit. Today's forecast calls for perfect spring warmth (21°C) and thunderstorms during what we used to call "rush hour." (I will probably have all my windows open when the rain starts and have to close them very quickly.)

So what else has the world thrown at us this morning? In addition to the usual drumbeat of deaths and Republican malfeasance, this:

  • Just now, Bernie Sanders has ended his presidential campaign, leaving Joe Biden as the last remaining candidate. One hopes his supporters come back home before November 3rd.
  • Comfort foods, aka that crap your parents didn't want you to eat when you were a kid, have made an amazing comeback as people shelter in place.
  • Today is the 30th anniversary of Twin Peaks' debut.
  • For the first time ever, people have adopted every single animal from Chicago Animal Care and Control. I really, really hope people keep them.
  • The much-noted environmental benefits of shutting down a quarter of the world's economy seem great, but environmentalists have some pessimism about our return to full production when the emergency ends.
  • Paul Krugman likens the government's crisis response to "learned helplessness."
  • President Trump fired the inspector general just made responsible for overseeing the $2 trillion disaster-relief package, citing "bias." Of course Glenn Fine has a bias: he believes in evidence and government accountability. That makes him prima facie unacceptable to Trump. This comes days after he removed intelligence IG Michael Atkinson for similar reasons.

Well, now that I'm thoroughly pumped from reading the papers, I'm going to document an API while watching Schitt's Creek.

Day 21 of working from home

As we go into the fourth week of mandatory working from home, Chicago may have its warmest weather since October 1st, and I'm on course to finish a two-week sprint at work with a really boring deployment. So what's new and maddening in the world?

And finally, two big gyros manufacturers, Kronos and Grecian Delight, are merging. Kind of like all the lamb and stuff that merges to form gyros.

Enjoy the weather, Chicago. The cold returns Thursday.

Self-absorption

I suppose, given how long I've lived in the United States, the inability of my fellow Americans to understand anything not happening directly to them should no longer surprise me. And yet it does.

Even as Illinois passes 10,000 known cases of Covid-19 (1,453 new ones just yesterday), with 300,000 cases nationwide, the president cares only about his TV ratings. People in rural areas are dying too, but not yet in the same proportions of population we're seeing in cities.

I had a conversation yesterday with someone who echoed what right-wing propaganda has said for a while. He thinks that we're over-reacting. Essentially, he thinks the damage to the economy from our "medically-induced coma" outweighs the few thousand deaths likely from the coronavirus. To these folks, because no one they know has gotten sick or died, it can't be that bad. Or it's no worse than (pick one) the 34,200 influenza deaths we had in 2019, or the 38,800 deaths from car accidents. Of course, those 72,000 deaths happened a few here and a few there, not all at once, and not all in the same place.

People seem not to understand is how contagion and incubation works. With a 5-to-9 day period between infection and symptoms, a single person could infect dozens of others before coughing even once. Or at all, since we know that this virus sometimes doesn't cause any symptoms at all. We can also demonstrate to some degree how many deaths we have prevented by stopping the economy for a couple of weeks. Had we done nothing, we may have had 2 million deaths. As it looks now, we might get out of this with only 200,000 deaths. And that's only from Covid-19; other diseases are still killing people. Hospitals in some places have maxed out, so many people can't get the medical attention they need.

But yes, in Chicago, with everyone working from home, with the curve flattening (despite the 1,453 new cases yesterday), it looks like the cure is worse than the disease. Just like amputating a gangrenous foot might seem worse than dying of septicemia. ("But I never had septicemia! It was just a gangrenous foot, so why did you cut it off? Now I have no foot!")

Meanwhile, even though the CDC have recommended everyone wear masks outside for a few weeks, President Trump—whose malignant narcissism makes him incapable of understanding anything beyond his own interests—said he won't wear one. Good. Let that go to its logical conclusion.

How's that open-plan house these days?

The Atlantic's Megan Garber looks at how the popular floorplan can make people crazy, which is what you get when architecture follows dudes liking TV shows with sledgehammers:

The popular open layout, for example, eschews walls and other spatial divisions in favor of openness, airiness, “flow.” (“Look how everything flows!” Brian Patrick Flynn, the designer of HGTV’s Dream Home 2020, says in a promotional video.) On the plus side, an open floor plan allows for constant togetherness. On the minus side … an open floor plan allows for constant togetherness. The style meant to reject domestic confinement can end up replicating some of the very flaws it was meant to mitigate, precisely in its eagerness to sacrifice privacy for openness.

“In general, it’s wonderful,” [Architect Susan] Susanka said of the open-concept approach to living spaces. “But when it’s done to an extreme, it makes it very difficult to live in the house, because your noise, whatever you’re doing, goes everywhere.” When the home involves kids, that borderlessness becomes even more acute. A child might need to be entertained or fed while her mom is on a conference call. An older sibling might be playing video games or watching a movie while her dad is trying to cook dinner. Another sibling might need a retreat from his co-quarantiners, and have no place to go. In an open space, one person’s activity becomes every person’s activity. Alone together, all the time: For many, that is the current state of things. The “See Also” section of Wikipedia’s “open plan” article cites only one related page: “panopticon.”

Last year, to mark the 25th anniversary of the launch of HGTV, the journalist and design critic Ronda Kaysen gave an interview to NPR. As she talked with the host Lulu Garcia-Navarro about the impact HGTV has had on American home design, Kaysen mentioned one of the design elements most readily associated with the network: the open-concept living space. “I spoke with HGTV executives,” Kaysen said. “And the reason that they are so big on open concept is because it gets the male viewers. Like, guys like to watch sledgehammers and, like, taking out walls.”

“Wait a second,” Garcia-Navarro replied. “Are you telling me that the open-plan concept, which we are all prisoner to, is because dudes like to watch HGTV and sledgehammers?”

Yes, was the answer. “Dudes will only watch HGTV if there’s sledgehammers,” Kaysen said. That assumption makes it way into the architecture. Openness remains the trend.

Me, I like my 1910s-era flat walking distance to just about everything. I've got real rooms!

A to Z postponed for coronavirus

I had plans to do the Blogging A-to-Z challenge this year as I've done the last two, but reality intervened. In theory I have more time to write than last year. In fact I didn't have the energy required to plan and start drafting entries mid-March, for obvious reasons.

Things have stabilized since my office closed on the 17th, and I've gotten back into the swing of working from home every day. But I feel like a full 26-post series this month would not rise to my own standards of quality for permanent, information-based writing.

Check out my 2018 A-to-Z posts on C# programming and my 2019 posts on music theory. I'll do it again in 2021—or, possibly, in May.