The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Shit Went Down

Having finished Hard Times, I started a new book last night, and realized right away it will take me a year to read. The book, Shit Went Down (On This Day in History) by James Fell relates an historical event for each day of the year. The recommendation came from John Scalzi's blog. I have about 60 recommendations from Scalzi's blog now, and someday I might read a fraction of those books.

Fell's book reminds me that on this day in 1925, a jury in Dayton, Tennessee, convicted John Scopes of teaching human evolution in a state-funded school. Despite the wonderful things that have come out of Tennessee, the state's constant competition with neighboring Mississippi and Alabama for the "stupidest legislation of the decade" award always entertains. My friends from the state assure me that smart people actually do live there, but their protestations have less of a persuasive effect given they left Tennessee at the first opportunity.

In any event, I really need to carve out more time for reading. Come on, UK, open up to vaccinated visitors already! I need the airplane time.

Yeah, so, 10k steps isn't all that

The New York Times throws cold water on a health fad:

According to Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an expert on step counts and health, the 10,000-steps target became popular in Japan in the 1960s. A clock maker, hoping to capitalize on interest in fitness after the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, mass-produced a pedometer with a name that, when written in Japanese characters, resembled a walking man. It also translated as “10,000-steps meter,” creating a walking aim that, through the decades, somehow became embedded in our global consciousness — and fitness trackers.

But today’s best science suggests we do not need to take 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles, for the sake of our health or longevity.

A 2019 study by Dr. Lee and her colleagues found that women in their 70s who managed as few as 4,400 steps a day reduced their risk of premature death by about 40 percent, compared to women completing 2,700 or fewer steps a day. The risks for early death continued to drop among the women walking more than 5,000 steps a day, but benefits plateaued at about 7,500 daily steps. In other words, older women who completed fewer than half of the mythic 10,000 daily steps tended to live substantially longer than those who covered even less ground.

Another, more expansive study last year of almost 5,000 middle-aged men and women of various ethnicities likewise found that 10,000 steps a day are not a requirement for longevity. In that study, people who walked for about 8,000 steps a day were half as likely to die prematurely from heart disease or any other cause as those who accumulated 4,000 steps a day. The statistical benefits of additional steps were slight, meaning it did not hurt people to amass more daily steps, up to and beyond the 10,000-steps mark. But the extra steps did not provide much additional protection against dying young, either.

I've hit 10,000 steps 139 days in a row, but I have to keep that up through December 31st to tie my record of 312 days. In fact, in the last year, I've hit the goal 345 times, and since getting a Fitbit in October 2014, I've hit the goal 91.4% of the time. Will it kill me to stop after 9,000 steps? No. But it's an easy goal to understand and to work towards.

Getting closer to London

I last visited my second-favorite city in the world in November 2019. At my day job, I report just two levels up to the head of the London office, so had things gone to plan, I'd have visited at least three times since then. But time and chance happens to us all, as everyone now knows.

This week the UK's Departments for Transport and of Health & Social Care announced a loosening of travel rules that, I hope, signals the possibility of going back this fall. As of July 19th, UK residents returning from most countries (including the US) who have NHS jabs can skip testing and quarantine in most cases. The next step for the UK will be to allow people who've gotten vaccinated abroad to do the same.

When that happens, I will follow NPR's Frank Langfitt's latest report, and visit three historical pubs in various parts of the capital:

I started at The Mayflower, which sits along the south bank of the Thames about a mile and a half downstream from Tower Bridge. I first got to know The Mayflower several years ago when I attended a Thanksgiving celebration there with fellow Americans. It was an appropriate venue. In 1620, the Mayflower, the ship, was moored just off shore and began its long voyage to what would become America. In honor of that trans-Atlantic connection, the pub flies a U.S. and British flag from either end of its deck.

Along the walls of the dimly lit pub today, you can see replicas of the notes some of the passengers left, bequeathing wages and jewelry to their loved ones if they failed to survive the journey. Behind the bar, manager Leigh Gillson keeps a guest book, signed by some of the passengers' descendants who've visited.

He also stopped at The Eagle in Farringdon, not too far from my company's office in the City, and at The Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale, about a 10-minute walk from Abbey Road Studios. The latter got destroyed illegally by a property developer, who then had to rebuild it brick by brick under court order.

I really miss the Big Smoke. It looks more likely by the day that I'll get to visit her sometime in 2021.

Busy 4th

Cassie and I had a long day yesterday, which included several rides in the car and lots of play time. It also involved tons of fireworks. And a raw, marrow-filled bison bone:

Adding more data to the "failed hunting dog" hypothesis of Cassie's origin, we walked through a neighborhood southwest of the city with fireworks exploding left and right, and Cassie didn't care. We did normal leash work, in fact, because the fireworks didn't even distract her. Happy dog:

Flapjack Brewery, Berwyn

Welcome to stop #46 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Flapjack Brewery., 6833 Stanley Ave., Berwyn
Train line: BNSF, Berwyn
Time from Chicago: 15 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 100 m

Some parts of the Chicago area deal with heavy infrastructure differently than other parts. Take the North Shore: the heavy-rail commuter line serving Clybourn Junction on up to Kenosha blends into the area elevated on a tree-covered embankment on up to Wilmette, then at or below grade level surrounded by more trees and flanked by a 50-kilometer bike trail. The former Chicago & North Western line, now the Union Pacific North, even features beautiful 1890s-era station houses that other lines have shamelessly copied.

Not so the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe. From Union Station through Naperville, the triple-track main line handles so much freight and passenger traffic that the towns and villages along the way haven't done much to shield themselves from it. (In the city, the BNSF runs through so many classification yards that no one lives near it anyway.) In Berwyn they don't even pretend to try.

Also, while the UP-N has a couple of stations a quick walk from each other (the three in Evanston, for example), the BNSF line's station placements baffle me. Harlem and Berwyn are so close their parking lots run together. And the 2-kilometer stretch between La Grange Road and Brookfield has three stations, again with unclear boundaries between parking lots and some head-scratching moments onboard trains that get up to a brisk walking speed before stopping again.

And yet, with Flapjack, this line has a delightful little brewery mere meters from the Berwyn station. So close, in fact, that the discerning railfan can get a continuous show with dinner:

In the 90 minutes I sat there, I watched 10 trains go by (6 commuters, 3 freight, and the Amtrak heading to St Louis). I also drank some beer and ate three quarters of an epic pizza. The beer, their Four Years Too Long double-dry-hopped IPA (5.25%), brewed especially for their fourth anniversary, had blazing Centennial hops on the nose with delightful Citra on the finish, and a fresh, clean balance that I enjoyed so much I had a second one.

But just look at this pizza:

So good. Just so good. And the remaining quarter reheated nicely the next day.

Beer garden? Sidewalk
Dogs OK? Outside only
Televisions? Three at the bar, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Milk Money Brewing, La Grange

Welcome to stop #45 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Milk Money Brewing., 75 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange
Train line: BNSF, La Grange Rd
Time from Chicago: 26 minutes (Zone C)
Distance from station: 500 m

La Grange Road has a lot of competition, being essentially the restaurant district of La Grange. So for a suburban brewery, Milk Money does a good job. I stopped by on the Friday before July 4th, when the weather felt more like September and the vibe felt more like 2019.

They don't do flights per se, but they do have 5-ounce pours. I had five:

I started with the Queen Takes Pawn English-style ale (4.9%), which tasted like a solid real ale from the old country, albeit too cold to complete the illusion. It had a good bitter/malt balance and a sharp finish. The Pause Button APA (5.2%) had a bit more malt than I expected, but a good balance overall. The Vibrant hazy IPA (6.5%) had a citrus nose, a citrus-grapefruit flavor, and a lower-alcohol feel than the first two. The Milk Money milk stout (7.2%) started with a lovely nose and opened up into a smooth chocolate and caramel combination with a long finish. Finally, the Colorful Noise West Coast IPA (7%) had Citra on the nose and Cascade in the back. All five were solid representations of the styles.

And on the walk from the Metra station, I discovered that La Grange has gone to the dogs:

Beer garden? Sidewalk
Dogs OK? No
Televisions? Two, avoidable
Serves food? Full menu
Would hang out with a book? Maybe
Would hang out with friends? Maybe
Would go back? Maybe

Hotels on Rails from Paris in 2024

French start-up Midnight Trains plans a set of overnight train routes of 800-1,500 km in length, from Paris to Edinburgh, Madrid, Copenhagen, and Rome:

The founders say the aim is not to match the famous – and expensive – luxury of the Orient Express but offer an alternative to the basic, state-run SNCF sleepers and short-haul flights.

Key to the service will be “hotel-style” rooms offering privacy and security, and an onboard restaurant and bar.

Midnight Trains is the latest arrival in what is becoming a crowded market. Across Europe, state-run railways are facing new competition from private operators looking to introduce night trains. Fans of rail travel have waited some time for new night train routes to come along … only to find, a bit like buses, several turning up at the same time.

Since 2016, Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) has introduced six new overnight routes under the Nightjet brand that was already operating nine night routes. Private operators in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Belgium have announced new overnight services.

In December last year, ÖBB, the German rail company Deutsche Bahn, SNCF and Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) announced the signing of an agreement to launch new night train services in Europe. This is the first step in developing the Trans-Europe Express (TEE) 2.0 network, proposed by the German presidency of the Council of the European Union. This partnership plans to launch four new services to 13 of Europe’s largest cities in the coming years.

Sign me up!

I enjoy productive days

Yesterday I squashed six bugs (one of them incidentally to another) and today I've had a couple of good strategy meetings. But things seem to have picked up a bit, now that our customers and potential customers have returned to their offices as well.

So I haven't had time to read all of these (a consistent theme on this blog):

And finally, providing some almost-pure Daily Parker bait, the Post has a helpful breakdown of 8 common styles of hot sauce.

All work and dog play

Oh, to be a dog. Cassie is sleeping comfortably on her bed in my office after having over an hour of walks (including 20 minutes at the dog park) so far today. Meanwhile, at work we resumed using a bit of code that we put on ice for a while, and I promptly discovered four bugs. I've spent the afternoon listening to Cassie snore and swatting the first one.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, life continues:

And right by my house, TimeLine Theater plans to renovate a dilapidated warehouse to create a new theater space and cultural center, while a 98-year-old hardware store by Wrigley Field will soon become apartments.

Metra highballs towards the 21st Century

Work continues on the Ravenswood Metra station, letting us commuters believe that finally! we might not have to stand in the rain waiting for an inbound train sometime this autumn. Until then, we still have to wait on a rickety wooden platform that now extends four meters from the original rickety wooden platform, meaning we have a worse station experience than our great-grandparents would have when the station opened in the 1890s. Of course, once we board the trains, our overall travel experience on Metra more resembles our grandparents': some of the rail cars (carriages) that Metra operates date back to the 1950s, though the Union Pacific routes mostly seem to have cars built in the 1980s and early 2000s.

So imagine my glee when I read this press release from French manufacturer Alstom:

Alstom has received an initial order from Metra, the commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area serving the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, to supply 200 push-pull commuter rail cars. This follows Metra Board of Directors’ approval in January 2021 to award Alstom a vehicle procurement contract for up to 500 rail cars. This initial order of 200 rail cars is worth approximately €650 million.

The multilevel cars incorporate new design features to improve passenger experience, including: a streamlined, modern and welcoming interior, equipped with USB plugs and boasting large windows and a layout to improve passenger flow and traveller comfort; seating and spacing to allow for additional ridership and physical distancing; touchless doors; improved bogie design for improved ride quality; and multiple wide doors on each side of the cars to reduce passenger boarding times and improve access to passenger areas.

They even have a slick video, which I would expect as part of a $800m contract.

The combination of the new Ravenswood inbound platform and the slick new French cars will make parts of Metra's network almost as good as London's was in 1990. All Metra needs to do to get us into the 2000s is to get rid of their mobile soot factories diesel locomotives, but I fear that kind of infrastructure modernization would require the replacement of one of the country's main political parties with an real one.