The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Did someone call "lunch?"

I think today is Tuesday, the first day of my 10th week working from home. That would make today...March 80th? April 49th? Who knows.

It is, however, just past lunchtime, and today I had shawarma and mixed news:

Earlier, I mentioned that the state's unemployment office accidentally revealed thousands of records in an own goal. Turns out, Deloitte Consulting did the work, so I am no longer surprised. Note to anyone who needs software written: don't hire a big consulting firm. They don't attract the best developers because they use manager-driven development patterns that irritate the hell out of anyone with talent.

Domestic terrorism in Michigan

Charlie Pierce, noting that "[p]eople with firearms forced the civil government of the state of Michigan to shut itself down," wants to know in what sense this isn't terrorism. In other fun weekend stories:

And it's pouring, and will continue to do so for several more hours.

The plan is to have no plan

So believes NYU media professor Jay Rosen about how President Trump will try to win this fall:

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. ... The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.

In other fun stories:

Oh, and 151 years ago today, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads completed the Transcontinental Railroad.

What's a Wednesday again?

Remember slow news days? Me neither.

  • Republican legislators and business owners have pushed back on Illinois Governor JB Pritzker's plan to re-open the economy, preferring instead to force their employees into unsafe situations so they can return to making money.
  • Professional dilettante Jared Kushner's leadership in getting a bunch of kids to organize mask distribution went about as well as one might predict.
  • More reasonable people simply see how it means we're going to be in this a while.
  • California has sued Uber and Lyft for violating AB5, claiming the two ride-sharing companies “gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by inappropriately classifying massive numbers of California drivers as independent contractors,” according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
  • Assuming states were allowed to go bankrupt, Crain's Steven Strahler believes an Illinois bankruptcy might not be what anyone actually wants.
  • Illinois' $560m shortfall in gasoline taxes right now has put transit projects at risk.
  • The BBC tries to help the rest of the world understand why the US has a backlash against face masks, as does NBC.
  • If you take New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut out of the equation, the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise in the US.
  • Bottled water sales have gone up 57% year-over-year, so Consumer Reports wants to know why people are paying so much for someone else's tap water? Especially since bottlers often don't pay their water bills while residents are getting their water shut off.
  • Anyone remember that it's the 20th anniversary of the ILOVEYOU virus?

And finally, a cute diner in Toronto where I had breakfast last June has moved to delivery service during the lockdown. Too bad they can't deliver to Chicago.

Gosh, where to begin?

Happy May Day! Or m'aidez? Hard to know for sure right now. The weather in Chicago is sunny and almost the right temperature, and I have had some remarkable productivity at work this week, so in that respect I'm pretty happy.

But I woke up this morning to the news that Ravinia has cancelled its entire 2020 season, including a performance of Bernstein's White House Cantata that featured my group, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. This is the first time Ravinia has done so since 1935.

If only that were everything.

First, via Josh Marshall, former Obama Administration disaster-preparedness expert Jeremy Konydndyk lays out the facts about our plateau (60,000 excess weekly deaths) and how the Trump Administration continues to do nothing to help us slow Covid-19 deaths.

Next, all of this:

But some good news:

Finally, while alarming in its own right, the record water levels in Lake Michigan (4 months in a row now) have exposed some historic shipwrecks.

Max Boot states the obvious

The Washington Post columnist says he wanted to give President Trump some historical distance before pronouncing him "the worst president. Ever." Alas, events have overtaken desires:

His one major competitor for that dubious distinction remains Buchanan, whose dithering helped lead us into the Civil War — the deadliest conflict in U.S. history. Buchanan may still be the biggest loser. But there is good reason to think that the Civil War would have broken out no matter what. By contrast, there is nothing inevitable about the scale of the disaster we now confront.

The situation is so dire, it is hard to wrap your mind around it. The Atlantic notes: “During the Great Recession of 2007–2009, the economy suffered a net loss of approximately 9 million jobs. The pandemic recession has seen nearly 10 million unemployment claims in just two weeks.” The New York Times estimates that the unemployment rate is now about 13 percent, the highest since the Great Depression ended 80 years ago.

Countries as diverse as Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, South Korea, Georgia and Germany have done far better — and will suffer far less. South Korea and the United States discovered their first cases on the same day. South Korea now has 183 dead — or 4 deaths per 1 million people. The U.S. death ratio (25 per 1 million) is six times worse — and rising quickly.

Trump is characteristically working hardest at blaming others — China, the media, governors, President Barack Obama, the Democratic impeachment managers, everyone but his golf caddie — for his blunders. His mantra is: “I don’t take responsibility at all.” It remains to be seen whether voters will buy his excuses. But whatever happens in November, Trump cannot escape the pitiless judgment of history.

While James Buchanan can rest in peace now (despite still ranking 43rd* on the league table), the world still has to live with this dangerous cretin for another 290 days.

Meanwhile, "Uncle Bob" Martin wants everyone to remember that we software engineers are also heroes of this crisis. Without us, no one would be able to work from home, sequence the virus's RNA, or keep in touch with friends during the lockdown.

* Trump is the 44th person to serve as president, but the 45th president, because Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th president.

After all, who's really signing this contract, anyway?

An AI demonstration website will show you photos of people who don't exist:

You encounter so many people every day, online and off-, that it is almost impossible to be alone. Now, thanks to computers, those people might not even be real. Pay a visit to the website This Person Does Not Exist: Every refresh of the page produces a new photograph of a human being—men, women, and children of every age and ethnic background, one after the other, on and on forever. But these aren’t photographs, it turns out, though they increasingly look like them. They are images created by a generative adversarial network, a type of machine-learning system that fashions new examples modeled after a set of specimens on which the system is trained. Piles of pictures of people in, images of humans who do not exist out.

It’s startling, at first. The images are detailed and entirely convincing: an icy-eyed toddler who might laugh or weep at any moment; a young woman concerned that her pores might show; that guy from your office. The site has fueled ongoing fears about how artificial intelligence might dupe, confuse, and generally wreak havoc on commerce, communication, and citizenship.

Ian Bogost goes from this to a discussion of alienation in crowds, and the delights of urban civilization. But I'm still stuck on the face generator. I might want to meet this person, for example, but she isn't even imaginary:

Here's a video explaining how it works:

Twenty Years of Punz

Punzun Ltd.™, an Illinois corporation doing business as Inner Drive Technology™, turned 20 years old today. I actually dreamed up the name in my high-school algebra class on 20 March 1985, so the concept is almost (gulp!) 35 years old.

It's kind of cool having a corporation that could be in its second year of college if it were human.

(If you don't understand the name, say it out loud. Note that "Ltd." is an abbreviation for "Limited.")

Fast, Cheap, Good: pick two

I don't often use profanity on this blog, but this morning I am moved to call the Iowa Democratic Party's leaders a bunch of fucking morons. Last night we saw the results of the IDP picking "fast" and "cheap" for critical infrastructure in the most important election cycle in a generation. Now the national Party will go into New Hampshire with a black eye and no end of razzing from the Tweeter in Chief.

It's not just that the IDP chose "fast and cheap" instead of, you know, "good." It's also that everyone in the Democratic Party, from Puerto Rico to Nome, knows what a fucking big deal this election is. Presumably someone involved in this debacle might have done some contingency planning. Like, for example, having enough volunteers on the phones in case something happened with the app.

We've had years to prepare for last night's Iowa Caucuses. Perhaps not a full four years—they changed caucus rules a bit and added verification steps to prevent fraud—but certainly longer than two months. That's how long it took to write the mobile app the Party commissioned to make this the smoothest Caucuses ever, according to reports in NPR and the New York Times. That and $60,000, which gets you two junior developers and a journeyman team lead for two months, tops.

I've run multi-million-dollar software projects (including one in Des Moines 15 years ago), and my back-of-the-envelope estimate for an app to tabulate caucus results that needs to run perfectly on election night came to about $300,000 for a fast project (4-5 months) or $200,000 if it could take 9-10 months. A budget of $60,000 might, perhaps, cover just the coding, not UI testing, app distribution, security testing, project management, integration testing, API deployment, load testing, or testing the testing (i.e., test validation). And the $200k budget doesn't include $20,000 in infrastructure charges to ensure adequate capacity on election night.

In other words, any competent person would have chosen "fast and good" or "cheap and good."

Plus, media outlets also report that the IDP kept the app's origins and code a secret, in complete contravention of basic principles of secure software design. Had they put the code up for review on GitHub, outside reviewers could have caught any technical problems far, far earlier.

So once again, the state of Iowa, a technology hub renowned the world over as a serious rival to Palo Alto, New York, and Bangalore, demonstrated exactly why they need to conduct a primary election on the same day as a few other states a bit later on in the season.

This election is ours to lose. And with this own-goal, you, the Iowa Democratic Party, are fucking making it happen.

Why transparency matters

Yesterday I bemoaned not only our depression-inducing lack of sunlight (predicted return of the sun: Sunday, maybe), but also Senate Republicans' efforts to hide or ignore information relevant to the impeachment trial now underway.

Another story about how a lack of transparency causes damage has come to light. The Washington Post reports that the Saudi attack on Post owner Jeff Bezos' phone was helped to great extent by Apple's refusal to report security defects:

A security report last week alleged that Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, received a WhatsApp message laden with code that secretly snatched reams of personal data from his iPhone X. The message allegedly came from Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Security researchers say Bezos probably fell victim to the iPhone’s Achilles’ heel: Its defenses are so difficult to penetrate that once sophisticated attackers are in, they can go largely undetected.

That is in part because Apple employs a secretive approach to finding and fixing security flaws, researchers say, something that has generated debate in the security community.

Security researchers say iPhones and Androids have different approaches to security. They say they generally believe there are more bugs and vulnerabilities in Android. That may be because there are so many different versions, or “forks,” of Android. Google allows its myriad handset makers and others to customize the operating system.

That results in two security philosophies. In Android’s case, the researchers said, the more people who look for bugs, the more secure a system becomes. But Apple’s strategy follows the idea that less visibility into the software means fewer bugs will be discovered in the first place, making the overall operating system more secure. It takes skill, resources or both to find those bugs, which means hackers will typically use them sparingly to protect them from discovery.

Bruce Schneier has argued in favor of transparency for years. This is why. And why I only use Android devices.