The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The creepiest forest on Staten Island

Arborist William Bryant Logan takes a trip to the botanical hell that is the Fresh Kills Landfill, and finds something wonderful:

From a coyote’s-eye view, you could see what the trees were up to: Growth, failure, decay and the drip of acid water through the gravel were mixing a dirt out of the detritus. This hideous forest, I suddenly realized, was there to repair the damage done, and not at our bidding. Its intent was not to look good. Its intent was to stay alive, year by year, century by century, until at last it had recycled even the nylon stocking.

We know how long it takes most kinds of leavings to decay. Organic material goes quickly: cardboard in three months, wood in up to three years, a pair of wool socks in up to five. A plastic shopping bag may take 20 years; a plastic cup, 50. Major industrial materials will be there for much longer: An aluminum can is with us for 200 years, a glass bottle for 500, a plastic bottle for 700, and a Styrofoam container for a millennium.

The forest does not know this. It does not think. It just acts. Because it is so good at sprouting, resprouting, reiterating, and repeating the entire process, it can keep up the living and dying for as long as it takes, even if that is a thousand years. The trees are not conscious. They are something better. They are present.

It almost makes one want to visit the place. Almost.

What's the fastest way to O'Hare?

Four Chicago Tribune reporters had a race from Randolph and Michigan to O'Hare:

We sent four reporters, with carry-on luggage, in a personal car, a ride-share, on CTA and on Metra, starting at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Prudential Building at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. The destination was Security Gate 3 in O'Hare's Terminal 1, with the goal of catching an imaginary 5 p.m. United Airlines flight.

The winner was an Uber ride-share that took 69 minutes, followed by the CTA at 80 minutes, a private car (parked at an economy lot) at 90 minutes and Metra at 98 minutes.

It's clear from our test that the fastest way is not the cheapest, while the cheapest way may not work for everybody. We also know the fastest way could have been the slowest if we had tried the race during rush hour. Improvements to the Blue Line and more frequent and/or express Metra North Central Service trains would have made these options even better than they already are.

The more nuanced verdict: If you're coming from most parts of the Loop, the Blue Line is probably your best value, especially during rush hour. From the West Loop (close to Union Station), at certain times of the day, Metra would be.

The article's graphics and animation are kind of cool. It's almost like the Tribune has brought itself into the 21st Century.

The Center of Chicago

WBEZ's Curious City blog re-posted an bit from 2016 identifying the geographic center of Chicago:

Calculating a center point is straightforward for geographers now, according to Todd Schuble, manager of GIS Research for the University of Chicago’s Division of Social Sciences.

Modern mapping software can find the center of any boundary automatically, even one as oddly shaped as Chicago. The process involves looking for any spot that a boundary bends, noting the coordinates, and then averaging them.

So where does Schuble put Chicago’s exact geographic center?

“It’s approximately 31st and Western,” Schuble says. “The [Sanitary and Ship] canal runs right there. The geographic center point itself runs through the canal.”

Chicago does have a monument that marks the center of the city, it’s just that it’s not at the actual center point (which, again, sits in the canal, south of 31st and Western). This is where the politics come in.

In 1979 outgoing Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic presided over a ceremony declaring the intersection of W. 37th and S. Honore streets in the McKinley Park neighborhood the city’s geographic center point. There was even a white sign with black letters reading “Welcome to W 37th and S Honore Streets, The Geographic Center of Chicago, Greatest City in America.”

Mayor Bilandic was not the intellectual giant among our historical mayors. He lost the 1979 election by declaring, in the worst winter in recorded history, "snow melts." And so, apparently, he also got the geography of the city wrong, forgetting that we'd annexed the land that is now O'Hare in 1959.

The monument is still there; just check Google Street View.

Capital flooding

Yesterday, Washington D.C. experienced its heaviest rainfall on record:

In just an hour, about a month’s worth of rain drowned the District, a staggering 83 mm falling at Reagan National Airport.

This hourly output was Washington’s highest since at least 1936 (National Airport is the city’s official weather observing site), the Maxar Weather Desk, a consulting group based in Gaithersburg, Md. discovered.

“According to data from the Iowa Mesonet ... the 83 mm recorded between 8:52-9:52 AM yesterday was Washington DC’s highest hourly precip report in records dating back to 1936," Maxar tweeted.

As Monday’s torrent raged, the first-ever flash flood emergency was declared for the city as well as nearby Arlington and Alexandria, which suffered damaging downpours.

In total, it rained 11.4 billion litres on the city.

Meanwhile, closer to home, the Great Lakes remain at or near record levels.

A Chicago factory is making 3-flats

This is kind of cool, and could really help the city:

Skender, an established, family-owned builder in Chicago, is making a serious play in a sector associated with young startups: modular construction. The company is building steel-structured three-flats, a quintessential Chicago housing type that consists of three apartments stacked on top of each other in the footprint of a large house. It believes it can deliver them faster and at lower cost at its new factory than by using standard methods of construction.

Even with humans and not robots doing the work, the company is confident that continual refinement will yield efficiency. A three-flat apartment building can now go up in 90 days, Skender claims, instead of nine months. Swanson estimates that the three-flats will cost $335,000 per unit to build, not including land. In time, company leaders hope that economies of scale and increased efficiency will bring down that price.

As well as economies of scale, proponents of modular architecture tout its freedom from weather-related delays, unpredictable site conditions, and fragmented supply chains. Those all stand to benefit Skender. No subcontractors will work in the factory, which will avoiding squabbles between HVAC or plumbing specialists who might blame each other when something goes wrong. But that also means Skender assumes all the risk. That has undone some past experiments in prefab and modular building.

At the factory’s opening, 25 people worked there, and Skender plans on hiring five more per week till it’s fully staffed at 150, all union labor.

I might not want to live in a pre-fab building (I'm partial to 100+-year-old historic buildings), but lots of other people would. At $335k to build, a 3-bedroom apartment could sell for $500k and make some money for the builder. $500k implies rents around $3,200 per month, but that or more is what many landlords already get in affluent parts of the city.

I'll keep my eyes open for the first Skender apartments that open near me.

Before the Interstates

An army convoy left the White House on 7 July 1919 and finally arrived in San Francisco two months later:

The Army’s road trip got off to a rocky start, with several vehicles breaking down that afternoon on the hilly roads leading out of the District. The party made camp the first night in Frederick, Md., where a brevet lieutenant colonel joined the group as a last-minute observer for the Tank Corps. Dwight D. Eisenhower, then 28, was there “partly for a lark and partly to learn,” he wrote later, because “nothing of the sort had ever been attempted.”

In the weeks ahead, engine troubles plagued the convoy, which progressed at an average pace of less than 6 mph. Still, the expedition continued to attract national attention, and large crowds regularly turned out in town squares as the convoy worked its way west. In Pennsylvania, newspapers reported that the vehicles were greeted by “a large delegation of State and city officials to accompany the convoy into Gettysburg.” State police escorted the convoy across Ohio, and politicians in Iowa opened their dining rooms to the traveling soldiers.

On Sept. 6, 1919, the vehicles limped into San Francisco, where the daily log appreciatively noted “fair and warm” weather and fine “paved city streets.” 

Eisenhower, we all know, later signed the Interstate Highway Act. Today a motivated driver can get from Washington to San Francisco in a little more than three days.

Today in earth science

We woke up in the US to two major stories about the planet, one with a short-term effect and the other with a long-term effect.

The acute problem: a 7.1 mw earthquake in central California caused only minor damage and no fatalities because it happened in the middle of nowhere. But people reported feeling it from Phoenix to Sacramento:

Southern California was jolted by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake at 8:19 p.m. on Friday one day after the region was hit by a 6.4 quake, the USGS reports.

The epicenter was 10.5 miles away from Ridgecrest, Calif., and there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. According to the USGS, the quake was felt as far north as San Jose and as far south as parts of Mexico.

Thursday's quake struck at 10:33 a.m., and was the largest temblor to strike the region in 20 years, until Friday night. According to the USGS, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake is 11 times stronger than the 6.4 earthquake.

Meanwhile, parts of Alaska got up to 32°C Thursday, breaking records and (probably) allowing methane to leak from melting permafrost farther north:

At 5 p.m. local time Thursday, Anchorage reached 32°C for the first time in the state’s recorded history, topping the previous record set at Anchorage International Airport of 29°C on June 14, 1969.

Kenai and King Salmon, Alaska, both hit a new all-time high temperature record of 31.7°C, according to the National Weather Service. The previous high in Kenai was 30.6°C on June 26, 1953 and June 18, 1903. Palmer, Alaska, reached 31°C, matching its previous record of 31°C on May 27, 2011.

The state has been battling several wildfires, with a dense smoke advisory in effect until noon local time on Saturday for the interior Kenai Peninsula, including the cities of Kenai, Soldotna, Homer,and Cooper Landing, the National Weather Service said. Smoke from the Swan Lake fire will reduce visibility to a quarter mile or less at times, the weather service said, with the worst conditions taking place overnight through the morning hours.

Wildfires, particulates, subliming methane gas...yeah, even though the earthquake has gotten more press today, the heat in Alaska actually matters more.

Park #31

This is my official post, with photos, of the penultimate park in the 30-Park Geas.

Friday I attended the Kansas City Royals–Toronto Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto. As mentioned, I arrived well into the 5th inning and didn't get my seat until the beginning of the 6th. No matter; the Jays got all 4 of their runs in the last 3 innings.

The park did not inspire me. It's a big dome, covering a meh field, with surrounding meh stands and meh food and drink concessions. It had more character than Tropicana Field, more fans than Marlins Park, more connection with the city than Kaufmann Stadium, and felt less like a prison than the Oakland Coliseum, so I can say it wasn't the worst of them. But I feel no strong urge to go back there. (And I write this on Canada Day, yet.)

And I'm glad the home team won.

 

Not enough time on my hands

I thought the weekend of Canada Day and the weekend before Independence Day wouldn't have much a lot of news. I was wrong:

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford (the brother of Rob Ford) cancelled Canada Day celebrations in Toronto*. (Imagine the Governor of Virginia or the Mayor of DC canceling the 4th of July and you've about got it.) Fortunately for the city, the Ontario legislature reinstated them.
  • You know how I write about how urban planning can make people happier, healthier, and friendlier? Yah, this city in California is my idea of hell. I hope the developers lost all their money.
  • In contrast, I learned of the Lil Yellow House while in Toronto, and the rap video the real-estate agent created to sell it. (It sold quickly, for C$500,000.)
  • Apparently, my drinking gets me a B-. (80% of Americans drink 6.75 drinks per week or less; the top 10% drink 15.28 per week. This is the one B- I'm happy to have.)
  • My alma mater recently published new research linking your email address to your credit score.
  • Alabama prosecutors have brought charges for manslaughter against a woman who miscarried after getting shot. No, really. Because Alabama.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter called out President Trump on the (alleged) illegitimacy of his election.
  • The New Republic adds to the chorus of organizations surprised at what it actually took to get the Supreme Court to call bullshit.
  • Ever wonder how often two bags of Skittles candy have the same proportions of flavors? No, me neither. But this guy did.
  • Windows has a case-insensitive file system; Git is case-sensitive. Do the math.
  • Um. That's not a pet bird.

*Those celebrations will be here, on the right, in this view from my hotel room yesterday: