The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

All the news that fits

Spring has gone on spring break this week, so while I find the weather pleasant and enjoyable, it still feels like mid-March. That makes it more palatable to remain indoors for lunch and catch up on these stories:

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, Australia has proposed starting cyber-security training in Kindergartens.

On this day...

May 5th has some history, and not just about a relatively minor battle in Mexico that most Mexicans don't even remember.

For example, two hundred years ago today, Napoleon died and The Guardian was born. I never knew about that coincidence. TIL.

And this morning, Facebook's Oversight Board upheld the social-media company's ban on the XPOTUS, at least for the next six months.

Also TIL that my main programming language, C#, commands 7% of the Internet's mind-share, making it the 4th most-popular programming language. Python, at 30%, is the most popular, because its ease of use (and ease of writing the most godawful spaghetti code imaginable) makes it the preferred language of non-programmers.

I'm glad to see that one of my most-hated languages, Scala, continues its plummet, now even less popular than Visual Basic and and VBA, two languages that should have died during the GWB presidency.

Found an old game. Now what?

Over the weekend, I stooped down to give Cassie some pats while she slept on her bed in my office, and realized I had a cache of turn-of-the-century computer games on a lower shelf. Among them I found SimCity 4, from 2003.

It turns out that SimCity 4, like many games from that era, relies on a thing called "SecuROM" which turned out to have sufficient security problems of its own that Microsoft decided not to support it in Windows 10. I didn't know this until I started researching why the game just...didn't work. When you find a support article that says "96 people have reported this problem" you at least know you're not alone.

So, following the advice in the support article, I opened a support case with Electronic Arts. We are now on a 24-hour cycle of them asking me to send back auto-generated codes to prove I'm an actual person with an actual copy of the SimCity 4 CD. This, after it took three rounds with their automated systems to set up a support account. The merry-go-round with their automated systems was irritating, but the 24-hour cycle time between emails just makes me laugh. I haven't actually taken the time 

After all that, I may actually play SimCity for the first time in 17 years at some point this month. I can't wait to see how a game designed for Pentium 4 processors and 256 MB of RAM performs on a Xeon 6C with 40 GB available...

Happy birthday, NPR!

The American news and information radio network turns 50 today:

It's been a turbulent time, with a deadly pandemic and a chaotic — sometimes violent — political climate. In the midst of all this, NPR is marking a milestone; on May 3, 2021, the network turns 50 years old.

On the same day, in 1971, we started holding up our microphone to America. Just outside our doors, on the streets of Washington, DC, one of the biggest antiwar protests in American history was taking place. NPR's story is that of a ragtag network — born in the era of the Vietnam War and Watergate — one that came of age during the explosion of the 24/7 news cycle.

They've made their first-ever broadcast available for streaming, too.

My, it's warm

Sunday evening we had 4°C gloominess with gusty winds. Today we've got 28°C sunniness with gusty winds. We've also got a bunch of news stories to glance through while a build completes:

Cassie has plotzed on the sofa, probably from the heat and from spending all day yesterday at doggy day care.

And here's the CDC's latest chart:

331,449,281

The Census Bureau released the top-line population counts for the United States at 2pm Chicago time today:

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that the 2020 Census shows the resident population of the United States on April 1, 2020, was 331,449,281.

The U.S. resident population represents the total number of people living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The resident population increased by 22,703,743 or 7.4% from 308,745,538 in 2010.

The new resident population statistics for the United States, each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are available on census.gov

  • The most populous state was California (39,538,223); the least populous was Wyoming (576,851).
  • The state that gained the most numerically since the 2010 Census was Texas (up 3,999,944 to 29,145,505).
  • The fastest-growing state since the 2010 Census was Utah (up 18.4% to 3,271,616).
  • Puerto Rico's resident population was 3,285,874, down 11.8% from 3,725,789 in the 2010 Census.

Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and for the first time ever, California, will each lose one seat in Congress. Montana gets a second seat, while Oregon, Florida, North Carolina, and Colorado pick up one more each, and Texas gets two more.

Now comes the plague of lawsuits in several states whose reapportionment had to wait until today...

Lunchtime reading before heading outside

Today is not only the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it's also the 84th anniversary of the Nazi bombing of Guernica. Happy days, happy days.

In today's news, however:

I will now get lunch. And since it's 17°C right now (as opposed to yesterday's 5°C), I may eat it outside.

Day 400

Illinois issued its pandemic-related closure orders on Friday 20 March 2020, exactly 400 days ago. Yesterday the New York Times reported that the US had its highest-ever-above-normal annual death rate in 2020:

A surge in deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic created the largest gap between the actual and expected death rate in 2020 — what epidemiologists call “excess deaths,” or deaths above normal.

Aside from fatalities directly attributed to Covid-19, some excess deaths last year were most likely undercounts of the virus or misdiagnoses, or indirectly related to the pandemic otherwise. Preliminary federal data show that overdose deaths have also surged during the pandemic.

In the first half of the 20th century, deaths were mainly dominated by infectious diseases. As medical advancements increased life expectancy, death rates also started to smooth out in the 1950s, and the mortality rate in recent decades — driven largely by chronic diseases — had continued to decline.

In 2020, however, the United States saw the largest single-year surge in the death rate since federal statistics became available. The rate increased 16 percent from 2019, even more than the 12 percent jump during the 1918 flu pandemic.

In 2020, a record 3.4 million people died in the United States. Over the last century, the total number of deaths naturally rose as the population grew. Even amid this continual rise, however, the sharp uptick last year stands out.

And lest we forget who made the pandemic far, far worse than it needed to be, yesterday was also the anniversary of the now-XPOTUS making this extraordinary claim:

Just think of how many thousands of people he could have saved by following his own advice.

Quite an anniversary

Today I learned that the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom took its modern form 300 years ago this month, when Sir Robert Walpole took office as First Lord of the Treasury on 4 April 1721.

Of course, this being the UK, governed more by tradition and custom than a founding document like nearly every other country on Earth, it gets a bit fuzzier on investigation. The office of First Lord of the Treasury dates back to 1126, when King Henry I appointed Nigel, Bishop of Ely, his Lord High Treasurer. The office morphed into First Lord of the Treasury in 1714 when Charles Montagu, First Earl Halifax, assumed the post.

But when Walpole took the brief for the second time in 1721 (he also held the post from 1715 to 1717), King George I granted him emergency powers to stabilize the country after the South Sea Company's collapse in 1720. He not only handled the emergency, but he also managed to make the office part of the constitutional framework of UK governance. It would take until 1937 for UK law to recognize the office of Prime Minister formally.

Supposes Moses was an Asshat

Not Moishe, the mythological figure; Moses, the all-too-real figure in New York City history. I'm about halfway through Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, and I want to dig Moses up and punch him in the face.

The thing about really intelligent narcissists is they can, in fact, get their way, even when—especially when—they encounter real criticism. The crowning achievement of Moses' narcissism might be the West Side Improvement, comprising the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the Hudson River from the top of Manhattan Island to the bottom. The story of how and why Moses built it where he built it takes up about 40 pages of the book, but Caro sums it up starting at the bottom of page 565:

Robert Moses had spent $109,000,000 [in 1938, worth $2.05 billion in 2021] of the public's money on the West Side Improvement. Counting the money expended on his advice by other city agencies on the portion of the Improvement south of Seventy-second Street, the Improvement had cost the public more than $200,000,000 [$3.8 billion in 2021].

But the total cost of the Improvement cannot be reckoned merely in dollars. The West Side Improvement also cost the people of New York City their most majestic waterfront, their most majestic forest, a unique residential community, and their last fresh-water marsh.

When the Improvement was finished, all these things were gone forever.

Adding them to the cost of the West Side Improvement, one might wonder if the Improvement had not cost New York City more than it was worth. Adding them into the cost, one might wonder if the West Side Improvement was really, on its total balance sheet, an "improvement" at all. One might wonder if it was not, on balance, a tragic and irremediable loss.

In the pages leading up to that conclusion, Caro spends some time discussing how the park Moses built along highway stopped at 125th Street. From there up to 155th Street, instead of a park, the African-American residents of Harlem got an elevated highway, with one little playground whose finishes included little monkey carvings on the stonework. You will not be surprised to learn that no other park in the project had a monkey motif.

Another thing, of which I can almost excuse him, was Moses' complete rejection of evidence of "induced demand," how increasing road capacity also increases congestion at a faster rate. That is, if you double road capacity, you will more than double the number of cars on the road. I can almost excuse him because traffic planners still ignore this phenomenon much of the time.

So halfway through the book I'm only at the end of 1938. We still have 25 years or so before Moses meets Jane Jacobs—and according to the index, Caro doesn't even cover that.