An Open Letter To Missouri Governor Mike Parson & Staff

 

 Dear Governor: This post is in response to a Post-Dispatch story pointing out an error in a department website. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is vowing to prosecute the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the newspaper says it uncovered security vulnerabilities on a state agency website. The governor is …

Last Mile to Cahokia Mounds Is Impossible For Pedestrians

 

 I’ve working on my bucket list in the last two years living with stage IV kidney cancer. Right after Memorial Day I was able to visit Milwaukee, my very first time in Wisconsin. I’m also working on items closer to home that I can safely do during a pandemic. To help …

New Book — ‘Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives’, by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett

 

 This is the first of three books I received in July, so they’re newish. My health insurance is better now so I’m getting caught up. I’ve posted before about my interest in electric cars, but also interest in and use of public transportation. My electric “vehicle” is a 2008 power …

We Saved Money On Our Electric Bill By Switching Rate Plans

 

 For years there was no financial incentive to reduce electricity use during peak periods. Running the dryer &  air conditioning while cooking dinner at 5pm weekdays cost the same as doing them at other times.  With Ameren Missouri’s new smart meters and Tine of Use (TOU) rate plans reducing electric …

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An Open Letter To Missouri Governor Mike Parson & Staff

October 15, 2021 Featured, Missouri, Politics/Policy, Site Info Comments Off on An Open Letter To Missouri Governor Mike Parson & Staff
 
Missouri Governor Mike Parson

Dear Governor:
This post is in response to a Post-Dispatch story pointing out an error in a department website.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is vowing to prosecute the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the newspaper says it uncovered security vulnerabilities on a state agency website.

The governor is characterizing the paper’s actions as a hacking that the state will investigate. He said it could cost taxpayers $50 million.

“Not only are we going to hold this individual accountable, but we will also be holding accountable all those who aided this individual and the media corporation that employs them,” Parson said at a news conference on Thursday. (NPR)

The paper ran the story only after the department corrected their mistake, but you’ve repeatedly described it as “hacking.” I hope this letter will help educate you and your staff.

I’m not a cybersecurity expert, but I’ve been blogging for two weeks shy of 17 years. I’ve never had a class in HTML, nor have I bought a book on the subject. I’m self taught. I’m also 54, so this didn’t come naturally as it seemingly does for younger folks. Speaking of age, yours isn’t an excuse — my oldest brother is 5 years older than you and he gets this stuff without having been a web designer.

Since I just used an acronym above that’s likely foreign to you this may help:

The HyperText Markup Language, or HTML is the standard markup language for documents designed to be displayed in a web browser. It can be assisted by technologies such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and scripting languages such as JavaScript.

Web browsers receive HTML documents from a web server or from local storage and render the documents into multimedia web pages. HTML describes the structure of a web page semantically and originally included cues for the appearance of the document.

HTML elements are the building blocks of HTML pages. With HTML constructs, images and other objects such as interactive forms may be embedded into the rendered page. HTML provides a means to create structured documents by denoting structural semantics for text such as headings, paragraphs, lists, links, quotes and other items. HTML elements are delineated by tags, written using angle brackets. Tags such as <img /> and <input /> directly introduce content into the page. Other tags such as <p> surround and provide information about document text and may include other tags as sub-elements. Browsers do not display the HTML tags, but use them to interpret the content of the page. (Wikipedia)

All the <blah blah blah> stuff reminded me of high school & college in the 1980s. The college professor that ran our architecture computer lab liked the word processing application WordStar. It was the DOS days so we had to type things like <B> before and after a word or phrase we wanted to appear as bold on the printed page — it never appeared bold on the screen. Apple’s Mackintosh eliminated this simple coding by doing that in the background. Microsoft’s Windows operating system adopted this as well. The younger members of your staff may not remember DOS or WordStar.

Owning a Mac and using a Mac/Windows at various jobs I thought I’d left coding behind. I had until I began blogging on October 31, 2004. Early on I used 2 different HTML platforms to create my blog & posts before settling on WordPress.  These all do the heavy lifting behind the scenes, but I’ve had to go into the source code over the years to fix problems with how something appears. I’ve also liked how others displayed information on webpages so I’ve looked at their source code to learn. Emails and digital photos also have code. Again, it’s not visible unless someone taps a few buttons or clicks to see it.

Source code is easily viewed by anyone. Hacking is entirely different. This is where someone attempts to gain entry into a computer network or application. There’s always someone attempting to hack into my blog ever week.

I least once per week I get an email from a plugin on my blog letting me know someone (or a bot) repeatedly attempted to login using the default “admin” username. I’m not an amateur, the admin username was removed years ago.

I’d like to think at least one person on your staff understands the Post-Dispatch pointed out the mistake made by the state agency so it could be fixed.  Someone around you knows the Post-Dispatch helped the state by preventing social security numbers of teachers — numbers that shouldn’t have been in publically accessible source code. The other possibility is your entire office is clueless how websites work.

To simplify this I’ll use your own state website as an example:

This is your full bio on the state page, found at https://governor.mo.gov/about-governor/full (click image to view)
This is a screen shot of the source code. I found this by going to the Develop>Show Page Source in my browser (Safari)

I didn’t hack the website. I selected a menu item from a regular web browser — this code is necessary so browsers will display the website as desired. In more complicated databases sometimes it is set up incorrectly so that information that shouldn’t be shown is displayed here.

Someone is attempting to cover their own ass, or protect someone else. Leaders admit when mistakes are make, not try to shift the blame onto those privately bring mistakes to the state’s attention. Yes, an investigation is necessary to get to the bottom of this — an investigation of how social security numbers were displayed in easily accessible source code and why so much hot air to deflect the blame.

Where there’s smoke, there’ fire.

Stop wasting our time and money simply because you’re to shallow to admit you were wrong!  The world already knows it, we just want to hear you say it. Additionally the Post-Dispatch deserves an apology from you. They did exactly what they should have, but you managed to turn a yawn of a subject into national news. Congrats on briefly jumping ahead of DeSantis & Abbott.

— Steve Patterson (a regular Missouri voter for 30+ years)

 

Last Mile to Cahokia Mounds Is Impossible For Pedestrians

September 27, 2021 Accessibility, Featured, Metro East, Walkability Comments Off on Last Mile to Cahokia Mounds Is Impossible For Pedestrians
 

I’ve working on my bucket list in the last two years living with stage IV kidney cancer. Right after Memorial Day I was able to visit Milwaukee, my very first time in Wisconsin. I’m also working on items closer to home that I can safely do during a pandemic. To help me I pulled the 2013 book 100 Things To Do In Saint Louis Before You Die off my bookshelf.  One of several books written or co-authored by my longtime friend Amanda Doyle.

Well, I don’t see myself being able to physically sled down Art Hill, or use a paddle boat in Forest Park. Hmm, visit Cahokia Mounds? I’ve always wanted to see it, it’s likely the only additional  World Heritage site I’ll be able to visit — I’ve been to Independence Hall & many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, including Fallingwater.

Embarrassingly in my 31+ years living in St. Louis I must admit I’ve never once visited Cahokia Mounds, a World Heritage site only a 15-minute drive into Illinois from St. Louis. Like so many places I thought I could go  &  things I could do in the future, until I became disabled a month before my 41st birthday. I had lived here less than 18 years before I had a massive stroke, meaning I couldn’t walk around the large Cahokia Mounds site. My power wheelchair allows me to “walk” around places like the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Cahokia Mounds:

The remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico are preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Within the 2,200-acre tract, located a few miles west of Collinsville, Illinois, lie the archaeological remnants of the central section of the ancient settlement that is today known as Cahokia. (Cahokia Mounds Museum Society)

The fastest way there is for me and my husband to just drive there. But, I couldn’t see much because I can’t walk far. I also have a manual wheelchair we can put in the trunk, but he’d have to push me or I use my right foot and right hand to propel myself. One of us would get worn out.

I’ve traveled to five different states using transit and my power wheelchair so I should be able to go less than 10 miles. So I looked. Yes, I can roll 8/10 of a mile to the Convention Center MetroLink light rail station, take the train east to the Emerson Park station, and then catch the #18 Madison County bus northbound to Fairmont Ave at Collinsville Rd. Then it’s just a mile west along Collinsville Rd to the entrance to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (map).

A mile isn’t an issue at all, a week ago I rolled almost 5 miles home from Siteman Cancer Center. Yes, returning home on MetroLink would’ve been considerably faster but I got to see a lot of stuff along my route. I’m on disability so I’m usually not in a hurry. So what’s the problem?

The problem is Collinsville Road is a high-speed (45mph) 4-lane roadway with zero pedestrian infrastructure. None. No pedestrian signals or crosswalks at the signalized intersection near the bus stop. A few businesses near the intersection have a public sidewalk but they’re not connected to each other. Most of the mile distance is just a very tiny shoulder and a ditch. If I were somehow to make it I’d need to cross Collinsville Rd. Opposite the entrance to Cahokia Mounds is a pedestrian sign, but trying to cross 4 lanes of high-speed traffic is a death wish.

Approaching Cahokia Mounds from the east you see it on the left. On the right is a pedestrian crossing ahead sign, next to the ditch.
Further up as you get close to the entrance the road splits so there’s a center turn lane. On the right is a Cahokia Mounds sign pointing drivers left. The driveway to the right has a culvert under it so any water in the ditch can continue to flow.

My thoughts turned to contacting someone to bug them about this. But who? Most of the north side of Collinsville Rd is in Namioki Township, Madison County. Part of the south side of Collinsville Rd & Cahokia Mounds are in Collinsville, St. Clair County. Yes, most of Collinsville is in Madison County, but this part is in St. Clair County. And finally  the the intersection of Collinsville Rd & Fairmont Ave/Black Lane is State Park Place, an unincorporated community in both Madison & St  Clair Counties. Maddening fragmentation!

I suppose an able-bodied person could navigate this last mile, but I doubt anyone would.  Back at State Park Place there’s business on both sides of Collinsville Rd, including a Mexican restaurant on each side. I read somewhere a while ago that one is among the best Mexican restaurants in the Metro East.

My first task will be to contact Cahokia Mounds to see if they have any power wheelchairs/scooters for rent, their website doesn’t mention accessibility at all. I’ll also contact the Highway Dept at each county, though it might take state and/or federal funds to get anything built. I just want to get things…rolling.

Steve Patterson

New Book — ‘Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives’, by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett

September 24, 2021 Books, Featured, Transportation Comments Off on New Book — ‘Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives’, by Melissa Bruntlett and Chris Bruntlett
 

This is the first of three books I received in July, so they’re newish. My health insurance is better now so I’m getting caught up.

I’ve posted before about my interest in electric cars, but also interest in and use of public transportation. My electric “vehicle” is a 2008 power wheelchair which I use in combination with public transit. The able-bodied can use a bike with transit, instead of a wheelchair.

Like so many others, I realize switching all internal combustion vehicles for electric ones isn’t going to solve the major problems with the automobile: they require a lot of space, for example.  Today’s newish book looks at reducing the number of cars on our roads and filling our cities on huge surface lots or parking structures.

In 2019, mobility experts Melissa and Chris Bruntlett began a new adventure in Delft in the Netherlands. They had packed up their family in Vancouver, BC, and moved to Delft to experience the biking city as residents rather than as visitors. A year earlier they had become unofficial ambassadors for Dutch cities with the publication of their first book Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality. [see August 2018 post on their first book here.]

In Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives, Melissa and Chris Bruntlett chronicle their experience living in the Netherlands and the benefits that result from treating cars as visitors rather than owners of the road. They weave their personal story with research and interviews with experts and Delft locals to help readers share the experience of living in a city designed for people.

In the planning field, little attention is given to the effects that a “low-car” city can have on the human experience at a psychological and sociological level. Studies are beginning to surface that indicate the impact that external factors—such as sound—can have on our stress and anxiety levels. Or how the systematic dismantling of freedom and autonomy for children and the elderly to travel through their cities is causing isolation and dependency.

In Curbing Traffic, the Bruntletts explain why these investments in improving the built environment are about more than just getting from place to place more easily and comfortably. The insights will help decision makers and advocates to better understand and communicate the human impacts of low-car cities: lower anxiety and stress, increased independence, social autonomy, inclusion, and improved mental and physical wellbeing.

The book is organized around the benefits that result from thoughtfully curbing traffic, resulting in a city that is: child-friendly, connected, trusting, feminist, quiet, therapeutic, accessible, prosperous, resilient, and age-friendly.

Planners, public officials, and citizen activists should have a greater understanding of the consequences that building for cars has had on communities (of all sizes). Curbing Traffic provides relatable, emotional, and personal reasons why it matters and inspiration for exporting the low-car city. (Island Press)

This isn’t about eliminating all cars, just moving to fewer cars than today. Here are the authors explaining their view:

You can read the full introduction and much of the first chapter (The Child-Friendly City) on Amazon. (Kindle preview is longer than the softcover preview.)

— Steve Patterson

 

We Saved Money On Our Electric Bill By Switching Rate Plans

August 26, 2021 Environment, Featured Comments Off on We Saved Money On Our Electric Bill By Switching Rate Plans
 

For years there was no financial incentive to reduce electricity use during peak periods. Running the dryer &  air conditioning while cooking dinner at 5pm weekdays cost the same as doing them at other times.  With Ameren Missouri’s new smart meters and Tine of Use (TOU) rate plans reducing electric use during peak demand can save money and reduce peak load on the grid.

A smart electric meter is needed for Time of Use (TOU) rate plans.

At the end of June I  posted about signing up for one of the new Time of Use (TOU) rate plans –initially only one was available. Halfway into that billing cycle the other, advanced TOU rate plans became an option for us. I quickly changed plans effective the next cycle.

Now we’ve completed two billing cycles on a basic and an advanced TOU rate plan. Because I’m a spreadsheet nerd I was able to figure out our savings compared to the flat rate plan most still have. The primary savings we realized wasn’t on rates, but on reducing the amount of kWh we used in the billing cycle. Related was a savings on the taxes & fees as all but one are based on kWh. We also saved on the energy used, more with the advanced rate plan than the basic.

Here are some of the details:

Our first TOU billing cycle was the Evening/Morning Savers plan. Like the flat rate, this plan is considered basic. The difference between the peak & off-peak energy is minimal.

For comparison, the summer anytime rate is 11.8¢ per kWh.

This cycle ran from 6/23/2021 through 7/22/2021, the July cycle. We used 652 kWh during this billing cycle. Last year we used 922, in 2019 1,206 — a nearly 30% less than the same cycle last year. Using less energy saved us $31.86 on energy, compared to last year. We saved another $2.31 on additional fees: fuel adjustment, energy efficiency, and renewables.  We saved $1.33 on the St. Louis municipal service charge. Add it all up and just reducing our energy use saved us $35.50 for the July billing cycle.

We used 465 kWh off-peak, and 187 kWh peak during the cycle. We saved another $1.02, which isn’t much. However, being on a TOU plan got me thinking about more ways to save that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.  Added to the above we saved $36.52, nearly 30%!

With the next billing cycle we were now on the Ultimate Savers TOU rate plan.

Ultimate Savers is Ameren’s most advanced plan, with the biggest differences between peak & off-peak raters. The trick with this plan is an additional “demand charge” based on the hour (6am-10pm) of highest use during the cycle.

I was very nervous about what our bill would be, entirely because of the demand charge. Toward the end of the cycle Ameren’s reports improved significantly, allowing me to see we’d save money. Or at least not spend more — a concern I had initially

Like the July cycle, we reduced our energy use compared to the August 2020 cycle (586 kWh vs 978 kWh) — a 40% reduction! We also used less electricity in August compared to June & July.I’m not going to go through the math again to demonstrate the savings compared to last year, but is was 40% less.

We used 529 kWh of off-peak energy, for a cost of $23.12. Our peak energy was 50 kWh, $12.90. Only 8.6% of our energy was used during peak times — this was mostly cooking dinners. Our hour with the highest kWh used was 3.6 kWh. With a rate of $7.03/kWh our demand charge was $25.31 — this was higher than either our peak or off-peak use. Compared to the Anytime flat rate we saved $6.99 before fees/charges, an effective rate of $0.106 vs $0.118 per kWh.

What I don’t is if we’d be better off on one of the other two advanced TOU rate plans, neither have a demand charge. In a few months Ameren will crunch the numbers and let us know the best plan for us.

After February 2021 we were using slightly more electricity than last year, but now we’re using 22% less than we did at this point in 2020.

A smart meter like our, above, is required to change to a TOU plan from the Anytime flat rate. See Ameren’s rate options here. In a future post I’ll share other reports from Ameren that detail where we’re using our electricity — our cooking is as much as cooling!

— Steve Patterson

Mid-70s Downtown Office Tower Getting Needed 21st Century Update

August 12, 2021 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Real Estate, Walkability Comments Off on Mid-70s Downtown Office Tower Getting Needed 21st Century Update
 

Office vacancy rates are high now, especially in downtown St. Louis.

Office vacancy is up across the metro area, averaging 16.9% in the second quarter of 2021 compared with 11.8% in 2020. Rents for offices outside of downtown declined nearly 4% from the end of 2020 through the second quarter of 2021, according to commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Vacancy downtown has risen more than 1 percentage point in the past year, to 20.8% from 19.3% in the second quarter of 2020. And rents have fallen by more than 1% to $19.48 per square foot. (Post-Dispatch)

One downtown office tower, recently acquired by a local fund, is taking steps to reverse years of increased vacancy.

The 4th & Chestnut corner of 100 North Broadway. The former bank pavilion is getting a long-needed update.

Readers might recall my December 2015 blog post on this building. In that post I suggested connecting the low pavilion portion to the adjacent sidewalks, orienting the interior space to take advantage of the location and views.

To refresh your memory, here’s a view of what the exterior looked like for the first 45 years. Awful, right? Zero connection to the sidewalks. The east & west plazas weren’t inviting.  December 2015

I sent the then building owner, a San Diego-based capital firm, my post at the end of 2015. They responded the next month, I met a local property manager on site. They sent me a nice fruit basket from Harry & David.  They didn’t do anything.

Looking at the building from the NW corner of the Luther Ely Smith Square. December 2015. This is the same corner as the first corner, above.

According to KSDK more tenants left, the California owner defaulted, and by February 2019 the lender had taken over the property.  A new local owner purchased the tower and apparently recognized the need for major updates to the prominent pavilion, inside & out.

The SW corner of the property, at Broadway & Chestnut. This is diagonally across from Kiener Plaza, which reopened in 2017 after a major redesign.

The new owners logically hired one of the remaining tenants to update the interior & exterior:

Larson Capital Management has engaged Trivers to make both interior and exterior building improvements to the 2-story atrium structure and surrounding plazas and streetscape to comprehensively update and reposition the Broadway Tower as a premier office building destination in downtown Saint Louis.

Exterior improvements include removing the “greenhouses” and reimagining the Atrium façade materiality and line of enclosure, updated entrances and entry canopies, surrounding site improvements and landscaping, and public art and placemaking components creating public outdoor destinations.

Interior improvements are geared toward creating an abundance of tenant amenities including a best-in-class conferencing center, co-working lounges with hospitality support, a walking track, and access to outdoor work spaces. The Atrium will also include a new café with indoor/outdoor seating connected to the west plaza along Broadway, a new monumental stair, a large greenwall, building management offices, new security desk and updated elevator lobbies, restrooms to support the proposed uses, and comprehensive lighting, casework, and finishes upgrades. (Trivers Architects)

In 2015 I imagined a few restaurants to fill the space, but tenant amenity space will be critical to filling vacancies. There will be one cafe, on the corner shown above.

This is a crop of the previous photo, you can see how the ground floor is set back so the upper level provides shade, room for cafe tables.
The artist rendering shows this corner. The exterior cladding on the pavilion will offer more texture than the tower portion.

I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product, experiencing the revised plazas, eating at the cafe. The upper level features a covered outdoor space on the opposite corner, facing the Arch. Not sure if that will be public or tenant-only. Either way, to pedestrians at 4th & Chestnut it’ll be perceived as inviting.

— Steve Patterson

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