BOS-SFO-NYC Comparison

This can be filed under yet-another-infrastructure/geography-dorkery post. I have a great deal of affection for New York City (the ur-city, and the archetypal city of my youth), Boston (the town I live in now, where I became the person I am, and have a--yow--twenty year history with), and San Francisco (the location of about a third of my holiday card list... the place that I escape to periodically). They are also the three cities that I keep mass transit cards for in my organizer (MTA, MBTA, BART).

But during this past visit, I thought, "Huh... I should do a size/scale comparison of those three cities." I know that Boston is small, but I wanted a visual reference of just how small. So here are the three cities, at about the same scale, plus populations from Wikipedia:

New York (5 boroughs): 8,274,527

Manhattan: 1,620,867
Bronx: 1,373,659
Brooklyn: 2,528,050
Queens: 2,270,338
Staten Island: 481,613

San Francisco: 799,183
Oakland: 401,489

Boston: 608,352
Cambridge: 101,388

Huh... is it a sign of my mental health that I look at these maps, and the words going through my head are, "Map shows effect of 100 kT air burst over city center...."? Actually, wait, the web is even stranger than that--Google Map mashup with nuclear weapon overpressure zones: HYDESim maps overpressure radii generated by a ground-level detonation; these radii are an indicator of structural damage to buildings. No other effects, such as thermal damage or fallout levels, are included in this tool. Note that the displayed rings are "idealized"; that is, no account is taken of terrain, urban density, ground type, weather conditions, and so on.

Anyway, here are all three places in outline for comparison:

Some interesting points to note.
  • Manhattan is about 13 miles from tip to tip--which is about the same distance as downtown Boston to Salem, MA. And remember, Manhattan is the physically smallest of the five boroughs (although the third most populated).
  • Basically, downtown Boston is about the same size as one of the "neighborhoods" of New York City
  • Manhattan's Central Park is also shown for scale--1.32 square miles.
  • San Francisco is also pretty darn large (the peninsula)--but the part that is really dense (a la Manhattan) is only a small fraction of the city.
  • Boston to Arlington is about 6.5 miles--about from the Upper West Side to the Battery, or across the width of SF.

Low-Key Bay Area Visit

Sorry about my lack of recent posting--I just got back from another visit to the Bay Area. I have an ongoing project working out there--I'm planning on being back out there come mid-April--knock on wood. I realized that this was not a go-and-do-San-Francisco-things trip. It was more of a low-key-see-friends-all-over-the-place visit. And I'm damn good with that.

First, taking a break from a Boston February in the Bay Area is just simply extraordinary--wandering around in a fleece and feeling warm, and opening up the windows to cool off. We had two days of meetings over in East Bay, and got to hang out in Berkeley for a little bit.

Sadly, though, we had beautiful weather--for the two days we were cooped up in meetings. The remainder was cloudy and rainy. Ah well. Meetings went well, though--very productive.

On Friday evening, I got dropped off at BART, and the lovely and brilliant Dr. O (a.k.a. Paramecium Woman) met me there after work. Huh... who would think that the sun setting over a BART Station in Oakland would look that nice. Then again, remember, I'm the guy who feels silly affection when hearing, PITTSBURGH/BAY POINT TRAIN APPROACHING 9 CAR TRAIN.

Went out for Vietnamese with Dr. O., where she kvetched and ranted at entertaining length. Caught a late CalTrain down to crash with Jofish and Perlick in Mountain View. Dropped my bags, got rid of the dress shirt, and decompressed with a lovely single malt.

The next morning was a relaxing brunch (Jofish-crêpes with filling) with Jofish, Erin, Perlick, and Jofish's friends from out of town. Brunch out by the pool... not at all bad. Incidentally, though, it appears that they will be forced to move soon... ah well.

However, afterwards, Jofish went off with his friends to entertain them, and Perlick is getting completely smooshed by work, so he couldn't hang out. Huh. I considered going back up to the city, but I figured while I was in South Bay...

Hi Jen, hi Schmooz! It's about 2 on Saturday... I'm visiting Jofish and Perlick, but they both have plans for the day. I was considering heading back up to the city, but if you were around and not doing anything, I'd love to stop by and see you...

And spontaneous plans ended up working out! A day (and dinner) hanging out with Jen, Schmooz, Max, and Delaney. Wonderful catching up with them.

The next day was the Social Event--Dim Sum at Legendary Palace in Oakland. As my invitation put it:

Come stuff your face with pork buns, creatures from the ocean, and unidentified poultry parts! ("I think it's chicken, at least. Hrm... tastes like chicken... kinda. Um.. I'm going to stop thinking about this now.")

Join us, and I'll regale you with many great stories about... um... never mind, my life is boring.

Some surprise guests--Quincy actually made it over from the city... Qwidgibo was there ("Wait... don't you live in Boston, man?"). And many of the usual suspects.

An afternoon puttering around with U-Boat and Christy, and then an evening and dinner at Lucky and Karthiga's. It's really neat to periodically see folks, and watch the kids get older stepwise between visits.

Man... it is seriously awesome to have friends with such wonderful hospitality. I unfortunately don't get the chance to reciprocate often enough. Really, I can't say it enough--thank you, thank you, thank you.

My flight out was Monday morning... unfortunately, SFO is a bunch of bastards who won't let you check luggage if you arrive within 45 minutes of flight departure. They claim, "Oh, it takes 40 minutes at least for the bags to get from the gate to the plane."

So... had to sit around SFO for an extra three hours. Ah well. Had a quiet-but-overpriced breakfast, and then bought net access and logged a few hours of billable time


With Apologies to Mastercard...

One pair polarized sunglasses clips: $68.25

Three dimmable compact fluorescent bulbs: $26.68

One bike helmet: $49.99 + S&H

Leaving paint and polystyrene on the street instead of skin and blood:

Well, if not priceless, a pretty high dollar value to me.

A slightly sore neck, and a dinged shoulder... not bad for landing mostly on my head coming down a hill. I think I'll print this and mail it to the town of Belmont: "Please fix your potholes!"

Anyway: wear your bike helmets, kids.


More Infrared Dorkery!

I was in Connecticut this past week, doing performance testing on some houses. We were asked to take off our shoes, because this house is new, finished, and close to handover--we didn't want to track dirt into the place.

We were doing some testing using our infrared camera, and my coworker noticed--"Hey K., that's cool, I can see your footprints in the carpet."

Huh, really?

[Lightbulb] [Drops down onto floor]

Behold! The infrared angel!

And great... in addition to my ass being prominent, it is also a significant source of heat. Oy.

BTW--happy stupid effin' holiday, everyone. I'm heading out to see an absurdist Beckett play in Harvard Square. I figured that The Rest Of The World would have plans tonight, so I figured that this would be a good use of the evening.


Google PowerMeter

I recently saw a snippet in the New York Times technology blog ("Googling Your Home Electricity Usage")--it's a web application that ties into a "smart power meter" (presumably already installed at your house by your utility company), that lets you track your electrical usage real time. Cool! There have been studies on using these "energy feedback devices" to reduce occupant energy use (overall savings in that study of 10-15%).

As the Google PowerMeter page put it:

Studies show that being able to see your energy usage makes it easier to reduce it. We want people to be able to do so throughout the day, but this sort of near real-time feedback requires an advanced electricity meter known as a "smart meter." Over 40 million U.S. homes are scheduled to get these upgraded meters over the next three years with support from the Obama Administration's proposed stimulus package.

Unfortunately, many of today's smart meters don't display information to the consumer. We consider this unacceptable. We believe that detailed data on your personal energy use belongs to you, and should be available in a standard, non-proprietary format. You should control who gets to see it, and you should be free to choose from a wide range of services to help you understand it and benefit from it.

I have already blogged about power monitoring--see "Electrical Use Geekery", where I talk about the TED ("The Energy Detective") that I have installed at my apartment. I've found it really useful to figure out what in my house draws how much power, and I've been doing work on reducing phantom loads (material for a future post). And it was cool--the Google folks even used the same Lord Kelvin quote that I did in my post ("If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.")

I'm really psyched about Google PowerMeter for several reasons. First, Google is really great at doing things in a Not Dumb Way that ends up taking over the market--Google searches, Google Maps (um, who uses MSN maps now?), Google Earth, Google Calendar, Google Desktop--all of them were not new concepts (i.e., they are "Why hasn't somebody already..." items), but they're just executed so well that everyone gravitates towards them. Second, instead of developing some type of display/interface "box," they realize, "Duh, everyone knows how to use a web browser," and uses that as the interface. So Not Dumb! Third, they're bypassing the entire hardware angle--I'm perfectly comfortable mucking around inside an electrical panel, but I'm probably in the minority in this country. By just springboarding off of smart power meters, they can greatly increase the number of households who will be able to look at their real time power use.

So if anyone has the chance to get this system installed, please try it out and let everyone know how it works! I'm really curious.


How Not to Build Hotel Rooms

When I was at that work conference in Chicago, I came to the conclusion that this conference--despite being a big HVAC show--often puts us up in hotels with the crappiest building characteristics. For instance, they held the convention in Hawaii, and the hotel closed down shortly afterwards due to mold complaints.

At this Chicago hotel, it was friggin' cold out (5 F during my walk down Michigan Avenue), and the frost that was all over our hotel room window gave a great little building physics demonstration. So I thought I'd share the geekery.

Peering out the window, I noticed that there was a fair amount of frost built up at the bottom of the window.

And when you pulled the curtains back, you could see this lovely distribution of frost/condensation patterns.

This is demonstrating two things. First, windows are coldest at the bottom--at this cool surface, the interior air falls as it cools (as it becomes more dense), and gives up heat, forming a "film" at the interior window surface. This is natural convection in action. By the bottom, that air is pretty cold--it has given up its heat, so the bottom of the window is the coldest/frostiest here. You can see the gradient from bottom to top, going from thick frost, to partially melting ice, to condensation/sweat.

Incidentally, when people complain about drafts at windows, it's both air leakage (moving parts + seal = air leak), but it's also that there's that sheet of cold air coming off the window--there are actually formulas to calculate what the velocity of that flow will be.

Second, you can see exactly where the curtains were partially open overnight. The curtains function as insulation--both reducing heat loss from the interior, but also making that glass surface colder. At that opening, less insulation=warmer surface=less frost/condensation. Neat, eh?

Of course, being the geek that I am, I had the infrared camera with me. The temperatures are exactly what you'd expect--the coldest spots are the parts with the worst frosting/condensation. Some of the coldest spots on the frame were 26 F (yep, below 32 F = frost formation).

But when you close the curtains, the surface temperatures (i.e., the surface that your body "sees" when it is radiating heat away) is much better--close to room temperature, with cold spots at the bottom, where the air is flowing out (as per that natural convection described above).

One bit of trivia--some folks have done studies, and there are cases where curtains increase the overall heat loss at the windows. "Really?"--you might ask. Although the surface you see is warmer, the convective air movement has enough flow that it's acting as a natural buoyancy-based heat exchanger, flowing enough between the curtain and the window.

Anyway, check out the window frame--totally covered with frost.

Note that the windows in this hotel room are single-glazed, aluminum frame window. Is it just me, or is that about the same as a storm window? NEWS FLASH: DO NOT USE STORMS AS YOUR SOLE WINDOWS IN CHICAGO. DUH.

As if you needed any reinforcement that this is a bad idea, check out the placard next to the thermostat.

It reads:

There are many seasons that you may not be able to achieve a comfortable room temperature without the assistance of the hotel staff.

Please do not hesitate to call 'At Your Service' by dialing 'O'

We look forward to assisting you any way we can.

Oy. The dumbness is painful. Of course, some value-engineering wonk back in the day must have thought this was a good idea. Ah well.

F'ing Brrrr!

For those of you in Boston who went through this January thinking, "Man, this feels like a really cold winter..."--well, yep, it was. For work (and for my own geekery), I keep track of Heating Degree Days and Cooling Degree Days published by NOAA. HDD and CDD are metrics that let you know how cold/hot a month/week/year was; to get heating degree days base 65 (HDD Base 65), you take the daily average temperature, and if below 65 F, find the difference, and sum them over the week/month/year you're interested in.

So the plot below shows the gas consumption per month (in therms), along with the monthly HDD. Youch! 1240 HDD for January!

This isn't to say that this is rare for Boston--I see months over 1200 HDD in 2003 and 2004.

And for reference, for my dear K-W friends, January had 1606 HDD Base 65. Oh yeah.

Now, I assume that my Bay Area friends will take this as an opportunity to gloat--I believe they were commenting about 70 F weather outside a few days ago. Well, here's another reason to gloat--a graphic from a neat New York Times column ("Revenge of the Rust Belt"). It talks about how rust belt towns now hemmorhage population, while there is plenty of growth in places like Phoenix. The economist who wrote the column points out that rust belt cities were founded near natural resources (coal/coke/iron ore), and costs of transportation were very high when the towns were founded. In contrast, people are now moving to Sun Belt cities, now that transportation is cheaper (and I will add, that air conditioning and irrigation makes life possible in those moon-like landscapes). But in terms of population swings:

There is no variable that predicts urban population growth in the 20th century better than January temperature. The figure below illustrates the connection between metropolitan area population growth from 1980 to 2000 and the January temperature. While 19th-century cities formed in places where companies had a productive edge, generally because of access to water ways or coal mines, 20th-century cities formed in pleasant places where people wanted to live.

Yeah, so gloat away, Bay Area folks. Up here in the Northeast, we've got... um... character building, right?

I like shoveling snow! Shovel shovel shovel. Sigh.