Another Map Dorkery (and Religiosity) Post

The other day, I randomly heard about the US ranking of the "least and most religious states." I was curious, and looked it up; there was a Pew study along these lines released last week. No big surprises there: classic Southern Bible Belt states were the most religious (Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee), and New England making up most of the least-religious. Interestingly, though, Alaska is #2 of the least religious. Colorado is in the top 10 least--interesting, in that I always thought that it was one of those "split" states. I did a bit more web searching, and found that Gallup did a similar poll early this year, except presented in map form:

It's a bit more useful to look at it this way. Us heathen Northeasterners stand out, as does the Pacific Northwest. Utah, of course, is "Most Religious"--makes sense, given the Mormons. California is a notch away from the least religious category--perhaps the immigrant population, but more importantly (I think) is the fact that inland/rural California is a completely different political animal from coastal California. For instance, check out the red/blue mix from the 2008 election, by county.

The map is from the guy who does awesome cartograms, which demonstrate that even though "red America" is spatially large, the populations are roughly balanced. To wit, the same map above, turned into a cartogram:

But overall, yeah, I'm afraid that religiosity maps inversely to how much I would want to live in a state, as a rough trend.

This reminded me, though, of one of my posts from 2008, on religiosity vs. per capita income, and the way that the United States was a completely outlier from the general world trend (higher income / lower religiosity). I though it would be cool if somebody did this same type of study by state. Well, it turns out, some professors at Columbia have done exactly that! Schweet. 2007 data, but I'm guessing the trends have not changed that much.

States that voted for Bush in 2004 are in red and the Kerry-supporting states are blue. You can see that people in richer states tend to be less religious, although the relation is far from a straight line. There is also some regional variation (more religious attendance in the south, less in the northeast and west).

Pretty much the trend that we were all expecting. Okay, one more geeky map that I found, and then off to bed for me. I don't know how familiar most people are with the term "tax burden"--it is an indication (again, by state) of how much money is paid in Federal taxes, vs. received/disbursed. the Tax Foundation did a study back in 2006; the map is pretty self-explanatory. In case you can't read the key, the dark blue states are the ones who are receiving more tax money than they pay in, and the light blue ones are the ones who are receiving less Federal money.

Interesting that some of the reddest states are the ones who are taking in the most Federal money. Reminds me of the wag I have heard some say about Alaska's attitude towards the Feds: "You can't tell us what to do! Now give us our money!" Yeah.

Xmas Post V through XXII: Chicago Vacation!

Okay... I don't know if anyone particularly cares about this saga-length, photo-filled blog post, but the event-packed four-day vacation in Chicago with Sarah was just fantastic. I'll try to limit myself to one photo per cool event... but I'll probably slip up in the process. Sorry, I quickly gave up on this idea while writing…. lots o’ photos incorporated into this post. And many of them courtesy of Sarah, her kick-ass digital SLR, and her mad skillz—thanks, sweetie!



For two days, we were at a hotel that I booked via a points/rewards program—some consolation for the amount of time I spend on the road.

The hotel was pretty slick—right downtown, at the three-way junction of the rivers in Chicago. Also, it overlooked Merchandise Mart--a huge building built in 1930 to try to integrate wholesalers, retailers, warehouses, etc. It was the largest square footage building until the Pentagon was built; it was bought up by Joseph Kennedy (Sr.) during the Great Depression, and the Kennedy family held onto it for several generations. It is now the home of many upscale shops, among other purposes.

Incidentally, a 7-day CTA pass cost $23 per person, which worked out exceptionally well for our tourism; it covered both train and bus fares—strong recommend.

Art Institute

I know, I know—only a day at the Art Institute? Yeah, it felt like we were barely scratching the surface—only a quick drive-by of George Seurat’s Sunday. I think there will be many trips there in my lifetime. The Great Stairwell had an exhibit of various architectural elements salvaged from historic buildings that were being torn down—cast iron, terra cotta, Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass.

After a few art-filled detours, we ended up in the Modern Wing, a recent addition designed by Renzo Piano. New York Times review of the wing here. I have to say… wow, a really great space. Also parts of the design seem similar to the California Academy of Arts and Sciences—blogged about that visit previously.

We also looked at the architecture and design wing—I have to say that it fits so many stereotypes that there is a framed Frank Gehry in that gallery that is not much more than a scribble (“Um, we’re building what here, boss?”).

Afterwards, we wandered around Millennium Park, and did “the Bean” (i.e., Cloud Gate). Obligatory Chicago skyline reflected vanity shot!

Buddy Guy's Blues Legends

And shifting gears, we then grabbed dinner, and caught a few blues acts at Buddy Guys’ club—c’mon, we’re in Chicago, we gotta do the blues! Both of us have been to Kingston Mines in the past, so this was “the other club.” A kickin’ (although loud and tiring) evening—Guy King and his group, followed by Carl Weathersby.


New Hotel/Old Town

We changed hotels, finding out the hard way that the CTA Purple Line doesn’t run on weekends. Oops! Our new hotel was up in the Gold Coast area, a relatively short ride from downtown, but a slightly more sedate neighborhood. As for lunch: deep-dish pizza in Chicago (Edwardo’s): check!

We had an afternoon wander around the local neighborhood, which is known as Old Town. We found an exceptionally ornate automotive garage (no doubt a building of greater grandeur back in the day), with a huge terra cotta façade on the front.

But if you look closer, I have to say that these look like zombie squirrels:


uh… wait…



This was the serious food pilgrimage of the trip—Grant Achatz’s molecular gastronomy showcase. It was as incredible, beautiful, and delicious as I had hoped for; it probably warrants its own post, but this will have to by my summary for now. We had the 12-course tasting menu, with a bottle of wine (not the wine pairings).

This was the shot they took before we dug into the “deconstructed pork buns”—incredible slow cooked pork with magically modified lettuce (frozen? dehydrated?)

They do such a wonderful job of building up anticipation, and the presentation of the courses—artfully choreography of presenting the dishes and whisking them away. The silverware gets set down on these specific pillows before each course.

One favorite was “hot potato/cold potato”—a cold cream-based potato soup (truffle flavored too?), with several pieces of hot potato suspended by a pin, stuck through the side of the paraffin bowl. You then pull then pin (“grenade!”), dropping the hot into the cold, and throw it back like a shot, getting both hot and cold sensations. Sarah and I geeked out with our waiter, asking why they ended up choosing paraffin as a material (easier for them to make in-house, I believe… perhaps also the self-sealing and hydrophobic properties of paraffin reduce any leakage around the pin).

Desserts were fantastic as well—including various bits of maltodextrin magic (sweet hot peanut butter crunchy wackiness).

I had to take a photo of the gleaming kitchen behind the glass doors, where an army of cooks was toiling away. Wow. I think I’m going to buy the Alinea cookbook, not necessarily to make anything, but more to find out “How the heck did they do that?!?”


Architecture Tour

Sarah suggested and set up a tour given by the Chicago Architectural Foundation—we did “Historic Downtown: Rise of the Skyscraper”—basically from the invention of the steel-frame skyscraper through the 1930s. A cold, blustery day for walking around and looking at buildings, but we had respites to look at interior details as well.

We checked out the Monadnock Building, which I geeked about on a previous trip. A beautiful Art Deco skyscraper (135 South LaSalle) was on the tour—completed just as the great depression hit, so it ended up being the last skyscraper built in Chicago until the 1950’s. Having grown up in New York, I think I have a soft spot for Art Deco…. it’s just how old skyscrapers are supposed to look!

Chicago is also the home of architectural terra cotta (basically fired clay, like flower pots, made into decorative architectural elements—covered in exhaustive detail on the National Park Service website). For instance, check out the decoration on the entryway of the Fisher Building.

Scale Model

Afterwards, we explored the scale model of the city that the Chicago Architectural Foundation has in their museum. They built it with CAD files and 3-D rapid prototyping technology. Interesting, because Sarah used to work for Z Corp, one of the companies that makes 3D printers--so she could tell me all about the methods, detail resolution size, etc.

But I really want to come back sometime, along with a 12" tall wind-up Godzilla doll, and unleash it on the city while taking video. Raar!

But check out their model of Millennium Park… including the bean, complete with mirror finish! Too funny.

The evening wrapped up with a visit to the Contemporary Photography Museum, coffee at Intelligentsia (thanks for the tip, Jess!), and dinner at Salpicon (modern Mexican, with an amazing wine list).


Lunch with Tappan

Tappan lives here in town, and he has long recommended a place near him, Kuma's Corner--we tried to make it there last time I was in town, but failed.

It’s a joint with kick-ass burgers and a heavy metal theme (with matching blasting music). The burgers have names like the Black Sabbath, the Metallica, the Judas Priest, or the Slayer ("Burger, Chili, Cherry Peppers, Andouille, Onions, Jack Cheese, and Anger").

Tappan is doing pretty well, telling triathlon stories—it was great catching up with him!

Surgery Museum

Sarah has a great guidebook that includes all sorts of offbeat museums—and our hotel was pretty close to the International Museum of Surgical Science. A geeky museum with creepy old medical devices? Sign us up!

It's located in a gorgeous old mansion on Lake Shore Drive; walking there on a snowy blustery day was unpleasant, but we made it all right.

It had surgical implements both old (iron lungs, medieval-looking body braces)…

…and new (rib spreaders, replacement heart valves, and spine immobilization implants that look for all the world like high-tech climbing equipment in stylish-colored-anodized metal).

They had an exhibit on the development of x-rays for medical purposes (this is an x-ray tube stand, circa 1897-1905).

One laugh-out-loud moment was an excerpt from a 1910 Company Catalogue, of "Two Ways of Locating a Bullet"

Old Way: Patient: Doctor, I have been shot, can you find the bullet? Doctor: Let me see. I guess it might be here, but I will have to probe for it. [patient has a slight grimace on his face]

Present Times: Patient: Doctor, I have been shot, can you find the bullet? Doctor: Oh yes! I can see it. I can take it out without trouble. [patient looks reassured, with a smile on his face]

Wow... patients were so polite back in 1910! I'm just envisioning the modern-day version:

Patient: Mothaf***er shot me! He f***'in busted a cap in my ass! I'm gonna get that mothaf***er!! Doctor: Calm down, calm down! Where are you shot? Patient: Man, you got tha f***in x-ray machine, you tell me!

Evening of Theater

Since Chicago is known as a theater town, we decided we had to go see something. The Steppenwolf Theater was showing David Mamet’s American Buffalo; however, Sarah and I had seen Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow at the New Repertory Theater recently. We considered comedy at Second City, but they were sold out. However, the LookingGlass Theater Company was showing Icarus, a modern retelling of the Icarus/Daedalus Greek myth with a six-person cast, and some incredible athleticism and aerial/rope work. The author’s focus—coming from the point of view of a father of a 3-year old—was the devastating loss of a child dying. I thought it was exceptionally well put together, and a fine evening to wrap up our trip.

Also, the theater space was part of Chicago Avenue Pumping Station near Water Tower Place—i.e., this beautiful old stone building...

... with... holy cow, a pumping station inside! I actually did a double take when I opened the door and saw that this was inside. Water works at Water Tower Place… who’d a thunk it?

Conclusions and Recommendations

Wow, you read down this far? I think I owe you a beer.

Overall, vacationing with Sarah was great--we have pretty similar travel styles, likes and dislikes, and active time/slack time needs. No problem with spending the better part of the day walking our way around the city. Both of us have a good comfort level with mass transit (both el/subway and buses), figuring out our routing as we go via iPhone and BlackBerry. Sharing meals—both highbrow and lowbrow—was great. I think we might just be doing this type of thing again!

Xmas Post IV: New York Sojourn 2

After Christmas with the family, I headed back into the city again for another 30-hours-on-the-ground NYC trip. Saturday afternoon was the only window that Probe could schedule in to meet up, so we got together for drinks and snacks at a wine bar on the Upper West Side (Barcibo Enoteca)—a great little spot.

Probe is doing well; we caught up, geeked out about both of our jobs, and had some tasty Italian Reds. However, he, Becca, and Sophia were flying out on Sunday (ugh… with all of the associated security unpleasantness).

The next day, I had a general plan of a few items to check off my New York List. I wanted to go check out the American Radiator Building, which is a 1924 skyscraper, with a great black and gold finish (black brick exterior, plus gold leaf details): Black brick on the frontage of the building (symbolizing coal) was selected to give an idea of solidity and to give the building a solid mass. Other parts of the facade were covered in gold bricks (symbolizing fire), and the entry was decorated with marble and black mirrors. It is located on Bryant Park, near the New York Public Library. Also, it is the subject of a Georgia O’Keefe painting from her time in New York, before she left for the Southwest.

On the walk over, I came across this car, just sitting parked on the street. Caption contest, anyone?

“Hey, you’re the one who wanted the convertible!”

Full-on wreck, both airbags blown, with the entire roof removed by the jaws of life. But more interestingly, the sticker on the driver’s side reads:


First of all—ew, emphasis quotes. Ugh. Second, under “Reason for Custody,” the checkbox read “Evidence.” Um… is it really a good idea to leave evidence just sitting around out on the street? Isn’t there something like that whole “chain of custody” thing going on?

The next stop was lunch in Chinatown. One of the Christmas presents that was actually a huge win was from mom—the Momofuku cookbook (Perlick brought me to Momofuku Noodle Bar back in 2006). Chef David Chang mentioned a dish from Great New York Noodletown as an inspiration, or even a direct steal, for one of his dishes. So I had to give it a shot. Pretty yummy—ginger and scallion lo mein noodles, and pork/wonton soup. And only $10!

Next, I hopped the train out to Long Island City in Queens, to check out PS1: it’s MoMA’s Contemporary Art collection, kinda an overflow space. A bunch of interesting exhibits; however, because the museum does not actually “own the rights” to the works on display, they forbid photography. Ah well. At least I got a good shot of the exterior—it’s a repurposed old brick school building, with a courtyard lined with what appear to be concrete blast walls.

Although they refinished the gallery spaces, the hallways are still close to their original condition, with many layers of ugly institutional pea-green paint. Hey—at least they didn’t keep the old water fountains that are 2 feet off the ground, for little kiddies!

One work, however, was incredibly striking; it is labeled James Turrell: Meeting (1986) and is behind a door that is locked until 1 hour before sunset. You walk through the door, and you are in a square room with a huge skylight overhead. Oh wait… that’s not a skylight… that’s, um, the sky! (but with the ceiling cut at a knife edge, giving the illusion that there must be a drywall corner to a vertical shaft). You can hear the nearby trains and trucks, and watch birds fly by overhead… quite neat.

A large wing was dedicated to video art… at first diverting, but it was quickly a rather grating and annoying art form. I gave a cursory glance and fled.

While there was still daylight, I made it out to Gantry State Park—they are circa 1920 gantry cranes on the Queens waterfront, that were used to transfer cargo from railcars to barges. They are no longer used, but the gantries were kept as the main decorative element of a waterfront park.

The views out onto the water are just fantastic—I was lucky enough to stay around to catch a sunset over Manhattan. This area must be packed when the weather is nicer—there were maybe half a dozen other people out there with me.

I had one more nice dinner before heading out of town—a French bistro in Long Island City, called Tournesol. I’ve historically associated the Long Island City area with warehouses and power plants; perhaps the place where Russian mobsters take stolen cars to strip them behind rollup doors. However, apparently, it’s pretty gentrified now—the restaurant was a delightful little spot; their bouillabaisse was fantastic… like somebody took the essence of the sea (fish, mussels, shrimp) and made it into a hearty stew.

Then hopped the 7 Train back into Manhattan, and caught a late (8:30 PM-12:15 AM) bus back to Boston—killing time on the road writing blog posts! For reference, BoltBus has power outlets, but I cannot connect to their WiFi network. Grr.


Xmas Post III: Hardware Dorkery (NetBook)

Yeah, I know--"What about Chicago with Sarah! What about Alinea? What about the food porn!?" Yes, yes, yes... getting to that in a bit. But first, a bit of hardware dorkery... I got a new NetBook. Kawaii computer desu, ne? I thought I'd share some of the experiences of using it, too.

Technical details: ASUS Eee PC 1005 HA; Atom N270 processor; technical details here.

Reason why I got it: it's not just a toy! My main computer (BatBook III, above) has been showing serious problems--to get it to start up, you have to unplug the power adapter, torque the case slightly, and ~50% of the time it boots up (otherwise, it just stays black screen). I needed to get it fixed--fortunately, it is under 3 year warranty, so Fujitsu gets to buy me a third replacement mainboard (no lie--color me unimpressed with Fujitsu reliability).

I had a non-work-critical window over the holidays to take my old machine in for service, but going for two weeks on the road without a computer sounded really frustrating. So browsing around Newegg, I found this machine--open box sale, $250. Woot!

One first important step: upgrading from 1 GB to 2 GB RAM; go Crucial, yeah! (fast, reliable).

However, my machine did not recognize the upgrade at first. Thankfully, the intarweb is a wonderful thing--for instance, the research on this page--to get it to "see" 2 GB, you just need to boot into BIOS on startup (F2), save changes, and continue with startup.

So how does it perform? Well, it's shockingly like a real computer. I have loaded up all of my usual applications on it; it's a bit like working on a slightly slower/older machine. Also, it slogs noticeably when many windows are open. But overall, if you're not throwing too many challenges at it, the performance is just fine.

But where it shines: it's fantastic for traveling; very light and tiny. I could get used to having a carry on bag this big under the seat in front of me (i.e., an oversized butt pack). The small screen has no problem being open in the most painful of economy-class seat pitches.

Also, having an actual (if underpowered) computer is pretty nice on the road, even with great devices like iPhones and BlackBerries. A real keyboard, and a real monitor make life a lot easier--e.g., buying theater tickets online from a hotel room.

A little bit of extra awesomeness--the touchpad does the whole iPhone style pinch/stretch with two fingers for zoom in/zoome out. A bit klunky at times, but works.

The native LCD is 1024x600, which is okay at times, but otherwise frustratingly small (scrolling around web pages; etc.); it appears that you can get NetBooks with larger displays. However, one nice thing--if you plug it into an external monitor, it is smart enough to immediately drive that monitor at a decent resolution (i.e., full size screen), instead of the dumb, "Hey, we'll blow up your small display onto a big screen, a la Duplo Blocks!."

I have not done any tests of battery life yet--I'm going to try out watching a movie (stored on hard drive) on a bus ride from New York to Boston on Sunday. They claim 8.5 hours... but I'm wondering how little the machine is running in those tests.

Also, the lack of an optical drive was occasionally annoying--I needed to install some software directly from CD, and could not do so. So I'm buying a USB-to-IDE DVD drive enclosure, to use an unused internal and make it an external unit.

Overall, I'm very happy--strong recommend. I wish this could be my replacement on-the-road computer, but I'm guessing that I'll need to do enough work on the road that I'll need more processing power. Ack.

Xmas Post II: A Sojurn in New York

I had 28 hours on the ground in New York City before heading out to Long Island, but I managed to pack in a variety of activities that took advantage of being in such an amazing place.

First, the approach into LGA was from the south, so we got some great views--like flying right near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (between Staten Island and Brooklyn; it was the largest suspension bridge in the world from 1964 to 1981).

Also, we passed over the Unisphere and the New York State Pavilion--I waxed blogfully about these modern-day urban ruins during a 2008 visit.

Took the M60 bus from LGA to Manhattan (Bats to New York: a local bus from the airport into the city? WTF? That's even lamer than Boston's bus-rapid-transit Silver Line!). However, note that the mass transit from JFK is a bit more reasonable (MTA AirTrain).

I stopped for a felafel sandwich at my favorite Israeli-Yemeni restaurant on the Upper West Side ("Alibaba, a eight-seat glatt kosher restaurant and takeout shop specializing in Yemenite-Israeli cuisine—with a macrobiotic twist."), and dropped off my things at my sister's apartment.

The next stop was a trip downtown: one of my high school friends helped found a New-York based urban design, planning and architecture firm, and one of their recent project was a public art space called LentSpace. It is described as a...temporary project — made possible by the use of a Trinity Real Estate development site to LMCC — [which] creates an “in the meantime” activity for a vacant site awaiting future development. LentSpace is a free outdoor cultural space open to the public from 7am to dusk, made possible by LMCC. A pretty neat space, although I could only observe it from outside the chain link fence--it is closed over the winter.

While I was down in that area, I grabbed a latte at Gimme! Coffee's SoHo branch--shout out to my favorite Ithacans!

After this was dinner with my sister and her boyfriend (yep, they're still a couple all right). Conversations with my sister are actually more pleasant when there is a person with a slightly more normal frame of reference around... it convinces me that I'm not the crazy one when conversations take odd turns.

On the walk back from dinner, I thought, "Hey, I'm right in the neighborhood of Jazz at Lincoln Center... I wonder who's playing?" Punched it up on my BlackBerry... holy cats, Marcus Roberts?!?!? (gospel-influence blind pianist who toured with Wynton Marsalis' band for six years; I have several of his albums). And I can still catch the 9:30 set?!?! I stood in the standby line in eager anticipation...

Yesss!!! They put on a great show--standards, and a few Christmas songs, artfully redone. I realized that this was a perfect wrapup to the evening: sipping a Manhattan, listening to a jazz artist that I like a lot, with a view out onto Central Park and a glowing line of skyscrapers in the background. Day-umn. Okay, Jazz at Lincoln Center is now on my list--if you come to New York City, a strong recommendation to check it out.

The next day, I was having a slow groggy morning.... when I realized, "Hey, Anna is in New York now. I wonder if she's gone back home for the holidays?" It turns out that she was around... I just had to get across town, and she managed to schedule in lunch with me. She's doing a postdoc at Cornell Medical Center; she has safely moved to NYC and settled in quite well. I caught her before she headed out to Long Island to celebrate Christmas with friends--she's dashing off to Penn Station in a taxi here.

(Either that, or I take pictures of random blonde women getting into taxis. Um).

Anyway, back to Long Island later that day to celebrate Christmas. Whew!

Xmas Post I: Chicago to New York Travels

First off--Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone! Hope that you are all having a festive, joyous, and safe holiday. I've barely had any down time since last Friday--a vacation trip to Chicago with Sarah, with a flight straight to New York after that for the holidays. I am currently out on Long Island with the family, with a net connection... thus I'm spending an evening catching up on blogging. There will probably be a whack of posts; this is just a writeup of the travel back from Chicago (MDW) to New York (LGA).

First of all, I think that I pretty much lucked out on travels this holiday season--my sympathies for those of you who have gotten stranded or delayed here and there. There were all of these air travel clusterbumps on the East Coast and in the Midwest... and by sheer luck, my itinerary avoided all of them. For instance, the huge snowstorm that hit the East Coast last weekend? Yep, flew out on the Friday before it hit.

The MDW-LGA trip was on the 23rd, so I was expecting at least somewhat bad holiday traffic. Yeah. This is what check-in looked like:

Yikes. There was a line wrapping around the winding cordoned area. We arrived at the terminal over an hour early... and I was already getting worried. The line was progressing pretty slowly... as we moved forward, I found out why:

Yeah, five or six dead check in terminals, out of that bank of 12. Thanks guys. But even scarier--check out what OS they are running underneath that:

Admittedly, though, I still run a Windows 2000 machine. Also, I think I'd be even more worried if it were a Windows 7 startup screen ;).

Managed to get to the gate just as my boarding group was called... smooched Sarah, and got on the plane. Made it! Whew.