The Drugs are Working!!

I've spent the tail end of this week out sick, but I went in on Thursday for a second doctor's appointment. They did another set of tests, including a chest x-ray... conclusion: pneumonia. Which explains why I have been wrecked and feverish for about 2 weeks.

They put me on a five-day course of azithromycin. I'd been writing down my temperature for a few days, so I thought I'd plot it out. Hey... looks like those antibiotics actually work, eh?

Yeah, can't really argue with that. Also, I am no longer waking up covered in a thin layer of sweat, spending the day shivering or roasting, or achey all over.

However, I am still coughing hard enough that I occasionally puke, and when I speak I sound like I have been gargling drain cleaner. But hey, it's a step up, at least.

I'm planning on heading to the office tomorrow. Hope everyone else had a good weekend!


Current Status: Still Friggin' Wrecked

I am still stuck at home with the flu. This friggin' sucks. Today makes 11 days of illness. Grr.

And it's not like I'm having a good time taking sick days off. I get to watch a few movies--including Empire Strikes Back with the commentary track, Moon, Watchmen, and catch up on some TV shows--finished watching PBS's Ascent of Money online, as well as a few episodes of NOVA (including one on experiments in reviving the 1918 Pandemic strain).

Also made some progress on my taxes.

But the only thing keeping me vertical is constant doses of Advil and cough syrup.

Also, nothing says, "I'm sick" like waking up covered in that whole-body film of sweat while coughing and shivering.

The other day, I woke up with a headache so crushing/implod-ey that my first reaction, while staring at the ceiling, was to say out loud:


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

February 22nd, 2010

Okay, language centers check out; I'm not having a stroke

However, no sign of secondary infection so far (which is the classic reason why flu extends out over time--when you start seeing interesting-colored phlegm, that indicates a secondary/opportunistic baceterial infection).


The Big Energy Picture

I'm currently stuck at home with the flu--I'm feeling moderately wrecked (as opposed to completely wrecked, earlier this week), with a temperature of ~100 F. When I saw the doctor yesterday, he said, "If you still have a fever, you should be at home, instead of infecting your coworkers. I can write you a note." More importantly, there was an office potluck today--the last thing I ought to be doing is food prep for my coworkers--so I begged off.

So a reasonable way to spend a sick day would be curled up on the couch with a cup of tea, and catching up on Survivor or How It's Made episodes. Yeah, but you guys know me better. One thing that has been on my to-do list for a while: a colleague of mine (Martin Holladay) writes a column for the Green Building Advisor website called "Musings of an Energy Nerd"--it's really good, giving layperson explanations, but I also learn stuff when I read his columns. A recent one was titled Houses versus Cars:

He points out that you might want to figure out how much total energy you are using on transportation, vs., say, this home energy thing--and see which one matters more in your personal case. Some of his key conclusions were:
  • Transportation energy use is significant. The average American family uses more energy to operate their cars than their home.
  • Many of us are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a new water heater, in hopes of saving only 10% on our water heating bill. But we could save twice as much energy by simply choosing a car that gets only 1 mpg better mileage than the average car.
  • Anyone who succeeds in living without a car should be honored. Good work, bicycle commuters! Keep pedaling.

So I wanted to do this exercise myself, working out my energy consumption figures for 2009. Yeah, there's a reason I'm still single... oh wait, I'm not... crap, I need to get a new joke. Anyway, I keep extensive and dorky records, so I had a shot at putting together some reasonable numbers. Also, I know my driving patterns are far off from the averages, so I wanted to see how they all pencil in.

So here's the graph, showing Btus (units of energy) per quarter of 2009:

And here's how I came up with those numbers.

Gas and Electricity
I keep pretty close tabs on my gas bills and electricity bills--after all, this is part of what I do for a living. I converted all of this energy to "source" energy--in short, for each unit of energy at the electrical plug in your house, you need ~3x that much energy (coal, nuclear, gas) at the power plant to generate it. It's mostly the inefficiencies in generating electricity, as opposed to transmission line losses. Just think about it--those great big cooling towers that are dumping waste heat into the sky at power plants? Yeah, that's where most of that missing 2/3 is going.

You can see the obvious patterns--gas use (i.e., heating) is high in Q1 and Q4 (winters); electricity stays close to constant. Also, I compared how JMD and I are relative to the US average: we were at 80 million source Btus for 2009; the US average is 187 million (per household). Woot! That's about 40% of the US average. Go small apartments!

I'm really happy about the fact that I have set up my life so I don't have to drive that much. 2008 was 4,786 miles; 2009 was a new record: 3,398 miles! For reference, a typical annual number is 12,000 miles per vehicle in the U.S.

So assuming 27 mpg (roughly my car's average mileage), and Martin's Btu/gallon numbers, my car use is a significantly smaller amount of energy than my home energy use. Cool.

Of course, although I seldom drive to work, I mix it up between biking and taking the bus. I started digging for numbers on passenger-mile fuel efficiencies of mass transit; one of the better ones I found was Is green U.S. mass transit a big myth?. It's written from the viewpoint of somebody who likes (and rides) mass transit, but is disappointed with where the numbers actually pencil in. For instance, you can see that is only marginally better than a car with a single driver, and worse than a car with a 1.57 passenger loading:

Note that his calculations assume a 9 passenger loading for a bus--although this is lower than what I typically see, remember that there is a serious observer effect going on:

A full bus or trainload of people is more efficient than private cars, sometimes quite a bit more so. But transit systems never consist of nothing but full vehicles. They run most of their day with light loads. The above calculations came from figures citing the average city bus holding 9 passengers, and the average train (light or heavy) holds 22. If that seems low, remember that every packed train at rush hour tends to mean a near empty train returning down the track. Remember, by definition most passenger experiences are on the fuller vehicles, which is why you probably think the average loads are higher than they are.

And San Jose Light Rail? Worse than a solo car? WTF? Is it constantly operating at a passenger loading of 1.1 or something? ("Okay, Bob's on the light rail again! Our numbers are up!")

However, take a look at the overall number--it is the barely-visible purple bars on the graph. This was based on my ballpark estimate of mileage--taking my T pass expenses from 2009, dividing by number of bus rides, and assuming 3 miles per ride (to and from work), that came out to ~300 miles per year. That's an order of magnitude lower than my driving (~3400 miles)--so the numbers make sense to me.

Aha... yeah, this one is the real kicker. I have e-receipts for all of my flights, and it is easy enough to calculate mileages. Holy cats... in 2009, I flew a nominal 54,228 miles--that's 2.2x the circumference of the earth. No wonder I felt beat to hell this past year--Q3 and Q4 were particularly bad. Assuming 60 passenger miles per gallon of jet fuel and 130,000 Btu per gallon, those are the numbers that come out. I figured that this would be the case--my airline travel totally dominates over everything else I'm doing.

What's Missing
I fully acknowledge that this is not meant to be a complete picture of my energy use--it's missing some significant factors. For instance, I don't account for bicycle commuting energy use. There's been a large amount written there on fuel->food->bike->go, but I didn't want to bother to get into it. Also, I have to say that at least those calories are being burned off for a useful purpose, as opposed to waste heat in a gym.

I did not include the random other incidental transportation items--NYC to BOS bus, Amtrak, or subway rides.

Also, I have not talked about the energy costs associated with food production, which are huge. I don't know where those numbers stand on a per capita basis compared to mine, and I also don't have information on whether I would probably be + or - the average. My guess is that not eating much beef (maybe a few times a month?) is probably helpful, but I probably can't claim any great shakes (vegetarianism, no dairy, etc.).

Finally, I have not accounted for any of the embodied energy of The Crap That I Buy (i.e., see the Story of Stuff post). Not sure how much that accounts for, and I certainly didn't want to slog through doing the calculations.

Alternate Graph
Looking at this graph, there are a few things that would be fair to modify. First of all, JMD and I split the apartment, so in fairness, if I'm talking about my energy use, the gas & electricity numbers should be cut in half.

Also, the huge energy pit was air travel--but almost all (85%) of it was due to work. For argument's sake, only the trips I took for my own purposes (Alaska and Chicago) are plotted here.

Arguably, that means I should be able to chop my car number down as well--most of my car trips nowadays are, "Okay, we're going to the site in Fall River, or Chelsea today; guess I'm not biking/busing to work today." However, I left them as-is.

Other Cool Stuff
Finally, speaking of the Big Energy Picture, there's a graph that the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration puts out every year--it's part of the 2008 Annual Energy Review. It shows the energy flows for the country, from all sources to all consumptions, divided up by type. I think it's a rather nice presentation of a large amount of data that would be really hard to compare as just columns of numbers.

You probably want to click on it to check it out in detail.


Surprises for the Stupid Holiday

Just a quick update on last weekend--a bit of an event; it's the first time I've spent the stupid holiday (a.k.a. Valentine's Day) in a non-single state.

So wow... it involved buying chocolate and roses for my sweetie! Yikes!

It worked out all right... I didn't feel like I was completely a victim of the romance-industrial complex. For instance, S.'s card for me had absolutely no pink on it! Woot! Thumbs up.

Also, bought flowers from JMD--seemed like the right thing to do:

Anyway, the evening wrapped up with dinner at Prose, which I have described before. Some highlights included Roast prime rib of beef with thyme-garlic marrow and house-made spicy kim chi, a cheese platter (including raw milk cow and goat cheeses, and a super-stinky blue), and Red Velvet cake with vanilla bean-cream cheese frosting. I know I've said that Prose has a reputation of sometimes being hit and miss--but this was definitely a very enjoyable dinner.

Overall, a nice weekend with my sweetie. Hey--it works for me.

Anyway, as a further random update, it seems like I've caught a nasty cough/cold/flu or something--achey and tired since Saturday, fever over 101 F at times, and just feeling generally wrecked. Took Monday as a sick day. Last night, I ended up passing out with the lights on and my glasses on, after uncontrollably shivering myself asleep. Yeah, heading to the doctor tomorrow, but fully expecting a reply of, "Yep, it's the flu... get some rest and plenty of fluids."


Random Photo Grab Bag

Yet another post on some recent random photos that are entertaining enough to share. Most of them silly self-portraits.

Walking from the bus to work, it seemed like Christo has struck the random side streets of Cambridge.

Okay, yeah, maybe it's just the Cambridge DPW. But it could be installation art!

For coffee hour, Sarah brought some Minneola oranges--they seem to typically have a growth at the stem end... but the size of it varies...

Hey, it's a Dunkin' Orange! Awesome!

A few weekends ago, Sarah and I visited her friends down in Attleboro, M. & E. They also have three charming kitties there (Oliver, Gracie, and Luna)--I had to check if one liked perching on my shoulder.

This photo prompted E. to email Sarah: "Don't look now, but Luna's got her claws into your boyfriend!" Heh.

Over Christmas, I got a package from BirdJen--woot, prezzies! I couldn't wait to try it on... JMD and Sarah were in the room, and had to grab a photo:

On my trip to California for Robbie Burns 2010 (which I completely failed to blog this year... apologies), I had to shoehorn in a visit down in the crawlspace of the jobsite before going out to a fancy dinner with Judy and John (at eVe in Berkeley--strong recommend; very nice place). I took a pair of self portaits before and after changing--I was told that I needed to make it into an animated GIF. Thus the following:

Work and Play
Finally, back during the New Year visit to Maine, with Sarah's family, Sarah's mom took a few candid shots of us together. This one caught me mid-laugh... er, mid-grimace?

Yeah, afraid the caption might need to be, "Eeeewww.... girls are iiiccckkyyy!"


Alumni-riffic Week

Wow... a busy social week and weekend... First of all, on Thursday, I received email to our group mailing list from Tappan (I saw him on my Chicago trip):

Subject: Super short notice

I'm randomly in Bahston until 8pm today. Anyone free to hang out?

Turns out the plan was meet up with some folks at Redbones for dinner. Woot! Was great to see him, and very nice to meet his girlfriend, Becca.

Then on Saturday, Perlick showed up in town--he's visiting Boston and New York, for a variety of reasons, including "I need a damn vacation," "It's time to experience a New England Winter again to appreciate being in the Bay Area," and "There's a cool talk in New York City that I want to see." Oh yeah, and tEp initiation. Woot! Peldges: initialized! Good to see a few drooling alums there.

We had a low key catch-up evening back in Arlington, including Bombay Sapphire G&Ts, using Q Tonic:

Q Tonic is dedicated to making the world’s best tonic water - a clean, crisp, completely ungeneric beverage that enhances the finest spirits or stands proudly on its own. We’ve used the best ingredients we could find. We went to the slopes of the Peruvian Andes for hand-picked quinine and to the Mexican countryside for organic agave, a sweetener better than honey with a gently rounded sweetness. We meticulously refined our recipe with both food scientists and mixologists. Then we worked with one of New York City’s best design shops to develop a bottle as beautiful as the liquid it holds. We think we’ve come up with a superior tonic water.

Well, it was definitely a winner for most pretentious packaging and description. I thought it was good, but not incredible--especially at $1.80 per G&T for the tonic--yes, the baby panda tears that they must use to make it the most utterly perfect tonic water are tasty, but color me unconvinced overall.

On Sunday, I threw a coffee hour to celebrate Perlick being in town--special guest appearances by Linder (+Aaron), Becca, and Morton & Sarah (+ Brynn).

After a bagel-based feast, we took a walk around town, ending up at the very Norman Rockwellesque skating pond here near Arlington Center:

Okay, I guess ice kiting wasn't that common in the Rockwell era.

And Teps on ice! Soon to be playing Radio City Music Hall:

The late evening wrapped up with a Superbowl Party--Sarah brought snacks, and I had fixin's to make pizza and salad. I have to say that it was pretty entertaining to hang out with two avid fans who really enjoy the game (Perlick and Morton), and who can analyze (and unpack) the arcana of the game so thoroughly for the rest of us. Although some of their discussions was as incomprehensible to me as listening to the cricket scores on the BBC ("... leg before wicket..."). But even as a non-football fan, the game was pretty darn exciting.

Anyway, power dinner at Mary's tomorrow! Woot! But--erk--I need a weekend to catch up!