Friday, December 30, 2011

On a train...

And yet I'm blogging. We're heading to my cousin's wedding in Washington, D.C., which is a seven-hour drive from home. There's no way my grandparents would be okay with spending that long in a cramped minivan, so we're taking the train.

Amtrak happens to be a lot nicer way to travel than airlines. No ridiculous security theater, more footroom, no turbulence, free outlets - and free wi-fi. This isn't the first time I've used wi-fi on a train, but it's the longest Amtrak trip I've used it on.

So now I'm blogging from a moving train, just south of Philadelphia. The wi-fi isn't bad - Blogger works okay - but Wikipedia is slow and there's no chance of enough bandwidth to upload photos. So I'll be taking this chance to work on a huge map I've been working on that encompasses the entire MBTA district.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A letter to the T

From the Globe comes the sad news that the anonymous employee who brought Boston this bit of holiday spirit might face "a written warning, suspension, or termination".

I thought the prank was funny, well-timed, and in good taste. The following is what I just sent to MBTA management using their feedback form:

To the MBTA management:

The anonymous MBTA employee who programmed the Park Street sign to play "Deck the Hall" yesterday deserves not discipline or termination, but commendation. Many other transit systems - New York and Chicago, in particular - have special holiday trains covered in lights than run their systems in December. Even Amtrak outfits the Downeaster with wreaths.

To tell this employee that their action - harmless, pushing no viewpoint save cheerfulness, and genuinely funny - is worthy of reprimand is a robotic and unreasonable reaction. I hope that the MBTA will have a laugh and move on rather than punishing this employee.

David Sindel
MBTA customer

Someone at the T has the holiday spirit

(found via forums)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

(High Dynamic Range (HDR) image created from a stack of 4 images with exposures ranging from 1/16 to 8 seconds, combined with Luminance HDR (using Ashikhmin algorithm))

Friday, December 23, 2011


Although I am a solidly left-brain person, what with my engineering classes and my persistent love affair with good data, I do have a creative interest at times. I've posted a few things about interesting art I've found, and occasionally I will make an attempt to write something worth reading.

Yesterday, probably through Reddit, I stumbled across this post about some incredible sculptures. Guy Laramee takes old encyclopedias and carves incredible landscapes out of the thin, dense pages. He even carved one out of a stack of leaning books.

The blog on which I found the page about him is called Colossal, and it's an art and design blog with an emphasis on cool installation and sculpture art.

One such artist I found on there was Cameron Booth. He takes some excellent photos, but what really caught my eye was his maps and diagrams. He takes systems like Amtrak and the US Interstate system and makes them into easy-to-read subway-style diagrams. Here's one of the numbered US routes:

U.S. Routes as a Subway Map
(Click for full version on his Flickr)

Possible the most impressive, though, is this one of France's high speed rail (TGV) routes:
Itinéraires de train à grande vitesse de la France


"A picture is worth a thousand words."

Well, maybe. A picture can be worth almost nothing; take a look at 100 random images on Flickr, and you'll see that very few of the site's 6 billion images are worth more than a sentence.

But, when properly applied, a single image can replace thousands of words. I probably read through several thousand words of blog posts, forum posts, and old newspapers to trace the former Green Line branch that once surfaced at what is now Eliot Norton Park in the Theater District. Descriptions of streetcar lines and that "...the right tracks went under the grade of the left tracks and split, with the left branch going to City Point outbound..." are simply insufficient to describe a complex, multilevel three-dimensional track crossover - particularly one that has not been seen in 4 decades and thus no good pictures exist.

If I may toot my own horn a moment, then take a look at this map that I created. I designed it to quickly show a viewer which tracks went where, and in what configuration. In this case, it tells the reader as much as those thousands of words of prose and even more than the few grainy photographs available. It does not replace them; it cannot entirely replace a picture, however poor quality, that shows the actual tunnel rather than simply a schematic. It is helpful, too, to know that the Orange Line connected to the portal between 1901 and 1908, or that the #43 streetcar to Lenox Street was the last route to use the portal. Even when included with the images (as I did with the Orange Line), it still requires text. But the map both elucidates and replaces text, and thus the old maxim holds in this case.

Of course, pictures can replace words without being merely informative. A picture of, perhaps, a lonely pond can show desperation and loneliness just as a poem or story could. Our vision is one of our most powerful senses; like taste and smell, it can have a strong correlation with memory. How else, for example, could my father recognize a cousin that he had not seen in decades? His brain could combine old images with its knowledge of aging and provide a plausible composite which it then compared with each passerby until it found a match.

The human face, in particular, is a subject where image is superior to the written word. One ran write about a person and get a reasonably accurate portrait of their body, their mind, their mannerisms and even their voice. But the face is a masterpiece of subtlety; tiny variations cause huge changes in the way it is perceived. A few millimeters in the symmetry of the features and the relative locations of nose, mouth, and eyes is much of the difference between average and beauty, or especially between merely beautiful and truly gorgeous. Emotion is written almost entirely in our faces: the way the eyes change direction, the separation of the lips, and the minor movement of the eyebrows can signal almost anything. The features are difficult to quantify and even more difficult to describe in a nonvisual medium; the mediocre artist will find themself able to produce a tolerable if slightly lopsided facsimile of the human body, but the face will be downright unrecognizable. Much artistic skill is required even for the most basic outline, and even more if that outline is via prose, yet even the grainiest photograph provides instant recognition.

So a picture can be worth one word, or a thousand, or more than any writing could ever produce. A poor graphic, perhaps on a Powerpoint slide, can do more harm than good: instead of saving words, it requires more to explain it that it would to simply leave it out. When dealing with something complex yet quantifiable an image can disambiguate text and render only a caption necessary - but only if the image is in fact superior to the text. Only when dealing with subtle subjects: the face, or an object of beauty, or simply something beyond the ability of human language to render it - does the printed word fail completely.

But what about something for which there is no equivalent in words? Some photographs are true art; they tell a message which is as clear as if it was spoken. They express ideas and feelings. But others simply exist. They are not high art, even if they are artistic in style. (And by 'artistic' I mean legitimately artistic, with attention paid to exposure, color, and framing - or developed by mere stroke of luck. The trend of 'tilt the camera, vignette the edges, and make it greyscale' is not nearly as artistically interesting as its practitioners would like to believe.)

Some would say that these are not worthy photographs, that they must either be useful or meaningful, and I do not deny that there may be merit in that statement. But I would like to believe that a picture can simply be.

I carry a camera everywhere and I take pictures because I find the subject interesting. The two following are from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, where a friend attends. The first was a spur-of-the-moment shot; the second I saw in an instant but it took a few moments to align.

This was from my walk on Tuesday, where I followed Massachusetts Avenue to Harvard Square. I will confess to taking a color image here and converting it to greyscale. I did so not because I think it of artistic value, but simply because I wanted the silhouette of the church. Frequently I will use such digital post-processing to improve or modify my photos; it is one of the joys of the digital age. In this case, I actually created several copies and experimented with fill brightness, contrast, and shadows to produce the effect I wanted: a blank church against a mottled background of the incoming storm.

(A note: I wrote this and posted it on my other blog back in October, and I never cross-posted it here. I felt it was worth cross-posting.

It's also an experiment in style; check carefully and you'll find that the post is precisely 1000 words in length.)

Launch Report #45 Part 4: Others' flights

There weren't that many people at the launch - perhaps twenty at the most, with most of them the regular CATO crowd. That meant the range wasn't crazy, so I was able to take lots of pictures.

Here's Al Gloer's Fliskits Richter Recker on a cluster of three motors, mostly likely D12s:

And his Free Rocket #1 on an unidentified red motor:

Someone's Black Brant on a green motor, at full power but not even moving yet:

I wore my Jayne hat to the launch. Little did I know that I would not be the only one. It seems Al owns one too:

Launch Report #45 Part 3: Two-stage rockets

Since this was my first time flying rockets in seven months, I didn't try anything too fancy. No clusters, no gliders, and nothing requiring a tightly-packed parachute or other finicky recovery devices.

But what's life without a little adventure? So I did fly two two-staged rockets at CATO, both old favorites with a few flights under their belts. The first was the Jinx, a rocket I was given in 5th grade by a teacher. It's solid plastic and basically unbreakable and waterproof - the perfect rocket for a cold day with lots of water on the field.

This was its eighth flight since I started keeping records and there'd been a few before then; this was its third boosted flight. I used a B6-0 in a generic booster stage I built a while back and an A10-3 mini motor in the Jinx. They're on the left rod:

It flew beautifully. Staging was low enough to be in sight yet the Jinx flew fairly high. It came down near the pads but on a wet area of the field, and a CATO member with hip waders fetched it. The booster came down just 100 feet from the pads.

My final flight of the day was my twin saucers staged on a D12-0 / C6-0 combo. As always, they were stable even in wind and a good low and loud crowd-pleaser:

As with the previous video, this one is worth watching frame-by-frame. Consistent with simulations, the saucers oscillate (both back-and-forth and speed up/slow down) due to the large area and flexible nature,

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Launch Report #45 Part 2: Happiness is a perfectly deployed parachute

Third flight of the day was the Mozzie on an F23-4 Black Jack that I've had since July 2009. It's a great motor - a baby F that still has enough kick to loft the Mozzie to a simulated altitude of 1065 feet. Due to the wind, the Mozzie arced over significantly weathercocked into the wind and reached a height of no more than 900 feet. But deployment was perfect and thanks to the weathercocking, it landed only 400 feet downwind of the pad.

A couple of the kids hanging around got to it before I did, which I don't normally like because I prefer to see the landing zone if a rocket was damaged on landing so I can prevent the mistake. But this landing was perfect - into the stream. Fortunately the paint suffered no damage, and the Mozzie will fly again.

Launch Report #45: CATO 180: Part 1

First launch in seven months! Busy summer vacation plus going to college prevented me from getting to CATO, and I didn't bother launching on my own. But I'm home for a month now, and so I headed off to Durham for some fun.

My first flight was actually not my rocket. Al Gloer showed me a tiny little thing: a rocket about the size of an Estes Mosquito that was made out of one piece of solid plastic, right down to the launch lug. I flew it on a 1/4A3-3 micro motor, which despite its tiny size and quarter-second burn time can throw a one-ounce rocket about two hundred feet in the air. As expected, we couldn't find it.

But, for the first time, I bring you a VIDEO:

It's pretty interesting to look at frame-by-frame. The cloud of smoke expands for four frames before the rocket actually starts moving.

Second flight was my Cosmic Cobra - my long-ago first rocket - on a C6-3. A gust of wind hit at liftoff and it arced heavily over downrange, but it was high enough for safe ejection. The body tube core-sampled into an open area of field; finding it was a lot easier than removing the 3-inch plug of dirt inside it. I had trouble finding the nose cone in the high grass, but after backtracing the flight in my mind I was able to identify a probably location for it - and I found it.

Here's it just moments after ignition:

Friday, December 2, 2011

Guest Post on I Ride The T

About two months ago, I was contacted by a fellow blogger, Tyler of I Ride The T, to write a guest post about my thoughts on public domain images. Et voilà, the final conceptual topic for my writing course was born.

It took a few weeks for me to write, but Tyler now has it up on I Ride The T. Tyler writes some fascinating history - I never knew just how much is under Government Center - and you're quite guaranteed to waste your next hour learning about all sorts of cool stuff about the T.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More Books!

In my quest to assemble my life's library - more books than I could ever read - I picked up three at Book Barn today.

"Flatland" is Victorian social satire. About geometry. It's mostly remembered for its discussion of life in the 2D plane, rather than its scathing critique of the Victorians. It's also a fabulous way to more fully understand dimensions, especially getting an idea of the 4th dimension.

The other two I got are about trolleys. One is a 1961 book about systems all around the US, focusing heavily on the Midwest interurban lines, almost all of which are now gone. The other is a publication of the Connecticut Valley chapter of the National Railway Historical Society about several former trolley lines that once existed here in southeastern Connecticut and the nearby sections of Rhode Island. They were ultimately integrated into the Norwich and Westerly system, and included the Pawcatuck Valley Street Railway, Groton and Stonington Street Railway, and the Ashaway and Westerly Railway. It also covers the New London & East Lyme Street Railway.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ball Square Station rendering

From the Youtube channel of Sommerville STEP comes this awesome animated rendering of the future Ball Square station, part of the Green Line Extension:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do the Impossible

Bit of a filler post while I get my life in order, but here's a Firefly poster I made the other day:

(A note to a user from tumblr who pointed out the similarity: Yes, it is based on this older poster, authorship unknown. Unlike the low-quality raster original, this is a high-quality vector version (here published as a large raster) that's suitable for poster-size printing.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MBTA lost-and-found

So, I lost my room key on Saturday. It happened to be when I was bringing a friend to Logan Airport - so that key could be anywhere at Kenmore station, on a Green Line car, at Government Center, on a Blue Line car, at Airport Station, on a Massport shuttle bus, at Logan, on a Silver Line bus, at South Station, on a Red Line car, at Park Street Station, or on a second Green Line car.

So I, of course, tried to contact lost-and-found. Logan's lost-and-found is run by the state police and is highly efficient. There's an online form to use and you can view a list of items on their website.

The MBTA is not so helpful. The main number given on the website - (617) 222-3200 - just goes to their phone directory with no convenient lost-and-found option. The South Station number goes to an answering machine even during business hours.

What are useful are the individual line numbers. Each colored line maintains its own lost-and-found, and they are manned and have helpful operators. But the numbers are not publicly available! You have to get them from an attendant at a manned station like Park Street, Airport, or Kenmore.

For your convenience, here are the numbers:
Blue: (617) 222-5533
Orange: (617) 222-5403
Green: (617) 222-5220 (also 617-222-6070 at Riverside)
Red: 617-222-5099 (formerly -5231 and -6494)
Silver: (617) 222-2432

The commuter rail and ferries have their own numbers which can be found here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Getting to and from in Jamaica Plain

(Originally posted here at Walking Boston)

Jamaica Plain is a practical problem. Packed into just 3.07 miles are 38,000 people, including 32,000 adults. Fully half of them work away from home, and just 1600 of them can walk or bicycle to work. This leaves 16,500 people who must leave the area in a relatively short time via a limited number of road and rail corridors.1 In practice, almost all who head into the downtown area leave by just 3 routes: Huntington Avenue in northwest side of the district, the Southwest Corridor on the east side, and Centre Street between them.

But Jamaica Plain is also a conceptual problem. What is the best way to get these 16,500 people to work? Is there a single best way? Should the goal be the quickest commute? The most environmentally friendly? Are some modes inherently better than others?

These questions have been inherent in Jamaica Plain since its inception. I believe a bit of history is in order. Starting with the coming of the West Roxbury Railroad in 1857, Jamaica Plain was designed as a "streetcar suburb" where the majority of residents would ride horse-drawn streetcars into the city.2 The first of many such lines was the West Roxbury Railroad in 1857.3 Workers could house their families 4 miles from the hustle-bustle of the Common, yet only have a forty-five-minute ride to their job. In an age without cars or even bicycles and where a horse was a major expense, this was an excellent deal for the middle class. The streetcars were electrified at the end of the century. In 1903, the last segment of the continuous line from Park Street to Arborway was completed.3

By the early 1900s, Jamaica Plain was well-connected. This 1925 Boston Electric Railway (BERy) map, drawn at the peak of the streetcar's dominance, shows numerous lines running through the area. North-south arterials to center Boston along Huntington Avenue-Centre Street-South Street (the #39 line) and Tremont Street-Columbus Avenue (#43) connected with east-west side routes like the #41 (Jamaica Plain to Dudley) which connected with the Washington Street Elevated on BERy's Main Line. From Forest Hills one could ride into Roxbury, Dorcester, or even out to Dedham, and the Huntington Avenue lines also sent cars across the Muddy River to Brookline.

(Click to go to the file page on Wikimedia Commons for a larger version)

But even though that 1925 map shows a glorious network of streetcars, it also hints at its own destruction. Already, then, downtown surface routes and outer suburban routes had begun the conversion to bus routes. Buses have certain advantages over streetcars, namely the flexibility in routes and the lack of a need to maintain track in the middle of busy streets. They also have disadvantages: they are less popular because it makes it much easier for an area to suddenly lose its service, and because they carry fewer people and get stuck in traffic where streetcars could enter the Tremont Street Subway downtown.

Gradually, Jamaica Plain lost its streetcar lines. This was not an isolated incident, but a wide nationwide trend. In places such as Los Angeles, automobile manufacturers secretly bought lines and promptly abandoned them, forcing commuters to chose between riding their buses or buying their cars. In Boston, the M.T.A. was formed in 1947 to protect the city's public transit. Some lines were saved, but not even the M.T.A. could stand against the might of the automobile. The #41 was bustituted in 1949; the #43 lasted until 1956 before being cut back.4 By 1953, the network had become this:

Even after the creation of the MBTA in 1964, the #39 survived because of high ridership. 2 After the "A" Branch of the Green Line (the Watertown Line) was "bustituted" in 1969, it looked like the cuts were at an end. Jamaica Plain still had the #39 running though its heart on Huntington Avenue, Centre Street, and South Street to Arborway (Forest Hills). Designated the "E" Branch, it joined the "B" and "C" branches and the Ashmont-Mattapan Line as the last remaining streetcar lines in Boston. (The "D" Branch runs along the Highland branch, once a commuter rail line. It did not become light rail until 1959, at which time it caused a trolley shortage that led to the end of the "A" Branch.)

But the "E" Branch was a ticking time bomb. When the Orange Line moved from the old Washington Street Elevated to the Southwest Corridor (nearer to the center of Jamaica Plain) in 1987, MBTA leaders decided that the end of the "E" Branch was redundant.2 It also happened to be the only remaining part of the system where streetcars ran in mixed traffic, rather than in a dedicated center median or private right-of-way.

A streetcar along the short remaining section of street running, here at Mission Park.

So in 1985, the "E" Branch was cut to Heath Street, leaving two miles of empty tracks through the heart of the neighborhood. That section was replaced by the #39 bus, the second-busiest bus route in the system.5 6 Jamaica Plain was devastated, and furious. The MBTA called it a "temporary suspension", but the "A" Branch had taught locals that euphemism meant "permanent".

As part of Big Dig mitigation, the MBTA was required to restore streetcar service along the Arborway Line. But public opinion was mixed; many of the area's residents are young professionals who do not miss the streetcars because they never saw them running down South Huntington Avenue. What were once poor, mostly black blocks now sport newish sedans lining the sidewalks. Studies were done and plans made; on a recent visit to the State Transportation Library I found several linear feet of materials regarding restoration.

After the MBTA failed to restore service, lawsuits were filed and quietly dismissed. The T is strongly against the return of trolley service; street running track is expensive to maintain and the T's debts are already high. The last lawsuit was dismissed in January 2011, but the local papers did not even find out until August.7

The MBTA maintained the platforms (which now serve the #39 bus) in case service did return. This sign at Forest Hills is brand new, even though no Green Line trolleys have stopped in 26 years.

So where does that 154 years of history now leave the esteemed JP? It is an area in transition, a shifting mix of black and white, rich and poor, young and old. The stub of the "E" Branch serves the northern third of the area, though only the last few stops are in residential area rather than the Longwood Medical Area. The 39 bus chugs down the middle. The Orange Line rumbles through the east side of town under grade. Rusting trolley poles still populate the two miles of the former Arboway Line. And at Forest Hills, the streetcar tracks lie silent facing the shiny new signs, the last vestige of hope for those who believe that Jamaica Plain depends on the streetcars.

South Huntington Avenue, with light poles and trolley poles

Streetcar loops at Forest Hills at night

As of the 2000 census, of the 16,500 commuting JPers, 9000 rode in cars - and 7500 (83%) drive their own car, with just 1600 carpooling.1 (Numbers are rounded.) Of the 7300 who commuted by public transportation, 2400 rode the #39 bus. 4200 walked to take the Orange Line, and 600 to the stub of the "E" Branch (almost all at Heath Street6). (Just 40 rode the commuter rail to outer areas or as an express option to South Station).1

At 38,000 people in 3.07 square miles (2000 acres)1, Jamaica Plain hosts 19 people per square acre, a figure higher than any full-sized North American city and twice that of Boston as a whole.8 Such a number is much in line with European cities, which typically cluster 20 to 30 people per acre (an acre is 200 feet on a side). However, in European cities, few people drive. Trams are more common and public transportation is generally better, and those who drive typically chose extremely small cars or mopeds.

Thus, Jamaica Plain has the worst of both words: a dense concentration of people and a large number of drivers, with one car for every 5 residents. These cars add pollution to the air - and the last thing Jamaica Plain needs is worse health. The general agreement, then, is that more commutes should be converted to public transit. But the #39 bus is at capacity, and the Orange can only add a certain capacity, especially considering that it is inconvenient for most residents in Jamaica Plain. (From Pond Street, for example, it is 1.3 miles to Green Street which is inconceivable in any bad weather, and just half that to the #39 corridor.)

Jamaica Plain, then, faces several options for its transportation future, none of which are entirely palatable. The simplest is to merely leave the transportation system as is. As the #39 gets even more crowded, some riders will choose the Orange Line instead. Although it is limited in capacity, an extra thousand riders a day from Jamaica plain would be manageable. But this plan does nothing to prepare Jamaica Plain for a sustainable, healthy, clean future.

One idea considered in some of the Arborway studies was to convert the #39 bus to electric trolleybuses. On the surface, it is an attractive option. Trolleybuses can climb hills easier, produce no pollution, and consume no costly diesel fuel. However, two problems arise. First, because of the limitations of the wires, they aren't any more flexible than a trolley car. Second, this would introduce a fleet of vehicles that don't share parts with many other buses on the MBTA system. The other two electric fleets are the four routes out of Harvard Square and the Silver Line buses. To reach either yard would require diesel running down city streets.

Trolleybus near Harvard Square

The option preferred by many but not all residents is the return of streetcar service. A two-car train (three-car trains are generally prohibited from street-running) can hold 200 people (400 at crush capacity), versus 55-70 on a regular bus or 70-90 on the longer buses used for the #39.6 (Streetcars and buses run at the same frequency)9. Streetcars have an air of (ironically) permanence that is perceived as being beneficial to neighborhood growth. Were the trolleys to return, they would be there to stay.

The nuclear option is to eliminate street-running entirely and dig a new tunnel under South Huntington Avenue. Such a tunnel would be an immense undertaking: 3 miles from Brigham Circle to Forest Hills to eliminate all street-running tracks. It would be monstrously expensive and would require either a tunnel-boring machine, or else ripping up 3 miles of Jamaica Plain's central artery. The benefit, though, would be permanent grade-separated light rail service to Jamaica Plain. If Jamaica Plain continues to grow, such a tunnel may be necessary in 50 or 70 years (unless cars are phased out and streetcar service returns to dominate the corridor), but for now it is highly unlikely.

The ultimate question, though, is not just about what type of transit is best for Jamaica Plain. It also is about what type of transit those 38,000 people want. Do they want trolleys to return even if they have to mix with traffic? Would they prefer such service to gradually return in sections, or in one fell swoop? Or would they prefer more modest upgrades to the current system? It will not be an easy decision to make.

The conceptual problem extends beyond modes to fares as well. No matter what type of transportation works for Jamaica Plain, it's costly for residents to ride. 5718 households, about 2500 of them families, live on less than $30,000 per year.1 For many of them, a $40 per month local bus pass or $59 subway/bus pass ($480 and $708 annually, respectively)10 represent a hefty barrier to transit use. These costs are only expected to rise when the MBTA implements a fare increase sometime in 2012.

The two-hundred-dollar per year difference also pushes lower-income workers to the #39 versus the Orange Line. Not only is this transit inequity unfair to the workers - as they require 26 minutes (plus traffic delays)) to reach Back Bay from Forest Hills versus 12 minutes on the Orange Line9, but it hurts the MBTA by overcrowding the bus while the Orange Line runs under capacity on most trains.

It is suggested that a leveling of the cost of the Subway and Local Bus passes would help this inequity, as would the return of the trolleys (which have more precedence over traffic than do buses). However, the root of the issue is the relatively high cost of the fares. My 1949 Boston Electric Railway fare map shows the streetcar (now local bus) fare at 5 cents and the subway fare as 10 cents. Adjusted for inflation, these equal 47 and 94 cents in 2011 dollars. At $235 and $470 per year in 2011 dollars 11 (assuming 2 trips per day, 5 days per week, 50 weeks per year), the former fares were significantly cheaper: a worker could ride the Washington Street Elevated, or a #39 streetcar into the subway, for the equivalent cost of a modern bus pass - and this on a streetcar network far superior to today's.

Especially if the fare jumps significantly (and I've seen estimates of up to 80 dollars for a monthly subway pass), transit will be moving out of the range of those Jamaica Plain residents who need it most: those who cannot afford a car. But the MBTA is significantly in debt, and the money must come from somewhere. That somewhere is a conceptual question all on its own: should those riding heavily-subsidized outer belt commuter rail pay more (and have more of them drive and pollute)? What about disabled persons who cost the system $40 per ride on The Ride's specialized vehicles? Or what about those who drive only to park in MBTA lots? Should the state pay more to benefit only the eastern third? There is no easy answer.

Works Cited

1. "JAMAICA PLAIN 2000 Census of Population and Housing". Boston Redevelopment Authority. 15 December 2003. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
2. "Jamaica Plain". City of Boston. 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
3. Greer, Michael (2002). "Streetcars in Jamaica Plain: A History". Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
4. Wikipedia contributors. "Boston-area streetcar lines". Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 31 July 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
5. (Three bus routes are almost identical with about 14,500 riders per day: The #39, the #66, and the SL5).
6. "Ridership and Service Statistics". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
7. Ruch, John (26 August 2011). "Trolley comeback killed by court". Jamaica Plain Gazette. Retrieved 14 October 2011
8. Newman, Peter W. G. and Kenworthy, Jeffrey R. (1989). "Gasoline Consumption and Cities". Journal of the American Planning Association, 55:1, 24-3. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
9. "Route 39 Schedule". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
10. "Bus Fares & Passes". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
11. "CPI Inflation Calculator". United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved 14 October 2011.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

MassDOT and image reuse

I recently added a link on my blogroll: "Commonwealth Conversations", the official transportation blog of MassDOT. As well as highway projects, MassDOT is in charge of projects like South Coast Rail that involve new passenger rail or transit service, so much of the content is about such projects. They also post about MBTA projects.

One such post is today's, which announces approvals for the new Assembly Square station on the Orange Line and the rebuild of Orient Heights on the Blue Line. I am very glad to see both projects advancing.

There is one image in the post: a shot of the front of Orient Heights station. I recognized it immediately, because I just moved it to Wikimedia Commons yesterday.

It is originally from Flickr, posted here. I moved it to Wikimedia Commons with using a web interface because the photo is available under a free-use Creative Commons licence. This means that it is eligible to be used freely on Wikipedia and other sites as long as the terms of the licence are met.

In this case, it's a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licence. The BY term means that attribution is required: free reuse is only allowed if the author is properly credited. The SA term requires sharealike: any modification of the file must be licenced by the reuser under a similar free licence.

Use on Wikipedia meets those terms: clicking on the file takes you to a description page that credits the author, and Wikipedia itself is released under a free Creative Commons licence.

But MassDOT's use does not meet the terms. Both the Flickr version and the Wikimedia Commons reuse require attribution and sharealike. MassDOT's blog does not mention that the photograph was taken by Scott Lapierre, or provide a link to the Flickr or Wikimedia page, and it fails to release the resized version under a free licence. It's an easy and very common mistake to make, and one I've made myself in the past; I only personally became responsible about it after I started uploading files to Commons. Hopefully MassDOT, as a state agency, can set an example with correct attribution of free-use photos.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Even after everyone else has gone to bed, the city is still awash with light. Long after midnight, one can walk out on the Harvard Bridge and be surrounded by 360 degrees of lights. The Financial District is lit twenty-four hours a day. Even in Brookline - where nary a soul stirs past the stroke of twelve - many storefronts keep the lights on for security.

But even when the city is lit, the people are still asleep. By midnight, most major streets are empty of sober folks, and the Mass Pike slows to just a few cars per minute. Away from bars and frat houses, the only people I pass on my walks are dog walkers and a few couples returning late. At a time when much of the city is at its most beautiful, with the stillness and the overlap of dark and light, almost no one is there to appreciate it.

Even when that stillness is interrupted, there are still wonderful things. Take, for example, that most piercing of disturbances: an ambulance speeding down Commonwealth Avenue, sirens blaring. It is noisy and bright, the symbol of injury and sickness - the antithesis of everything beautiful about the night.

But take a closer look as it speeds down the avenue at midnight. Although there are none of the traffic jams present during the day, there are still a few cars at each stoplight. Each time the ambulance driver approaches a red light, a device on the truck turns the light to green (a so-called green wave) to speed its passage.

Now, watch and listen. On each block, the ambulance starts to brake several hundred feet before the light. But as soon as the light is green and the cars ahead form a clear path, the motor begins to roar. The driver downshifts this laughably overpowered vehicle and it shoots forward, accelerating cleanly through the traffic light.

So what, you may say, that the driver operates in this manner. How could it matter?

But watch the speed of the ambulance. Because it only brakes for a moment in the middle of the block, and because the driver accelerates as soon as the way ahead is open, the vehicle never slows below 30 miles per hour, and with a few clear blocks it may reach highway speeds.

Even if it saves just fractions of a second per block, over the two miles from Kenmore Square to Packard's Corner that might mean ten or even fifteen seconds. To one patient that means nothing, but over dozens and hundreds of emergency runs, that few seconds might save a life.

That to me is the essence of professionalism, that that ambulance driver handles their vehicle in this unorthodox but efficient manner. That they might perform this tedious brake-gas maneuver five or ten or twenty thousand times so that a stranger might survive, and they do this not out of charity but because they are doing their job to the very best of their ability. It is not a skill than can be acquired in a classroom, but only by experience and by the passing down on institutional knowledge.

It is no less a credit to the engineers who designed the vehicle, too, because they showed remarkable foresight when they put an eight-hundred horsepower motor in a truck barely larger than a large pickup - because they knew that someday, that vehicle might need to accelerate quickly, over and over again.

It is a peculiar notion to call beauty. Efficiency, yes, but a roaring motor is rarely beautiful. But I will call it beauty, because what is beauty but a system in perfect harmony?

(Originally posted at Walking Boston)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It Tolls for Thee

An early morning experiment in writing bad fiction, complete with the most overused and cliche 6-word opener of all time. Trigger warning for violence and suicide.

"It tolls for thee"

It was a dark and stormy noon as the distant bell tower finished its last stroke. He did not know where it was; it could be as far as Downtown or Needham, or perhaps the Mattapan church belt. It did not seem to matter which church it was anymore; after days of frustrating searching, he found that no bells within two miles could possibly play that pounding low song, haunted parody of a melody.

It was a deep sound channel, man, the hemp-soaked young man at the record store drawled to him. Like in the ocean, you know? Four years of “audio engineering” and he never learned to be professional. But the glorified roadie was all too correct. The tiny house at 38 Thorndike, it seemed, was just in the wrong place. Sound from that distant tower bounced off exactly from the wrong roofs and walls, combining at this improbable node and turning his modestly decorated living room into a hellish echo chamber fourteen times a day. On the hour, every hour, seven in the morning to eight at night, came that unearthly ringing. It stayed in his ears constantly, until he could barely tell whether it was real or imagined. Day or night, sun or rain, it was there.

Any sane man would have moved. Brought buyers in at half-past the hour and bought a house a few streets away. It was not that he was not physically strong enough; he was not yet a very old man. But this house was also the house where his wife had been. He was a practical man and did not believe in such things as ghosts, and yet he knew she was there. She was there in his head, in his memories. On at the threshold could he conjure the feeling of her tender lips; only in the cramped bedroom would her lusty smile surface in his brain. No, to leave this house would be to leave her – for the final time.

The ringing in his ears subsides for a moment, and he contemplates going outside for the first time in a week. If he could put her aside for an hour, then perhaps he could clear his head and-

And that that exact moment, the hedonistic thug on the other side of the thin clapboard wall chooses to power on his heavily distorted amplifier. His reaction is measured yet automatic, as if he has been mentally preparing for years. He reaches into an empty drawer and retrieves an ancient revolver. It is surprisingly heavy in his hands. He is unfamiliar with the heft; he has not touched except twice a year to blue the steel. From a yellowed cardboard box in the back of another drawer, he pulls out six small bullets a places them one at a time into their chambers. Click. Spin. Click. Spin. He knows exactly what will happen. In a few minutes, the hooligan will get bored of creating obnoxious screeches, and he will go to the corner store. He will walk down the sidewalk, directly in front of the man’s house. The man practices aiming, firing, turning the gun upwards. He spins the cylinder and stifles a laugh: he’s playing Russian Roulette with bullets in every chamber.

The low tones begin. It is one o’clock.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Allston Depot

Two of the most thought-provoking books I've read are Freakonomics and its sequel. Although they focus mostly on economic ideas, they also explore some unintended effects of public policy. Besides my human appreciation of irony, I find it fascinating to see how one thing can cause a chain of events. As a future engineer, it's important for me to see how one decision I make can have effects down the line.

Over the last century, engineering standards for trains have increased in a similar manner to how those for cars have increased. Just as manufacturers can no longer make Pintos that blow up when they get hit from behind, they can no longer make wooden trams or railroad cars that cannot survive a collision with an automobile. Today's modern light rail vehicles (colloquially, trams and trolleys), for example, are significantly heavier than the PCC streetcars that dominated during the 30s to the 70s. (The PCCs weighed just 35,000 to 42,000 pounds; 70s-era Boeing cars weight 67,000, and modern Type 8 trams weigh 85,000 pounds empty - and 130 passengers can add 20,000 more on top of that.)

Although fuel usage is not an issue for electric trams, weight can still be an issue. Should Green Line cars ever use the Pleasant Street Incline in South Boston again, the flyover ramps would have to be rebuild for the heavier modern cars. It is for this reason that the PCCs are still used on the Ashmont-Mattapan Line: the three bridges on the route would have to be rebuilt from scratch to accommodate the newer trams, and they would not be able to get an exemption to use lighter European trams because the line has grade crossings where a tram could conceivably hit a car. There's also no sense in abandoning reliable old cars when there's still a shortage of new cars.

Engineering standards, particularly crashworthiness standards, also affect mainline rail operations. Speeds are limited on many lines because in order to run above 70 miles an hour though grade crossings, the first car must be a locomotive or unoccupied car. FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) rules require certain steel side beams for operation above 125 mph. These side beams are located right where fold-down stairs go, so the high-speed Acela has no stairs - and can only stop at high-level (4 feet high) platforms.

Heavy modern steel railroad cars also require more energy to slow down, and to speed up, than the light wooden cars of years past. Again, this poses little problem with electric locomotives (or self-propelled electric railcars), but only the Northeast Corridor plus (most of) the New York and all of the Philadelphia commuter lines are electrified. When, like Boston, all of your commuter lines are diesel locomotives hauling 4 to 8 cars, it is impractical to have stops less than about 2 miles apart. Although their are some exceptions (Melrose, Needham, and Dedham have 3 stops within 1.5 linear miles, and West Roxbury has a 4-stop cluster), the trend is for fewer, wider-spaced stops, particularly on the newer lines.

During the nadir of rail travel - from about 1950 to 1980 - many lines were abandoned, or service was reduced to starvation levels. To reduce maintenance costs and to save on fuel, many stations were closed even on active lines. The Worcester-Framingham Line, like others, saw a number of its stations closed, particularly in the inner belt. Stations at University (BU), Allston, Brighton, Faneuil, and Newton were closed, leaving the Allston-Brighton area devoid of good transit options and heavily car-dependent.

The Allston depot was built in 1887 by the Boston & Albany Railroad, replacing the 1868 "Cambridge Crossing" depot. Although it closed at an unknown date, it still stands where Cambridge Street crosses the Mass Pike. It was once Sports Depot restaurant; now it's Regina Pizzeria at the Depot. (It housed a steakhouse even when it was still operational.) I took a walk two weeks back, to explore Allston and to photograph the building. With permission from the manager, I took some shots. It's a fairly large building, and the first two are panoramas I stitched together.

Front view from Cambridge Street

Side view from Franklin Street

Side view from the pedestrian bridge over the tracks and Mass Pike. Note how the former platform area is now an enclosed dining area - a brilliant reuse.

The saga of Allston Depot is not yet over, though. CSX is leaving Beacon Park Yard (the large rail yard between BU and Harvard) and moving those operations to Worcester. This will permit the MBTA to run more trains on the Boston-Framingham segment with less freight interference. Harvard is calling for the establishment of a new stop in Allston, and money talks. If the MBTA can purchase the tracks in that area, then they may well remove or relocate one to make room for a platform. The favored site is under the Cambridge Street bridge - exactly where the stop was first located 143 years ago.

(First posted at Walking Boston, here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rebuilding Rama: done!

Two months ago, I started rebuilding Rama, one of my favorite rockets. This required a near-complete replacement of the motor mount and the cotton wadding that supports it, repairs to the body tube, and a new paint job.

I finished all the repairs before college, but it wasn't quite finished. On Sunday, when I was home for a few hours, I added the second coat of white paint.

It's not perfect, as the upper end of the body tube is still slightly crumpled, but it's far better-looking than before. The red writing on the body tube no longer shows through a single coat of paint. The clear acrylic fins, which I carefully masked, are barely visible against the body tube (as they should be). And, perhaps most importantly, it's ready for a lot more flying. The new 18mm motor mount has no engine block nor motor hook, so it can take any 18mm motors, including Aerotech 18/20 reloads, or even longer experimental loads.

Walking through Somerville and the North End

On last Tuesday evening, I went to a public meeting in Somerville. It took me one trolley, two buses, and a lot of walking to get to Somerville High School. That's an indication of the poor state of public transit in the area (I missed a bus at Lechmere, so my options were waiting 30 minutes for the next bus, or a mile's walk), which I'll touch on more later with the Green Line Extension.

The meeting was about the upcoming Lowering McGrath study, which is a really cool thing. They're going to take an ugly concrete viaduct from the 1950s, which carries Route 28 but divides Somerville, and transform it into an at-grade boulevard. It will facilitate pedestrian and bicycle access and unite the two sides of the city.

The meeting got out just past 8. Rather than take a bus, I decided to walk back to Boston. I wasn't sure I wanted to walk four miles (or more) through the unfamiliar street grid of Cambridge, so I headed for the North End. This route took me along a mile of Route 28, including much of the viaduct. It's a monstrosity, and it wasn't the best walking. The sidewalks - where there were sidewalks - were narrow, unlit, and often flooded.

In Somerville, I passed a building with several arched doorways that I though might have once been a trolley barn. The pictures I took were, sadly, dramatically underexposed. It turns out, though, that it is related to the history of the first elevated railway in Boston, a short-lived monorail. I hope to return soon and take pictures.

My journey took me over the Route 28 bridge under the Green Line's Lechmere viaduct. The viaduct is closed for construction at Science Park, but it still provided a fascinating photographic subject. The viaduct, which turns 100 next June, still contains some original catenary (overhead wire) poles:

Any view west from the bridge is blocked by the Museum of Science, but the hundred-foot arches of the viaduct provide wonderful framing for the Bunker Hill Bridge. (The Spaulding Hospital is on the right side of the bridge.)
I played with saturation on the top image. I love the artistic manipulations that digital photography permits.

From the Charles, I walked east on Nashua Street. My camera was still on night setting when I took this shot of a shuttle bus. It's not the quality I was seeking for Wikipedia, but instead I find a little artistic merit:

From much of the North End, the Bunker Hill bridge is visible above trees and buildings. The Big Dig was in many ways a colossal waste, but I love the bridge. Bridges are frequently beautiful - the same curves that make them strong are often aesthetically pleasing - and this is among the best. It is clean and white, resembling a pair of sailboats more than a freeway.

I walked down Causeway Street, behind North Station and TD Garden. The street was for almost a century covered by the Causeway Street elevated, yet just seven years after its removal few traces remain. Its remains, too, are a future photographic target for me.

At Government Center, after 3.3 miles of wandering, I finally gave in and boarded the T. I hoped to photograph the Brattle Loop, once a busy streetcar turnaround for cars from as far as Medford and Chelsea. Now it's usually empty, with the former platform visible to the thousands who pass through the station despite a wall that hides much of it. However, that night, it was occupied by spare Green Line trams.

(Crossposted from Walking Boston here)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I am a Feminist

I am a feminist, and I am a man. I do not see this as a contradiction. I am a man because that is who I am; I did not choose to be a man. I am a feminist because I chose to be a feminist, because I believe in the apparently radical idea that women are people. People, just people, exactly as men are people.

Some people tell me this is a contradiction. They say that a man cannot be a feminist, because feminism is about women, and I am not a woman. Or they say that it is silly to be a feminist, because I am not a woman, and giving women equality will not give me anything. I find this to be ridiculous: should I not believe in the equality of black people because I am not black, or not fight for gay people to marry simply because I am not gay?

I believe that equality is necessary on its own merits, that no person should be denied an equal chance because of something as trivial as because they happen to be female. I do not need to justify its benefit to me, because having a fair society is worth anything I can do. But even the silly arguments make me think. What does feminism bring to me? Can it be justified on a personal level, in addition to a global level? It maybe is not important that it can – but it can absolutely be justified on any level. I am a feminist because I think it is good, but I am also a feminist because it is good for me.

I am a feminist, because when I walk into my job, I will have the very best possible coworkers. They will have been chosen at every level for their ability and creativity, their rationality and brilliance. There will be women there, because maybe they will not have been told at five and ten and fifteen and eighteen and twenty-two that women don’t become engineers, that maybe they should become a nurse of a teacher instead, because that’s what women do. There will be women sitting in the fancy chairs, because we will have purged from our collective memory banks the idea that only men can make decisions.

I am a feminist, because I will have sex with a woman, and I will know that we are having sex because we want to have sex with each other. It will be good sex, because she will have been taught that her body is good and she can enjoy it, and that sex is good and she can enjoy it too. I will not worry that she would rather be having sex with a woman, or with no one, or with someone else entirely – because she will not feel a pressure to ignore her feelings and have sex with a man – and I will know that we are having sex because she happens to want sex. She will not feel shamed by society for having sex, even if she has sex with other people too, or if she gets birth control so that she does not have to have a baby.

I am a feminist, because I will watch movies, and I will watch television, and I will watch strong female characters. Except I will not even think of this, because strong female characters will be so normal I will not notice them, because they will not be an anomaly any more. I will watch these women have jobs and hobbies and talk to each other about things besides men, because that is how women act in real life. 

I am a feminist, because I will hold doors for people. I will not worry about being expected to open doors for women simply because they are women, and I will not worry about insulting a woman’s strength by opening a door for her. I will open doors for people because it is basic human kindness, and I will be able to open doors for all people.

A note: this was originally written about 2:30 in the morning a few nights back. It's an amalgam of several nights of thought. It's written in a bit of an idiosyncratic style, I realize, and I refuse to have it any other way.

(Originally posted by me at Walking Boston.

New Blog: Walking Boston

Having received permission from my professor to do so, I will be hosting my Honors College blog posts primarily on Blogger, at When I crosspost items, I will link the copy to the original.


So, Blogger recently changed the design settings. Among other changes, you can now choose a favicon - the tiny square image that displays next to the title in the browser tab.

I like this, because I read a lot of blogs, and sometimes I have 30 or 40 tabs open. If I (or you) want to find mine, it's now easy: just find the tiny radioactivity symbol.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm back!

Cross-posting between blogs should begin tomorrow. Sorry for the delay; the other software is buggier than Blogger. I lost a 500-word post the other day... only to replace it with an 1130-word opus about walking around Boston.

And I've been editing Wikipedia quite a bit. In fact, with two consecutive edits today (uploading a nice geographic map of the former A Branch (more on that later), and then putting it into the relevant article), I hit two milestones: 2000 edits on Wikipedia (since July 2006) and 1500 edits (including uploads) on Commons (since December 2010).

Friday, September 9, 2011


For my Honors writing course at BU, I am required to keep a personal blog, with at least 12,000 words over the next 14 weeks to get full credit. Some material there will be of pertinent interest here, particularly posts about the history of Boston and the MBTA. Most of my "Ruins of the T" material will be crossposted to both (with my professor's permission).

In which I take a walk

Normally, I'm an indoors person. Don't get me wrong, I love nature, but I spend many of my waking hours on my laptop, comfortably protected from the weather. Plus, I spent the first eighteen years of my life in suburban Connecticut, in a small neighborhood. It's not a terribly exciting place to walk around, and there's no sidewalks on the main road if I want to go further. I also can't go out past sunset, because no one else is about so the natural assumption would be that I was up to no good. There's a nice woods behind my house, but it's not a good place to walk after dark either due to the sometimes twisty and uneven trails.

But now, I'm in Boston, which has the useful trait of being a fairly large and rather safe city. There are hundreds of streets to walk down with sights galore: buildings, a rather impressive river, lots of people, and of course trains (active subway and commuter rail, and abandoned infrastructure). I feel safe walking around most of the city, even at night; the areas near BU (Cambridge, Fenway-Kenmore, Back Bay, and Brookline) are all good safe areas.

So, I've taken to walking, both to class (even though I could catch the BU shuttle bus for a few blocks) and just for fun. The BU Campus is 1.5 miles from Kenmore to Packard's Corner, and there's lots of fun stuff a similar distance away. Brookline in particular is a nice place for strolling.

Today, I had a few errands to run. I walked up Commonwealth Avenue to the student union, then back down to Kenmore Square. I decided to walk to the Back Bay Best Buy (actually next to Hynes) to get an ink cartridge for my printer. I took the long way to Mass Ave, via Beacon Street and Charlesgate East. At Charlesgate, between Storrow Drive and an access ramp, there's a random house:

It stands alone among the Muddy River and a mix of rusting highway ramps. It's too far from the Green Line to be an old headhouse or vent (like the emergency exit on the corner of Charlesgate East and Newbury Street), and it doesn't seem to be occupied. Perhaps it's a fancy maintenance shed. Whatever it is, it's mostly covered in Ivy.

From there, I walked across the Harvard Bridge and through MIT on Massachusetts Avenue. At Central Square, I took the stairway down into the T and filled up my Charliecard. I considered walking back to BU via Cambridgeport and the BU Bridge, but that would be another 3 to 4 miles back to Hynes, so instead I boarded the Red Line inbound. At Park Street I changed to the Green Line, on an extremely crowded tram. I squeezed my way out at Hynes and strode into the Best Buy.... only to learn that they did not have the ink cartridge I sought. I went back to my dorm via Newbury Street and Bay State Road, using the convenient pedestrian underpass at Kenmore station to safely cross under Commonwealth.

Still, it was a great walk. The weather was finally clearing up after three dreary days, and the view from the middle of the Charles was spectacular. My total walk was about 3.7 miles including the bit coming back from Hynes, which is probably more than I walked all summer. Thanks to all this walking, I'm hungrier than I was when sedentary. I anticipate moving to a four-meals-a-day schedule within a week or two.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Boston at Night

I've taken to carrying a camera around everywhere I go in Boston. It's five years old and only 3 megapixels (the same as my cell phone), but it's making me notice things I normally wouldn't, and it's very exciting having a city to photograph. (I lived for 18 years in a cowtown, okay? Not a bad place, but not many people or buildings.)

It was raining tonight at the first BU Astronomy Society meeting, but we went out on the 6th floor roof of the College of Arts and Sciences anyway. My pictures were blurry, badly lit, and out of focus, but I had some fun with them anyway.

Cambridge, with accidental camera wiggle:

Cambridge, with digital brightness manipulation:

Lights on Commonwealth Avenue, digitally saturated:

Walking back between the brownstones on Bay State Avenue:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ruins of the T: An introduction

I'm now in Boston, which means this blog is getting a bit of a thematic change. I can't work on rockets right now, but I am in a city that has lots of my other geeky obsession: trains.

The MBTA operates a systems of buses, trackless trolleys, light rail and heavy rail subway and surface lines, and mainline commuter rail. Amtrak operates 4 passenger services out of Boston, and CSX hauls freight.

But there's a lot more that doesn't run anymore. The Boston Elevated Railway, Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway, MTA / MBTA, and many smaller systems ran streetcars everywhere in Eastern Masachusetts, of which just four lines* plus a heritage line remain. Countless rail lines (Central Massachusetts Railway and others) and branches (dozens off the existing commuter system alone) have dropped service or been abandoned, leaving stations, bridges, and rights-of-way behind. (To say nothing of old stations on active lines.) There's a huge amount of ruins - everything from staircases leading to platforms that no longer exist, to whole tunnels and stations behind brick walls.

Much of it can be seen. A lot is on the surface, on the streets of Boston and in surrounding towns. A few things can only be seen beneath the surface, like the unused turnaround loop at Government Center. I plan to go out and photograph as much as I can. Much can be seen already on Google Maps Street View.

Here's a map of what I plan to visit and already have. Links to pictures go up as I upload them to Blogger and Commons.

View Random (mostly old) MBTA bits in a larger map

*Green Line B, C, and E branches, plus the Ashmont-Mattapan Line. The Green Line D branch was formerly commuter rail and only became a trolley line in 1959.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

In Boston

I am now in Boston at BU!

...and now I'm going to sleep.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reynolds / Washburne 2012

Don't like the Democrats or Republicans? Want a real independent in 2012? Then vote for the Browncoats. Captain Malcolm Reynolds for President. Zoe Alleyne Washburne for Vice President. They aim to misbehave.

It's a digitized, colorized, and vectorized version of this poster that I made back in March.

The original vector version (this is a smaller jpeg) is high enough quality to use as a poster up to 24x36 inches without loss of quality. Let me know if you want a copy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pictures of the Irene aftermath (with video bonus!)

We got power and phone service back last night, and that makes us very lucky; much of CT does not have power back yet, and some might not get it till next week, because Connecticut Light & Power is overloaded by the sheer volume of downed trees. My neighborhood has cable back, but our connection is down, so I'm at the library for internet right now.

This 6" log fell across my street; fortunately it was soft, so I was able to break it up and remove it.

30-foot branch about 15 yards from my house.

Tree back in the woods, bent in a U by a branch that fell and speared it.

The pointy one in the background is an 11" thick tree, snapped in half by the storm.

Two 30-foot branches, collectively weighing about a ton. The bush took a hit but the garage got off without a scratch.

And now, the video daily double bonus: I took a video. It's fuzzy and shaky, but hey, video. You can see the downed cable (in the video I mistake it for the phone line), a downed branch stuck up in the front tree, and the remains of the log I moved.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I'm Alive!

The hurricane wasn't as nasty as we feared; it was a tropical storm by the time it hit. We had some monster branches down, but no house damage, and no one I know is hurt or homeless.

But, the power's out, and projected to be out for a while. Half the state is without power, and the rich/politically connected folks in Hartford and Fairfield County are the priority. Apparently, Connecticut Light & Power is bringing in crews from as far as Colorado and Canada. So, the next time I have power at home, much less internet, might be at college on Saturday.

However, not all is bad. My dad's office has power (ramen and a hot pocket never tasted as good as when I hadn't had hot food in 36 hours...) and internet, so I'll be hanging out here a lot. My grandparents have power, which means hot showers are possible, and the roads are mostly okay. (After I removed a 6-inch log from our street, that is).

It was also clear last night and with the blackouts there was almost no light pollution. More on that later.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Goodbye Internet

Irene is coming; scheduled to hit us hard tonight and tomorrow. Thunder is starting; that means we're turning the computer and the router off shortly, and we stand a good chance of losing power. So I might not have internet access for a few days.


After it being clear earlier this evening - I took my binoculars out for a few minutes - it's clouded over. These clouds are the very outer fringes of Hurricane Irene:

The next time I see a clear sky... may be in the eye of a hurricane. That's surreal.

(Image: Fair-use screenshot of Intellicast water vapor satellite imagery)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A (galactically) nearby supernova

Phil Plait reports that there's a new supernova in the galaxy M101, one of the nearest galaxies. It's only magnitude 17.2 right now, not visible without a 15+ inch telescope, but it's supposed to brighten to magnitude 11 - enough that I may be able to spot it with my 8-inch scope.

This is a pretty major event; there's only been one supernova in recent years (in 1987) that was closer. It's a Type Ia supernova, which unlike many supernovae is not formed by the collapse of a supermassive star. Instead, it is created by a binary star system, consisting of a large, cool, and massive red giant and a small, hot white dwarf. The white dwarf steals material from the red giant; when it reaches 1.38 times the mass of the sun - the Chandrasekhar limit - it can no longer support itself, and it begins to implode. Carbon, normally not prone to nuclear fusion, fuses into magnesium in what is called carbon detonation, and the thermonuclear 'flame' destroys the star in a burst of energy equal to two billion billion billion billion billion of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima.

Discovery notice
Archival discovery of possible precursor stars

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Central Corridor Map - improved

I've been busy recently, what with college packing, Wikipedia, and cartography. I just finished the first of several vector maps of the Central Corridor Rail Line, for use on Wikipedia and their website. This is a lower-detail image; I'm currently finishing the high-detail large-format map.

I used the PNG version because it has a white background (the svg would have my blog's green background), but it links to the main svg.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The danger of using stock images

So, I was putting away books at the library the other day, and I suddenly stopped. I was looking at a Luanne Rice novel, "The Edge of Winter". I has this photograph of a young women on it:
(All images here are fair-use images: low-resolution versions of copyrighted material, for non-profit educational use only.)

I walked over and pulled out another book: "Finding Alice", by Melody Carlson:

Note the similarities: It's the same young woman, in the same skirt and jackets and boots, walking on the same wooden barrier.

Now, here's the back cover of "Finding Alice":

It's the exact same image that's on the cover of the Luanne Rice book. Quite clearly, the photos are stock photos, and the publishers didn't know (they have different publishers) that they'd been used on another book.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Image maps

Image maps are a neat little HTML trick (that I really hope works in Blogger). They let you assign shapes on an image (circles, rectangles, and arbitrary polygons) with attributes. They can display text when you mouse over them, link to websites (useful for things like an interactive periodic table), or act as a detection (on click or mouseover) that triggers other events.

W3C specification document

I made one from this map I made of the Abraham Lincoln, a train in Illinois (now integrated into the Lincoln Service name). Mouseover tips show tips for making geographics maps of train systems; the title links to the article on Wikipedia.