Category Archives: Berkeley

Quantum Construction



quantum construction, originally uploaded by arcanegazebo.

I spotted this sign while running in Berkeley this morning, and had to go back for a photo. From the slogan it looks like they’re promoting energy-efficient home design, which is commendable; thus they probably want “quantum” to indicate “technologically advanced”. But of course, “quantum” also brings to mind uncertainty, which maybe isn’t what a contractor wants to associate themselves with. At the very least, I would expect Quantum Construction to be able to give a precise time estimate, or a precise cost estimate, but not both.

However, I assume their creation operators are top-notch.

Quantifying neighborhood walkability

Here’s a site (via Lifehacker) that calculates a walkability score for a given address. I grew up in the suburbs and didn’t appreciate the convenience of being able to walk everywhere until I moved into my current apartment (which scores 82 out of 100). I’ve come to like it so much that, when I next move, I will try to look exclusively at walkable neighborhoods.
One sees walkability being increasingly advocated as a goal in urban planning policy, often for the environmental benefits. Indeed, it’s almost certainly true that I have a much lower carbon footprint than I used to—on a typical week I only make one or two trips by car, and most of the time I don’t need mass transit either. To me personally (rather than on a policy level), however, this is a secondary benefit. (Although the gasoline savings are nice.) The reasons I prefer walkability are more tangible:

  • Accessibility and convenience: if I need something from the grocery store or the pharmacy I can get it and be back within ten minutes.

  • Social connectedness: while out walking I frequently run into friends and neighbors (and, once, a long-lost friend from high school, although I embarrassingly failed to recognize her).
  • Exercise and fresh air: my baseline level of fitness (i.e. when I’m not running regularly) is much higher than it was when I used to drive everywhere. And walking around is just a nicer experience than being in a car (especially in sunny California).

I don’t mean to claim that everyone should immediately move to a walkable neighborhood—there’s something to be said for the personal space and privacy that comes with suburban living. But I was surprised at how much walkability improved my own quality of life, and I think it’s definitely something policymakers should place an increasing importance on.
I calculated the Walk Score of some of my past addresses to get a sense of how the scale works; here they are by city (but calculated for the specific address I lived at):

  • Berkeley, CA (current address): 82

  • El Cerrito, CA: 63
  • Kensington, CA: 45
  • Pasadena, CA: 63
  • New Canaan, CT: 0

Calculate your own score, and let me know if you’re in a particularly walkable neighborhood—I may want to move there.

Why I love Berkeley

Sure, this is completely futile, but that’s part of the charm:

With overwhelming support from Berkeley residents, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night to be the first jurisdiction in the United States to let the public vote for the President’s impeachment. The measure will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot, at a cost of about $10,000.
The measure alleges that the administration violated the Constitution with illegal domestic spying, justified the Iraq war with fraudulent claims and illegally tortured citizens. San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and dozens of other cities have already passed council resolutions urging impeachment but none has gone as far as Berkeley.

Critics may be right that this is not terribly productive, but it sure will be fun to punch “yes” on this in November. On the other hand, who knows how my vote will actually get recorded—we use Diebold touch-screen voting machines.

Thoughts on the way to lab

Spotted no fewer than six U-Haul trucks on a half-mile stretch of Oxford St. Must be moving day.
I was having problems with my iPod for a while but got it working again. It was eerie to walk into a Jamba Juice, take off my headphones, and discover that the song I was just listening to was also playing on the store’s speakers. (It was Mylo’s “Drop The Pressure”.)

I don’t even have a sock drawer!

There were a ton of LaRouche disciples on campus yesterday, with their card tables set up in Sproul Plaza and huge stacks of LaRouche literature to hand out. At one point I think there was some kind of LaRouchie a capella performance. What’s up with this? Is it a big recruitment drive? (There are always a few hanging around but this was far more than usual.) It’s not well timed on their part since this week is also ASUC elections, and the campus is already crammed with placard-bearing students who want to annoy you about politics. The LaRouchies are nearly lost in the crowd. Fortunately, there are a number of secluded pathways through campus for those of us who merely want to walk to lunch unmolested.
I’ve always wondered where LaRouche manages to find all these intense, aggressive young people that are always shouting from their card tables. They’re very passionate about a guy who is obviously batshit insane. (Dave Barry once remarked: “Where you have a brain, Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., has a Whack-a-Mole game.”) I’m guessing they snap up gullible college freshmen and indoctrinate them early, hence this big campus appearance. They’ve also been capitalizing on anti-Bush sentiment, although they seem especially obsessed with Dick Cheney (maybe he figures in the grand LaRouche conspiracy theory).
Ideally the LaRouchies and the ASUC campaign people will end up shouting at each other, and the rest of us can slip by unnoticed.

Someone call Seattle

Tell them we have their weather, and they should come pick it up.

Rainy-day records were also broken in Oakland with 22 days of rain, San Rafael with 24 days and Santa Rosa with 25 days. Oakland International Airport had 7.22 inches of rain during the month, breaking the previous mark of 5.69 inches set in 1958.

Well, maybe April will be better? No such luck:

I’ll have to go back to Los Angeles just to remind myself what the sun looks like.

Encountered in Berkeley

Sort of like Overheard In New York, but with more sun and audience participation.
Scene: Saturday afternoon. I am walking on campus, on the path that runs along the south side of Strawberry Creek, near Haas Pavilion. I am accosted by a guy walking the other direction, who is not obviously a hobo.
Guy: Hey, do you know where I can find [unintelligible]?
AG: I’m sorry?
Guy: A gas station.
AG: There’s one on Oxford, by—
Guy: Which way?
AG: [gesturing] Over there, down the—
Guy: [indicating my shirt, which is partly obscured by my jacket] Does that say “Mardi Gras”?
AG: No, it—
Guy: Oh, “marathon”.
AG: Y—
Guy: Wanna go smoke a bowl?
AG: No—
Guy: Oh, you don’t smoke weed?
AG: No—
Guy: Mushrooms?
AG: No.
Guy: Can I borrow a couple of dollars?
AG: Sorry. The gas station’s that way.
Weird encounters are pretty common in this city, but this one was notable for combining nearly every weird aspect of Berkeley into a single (one-sided) conversation. I don’t know which of the proposed chemicals he had consumed already, but something was clearly affecting his attention span.

Climate Control

While the East Coast is buried in snow and Southern California struggles under a scorching heat wave, it’s been 65 and sunny all week here in Berkeley. And we’ll get the same weather in July. With this kind of climate, one might expect that the heating and air conditioning needs of a campus building like Birge Hall would be pretty minimal. And indeed, through efficient design the building is maintained at a pleasant environment with hardly any energy.
Ha! I’m joking, of course. What they actually do here is run the heating and the air conditioning at the same time so that they cancel out. I only discovered this fact this week, when the heat pump broke—leaving the air conditioning running unchecked. Naturally there’s no way to adjust it, and so I end up carrying a sweater to lab with me, so that after walking through perfect weather to get there I can bundle up when I enter the building and avoid freezing to death.
Somehow, you’d think a physics building would have a more efficient solution to the problem of temperature control, but maybe it’s a corollary to the fact that the architecture building is always the ugliest building on campus. It brings to mind a common method of temperature control in condensed matter physics: cool the sample down to 4.2K with liquid helium, and then use an electric heating element to warm it back up to the desired temperature. But I’m not sure it scales up as well as the designers of Birge Hall’s HVAC system seem to believe.

Status: Underwater

This week’s excuse for not blogging: my apartment flooded due to heavy rain. (“Heavy” by Berkeley standards, anyway.)
I did, however, start A Feast for Crows. Sometimes predictability is nice: you know the poor sucker in the prologue of a George R. R. Martin novel is going to die before the first chapter, so you are free to hate this character and root for the bad guys. (Martin helps out by making the POVs in the prologues progressively more annoying.) Whereas once the novel gets going, it’s not wise to get too attached to any particular character, since you never know who is going to get killed off for no apparent reason.

I Have Returned

Arrived in Oakland this morning, after which I ate lunch, took a nap, and then went running. It turns out that running 14 miles, after spending a week (mostly) sitting in a car and eating fast food, is a difficult and painful experience. I did discover that Tilden Park actually has a lot of rabbits but they only come out around sunset. Unfortunately, that’s also when swarms of gnats congest the airspace above the trail.
This week I’ll attempt to resume regular blogging. I also have a ton of pictures, mostly taken from cliffs in Arizona, to sort through and post.