West Coast Trip 21: Amtrak Cascades to Seattle


I departed Vancouver on the Amtrak Cascades from Pacific Central Station. Unlike the other Amtrak trains that cross into Canada, the Cascades only has one stop north of the border, so they have partial border control at the station even though Border Patrol agents also board the train at the border to check everyone’s documents. This meant that I had to arrive quite early and spent a while in line at the station and then sitting in the train at the station. It also meant that a fence on the Cascades platform somewhat obscured my views of the rail yard and other trains in the station, unfortunately.

Our departure was further delayed by a fire along the tracks just outside of the station. We never got a clear explanation of what was going on, but from seeing the burnt-up area as we passed through and the number of fire vehicles present, it was apparently somewhat significant. The ride itself was fairly nice, and had internet. I also turned out to be sitting next to someone quite neat: a woman who was returning home from having hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to Vancouver. The Border Patrol agent who checked her passport and asked the purpose of her trip was very impressed and, afterwards, I talked to her a little about it. It sounded very neat, but also not like something I could ever imagine doing. (Backpacking in general isn’t something I could imagine having the stamina or endurance for.)

West Coast Trip 20: Across Vancouver from West to East


After returning to Waterfront Station, I walked east a bit through downtown Vancouver and Chinatown. The city seemed pretty nice, although the quality of the neighborhood I was in got a bit worse as I passed Chinatown. After stopping for an ice cream cone, I took a trolleybus back to Waterfront Station and rode Skytrain a little more before getting off at Main Street and walking to Pacific Central Station to catch the Cascades to Seattle.

West Coast Trip 19: Across Vancouver from South to North


On Saturday, 9 August, I flew from Los Angeles to Vancouver. It was a fairly short flight, but getting through customs on the Canadian end ended up taking quite a long time, though it admittedly wasn’t as bad as customs at Dulles International Airport on my return from Manchester last summer. Vancouver was the shortest planned stop on my trip: I had only about six hours to explore the city before I had to catch an Amtrak Cascades train to Seattle.

The first thing I did after arriving in Vancouver was to head from the airport, south of the city proper, all the way across the city to North Vancouver. This entailed riding the full length of one of the lines of Skytrain, Vancouver’s rather odd rapid transit system, which consists of driverless vehicles similar to the Detroit People Mover. I liked Skytrain a lot, though the short length of trains (and platforms) makes me suspect that the overall capacity is a bit low. Vancouver is a small city, and it didn’t seem that crowded, but I also wasn’t riding it on a weekday.

Despite the name, the airport to downtown line goes underground through much of its length, so it wasn’t the best way to see the city. I did get off about halfway down the line, though, to get lunch at a McDonald’s and got an unexpectedly nice view of the downtown skyline. Once I did make it to the Waterfront Station transit hub, I took an express ferry called Seabus to North Vancouver and got another view of the city from the other direction. I then returned to Waterfront Station to actually explore downtown a bit.

West Coast Trip 18: Endeavour at the California Science Center


One of the things I made a point of seeing in Los Angeles was the space shuttle Endeavour on display at the California Science Center. Back in high school, I’d seen the shuttle Enterprise from a distance at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, before they’d finished the exhibit, but this was the first spaceworthy shuttle I’d seen. I’ll have to make a point of seeing Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy center at some point, perhaps after the Silver Line is finished to Dulles. I don’t know that I’ll ever get around to seeing Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center, though. Maybe if I can ever find a reason to visit Miami before it sinks beneath the waves.

No More Varian NMRs


Apparently Agilent, the company that bought Varian a few years ago, has decided to stop making NMR spectrometers.  This came as a bit of a shock to me, because Varian is one of the two major NMR manufacturers, and nearly every NMR I’ve ever used was one of their models.  The only two exceptions were an ancient continuous-wave instrument that they had us use in freshman chem lab to show us what NMR was like back in the early days (It might’ve been a Varian, but I don’t remember.), and a Bruker rat-magnet that I used for a day for a class project my junior year.  Everyone involved was so used to Varian instruments that it took us a couple hours to figure out the Bruker interface.  And now Bruker is the only NMR manufacturer left.

This makes me sad because of my happy memories of Varian instruments.  But it also makes me sad because it seems like another piece of evidence that Agilent, which sees itself as a life-sciences company, is trashing Varian’s non-biology product lines.  As a physical chemist, that’s a bit worrying.  While my lab doesn’t do anything with NMR, a lot of parts of the Big Machine are manufactured by Varian: most of our valves, and all of our diffusion pumps, for example.

“New Payment Technology”


This initiative just scares me.  First of all, it seems like the first step towards deciding that people can only pay to ride transit with a smart phone or credit card, so if you don’t have those you’re out of luck.  Second of all, that helps ensure that no one can travel anywhere without being tracked, at least unless they own a private car.  (After all, car-drivers are entitled to special rights.)  (I should note that while Boston doesn’t, DC does have fares that vary by distance, so you have to swipe both in and out of the system.)

In the meantime, while I can still use a farecard, it’s likely that this will make it impossible to pay by swiping your wallet if your credit card does have an RFID chip, which the companies are probably going to start requiring, as it already essentially is required in Europe.  Because the system will either get confused or just grab your credit card and charge it (and record where you’ve been).  And making people pull their transit cards out of their wallets will slow down people getting through faregates and make people annoyed at anyone who does it.

Comments are disabled to keep away the computer people and techno-triumphalists.

West Coast Trip 17: Across LA By Public Transit


On Friday, 8 August, I finished my visit at Caltech with an early-morning visit with Professor Hoffman, and then headed out on a transit trip across Los Angeles to Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. I began by taking a bus up Lake Avenue to the Gold Line and the Gold Line light rail to Union Station. I then took the Purple Line—one of Los Angeles’s two heavy rail rapid transit lines, which will eventually extend west to UCLA and thus most of the way to Santa Monica—to its current western terminus, Wilshire/Western. There, my aunt and uncle picked me up and took me to a very tasty Greek restaurant for lunch.

After lunch, we went to the California Science Museum to see the space shuttle Endeavour—the subject of my next post—and I took the new (since my last visit, anyway) Expo Line light rail west to Culver City, where I transferred to a Metro Rapid bus for the remainder of my trip to Santa Monica. In Santa Monica, I met up with several Caltech friends who now live in western Los Angeles and we ate dinner relatively cheaply in the food court at the mall there: I hadn’t actually known affordable food was obtainable in Santa Monica.

What Streets Used to Look Like


I saw this a while ago, but only recently got the link again: a video from a San Francisco trolley going down Market Street to the Ferry Building in 1909.  It’s very interesting to see how much different the main commercial street of a city was in those days; I strongly recommend watching it.

West Coast Trip 16: A Visit to the South Houses and SPECTRE


One of the last things that I had to visit while I was at Caltech was SPECTRE, the science fiction library in the SAC in the basement of the South Houses. It had been boxed up and put in storage at St. Luke’s Storage Hospital during the South House renovation and, around the middle of my sophomore year, the former admins realized that they were all graduating and decided to hand it off to younger people. I was one of the people who agreed to take it over, and I was largely responsible for going to St. Luke’s with a truck from Housing to dig out all the boxes and ship them back to campus. We then spent the next several years unpacking, and were almost but not quite done when I graduated. By the time I visited one year after graduation, things were largely in order, but shortly afterward, Housing decided they wanted the space we’d been given for something else, so they boxed up the books—largely out of order—and moved them to a new room. It seems, though, that the admins finally did get everything back together, because the new space looked better than the old one had.

West Coast Trip 15: Caltech Libraries


I decided it was worthwhile to visit the Caltech libraries while I was on campus. I was vaguely aware that the amount of library space was being reduced, so I wanted to see what was still there. I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw in Milikan, though, and I’m still a bit upset about it. But the people with the most money always have the most power, even on non-profit university campuses.


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