Items tagged with 'nerding out'

How we make those maps

sample map

You can make a map like this. (Really.)

We like maps. And we like to make clickable maps to post here on AOA. Maps about patterns in Census data. Maps about election results. Maps about suggestions you've offered. (We might like all of this a little too much.)

Many of you also seem to like maps. And some of you have been curious about how we make the maps for AOA.

So here's how we do that.

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A bunch of numbers about a bunch of different topics

Capital Region Statistical Report 2015 violent crime rate chart

A chart about violent crime from the report.

How many people are here? What's the range of incomes? How are people getting around? What direction are crime rates headed?

Numbers related to those questions -- and many other topics -- are stuffed into the aptly-titled "Capital Region Statistical Report," which was released today by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission.

And it is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of numbers about a bunch of topics in the Capital Region from a bunch of different sources, all aggregated in one report.

One example is above -- it's a chart from the report about annual violent crimes per 1,000 people in areas of the Capital Region. And it includes this short discussion of the chart:

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Can you answer more of these 8th grade math questions correctly?

state 8th grade math 2015 questions composite

This week the state Education Department released half of the questions from this year's ELA and mathematics Common Core state tests for grades 3-8. NYSED described them as "a representative sample" of questions used on the tests.

Last year we posted a few of the 8th grade math questions as a sort of short quiz. And people to seem to have a good time nerding out on the questions.

So we pulled five more questions from this year's 8th grade mathematics test -- they're after the jump with the (hidden) answers.

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The Northeast, man... so full of @!#$%^&*

The map above is one of many like it posted on Twitter by linguist Jack Grieve of Ashton University in England. It's based on almost 1 billion geo-coded tweets over the course of a year and depicts the relative frequency of the word "asshole" in each county. Grieve explains the process over at the Huffington Post.

Here are a bunch of Grieve's maps looking at other curse words.

Interestingly, the northeastern frontier of the "shit" line is in the Hudson Valley.

(Thanks, Tim)

A ZIP code map of New York State

Capital Region ZIP code map clip

This is just a clip -- the clickable map is after the jump.

As it says on the label, here is a clickable map of ZIP codes (roughly) in New York State.

A while back we had planned to include this map with some discursive post about ZIPs and maps and perceptions of place that was related to the Halfmoon-wants-its-own-ZIP thing, but that post ended up only half baked and unpublished (thankfully -- no one needed to be subjected to that). We were reminded of the map again this week because of the wealthiest ZIP code ranking over at the Biz Review.

Anyway (oh no, here we go...), ZIPs are kind of interesting because of what they started as (a way for the US Postal Service to arrange its routes) and what they've ended up being used for (a way for the rest of us to also identify places). As the ZIP data website ZIP Boundary highlights, a ZIP code doesn't really define an area for the USPS, but rather a collection of delivery points.

And then there are the issues related to the fact that ZIPs are only loosely associated with municipalities -- that's how a place like Crossgates, which is in the town of Guilderland, ends up with a postal address that is Albany (because it's in the 12203 ZIP). Here's an interesting history of ZIPs, again from ZIP Boundary, that touches on that issue.

One of the things that's reinforced for us by looking around the map of Capital Region ZIPs is that the codes aren't necessarily a good way of defining areas (well, unless you're delivering mail). Again, using the 12203 ZIP as an example: it stretches from Washington Park in Albany west along Western Avenue, with lobes that include Guilderland, Bethlehem, and New Scotland -- that's an odd collection to group together.

Right, so... on to the map...

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Zero to Maker

tech valley center of gravity logoThe Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy is holding a "Zero to Maker" event this Saturday, February 21 from 10 am-1:30 pm. Blurbage: "This event is for anyone interested in becoming a full member of the makerspace, our collaborative workshop for people who enjoy industrial arts, electronics, invention, entrepreneurship, fabrication and design."

The event will be signing up new members and getting them started on different sorts of equipment. Skills on display will include 3D printing, laser cutters, soldering irons and orientation to working in the makerspace.

We hear from TVCOG that a recent informal version of this event turned out to be very popular, so they're asking people to RSVP.

AOA is a media sponsor of TVCOG.

How much snow is that much snow?

snow in a measuring cup

The snow we got from this most recent not-quite-local-snowy-apocalypse was fantastically light and fluffy -- so much so that it almost seemed fake. On Tuesday while clearing the sidewalk we thought it might be the lightest snow we've ever shoveled.

The fluffiness of snow is something that meteorologists pay attention to. Or, to be more specific, they're interested in how much water it takes to create (insert number) inches of snow under given conditions. And if you ever dive into the forecast discussions from the National Weather Service, you'll often see mentions of the snow-to-liquid ratio.

We were curious about getting some more specific sense about how fluffy Tuesday's snow was, so we conducted an (not terribly scientific) experiment.

The first part: Scooping the snow you see above in the photo from an undisturbed part of the yard.

Can you guess how much water was in all that snow when it melted?

Here's the answer...

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TOP2014: Crunching the numbers

16 slices of pizza on judges table
Your concept of "a lot of pizza" changes after 172 174 pizzas.

Corrected to include numbers from the 2013 final.

The the 2014 Tournament of Pizza, sponsored by Keeler Mini -- the Tournament of Pizza to end all Tournaments of Pizza -- is almost finished. One last clash of champions remains for this Saturday.

That means it's time for some number crunching. And there are a bunch of numbers now that we have six years of scores in the modern 100-point-scale era of the TOP.

Let's take a look.

TOP2014 Keeler Mini in-post-ad

This part of the State Museum is for the birds

curator of birds jeremy kirchman

State Museum curator of birds Jeremy Kirchman with a snowy owl specimen.

What's on display at any one time at State Museum is just small slice of all the items in the museum's collection. And because the State Museum is almost two centuries old -- it's the oldest state museum in the country -- there are a lot of things in that collection.

So we were happy to get the chance this week to get a behind-the-scenes look at the museum's large bird collection with its curator of birds, Jeremy Kirchman. He's giving a talk this Sunday about the passenger pigeon -- a current exhibit at the museum commemorates the bird's extinction a hundred years ago.

OK, let's get to the photo tour -- and a quick chat about museums as data sets, global warming, extinction, and some reasons to be hopeful.

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The Northeast, upper Midwest, and the South... uh, really?

quartz uh um map

The deeper the pink, the prominence of "uh." The deeper the blue, more so "um."

The map above is via Quartz. And it's based on the work of a linguistic researcher who sifted through millions of Twitter posts looking for geographic patterns indicating where people are more likely to use "um" or "uh." Blockquotage:

The regional breakdown is clear, and it doesn't look much like other maps that try to show where some phenomenon or another is happening in the United States. Grieve said the use of "um" looks to follow the elusive "Midland dialect," which linguists have suspected follows the Ohio River southwest from central Pennsylvania. That accounts for most of the blue that sweeps from West Virginia all the way to Arizona. Grieve said the "uh" and "um" analysis is the first time his research has shown clear evidence of the Midland dialect.

The Quartz article is interesting and includes some important details about how the map was created.

We were just struck by the distribution of "uh" -- the Northeast and upper Midwest.. OK, maybe not hard to believe. But the South as well? Surprising.

(Also, probably coincidental more than anything: The strong "uh" tendency starts to fade out in New York State about the same place as the pop/soda line.)

Earlier: An Albany dialect?

map: Quartz

Our time in the sun

blue sky tree top

Worth savoring.

A string of brilliantly sunny days + walking by a house getting solar panels installed = our curiosity about how much sun Albany gets, and how it compares to other cities. (Of course, it had to be cloudy today.)

So we looked up the numbers -- and found a few things you might expect, and a few things you might not.

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New York has one of the country's lowest adult obesity rates, but...

State of Obesity NY obesity rate 1990-2013

New York's adult obesity rate over the last few decades. From Trust for America's Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The State of Obesity 2014. (This chart does something it probably shouldn't -- explained below -- but because of most of us here aren't epidemiologists, we'll just over look that for the moment.)

New York was among the states with the lowest percentage of obese adults in 2013, according to figures recently out from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Empire State ranked #42 among the 50 states (and DC) for percentage of obese adults. (Or #10, depending on how you sort the rankings.)

That said, the CDC estimated that a little more than 25 percent of New York adults were obese in 2013, which, from a historical perspective, is not low. That's up from almost 21 percent in 2003, and about 9 percent in 1990.*

The CDC considers adults to be "obese" if their body mass index is 30 or higher. So someone 5 feet 8 inches tall weighing 200 pounds would be considered obese. (And that same person weighing 165 pounds or more would be considered overweight.)

There's a map depicting obesity prevalence rates by state after the jump.

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Cast iron and hollowed-out tree trunks

Albany water main Bleecker Reservoir c1898

A water main being constructed at the former Bleecker Reservoir in Albany around 1898. (The reservoir would later be converted to Bleecker Stadium.)

Reading this recent NPR segment -- about the 200- or 300-year replacement cycles for water mains in some cities -- got us curious about Albany's water mains. And that led us to this bit from the Albany water department (emphasis added):

Fifty-five miles of Albany's 376 miles of water mains were installed in the mid-19th Century. However, some of the mains may even be older, with some cast iron mains possibly installed in 1813. If true, Albany would have the oldest functioning cast iron pipe in the western hemisphere. Incidentally, all of the water mains in the City originally were hollowed-out tree trunks, many installed in the 1700's. Although unlikely, there is a very remote outside chance that somewhere beneath some of the oldest parts of our City, a functioning wooden water main remains.

Yep, hollowed-out tree trunks (see: a 19th century overview of how that worked). And about 15 percent of Albany's water mains are at least 150 years old.

That a good chunk of the city's water infrastructure stretches back a century-and-a-half makes sense. It was around 1850 that the city started the planning on what would be the foundation of its modern water system.

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How New York State generates electricity

air conditioner

That air conditioner compressor isn't going to spin itself.

The biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States -- almost 40 percent -- is electricity generation. So the Obama administration's announcement this week that the EPA is proposing new emission targets for states in order to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030 is a big deal.

New York State is line for one of the largest percentage cuts in the nation: a 44 percent decrease in the amount of CO2 emitted by Empire State power plants per megawatt hour of electricity produced. As it happens, New York is is line for such a big cut because it's already moving in that direction, thanks in part to its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative here in the Northeast and the fact that it doesn't rely much on coal for generating power. If New York hits its target, it would be among the states with the smallest carbon emissions per unit of electricity produced. (The EPA rule gives states some flexibility on how to meet their goals.)

Anyway, the news got us interested in how New York State generates electricity -- what are the sources, what are the trends in those sources, the biggest power plants.

So we pulled together some numbers, and here are five charts about the topic (along with a map... because maps).

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A miniature version of Troy and its past

Troy Union Station model

Troy's former Union Station as it once was -- and still is, in miniature.

By Lauren Hittinger

Of all the things you might expect to find in the basement of a college dorm, a meticulously-built recreation of 1950s Troy is probably not one of them.

Yet in the basement of RPI's Davison Hall the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society has been constructing a to-scale version of the city and other spots around the region that were connected by rail. The work has been going on for more than three decades -- and it's a sight to see.

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A look at airfare prices out of Albany

united airplane landing at ALB

How high? It depends on how you measure.

The Albany airport ranked #17 in the nation for highest average domestic roundtrip airfare among the top 100 busiest airports during the fourth quarter of 2013, according to numbers recently released by the federal government. The average fare out of ALB: $434.60. The national average was $381.05.

But, like most numbers, that average airfare figure only tells one part of the story. So let's take off with a few more numbers and see if we can get a better sense of how airfare from Albany compares...

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Important question: Will we be able to put magnets on our future magnetic refrigerators?

ge magnetic refrigerator beer

Why develop a new type of refrigerator if not to chill beer?

If ever you wondered what the scientists at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna do, here's one answer (of many): develop an entirely new type of refrigerator.

Researchers at the GRC in Niskayuna, along with other research sites around the world, have been working to develop refrigeration technology that uses magnets for cooling. GE recently announced that its researchers believe the tech could be in consumer fridges in about a decade. The company says the technology is about 20 percent more efficient than the sort of technology currently in your fridge at home -- tech that's about a century old. (And it doesn't use some of the substances that make recycling refrigerators difficult.)

A post on GE's Edison's Desk research blog by Frank Johnson, one of the scientists in Niskayuna, explains some of the science behind the technology:

In a conventional refrigerator, a compressor is used to compress and heat refrigerant gas and deliver it to a condenser where it cools off by dumping heat to ambient air. When the refrigerant has given up enough heat it becomes a liquid. It then flows through a tight passage called an expander or capillary tube and drops in pressure and turns into cold liquid at a lower pressure. After exiting the expander it is in an evaporator, really cold, and ready to accept heat from the space it is in, the freezer. When it accepts enough heat it is boiled into gas and is then ready to enter the compressor again. This cycle continues as long as the compressor runs. The magnetocaloric effect is similar except that it occurs entirely in the solid state. The magnetism "evaporates" when heated above a certain temperatures and "condenses" back upon cooling. A magnetic field can be used to drive this reaction and "pump" heat from low to high temperatures, providing the cooling effect.

The magnetocaloric effect has been known for more than a century, but finding a way to apply it in a practical way to a refrigerator has taken years of off-and-on research and the development of new materials. Johnson's blog post covers a lot of that history, and the story illustrates how advances are so often the result decades of work by many people and institutions, often on basic research.

If you're curious, GE scientists talked about the tech this week in a Google hangout.

GE says its researchers are currently working on a magnetic refrigerator that can drop the temperature by 100 degrees. And they see the tech as potential replacement all sorts of cooling devices, including air conditioners.

photo: GE Reports

Thinking about high-speed rail in New York

empire corridor high-speed rail map 2014-March

A map detailing some of the options on the table. (Don't squint, here's a bigger version.)

High speed rail in this country is one of those things that always seems to be happening just over the horizon. And for the Northeast -- and the Capital Region specifically -- this somewhere-out-there future holds all sorts of potential. Imagine what it would be like to hop a train at Albany-Rensselaer -- the 9th busiest station in the nation -- and be in NYC in a little more than an hour.

The thing is, for all the talk, we never seem to get closer to actually arriving at high speed rail. But that might be changing. Slowly.

The state Department of Transportation is currently working to sort out plans for higher speed rail service through New York. And there was a public information session Tuesday at the NanoCollege about the options, the first of series of sessions around the state.

We stopped by, checked out the presentations, and talked with one of the people involved in the planning. Here's a breakdown of the state's current route toward high-speed rail.

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Capital Region misspellings and mix-ups

Proctor's Theater in Troy 2013-April

This Proctor's is not Proctors.

The news today that the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce is moving into office space in the building that includes the long-vacant Proctor's Theater in downtown Troy got us thinking about places, names, things that often get misspelled or mixed up in the Capital Region.

You know, like how Proctors (no apostrophe) is the place in Schenectady, but the theater in Troy is Proctor's (with an apostrophe).

So we put together a list, and asked people on Twitter and Facebook for suggestions. Here's what we came up with. And there are no doubt a bunch more, so if you have some mind, please suggest them in the comments.

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The aurora could be visible here tonight. Maybe.

sun flare 2014-01-07 nasa sdo

From NASA: "This pictures combines two images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured on Jan. 7, 2013. Together, the images show the location of a giant sunspot group on the sun, and the position of an X-class flare that erupted at 1:32 p.m. EST." Also: Oooooh.

Something to keep an eye out for overnight Thursday-Friday: the aurora borealis -- you know, the Northern Lights.

To completely oversimplify things: The sun made a big burp the other day, and particles from that burp are streaming toward the earth. When they hit the Earth's magnetic field, there's a light show. [NASA] [Space Weather]

There are projections indicating that we have a not-terrible chance of seeing some sort of aurora tonight. This forecast -- from the University of Alaska Fairbanks -- indicates the aurora could be visible near the horizon at latitudes as far south as Cleveland. And Accuweather has our area on the border of fair/poor for viewing.

So, overnight, have a look to the north near the horizon. It might appear as a green or reddish glow.

photo: NASA/SDO

Carbon footprints, by ZIP

nys carbon footprint zip codes map

The greener the ZIP, the lighter the carbon footprint.

Check it out: The map above depicts the estimated average annual household carbon footprint in New York State, by ZIP code. It's from the UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network, and is based on data from the network's "CoolClimate Carbon Footprint Calculator."

If you head over that first link, you can use a clickable version of the map, along with two other maps for household energy carbon footprint and transportation carbon footprint.

Poking around the Capital Region, it's kind of what you might expect: the more urban areas of the Capital Region tend to score lower carbon footprints than the suburban areas. One of the main reasons? Transportation.

Here's an example, from the calculator (second link above): The ZIP codes 12203 (mostly the city of Albany) and 12065 (Clifton Park) are tagged as having roughly similar estimated household carbon footprints for home, food, goods, and services. But there's a relatively large gap for transportation -- specifically car fuel. As a result, 12203 is pegged at 41 tons of C02 per year and 12065 at 49.5.

Here's an FAQ about the methodology.

New York State

The thing that really jumped out to us in all this wasn't the Capital Region, but New York State itself. The Empire State stands out on all three national maps, especially the household energy carbon footprint.

One reason: New York State uses very little coal to generate electricity. That's important because electricity from coal has a big carbon footprint. The state's three biggest sources of electricity (in descending order): natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric.

Also helping: New York State had the second lowest energy consumption per person (as of 2010), according to the US Energy Information Administration (that link just above). The EIA notes New York's ranking was "due in part to its widely used mass transportation systems" (mostly in the NYC area, of course).

[via @AndyArthur]

map source: UC Berkeley CoolClimate Network Average Annual Household Carbon Footprint (2013)

Earlier on AOA: Charting the Capital Region's workday population tide


Thruway wrong way system demo

From a Thruway demo video.

From the Annals of Highway Signage Technology: The Thruway Authority has developed electronic "wrong way" detectors/signs and will be installing them in places where wrong way drivers have caused crashes in the past. The first spots to get the systems: an exit on the Niagara Expressway (I-190) in Buffalo and exit on I-87/I-287 in Rockland County.

So how does an electronic sign "know" that someone is driving the wrong way? Cuomo admin press release blurbage:

These new signs are the latest development in the Thruway Authority's work to ensure that motorists have the highest level of safety while on the 570-mile superhighway. Doppler radar is used to detect vehicles traveling the wrong way and when identified, the sign flashes a customized LED message to alert the drivers of their error and instruct them to pull over and turn around when it is safe to do so. The sign will also trigger automatic alerts to other drivers on the Thruway's variable message sign system, and automatically alert the Thruway's Statewide Operations Center.

Doppler radar? Like the First Alert Storm Tracker Extreme Hype Doppler 10,000 Radar used by TV weather people?

Well, sort of. Doppler radar makes use of the Doppler effect (surprise) to figure out which way things are headed and how fast. (Skipping over the part about an Austrian guy and physics.) You totally know the Doppler effect. It's the reason a fire truck siren or train whistle sounds higher as it approaches, then lower as it moves away. Doppler radar makes use of that change in frequency (using microwaves, instead of sound) to figure out direction and speed.

The Cuomo admin says the sign system was developed by a Thruway engineer, Steve Velicky, and made by a pair of upstate companies. The Thruway's exec director said in a release today that the system will eventually be expanded to other sites around the state.

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How do you say...

Check it out: The Atlantic has created this great video that pairs dialect maps of the United States with audio of people saying the words in question. Just watch -- it'll all make sense.

It's interesting watching the different parts of the country light up with different words. And it highlights a few of the ways this part of the country uses different words. Example: sun shower. (Also: Do people around here really use the word "shrimp" for pill bugs?)

[via Kottke]

Earlier on AOA:
+ What do you mean you say it like that?
+ An Albany dialect?

Look up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's a minotaur and a firefly

minotaur rocket carrying siena satellite

Take me where I cannot stand: Launching in Virginia, (probably) visible from upstate New York.

A rocket is scheduled to launch into space from a spaceport in Virginia this evening, sometime between 7:30-9:15 pm. Two local things about the launch of this Minotaur I rocket:

We should be able to see it
The rocket launch "will be HIGHLY visible on the east coast," according to NASA, as long as there isn't too much cloud cover. Here's info on how to spot the rocket -- it boils down to look the south/southeast about 90 seconds after launch. As you face that direction, the rocket will be arcing from right to left, south to east, about 10 degrees over the horizon.

A tiny satellite from Siena College will be aboard
Part of the payload for the Air Force rocket: a "nanosatellite" called Firefly built in part by Siena students. From a press release:

The development of Firefly was a joint venture between Siena College, the National Science Foundation, which is the funding agency, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The small satellite, which is about the size of a football, was built in part by Siena College students, faculty and engineers. Firefly is designed to help solve the mysteries of lightning. It is the second in a series of National Science Foundation-funded nanosatellites. Small, inexpensive satellites show great promise for focused science as well as enabling new kinds of discovery. ...

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Study: New York is at the heart of the nation's "temperamental and uninhibited" region

psychological topography map temperamental uninhibited

The more orange, the more cranky. (OK, not necessarily cranky, temperamental and uninhibited.)

New York State is at the heart of the "temperamental and uninhibited" region of the United State, according to new research. And that could be having an effect on a wide range of issues -- from politics, to migration, to economic development.

The paper (pdf) appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The authors include a group who published similar research a few years back that identified New York State as one of the most neurotic states in the country. In this new research, the authors -- from Cambridge, University of Texas at Austin, and Finland -- aimed to pull together survey data on the "Big Five" personality traits to map the "psychological topography" of the United States, and concluded that there are three regions:

+ Friendly and Conventional - the Midwest and Southeast
+ Relaxed and Creative - West Coast, Rockies, Southwest
+ Temperamental and Uninhibited - the Northeast, near Midwest, and to some extent, Texas

Here's a clip from the discussion for the "temperamental and uninhibited" region:

The Temperamental & Uninhibited region comprises states predominantly in the MidAtlantic and Northeast. This region is made up of the quintessential Blue states. The psychological profile of the region is defined by low Extraversion, very low Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, very high Neuroticism, and moderately high Openness. This particular configuration of traits depicts the type of person who is reserved, aloof, impulsive, irritable, and inquisitive. There are disproportionate numbers of older adults and women in this region, in addition to affluent and college-educated individuals. Residential mobility is low here, and in fact, data from the U.S. Census (Ihrke & Faber, 2012) indicates that significant numbers of residents of this region are leaving the area. Residents of this region also appear to be politically liberal and not mainline Protestants. Overall, it appears that this psychological region is a place where residents are passionate, competitive, and liberal.

There's also some discussion speculation how these traits tended become pronounced here:

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TOP2013: Crunching the numbers

TOP2013 DeFazios veggie pizza closeup

DeFazio's has posted a string of high scores in the TOP. But given the history of veggie pizzas, the Troy shop's record-tying score this year in the veggie round was a bit of a surprise.

We're almost to the finish line in the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose. Here's a little something to snack on before the result from the final.

The Tournament of Pizza is now in year 5 of the modern 100-point scale era. So we have a lot of numbers piled up from the tournament -- and a lot of stats. Let's break some of them down...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

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The novelty's wearing off

film novelty research themes Sreenivasan

a) all films b) science fiction films c) science fiction films

The chart above is from an interesting new paper about movie theme novelty by RPI researcher Sameet Sreenivasan in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Sreenivasan used keyword tags from IMDB to track rise and fall and certain themes -- and calculate novelty scores based on the use or combination of those themes -- for films over the last 80 years. That streamgraph chart tracks popular themes over time (here's a bigger version).

Sreenivasan's paper is full of interesting bits and assertions about films over the years. Maybe the biggest one is that novelty in films increased dramatically after the demise of the old-school studio system and has been slowly declining since. This Wired article is a good write up of the study's findings.

Also interesting (to us): Sreenivasan is a physicist -- but he's a research associate at RPI's three-year-old Social and Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center. From a short bio on his web page:

The topics I work on include investigations of peer-influence driven processes on social networks, studies aimed at uncovering community evolution on dynamic networks, mining the hierarchical relationships hidden within crowdsourced keyword sets and devising metrics that quantify novelty from these sets.

Some of the discussion at the end of his film novelty paper point at some of the future applications of this sort of research -- including "artificial or computer-aided story generation."

Oh, and we learned a new word today: culturomics.

graphs: "Quantitative analysis of the evolution of novelty in cinema through crowdsourced keywords," Sameet Sreenivasan, Nature Scientific Reports

Emma Edgar's flying pizza box

Emma Edgars flying pizza box.jpg

The Capital Region's first Mini Maker Faire is this Saturday at Emma Willard. So far more than 50 makers are signed up, with all kinds of projects -- from interactive maps and robotics to wearable electronics and bike generators.

Some of the projects are more whimsical, if no less technical or nerdy. One that caught our eye: a flying pizza box created by 10-year-old Emma Edgar.

Yep, she took a pizza box and made it fly.

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Gathering in Schenectady to raid dungeons and slay dragons

council of five nations players at gaming board

From a previous Council of Five Nations con.

By Mick Martin

My teenage Friday nights were not your teenage Friday nights.

Before CGI made the fantasies of J.R.R. Tolkien and Stan Lee as accessible as an episode of Seinfeld, I joined a few shy friends on the bus to Schenectady for our weekly trip to the Studio of Bridge and Games on Eastern Parkway.

Like other teenagers, we drank, but in pubs named after dragons and griffons. It was only on paper and in our minds, and we were dwarves and magic-users and half-orcs. Like other teenagers, we flirted and dated, but it was usually with elves, and our success or failure was based solely on our charisma modifier. Since the object of our characters' affections was usually an avatar for a 35-year-old guy even less attractive than we were, we were happy for the manifestation of those successes to go unseen and unrealized. Like other teenagers, we experimented with dangerous substances, but it wasn't by choice. It was usually because something huge chomped on us with its envenomed fangs, and if we failed our saving throw vs. poison, we suffered some kind of penalty to our hit points or our ability scores.

Trips to rehabilitation facilities never came into the picture.

Dave Cheng is a member of the Schenectady Wargamers Association -- the group that made those Friday nights possible. "Movies and TV are passive," Cheng says. "You sit there, and someone else tells you a story ... Some people want to take the next step, and actually want to participate in creating the story themselves."

This weekend Cheng and the SWA will host hundreds of gamers taking that "next step" in storytelling when the Council of Five Nations -- one of the country's oldest gaming conventions -- returns to Proctors this weekend for its 36th year.

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A TARDIS in Troy

TVCOG TARDISThis is great: Some of the nerds* at Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy have built a TARDIS. Instead of transporting time lords -- and being much bigger on the inside -- it serves as a photo booth. And it will be at Troy Night Out tonight.

Explains Mick Cipollo, one of the TARDIS builders, in an email: "There was a concept for Troy night out first for a video booth for 30 second clips of 'why you enjoy Troy.' Then Laban Coblentz, founder and chairman of Tech Valley Center of Gravity, thought it should be in a TARDIS. I thought is was a good idea also."

So he looked for ideas online -- oh, you know there is a TARDIS builders website -- and finally settled on working off some computer generated images. (Fun fact: Mick says the TARDIS is pi meters tall.) Many TVCOG members pitched in to get the project built in three days so they could use it at the August Troy Night Out.

Cipollo says the TARDIS currently used an Android tablet as an information portal/photo booth. The video functionality is still being worked out.

TVCOG is planning to use the TARDIS for community events, like TNO. It's also scheduled to appear at the Emma Willard Mini Maker Faire on October 12. As Mick pointed out, the school will be the perfect architectural backdrop.

* We use that term affectionately, of course.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Tech Valley Center of Gravity
+ Mini Maker Faire in Troy

photo via TVCOG Facebook

A look at the new mummy exhibit at the Albany Institute of History and Art

mummy coffin lids

You live your life as a priest or sculptor. You die. You're preserved, sent off into the afterlife. And there you rest for 3,000 or 2,300 years. Then a decidedly unrestful period. Your effects are split up. You're partially unwrapped to make sure you're not "squishy." You're sold for maybe $100. A steamboat ride to the other side of the planet. Fanfare. Hubbub. Outright mania. Gender confusion. Gawkers. So many school children. An x-ray. Another x-ray. Is that the beginning of understanding? Finally?

To put it another way: the afterlife is complicated.

It's one of themes that emerges from the Albany Institute of History and Art's new exhibit, "The Mystery of the Albany Mummies," which opens this Saturday.

Here's a quick look from a preview Thursday.

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The closest darkest place

World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness New York

It's that gray spot floating the pool of blue in the Adirondacks.

After reading this interview with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, we were curious the closest, darkest place. We'll get to that in a second. First, a clip from the interview:

There's a statistic that I quote, which is that eight of every ten kids born in the United States today will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. The Milky Way becomes visible at 3 or 4 on the Bortle scale. That's not even down to a 1. One is pretty stringent. I've been in some really dark places that might not have qualified as a 1, just because there was a glow of a city way off in the distance, on the horizon. You can't have any signs of artificial light to qualify as a Bortle Class 1.
A Bortle Class 1 is so dark that it's bright. That's the great thing--the darker it gets, if it's clear, the brighter the night is. That's something we never see either, because it's so artificially bright in all the places we live. We never see the natural light of the night sky.

As Bogard mentions in that clip, there's a scale for night sky brightness, the Bortle scale. Nowhere east of the Mississippi qualifies for the very darkest category.

But we're not too far from a few spots that qualify as pretty darn dark (a scientific term). According to maps created by The World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness based on satellite data, there's a patch in the middle of the Adirondacks that qualifies for the second-darkest category on the scale used by the atlas -- here's a zoomable map. Specifically, the patch is just west of Blue Mountain Lake, around Raquette Lake. It's about 135 miles from Albany.

It's not surprising the Adirondacks have a spot like this -- it's one of the least-lit places in the eastern United States.

[Venue via Kottke]

image: The World Atlas of the Artificial Night Sky Brightness

Twisting off Oreos -- and lots of attention

oreo scale dan andersonFun: A Queensbury High School math teacher -- Dan Anderson -- and one of his classes did some research on whether a "double stuf" Oreo actually has double the amount of filling (show your work!). Spoiler: It comes up a bit short. (Though Nabisco says it is double.) [ABC News]

It's a fun idea for a class project (we wish our math/science classes had included this sort of thing) . It's also the kind of thing that's pretty much share crack. And the posts have been getting a bunch of attention this week in various media outlets, thanks in part to Reddit. [HuffPo] [GMA] [Gawker] [CNN] [FoxNews] [Reddit]

As Anderson told the Post-Star about all the attention: "It's been crazy. It's been really bizarre." [Post-Star]

Earlier on AOA: Proof that the peanut butter egg is better than the peanut butter cup

photo: Dan Anderson / A Recursive Process

To boldly go where no estate sale has gone before

star trek estate sale LoudonvilleLaura called our attention to this estate sale in Loudonville. It offered the usual stuff you might find at such a sale: furniture, jewelry, art, yard equipment, life-sized Star Trek figures.

Wait. What?

Yep. The lineup of items includes "three life size wax Star Trek figures": Kirk (complete with captain's chair), Spock, and Uhura. (All three in their original series version. Sadly, it appears Bones didn't make it.)

The estate sale already occurred, but the Star Trek figures aren't marked as sold. So maybe there's a chance to make it so. (Oh, wait, wrong series.)

(Thanks, Laura)

Earlier on AOA: For sale: time machine

photo: J&J Estate Sales

All of New York State's cities, lined up by size

mechanicville waterfront bridge sign

Did you know you can fit all of Mechanicville in a shoe box? (OK, that might not be technically true.)

From the Annals of Facts of Limited Utility: While editing last week's in-between places feature about Mechanicville and Stillwater, we did some research on the claim that Mechanicville in the smallest city in the state. And based on Census data about geographic size, it's true -- M'ville's land area is just .84 square miles, more than half a square mile smaller than the next city on the list.

Anyway, that got us curious about the size of cities around the state -- which are the biggest, the smallest, how big or small they are relative to each other.

So we pulled the numbers and sorted them for easy scanning. And is there a map? Oh, you know there's a map...

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Temperature vs. power

There's been a lot of talk this week about how the heat wave is putting a strain on the state's power grid. The org that oversees the state's grid predicted that cranking up all those air conditioners would push the state's electricity usage up to or beyond the all-time record. And on Thursday Andrew Cuomo was urging New Yorkers to conserve energy so as to lessen the chances of power outages.

Update: The state's electricity demand broke the record Friday, NYISO reported late that afternoon.

All that talk got us curious about the relationship between temperatures outside and power usage. So we pulled the data for both daily max temps and max "load" on the state's power grid. There's a graph above -- but don't squint, there's a large format version after the jump (along with some notes).

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Mini Maker Faire in Troy

emma-willard mini maker faire logo 2013There's a Mini Maker Faire planned for October 12 at Emma Willard School in Troy. The school is organizing the DIY show along with help from Tech Valley Center of Gravity and the Arts Center of the Capital Region.

A maker what? A Mini Maker Faire is an independently produced local version of the large Maker Faire events around the world organized by Make Magazine. It's kind of like a mashup of a science fair with the DIY tech/craft/science scene. From the event blurbage:

It's a place where people show what they are making, and share what they are learning.
Makers range from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers. They are of all ages and backgrounds. The aim of Maker Faire is to entertain, inform, connect and grow this community.

There's an open call for makers. The event will showcase "all kinds and ages of makers in the Capital Region--anyone who is embracing the do-it-yourself (or do-it-together) spirit and wants to share their accomplishments with an appreciative audience." (Details on how to apply at that link.)

And if you just want to gawk and learn, the event is open for that, too. Tickets are $5.

Earlier on AOA: Tech Valley Center of Gravity

Today's moment of summer

dragon fly closeup

Up close.

New York State has an estimated 193 species of dragonflies and damselflies -- the most of any state after Texas (DEC report). There are about 400 species nationwide. [NYS DEC] [NYS DEC]

Here's a good Flickr pool of New York dragonfly photos.

Bonus link: A recent NYT article on the flight and navigation of dragonflies, perhaps "the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom."

Hey, that lobster looks like it's been... wait, no, it just moved

price chopper orange lobster

What are you looking at?

Today's moment of odd seafood: Price Chopper reports it recently received three rare orange lobsters as part its regular shipment of lobster. You know, they kind of looked like they'd been cooked, but... weren't. (Here's a closer look.)

The unusually-hued crustaceans ended up at three stores in New York: Guilderland, Middletown, and Binghamton. The lobsters will be held in the stores until later this week, when the company says they'll be sent to aquariums. (Somewhere an Albany Aquarium proponent is sighing at the missed opportunity.)

Update July 3: More orange lobsters have turned up at Price Choppers -- two in Glens Falls, and one near Syracuse. []

Price Chopper gets its lobsters from Canada, via a Cape Cod-based company called, appropriately, Lobster Trap. A PC spokesperson tells us that the company's VP of seafood merchandising has never seen an orange lobster in his 17 years with the supermarket chain -- and their contact at the Lobster Trap has only seen one in 33 years.

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Bacteria from space (OK, they're originally from Earth, but they went to space)

rpi researchers collins space bacteria

Bacteria were sent into space and they came back glowing green. (OK, not really: these are micrographs of the side view of the unusual structures formed by the bacteria sent into space.)

From the Annals of Didn't This All Go Horribly Wrong in the Movie Version: Researchers from RPI report that bacteria sent into space behave in unusual ways. From an RPI News article:

Recent findings provide important evidence of spaceflight's effect on the behavior of bacterial communities and represent a key step toward understanding and mitigating the risk these bacteria may pose to astronauts during long-term space missions.
The research team, led by Rensselaer faculty member Cynthia Collins, sent the experiment into orbit aboard Atlantis' STS-132 mission in May 2010 and its STS-135 mission in July 2011. Samples of the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa were cultured for three days in artificial urine. The space-grown communities of bacteria, called biofilms, formed a column-and-canopy structure not previously observed on Earth. Additionally, biofilms grown during spaceflight had a greater number of live cells, more biomass, and were thicker than control biofilms grown under normal gravity conditions.

Bad sci-fi jokes aside, this is an interesting topic. Biofilms are common in nature -- That plaque on your teeth? Biofilm. -- and their formation is based on some remarkable bacterial communication (bacteria have been heavily invested in nanotech since, you know, forever). As the RPI article alludes to, biofilms play a role in hospital-acquired infections. In fact, that's probably one of the reasons the researchers picked Pseudomonas aeruginosa -- it's a common hospital infection and is associated with infections from devices such as catheters (yeah, now the urine part is probably making sense, too). A lot of medical devices are already hard to thoroughly clean, and sticky biofilms make the job even harder.

So, sending these microbes into space -- and bringing them back to Troy -- could help scientists better understand how biofilms form. And that, in turn, could help people here on Earth -- or if/when we send people to Mars.

Because spaceships sound kind of germy.

image: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

What do you mean you say it like that?

traffic circle dialect map

If you're even just a casual word nerd probably know that the soda/pop line runs right through New York State. The fact that we share the state with the poppers in western New York is some sort sign that we can work anything out.

Anyway, a bunch of interactive national dialect maps (based on survey data) created by Joshua Katz at NC State have been circulating online this week -- and they highlight some of the dialect divisions that run through and near the Capital Region. A few examples:

The Canadian way of pronouncing "been" -- saying it like "set" -- has made a deep incursion into central New York. And the Capital Region holding it off from invading the East Coast: 50 percent of people here reported pronouncing been as in "sit" -- but almost 42 percent say it like "set."

We're just being pulled apart by the word crayon. About 56 percent pronounce it "cray-ahn," 22 percent as "cray-awn" (as in dawn), and another 22 percent as "cran" (one syllable).

Traffic circles
About 47 percent of people reported calling traffic circles traffic circles -- but the New England-y "rotary" looms across the Hudson, and 33 percent reported using it. (And 13 percent said roundabout.)

Though a majority of people reported pronouncing the second syllable pajamas as in "jam," Capital Region is being squeezed by pronunciation as in "father," from the both the northeast east and southeast.

We're split almost right down the middle on cauliflower -- half pronouncing the second syllable as in "sit," the other half as in "see" (common nationally only along the northeast coast).

Basically no one can agree on how to say that name.

There are bunch of other words and phrases you can explore on the map. It's some nerdy fun.

Update: There's also an aggregate map showing how similar/different Albany is to other parts of the country. (Thanks, Craig!)

Earlier on AOA:
+ An Albany dialect?
+ New York State food regions map

Lights up the room

lighting research center living room lighting pattern

A hypothetical "small living room."

Useful: The Lighting Research Center at RPI has launched a website with a bunch on information on lighting homes. The site includes patterns for lighting spaces, as well as details on different types of fixtures and bulbs.

That might not exactly light you up (oof), but lighting can make a big difference. Switching out the harsh ceiling light in the middle of a room for lamps can make the space feel a lot better.

The most interesting part of the site for us is the section that includes an interactive calculator for comparing the cost and energy use of different lighting sources in a room. The calculator lets you change the numbers around based on variables such as usage and wattage and anticipated life of the arrangement.

For example, the LRC figures lighting a small living room with incandescents costs on average $53 per year; with CFLs, it would cost $15; and with LEDs $21. (Even though LEDs are more energy efficient than CFLs, the bulbs themselves cost a lot more.)

image: RPI Lighting Research Center

Tech Valley Center of Gravity

tech valley center of gravity interior

At the corner of 4th and Fulton in downtown Troy, in what was formerly an OTB space on the ground floor of a parking garage, is now a workshop with metal and wood working machinery, racks of tools and parts, 3-D scanners and printers, and biotech equipment.

The new Tech Valley Center of Gravity is a makerspace -- a place for hackers, crafters, artists, geeks to build stuff, take things apart, hack new things to together, and to learn from each other.

But organizers see it as part of something even bigger.

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Proctors theater... and power plant, trash collection, and internet service

Proctors Marquis.jpg

An old Vaudeville theater that hosts Broadway road shows like Wicked and Book of Mormon, plus films, comedy, and music is easy to write about. There's glitz, there's glamour, there's history. It's sexy.

A district energy plant that heats and cools businesses along a city block -- less sexy.

OK, but what if the same place also collects trash? And sells internet and phone service? And hosts Broadway touring companies, films, comedy and music performances.

Then it's Proctors.

When you pass by the Schenectady theater and arts hub, here are a few interesting things that you won't see on the surface.

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The 2013 Albany Prize

albany prize logoThree physicians/scientists who worked on the development of targeted drugs for cancer treatments are the winners of this year's Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. At $500k, it's one of the biggest science prizes in the nation.

From the announcement:

This year, the prize will recognize groundbreaking research into the nature of cancer, which has led to the development of a new generation of cancer drugs, most notably Gleevec for chronic myeloid leukemia that, unlike chemotherapy, target specific genetic defects causing cancer.
The recipients are:
+ Peter C. Nowell, M.D., University of Pennsylvania, whose discovery of the "Philadelphia chromosome" in chronic myeloid leukemia established that genetics could be responsible for cancer.
+ Janet D. Rowley, M.D., University of Chicago, a geneticist who The New York Times called "the matriarch of modern cancer genetics."
+ Brian J. Druker, M.D., Oregon Health & Science University, an oncologist whose research to develop Gleevec saved countless lives and opened the door for more targeted cancer therapies.

You know how people/the media always talk about the promise of genomics for helping to treat diseases? Gleevec is among the most notable examples of that approach.

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The art and science of maple sugaring

quart jugs of maple syrup capital agway

By Jeff Janssens

You might have a picture in mind when you think about maple syrup: a bucket hanging from a tree, smoke from the chimney atop a sugar shack, sap boiling in a cauldron.

While there are places where that picture still fits, modern maple sugaring also involves a range of advances in technology: pipelines, vacuums, evaporators, reverse osmosis machines.

Making maple syrup is a combination of science and craft. And in talking with two local sugarmakers, I found that there are a number of surprising factors that influence both the process and product in making maple syrup. From climate change to soil composition to bacteria in the sap, these are the elements that lead to some of the purest sweet stuff out there, much of which is coming from our backyard in upstate New York.

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Checking out

nys data site screengrab

The Cuomo admin today announced the launch of -- a sort of one-stop, online shop for public data in the state. Blurbage:

"Open data" refers to data that is free from restrictions and can be released in a format that can be retrieved, downloaded, indexed, and searched by commonly used web search applications. provides unprecedented "open data" access and transparency to the wealth of information collected and maintained by our state and local governments. It allows researchers, citizens, business, and the tech community direct, centralized access to high-value government data to search, explore, download, and share.

Among the first of a small group of local municipalities to participate (at least in a limited way): the city of Albany.

We have to admit that when we saw the press release, we didn't have high hopes. You know, it sounded good -- but stuff like this often falls flat.

But after checking it out this afternoon, there might be something to this...

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Car crashes, snow, crime, and public data

no longer vacant Albany map clip
A clip from a map of vacant -- and no-longer-vacant -- properties in Albany, created by Tim Varney last year. See below.

Lots of interesting bits in this Daily Gazette article by Kathleen Moore about how police in Albany and Schenectady are using data*. Here's a clip, about how Schenectady police have been paying closer attention to car crashes:

By tracking car accidents last fall, Schenectady police pinpointed patrols in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood and saw certain crimes plummet by 12 percent in the last quarter of 2012. They are using the same system to respond proactively to crime throughout the city, in hopes of getting similar results everywhere.
Maps of crashes, drunken-driving arrests and other traffic violations are overlaid with maps of crime reports. Police patrols are sent to the hotspots -- locations where traffic problems and crime are high.
"What we know is, the driver that's risky enough to drive drunk ... is often risky enough to take other risks," said federal Highway Safety Specialist Shannon Purdy. "A lot of criminals are caught at seatbelt checks."

A section about the Albany police department mentions how the APD is using weather forecasts to adjust patrols.

Also: Schenectady mayor Gary McCarthy is working with UAlbany's Center for Technology in Government to build a platform that would allow city departments to share code enforcement data (say, about code enforcement), and share it with Albany and Troy.

More, please

That common platform is a good idea. And it's worth pushing even further: Why not created a Capital District consortium for publishing and sharing public data? The org could help develop tools, set common formats, and provide a clearinghouse for sets of public data. It would open the way for more orgs and people to get involved, and even maybe set the stage for new businesses. (NYC is already doing something along these lines.)

Sure, there are obstacles: time, money, attention. And civil liberties issues will probably crop up along the way. But having meaningful access** to data generated by your government is becoming a 21st century civil right.

* Yep, it's a Gazette article, but we have a feeling that link will work for you.

** A pdf that you have to file FOIL for is not meaningful access. It's a start, but we do a lot better.

Earlier on AOA:
+ A future timeline of Watson at RPI
+ Map: vacant -- and no-longer vacant -- buildings in Albany -- created by Tim Varney from data published in a city report last year

A future timeline of Watson at RPI

HAL from 2001

IBM announced this week that RPI will be getting a modified version of Watson, the artificial intelligence system that famously put the beatdown on human players on Jeopardy. Blurbage from RPI press release:

The arrival of the Watson system will enable new leading-edge research at Rensselaer, and afford faculty and students an opportunity to find new uses for Watson and deepen the systems' cognitive capabilities. The firsthand experience of working on the system will also better position Rensselaer students as future leaders in the areas of Big Data, analytics, and cognitive computing.

This is a big deal because systems like Watson -- along with other stuff like Siri, and Wolfram Alpha -- are both the future and The Future (you have to say it while looking off into the distance). They hold the promise of helping people make sense of the torrents of data all around us.

Now, via a flashforward, a future timeline of Watson at RPI.

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Cold weather context

albany observed temps January 2013 through 1-23

Though it's been a bit nippy lately, this January hasn't been that cold.

Breaking: it's cold out there. The highs for both Wednesday and Thursday are forecasted to be in the teens, and the lows sub-zero.

So that got us thinking about some historical context, and the coldest days on record...

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New York's ZIPs, scribbled

new york ZIP code scribble map

Map/nerding moment of the day: a "scribble" map of New York's ZIP codes. It's a clip from a larger national map by Robert Kosara. As he wrote:

What would happen if you were to connect all the ZIP codes in the US in ascending order? Is there a system behind the assignment of ZIP codes? Are they organized in a grid? The result is surprising and much more interesting than expected.

And on that page he has multiple versions of the map, color coded to highlight the various states. Also: here's an interactive, zoomable verion.

ZIP codes start with 01 in Massachusetts (Agawam, specifically) ascend from there, generally westward. There's a section on Wikipedia that explains how they're assigned.

We're not sure how useful this sort of visualization is -- but we liked looking at it. So, there.

[via a long string of people]

Different, but... This map also made us think of caPOW's excellent New York county illustration.

image: "The US ZIPScribble Map," Robert Kosara, eagereyes

On being a lucky location

coulsons exterior by richard welty

photo: Richard Welty

A tweet we saw today wondering -- hoping -- if lottery lightning would strike twice at Coulson's in downtown Albany for the huge Powerball jackpot got us thinking about the probability of that happening.

As you might remember, Coulson's sold a winning Mega Millions ticket last year that was worth $319 million. A seven-person pool of state employees bought it, and each of them ended up with about $19 million after taxes. Yeah, lucky.

So, what are the chances of that happening at Coulson's again? The short answer: better than it probably would have been without the Mega Millions winner. Not that it will help you.


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Steve Wozniak in town September 6

steve wozniak wozApple co-founder and general uber nerd Steve Wozniak will be in town next week for two public events. On September 6 he'll appearing on a panel at GlobalFoundries in Malta -- "What's Next For Tech Valley?" (link added):

An esteemed panel featuring Steve Wozniak, [fiber optics inventor] Peter Schultz and local technology executives will discuss innovation and technology development in Tech Valley. The focus will be on driving economic growth and jobs for the next two decades.

The panel is from 3-4:30 pm. Tickets are $75 / $25 students (with ID). Proceeds will "benefit a local charity as directed by Steve Wozniak." Registration is required.

Speaking of charities, Woz will also be appearing at a fundraiser that evening at Proctors for Peaceful Acres Horses:

Enjoy hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar and conversation with personal computer inventor "The Woz," followed by a concert featuring the wonderful Canadian artist Ariana Gillis.

Tickets for that are $60.

Peaceful Acres is in the Pattersonville. You might remember that Woz was in the area a few months back visiting the horse sanctuary. [CBS6 YouTube] [via TU]

photo: Nichollas Harrison (cc) via Wikipedia

Meanwhile, on Mars...

laurie leshin rpi dean of scienceAs you probably heard, NASA successfully landed a rover -- called Curiosity -- onto the surface of Mars early this morning. It's so easy to be jaded about amazing stuff these days, but this was truly remarkable -- the plan to land the rover was crazy. We realize the scientists and engineers involved probably don't regard it that way, but they used a robot with a supersonic parachute and a sky crane -- to land on Mars!

Ahem. Well, as it happens, Laurie Leshin -- RPI's dean of science -- is part of the science team for Curiosity (her field is cosmochemistry) . She was at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena for the landing. So, yes, her week is shaping up to be more fun and interesting than yours.

RPI's Approach blog has a quick Q&A with Leshin about the mission and the part with which she's been involved. On what she hopes they find:

I also hope we find a lot of water-bearing minerals that we can characterize very well--carbonites, clays, sulfates--and that can teach us about the aqueous environments on Mars. For most of my career we've thought about Mars as a cold dry place with a potential for a warmer weather past, but not a lot of evidence of it. But that's changing and I think this mission has the potential to really start painting a picture of a more habitable Mars from the past and its potential for habitability in the future.

Bonus bit: here's an op/ed Leshin wrote for the Times Union about the mission -- and its potential for inspiring kids.

And she's on Twitter.

photo: RPI

Here's your chance to touch a moon rock

nasa driven to explore exhibitComing to the Schenectady Museum in July: NASA's Driven to Explore Exhibit. From the blurbage:

Immerse yourself in the story of NASA: learn why we explore; discover the challenges of human space exploration; and see how NASA provides critical technological advances to improve life on Earth. And touch a 4 billion-year-old moon rock brought back aboard Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon in 1972. The moon rock is one of only eight lunar samples in the world made available for the public to touch.

The mobile exhibit will be at the Schenectady Museum July 12 (noon-9 pm) and 13 (noon-5 pm). The last tickets will be sold an hour before closing. Tickets are $7.50 adults / $5 children / $6.25 seniors / plus $2 for a show at the Suits-Bueche Planetarium.

And, of course, the museum will also be selling astronaut ice cream.

photo: NASA

Where to hunt for fossils?

New York State fossil sea scorpion fossil

The official New York State fossil: Eurypterus remipes (sea scorpion)

Terence asks via Twitter:

Any reader suggestions for a local destination to look for (not buy) fossils? My son is dying to find a fossil this weekend.

Old quarries, road cuts, and natural cliffs are often good places to find fossils (you'll need to get permission in some cases). [State Museum]

Got a suggestion for Terence and his son? Please share!

photo: H. Zell via Wikipedia (cc)

Hot spring

noaa warmest spring national map

Statewide ranks for average temperature for March, April, and May. The states in dark red had their warmest springs on record.

This past spring was the warmest on record -- for Albany, for New York State, for the contiguous United States. [NRCC] [NOAA] [NOAA]

The average temperature in Albany during March, April, and May was 52.4, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell. That's more than 5 degrees higher than normal -- and tops the previous record of 52.3 in 1921. (For what it's worth, the National Weather Service has Albany's average for that period pegged at 52.3.) Year to date, Albany is 5.7 degrees warmer than average, the warmest in 74 years. [NRCC] [NWS] [NOAA]

New York
New York State's spring was 6.1 degrees warmer than normal. And the year to date, January through May, 6.3 degrees warmer -- also the warmest on record. (New York State's winter, at 6.6 degrees warmer than usual, ranked as the third biggest seasonal temperature anomaly on record.) [NOAA]

The trend in average temperature in New York State, January through December, is +1.3 degrees during the last century, according to NOAA's data.

United States
The contiguous United State's spring was a full two degrees warmer than the previous record, set in 1910. From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report: "This marked the largest temperature departure from average of any season on record for the contiguous United States." And the span from June 2011 to May 2012 was "the warmest 12-month period of any 12 months on record for the contiguous United States."

NOAA's records go back to 1895.

There have been lot of examples this year of how the weird weather has disrupted typical cycles. The early warm weather prompted fruit trees to flower early, only to get hit by frost, resulting in large crop losses across the state. The magnolias bloomed in March. The maple syrup season was early and short. And the winter -- at just 23.3 inches of snow -- was one of the least snowy on record, endangering the giant snowman.

map: NOAA

The spread of Lyme disease

cdc national lyme disease map animation 2001-2010

Reported cases, year by year, from 2001-2010.

Mappage: We came across this CDC map of reported Lyme disease cases over the last decade (ending in 2010). The CDC site allows you to switch from year-to-year -- we piled all those years into the animation above.

The thing that struck us about the map is the way it illustrates how Lyme has spread from the coast and the very central part of the Hudson Valley to the entire Northeast (as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota).

As it happens, the number of reported cases in New York was down noticeably in 2010, the last year for which the data's posted by the CDC. The state's incidence rate that year -- confirmed cases per 100,000 people -- was 12.3 that year (12th highest in the country). It was 21.2 in 2009, and 29.5 in 2008.

Delaware led the nation in 2010 with a rate of 73.1. Vermont's rate was 43.3 that year, and Massachusetts' 36.3.

Earlier this spring a research org in the Hudson Valley -- the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies -- reported the "northeastern U.S. should prepare for a surge in Lyme disease this spring." And the reason wasn't the mild winter. Rather, researchers based their projections on mice and acorns:

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New York's (now lost) native parrot

carolina parakeet audubon

From an 1825 illustration by John James Audubon.

As strange as it might sound, there were once parrots -- parakeets, specifically -- that were native to New York State. The range of the Carolina Parakeet stretched as far north as the Great Lakes, and there are historical reports of them in Albany.

They were brightly colored. They were loud. And by the late 1800s, they were gone from here. After the early 1900s, they were extinct.

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With that many legs, we'd like to know its name

weird unknown bug

Enlarged to highlight weirdness.

Today's episode of attempted crowdsource entomology: What the heck are these bugs?

Every spring we catch a few of these things scurrying through the house. They seem relatively harmless -- but, you know, they're weird. And some of them are rather large.

We've never encountered them anywhere other than Albany. The topic came up recently with a few friends around here and they, too, had noticed them but had no idea what they are.

So, anyone have the scoop? Please share.

Earlier on AOA: Box elder bugs

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Flu season fizzle?

google flu trends albany 2012-04-02

The dark blue line is the current season.

Now that spring is here, we're nearing the end of the traditional flu season.* And much like this past winter, this flu season has been something less than formidable (thankfully).

The graph above is Google Flu Trends track of flu-related search data for the Albany area this season, compared to previous seasons. (Google says the city specific tracking is still experimental -- here's the graph for New York State.) The state Department of Health's reports also point to a mild season around the state -- visits to sentinel providers are down a lot compared to last season, the number of hospitalized patients for flu is way down, and the percent of emergency room visits for flu has been more or less flat for the season.

But... Interestingly, there's been a recent uptick in the number of positive flu tests -- the week of March 24 had the highest number of positive reports all season. And the number of hospitalized patients is on the upswing. Let's hope that doesn't continue to develop.

On tracking bugs: More than flu this season, we noticed (anecdotally, online and off, whatever that's worth (not a whole lot)) many more people complaining of The Cold That Just Won't Quit (early winter) and the Stomach Bug from Hell (over the last month). It'd be great if someone could develop a way to glean this kind of stuff from Twitter and Facebook, and then provide reports. "Hello, we've noticed a recent increase in the number of your friends reporting being sick..."

* If you talk with flu researchers, they'll tell you the "flu season" is often neither typical nor traditional. For example, in 2008-2009, some of the highest activity months in New York State were May and June. The flu is the like weather -- you can make reasonable guesses based on patterns, but you never really know until it happens.

graph: Google Flu Trends

The 2012 Albany Prize

albany prize logoTwo molecular biologists from Rockefeller University -- James E. Darnell Jr. and Robert G. Roeder -- are the winners of this year's Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. At $500,000, the Albany Prize is the largest award for medicine and science in the US.

The two scientists won the prize for their research into how instructions in DNA are copied and transmitted to other parts of the cell (we'll stop before we start talking about RNA). Said Albany Med CEO James Barba in the press release:

"Understanding how our cells express their genetic information provides insight into all of human health. By helping to define how cells grow, replicate, and become specialized, these two scientists have allowed countless other scientists and physicians to explore new ways to fight disease including viruses, heart disease, anemia and autoimmune disorders."

The Albany Prize is funded by a $50 million donation made by philanthropist Morris "Marty" Silverman in 2000. This is the 12th year the prize has been awarded. Last year's award went to a trio of scientists for their work on stem cells.

The world's oldest forest -- in Schoharie County

gilboa fossilized forest floor nature 2012

Where trees once stood -- a long, long time ago. These are root mounds. The grid lines in this figure are 1.5 m on the horizontal.

nature cover gilboa forest 2012A group that includes researchers from the State Museum reported in Nature today that it's found evidence of the world's oldest forest floor in Schoharie County. And in this case old means really old -- almost 400 million years ago. The paper made the cover of Nature. [Nature] [NYS Museum]

The spot in Schoharie County -- Gilboa, specifically -- has been notable to paleobotanists for more than a century because of fossilized tree stumps that were found there. The construction of the New York City reservoir system in the 1920s helped uncover more fossils, including foliage imprints. The specimens became known as the "world's oldest trees." Scientists have continued to find other fossil remains that have helped them piece together what these ancient trees probably looked like. In 2007 this same research team -- which includes researchers from Binghamton University and Cardiff University in Wales, as well as the State Museum -- reported that it had found the crown of one of these trees. [Wikipedia] [Gilboa Museum] [Gilboa Museum] [National Geographic] [Nature]

This new discovery helps the researchers piece together what the whole scene looked like.

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RPI students send balloon to the edge of space

rpi students balloon near space

The view from about 90,000 feet.

This is great: a group of RPI students sent a weather balloon to the edge of space -- almost 90,000 feet. The balloon was equipped with three HD cameras and the video is remarkable (a few versions are embedded after the jump).

The students are part of a club called "RPI Students for the Exploration and Development of Space" (RPI-SEDS) -- it was founded by Orian Breaux, who recently graduated with an undergrad degree in aeronautical engineering. They launched the balloon from the Class of '86 field on campus -- and it ultimately landed in Maine after reaching 89,777 feet (well into the stratosphere).

So, why? (Other than than the fact it's awesome.) Breaux explains in a blog post:

Let's face it: space isn't sexy anymore. The zeal for the cosmos that once pervaded the American public consciousness has gone flat, and we're not going to rediscover that passion through politicians or NASA administrators. It will reemerge through the efforts of entrepreneurs in the private space industry and through the legions of professionals and students inspired by their actions ...
Our first effort, the high-atmosphere balloon, is an innovative variation on this increasingly common project. The idea that regular students can realize grassroots space projects like this embodies new opportunities to inspire people unlike ever before. That is the central idea behind presenting the high-atmosphere in a 360-degree interactive medium.

Breaux's name might sound familiar -- he's one of the founders of the Swing Syndicate in Troy. As he told AOA last fall about his career plans: "I'm not losing focus on getting into the space industry. I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I want to be involved in the movement to privatize space flight. Maybe I'll start a dance studio on the moon -- go back to my roots."

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Unmanufacturing in Troy


Where electronics start their afterlife.

Electronic gadgets are everywhere -- and in greater numbers every day. It's one side effect of an industry in which an item is considered "old" if was released just a year ago.

So, these items often have a short lifespan. And when the end comes, they have to go somewhere -- and increasingly, that place is not a landfill. As of the start of this year, businesses and municipalities in New York State are no longer allowed to pitch electronics into landfills. And by 2015 that restriction will apply to everyone -- even individuals.

With that in mind, a recent invitation to check out an electronics recycling business in south Troy made us curious to see where this stuff goes.

Well, that, and we almost never pass up the opportunity to see stuff get crushed.

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Cooking the Tree of Life: evolution, milk, cheese, cheesecake

Thumbnail image for tree of life logoThe popular Cooking the Tree of Life series is back at the State Museum February 8 with an evening about milk, cheese, and cheesecake. From the press release:

Dr. Jeremy Kirchman, the State Museum's evolutionary biologist, will lead the presentation, and Dr. Reid Ivy, creamery manager for the award-winning Old Chatham Sheepherding Co, will explain how cheese is made. Together they will consider the evolution of mammals, milk production, and the ingenious ways that humans (with help from bacteria) have used this mammalian adaptation to create some of our richest culinary pleasures. Dr. Ivy and Drue Spallholz from Albany's Honest Weight Food Co-op, will lead the audience in a cheese tasting. Lynn Beaumont from Albany's Cheesecake Machismo will be on hand to describe how to make cheesecake, and will offer the audience samples of cheesecake made at her shop. Fresh local milk from Clarksville's Meadowbrook Farms Dairy will also be available for sampling.

The program starts at 7 pm on February 8 (that's a Wednesday). Tickets are $5 at the door.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Old Chatham Sheepherding Company's Kinderhook Creek cheese
+ Milk delivery options in the Capital Region: Meadowbrook Farms Dairy
+ Cheesecake from Cheesecake Machismo

Ecovative in Wired

ecovative wired grew this headlineThere's a profile of Green Island startup Ecovative in the February issue of Wired -- the article is now online via Wired UK (which explains the Britishisms in the linked story above).

You've read some of it before, but there are some interesting new (to us) bits that touch on how good ideas come about, and what it takes to foster them. Also: Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre may be the first Wired profile subjects who grew their own headline.

We've posted a bunch about Ecovative, in part because it's an interesting local story with a fun angle (Packaging! Made from mushroom roots! By two good-looking nerdy guys!). But the company also has big potential. The polystyrene packaging business is a $20 billion a year industry (according to the Wired article) -- and Ecovative is looking to disrupt it with a product it says costs the same and doesn't harm the environment. That's an enormous opportunity. And it's growing from the ground up here.

Sure, it's not a multi-billion dollar chip fab or sprawling nanotech campus. But maybe it could be, someday. Upstate New York benefited greatly over the last century thanks to companies that created new industries -- names such as Kodak, Xerox and GE (many of which are now faded). If this part of the country ever finds that sort of prosperity again, it most likely will involve people and companies that have disruptive, industry-creating or shifting ideas.

Is it likely that Ecovative ever becomes as big as Kodak (once was) or GE? The odds are extraordinarily long. But all those companies started somewhere. Why not a warehouse in Green Island?

thumbnail: Chris Crisman / Wired

A fisher strikes a pose

Today's wildlife moment: a posing fisher.

During our email exchange earlier this week with scientist Roland Kays, he passed along two recent clips his wildlife cameras had captured in the Colonie. The first, embedded above, is of a fisher striking a pose in front of a camera just off Sand Creek Road (we're guessing this is the general area):

This camera was ... in a slim strip of forest that connects 2 larger wooded areas (aka core areas). Our GPS tracking of fishers suggested that they used this strip as a movement corridor to get between the larger fragments, we are now testing that by setting cameras out.

We've linked to it before, but here's Kays' "Scientist at Work" series at NYT about tracking fishers in Latham.

The second clip, of raccoons "jogging" over a footbridge near the Hilton Garden Inn at ALB, is after the jump.

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Next stop for Roland Kays: Raleigh

fisher weighingWe were disappointed to see recently that State Museum curator of mammals Roland Kays was leaving the institution. As the TU reported, morale at the museum is low and many researchers are leaving as a result, Kays among them (be sure to read chrisck's comment).

Kays is one of our favorite local nerds. He researches how wildlife adapt to urban environments. And the conversation we had with him about fishers in the Pine Bush is still one of our favorite AOA posts (that's him weighing a tranquilized fisher in the photo). Also: he was one of the organizers of the popular Cooking the Tree of Life series at the State Museum. The guy even races unicycles.

So, we emailed him to find out what's next. He emailed back:

[Y]es, sad to be leaving the Albany area, but excited about new opportunities at the new Nature Research Center I'm moving to in Raleigh, NC. I'll also be a Prof at NC State. Dr. Jeremy Kirchman will continue the Cooking the Tree of Life at the NYSM, and I'll also start it up down in Raleigh.

Kays says he's also working on a project that will involve non-scientists running camera traps that report images to a wildlife database. He says that could be up and running this summer and he's hoping it will include some sites here in the Capital Region. We'll see if we can get more details as the project's closer to being ready.

photo via Roland Kays

This just in: the Adirondacks have a lot trees

ny tree mass map nasa

Where the trees are in New York. (We added the star for the approximate location of Albany as a point of reference.)

Forestry fact of the day: the Adirondacks are one of the areas with the most tree mass in the country, according to a map of "above ground woody biomass" created by the NASA Earth Observatory.

A clip from the map, of New York State, is above. The darker the green, the more tree mass there is.

The national map is posted after the jump in large format. You can see the large swath of forest that runs from Maine, through New Hampshire and Vermont, includes eastern New York, and then runs along the Applachians. And as dense as parts of the swath are, the long, narrow (relatively speaking) forests of the West Coast still trump the East for density of tree stuff (the trees are rather large out there).

Researchers built the map as part of an effort to better understand how much carbon is stored in forests -- and which way that amount is trending.

[via Buzzfeed]

Earlier on AOA: The darkness just to the north

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Where's all the snow?

snow-free grass 2012-01-05

Yep, something's definitely missing.

This winter has been... unusual. November was really warm. And December? Yeah, not really that cold, either.

But the most conspicuously unusual thing about this winter is the snow. Or, rather, the fact that there's been almost no snow. It's like winter is falling down on the job.

So, what's going on? We bounced a few questions to WNYT meteorologist Jason Gough -- and he had answers about historical snow totals, the subtropical jet stream, rare weather, the unreliability of weather memory, and his prognostication for how much snow we might end up with...

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2011 weather: wet, snowy

2011 weather summary composite

Winter, spring, summer, fall.

The National Weather Service's climate summary for 2011 is out. Here are a few of the highlight from the wet, snowy year...

(normals in parenthesis)

average temperature: 50 (48.3)

highest temp: 99, on July 21

lowest temp: -13, on January 24

precipitation total: 53.68 inches (39.35) -- the third wettest year on record

largest 24 hour precipitation total: 4.81 inches, August 27-28 (that would be Irene)

snowfall total: 80.3 inches (59.1) -- 14th snowiest on record

largest 24 hour snow total: 12.8 inches, January 12 (some spots recorded much higher totals)

days with precipitation: 142 (137.8)

days with rain: 64

days with snow: 76 (34.8)

While we're on the subject of weather... This recent cold snap aside, winter is totally falling down on the job this year (so far). A few quick facts about this winter and it's less than impressive effort...

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Talks from TEDxAlbany 2011

Doug Bartow -- from id29 in Troy -- on "29 Things Young Designers Should Know." (A lot of those things apply to non-designers, too.)

A bunch of the talks from this year's TEDxAlbany are now up on YouTube. We've embedded them after the jump for easy skimming.

A few have yet to be posted -- including Jeremy Snyder's charming talk about his family's search for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. (We talked with Jeremy for a post here on AOA after seeing the talk.)

Now update with the rest of the talks.

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UAlbany researchers working on video games to change the way people think

ualbany professor Tomek StrzalkowskiInteresting: a UAlbany research team has gotten a grant to develop a computer game that aims to train people how to recognize their own cognitive biases. From the UAlbany blurbage:

In partnership with the local game company 1st Playable Productions, the CYCLES project will develop a computer game that will teach players how to recognize six common cognitive decision-making biases: confirmation bias, fundamental attribution bias, bias blind spot, representativeness bias, anchoring bias and projection bias. The goal is to reduce players' dependency on bias in real decision-making situations by as much as 65 percent. "The problem is one that psychologists have been working on for a very long time with limited success," said [psychology researcher Laurie] Feldman.

The interdisciplinary team is headed up by Tomek Strzalkowski from UAlbany's College of Computing (that's him on the right, not impressive-looking whiteboard diagrams) and Information and Jennifer Stromer-Galley from UAlbany's Department of Communication.

The $8.7-million project is funded by US Air Force. And arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is involved -- that arm, called IARPA explained earlier this year, why it's looking to these sorts of games:

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The best November ever?

brown oak leaves

Something's missing from picture. Oh, right, cold. And snow.

As far as the weather goes, this is one of the best Novembers we can remember in some time -- warm, with only a few traces of snow.

Or, to put it another way: It was 63 today! And 60 yesterday!

Curious about how unusual this warm November is, we looked up the temperature data.

Are there charts and graphs? Oh, you know there are charts and graphs...

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Jeremy Snyder's search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

cookie project jeremy snyder

Jeremy Snyder with his favorite food

Jeremy Snyder loves a good chocolate chip cookie.

The Albany resident and father of two describes the chocolate chip cookie as "absolutely my favorite food ever." He's been baking them since his childhood and has amassed a huge pile of chocolate chip cookie recipes.

So maybe it isn't a surprise that he and his family took on the methodical task of unearthing the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe -- the chocolate chip cookie that towers above all others. The apex of sweet, chocolat-y, ooey-gooey on the inside, and crisp on the outside.

It took over a month, a lot of research, and the assistance of some 40 volunteers -- but they got there. Or darn close.

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Park and plug in

electric vehicle charging station shoprite niskayuna

The future. Maybe.

Kristofer spotted this electric vehicle charging station at the new ShopRite in Niskayuna. There are four spots in supermarket's parking lot designated for electric vehicles. Apparently Niskayuna town officials requested that ShopRite include the spots as part of its design for the store. [Spotlight]

The ShopRite charger brings the number of EV charging spots in the Capital Region to five, according to Dan Gibson at Our Energy Independence Community. In addition to ShopRite, there are stations at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Albany, NYSERDA in Guilderland, the Saratoga Technology and Energy Park in Malta, and the HVCC Tec-Smart facility also in Malta.

Here's the thing, though: there are extraordinarily few electric cars on the road. The two currently for sale -- the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf -- are new on the market, and the technology -- especially for batteries -- could use some improvement. Most people probably aren't going to be keen to drive a car with a range of at most 100 miles in ideal conditions -- and much less in normal conditions. (To clarify: the Volt also has a gasoline engine, which can kick in after the batteries run out.) [NPR] [USA Today]

It's interesting/fitting that Niskayuna has an EV charging station made by GE, in an everything-new-is-old kind of way. Ace GE scientist Charles Steinmetz had an electric car all the way back in 1914. He used to drive it to his weekend home.

The Edison Exploratorium in Schenectady still has Steinmetz's electric car. There's video of it embedded after the jump.

(Thanks, Kristofer!)

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Cities and towns as puzzle pieces

guess city shapes puzzle

Here's something to burn off the rest of your Friday afternoon:

Can you guess Capital Region cities or towns by their geographic shape?

A handful are after the jump.

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Favorite local spots for music/acoustic snobs?

troy savings bank music hall

The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall is renowned for its acoustics.

Kate emails (link added):

Every since Rev Hall closed, I've been on the hunt to find a comparable music venue with the excellent acoustics that Rev Hall provided. Besides the Egg (which Jon McLaughlin recently told his audience that the sound was so good, he didn't want to stop playing), I've yet to find one that impresses me. Northern Lights, Red Square, and Jillians bring in the bands, but offer terrible acoustics. I fear this may turn off bands from coming to Albany, even though we have an amazing music scene and even more amazing music lovers here. I was hoping your readers had some suggestions.
I just love going to see live shows in the Capital District (all kinds of music). I follow some local bands, but I also love discovering new music too. Maybe some local musicians can share their favorite venues to play at. I hope I'm not the only one in Albany who is an acoustics snob.

Got a favorite place to see music/play music? Maybe a spot that wouldn't immediately spring to mind for people? Please share!

An Albany dialect?

aschmann dialect map albany

Albany is at the intersection of different dialect areas on this map.

@ajw93 pointed out an interesting site: it's a dialect map of North America. According to this map -- compiled by a linguist named Rick Aschmann -- there's an Albany dialect of American English. A few of the things that characterize this dialect:

+ "Fronted" (tongue near the front of the mouth) vowels in words such as "lot" and "cot."

+ Very little fronting of the vowel in "far."

+ The vowel in "caught" is strongly raised.

+ And these words sound the same: "hoarse" and "horse" | "mourning" and "morning" | "four" and "for."

We've never really noticed a strong "Albany" accent. But if there is one, it's definitely different from other parts of upstate. For example, some people in Central New York have relatively strong accents -- words such as "fire" are pronounced "feuer," and there's the ele-men-TARY pronunciation that occasionally pops up here, too. And, of course, there's the soda/pop divide.

It turns out there's a difference between dialects and accents -- accents are subsets of dialects. And the dialect spoken in Albany and along the Hudson is called, appropriately, Hudson Valley English -- and was influenced by Dutch. Some of the influences from Dutch are still obvious: words such as "kill" (for a creek) and "hook" (for a land point, example: Newton Hook in Columbia County). [Wikipedia] [Wikipedia] [HL Mencken's The American Language]

By the way: The example of the Albany dialect on the Aschmann site is a video clip of Jerry Jennings. Babe.

map: North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns


ualbany cnse aerialNot content to only colonize the western reaches of Albany, the Nano Empire has also staked a claim to the month of November -- er, NANOvember.

The month-long series of events includes talks, tours, and demos at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. A few of the events:

November 5: CNSE Community Day
Tours of the facilities and hands-on demos for kids. Also: information about the "NanoFab Xtension," the new building going up along Washington Ave Ext.

November 14: CNSE Community Lecture Series featuring Dr. Alain Kaloyeros
The Nano Emperor himself on "the emergence of nanotechnology, its growing impact on all facets of society, and the growing global leadership of CNSE and New York State in the science that is 'leading to the next Industrial Revolution.'"

November 21: CNSE Community Lecture Series featuring Dr. Laura Schultz
"Dr. Laura Schultz, CNSE Assistant Professor of Nanoeconomics, along with Dr. David Hochfelder, UAlbany Assistant Professor of History, will discuss the rapid development of the region's nanotechnology economy. Their presentation will also touch on the initiative's role in building on the Capital Region's strong history of innovation leadership, as well as expectations for how nanotechnology will help shape the region's economy over the next decade."

And there are more. Some of the events have pre-registration, so if you're interested in going it's probably worth signing up ahead of time.

Earlier on AOA: Section of Washington Ave Ext to close Nov 5-6 (for Nano Bridge construction)

photo: University at Albany CNSE

Nick Brenn and the Altoids flashlight

altoids flashlightHere's that Altoids tin flashlight that Union College student Nick Brenn talked about on the Anderson Cooper show Monday. [Daily Gazette]

The show has posted a video of Brenn explaining how to do it yourself (it's also embedded after the jump). But you can also buy a kit from Edmunds Scientific for $19.95.

Brenn came up with the idea for the flashlight as a high schooler in Pennsylvania. He seems to be quite the maker -- here are his profiles on Instructables and MAKE. He's on the crew team at Union. He gets up early. We'll all be working for him someday. If we're lucky.

photo: Edmunds Scientific

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UAlbany study: 92% of top 10 songs mention sex

gallup hobbs songs sex references

"Distribution of reproductive themes for 2009 songs as a function of song type" (edited). To quote noted reproductive phrase messenger 50 Cent: I got the (genitalia reference)/ I know if I can (sexual prowess reference)/ I hit the (sex appeal reference)/ Shorty don't believe me, then (short term mating strategy reference).

UAlbany professor Gordon Gallup must have the sexiest lab on campus, what with all the research on interpersonal attraction, semen chemistry, voice attractiveness, kissing, and other topics that stick out.

In a paper published last month in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gallup and Dawn Hobbs (one of his students, now a UAlbany graduate) report that 92 percent of the songs that charted in the Billboard top 10 during 2009 "contained one or more reproductive messages" -- with an average of "10.49 reproductive phrases" per song.

A content analysis of songs looked for mentions of "courtship, sex, pair-bonding, parenting, fidelity, mate guarding, and provisioning ... along with themes related to long-term as well as short-term mating strategies." (Hey, baby. come over here and let me present my short-term mating strategy. Just for tonight.) "A content analysis of these messages revealed 18 reproductive themes that read like topics taken from an outline for a course in evolutionary psychology."

Are there examples? Oh, there are examples. From the paper's table of "lyric exemplars" (edited):

(You know, we would have thought "disco stick" would have fit in the first category. That's why they're the experts.)

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The Paper Battery Company

paper battery company flexible sheetAn interesting Troy company announced today it's gotten a $1 million grant from NYSERDA, the state's renewable energy agency. [Paper Battery]

The Paper Battery Company says it's getting the money to build a pilot production line for its "fully printed energy-storage device that is as thin as a piece of paper."

Yep, the company is developing batteries that can be printed onto a paper-like surface.

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Keep up with the Joneses? Pfft. Beat 'em.

national grid efficiency neighbors comparison


We like our neighbors. A lot. They've been friendly and helpful from the moment we moved in. But we gotta admit: it gives us great pleasure to know that we're crushing them.

How do we know? National Grid told us.

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The Wizard of Schenectady

steinmetz with tesla and einstein in New Jersey

Steinmetz -- with Einstein, Tesla, Langmuir and others -- in New Jersey in 1921.

The Smithsonian's "Past Imperfect" blog has a post about Charles Steinmetz -- the "Wizard of Schenectady" -- this week is that is completely jammed full of awesome. A clip:

He stood just four feet tall, his body contorted by a hump in his back and a crooked gait, and his stunted torso gave the illusion that his head, hands and feet were too big. But he was a giant among scientific thinkers, counting Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison as friends, and his contributions to mathematics and electrical engineering made him one of the most beloved and instantly recognizable men of his time.
In the early 20th century, Charles Steinmetz could be seen peddling his bicycle down the streets of Schenectady, New York, in a suit and top hat, or floating down the Mohawk River in a canoe, kneeling over a makeshift desktop, where he passed hours scribbling notes and equations on papers that sometimes blew into the water. With a Blackstone panatela cigar seemingly glued to his lips, Steinmetz cringed as children scurried away upon seeing him--frightened, he believed, by the "queer, gnome-like figure" with the German accent. Such occurrences were all the more painful for Steinmetz, as it was a family and children that he longed for most in his life. But knowing that his deformity was congenital (both his father and grandfather were afflicted with kyphosis, an abnormal curvature of the upper spine), Steinmetz chose not to marry, fearful of passing on his deformity.

The post was written by Gilbert King and it's a good, quick read of Steinmetz's story. It includes a bunch of great little stories, including one of our favorites, about Steinmetz and Henry Ford (as the story goes, Steinmentz sent Ford what may be the greatest invoice in the history of consulting (or perhaps it was GE, the story has a lot of variations)).

The term genius gets thrown around a lot -- but Steinmetz really was one. And a total character.

Tangent: There needs to be a comic/graphic novel/TV series/something in which Steinmetz's genius scientist/engineer identity is a cover for being some sort of superhero.

(Thanks, Brandon!)

photo from the Franklin Township Public Library collection via Wikipedia

Messing with Schenectady

schenectady wikipedia entry screengrabChris Churchill recently checked the Wikipedia entry for Schenectady and found an interesting "fact" about the origins of the city's name -- specifically that it's "derived loosely from a Mohawk word for 'dress in layers.'"

Of course, that's not true. The edit was made August 4 at 6:24 pm by user RalphMonster -- the first contribution recorded under that name. It was corrected (with the actual origin) just 8 minutes later by Wknight94, who has a significant record of contributions -- in fact, he/she has the highest number of logged changes to the entry.

The correction was uncorrected (if that's the word) Monday at 4:07 pm, about a half hour after Chris noted the odd "fact." The new version: "The name 'Schenectady' is derived loosely from a Mohawk word for 'church hill,' or 'near the church hill,' or 'place beyond the church hill.' The user: 518Snark, who seemed to be having some fun based on Chris' name. (It was 518Snark's first contribution.) The entry was re-corrected at 11:15 pm Monday by a user who did not login, but whose IP address does have a history of contributions.

Anyway, everyone knows that Schenectady means "place where people swoon over goslings."

The darkness just to the north

new york satellite night small

The circle marks the Adirondacks.

After Katie's question about places to stargaze, Jim commented today (emphasis added):

If you look at the night satellite photo of the North American continent, you see huge amounts of lights all along the East & West coasts. But - there is a big dark area, where there are few electric lights, which is great for stargazing - & that is the Adirondack Park. Head into the park, the more in the middle the better. We see great stars from Lake George on up. I remember a night we were on Little Tupper Lake (used to be in the Whitney estate) floating in canoes, seeing the Milky Way bright enough to be reflected in the water, listening to loons - & being stunned by the Perseids. Super dark sky, great show.

So we pulled the satellite imagery from NASA and annotated it. A small version is above. Much bigger versions -- of New York State and the United States -- are after the jump.

There's also another 2005 NASA map that highlights how low the human population density is in the Adirondacks.

Bonus bit: economists have been using this satellite imagery to study economic development.

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Web development/design social groups?

coda screenshotKate emails:

I had a question for you and maybe the AOA readers could point me in the right direction. I'm new to web design and am wondering if there are any web design social groups in the capital district... groups where people get together with beers and binary, groups for drupal or word press, geeks who love to talk nerdy about html 5 and css... can you help a girl out?

Anyone have suggestions for Kate? Please share!

You can pry this incandescent light bulb from my cold, dead hand

incandescent light bulbYou might have heard that federal efficiency regulations will soon phase out traditional incandescent lights bulbs. But are you preparing for when the feds come to take away the warm glow of incandescence?

Former RPI professor Howard Brandston has not been sitting back idly as we're cast out into the cold, harsh light of compact fluorescents. Part of the school's Lighting Research Center before retiring, he's been speaking out against the incandescent phaseout. And stockpiling.

From a recent NYT article about the lightbulb switch:

Brandston's résumé includes everything from theater work to illuminating the Statue of Liberty, but lately he has become the Paul Revere of the movement to save the light bulb, giving speeches to industry conferences and a Tea Party rally in front of the White House. In his testimony, he warned of potential problems with compact fluorescents, which contain trace amounts of mercury. "Some of the most knowledgeable people I know," Brandston said, "have begun to stockpile a lifetime supply of incandescent lamps."
A few weeks later, Brandston showed me his own hoard, in the basement of his handsomely lighted farmhouse in upstate New York. "This is the world's greatest marketing scheme," he said. "You get the government to ban the competition." A slight man with an air of gray-bearded grandiloquence, Brandston contends that his root objection to the law, which he calls "immoral," is connected to his professional appreciation of incandescence, which mimics the natural spectrum. "It's what we grew up with -- it's sunlight," Brandston told me earlier on the phone.

Based on the info on his consulting website, we're guessing Brandston's "hoard" is stashed in Columbia County. (Look for the warm glow in the east.)

As it happens, RPI's Lighting Research Center has a bunch of info on its website about how to make the switch from incandescents to other types of bulbs (CFLs, LEDs, halogens).

photo: Wikipedia user KMJ

Kirsten Gillibrand's push for open government

Kirsten Gillibrand has been pushing the cause of open public data this week. The clip above is her presentation at the nerd-wonk Personal Democracy Forum on Monday -- she talked about her office's disclosure of schedules and earmarks and how's she's pushed for similar disclosure for all Congressional members.

KG also announced this week that she's co-sponsoring the "Public Online Information Act," a bill that would require public info to be made available online in a searchable format before it could be considered public.

It's good to see this kind of support for open data initiatives -- in the Information Age (or whatever you call right now), useful access to data generated by the government should be a civil right. But if KG and other open government people want to really shake things up, they'll push for the federal government (which has money) to help develop tools for local governments (which don't have money) to collect, manage and share public data. The state of access to local public data is currently underwhelming -- even for data that should be relatively easy to post. (When was the last time you searched crime reports online for your town -- oh, right, you probably can't.)

A few cities are already headed in this direction. New York City has made a big deal of it recently, releasing a "road map" toward becoming a "digital city." It's touting the push as a way of increasing civic engagement and economic development. (It already makes some data available via a "data mine.")

That kind of initiative is easier for a place like NYC -- it has a huge budget. The jump is much bigger for local municipalities that can't be even manage to consistently post their press releases online (nevermind in a format that's not pdf).

Very Important (scientific) People

ge research vip book thumbnailGE has posted images from the guest book for the company's original research center in Schenectady (GE Global Research is now in Niskayuna):

While its beginnings were humble, it didn't take long for scientists and inventors from around the world to flock to the Research Lab to see what GE was working on. And each famous mind that visited would stop at Willis Whitney's desk to sign the VIP guest book. The book sat at Whitney's desk from 1914 to 1935, and the signatures are a veritable Who's Who of inventors, physicists, chemists, physiologists, and businessmen -- including 9 Nobel Laureates.

The collection of people who stopped by the place during its first years is remarkable. Among the names signed in the book: Bohr, Marconi, Pavlov.

photo: GE Reports

The Karner Blue

karner blue butterfly

Nabokov once described the a group of Karner Blues appearing like "blue snowflakes".

The first flight of Karner Blue butterflies should be appearing in their habitats around the Capital Region right about now.

The beautiful endangered butterflies hang around sandy pine barren habitats. Two such spots in the Capital Region: the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. Drew was at the Wilton preserve this past week and said the butterflies were easy to spot.

Karner Blues congregate in these habitats because they're also the habitat for blue lupine. The butterflies lay their eggs on the plants.

There's some great history Capital Region history involving the Karner Blue. The common name of the butterflies is linked to a spot here -- and Vladimir Nabokov classified the butterflies. Yep, the author.

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But does it have a cupholder?

rpi solar racing team car photon

The Photon.

The RPI solar car racing team unveiled its car today: The Photon. [The Approach]

The team will be racing the Photon as a plug-in electric car in a national competition in Texas next month. After the race, they'll convert it to a solar-powered car. Here's a photoset from the construction of the car.

Update: There are more details about the car in this Troy Record article -- for example, the seat is made out of a basketball hoop.

Speaking of RPI: Peter Caracappa, a professor of nuclear engineering at RPI, was on NPR's Morning Edition this morning talking about radiation exposure from everyday things -- like bananas. (Yep, Peter is also Mr. Mary.)

photo: RPI News

Mutants in the Hudson

Hudson River Atlantic tomcod in Science

Sadly, his mutation doesn't involve lasers shooting out of his eyes.

Here's something weird and kind of amazing: researchers led an NYU School of Medicine scientist reported last week in the journal Science that a species of fish in the Hudson River has evolved protections against PCBs. And it only took about 50 years.

The Atlantic tomcod is known for its ability to survive in water heavily polluted with PCBs, but scientists weren't sure why. So the research team collected fish from spots in the Hudson that are full of PCBs, as well as fish from other less-polluted rivers in the region. After analyzing the genomes of the collected fish, they found the tomcod in the heavily polluted water carry a small gene variant that appears to allow them to suffer fewer of the effects of PCB exposure.

The researchers say a few of the fish from the relatively unpolluted water also carried this special gene, so they figure it had already been present at low levels in tomcod populations prior to the pollution. But when GE started dumping PCBs into the river in 1947, these few mutants suddenly had an advantage. And now almost all the tomcod in the Hudson carry the mutation. (PCBs were banned in 1976.)

Said Isaac Wirgin, the NYU population geneticist who led the study, in a release: "We think of evolution as something that happens over thousands of generations. But here it happened remarkably quickly."

More coverage: NatGeo | Wired | AP

By the way: the Hudson River dredging project is scheduled to start back up again in late spring.

photo of an Atlantic tomcod from the Hudson River: Science/AAAS

We might be able to see the aurora the next few nights. Maybe.

sun large solar flare

Our neighborhood star. It remembered to wear its flare for this week's shift.

Earlier this week the sun emitted its biggest solar flare in four years, and as result zillions of particles were shot in this direction (well, not this way exactly -- toward Earth, which includes the Capital Region). That's prompted predictions the aurora borealis -- AKA, the Northern Lights -- could be especially active over the next few days, which means we might be able to see it here.

The key word is "might." This part of the nation falls under the current aurora zone, but we're near the edge of it. Further complicating potential viewing: a full/near-full moon and cloudy skies the next few nights.

But you never know. Look for a reddish glow on the northern horizon. It'd be pretty cool to see.

(Thanks, Ryan!)

image: NASA/SDO

Jeopardy: man vs machine, at EMPAC

This will probably qualify as the nerdiest thing you will do all month: the three episodes of Jeopardy in which the IBM super computer Watson plays against humans will be shown on the big screen in EMPAC's concert hall next week. Before each show there will be a discussion with experts in artificial intelligence.

The team behind Watson is led by RPI alumnus David Ferrucci and includes many other RPI alumni. Watson will be playing against Jeopardy grand master Ken Jennings and all-time money winner Brad Rutter. Watson already won a test match against the two humans (embedded above). As someone said to us recently of the matchup: "John Henry-tastic, right?" (But can Watson answer this important question: why is Alex Trebek such a jerk?)

The shows will air February 14, 15, and 16. There will be refreshments in the cafe at EMPAC starting at 6 pm, discussion at 6:45 and the show starts at 7:30 pm. It's open to the public (we checked), but you do have to register.

About our urban weasels...

captured fisherToday on NYT's "Scientist at Work" blog: NYS Museum curator of mammals Roland Kays, talking about his research on fishers -- Albany's "urban weasels" -- in the Pine Bush:

You can't exactly go out to your backyard and watch fisher behavior. They do their best to avoid people, coming out at night and moving quickly and quietly through the forest. Furthermore, your presence would change their behavior, and also alert the prey they are trying to sneak up on. Over the next few weeks Scott and I will be opening the biologist's toolbox wide to peer into their lives without affecting their behavior. We are deploying small GPS tracking collars to see exactly where the animals go, and tiny three-axis accelerometers to characterize their behavior. We use motion-sensitive camera traps to document their prey populations and monitor key movement corridors. Finally, we follow their tracks in the snow to see for ourselves what they did the night before, what and how they hunt, where they sleep, and with whom. The fieldwork is challenging, but gives us a well-rounded view on how this weasel has adapted to urban forests.

Kays has been pursuing this research for a few years now. We talked with him about fishers two years ago -- it's still one of our favorite AOA interviews.

photo: Roland Kays

Cooking the Tree of Life 2011

tree of life logoThe popular Cooking the Tree of Life series will be back at the State Museum this February. The series -- which pairs chefs with biologist sous chefs -- is a commemoration of Charles Darwin's birth.

This year's topics: pork, potatoes, beer (well, yeast). Hard to go wrong there. (We've heard you have a better chance or scoring samples if you get there a little early and sit near the front.)

The schedule is after the jump.

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Inside Ecovative

A recent story on the public television show Nightly Business Report included an interesting extended peek inside Ecovative's packing-material-from-mushrooms factory in Green Island:

And, please, don't harm the fungus.

When Albany was in print

albany google ngram 2

Thoughtful chin scratch...

Update: Alex set us straight -- see his comment about searching for "Albany" vs. "albany." The new graph is above (the old graph is after the jump).

The capital-A Albany graph makes more sense. It was a little weird that there was little or no mention of Albany prior to 1780 -- the city had already been been incorporated for almost 100 years by that point.

Google recently opened up access to a massive dataset collected from digitized books -- some 500 billion words from 5.2 million books. The hope is this dataset will enable interesting sorts of quantitative research for the humanities.

The simplest of this sort of research involves word counts. The Google dataset includes counts for how often a word was used in the texts over time. Go ahead -- you can try it for yourself.

Roland emailed us today after doing search for "Albany." The results are in the graph above.

You have to figure there was spike toward the end of the 1700s because of New York becoming a state. Any thoughts on the reasons for the spike around 1850 (Civil War lead up?) -- or 1950, or since 1988?

(Thanks, Roland!)

graph: Google

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A peek inside Vicarious Visions

This is fun: local filmmaker Mike Feurstein shot a piece about a school field trip to Vicarious Visions, the video game studio in Menands. It likes it could be a fun place to work.

Mike's piece is part of series trying to get kids interested in science, math and engineering. He tells us the piece was also crewed by local high school students.

Also: Sandra over at Albany Kid has put together a short list of local resources for kids interested in learning about video game development. Both Vicarious Visions and 1st Playable in Troy sometimes have kids come in to test games. She's hoping you might know have a few other ideas.

By the way: the next season of Mike's eScape series, shot here in the Capital Region, recently premiered.

Hold the robot apocalypse

mark changiziEvolutionary neurobiologist -- and Guilderland resident -- Mark Changizi, writing in Psychology Today about why the robot uprising is far, far off -- if ever (links added):

Reverse engineering is, indeed, part and parcel of [Ray] Kurzweil's near-future: the brain will be reverse-engineered in a couple decades, he believes. As a neurobiological reverse-engineer myself, I am only encouraged when I find researchers -- whether at a moonbase or in the bowels of the Earth -- taking seriously the adaptive design of the brain, something often ignored or actively disapproved of within neuroscience. One finds similar forefront recognition of reverse engineering in the IBM cat brain and the European Blue Brain projects.
And there's your problem for the several-decade time-frame for the singularity! Reverse-engineering something as astronomically complex as the brain is, well, astronomically difficult -- possibly the most difficult task in the universe. Progress in understanding the functions carried out by the brain is not something that comes simply with more computational power. In fact, determining the function carried out by some machine (whether a brain or a computer program) is not generally computable at all (it is one of those undecidability results from the 20th century).

Changizi's next book is called Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man.

Changizi (that's him on the right) was until recently a professor at RPI. He's moved on to become director of human cognition at 2AI Labs.

photo via Mark Changizi site

Box elder bugs

box elder bug

Boisea trivittata

We always notice a few of these bugs in the house each fall. It was only a few years ago that we found out they're box elder bugs (named after the tree). Apparently they're essentially harmless.

Fun fact about box elder bugs: they're from an order known as "true bugs."

Anyway, the Gazette reports there's been a bumper crop of box elder bugs this fall in the Capital Region.

There's still time for a flu shot

google flu ny 2010-11-15

Flu activity in New York State as tracked by Google Flu Trends over the last handful of season. The dark blue line is the current year. That big early spike was 2009.

The feverish state one of the editors was in yesterday had us thinking about the flu. So we checked out Google Flu Trends to see how this season is shaping up so far.

Flu experts will tell you there's no such thing as a "normal" flu season, but we don't appear to be off to anything you might consider a weird start. As you can see from Google's graph above, last year's flu season included a big early season spike.

Google's formula is based on search activity, not actual reported lab or doctors' office data. It appears to do a good job, though. (Both the New York State Department of Health and the federal Centers of Disease Control track the official data.) It would be interesting to see Twitter and Facebook updates folded in somehow.

Google is also now experimenting with data for metro areas -- here's Albany. Last year's data indicated Albany experienced an "intense" flu wave in early November.

All this is to say, if you haven't gotten a flu shot, there's still time to do so. Here's a flu shot finder.

Earlier on AOA: RPI's "beer pong" flu: a highly transmissible story

graph: Google Flu Trends

Traffic lights and ants

traffic signal boxInteresting: Sanjay Goel, a UAlbany professor, has gotten a $378,375 grant to study how traffic light systems might be designed to produce emergent behavior. In other words, could traffic lights self-organize -- like ant colonies -- to enable better traffic flows.

From the press release:

Goel believes that each traffic light, like each ant, should make its own decision to communicate with the next light. That way, a driver crossing the intersection at midnight wouldn't have to wait for long minutes at a red light while there is no other traffic. ...
"The goal is to develop self-organizing algorithms and conduct simulation and modeling that would involve selection of intersections in Albany to test some algorithms," said Goel. "The focus of the study is to understand the limitations of this approach and find out where such techniques can fail or under what conditions we may get bottlenecks or chaos in traffic," he said.
Goel is looking for just the right intersections. "We will pick a variety of places where there is fast-moving traffic in the city," he said.

If someone can figure out how to make the traffic lights on Western Ave work together so as not to induce road-rage-levels of frustration in drivers along that stretch -- well, that person would deserve some sort of prize.

By the way: Have you stood next to one of the old traffic signal boxes around Albany (pic on the right)? If you listen carefully, you can hear the parts moving in there as the lights change.

[via @omarjpeters]

Mythbuster at Sage Thursday

mythbusters grant imaharaGrant Imahara -- from the show Mythbusters -- will be doing a Q&A at the Sage College campus in Albany this Thursday night.

Imahara is a radio control specialist whose worked on animatronics for a bunch of big action movies. He's also operated R2-D2 from Star Wars -- and programmed the Energizer Bunny (still going, we hear).

The talk starts at 8 pm. It's $7 for the general public, $5 for college students.

photo: Flickr user Sbocaj via Wikipedia

Jumpstart NY

power outletHere's something that sits right in the middle of the overlap in a Venn diagram for "thrifty" and "nerdy": the state Public Service Commission is looking for households willing to participate in a monitoring program aimed at reducing energy waste and lower utility bills.

From the blurbage:

The 250 households to be selected statewide to participate in the program will have an electricity monitor installed in their homes at no cost. Using their computers, participants in the Jumpstart NY initiative can observe how their homes use electricity in real-time. Online tools will help them spot wasted electricity and eliminate it through simple actions like unplugging appliances that are not in use or setting the thermostat at a lower temperature.
Participants will also be able to interact with other Jumpstart NY households through an online community, where they can share information and personal experiences.

The PSC tells us they're looking for about 50 households from the Capital Region to participate in Jumpstart NY. There's an application form on the project's website.

It would be fun (you know, relatively speaking) to turn this into a game -- pitting households and cities against each other for prizes. (Congratulations to the Johnsons of North Syracuse -- they've won a complete set of polar fleece! And considering how low they've set their thermostat, they're going to need to it!)

175 years of making sure things don't fall down

rpi history civil engineering noticeThe first civil engineering degree in the nation was created 175 years ago today at RPI. The school posted a notice announcing the degree on October 14, 1835. The notice also lists what was involved in various courses of study at the school. For example:

During the first 12 weeks, each forenoon is devoted to practical Mathematics, Arithmetical and Geometrical. This is a most important course for men of business, young and old. During the last 4 week of the Winter Term, extemporaneous Speaking on the subjects of Logic, Rhetoric, Geology, Geography and History, is the forenoon exercise. Throughout the whole afternoon exercises are Composition, and, in fair weather, exercises in various Mathematical Arts. ...
Students of the Engineer Corps are instructed as follows:
Eight weeks, in learning the use of Instruments; as Compass, Chain, Scale, Protractor, Dividers, Level, Quadrant, Sextant, Barometer, Hydrometer, Hygrometer, Pluviometer, Thermometer, Telescope, Microscope, &c. ...

That's a lot of ometers.

By the way, among the famous civil engineering alumni from RPI: George Ferris (as in, the Wheel), Frank Osborn (Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium) and Milton Brumer (the Verrazano Narrows Bridge).

image: Institute Archives and Special Collections, Rensselaer Libraries, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Ecovative's Eben Bayer at TED Global

Check it out: Eben Bayer's TED Global talk is online.

Bayer is one of the co-founders of Ecovative Design, a Green Island-based startup that uses fungi to produce eco-friendly replacements for styrofoam. His talk -- which he gave this past summer in Oxford, England -- covers the problem with styrofoam packaging and how mushrooms can be used to grow replacement material. There's video of Ecovative's manufacturing process.

Chitinous polymers. Hot.

Ecovative was recently named a "technology pioneer" by the World Economic Forum.

Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, both RPI grads, started Ecovative in 2007.

(Thanks, Jessica R!)

Earlier on AOA: a whole bunch of stuff about Ecovative

Visualizing the arteries of the Capital Region

visualization commutes to 12210

Commutes to 12210

This is fun/interesting to play around with: a designer/engineer named Harry Kao has built a visualization of commuting data for metros all across the country. You can sort the data by both zipcode and whether people are commuting from/to the zipcode.

commutes like angiogramIt'll make sense when you see it. For example, here's the map of the data for people who commute to 12210, which is in downtown Albany. And here's a map of the data for people who commute from 12065, which is in Clifton Park. The size of the dot in each zipcode represents the number of people coming from/heading to there.

You can zoom the maps, and view them on different backgrounds. It's kind of cool to view with a blank background -- the network of commuting routes look biological, like you're viewing an angiogram of the Capital Region.

Kao's mashup uses Census survey data from 2000, so it's a bit out of date (and he includes a few other caveats). But it's an interesting rough picture.

(Thanks, Amy!)

visualizations by Harry Kao

The Latham SPUI is now open

latham spui

It's pronounced SPOO-ee.

The new configuration of the Exit 6 interchange in Latham opened today. It's the Capital Region's first single point urban interchange -- or, as its friends like to call it, a SPUI.

We stopped today around 5 pm to check it out. Traffic appeared to be moving through the intersection smoothly. Watching it for a few minutes, the flow has a certain grace to it, as the gently arcing lines of traffic slip past each other.

About that. Driving through the broad open area of the intersection didn't feel weird, but we could see how some people might not feel totally comfortable at first (though, really, it's not bad... just different). The state DOT has posted directions on how to the use the intersection, along with a diagram.

There are actually a few interesting bits in there. For example, the traffic lights on the "slip ramps" are there only for pedestrians (a pedestrian has to push the button to activate them).

The interchange isn't completely finished. But it looks good. More photos after the jump.

Update: Now with hot SPUI video.

(Thanks to Wendy to for the heads-up!)

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Ecovative called a "technology pioneer"

ecovative design ecocradle

Ecovative's environmentally-friendly packaging material.

Ecovate Design, the Green Island-based startup, has been named a "Technology Pioneer" for 2011 by the World Economic Forum (you know, the Davos people). From the WEF brochure:

Over US$ 100 billion dollars of environmentally harmful foams are used each year, depleting finite fossil fuel reserves and causing serious environmental impact during production and disposal. Ecovative's technology has the potential to eliminate a significant amount of environmentally harmful foams, including the expanded polystyrene used worldwide in packaging, automobiles, building construction and consumer goods.

Ecovative has developed packaging and insulation that made with seed husks and mushroom roots. The two founders, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, are RPI grads. The company's gotten a lot of attention -- it was even name-checked on CSI:NY.

From 2008 on AOA: A (very cool) fungus grows in Troy

photo: Ecovative Design

The hottest month?

capital region monthly average temps

August was crushed to find out that the NWS says July is hotter.

After seeing some chatter (chirping?) about today's temperature on Twitter (essentially: it shouldn't be this hot), we figured we'd look it up to see what the typical temps are for August (and every other month, for that matter).

The chart above shows the monthly normal temps as recorded by the National Weather Service in Albany for the years 1971-2000 (so, yep, it doesn't include the last decade of data). As you can see, July is typically the hottest month, though August is close behind. The numbers are also in a table after the jump.

The average high so far this month has been 81.5, which is a few degrees warmer than usual.

About today... The highest temp on record here for August 31 came in 1953, a day that topped out at 93. As of 3 pm today, the temp was 91. The average high for this date is 76.

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Should we punch the ticket for more expensive parking?

troy pay and display parking meterPeople get very passionate about parking and seemingly all things parking-related: paying for it, permits, meters, shoveling. And these conversations almost always revolve around whether there's enough parking -- and whether it's cheap enough.

Well, in a NYT column this weekend economist Tyler Cowen pushes the case that in most places parking should be... more expensive:

Is this a serious economic issue? In fact, it's a classic tale of how subsidies, use restrictions, and price controls can steer an economy in wrong directions. Car owners may not want to hear this, but we have way too much free parking.
Higher charges for parking spaces would limit our trips by car. That would cut emissions, alleviate congestion and, as a side effect, improve land use.

Cowen goes on to talk about the work of Donald Shoup, a UCLA urban planning professor and the author of The High Cost of Free Parking. He continues the discussion on his excellent blog -- and responds to criticism.

Also via Cowen: San Francisco is testing parking meters that change the price based on current supply and demand.

By the way: Troy is considering residential parking permits for three of its neighborhoods. [TU]

Earlier on AOA:
+ Assembly passes Albany residential parking permits bill
+ Meters parked in Troy
+ The ethics of the shoveled parking spot
+ Ask AOA: Parking in Center Square
+ How the rest of us are ticketed

photo: Kim M

How much, where?


One the left, home prices as a percentage of median income. On the right, household median income.

Here's something that might help you kill time until you can leave work get a better picture of the Capital Region.

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an online mapping tool that lets you apply all sorts of filters to local maps -- housing affordability, median household incomes, autos per household, transportation costs and so on. The maps are based on census data.

The index is a project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which promotes "more livable and sustainable urban communities." That viewpoint shows up in some of the explanations on the site.

[via Jen]

screengrab: CNT

The aurora might be visible tonight

NASA sun coronal mass ejection 2010-08-01Thanks to "wonderful fireworks the Sun has been producing," there's a chance we could catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis tonight (you know, the Northern Lights.) [CS Monitor] [HSCFA]

Forecasts indicate New York State could be on the edge of the aurora's viewing area. Around midnight, look to the north for a red or green glow. Your chances will better the more north you are, and the darker the sky.

OK, about those fireworks on the sun...

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New York's least-smoky counties

The Capital Region's four core counties have some of the lowest adult smoking rates in the state, according to data distributed by the state health department today.

The full rankings are after the jump. Among Capital Region counties, Albany County had the lowest smoking rate at 16.5 percent.

We were also curious about how smoking rates might associate with income -- so we whipped the two sets together. The result is also in there.

Eww: The DOH released this data as part of push to get people to stop smoking. Part of the campaign: two new TV spots of which a DOH officials says: "Some viewers may complain the ads are too graphic or emotional..." The one embedded above is pretty gross. Here's the other.

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New Yorkers are cranky tweeters

A study that used data from Twitter to track mood across the nation has been getting a lot of attention online today. New Scientist has a good overview of the study, which was headed up by researchers at Northeastern University.

Of course, we were curious about our area of the country. And we gotta say, from what we can tell, the results are not warm and fuzzy.

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UAlbany's garlic guy

eric block allium bookThe work of UAlbany chemistry professor Eric Block is the main dish in a NYT piece today by Harold McGee, the creme de la creme of food science writers.

Block is an expert on alliums -- that is, plants such as onions and garlic. From McGee's piece:

"It's still astounding to me what happens when you cut or bite into an onion or a garlic clove," Dr. Block told me in a telephone conversation last month. "These plants originated in a very tough neighborhood, in Central Asia north of Afghanistan, and they evolved some serious chemical weapons to defend themselves."
Their sulfur-based defense systems give the alliums their distinctive flavors. The plants deploy them when their tissues are breached by biting, crushing or cutting. The chemicals are highly irritating, and discourage most creatures from coming back for seconds. They kill microbes and repel insects, and they damage the red blood cells of dogs and cats. Never feed a pet onions or garlic in any form. ...
Dr. Block explains that different alliums stockpile different sulfur chemicals to make their weapons, and this accounts for their varying flavors. The stockpiles themselves are inert, but when the plant's tissues are damaged, enzymes in the tissues quickly convert the sulfur compounds into reactive, stinging molecules.

There a bunch of interesting bits in the article -- whether you cook, or just eat.

Block wrote a recently-published book about alliums, Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science. The book blurb says it "outlines the extensive history and the fascinating past and present uses of these plants."

Block co-authored a 2007 paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine that reported the neither raw garlic nor garlic supplements appeared to have clinically significant effects on cholesterol levels in people.

[via @ualbany]

A bright idea

Check it out: after we posted that scientists at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna were looking for new things to film with their super slow motion camera, a bunch people of posted suggestions.

And the researchers used one of them! B had suggested an incandescent bulb turning on. The clip above is one of the results.

The whole post on the Edison's Desk blog includes more videos (a few of a bulb burning out) along with some explanation (why does the light pulse?).


listomania composite

A list of lists: from beer to frowns to development to on-time arrivals.

Updated June 8, 2010

Everybody loves a good list. And it seems like every month or so, the Capital Region or New York State (or something around here) ends being ranked on some sort of list.

We got thinking about this recently -- and came to the only logical conclusion: there needs to be a list of lists.

And here it is.

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Let's take this real slowwww

Check it out: Adam Rasheed, one of the researchers at GE's Global Research Center in Niskayuna, is looking for suggestions of stuff to shoot with a super high-speed camera -- the video can be slowed down to see all sorts of details. Rasheed says they'll try to post the results online.

An example is embedded above. It's the slow motion video of a water balloon being popped.

"The Death of Styrofoam?"

Eben Bayer GreensulateThere's an interesting profile of Green Island startup Ecovative Design and its founders Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre in The L Magazine. From the article by Robert Tumas:

As the van corners sharply onto the interstate, a 10-inch piece of what looks like molded off-white Styrofoam, with curious pieces of brown bark and particulates laced throughout, slides across the dashboard and comes to a rest on the beat-up glove box in front of me. I pick it up and turn it around in my hands; it's a little rough, but otherwise feels exactly like Styrofoam. "Sorry," Eben says, taking it off my hands and tossing it in the back of the car, "It's everywhere." The material in question is called Ecocradle, an invention of Eben and Gavin's, and it just might save the world. This may sound like a big claim for something that looks like a dirty piece of old Styrofoam, but that's the point; Ecocradle could very well spell the end of old-fashioned Styrofoam, and all its attendant environmental evils.

The piece includes a bunch of details about Bayer and McIntyre, the founding of the company, the non-response from the Styrofoam industry and Ecovative's plans for the future.

Definitely worth reading through.

Earlier on AOA: a whole bunch of items about Ecovative

What are those stinky trees?

pear tree blossoms

Pretty. Stinky.

By Ryan Palumbo

I was recently reduced to a position not unlike one commonly assumed by a heaving cat while on my way up from University Heights to B'yond Style for my monthly haircut, as I passed by a row of trees sporting what anybody would surely consider to be a beautiful arrangement of white flowers from each branch. Curious.

The next day, while riding the #10 CDTA bus, I smelled it yet again. Unsurprisingly, those trees were around. At that I concluded that the miasma that had been violating my olfactory system for nearly a week had to be radiating from these trees.

I am sure many, if not all of you, have seen these trees as the warm weather gives way to the blooming of flowers and leaves, and have no doubt noticed that they STINK. And not only do they just stink: they seem to give off what some have called a particular, familiar odor ("fish that's been sitting out way too long" is another description).

Thus my research into these odorous organisms began.

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A mixed case for street signs

delaware marshall street signs

Also, don't go that way on Marshall.

After D mentioned the new mixed-case street signs on the reconstructed section of Delaware Ave in Albany, B went out a took a photo (you can see the old-style all caps signs in the background of the large version).

Both D and Summer commented that the new mixed-case signs are hard to read. Wrote Summer: "It makes no sense to me, because all you see is a big "D" and the rest is tiny."

As CapHwys noted, mixed-case lettering on street signs is now a standard in the latest edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the bible for road signs. There's research from as far back as 1950 that using mixed-case, as opposed to ALL CAPS, is easier to read. (Although, the gains from lower case letters apparently drop off when people aren't sure of the word they're looking for.)

Earlier on AOA:
+ Next exit: the correct lettering?
+ Next exit: illegibility

photo: B

Addicted to tanning?

tanning bed interior

Can't stop?

A paper published today in the Archives of Dermatology reports that of 229 UAlbany students surveyed who were tanners, almost 40 percent could be considered to have an "addiction" to tanning.

The study was conducted by Sharon Danoff-Burg, an assistant professor at UAlbany, and Catherine E. Mosher, a research fellow at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC. In 2006, they surveyed a pool of more than 400 students at UAlbany. [HealthDay] The students were evaluated for indoor tanning addiction using two measures -- a modified questionnaire that's usually used for screening for alcoholism and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria for substance-related disorders.

Danoff-Burg and Mosher report that of the 229 student who reported going to tanning salons, 39.3 percent met the DSM criteria and 30.6 the questionnaire criteria for addiction to indoor tanning (about 22 percent met the criteria for both screens). [Reuters] Of those scored as being tanning-addicted, 78 percent said they tried to cut down but couldn't. [LAT]

The authors write: "Further research should evaluate the usefulness of incorporating a brief anxiety and depression screening for individuals who tan indoors. Patients with anxiety or depression could be referred to mental health professionals for diagnosis and treatment."

A small study in 2004 reported that tanning appears to have mood-altering effects. And a 2006 study reported that it appeared that the younger a tanner started, the harder it was to quit.

Earlier on AOA: Dan Nester reported in the Daily Beast that there are more than 800 tanning salons in the greater Capital Region.

[via @UAlbanyNews]

* HealthDay reports it was UAlbany -- the study's abstract simply says it was "a large university (approximately 18 000 students) in the northeastern United States" (that's UAlbany's enrollment). We're checking to confirm. Yep, it was UAlbany. We confirmed it with the university.

photo: Flickr user Evil Erin

Mark Changizi: Alien Vision Revolution

alien vision eye changiziThis could be interesting: RPI cognitive scientist Mark Changizi will be giving a talk about human vision Wednesday evening. From the blurb:

Why do humans see in color? Why do we have eyes on the front of our heads, like cats, rather than on the sides, like horses? And how is it that we find it so easy to read when written language did not exist until a few thousand years ago--a virtual millisecond in evolutionary time? These are just a few of the riddles theoretical neurobiologist Mark Changizi explores in his talk on Alien Vision Revolution. Searching for the design principles behind color vision, binocularity, motion, and object recognition, Changizi suggests what they say about human nature and the circumstances in which it was formed. He also uses those principles to extrapolate how extraterrestrial beings would be likely to see--probably the same sorts of writing but not the same colors, and not with eyes that face forward.

Changizi recently published a book last year called The Vision Revolution, about recent scientific insights into human vision. Commented Melinda Wenner for Scientific American MIND: "One thing is certain: The Vision Revolution will make you wonder the next time you notice someone blush, catch a ball or finish reading a magazine page."

Changizi's talk is at 7 pm at EMPAC. It's free and open to the public.

Video from the Rube Goldberg Challenge

Check it out: prompted by last week's mention of the Rube Goldberg Challenge for high school students this past weekend at Union College, Sebastien stopped by to see the devices. Here's some video he shot:

He's also posted a slide show of photos.

A lot of the video and photos made us smile. It looked like a lot of fun.

(Thanks, Sebastien!)

Wink: high-speed wireless for Albany

wink wireless logoIf you've tried to use wireless internet on Lark Street or other parts of downtown Albany, you've probably tried, or at least seen, Albany FreeNet. Tech Valley Communications offers the free wireless service in Albany's downtown business corridors.

Today Tech Valley Com rolled out a premium wireless internet service in Albany. It's called Wink.

We talked with Tech Valley Com's wireless director, Jeff Mirel about Wink, Albany FreeNet and the dream of a free-wireless city.

(there's more)

Orszag to speak at RPI commencement

peter orszag

Ladies are powerless to resist the haircut.

Nerd sex symbol Peter Orszag will be the speaker at RPI's commencement this year. When Orszag isn't impregnating heiresses or engaging stunning television reporters, he's the director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Obama Administration.

It's very possible that Orszag is a cylon -- what with his sterling CV, rep as a "super nerd" in the White House, anti-charity approach to losing weight, being "way taller than you're supposed to be", marathon running, and genetic ability to metabolize large amounts of caffeine. All that -- and he's putting the "OMG back in OMB."

And check out the lineup for this year's "President's Commencement Colloquy:" Orszag, Robert Langer, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Harold Varmus. That's like a week's-worth of Charlie Rose episodes.

Also: The Albany College of Pharmacy has lined up the US Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, as its commencement speaker.

[via Kevin]

photo: Marc1022 via Wikipedia

Wooing the Google

google logoThe collaborative effort to pitch Troy for Google's community fiber project is pushing ahead. The effort now has a site: Troygle. And the city government has gotten involved with the planning process. [Troy Record] (There's been a Facebook page for a few weeks.)

The best quick argument we've seen for Troy's bid came from Lou in a comment:

1. Because of RPI, Troy has a sizable population of folks who'll come up with clever ways to weave all that bandwidth into their daily lives, and who'll have the skills to report on the effects in detail.

2. Because there's a sizable underprivileged population, Troy's a good lab for examining the public benefits of superior data infrastructure.
3. Troy's big enough, but not too big. Significant yet economical.

Saratoga County is apparently also looking to make a pitch. [Post-Star]

As you might imagine, the competition to win this project is fierce. Towns are using basketball crowds, flash mobs and mayors with shrinkage to attract attention. Topeka, Kansas even temporarily re-named itself... Google.

[FastCompany link via @dougbartow]

Split the check

spiral check split appCheck it out: Spiral Design, a design studio based in Cohoes, has developed a tip calculator/bill-splitting app for the iPhone. From the app's description:

GratuitEase™ is a simple, easy-to-use tipping calculator. Enter the bill sub-total, sales tax, select a tip percent, choose to tip on the sales tax or not and divide the total equally among friends.

As you might expect, there are a bunch of apps like this. What might set Spiral's apart is its interface, which is fun -- it's like a one of those old-school handwritten restaurant checks.

The app is 99 cents.

By the way: Snow Brawlin' -- the game app developed by Saratoga studio Ghost Hand Games -- was recently the #1 most downloaded game... in Eastern Europe.

On2 merger with Google approved

google logoOn2, the Clifton Park video compression company, announced late this afternoon that its shareholders have approved its merger with Google. The company says it expects to close the deal on Friday.

The original deal had been held up because some shareholders had protested the price Google was paying. Google then upped its offer to $133 million.

So, why is Google buying a company that makes software for encoding video? You may have heard of a site called YouTube.

The poetic enchantment of math -- and dinner

crochet coral IFF

A mathematically precise model of a hyperbolic pane -- made with crochet.

This could be interesting/nerdy/fun: science writer Margaret Wertheim will be speaking at EMPAC Wednesday night on "mathematics as poetic enchantment."

Wertheim is co-founder of the Institute for Figuring. From the org's site:

The Institute's interests are twofold: the manifestation of figures in the world around us and the figurative technologies that humans have developed through the ages. From the physics of snowflakes and the hyperbolic geometry of sea slugs, to the mathematics of paper folding, the tiling patterns of Islamic mosaics and graphical models of the human mind, the Institute takes as its purview a complex ecology of figuring.

Here's a TED talk by Wertheim about hyperbolic space, coral and crocheting. And here's a NYT article about her Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project.

The evening is also a dinner date -- the talk is in the cafe at EMPAC and will feature food by the Epicurean.

The talk starts at 6 pm. Tickets are $15.

image: Dr. Diana Taimina / IFF

Los Angeles: so far... and sort of close

fanpage_analytics_grab.pngWe came across a project today called Fan Page Analytics that pulls data from public Facebook profiles to see how people are connected.

The best way to understand it is to just go check it out (and here's more on the geographic connection analysis by the project's creator). Here's the listing for Albany. A few things that caught our eye:

+ The list of cities "connected" to Albany (that is, where people have friends) includes a bunch of places you'd expect in the East: New York City, Poughkeepsie, Boston, maybe even Washington DC. But #10 on the list is Los Angeles.

+ It's interesting to see the top connections for the cities that sit along I-90 in New York. Albany has strong connections to Syracuse. Syracuse has strong ties to Albany, Utica, Rochester and Buffalo. Rochester has strong ties to Syracuse and Buffalo. And Buffalo has strong ties to Rochester and Syracuse.

+ The most popular "like" among the Albany profiles surveyed? The dislike button.

[via Kottke]

image from Fanpage Analytics

How many gallons per mile?

old gas pumpsThere's a bill in the state Senate that would require all new cars sold or leased in New York to come with a sticker that lists the autos' gallons-per-mile. Yep, that's gallons-per-mile -- not just miles-per-gallon.

So, why GPM?

(there's more)

Tiny, frozen bubbles

pond ice feet

Right beneath your feet.

We were sliding around Buckingham Pond in Albany the other day and ended up totally nerding out on the shapes and figures created by bubbles in the ice. The clusters of trapped air in the many-inches-thick ice reminded us of tiny frozen nebulae. And we thought they were beautiful.

A whole bunch of photos after the jump, including one large format pic.

(there's more)

The "intense" flu wave

google flu us nys alb

Much calmer now.

Google Flu Trends is now breaking out data for a bunch metro areas in the United States -- including the Capital Region. So we pulled the numbers for last flu season and the current one.

The graph above charts flu activity as measured by the Google Flu algorithm. The system characterized that late October peak as "intense" activity.

Google's formula is based on search activity, not actual reported lab or doctors' office data (it appears to do a pretty good job). The New York State Department of Health does track those reports -- and its data roughly match Google's.

Even though the current flu activity level is characterized as "low," it's still probably not a bad idea to get a flu shot. Influenza is hard to predict. This season could be over early -- or there might be another peak ahead. There's plenty of vaccine now available -- and a bunch of opportunities to get the jab.

via @NMessier and TC

Chart data from Google Flu Trends

Not so lucky?

money frown faceLast Friday the Schenectady County DA offered William Rivenburgh a plea deal -- two years in prison -- on drug charges. It's not really a notable story except for the fact that only three years ago Rivenburgh and his wife won a million dollars from a scratch-off lottery ticket. Now, they're broke and accused of selling cocaine.

It's quite a contrast from November 2006. From a TU story at the time:

It's not the kind of windfall he can retire on. But it's just enough to take the pressure off. Besides home repairs and bill payments, he will invest some of his winnings in stable accounts. It will be a good supplement to his annual salary, which is about $50,000, depending on how much overtime he picks up.

As it happens, the Rivenburghs' story is just the latest in a long line of lottery winner woe.

(there's more)

Cooking the Tree of Life returns

tree of life logoThe State Museum's culinary celebration of Charles Darwin's birthday is coming up in February. From the museum's site:

The ingredients in the food we eat every day are some of the most extreme examples of evolution, from ridiculously hot peppers, to super sweet grasses, to flightless birds. In celebration of the 201st anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, the State Museum presents three cooking demonstrations that highlight the extreme evolution of domestic food. Each demonstration teams a local chef with a biologist sous chef, and the two prepare the meal together, giving both a culinary and scientific perspective on the main ingredients.

Here's a clip from last year's series.

This year's lineup includes peppers (evolution of capsaicin), sugars (the sweet tooth), and birds (big-breasted dinosaur descendants).

The talks/demostrations are each Wednesday in February at 7 pm. They're free.

We've heard they're a lot of fun (be sure to sit close to the front for samples).

How many cornings is that?

corning tower looking up

Temporarily overcome by the nerdy fun that is measuring things in cornings (that is, using the Corning Tower as a unit of measurement), we put together this handy meters/feet/cornings converter:


It might be more fun than it should be. For example, we just used it to figure out that Otto is .007 cornings from nose to tail.

The code for this calculator was adapted from Ada Shimar's cm/inch/feet converter at JavaScript Kit

That's tall

corning burj khalifa comparison

The buidling heights should be roughly to scale. The widths not at all.

The world's tallest building -- the Burj Khalifa (also known as the Burj Dubai) -- officially opened today in Dubai. It's 2,717 ft tall at the tip of its spire.

We decided it would be fun to compare to the height of the Corning Tower -- and to use the Corning Tower as a unit of measurement (Cornings). Thus, the Burj Khalifa is... 4.61 Cornings tall.

Here are a few other extraordinarily tall buildings, as measured in Cornings:

(all building heights at spire tip)

Earlier on AOA: The Corning Tower observation deck

Burj Khalifa outline by Wikipedia user Greyengine5

The unhappiest state?

frown faceA study published in the journal Science (press release) this week concludes that people in New York State have the "lowest satisfaction with life" of any state.

The study, which was conducted by researchers in the UK and at Hamilton College here in New York, wasn't exactly out to rank the satisfaction of people in each state. The researchers were looking to see how closely responses to the question "In general, how satisfied are you with your life?" on an annual CDC survey match up with a model based on objective measures such as weather, commuting time and crime.

The researchers report that the two approaches have a strong positive correlation (that is, they match up well). And, as it happens, New York State ranks last in both models.

So, which state is first? Based on the survey data, Louisiana is #1 (the objective measures model had Wyoming pegged as #1, with Louisiana at #8).

The full rankings from the latest study (the one based on survey responses) are after the jump.

Earlier on AOA: New York is for neurotics

(there's more)

Pimp my sleigh

ge santa sleigh


The folks at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna decided that Santa's sleigh could use a few upgrades:

Then, we had a flash of brilliance. Why not design a new sleigh for Santa Claus? After all, we do have cool technology that could make Santa's life a lot easier. That's when I invited my colleagues to join in on this challenge. Together we developed, what we believe, is Santa's sleigh of the future, featuring 10 Global Research technologies that could improve Santa's experience.

Among the new features on Santa's tricked-out ride: ice-phobic coatings, ceramic sleigh blades and RFID tags for presents.

Bonus holiday item: check out the fun interactive holiday video produced by local marketing firm Media Logic.

A lull in flu season?

flu season chart ny 2009-12

The last seven flu seasons in New York State

First updated Tuesday at 11:55 pm and then again Wednesday morning

The chart above depicts flu activity in New York State over the last seven flu seasons as measured by Google Flu. As you can see, this year's season got off to an unusually early start.

So, we're in the clear? Maybe.

It appears that the H1N1 wave has passed through the area. But if you dig through the surveillance reports from the CDC, you'll notice that almost all the samples that have been sub-typed are H1N1. This is the case both for New York's region and the nation as a whole.

What's that mean? Well, it could (emphasis on the could) mean that the "regular" flu season -- with its "typical" after-December peak -- is still ahead of us. (Or it might not -- the flu season in the southern hemisphere this year appeared to be mostly H1N1.)

So if you've been thinking about getting a flu shot, it's still probably a good idea.* That's true for the H1N1 jab, too (it's been so long since a flu virus similar to H1N1 has bounced around that most people don't have built-up immunity to it).

The feds have put together a flu shot locator for both seasonal and H1N1 shots (the box on the right). Albany County is giving free H1N1 shots through the end of the year by appointment (447-4505 to register). And also try your doctor for seasonal flu shots.

Update Wednesday morning

Saratoga County says it will start giving H1N1 shots to people not in priority groups starting January 1. [Saratogian]

Also: it looks some of the re-called doses of H1N1 vax did make it to the Capital Region. Schenectady County says 73 kids got the less-potent shots at its clinics. And Albany County says it got 200 doses, but didn't distribute them.

The shots, which were intended for kids, were recalled because tests indicated their potency had declined. [NYT]

* We are not doctors. Talk to your doctor.

chart data: Google Flu

Snow Brawlin'

snow brawlin screenshot

A snow ball fight without the frozen fingers.

Check it out: Ghost Hand Games, an independent games studio in Saratoga Springs, has released a free winter-themed game for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

The game is called Snow Brawlin'. And it's simple: you're a squirrel who flings snowballs at other squirrels. It's a fun little break.

Snow Brawlin' is similar to Ghost Hand's Nut Chuckin', which was released earlier this year. That game also features a squirrel, who makes his way up a tree by chucking and dodging acorns. Nut Chuckin' was named a "new and notable" game by the Apple's iTunes app store.

Both Nut Chuckin' and Snow Brawlin' are cartoonish and beautiful, which seems to fit with Ghost Hand's self description:

It seems these days games are so big, and loud... and violent too. We find inspiration in creating precious little games that are quiet and relaxing; mysterious and surprising. Hand-crafted experiences, made with respect and care.

screen shot: Ghost Hand Games

A dossier on our crow invaders

crow closeup

Don't be fooled -- there's a lot going on in that bird brain.

Troy and Albany have resumed hostilities in the War on Crows. Anti-crow trucks are trolling through Albany this week firing off flares, lasers and amplified crow distress calls. And the crows appear ready to retaliate.

So if it's going to be like this, maybe we should understand our opponent a little bit better. Here are a few crow facts to keep in mind.

(there's more)

Albany LEGO block on display

elm street lego blockWilliam Leue's LEGO sculpture/model/reconstruction of a block of Elm Street in Albany is on display at the main branch of the Albany Public Library until December.

Leue told the TU that it took more than 5000 blocks to construct the model.

photo: William Leue

More attention for Ecovative

eben bayer poptechEben Bayer -- one of the founders of the Green Island-based startup Ecovative -- spoke yesterday at the PopTech conference in Maine. (PopTech, in its own words: "a global community of cutting-edge leaders, thinkers, and doers from many different disciplines, who come together to explore the social impact of new technologies.")

Bayer is one of PopTech's "social innovation" fellows this year. He talked yesterday about the environmental impact of polystyrene -- Ecovative makes an eco-friendly polystyrene replacement using mushrooms.

As part of an awareness/marketing campaign, Ecovative is asking people to send in pictures of expanded polystyrene.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Fungus is the new punk rock
+ Award-winning fungus
+ A (very cool) fungus grows in Troy

photo: PopTech

The flu was here. Just now.

flu bathroom sign

Just in case you weren't already headed for the sink.

This sign -- which was posted in a bathroom in a state office building in downtown Albany -- made its way to us recently. The somewhat-ominous tone of the message caught our attention. You know, it's almost like it's saying: The Flu! It was here right before you! Lookout!

You might not think it would be necessary to remind people to wash their hands in a bathroom. Alas, that's not the case. A observational survey a few years back reported that 75 percent -- and only 66 percent of men -- washed their hands after using a public restroom. Other studies have reported even lower rates.

There's some evidence that signs like this one do get more people to wash up. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health by researchers in London reported that people were more likely to use soap and water when signs put their actions in some sort of social context -- especially if people got the impression that others were watching.

By the way: Google Flu trends reports that flu activity in New York State is already high and still rising. So, uh... wash your hands.

If you need some encouragement, there's a rather enthusiastic handwashing dance from Japan embedded after the jump.

(Thanks, Anonymous)

(there's more)

RPI's "beer pong" flu: a highly transmissible story

weekend update

The story was mentioned on SNL's Weekend Update this past weekend.

The media are pretty much defenseless against stories like the recent "RPI beer pong flu" story. No journalistic immune system can withstand a story that combines such topicality, weirdness, a health scare and drunk college students. And once stories like this find a host, they're pretty much guaranteed to spread -- often mutating along the way.

The RPI story was no exception. It's spread all over the media world during the last week and a a half. Given that we're pretty sure we know the index case, we thought it'd be interesting/fun to do some media epidemiology.

(there's more)

Next exit: illegibility

highway signs

What's that say?

Updated Tuesday evening

While we wouldn't exactly consider ourselves font nerds, we do notice typography. And the interstate signs that have gone up near Exit 6 on the Northway have been bugging us.

(there's more)

On time, most of the time

southwest jet

A few interesting local bits from a Brookings Institution report out this week about air travel delays:

ALB was on pace for about 1.3 million arriving passengers this year. That's down more than 5 percent from last year and almost 6 percent from five years ago. But it's up 42 percent from 10 years ago.

On time
Arrivals at ALB were on pace this year to be on time 78.5 percent of the time. That ranks #54 among the top 100 metros. And it was just about even with the national average (78.9 percent)

The average time of delay for a late arrival was on track to be 54.2 minutes this year -- that ranks 37th best among the top 100 metros.

Brookings also figured out the top 10 air corridors linking to the Capital Region. That list is after the jump...

(there's more)

Nerd intersection in Niskayuna

make ge grc segwaySome of the staff from uber-nerdy* DIY magazine MAKE visited the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna last week -- and and the resulting post is a fun look behind the scenes of the facility.

The Makers got to hear about the researchers' work (smart grids, computer vision and so on) -- and their side projects (a Segway-like machine that one of the scientists rides through the halls; an electric VW Rabbit). It sounds like the scientists are having a lot of fun.

(Thanks, Peter)

Earlier on AOA: Inside the Global Research Center

photo: Becky Stern / MAKE

*Of course, AOA loves nerds

Fungus is the new punk rock

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre -- the two founders of local green tech startup Ecovative Design -- were featured on CNN recently as part of the channel's "Young People Who Rock" segment:

Bayer and McIntyre started Ecovative, which grows eco-friendly insulation using mushrooms, based on work they did as students at RPI. During the CNN segment they cited Burt Swersey, one of their Rensselaer professors, for urging them and other classmates to go out and invent things that solve needs, not wants.

The company recently expanded into new space in Green Island.

(Thanks, Jessica!)

Earlier on AOA:
+ Award-winning fungus
+ A (very cool) fungus grows in Troy

The utility bills of others

power lines shoes

Well, that probably doesn't help.

National Grid's CEO, Steve Holliday, was in town yesterday to speak at Albany NanoTech. According to the TU, Holliday said New Yorkers need be smarter about how they use electricity -- and apparently National Grid is working up a new rate structure that will encourage that. These new rates are still a few years off.

But there's something that NG could do today (well, not today, but probably soon) to start pushing things in the right direction. And involves getting customers (that is, you and us) to ask: Whose is bigger?

(there's more)

Lego block

elm street lego blockA computer scientist named William Leue has built a very cool model of row houses on Elm Street in Albany -- out of Legos LEGO.

There are more -- and bigger -- pictures posted at the site linked above. In a comment there, he says it took him a few months to build the scene.

photo: William Leue

(Thanks, JVG!)

When bacon met bananas, ice cream and caramel

prime saratoga bacon dessert

Dessert? Breakfast? Both?

Like one of those super heavy elements that scientists create for mere microseconds in the lab, the chefs at Prime at Saratoga National created a dessert so heavy, caloric and oddly tempting that it could only exist for a short period of time.

Behold: bacon-chocolate-black pepper-vanilla bean ice cream with sauteed bananas, pain perdu and caramel sauce. Yes, that is a strip of bacon draped over the top.

The dessert was a special this past weekend. There's no word as to when/if it will return. Perhaps after the Large Hadron Collider is back online.

Prime at Saratoga National, like many restaurants these days, has a Facebook page and Twitter stream. If you're keen on a place, it's a good way to keep up on specials and whatnot. Bacon desserts probably fall into both categories.

photo: Kristin Campbell

Google buying Clifton Park company

google logoGoogle announced today that it's buying a Clifton Park company for $106.5 million.

On2 Technologies develops video compression technology. The acquisition is expected to help YouTube better deliver high-def video (remember, Google owns YouTube). It could help Google save money by saving on bandwidth (better compression = smaller files). And better compression would probably make it easier to send video to mobile devices like the iPhone (On2 bought a company that developed video software for mobile devices two year ago).

On2 was already working with a handful of high-profile clients, including Adobe, Amazon, Netflix, Skype and Brightcove.

While this is surely a big deal for On2, the cost of the acquisition is barely a drop in the bucket for Google. The market cap for the owner of the world the search giant was more than $142 billion as of this morning.

[Google press release] [Bloomberg] [PaidContent]

A damp decade

sky in puddleThe seemingly constant rain this summer prompted us to look up whether July 2009 is shaping up to be a historically wet July. At 7.27 inches of rain so far (as of the end of Wednesday), we're more than 3 inches above the average -- but we're still not quite into the top 10 wettest Albany months on record. (We'd need another .75 inches or so to make the list.)

But we came across something interesting while looking up the numbers: a historically wet year has become common during this decade. Check it out...

(there's more)

June washed away

sky in puddle

Hopefully the puddles will give way to blue skies

The seemingly non-stop rain in June really added up.

We got just a few drops more than five inches of rain last month, according to the National Weather Service. That's about 34 percent more than in an average June. And we got at least a trace of rain on 15 different days (normal is 11.6 days).

But get this: June 2008 was even rainier than this year's (by almost half an inch). And the rainiest June on record came in 2006 (8.74 inches).

Oh, and: the average high temp for this past June was 74.9 -- about 2.5 degrees lower than normal.

Not so unusually cold and wet

june 2009 temp graph The weather has been so wet and chilly lately that someone remarked to us: "I feel like we're being cheated out of June."

For a little perspective, we looked up the National Weather Service's June data for this area. And it turns out that our temps have been a little bit cooler than usual (off 1.3 degrees) -- but rainfall is actually right on track.

At least, it is right now. It looks like the rain will continue through the weekend into next week.

graph: NWS

Who has the best weather forecast?


Hmm... is this partly sunny or partly cloudy?

By James Cronen

Weather forecasts are everywhere these days: TV, radio, the internet -- even those electronic billboards along I-90 now include forecasts. But how do you know that the forecast you're getting is any good?

There's only one way to find out who really gives the best forecast: put them to a head-to-head test.

(there's more)

Blame the Listerine?

listerine bottleThere was a weird -- and sad -- story in the TU today about a guy in Rensselaer County who failed a court-ordered sobriety test -- and his attorney blamed... Listerine.

The excuse apparently didn't go over well with the judge. And it seems laughable. But it got us wondering: is apparent-intoxification via mouthwash possible?

(there's more)

Shaking in the Hill Towns

The site of last night's earthquake -- well, here, but 9 km down.

There was another earthquake last night near Berne -- and it was relatively big (for this area).

The seismographic network that monitors this area reports that quake was a 3 on the magnitude scale ("felt quite noticeably by persons indoors, especially on upper floors of buildings"). There are reports that people did feel this one.

Things have been a little shaky in the Hill Towns recently. Over just the last three months there have been 14 earthquakes. Most of them have been tiny. The one last night was the strongest of the group.

There's an interactive map after the jump.

(there's more)

The state Senate goes social

nys senate site grab

Malcolm in the middle.

The New York Senate's web site gets the social media makeover today. "We like to think of this as returning government to the people ... They paid for it. This is citizens first," says the guy who built it.

In theory, this sounds great. We're all for opening up the governmental process to the public. And stuff like RSS feeds for individual Senators (Neil Breslin, for example) and a "plain language initiative" for public data are all encouraging. Thank you. Yes. This is good. More, please.

But, like with Kirsten Gillibrand's new site, we're also a little wary of this technology just becoming gloss on an otherwise old and broken system. As Bob at Planet Albany posted today:

"No doubt it will be an improvement, but the preview I saw contained photos of public meetings that might leave the unwary with the impression that the Senate is a model of democratic discourse. In fact, on every contentious issue from the budget to the MTA to gay marriage, it is operating under standard Albany rules of closed government."

In the end, the technology is just a tool. Let's hope it's put to good use.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Where's our CongressTube?
+ Schenectady mugshots on Twitter
+ The Albany crime map: keep trying

Hot in here

april2009 high temps

We'll leave it up to you about whether it's time to take off all your clothes.

So it's been a little warm in the Capital Region the last few days -- unusually warm, in fact.

The chart above lists the actual high temps from the last four days against the normal average high temps for those dates (data from the National Weather Service). We've been running 15-20 degrees warmer than a typical late April week. Saturday's high temp was a record.

Bonus weather nerdage: the National Weather Service has a year-long climate chart that tracks actual temps against the average.

Today looks like the last hot day for a while. After today's forecasted high of 86, we're looking at 64, 69, 70 and 63 as highs for the rest of the week.

I think, therefore I Twitter

Check it out: one of the researchers involved with the much-buzzed about brain-to-Twitter interface is from the Wadsworth Institute here in Albany.

Gerwin Schalk, who got his PhD at RPI, is developing software that processes and translates brain signals into action. He and other researchers at Wadsworth helped develop the "keyboard" for the brain-to-Twitter device.

Wadsworth has gained attention over the last few years for its researchers' work on brain-computer interfaces. The institute's Jonathan Wolpaw was on 60 Minutes last year as part of a story about the technology.

(Thanks, Celina!)

That's a really big crane

st peters crane

It'll make your inner four-year-old smile.

We couldn't help but notice the crane that's being used for the St. Peter's expansion. It's enormous -- it even dwarfs the hospital.

So how big is it exactly? Well, you know we had to find out.

(there's more)

Blowing smoke into the budget gap

brownie on plate

A new source of revenue for the state?

With New York State scraping to cover a seemingly ever-widening budget gap, state leaders have been exploring all sorts of options for new revenue. But here's one that, as far as we know, hasn't come up, yet: taxing marijuana.

Ha! That's a joke, right? Well, in California -- which is facing a $42 billion budget gap -- a state assemblyman has proposed doing just that. And by some estimates, the Golden State could bring in more than a billion dollars that way.

OK. If New York started taxing pot, how much could it bring in?

(there's more)

What are Siena's chances?

siena vs osu


Siena plays the Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament Friday night (around 9:40 pm, though probably later).

The Buckeyes and the Saints are seeded #8 and #9 respectively in their bracket. Theoretically, 8/9 games are the most evenly matched games of the first round.

So what are Siena's chances of winning? It depends on how you look at it.

(there's more)

Where's everybody going?

Pew migration chartAccording to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, New York was ranked third among states with the most number of residents migrating to other states between 2005-2007.

In a twist (at least to us), it wasn't necessarily the Sun Belt that was sucking away New York residents. Sure, Florida was the #1 destination for former New Yorkers (hello, retirement!), but it was followed by New Jersey and Pennsylvania. North Carolina and Georgia rounded out the top five.

Also: New York ranked #8 among states with the most number of people moving into it. A lot of this probably just has to do with New York's relatively large population. But if you look at the percentage of the current state population that was born in another state (a measure of whether a state's "a magnet," as Pew describes it), New York ranks dead last.


map: Pew Research Center

Sick time

google flu ny 2009-02

It looks like we're in the thick of this year's flu season. (Google Flu Trends)

We've noticed a lot of sniffling going on around us recently. And it seems like every third of fourth tweet we've read on Twitter from people around the Capital Region includes some reference to sickness.

Coincidence or has "the sick" really taken over?

(there's more)


earthquake map

The two quakes were centered near South Berne.

Update May 18, 2009: There have been a bunch of other local earthquakes since this cluster. One on May 17, 2009 was particularly strong.

Updated Thursday at 4:30 pm

The US Geological Survey reports that there were two earthquakes in the Capital Region Tuesday.

Though maybe earthquake! is more like it.

(there's more)

Your new neighbors, the fishers

captured fisher

Bernard's new around here.

That furry guy in the picture above is a fisher. His name is Bernard. He was caught by some scientists in the Albany Pine Bush recently as part of research into why he and his fisher friends have decided to take up residence in suburban parts of this area (they've been spotted around Albany and Saratoga counties).

What, you've never heard of fishers? Very few people have. The animals were extraordinarily rare in this area as recently as the 1990s.

Intrigued by our new neighbors, we called up Roland Kays this week. He's the curator of mammals at the New York State Museum and he's leading the research project that captured Bernard.

We talked with Roland about fisher mysteries, coked up wolverines, cat murders, squirrel horror movies and "the landscape of fear."

(there's more)

Cooking the Tree of Life

tree of life logoThe New York State Museum's culinary celebration of Darwin's birthday continues tomorrow night with a focus on plants. Here's the blurb from the museum's release:

You don't have to be a vegetarian or a botanist to appreciate the diversity of life forms in the Kingdom Plantae. Chef Timothy Warnock, corporate chef for U.S. Foodservice, uses ingredients from across the botanical Tree of Life to create the most biodiverse meal you have ever seen. Dr. George Robinson, professor at the University of Albany, guides you through the 500 million-year-old plant Tree of Life.

Here's some video of last week's session about vertebrates.

We heard from a few people who went last week that these Tree of Life events are fun. But if you want to score samples (and who doesn't?), it pays to sit up towards the front. And eating a snack beforehand is probably a good idea, too.

Tomorrow's session start at 7 pm in the NYS Museum's Clark Auditorium. It's free. There are two more sessions this month: Invertebrates (Feb 18) and Yeast & Fungi (Feb 25).

Saving the world with mushrooms

mycologist Paul StametsWe gotta admit that the title of this talk at Skidmore this evening caught our eye: "Solutions from Nature: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World."

Paul Stamets is the speaker -- he's a mycologist who studies the role mushrooms can play in environmental remediation. He's done research on the medicinal properties of mushrooms. From the blurb on the Skidmore site:

In his lecture, Stamets will discuss the evolution and future uses of mushrooms, touching on about a dozen species; as the visible "fruit" of some kinds of fungi, mushrooms multiply by sending out underground runners and help decompose plant and animal matter and create soil. Stamets believes they can also play a role in replacing chemical insecticides and breaking down toxic wastes, including petroleum-based products such as diesel and dioxins.

The talk starts at 5:30 pm in Skidmore's Gannett Auditorium. It's free.

[via here and here ]

Earlier on AOA: A (very cool) fungus grows in Troy

photo: Dusty Yao-Stamets

Constructing EMPAC in 8 minutes

empac time lapseCheck out this cool time-lapse video of EMPAC's construction. It's a little long, but it's interesting to see how a building like that comes together.

(If you'd like to watch it really quickly, wait for the the video to buffer and then slide the dot on the progress bar ahead.)

Earlier on AOA:
+ A photo tour of EMPAC

What's the price of a little extra style?

spanish-style house

People love these Spanish-style houses.

The TU looked at the backstory on the Spanish-style houses that are somewhat unexpectedly clustered on a few streets around Albany (Hansen, Woodlawn, Main, Rosemont, Greenway).

People seem to really love these houses -- and how could they not? They're stylish. They're cute. And judging from the few we've been through, they have some great (if small) spaces in them.

OK, so people dig these houses. But how much? Well, we can make something like an educated guess by running a few numbers.

(there's more)

Kirsten Gillibrand is "on fire"

gillibrand google trendsAs Jeff pointed out this morning, searches for "Kirsten Gillibrand" have skyrocketed on Google over the past day. Google Trends has currently pegged her "hotness" as "on fire."

In fact, she's second on today's "hot trends" list only to a guy involved in that Caylee story we always see Nancy Grace talking about.

By the way: @EdXeno says he just saw satellite trucks from CNN and WNBC headed this way.

graph: Google Trends

Find those crows a job

crow vending machine

Bird brains.

Albany's crow problem is apparently serious enough that the city is now employing fireworks and lasers in an attempt to scare away the flocks. And as we can attest, the huge murders are kind of freaky.

But the city might be going about this wrong way. Maybe it just needs to find those crows a job.

(there's more)

Happy Birthday, Martin

Today is Martin Van Buren's birthday. The country's 8th president was from Kinderhook -- in fact, you can visit his house there.

Van Buren was the first American president to be born a US citizen (but he grew up speaking Dutch). And while his presidency gets all the notoriety now, he also served in a bunch of other offices: New York state Senate, Governor of New York (briefly), US Senate, US Secretary of State and Vice President.

Here's the Van Buren story in 7 minutes:

(Thanks, Matt!)

Earlier on AOA: Teddy Roosevelt: badass

How produce gets here from the West Coast

railex oranges

Oranges being packed at the Railex warehouse in Rotterdam.

The Railex route that starts in Washington State and ends in Rotterdam will be featured tonight on the History Channel in an episode of Extreme Trains called "Ice Cold Express."

What's Railex? The company describes itself as "a distribution platform designed to enhance logistics, distribution, consumer demands and inventory control" that "features three refrigerated, mega-transload distribution centers; one in Delano, California, one in Wallula, Washington, and one in Rotterdam, New York."

In other words, it's a train that ships stuff, mostly produce, relatively quickly from the West Coast (it's a five day trip). The company just started up a run from California to Rotterdam. Its Washington to Rotterdam route started in 2006.

You've probably bought produce that's been shipped on this train. The shipments include apples, onions, lettuce, oranges, broccoli, grapes, wine and a whole bunch of other stuff.

photo: Railex

Inside the Global Research Center

GE Global Research video still

GE biologist Fiona Ginty talks about breast cancer research on YouTube.

New to us: GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna has a blog. Some of the entries lean a little toward being too much like press releases, but it's still cool to hear about what's going on at the center.

It looks like an update on a different research project is posted each week. Recent topics have included: "imagination markets," pulsed detonation engines, and breast cancer research.

The blog also has its own YouTube channel. Here's a super slo-mo video of water bouncing off a surface coating inspired by lotus leaves.

screengrab: GE Global Research Blog

More people looking for work?

tattered dollar billUpdated 10:20 am Friday

The state released last month's unemployment data today. The short story: the Capital Region's unemployment rate in October was 4.9 percent -- that's up from 3.6 percent in October of last year.

OK, so maybe that's not surprising given the way the economy's been going. But get this: the number of jobs in the Capital Region over that time period didn't change.


(there's more)

Does this count as "Indian Summer"

autumn leavesIt is unusually warm today -- like early Fall warm (the average high temp this time of year is around 50 degrees).

So does this count as "Indian Summer?"

(there's more)

Leaving a mark

leaf stains sidewalk

It was like someone stenciled the sidewalk.

These sidewalk stains caught our eye today. They struck us as kind of beautiful -- and reminded us of the iterative pieces made by artists such as Robert Hodgin.

By the way: if you're nerding at home, those stains are created by pigments in the leaves called anthocyanins. It's the same pigment that gives apple skins their red color.

A few more pics are after the jump.

(there's more)

How local bank stocks fared in today's dive

tattered dollar bill

George has been feeling it, too.

With the House rejecting the bailout bill, and the stock market subsequently taking a dive, we were curious about how the stocks of banks with local branches fared today.

Here they are, listed from least bad to OMG! For comparison, the S&P 500 dropped 8.79% today.

NBT Bancorp Inc. -3.83%

HSBC -4.54%

TrustCo Bank Corp NY -4.80%

Berkshire Hills Bancorp, Inc. -6.15%

First Niagara Financial Group Inc. -8.20%

M&T Bank Corporation -12.57%

Bank of America Corporation -16.95%

Royal Bank of Scotland Group (Citizens) -31.08%

KeyCorp -33.33%

All numbers from Google Finance.

photo: Flickr user califrayray

New York is for neurotics

national neuroticism map

Hey, look, we're at the tip of the "anxiety, anger and guilt" belt.

A few months ago we posted a map that identified the NY/CT/MA area as a hot spot for neuroticism. Well, there's new research out this week that not only confirms that map, it conveniently ranks just how neurotic people in New York are (among other things) compared to people in other states.

Here's how New York stacks up against other states on each of the "Big Five" personality traits...

(there's more)

The Latham SPUI now has its own website

Latham Northway exit 6 SPUI rendering

Coming to Latham in 2010.

The Latham SPUI cannot be contained. The interchange project now has its own web site, complete with a news section, historical timeline and research documents. The url:

The most interesting part of the site is probably the "visualizations" section. It has a bunch of images depicting how the interchange will eventually look -- and it even has what looks like traffic simulation videos (we couldn't get those to load, though).

And you know what? We think we now know everything we'll ever need to know about SPUIs.

Earlier on AOA:
+ It's pronounced "spoo-ee"
+ Talkin' about SPUIs

image: NYSDOT

A (young) single guy isn't so hard to find here

Singles map 25-34

The relative numbers of single men and women 25-34 in the Northeast.

A while back, prompted by a map we saw, we looked at the relative numbers of single women to single men in the Capital Region. The bottom line was that things didn't look so great for single ladies looking for a guy here.

But, wait! There's a new, probably better, interpretation of the data. And things are looking up for the ladies!

(there's more)

Talkin' about SPUIs

SPUI diagramAfter James saw our post last week about the SPUI that's coming to Latham (say "spoo-ee"), he mentioned it to his friend Bill Rusham, who's a traffic engineer and the host of Talking Traffic, a podcast about, well... traffic. (Behold the glory of the interwebs.)

So Bill spent some time on the podcast talking about SPUIs, "the interchange that's shaking things up around the country." Here's a clip from the episode:

So, here you are, sitting at a signal, wanting to turn left onto the cross street. Your light turns green and you proceed into the interesection, but OH MY GOD! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT OTHER CAR DOING! HE'S DRIVING STRAIGHT AT ME!

Oh, no, he's making a left, too. And he's passing to my right. What is this, England?

No. This is a correctly functioning SPUI.

Bill runs through a few of the pros (fewer signals) and cons (requires "enthusiastic" upkeep) of SPUIs. The whole episode is about interchanges -- the part about SPUIs starts at 8:32.

As James emailed us, "I hope this helps... I learned a ton about SPUIs, and hopefully the rest of Albany will too."

(Thanks, James!)

It's pronounced "spoo-ee"

SPUI diagram

It all makes sense when you look at the diagram. Sort of.

As Fred highlighted this morning, the new Rt 7 bridge over the Northway in Latham will feature a single-point urban interchange or SPUI.

A what?

(there's more)

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

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