Thoughts on the Smart Home

I said I’d discuss in more detail about why I didn’t like the Chicago Smart home. I don’t really want to be too political/critical in my blog but the environment is a really important issue at the moment and it really affected me that it really wasn’t very good. The building itself was designed to be a high technology sustainably built and run building for the future.

My main objection was their inability to provide any serious figures on things, and where figures were given they weren’t in units that could be used to compare to other data. I remember that CAT (the Centre for Alternative Technology) in Wales gave figures when solar panels cost less to make than the electricity they produce which was really important. In the Eco/smart home an example they were able to say how much the home cost to construct ($450,000 to $500,000) but although those figures excluded the price of the land they were unable to provide figures for a standard house with the same 2400 sq ft of space inside. One of my friends in Chicago suggested around $250,000 which is a lot less. They also didn’t give figures of the efficiency of there appliances something that has been required since the beginning of 1994 under EU law for white goods purchases.

When touring the home in the child’s bedroom they had an OLPC. They were describing the project as a success when in fact it has been an abject failure. I wonder how many other times they did that in the house…

Let me explain the OLPC in more detail; it is a project set up by MIT to distribute laptops for $100 to developing countries like Nigeria and Vietnam. In theory it sounds like a great idea to improve access to technology so that rather than having to use an Internet cafe people have their own machines. Unfortunately the laptops now actually cost $188. . To complete the problems they’ve also lost a huge number of senior staff from the project some of whom have come out and described the issues in the organization first hand.

Then there are the homes credentials: the home itself is designed to reduce emissions by 50% over a standard new US home; now that is fairly impressive but in fact the British government has already defined a law to reduce emissions by 60% by 2050 (source). Though to be fair CAT’s suggestions for an eco-house also produce a 50% improvement over current UK building regulations. The problem with that comparison is that a 1930’s US house only uses 130% of the energy of a current building regulations US house whereas in the UK a 1930’s UK house uses 270% of the energy of a UK building regulations house. Furthermore if you take the windows in the smart home they are double glazed with low-E coating and argon centre which follows CAT’s recommendations but their own house is quadruple glazed.

I was also unable to get any serious figures on how long the building would last. It was due to last 25 years without maintenance but how significant the maintenance would be was also unknown. Surely a less Ecologically built building could be better for the environment if it lasted considerably longer.

They do also get some things right the technology for controlling the home mostly works well though the media features need further work and the active cooling system using shafts to the roof to allow air circulation is recommended by CAT.

Anyway that sums up my dissatisfaction with the Smart Home.

The rest of my time in Chicago

Yesterday evening I went out to Plymouth bar in downtown Chicago; this bar had a roof terrace which was popular though it had a great view overlooking a car park and the “L” tracks. I also had burger 4 of my time in Chicago there (I had 2 on Sunday and 1 more on Monday evening) Then the next morning I headed back to Oak park and took a look around Frank Lloyd Wrights house and studio (this was very interesting) as well as unity temple which he also designed (that is a really inclusive church, which was great to see!) the building was pretty good too. After lunch I headed back to the Hemmingway museum which had a lot of interesting information on the author, maybe I should read some of his books! Afterwards I headed back into Chicago. If you’re in Chicago head to oak park it’s on the green train and is well worth a visit.

After that I headed up to Boystown and Wrigleyville, Boystown is the gay district in Chicago and they had rainbows attached to phalli along the road which was interesting. After that I had a look around Wrigleyville, as a Cubs baseball game had literally just finished I didn’t manage to take a look at the stadium itself. Then I headed back into town to pick up my laundary. I fortunately walked slowly enough that I avoided the total crush on the train and eventually got a seat (can you tell from the excessive detail that I’m writing this as it happened :p).

I think tomorrow I’m just going to see the theatre and relax before my flight to Argentina.

Museums in Chicago

Yesterday I had some chores to complete including uploading some more photos; due to Vista having problems remembering how to drag files from my camera there may be some strange immissions but there should be still a good selection.

After completing my chores for the day I headed to the museum of contemporary art as it’s free on Tuesdays. They currently have a major exhibition by Jeff Koons this was OK but it made me thing about myself differently which was interesting.

After seeing that I headed to Chinatown and had some excellent food. Unfortunately I felt a bit rough so went back home to bed afterwards.

Then today I headed to the museum of science and industry. Unfortunately it was really aimed at children rather than adults so I didn’t spend that long there.

They also had a smart/eco home there which I strongly disliked primarily due to the lack of figures given; as the environment is important I’ll be writing about that in a separate post.

After that I headed out to Oak park where Ernest Hemmingway was born and Frank Lloyd Wright grew up I was there quite late so only saw a few buildings and the tour of Hemmingway’s house before it closed.


After arriving yesterday in Chicago I went out in the evening with some friends and we went to a Chicago pizza restaurant called gramaldies then we headed to a bar with live music called the Hideout which was hidden away in an industrial district in northern Chicago.

Then the next day I went to watch the chicago air show with one of my friends we then headed down to millenium park and saw the bean sculpture and the Chicago Tribune building which contains parts of many other buildings in its construction. The day was fun but I managed to get subcream in my eye after buying own brand suncream which even though it cost $8 it was actually rubbish!

Then we went to a bar called Moody’s in northern Chicago which served Chicagos best burgers so I of course had one and it was pretty damn good.

We also had a chat about the US, my friend was telling me about his trip west of the Missisippi in the US. He went on the train ad was shocked at the standard of housing there and said that they essentially lived in shacks, he was surprised if they have running water! He also said that the houses in Flint Michigan in Michael Moores film fahenheit 9/11 are good by comparison; as Flint looks like an Aftican state after a war you can’t imagine what it’s like there.

Then this morning I completed a few chores before heading to the Aquarium, it seems pretty good though it is expensive at $25 also the cages seem much smaller than at aquariums in Europe. They do serve lunch for less than $10 though which is a miracle in itself.

Washington National Airport

So this morning we went to Great Falls near Washington to see a waterfall which was pretty impressive before heading to the airport. Then once I’d arrived and before I’d even checked in a delay was announced to my flight giving American a 100% delay record so far. Even Virgin trains usually beats that!

Anyhow with 3 hours to kill before the flight I went to the bookstore. First I found the rough guide to England so I checked out the entry for Oxford. It mentioned all the sensible sites to see such as christ church and the Radcliffe camera. It also mentioned quite a few pubs including all the good ones I like and the Bear which is 1 block south of high street a short way from the centre. This was their favourite and I’d be curious to know what it’s like. The other interesting book was the international book of sex wbich included such great chat up lines as “Do you come here often?” and “is it hot in here or is it just you?” in several languages. I was tempted to buy it for comedic value but it was clearly well fingered. Then I had a meal in an airport restaurant that looked good until I tasted the food!

Now I’m off to the gate hopefully my flight won’t be delayed further.

Washington DC part 2 (mostly not actually in Washington)

So the next day I went back into Washington DC, I was quite late up, so didn’t get in until lunchtime, but I still had time for two museums recommended the previous evening, first I tried to go up the Washington Monument, but then found to get tickets you had to queue before 8.30am when the ticket office opened, which seemed a bit much to ask for to be honest. So instead I went to the Holocaust museum, which was very moving and also tried incredibly hard to be unjudgemental towards all sorts of groups, from the Germans before the war, to the Allies who refused jewish immigration, to the Allies later who didn’t bomb the camps themselves. It was clear that it was an incredibly shocking event, much much more so than our recent history with terrorism. And it also shone an interesting light on the creation of Israel and the current problems in the Middle East. After that I went to the International Spy Museum, it was also very interesting and well worth a visit. This discussed the history of spycraft from WW2 onwards and I spent another 2 hours there. After that it was the early evening so the museums were all about to shut so I had to come back to where I was staying.

The next day I headed out to the Blue Ridge mountains by car, and we went on a 1.6 mile walk in the mountains which was good, we got some good photos of that too.

The Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains

As well as that we also saw some traditional buildings nearby such as the following church.

Typical Church in Virginia

Typical Church in Virginia

We also tried to find the Appalachian trail but we missed it as it started to rain so we had to go back to the car.

Then today we went on a canoe on the Potomac, which is the river which goes through Washington DC, fortunately we were a little further upstream, so the weather was good and it was also very peaceful, except for the very occasional interruption by a motorboat. We had lunch on the shore on an old dried up canal and rowed slowly downstream. Below is a photo of one of the many herons we saw:

A heron on the Potomac

A heron on the Potomac

Washington DC part 1

After New York I flew to Washington DC. However due to the plane being late it would have been quicker on the bus (and even though I only pay taxes probably cheaper too!). Once in Washington I got the metro to my mother cousins house where I was staying. The train was definitely nicer than New York too. Once I was there I was a little tired after my fairly extensive nights out in NY so I spent the morning asleep. After that in the afternoon we went to the air and space museum near Dulles airport which was a good afternoon out. There we saw a great IMAX movie called “Forces of nature”.

Then today I went into wasington itself seeing the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln memorial and the statue of einstien in the morning. Then after an excellent French lunch with the people I’m staying with I went back into the centre of Washington to see the library of congress which was very impressive.┬áIt had a rocky start; it was torched in 1812 by the British when they invaded Washington. At which point they bought Thomas Jeffersons library (he had the US’s biggest private collection) for nearly $25000. After that there was a further fire in 1851 which destroyed 2/3 of the books so they bought the fire protection up to scratch and in 1897 they gave the library its own building. There were also some other exhibitions on old maps and the bill of rights which were also very interesting. After that I wandered around the park and then went out with my dads friends for dinner. We went to an excellent Asian restuarant and I had sushi which was really good.

Moma, baseball and brooklyn

After visiting the UN two days ago I headed up to the museum of modern art (MOMA). The first thing I saw was an exhibition on prototype buildings; unfortunately they were too prototype, the best one was made of cellophane and metal so you had to touch the metal regularly to discharge the static from walking on the cellophane; not exactly practical! Then I went round the main museum and there were some pretty cool works including a pretend corridor in the wall which I fell for initially and many others (these can be viewed on flickr here)

After moma I went to a baseball game with some friends from New York. We saw the mets vs the marlins who they beat 3-0, it was an interesting experience too. Afterwards we went to a bar and I had some chicken. When it arrived there was enough to feed a family for a week; even though I had the smallest portion.

Then yesterday I went to brookyln firstly. I went to Brooklyn heights to try and go to the pizza restaurant Gramaldi’s. This restaurant apparently sells New York’s best pizza (or not depending on who I believe!) though due to the massive queue at 12:25 I unfortunately didn’t get to try it; I was too hungry to wait as I’d skipped breakfast having been out the night before. Then while in Brooklyn I took a look at the new York transit museum so. I could see how old the subway trains really were. It seems some of them may date back to the 1950’s or so but it wasn’t totally clear… I then went to the Brooklyn botanical garden and had a wander around that before returning to Manhatten. Then last night I went to a club called Pasha which was quite good but the music was over DJ’d. I didn’t know it was possible but as with many things in life it follows a bell shaped curve.

I’m going to try and upload photos later today though I don’t have many of Brooklyn as I forgot my camera battery.

Up at 7am and the statue of liberty

So I got up at 7am yesterday morning to head down to the statue of liberty.

Two days ago after I’d been to the 9/11 exhibition (which was very moving) I tried to go to the statue of liberty. Unfortunately it was 2pm so the tours for the day had all sold out. So I got up early to try again.

Fortunately they had tickets available when I got there at 9am, though that was only the beginning, there was a 1.5 hour queue to get into the statue due to the extremely tight security. Even then you only got into a museum and to climb to the base of the statue which was disappointing. After that I went to ellis island which was where the poor immigrants to the US were admitted around 1900 when it was in use. It was a really interesting museum and it discussed how immigration has occurred over the past several hundred years as well as the cultural changes from moving to a new land. They also had a video showing the personal stories of some of the immigrants. After that I went to Wall Street which we really interesting. I tried to get into the stock exchange but I wasn’t allowed as a tourist, you probably wouldn’t get into any others though. I did get to see a tour of the Federal building however.

After Wall Street I got the subway up to Chinatown and saw the Brooklyn and Manhatten bridges. Chinatown was really interesting and there weren’t many non-Asians around. I ate quote early in a really nice and cheap (I.e. less than $10, you can barely buy a sandwich for less, here Pret is cheap though still more expensive than it is in the UK) restaurant called East Corner Wanton; there I ate a dish I’d never heard of before called congee (my iPod had heard of it though :p). After continuing to wander through Chinatown I went up to Time Square and saw a jazz band playing; they sounded good and I got their CD but haven’t added it to my iPod yet.

Today I did my first load of washing before heading to the UN. The building itself as interesting and there was a guided tour around the general assembly room though there was yet another long queue so I decided not to bother. It is definitely appropriate for the UN to be in New York, it is probably the most multicultural city in the world; certainly one of the highest alongside London.

Finally I headed to the New York public library to upload this to my website, the New York library is a very beautiful building and also seems to have a lot of books. To compare it to Oxford I carried out a rigourous scientific study: searching for Condorcet’s 1785 work on election theory. Unfortunately for Oxford they lost; although the New York library doesn’t have the original like Oxford it does have an English translation which is much more useful (and the library is fully open to the public!)

PS photos will come from Washington I’m not hogging the hostels whole connection to do it and the Apple Store and library don’t allow plugging in of cameras.

More in New York

So last night I didn’t go to be early, but instead went up the Empire State building with a couple of people from my hostel. I got some really cool pictures of the New York skyline at night. Then this morning I walked up to Time Square, then got the subway to the bottom of Central Park and the Apple Store before getting back on the Subway and heading Downtown.

I’ve stuck the pictures I took on Flickr