Boston History: What Connects the 1903 World Series, Northeastern University, and the YMCA?

I actually started this look into Boston's past as part of my "railroads and where are they now" series. I had promised a look at three sites that used to be rail yards - the Pru, the Hancock, and Northeastern University. But, as soon as I started to dive into the first site, I just found too much, so this post is only about the site that is now Northeastern University.

Well, there we are: two roundhouses and a bunch of tracks, right where Northeastern is.
There's Northeastern's main campus, and overlaid on top is the old rail lines and the roundhouses. You can view this map and play with it yourself here
On the other side of the tracks was a major league baseball stadium.
Today, that site is a parking lot, in front of a building...that is...well... a parking garage. Oh, the ignominy of baseball history.
Turns out that what I found was the South End Grounds. This was the home of the Boston Red Stockings, who eventually, not the Red Sox...they became the Boston Braves, who stayed in Boston until the 1950s, then moved to Milwaukee, then to Atlanta. Oh, and by the way, the Braves Stadium that replaced this one called Braves Field and was located were Nickerson Field is at BU today. See this post for more. Okay, so what about the 1903 World Series?
This 1902 map shows us exactly. In the Boston Atlas, we actually have 8 separate years of Bromley Atlas maps for Boston: 1883, 1888, 1890, 1895, 1902, 1908, 1917, 1928, and 1938. It's amazing what you can find out with that resource.
Here's a photo of the 1903 World Series, played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston. You can see the railroad roundhouse clearly in the background, in the upper left.
And we can see that the Huntington Avenue Grounds was right in the middle of the Northeastern Campus. (Which was a empty field right next to a railroad yard in the first map...from 1890) The caption in the Wikipedia listing says it was probably taken from the roof of a warehouse across the street.
Sure enough, we see the Mass Fire Proof Storage & Warehouse across Huntington Ave. (Click the map to make it bigger.) Makes perfect sense. New TV show idea: CSI Maps. Where old crimes are solved using overlaid maps. Ah, but what's the connection the YMCA?
I was looking at this 1938 map of the same area, and wondered: Why does it say Northeastern University of the Boston YMCA? That led me to this history of Northeastern University, which revealed the following: Northeastern University as started as part of the YMCA! The YMCA of Boston had a lecture program that quickly grew into courses, eventually became a college, and then:

In recognition of the growth of the academic programs, Northeastern College was incorporated in 1916. Six years later, by permission of the Massachusetts General Court, its name was changed to Northeastern University of the Boston Young Men's Christian Association.

So there you have it. Northeastern does occupy what used to be railroad yards on either side of the track. Buried under their campus and their parking lot is not one, but two historic major league baseball stadiums. One was the home of the 1903 World Series. The other was the home of the other Boston baseball team, the Braves. And the YMCA? I knew the YMCA was right there. I never knew that the YMCA is the reason that Northeastern is right next to the YMCA! And I learned all this by wandering around some old maps.

A-B Comparisons of the Concrete and Steel Kind

There's something so, well, concrete about the real world. While Google can run millions of A-B comparisons to compare how well people respond to a new feature, it's not that often that you get to see an A-B comparison with 400 vertical feet of concrete and two suspension bridges spanning the same body of water, just feet away from each other. That A-B comparison is available for anyone to see at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory in Bucksport, Maine.  (See Google Map here.)

The original suspension bridge, called the Waldo-Hancock Bridge, opened in 1931, with a tower height of 235 feet. It uses the tensile strength of steel in two giant cables that carry the load of the roadway. Vertical cables attach the roadway to the suspension cables. The whole bridge looks delicate and light. The Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory (where this sign was photographed) has a pylon height almost double, at 447 feet. The two bridges just couldn't be more different, even though they perform the same purpose, in the same place: to carry traffic across the Penobscot Narrows.

I love the process of design, and especially the downstream effects of a few design choices. Here, the first key choice is material. The original bridge was steel, and the new one is concrete. Steel is great in tension. Concrete loves compression. The older bridge is the classic suspension bridge where a few large suspension cables carry the load, and the bridge deck is hung from the cable. It all looks rather delicate, and the steel is mostly in tension, except for the two support towers which act as pillars to hold up the main cables (not the roadway itself).

Meanwhile, the cable-stayed bridge is the perfect solution for a concrete structure. Look at how these cables are pulling the roadway towards the pillars. The cables are not only holding the roadway up, but they are also compressing the roadway with great force. If you made the roadway structure from steel, you'd have to design it to take a heavy compression load, which would be very difficult. For concrete, compression is a walk in the park. 

The towers of a cable-stay bridge have to be very high to get the cables to be at the correct angle to the roadway. If the towers are too low, the cable will provide too much compression and not enough roadway lift. But seldom do you see the results of design decisions this starkly presented side by side. Look at how incredibly massive the new tower is. 

This photo shows the new bridge under construction. The cable-stay design has a cool feature: each side is self-sufficient! The two halves can be built incrementally until they meet. And it appears you can even build the tower and the bridge together as you go. 

The two designs also played out very differently when something goes wrong. Seventy years of salt air had done damage to the main suspension cables of the Waldo-Handcock Bridge. Maine DOT tried to rehabilitate the cables, but along the way realized they were unsound. An emergency contract was put out to add new cables to keep the bridge safe, and at the same time the load limit was cut dramatically. A replacement bridge would need to be designed and built in record time.

What happens inside a cable-stay bundle is quite different than on a normal suspension bridge. Here, each individual strand runs in parallel. And each can be replaced individually. And each is coated in epoxy to resist corrosion. 

They're even testing new, carbon fiber cables that will altogether eliminate the issue of corrosion. Here, we see the steel cable on the left, and the equivalent carbon fiber cable on the right. They've actually removed a few steel cables and replaced them with carbon fiber to test how they do. They can even track individual cables and assess how well they are holding up.

If you click on the picture, it should get big enough to read the sign.

Here's the view from the tower. It's a beautiful vista. The paper plant may not be scenic, but it provides lots of local jobs.

The old bridge lives on, perversely saved by budget cuts. The state lacks funds needed for demolition. So go see them both while the bad economy allows it!

And next time you're doing design, keep in mind that the decisions you make now will have impacts as great as you see in these two bridges. Even in software, the downstream nature of the software is often tightly tied to the key decisions you made in the very, very beginning of the project. So give those basic decisions lots of thought, and learn how they play out before you ...well...cast them in concrete.

What's The Connection Between a Roundhouse and The Cheesecake Factory?

I love old aerial photos. Especially good ones, taken with high resolution cameras. This photo from about 1925 begins our journey. First, I challenge anyone to find a building that is still standing in this entire photo! The Old Garden? Gone. The office building next it? That's now the Tip O'Neil Building. The white building in the foreground? Old Department of Public Works. Gone. Now the County Prison. How about all the small buildings in the lower right. All gone. That was the West End, and it was wiped out in the 60's by urban renewal. In fact, as I look at this whole scene and follow it northward, I find that in a span of about 60 years, it's all been replaced. But that's another story. Today, we're looking for cheesecake.

Here's the same view (roughly) taken using Google Earth.The new Garden was built just in front of the old one, and then the old one was torn down, leaving the parking lot that's there today.

At the top of this photo from 1949, you can see construction of the Museum of Science. And on the very top, you'll see an old roundhouse where they would repair the locomotives and put them on the correct track. This series of historic aerial photos, taken in the late '40's by the State Department of Transportation are a great resource. 

We see this roundhouse more clearly in this photo from January 15, 1950.

This map shows that back in 1912, a blizzard of tracks emerge from North Station.

By the time of this 2005 aerial photo composite, you can see that the railroads and the highways have all been pushed into a much more narrow corridor.

This whole array of railroad frenzy seems far away, but in fact it's just a couple blocks from the Cambridgeside Galleria Mall, which borders the circular boat basin at the bottom of the picture.

Here it is - two worlds from different times almost collide. The roundhouse almost across the street from the mall. They even had a separate building for "dining car supply.", Hmmm. They could have bought some cheesecake know where. Sixty years later, it's only 700 feet away!

Now the whole area is being reclaimed for development. Note all the green in this more recent view from Google Maps

This is only the most recent story of railroads yielding to new city. Stay tuned for a look at three other areas that we take for granted that also used to be all about railroads: The Prudential Tower, The Hancock Tower (not the one you're thinking about) and most of Northeastern University along Huntington Ave.
Here's a recent aerial photo from Bing Maps. I didn't mention it earlier, but did you notice the old prison in Charlestown? That's now the site of Bunker Hill Community College. 

Getting an entire audience to turn around (literally) and think from the heart. @BillWarner's Keynote (audio)

For the past six years, I've been refining my understanding and my presentations about how to build your startup from the heart. I've found that I learn the most when I'm under pressure to give a shorter talk. So when Bob Buderi of Xconomy asked me to give a 20 minute keynote kickoff to the 5x5 conference held on December 8, I jumped at the chance. And when he asked me to make it interactive, that was all the better.

I'll be making more posts about this new approach. Here is the audio of the talk. It's twenty minutes. I'm pretty excited because I think I got my points across in a simple way.

Let me know what you think.

A Rousing Welcome for Katie Rae - New Managing Director of TechStars Boston

I'm so happy to welcome Katie Rae as the new Managing Director of TechStars Boston. This will be our third session for TechStars Boston, and now we'll be bringing it to a new level. I'm particularly excited to be working with Katie, since we've already worked together so well on the recent Open Angel Forum in Boston. And check out today's traffic on Twitter ... Boston agrees. Katie Rae is a great choice to lead TechStars Boston. There have also been great articles in Boston.ComXconomy and Mass High Tech.

Here's the official announcement from David Cohen, founder of TechStars. David's note also points to the great work that Shawn Broderick has done for the first two years of TechStars Boston. We all owe a lot to Shawn who worked tirelessly these past two sessions, helping 19 companies and running two "filled to the rafters" demo days. Thanks Shawn, we wouldn't be he without you. Literally!

And here are some of Katie's thoughts from her blog post today. I particularly love this passage that shows the importance of mentors: 

Every successful founder or CEO I’ve met has an interesting story to tell about their mentors and the advice they have gotten along the way. Universally the founders are grateful for the early advice they received or connections that were made for them by someone who believed in them. This is an important, powerful force and an unspoken bond and obligation that fellow entrepreneurs have with each other.

TechStars itself is expanding and learning what patterns work best in each city. For example, we've found that the best folks to lead TechStars in a city are those who are doing active angel investing. Often, these people have their own investing fund. This is exactly the case with Katie Rae, and her partner Reed Sturtevant, with their fund called Project 11 Ventures. In fact, I committed to invest in their fund long before this search even began. I believe that its good to have an active investor lead TechStars because that's what they do all year round. TechStars becomes one part of an overall mix of activities, all focused on entrepreneurs and building great companies.

TechStars is especially important to me, and I believe, to our region because it combines a national approach with a fiercely local focus. So we in Boston can be part of TechStars national recognition, while at the same time focusing our energies in the industries we're good at, getting the best of our local talent, and creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to take advantage of talent we have here that's not available anywhere else. 

When we brought TechStars to Boston, we were the first "expansion city".  Since then, TechStars Seattle has started and completed it's first program, and New York is about to pick its entrepreneurs for the Winter session. With over 600 applications in NY for just ten slots, you can see how much TechStars has become a magnet for entrepreneurs.

I look forward to working with Katie Rae continue to grow this magnet for entrepreneurs into an overall engine for growth. Not just by helping companies and their founders grow, but by bringing our community together to deliver the energy that drives TechStars Boston.

Horror Movie For Buildings: SAW MCMXXXII: Boston's Cut-Off Buildings Bleed Brick, Granite and Tears

Take a look at these two wharf buildings on Cross Street in Boston. At first glance, they look like any other wharf building, but a closer look reveals that these nice brick patterns are more than decoration. These are brick supports the held the rafters to parts of the buildings that were cleaved off to make way for the widening and extension of Cross Street back in the 1930's. (Thats where the MCMXXXII comes from) The buildings were in the way as the Sumner Tunnel was opening and traffic needed to flow, so the buildings had to give their left arm in the name of progress.
1928 Bromley Map of the area, before the Sumner Tunnel, before the widening of North Street, and Before Cross Street was widened and extended to Mercantile Street. Our cut-off buildings current footprints are shown in overlay.
1938 Bromley Map shows the completed roads and the Sumner Tunnel
Most people think that these buildings got cut off for the Central Artery. Not true. This overlay of the 1928 and 1938 maps shows that Cross Street was widened and extended. North street was also widened. I've left the 1938 portion a bit transparent so you can see just how many buildings were taken out for the Sumner Tunnel project. You can also see the Police Station and the City Printing plant, also built at the time. As I understand it, the Tunnel was built by the City. Not sure if any State or Federal money was used.
This 1969 Aerial photo shows that the Central Artery was considerably further away from the cut-off buildings. It also shows the newer Calahan Tunnel, which opened in 1961. Hmm..., is that an auto junkyard I see where the Quincy Market Parking Garage now stands? Those cars are way too close for it to be a parking lot!
But the Central Artery did lead to two other buildings getting cut off. This overlay shows just how close the highway came to the cut off buildings near the Customs House (You can view it here in the Boston Atlas).
This aerial photo from 1995 shows the Central Artery.
And here's the cut-off building in a recent Google Street View image. You can easily see where the granite facing was sawed off, and where the rafter bricks are still visible. This building has been further renovated after the completion of the Big Dig, since the windows and balconies have a wonderful view. Back in the 50's,  this side would have had a great view of the elevated highway.
I find it particularity ironic that the Boston Marriott Long Wharf hotel seems to purposely mimic the cut-off nature of the other wharf buildings, complete with windows added to the cut-off side. I wonder if they discussed adding some brick rafter-holders to complete the effect! From a Google Street View.
And here is a Google Maps view of just some of the cut-off buildings in Boston. Click here to open the map. Click here to see the first building in street view. Then just click each of the numbered map items to see each building in street view.

Understanding 3G and 4G... Or Not. A Semi-Humorous Waltz Through Jargon Land

Okay, so now you understand 3G!

The screen capture above is taken from the Wikipedia article about 3G mobile phone technology. Recently I have been attempting to really understand with 3G technology is, and what 4G technology will be.

It started with a friendly visit to my AT&T store, where I told the salesman that I was planning to switch to Verizon as soon as the iPhone was available on that network. What ensued was a 30 minute debate about phone network technologies. While some of the things he said didn't make sense, he was dramatically better informed than I expected. I said that I understood that Verizon would be using the new 700 MHz bands for their 4g and would therefore get good building penetration. He said AT&T already uses 850Mhz and has good penetration. (Hard to know what frequencies the phones are actually using at any one time; they also run at 1900Mhz which doesn't penetrate so well)

I can't remember all the details of the conversation, but it led me craving some real facts. And of course, when you search for real facts, you get charts like the one above.

Sprint is claiming 4G service with their WiMax service. The AT&T guy said that WiMax is like a fancy hotspot. If you connect to it, you'll get fast speeds, but you better not move away from the cell, or you'll drop back to the 3G network. True? I don't know. But I'm not used to being so fuzzy on a technology so central to our daily lives.

This article:  "Will the real 4G please stand up?" doesn't help much, other than to say that there are a bunch of competing technologies for "4G" and each has its alphabet soup: LTE, HSPA+

Sometimes you can get clearer information from the hardware vendors themselves. A Google search for "4g manufacturers" got me this result, just for WiMax.

A search for "LTE Manufacturers" got me the page above. So, let's say I have a little local network and I want to buy a nice 4G network infrastructure setup. I should be able to search for that and get some answers? Not easy. Finally a search for "Ericson 4G Network Hardware" got me this:  Okay, that's good. A real vendor, and a real network. Let's see what I can find out about the hardware.

Apparantly, Alcatel Lucent doesn't support Amazon Prime. It's not easy to even figure out where to look. But I am undaunted.

Uh...Where's my shiny overview of 4G technology, complete with some nice screen shots of some honkin' rack-mounted hardware?

Oh wait, now things are getting clearer. I hadn't realized the important role that EPC, MME, PCRF, SGW and PGW would play on the Converged Backbone Transport IP/MPLS.

Maybe Motorola might put things more simply. Hey, look above. That's progress. Some rack mounted stuff. Some brochures and some articles. I'm writing this in real time, so you'll discover with me. Where to start? How about LTE Technical White Paper

Of course! But at least Motorola's document has large type and nice illustrations.

And they do explain some of the three-letter acronyms from the Alcatel document. Let's see if some of the rack-mounted hardware gets us anywhere.

Okay, now we're at the hardware store. No prices shown, but let's check out the WBR 700 Series LTE BCU3 FDD & TDD Baseband Controller Unit.

Okay, this looks like some real hardware, with some good stuff on the right.

From the link: (A PDF)

Okay, I'm getting the idea that this stuff isn't aimed at me. If you're not a network engineer, its going to be hard to jump in and figure anything out.

From a PDF

So, is there anyone out there who can explain this stuff in English? Anyone know some articles that do that? If you have any information, please comment below!

Halloween View of Boston: Skyline Photos From The Hill At Mount Auburn Cemetery


I found a new and beautiful view of the Boston skyline from the parking at the base of the tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery. You can also view and download these photos here.



You can drive to this location in Mount Auburn Cemetery. The photo I took were taken from the car window; not from the tower. (You can climb to the base, not sure if the tower itself is open.)



Here's the Google Earth photo showing the tower. The pictures were taken from the road at the base of the stairs.


Here's the view from the car. I used a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 (a $250 compact camera that I HIGHLY recommend). This is with its 25mm equivalent wide angle. The other photos are with it's 150mm equivalent. (It has a 12x zoom that can go to 300mm!) The photos were taken hand-held, at 1/100 sec. The camera has an optical image stabilizer that make a tripod unnecessary.


Here is a remarkably accurate view from Google Earth, showing Boston's skyline with the 3D buildings layer turned on.


As the sun moved, the lighting changed minute by minute.


The same view from Google Earth. Not bad!


If you double click on the Google Earth KMZ file below, you'll get what happens in this movie. How cool is that? A zoom from space to the very spot where I took these photos.

How the Big Dig Has Transformed Boston - Some Photos from 2004 and 2007

In 1999, I became very involved with the City of Boston, and with the Big Dig. The project at that time was in full swing underground, but above ground, little was known about how the city would look and work after the project was done. I started a non-profit called to help people see what the future would bring. There were big debates then about whether the Big Dig would work. Whether it would indeed help with traffic. Whether it would indeed help stitch the City back together. Now the results are clear. The Big Dig has been a huge success. Traffic is dramatically improved. The airport is a few minutes drive from the city. And most importantly, the giant scar in the middle of the city has been removed, and Boston is quickly reconnecting its waterfront with the central city. And the new South Boston Waterfront is now just a stroll down the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Boston has one vibrant waterfront, and another one on the way, just steps away.

Brian McGory of the Globe wrote on October 29, 2010, how strange it is that a project that is such a success as this is used mainly as a taint. Anyone who voted funding for it is attacked. And as he says, where would we be with out it? 

 the project has been an overwhelming success by any sane measure, though maybe that’s the problem here: Nothing in the public realm seems sane anymore. ...Traffic flies through the clean, wide, well-lighted tunnels morning, noon, and night. You’re more likely to get a speeding ticket than hit a backup. Compare this with 10, 20, or 30 years ago, when traffic on the old elevated Central Artery flowed like ketchup in cold weather.

These photos show a period from March and April of 2004 to June 2007.

February, 2004. my son and his best friend, stand near the Haymarket bus station, with the rapidly dwindling Central Artery in the background.



June, 2007. The Central artery is gone,, the trees are in place, and the kids are three years older and much bigger.

April, 2004 . Most of the artery has been taken down, except a portion near the Boston Harbor Hotel.
April 2004 - View north towads the Zakim Bridge.
April 2004 - The elevated highway was actually extended closer to the Boston Harbor Hotel (note the new blue steel beams and new concrete barrier above) so the traffic could be diverted while the original artery was removed.

April, 2004 - It may be subtle, but look at the color of the vertical supports. If they are green, they are the original supports and were routed to a new (temporary) foundation below. If the supports look like rusted steel, these are new, temporary supports that were added when the original green ones were sawed off to make way for construction.
April 2004. You can't see this structure today. It is hidden now, because the Intercontinental Hotel was built right around it. This is a vent structure for tunnels below. The Intercontinental Hotel actually has giant blowers in its basement (well the part owned by the highwayt department) that extract air from the tunnels and vent it above the hotel. (Even though this is a clever way to hide a giant piece of infrastructure, I'll bet the hotel doesn't mention it on its marketing materials.

April 2004 - For fifty years, our city was strewn with miles and miles of green steel like this. It tore the city apart. Over 1000 buildings were removed in the 1950's to build the highway. It took fantastic foresight on the part of one man, Fred Salvucci, who came up with the idea of burying the Central Artery, and then put together the original financing and the team to make it happen. This is a project for the record books. A project that worked and transformed a city, frankly even more than I imagined when I was involved with those who were making it happen.