52 States in 8 Months

University of Delaware Directions — and getting around in the US!

Posted in Newark, USA by Ulf on June 20, 2009

At first, there are travel suggestions on the homepage of the UD Office of Foreign Student & Scholars. However, they’re not really complete. Here are the options which I’ve used during my stay here. I wrote this in Summer 2009. I hope that it helps you finding your way around in the United States!

Philadelphia Airport <–> Newark. A very expensive but flexible option is Delaware Express. This is a shuttle service between Philly airport and where ever you live in Delaware. It costs about $50 (including tip) if you make a reservation. I once took them without a reservation, there I paid more like $55. Go to the Ground Transportation Desk at Philly Airport.

septa_logoPhiladelphia Airport <–> Newark, but also: Central Philadelphia, Wilmington. A very nice option is to take the SEPTA R1 train between Philly Airport and “University City”, and the R2 between “University City” and Newark. Some R2 trains don’t go all the way to Newark, in that case you can use the R2 to Wilmington. The ride costs $9, you can buy the ticket at the station.

dartWilmington <–> Newark. There are a number of DART buses going all through Delaware. I often used the Route 6 because it stops close to where I live. That bus takes me directly to the Amtrak Station in Wilmington. Greyhound and the Double Happiness are at the same place. Cost: $1.15, buy the ticket in the bus, have exact change.

Greyhound_logo_right_sizeWilmington <–> Washington, DC. Greyhound offers about 6-8 buses around the day. If you make an early reservation (three weeks in advance) you’ll pay $15.50, otherwise it might be $20 or so. Amtrak has trains running every 30 minutes. They cost $32.00. Once in a day the trains even stop in Newark, so you don’t even have to come to Wilmington. If you take the train in DC or in Wilmington, you can pick up or buy your train tickets at the station. In Newark it’s enough to buy the tickets after boarding the train.

fungwahNew York City <–> Boston. Yes, you could use Amtrak, but you don’t have to: Fung Wah will take you either way for $15. You can buy your ticket in advance, but that’s not necessary. The tickets can be used for any bus, so if you’re early or late, don’t worry.

Wilmington <–> New York City. Although you could use Amtrak for $39.00 (running every 30 minutes), I used Double Happiness for $20 (or $35 round trip), and I was completely satisfied. It is a Chinatown Bus service. You could use a combination of Septa and NJTransit to go to NYC by local trains only.

AK_SPVOther destinations in the US? This is how would I start planning my travel:

  1. Check if gotobus.com has some offer for you.
  2. Check out some other companies such as Megabus.com, Boltbus.com, Jefferson Lines, CoachUSA, … Wikipedia has a good list of intercity bus companies.
  3. Go Greyhound on greyhound.com. They have a station locator which might help you finding the closest station. You can buy tickets online (make use of their 7/14/21-days in advance offers!) and pick them up at any Greyhound station (“Will-call” tickets).
  4. Want a more comfortable ride than a bus? Go Amtrak! They have a PDF with all active train routes (Please note that not all stops are listed — they forgot Newark, for example *g*).
  5. I didn’t want to mention it, but if there are no other choices, you can also look for a flight. For example here, here or here. Sometimes it’s worth booking the flights directly on the websites of the airlines. Keep in mind that many flight routes in the US are subsidized — I don’t like that, therefore I wouldn’t buy tickets on those services. All other airlines just burn a lot of kerosene and pollute the planet.

I got the flag! Revisited!

Posted in Newark by Ulf on June 17, 2009

Some weeks ago I told you about the federal flag which I bought from Senator Tom Carper. I mentioned that every American would need a flag. Well, so does every Delawarean!

So, how did I get this flag? Well, the answer was already in my posting about the federal flag: I met John Kowalko during the Newark Nite about one and a half weeks ago. I was already a bit drunk, therefore I had enough courage to ask him for a flag. Well, it worked! :-)
I believe it was on Friday when John called me: He got a flag for me! And I even got a certificate which says that a Corporal and a Officer of the Delaware Capitol Police have flown it over the State Legislation building last Thursday. Thank you, everyone!

Just a few more words about John Kowalko: He really is a nice guy! People in Newark, if you haven’t done so yet, walk over and talk to him. He used to work as a machinist in one of the petroleum plants I saw near Delaware City (I believe I haven’t told you about that bike trip yet, that will hopefully appear later on in this blog). As a State Representative he focuses on the installation of an off-shore wind turbine park near … I believe it was Rehoboth Beach in southern Delaware. I believe that this is a very good thing! The US have the amazing advantage that most major cities are located close to the shoreline. This is the place where you want to install wind power plants. John’s long-term goal is to have 80% of all Delaware electricity to come from sustainable sources. Besides the flag, John also gave me a little sticker, saying “Embrace Wind”. Yeah! :-)

(Oh, talking about flags: my Basque room mate Iñaki gave me a Basque flag. I’ll use it to defend my future office against any Spanish Conquistador who dares to come *g*)

Windy Hills without Electricity

Posted in Newark by Ulf on June 13, 2009

When I came home yesterday a few days ago, things were a bit strange. I saw many people walking their dogs, the super market was really crowded and some Americans even used their porch and sat outside. I knew that something was strange, but I didn’t know what it was.

It turned out that at about 3pm the inevitable had happened: The strange American energy grid with its numerous transformers[1] and overland lines failed, at least in Windy Hills. Bob ran his own a power generator to keep a sump pump running (see first picture), and he was very upset about the lazy managers in their huge chairs at the power company: “If I would be paying my bills the way they supply us with electricity, they wouldn’t make any money at all!”

delaware_outage     newark_outage

I liked this evening. And apparently Mary and Bob could also do very well without their TV. Mary and our new room mate Laura (she’s an undergrad working in some biology lab) played a few games such as “Phase 10“. Wikipedia says that Phase 10 is the second-best selling card game of the world, behind Uno (hard to believe, considering that there are normal playing cards around). Anyway, Alvaro and I joined them, and we had a lot of fun! Bob kept watching, but refused to join us.

At some point we got a call from Delmarva Power[2]. They said that they had solved some problem and wanted us to punch 1 if we had electricity and punch 2 if we didn’t. Mary pressed 2, because we had no electricity (of course…). Calling everybody and asking them if they have power or not is an annoying way of finding the exact place of failure!

This The other morning Alvaro was quite surprised that his ice coffee was still cold, but I wasn’t so excited about that. When working our fridge cools down to about 33°F, and that isn’t yet the ice box. So we didn’t have so worry about the temperature of our refrigerator.
The water supply was also working, and we even had hot water! The boiler must have some ignition mechanism which doesn’t require electrical power. That made getting up a bit like an everyday affair.

Here in the University of Delaware everything is normal. Power is up, all computers are running and all the lights are on, even in the rooms which nobody uses since they’re under reconstruction. So everything is pretty normal. The city has its own power grid.

We finally got the electricity back after about 30h of outage. The reason apparently was a tree which cut a power line when it fell down. Why don’t the Americans just bury those power lines??

[1]They sometimes have 240V lines along the streets and transform it down to 110V individually for each household instead of directly supplying them with 240V. And since it doesn’t make much sense to set up three transformers for everyone, those poor fellows don’t have access to rotary current. They only get a single phase! I saw this in Iowa, so there are farms that just cannot use power machinery!
[2]Delmarva stands for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. It’s used as a name for what I would call the “Delaware peninsula“.

Yeah, let’s find a way to waste energy!

Posted in Newark, University stuff by Ulf on June 11, 2009

Last week the heating system in our lab was finally fixed (if anyone at the University of Delaware reads this and also has problems with the heating, simply call 1141). At this event we learned about how our heating works:

The air system supplies us air at a constant temperature of 60°F (which is 15.5°C). It’s always the same, summer and winter. In winter, this air is obviously preheated, and in summer it is a/c’d down. Then there is a steam network, probably running somewhere between 200°F and 300°F, but this is just a guess. So how does our room get warm? The incoming air (60°F) can be detoured through a heat exchanger in our room which is fed by the steam network. A thermostat controls how much air goes through the heat exchanger, and how much air directly comes to our room. It’s always interesting how people find ways of wasting energy!


In the previous years the pneumatic actuation of our thermostat was broken, leaving the valve open so that the air was constantly heated to a room temperature of 80-90°F which I can hardly stand (27-32°C). So this system doesn’t just waste energy, it’s also unreliable. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of myself sitting topless at my desk and sweating anyway.

Next week (from Sunday to Sunday) they’ll shut the campus-wide steam network off. They do this once a year to clean things. That means: No hot water in our buildings, and no re-heating of the pre-cooled air. That means that our lab will be cooled down to about 60°F for one week, and there is no way to control this temperature. Luckily I’ll be in St. Louis most of the time.

Wasting water.

Posted in Newark, Stupidities by Ulf on June 10, 2009

A few days ago I had to observe how a water tower was drained (look at the water hose that leads to the street!):
It took more than a day until the whole thing was empty. I was really feeling sad when I saw this waste of natural resources. But let’s do the math:

a) How much water is thrown away?
From Google Maps I would estimate that the water tower has a diameter of about 13m. Let’s assume it is a sphere, that would give it a capacity of 1,150m3 of water. Let’s take 1,000m3 to keep the calculations simple.
Different sources suggest that the average indoor water usage per person is about 70 gallons/day. What does that mean for our water tower? A single person would need more than 10 years to use all the water that was wasted here! Enough to supply 4,000 Americans for one day. I don’t know about the water prices here in the US. In Magdeburg it currently is at 1.81 Euro/m3. If the price in the US is similar, then about $2,500 where thrown away when this water tower was drained (assuming that the water tower was full when they started the draining).

b) How much energy is thrown away?
Looking at the picture, the structure might be about 30m high. Once again, assuming that the tower was full, then there were 1,000,000 kg of water in there. That gives 294,300,000 J of potential energy, or about 81.75 kWh. That means that with American power prices (roughly $0.12/kWh), it costs about $10 to fill the whole thing (electricity only, I’m not considering the water at this point).
It’s hard to translate that to CO2 because different power plants give different numbers. At 700g CO2/kWh it would be 57kg CO2 for filling this tank.

Edit: A few days after the water was drained I finally saw someone working on the tower. Not the right job for me!!

My bike just isn’t giving up.

Posted in Newark by Ulf on June 8, 2009

I told you that some piece of my bike breaks apart every week. Right now it’s the left pedal.

Actually it never fell off while driving, but the screw became loose a couple of times. If that happens you’ll notice that the pedal slowly gets wobbly, so you have plenty of time to stop or to use only the second one to pedal.

Now, fixing this screw with normal force works for less than a mile. On Saturday I tried to screw it very tightly which worked for about 40 miles. Yesterday I once again used all the force which my arms can give. Now let’s see how long it withstands…

Edit: A few days ago a friend taught me the expression “to be on the fritz”. It means “being broken”. With a lot of respect of its endurance I’ll call my bike “Fritz” from now on.

I’m so out of fashion!

Posted in Newark by Ulf on June 2, 2009

Some days ago one of my room mates put fancy a ghetto blaster into our kitchen. The front door looked funny. It wasn’t wide enough for CDs, and one could see that normal cassettes wouldn’t go in either (it was missing the mechanics to play them).


It turned out that you’re supposed to put an Ipod into it. I should have known that. To my defense: I’ve never had an Ipod, so I’m quite out of fashion.


An empirical view on the swine flu

Posted in Newark by Ulf on May 25, 2009

Have I ever seen someone with the swine flu? No, of course not. Am I afraid of the swine flu? Haha. Does the swine flu have an impact on my life at all? — Yes, it does!

The first time I saw some real-life-impact of the swine flu at the University of Delaware was in our bathrooms and along the gangways. A bunch of anti-bacterial wet tissues have been distributed in our building.

bild8439 bild8441

I was wondering if it is a good idea to touch those yellow boxes or not. I mean, everybody uses the normal (dry) tissue dispensers at the walls. Only those who are afraid of the swine flu will use the special tissues. If being afraid of the swine flu correlates to having symptoms, then there might be a quite a high bacterial concentration on those boxes… ;-).

As you can see, I didn’t really care about those countermeasures. However, there is one thing which bugged me. They had closed the Carpenter Sports Building for a few days. Args. The swine flu prevented me from doing sports two times!


Luckily it’s open again. Too bad I’m in a no-sports mood now.

Edit: Andi sent me a link to the “Higher Education H1N1 Flu Map“. Yeah :-)

Why can’t my bike just keep working?

Posted in Newark by Ulf on May 1, 2009

My bike is constantly breaking down. This week the bell fell apart, and I haven’t even used it a single time. Really!


I wonder what part of the bike will go away next week. And I really wonder how my bike in Germany can be in such a good shape.

The swine flu comes to UD

Posted in Newark by Ulf on April 29, 2009

img22451451a8c9d48596A few minutes ago the University of Delaware dispatched an automated voice message on our phones. This is what I remember:

This is a UD health alert. Four UD students have been identified with influenza that meets probable definitions for swine flu. Visit UD’s homepage for more information.

Okay, nothing really serious so far, these are no confirmed cases yet. But wait. I got this call, my room mate got this call plus a text message and my lessors even got this call twice, both on their home phone and on their cell phone. That alert has reached me five times within 15 minutes.

Or was it really always the same alert? I mean, how do I know the difference between one alert just being repeated, and consecutive alerts occurring? Maybe these were five distinct health alerts? Wow, that’s 5·4=20 UD students with the flu in just 15 minutes, or 80 in an hour. By tomorrow morning roughly 600 UD students will be affected, and that is only a linear extrapolation. I guess I’ll also be infected by tomorrow evening at the latest, and this is not a joke[1]!

The UD health alert can be found here. It lists possible symptoms for the swine flu. These include fever and body aches for example. The UD doesn’t mention diarrhea although other sources say that it is common among the Mexican swine flu patients[citation needed]. The UD website also tells us to seek care from our personal physicians if we experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Stuffy nose
  • Cough

It’s in the middle of the night, I’m tired. I have to choose: I can either go to the doctor because of my fatigue symptoms (it might be the swine flu!), or I can drink coffee to cure it. I guess I’ll simply go to bed.

Edit: The UD website has been changed, this is the new health alert. Now they only make us go to our personal physicians if we’re experiencing flu-like symptoms. Well, that makes sense. But wait. They only want “faculty and staff” to go to the physicians if they experience any symptoms. WTF?

[1] My room mate made me promise not to make any jokes about the UD Health Alert or the swine flu, so that’s why I mean it serious.