DSNY Central Repair Shop

A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to tour the Department of Sanitation of New York’s Central Repair Shop with Open House New York. The shop is huge. It several stories high and a couple of blocks long. The place is amazing, and DSNY does everything in house. The repair all vehicles there: heavy duty trucks, cars, etc. They have a woodworking shop, metal shop, sheet metal shop, upholstery shop, and all other types of shops, as well as a vehicle emissions testing facility. No, it does not smell of garbage as all vehicles are cleaned before going to the shop.

There were vehicles of all sort there. DSNY has a wide variety of garbage collection and transport vehicles. This no doubt makes it more difficult to repair as the workers have to know how to repair a multitude of different vehicles. They also repair pickup trucks, cars, and as far as I could tell, anything with wheels. I can’t say if they repair bicycles though. It won’t shock me if they did.

Parked garage trucks

Vehicles are parked everywhere but allow for traffic

Duel collection and compactor vehicles on lift

The shop also appears to be where they store most if not all, of their heavy equipment, such as equipment like snow shovels only used in winter.

Snow shovels waiting for winter

Built in road treater for winter

Impressive parallel parking both width and height wise

I don’t know what the transport vehicle below transport, but I assume garbage. I have never seen one up close, and I liked how it has a built in conveyor belt to allow for removal of its contents easily. This is one of the reason I assume this is for garbage as opposed to sand for road. The sand would get caught in between the slats of the conveyor belt.

Garbage transporter

Up close view of garbage truck to show conveyor belt to allow easier off loading

In some areas of the shop, there are similar parts sitting around. I presume some are waiting repair and others have been repaired. Most are tagged. I couldn’t identify half of them, but they were all cool looking.

Big engines for repair

Parts waiting repair/disposal/use

In one of the metal shops was this very cool, high tech, precise machine with very cool bits.

Cool machine with fun bits

Bits of some type for this cooling looking machine above

Stacks of metal pipes and bars

Sheet metal shop

Metal shop

One surprising area that the shop had was a place after my heart, an emissions testing facility. When I was there, they had a MTA bus in the testing area. MTA pays them to test some of their vehicles, but DSNY does not test private vehicles. The testing facility had a huge roller that allows testing of their large, heavy vehicles in real life conditions. There something about the contrast of this very high tech testing facility in the middle of a building that in some areas has some rather low tech repair areas that I found amusing and surprising.

MTA bus on emissions testing machine that allows for real life conditions

Piped exhaust for emissions testing

Collated emissions for analysis

Sentient Chamber

There is an art exhibit at the National Academy of Sciences called Sentient Chamber that is unlike anything I have seen before. It reminds me of a gigantic hairy caterpillar. It kind of looks like technology and science based items hung as a chandelier among other items I associate more wind chimes. It is interactive because as people get close and walk through it, lights turn on, sounds are made, and certain items move or vibrate. I really can’t describe, but it is beautiful and interesting to look at. It makes really cool shadows on the ceiling, walls, and on itself. It also makes some really cool reflections in itself.

Entire structure

Entire structure

Reminds me of a hairy caterpillar

Reminds me of a hairy caterpillar

More of the caterpillar

More of the caterpillar

Looking from below

Looking from below

Plastic and metal spine

Plastic and metal spine

Beakers and plastic feathers

Beakers and plastic feathers

Wonderful shadows on ceiling

Wonderful shadows on ceiling

Wonderful shadows on ceiling

Wonderful shadows on ceiling

Hanging pieces of science items include flasks, tubes, and pipets

Hanging pieces of science items include flasks, tubes, and pipets

Beautifully intricate metal spine

Beautifully intricate metal spine

Tubes and pipets

Tubes and pipets

Looking from below

Looking from below

Hanging flasks. I didn't notice the reflections until I uploaded photos to computer.

Hanging flasks. I didn’t notice the reflections until I uploaded photos to computer.

Colorful shadows

Colorful shadows

Plastic feathers and flasks reminds me of a palm

Plastic feathers and flasks reminds me of a palm

The plastic feathers and vial together look like a butterfly

The plastic feathers and vial together look like a butterfly

Plastic support symmetry

Plastic support symmetry

It’s a Pipe

I went to a reception for a new(-ish) exhibit with the Culture Programs of the National Academy of Sciences. The exhibit are paintings by Jonathan Feldschuh that are inspired by the Large Hadron Collider. The paintings are acrylic on mylar, and they are quite gorgeous. While I’m sure my art-knowledgable friends will correct my terminology, to me, they look like impressionists paintings of very high-tech subjects. I love impressionism art, and of course, I love technology, so I really like these paintings. My friends R, J, and I were discussing this one painting that R and I both rather liked. I said I really like the way the perspective of the pipe or wires going off into the tunnel. I questioned whether it was a pipe or a bundle of wires. This is the conversation that ensued.

R: It’s not a pipe. It’s where the collisions occur.

Me: It’s a pipe then.

R: No, it’s not solid.

Me: Pipes aren’t solid.

R: Yes, but it’s different.

J: It’s more high tech.

Me: It’s a pipe.

R: There aren’t fluids flowing through it. It’s particles flowing through it and colliding.

Me: It’s still a pipe.

R: It’s not a pipe because the particles are in a vacuum.

Me: It’s a pipe. Those things at banks where the little container at the drive through is pushed through a pipe is pushed through a vacuum. It’s still a pipe.

R: [sighs] Ok, it’s a pipe.

It should be noted that according the CERN website, “The beams travel in opposite directions in separate beam pipes – two tubes kept at ultrahigh vacuum.” Thus, it’s a pipe. However, in R’s defense, I have a B.S. in chemical engineering, so everything is pretty much a pipe or a tank to me. Also, everything can be fixed with a hammer, but that is another story.

NY 240th Street Yard

My most recent nerd trip to New York was to tour the New York City Transit Authority’s 240th Street Yard, also known as Van Cortlandt Yard. The train yard is completely elevated, which in my opinion makes for impressive structural engineering. It is a small shop, so it cannot hold all the trains that are out of service. The do regular maintenance as well as repair. I was impressed with all the safety mechanisms and protocols they have to make sure no one gets hurt.

Entrance to the elevated 240th Street Train Yard

Entrance to the elevated 240th Street Train Yard

Below the elevated 240th Street Train Yard

Below the elevated 240th Street Train Yard

The underside of the completely elevated 240th Street Train Yard

The underside of the completely elevated 240th Street Train Yard

The lavish office of the yard supervisor

The lavish office of the yard supervisor

Train in for maintenance

Train in for maintenance

Stacked and organized supplies

Stacked and organized supplies

I have no idea what these are, but the shop has really cool looking parts

I have no idea what these are, but the shop has really cool looking parts

Contact shoes (how the train makes contact with the 3rd rail). The one of the left is a snow shoe, the ridges cut the snow and ice, and the one on the right is a regular shoe.

Contact shoes (how the train makes contact with the 3rd rail). The one of the left is a snow shoe, the ridges cut the snow and ice, and the one on the right is a regular shoe.

Basket full of contact shoes. The yellow one is a snow shoe.

Basket full of contact shoes. The yellow one is a snow shoe.

Trains in the 240th Street Train Yard shed

Trains in the 240th Street Train Yard shed

Cables hanging in front of the car are "bugs". The ones with more cable and a 2nd box are little bugs because the have less voltage. The other one on the left is a big bug because it has more voltage and power the entire train.

Cables hanging in front of the car are “bugs”. The one with more cable and a 2nd box is a little bug because it has less voltage. The other one on the left is a big bug because it has more voltage and power the entire train.

A stick is used to make sure the contact shoe is at the right height. A maintenance worker is carrying another stick used to measure the height of the car above the rail.

A stick is used to make sure the contact shoe is at the right height. A maintenance worker is carrying another stick used to measure the height of the car above the rail.

Unclose view of the 3rd rail that ends at the entrance to the shop.

Unclose view of the 3rd rail that ends at the entrance to the shop.

Cool looking thing on a train the shop. I think it is a device that tests the doors and opening and closing.

Cool looking thing on a train the shop. I think it is a device that tests the doors and opening and closing.

240th Street Train Yard entrance to the shop

240th Street Train Yard entrance to the shop

Signals at the entrance to the 240th Street Train Yard shop

Signals at the entrance to the 240th Street Train Yard shop

NY East 180th Street Maintenance Shop

I was lucky enough to get the chance to tour New York’s MTA East 180th Street Maintenance Shop. The maintenance shop is located in the Bronx and is one of several shops that service NY subway cars. It was built in 1917 and has been renovated more recently. There are six shops inside the shop and 26 storage tracks outside the shop in the yard. The shop is constantly doing maintenance on the subway cars, and also while we were there at least, had two old trains inside, including one World War II (or possibly older) era train. In short, if you are a transit nerd, this place is totally cool. We got to walk alongside trains and see their underside. We got to see parts of the train that normally you never get to see, or at least you never get to see unless you are about to be hit by one.

The outside storage yard

The outside storage yard

Two trains inside the shop. The one of the right is clearly a vintage one.

Two trains inside the shop. The one of the right is clearly a vintage one.

Looking down one of the inside tracks

Looking down one of the inside tracks

View underneath one of the trains. Not a view you normally get.

View underneath one of the trains. Not a view you normally get.

A rail of an inside track. I never did find out where you place the main bugs.

A rail of an inside track. I never did find out where you place the main bugs.

A really cool looking part underneath an older train

A really cool looking part underneath an older train

A really cool looking part underneath an older train

A really cool looking part underneath an older train

An older train with fading paint

An older train with fading paint

Underside of an older train, which I find fascinating due to the duct tape and marking to designate two different technologies or parts from when NY had three different subway systems.

Underside of an older train, which I find fascinating due to the duct tape and marking to designate two different technologies or parts from when NY had three different subway systems.

An old train which has clearly seen better days

An old train which has clearly seen better days

An old rail car that was converted to a rail adhesion train, used to add sand or a coating when leaves start to coat the rails. It is no longer, or rarely used, as contractors are hired to clear the rails of leaves.

An old rail car that was converted to a rail adhesion train, used to add sand or a coating when leaves start to coat the rails. It is no longer, or rarely used, as contractors are hired to clear the rails of leaves.

Looking down the inside tracks from the rail entrance to the shop

Looking down the inside tracks from the rail entrance to the shop

Rail at entrance to shop

Rail at entrance to shop

Rail inside the shop

Rail inside the shop

No, I won’t #HackAHairDryer

Evidently, IBM wants to encourage women to enter science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by telling them to hack a hair dryer. My first thought is that while I appreciate any technology company encouraging women into STEM, did they really have to pick a hair dryer? I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt that it’s a cheap piece of electronics, but let’s be real. By picking a hair dryer, they are reinforcing stereotypes about women and how we care about our looks. I initially thought I don’t even own a hair dryer, then I realized I may own two. I know there is one in my guest bathroom, left by a relative, and it sits there in case any guest wants to use it. I may have one of my own in my bathroom, bought over a decade, possibly two decades ago. I am not even sure if I still have it because it has been a decade at least since I have used it.

My second thought about #HackAHairDryer is, YOU’RE A FREAKING COMPUTER COMPANY! ENCOURAGE WOMEN TO WRITE CODE OR HACK A COMPUTER IN SOME WAY! Computer science is one of the most underrepresented fields, even among STEM fields, it is one of the worst. For goodness sakes IBM, you are a computer company, encourage women into computers. That is a field you should know rather well. Surely you can think of things women can hack in your own field, things that will not play into stereotypes.

My third thought is what age is this campaign aimed at? Hair dryers use electricity, and they produce heat. They are not exactly the safest things to hack. In IBM’s video, there are a few scenarios for “hacked” hair dryers that quite frankly worry me a bit. If a girl or women wants to hack a hair dryer, great, but I hope there is someone (man or women) around who would know when they are getting into dangerous territory.

I can MacGyver with the best of them. In truth, a whole lot of my hacking knowledge did not come from school. It came from playing with things, looking things up on the Internet, and talking with other people with experience. I don’t “hack” that much. I do have a propensity to take things apart just to look inside and see how they work, which is easy. The difficult part is getting them back together again and having the thing still work as intended.

A final thought I have is aimed at any inspiring engineer. If you don’t like to hack, if you have never hacked anything, my personal opinion is that this means nothing to your aspirations to be an engineer or scientist. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t be an engineer or scientist because X. I can’t remember hacking a single thing before college. I can’t remember hacking a single thing as part of my undergraduate or graduate school experience. My education did involve some hands on stuff and science labs, but it did not involve hacking. Most of engineering education is theory and reality of design. That is, first you are taught the theory as to how something should work. Then you are taught how it doesn’t always work like the theory, so here are some empirical equations with fudge factors that do work. Now throw in some safety factors. Ta la, you have your design.

So young women, hack if you want to, whatever it is you want to hack. Explore the world. Stay curious. Learn how things work. Learn ALL subjects and find the ones that interest you the most, no matter what they are.

IBM, back off the hashtags. Do something actually meaningful that will encourage women into STEM like sponsoring science fairs or building competitions or sponsoring college scholarships.

Life Today

Another day, another mass shooting in the United States. When I was a child, I can remember fire drills. I remember tornado drills. Active shooter drills did not exist. Now they do.

Today I spent part of my work day completing a whole bunch of mandatory training. One training was on information technology security. In my opinion, the training was stupid, but then again I am more informed than others. I know not to share my password with anyone.  I know not to open unknown files. I take many precautions to protect my sensitive information, like shredding even vaguely sensitive documents. The irony of the training being that it was in fact my employer and its inadequate security that was hacked months back and allowed my personal information to be stolen. My social security number may have been compromised. My employer is now paying for credit monitoring for me. When I was in college, professors posted our social security numbers with our grades as a way to allow us to find our grades and keep them anonymous. Now, posting social security numbers wouldn’t be allowed. They are too sensitive. Because of the internet, there are things I have to worry about that I never did as a child, but I still love the internet. I don’t want to go back to life without it.

I am not one of those people who likes to talk about how things were better when they were young. I love the internet. I love my smart phone. I love my energy efficient light bulbs and appliances. I love indoor plumbing. I love that I can be and am a female engineer. I love that I live in a country with clean air and water, and I don’t have to worry if my drinking water is safe or if the food I buy is contaminated. I love that vaccines exist. A hundred years ago women couldn’t vote. Until the mid-1800s, slavery existed. So, no, I don’t want to go backwards. The world has never been perfect. We have always had violence. People have always stereotyped and hated people for stupid reasons. People have always blamed others for whatever problem. We don’t seem to be able to get rid of violence or prejudice or hatred. This makes me very sad. We have made technological progress. We have made astounding progress in medicine and public health. We have made progress in civil rights. Why can’t we make progress in ending the hatred and violence? Why must we keep killing each other?

Waste to Energy Plant

Last week I got the chance to tour a waste to energy plant. The plant receives non-hazardous, household garbage from municipalities, consumer businesses, government agencies, and international ports. It burns the waste and converts the energy given off during the burning to electricity, which is then put into the power grid. Some of the waste that comes from government agencies need secure destruction, and at the plant, the waste is put directly into the feed stream and burned, so as to allow the needed secure destruction. The waste from international ports, such as nearby airports, must be burned to prevent any pathogens entering the country that may affect agriculture, and so it also is fed directly to the feed stream. Interestingly, the municipalities that send waste to the plant discourage their residents from putting yard waste into the trash. Besides being environmentally unfriendly because yard waste can be composted and nutrients returned to the earth, the yard waste is also not good for the waste to energy process because it produces nitrogen oxides (NOx), which forces the plant to put in more pollution control.

There are 88 waste to energy plants in the US, and 45-46 are Covanta’s, the owner and operator of this plant that I toured. The plant receives about 1000 tons garbage/day and after burning it, produces about 300 tons ash/day, which is 10-15% fly ash and the rest bottom ash. Thus, the plant achieves about a 70% weight reduction and also a 90% volume reduction. The fly ash is sent to monofill, which is like a landfill but only accepts fly ash. Fly ash can be used in making concrete, so evidently there is currently research being done by both the concrete industry and various waste to energy plants as to if this fly ash can be used for concrete and thus also be reused.

With the exception of the trash that has to go directly into the feed, when it first comes to the plant, the trash is placed on floor where humans look at trash to remove anything that should not be going into the boiler. For example, inert material shouldn’t go into the boiler because not only does it not burn, it is also a heat sink and reduces the efficiency of the process. The trash is then put into a storage pile to be eventually fed into the boiler feed. A large claw moves the trash to piles, mixes the piles, and then moves trash from the piles into the boiler feed.

Pile of trash waiting to be burned

Pile of trash waiting to be burned

Large claw picks up trash to put into feed

Large claw picks up trash to put into feed

Trash slides into the entrance to the boiler

Trash slides into the entrance to the boiler

The trash is sent to one of three boilers, each of which has six cells. The boilers burn the trash at 1800-2000°F (1300K). The boilers are initially heated up with diesel fuel, but then the trash sustains the burn. However everyday diesel fuel is used to test the burn.

The boilers

The boilers

View through a boiler's window of the trash burning

View through a boiler’s window of the trash burning

Pipes and ducts everywhere

Pipes and ducts everywhere

The heat from the boilers is used to heat water to turn it into steam. The water is in a closed loop system, but they use about 20-25,000 gallons of water per day due to loss. [They use another 200,000 gallons/day for the cooling tower and are exploring with the nearby wastewater treatment plant using treated wastewater for this.] The water goes through a reverse osmosis treatment for purity, so nothing damages the turbines and the rest of the system. The produced steam is superheated but drops to 700°F before entering the turbines. There are two turbines with 14 stages. The steam turns the turbines, and that motion is converted into electricity in the generator. They produce 14.5 MW per turbine. Because of the work the steam does on the turbine, the steam enters the turbine at 600 psi and leaves in vacuum in a 10 ft length.

The turbine (gray and blue) and the generator (red and white stripes)

The turbine (gray and blue) and the generator (red and white stripes)

All the gases that leave the boiler pass through a series of air pollution control units. Ammonia, lime slurry, and carbon are used for pollution control. There are probes in the system to sample flue gas for pollution control additives that are needed. The treated gas then goes to a baghouse where particulates are captured. The air is below 300°F before going into baghouse, so it has cooled quite a bit.

The ash from the boiler is sent through a unit to remove all metals. The ferrous metals (attracted to magnets) are separated from the rest of the metals, and all the metals are sold for scrap.

bottom ash

Bottom ash entering the separator

Metal that has been separated

Metal that has been separated

The whole process is monitored in a control room by one or two people. I was amazed at how simple the process was. I, the environmental engineer, was of course geeking out at the whole thing, but it was a really cool process and efficiently run.

Control panel monitors

Control panel monitors

Finally here is a very short video of a few scenes from the plant. This includes waste being loaded into the feed, the fire in the boiler, and bottom ash entering the metals separator.

It’s Not Individualism or Bad Fashion, It’s Sexism

I once hypothesized that male heterosexual scientists and engineers single-handily keep the Hawaiian shirt industry in business. Don’t ask me why, but as a group, they love those shirts. I make jokes about their lack of fashion and just plain dressing ability. I tease because I love. I love their individualism, and I love how they don’t know or care about fashion. I may be a female heterosexual scientist and engineer, but I am one of them when it comes to dress. The last time I remember being fashionable was when I was in fifth grade. I don’t understand or like many fashions. I have my own style, and I like to look nice, but I consider my ability to wear jeans to work and not even own a suit, a serious perk of my career (and employer).

And then there is this.

This is Rosetta Project Scientist Matt Taylor of the European Space Agency (ESA) in a shirt covered in scantily clad women in in sexually suggestive poses. That is the shirt he chose to wear on a day when ESA did the amazing feat of landing a probe on a comet. This is the shirt he chose to wear on a day when he would be interviewed by the media and featured on live webcasts of the events. Not only did he not see a problem with this shirt, but evidently no one else at ESA did either. This. Is. Not. Acceptable. This is not appropriate. This is offensive. This shirt should not exist period, but it most certainly should not exist in the workplace. This is not about how ugly the shirt is. This is not about how unprofessional a shirt like that is. This is not about Dr. Taylor being an individual and expressing his style. This is about a shirt that objectifies women. This is about a shirt that is sexual harassment without Dr. Taylor even opening his mouth or making any type of gesture or doing absolutely anything other than wearing it. This is about a complete and utter lack of respect of women on the part of Dr. Taylor and evidently everybody at ESA who works with him and would have been in a position to say something. This about no one over there seeming to care about whether or not women feel comfortable working there when someone can wear a shirt like that. This about telling women it doesn’t matter your intelligence, skills, education, or ideas, you are but sex objects. The STEM fields continue to have a problem with sexism and gender inequality. My alma mater, a technical college, still only has about a 25% female student body. Wearing shirts like that to workplace will not help. It will not tell women that they are welcome. I quite frankly don’t care if Dr. Taylor is actually a really nice guy who is actually very supportive of women in STEM. His shirt says otherwise. He and ESA owe all of us an apology. That shirt overshadowed what should have been the main headline that ESA did the absolutely spectacular task of landing a probe on a comet. That shirt and the attitude it expressed ruined it for me in fact.

Finally, I would like to give mad props to Dr. Paul Coxon for his absolutely awesome idea, that if you want to wear a shirt with women on it, wear one with these women on it.


These would be some of the women of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) celebrating after ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft successfully entered the Mars orbit. And they are awesome.

Bergen Sign Shop

Collection of old signs on the shop's wall

Collection of old signs on the shop’s wall

I recently had a chance to tour New York City’s MTA’s Bergen Sign Shop. The Bergen Sign Shop is where all the signs for MTA’s subways are made and possibly a few other signs. The wonderful employees came in on a Saturday so that they could take two tour groups, from the New York Transit Museum, through the shop and show us how they make the signs. It was really neat to see and also interesting to hear how things have changed from the way things used to be made. Computers are now used for much of the process where as like many things, they used to have to be done by hand. Some of the signs they make are made like many of us make signs with regular ink jet printers, although they have massive printers with the biggest ink cartridges I have ever seen.

Safety first signs being printed in bulk. As an engineer, I particularly enjoyed seeing this.

Safety first signs being printed in bulk. As an engineer, I particularly enjoyed seeing this.

All the “buttons”, the colored circles with the subway line letter or number, are printed on rolls of colored vinyl with adhesive backing. The line’s letter or number is then printed in black or white. A machine also cuts the circle into the vinyl, so employees just have to remove the excess from around the circles.

Rolls of vinyl in various colors ready for the printer. C line buttons being printed.

Rolls of vinyl in various colors ready for the printer. C line buttons being printed.

Drawer full of ready to go buttons. The buttons are made in 7 standard sizes.

Drawer full of ready to go buttons. The buttons are made in 7 standard sizes.

They have another machine that just does detailed cutting of vinyl rolls. Once the vinyl has been cut, the excess is removed, and letters, numbers, and symbols are left in place. The letters are already spaced properly like they would be from a printer and are then transferred as a unit by an employee to a sign.

Roll of vinyl leaving the cutter.

Roll of vinyl leaving the cutter.

The below, very short video is a series of photographs of an employee showing how he transfers the cut letters to a sign. The method he uses keeps all the letters spaced properly as they were spaced by the computer. The letters are transferred from the vinyl roll to transfer paper then to the sign.

Once the letters, buttons, etc. are on the sign, the sign is then laminated. It is later sent to the tin shop to be applied to a metal frame.

Sign being laminated

Sign being laminated

There is another machine that engraves signs and also applies to plastic beads to make braille signs.

Engraving machine

Engraving machine

Temporary location sign with Braille.

Temporary location sign with Braille.

In a separate room, they make frosted glass signs by applying a template and coating the glass with uv-activated substance. Ultraviolet light is then applied, and anything not covered by the template will be frosted.

Glass placed into machine where a vacuum will be applied and then it will be treated under ultraviolet light

Glass placed into machine where a vacuum will be applied and then it will be treated under ultraviolet light

Sign about to be treated under ultraviolet light

Sign about to be treated under ultraviolet light

Sign being treated under ultraviolet light

Sign being treated under ultraviolet light

Glass after being treated with uv light

Glass after being treated with uv light

In the back, they had the finished signs stacked up ready to be installed. They also had a supply of generic signs used in various places.

Spare generic signs stacked in storage

Spare generic signs stacked in storage

Finished signs ready to be installed

Finished signs ready to be installed

It was a really fun tour, and it was really neat to learn how the signs are made. Thanks to the New Your Transmit Museum and MTA employees for allowing us to take this tour and showing us how they do everything!