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ASHRAE Winter Conference, Chicago

I was lucky to be able to visit the ASHRAE Winter conference in Chicago. ASHRAE is the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers. I went with my coworker and mentor, Norm, and met many people and learned a lot there. There was actually 2 parts to this conference - the main ASHRAE talks and technical committee meetings, and the AHR Expo, where many vendors come to show off their products.

Sat, Jan 20, 2024

I started the day off by getting a ride to SFO. Ever since COVID began, I've been wearing face masks on all flights, but of course I forgot to bring one! Luckily, a United concierge gave one to me at the airport. While waiting for the flight, I ate a $10 overpriced (but good) egg & cheese bagel. Then it was time to board the flight to Chicago, with me in the window seat. There was quite a bit of turbulence, but thankfully no delays. I was super bored in the plane because I didn't bring enough things to do. The free wifi worked for texting and basic Google searches, so I spent most of the time on my work computer looking over pump rebuild project drawings, taking some notes, and listening to 3rd Eye Blind and Those Who Ride With Giants. We finally landed in Chicago O'Hare airport and there was snow everywhere (but not the runway luckily) and warm inside. I was hungry so I paid for the stupidest bagel with jelly. It definitely came from Safeway and was over-toasted. The jelly was a little continer you'd get at a continental breakfast. Luckily it was only $5. I went to Norm's terminal to wait for him there and filtered through the massive list of ASHRAE seminars. While waiting, according to my dad, our neighbors now own a Tesla truck, making that bagel the second stupidest thing of the day!

When Norm arrived, we promptly started making our way over to the rental car area. Going outside was shocking. Coming from California, any negative degrees Fahrenheit is unheard of. Luckily I came prepared with all my snow gear. The dude that helped us at the rental was a bit goofy and clueless, and tried to make us upgrade our Nissan Versa to an Audi "for a small fee of $25 per day, honest to God." After some back-and-forth, we decided against the upgrade but he gave us a free upgrade to the Nissan Sentra anyway which was the perfect car for our needs. We're starving at this point but drove to our hotel first to drop things off. I got a top-floor room! It was one of the fanciest, overpriced-looking hotels I've ever been to. More on that later!

I told Norm I wanted to try an authentic deep-dish style Chicago pizza, and as if it were meant to be, there was a place right around the corner! We're even hungrier now, but just order one to split, and unfortunately we waited around 45 minutes! So, we ordered some appetizers which were yummy. When the pizza finally came, it was totally worth it. It was completely filled with tomato sauce and fillings, and the crust was like a flaky, buttery pie crust. I don't know how people stay thin here.

Sun, Jan 21, 2024

Today was our first day at the ASHRAE conference. Norm and I both woke up early, but each didn't know the other was awake, so we ended up leaving around 8 after having a $20 omelette breakfast at the hotel. It was pretty crowded at the conference center, and hard to find parking. Correction; there were plenty of spaces, but it was hard to find the parking lot since the McCormick conference center is a huge complex with a complex layout. After going inside, turns out the building is a maze inside as well as outside. We walked a bit to get to the actual location where many of the events were happening. Luckily, all these buildings seem to be connected by catwalks so we don't even need to step foot outside in the cold. I guess it was a little pointless to wear snow pants today.

After getting our badges, Norm and I checked out the bookstore for a bit and I found some books on data center efficiency and DCIM. One book that caught my eye was just a history of mechanical engineering in HVACR. Before long, Norm and I split up so he could join a technical committee, and I went to a seminar on CFD applications in data center design. I ran into David there from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL.) There were 4 speakers in the seminar, 3 of which focused on airflow inside the data center, but the last speaker had a totally different take. He used CFD to model wind patterns on the exterior of the building, taking into account generator exhaust and process air intakes.

After that, Norm and I regrouped for lunch - the menu being the Subway sandwiches we bought on the way. Seeing the prices of food at the venue made me glad he suggested that. Plus, I sure do love my Subway sandwiches. While we ate, it felt like a hundred people that passed by knew Norm and stopped to chat. After lunch, we split up again so Norm could reconnect with his old colleagues, and I joined another seminar on model predictive controls. This one was much more technical than the last seminar, and I found it difficult to follow. At this point, I'm starting to get tired of people, so afterwards I head back to the bookstore to sit and read. I picked up the history book and learned about some of the early influencers of HVACR.

Before I know it, Norm's on his way back and pulls me over to meet more of his colleagues, who of course are all very nice and smart. We chat for a bit too long and then have to rush over to TC9.9, which is the technical committee on mission-critical data centers. Norm told me this is the biggest technical committee (oh, joy) and although it was crowded, we were able to find seats no problem. Our friends from ORNL, David and Nathan, are also attending and sit near us. We discussed committee action items, and the TC9.9 chair had us split into groups and work on "homework." We needed to come up with topics for future talks, and I got volunteered by Norm to demo my Psychart graphical interface.

The TC9.9 meeting finally ended around 8 PM, and we headed back to the hotel to eat leftovers for dinner. We got drinks at the hotel bar, and I tried a gin and tonic for the first time. Norm and I played on the fancy chess board sitting in the hotel lobby. Turns out, we are very evenly matched, but each made a few blunders. We had enough about 5 games in.

Mon, Jan 22, 2024

It seems like we've already fallen into a routine. First thing in the morning after getting ready, Norm and I stopped at Subway to buy sandwiches for lunch. On the way to the McCormick center, we went to eat breakfast at The Original Pancake House. The pancakes were delicious, but honestly not worth it. The overpriced hotel breakfast was about the same price but much fancier. Live and learn, I guess.

The first thing we do at the McCormick center is go to the AHR Expo. Norm warned me it would be crowded, and boy was it. After scanning our badges, we went into the north hall which is a massive warehouse with hundreds and hundreds of vendors, and easily tens of thousands of people. There were several product unveilings, hands on tools/devices to play with, and a lot of really interesting demos. There was even a booth to try out a laser welder, which drew a large crowd. During the event, I got to go inside a dry cooler, and received a ton of freebies. I spun a wheel and struck out, but Norm won a nice backpack he didn't want, and just gave it to me. (Thanks, Norm!) After a couple hours, I head out to eat lunch. What's crazy to me, is that we visited only the north hall - the south hall is just as packed with vendors and products, and nearly 3 times the size!

After lunch I joined a technical subcommittee meeting on building information modeling, and actually I re-encounter two of Norm's colleagues there. They had just published a paper and wanted voting members to publish annual updates, which seems interesting, but I feel like I'm already overwhelmed so I didn't commit to anything.

I took a short break in-between sessions, and then joined Norm, David, and Nathan at the TC9.9 full committee meeting. There was plenty more talks and homework of organizing paper chapters into categories, which directly supports the development of a wiki-style website for the committe's published works. After that meeting was over, Norm and I went directly over to the TC1.5 committee meeting on computer applications - and people brought candy! I got volunteered once again by Norm to do a talk/demo on Psychart. But like last time, it received quite a bit of support, and several others stepped up to offer to do talks on their own metrics collection and visualization. Also, it turns out I'm eligible for the YEA, the Young Engineer's Association, to "compete" for rewards, if I do presentations and other things related to the field. All in all, the TC1.5 meeting was much more interesting and I met someone there who also extensively used Grafana and even made his own plugin. That meeting was over after 9 PM. While many others went out for dinner, Norm and I had leftovers from Subway, and were pretty tired so we went back to the hotel.

Tue, Jan 23, 2024

After what felt like a short period of sleep, I got up and went downstairs for breakfast. Because the pancakes yesterday were so good from The Original Pancake House, I was in the mood for more pancakes. They were pretty expensive ($16?!) but for a stack of 5 pancakes, I thought it was worth it. Sadly, they were not that good and fell apart easily. I should have stuck with the omelette! And for the third time, Norm and I grab sandwiches at Subway (if it ain't broke, don't fix it) and drive to the McCormick center.

Today I braved the South Hall of the AHR Expo. It was packed like sardines in there and very noisy. There were several major vendors including Samsung, LG, CAT, and DeWalt, and of course hundreds and hundreds of HVAC, controls, and electronics manufacturers. I played a timed game at the LG booth to win a prize. Unfortunately I couldn't do it in time, but I still got many freebies from other booths. After speaking to a few more representatives, I needed another break from people, so I went to eat lunch and by coincidence, Norm found me and we ate together.

Later, we met up with David and Nathan from ORNL to eat a very expensive dinner at The Kitchen American Bistro. A topic for another time, I've always hated fancy restaurants. This meal didn't change that, but I wanted to let the other guys have a good time. We all had a great conversation, or argument, about AI, while waiting for the food. We split a few appetizers and I got a microscopic portion of pasta as my main meal. As I'm writing this later at night, I'm still a bit hungry. The guys got drinks but I did not, and the total bill was way too high! After leaving the restaurant, we drop them off, and Norm and I drive around the city for a bit before returning to the hotel for the night. We drove past The Bean, the University of Chicago, and I was surprised to even catch a glimpse of the Trump Tower of Chicago. I didn't know one existed here.

Wed, Jan 24, 2024

This morning I got up around 8 and ate my final leftovers from Subway. I crammed as much as I could into my suitcase which couldn't fit everything, so I tossed a couple items. Since there were no more events to see at the AHR Expo, Norm and I visited the nearby Museum of Science and Industry. We had heard it was for kids, but it was great! The main reason we went, is because Norm wanted to take a once-in-a-lifetime tour of a captured German submarine (U-505) from WWII. I wasn't so interested, so I wandered about the museum and got to see lots of cool stuff, including the outside of the submarine. The most interesting exhibit was called The Water Paradox and it was all about plastics in the ocean, and how we can save it. Not surprisingly, the best way for you or me to help the aquatic ecosystem is to use reusable bags and water bottles (which I already do) and take public transportation or bike/walk more, when possible. Still though, the exhibit was really cool and had a fully-immersive theater with screens on all sides, including the floor. After that, I saw a replica of the Wright Flyer, saw a collection of bikes and cars, art, and I even got to walk through a mirror maze - which was awesome, since I was the only person in there! Eventually it was time to go, but Norm must have been having such a good time that we were running rather late.

We rushed over to the airport and stopped for lunch at a healthy fast-food place called Pockets. They serve salads with hollowed-out bread so you can put the salad in and eat it like a sandwich pocket. It was actually pretty good and probably one of the cheaper meals I bought here! When we finally get to the airport, we return the rental car and hop on the tram. I had a frustrating experience with the TSA because thy did not provide boxes to put small items in when scanning through the x-ray, which meant everything had to be put directly on the conveyor belt. My jacket actually got stuck in their stupid machine, and I was worried it would rip. Luckily, it did not, and I arrived at my gate just in time. People were lined up already and United annonced boarding would begin, but then we waited for about 10 minutes before anything happened. When I finally sat down and we started moving, we took a tour around the airport and docked right back at our gate! Turns out, there were some weight balance issues. I'm not sure, but I think United kicked off some passengers. Over an hour after departure time, we take off for SFO.

Thankfully, despite being over an hour late to depart, the direct flight arrived only about 30 minutes late, which was relatively uneventful. I listened to more music on the plane and then on the BART, which took a lot longer than I remembered. Finally I got off at the station and was picked up and went home.