How much do we slow down traffic when we drive during rush hour?

I have recently been thinking about the question of how much an individual’s driving influences the commute time for other drivers. This negative externality is relevant, for example, in discussions around congestion fees in cities. I tried to look up estimates and couldn’t (easily) find them, so this weekend I did my own analysis (see below; please let me know if you identify errors!).

What I found is that the costs (in time) that you impose on others by driving is larger than the time that you yourself spend in traffic. For example, if you are stuck in traffic for half an hour (ie your drive without traffic is 20 min but as a result of traffic the trip takes 50 min) then you are slowing down others by more than half an hour. This time is obviously spread across a large number of drivers, but it represents a real increase in commuting time and hence a real negative externality. Indeed, depending upon the assumptions that are made, the time that you impose on other drivers is typically 2 – 3 times the time that you will spend in traffic.

From this perspective, driving during rush hour imposes significant costs on other drivers (of course, they are also driving during rush hour, so this is not a good-guy vs bad-guy scenario!). Given mean wages in the Boston area (and the fact that many cars and buses have more than one occupant in each vehicle), the negative externalities are ~$100 for each rush hour commute. This is a huge cost, and in my mind represents a strong argument for congestion fees. Even a $10 fee would likely have significant effects on behavior.

Analysis

Below are my calculations, where I analyze two models for how traffic speed v decreases as a function of the car density rho. The central insight from the mathematical analysis of traffic is that the flux of cars will have a maximum as a function of the density of traffic.

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The Gore Family History

The Early Days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Drawing of the Winthrop Fleet arriving in 1630

John and Rhoda Gore arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 with two young children. At the time of their arrival there were only a few thousand colonists in all of New England. This was just fifteen years after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, and five years after John Winthrop founded the city of Boston following the arrival of a fleet containing eleven ships and 700 colonists (see drawing by Halsall above). This was the second attempt by a group of investors to colonize the area, after an unsuccessful attempt in 1623 to establish a settlement further north on Cape Ann. This second attempt was successful, with about 20,000 people migrating to New England in the 1630s and 1640s in what is known as the Great Migration. The Puritans had been embroiled in a long dispute with the Monarchy regarding the practice of their religion, culminating in King Charles I dissolving a rebellious Parliament in 1929.

At the time of John Gore’s arrival, the town of Boston was unrecognizable. Most strikingly, the Back Bay and South End were not yet filled in, meaning that only a narrow spit of land connected the town of Boston to Roxbury and the rest of the mainland (see far left in image above). The “Field near Colbron’s” will turn into Boston Common, whereas what we refer to as Beacon Hill extends from the region labeled “West Hill” to the original “Beacon Hill” to the South. The town of Boston was still so small that this map could list the name of the owner of each house in the map!

English Routes

John immigrated to the American colonies seven years after graduating from Queen’s College in Oxford University (drawing of Queen’s College above is from 1690). Although Harvard would not be founded for another year, Queen’s college was approaching its 300 year anniversary. John was from a wealthy English family, son of Richard Gore (1574 – 1644) of North Baddesley and Southampton, Hampshire. Richard married Elizabeth Gore (1576 – 1650) in 1599 and together they had two sons, John and Thomas. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any discussion of the circumstances behind John’s decision to immigrate. In particular, I do not know if it was driven by religious disagreements as for the other Puritans that took part in the Great Migration of the 1630’s and 1640’s.

Settling in Roxbury

In 1637, John Gore (1606 – 1657) moved to Roxbury, just across the isthmus from Boston, with his wife Rhoda Gardner (1617 – 1692) and the beginnings of their family. Although Roxbury is now a neighborhood within Boston, at the time it was an independent town. It was one of the first towns established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, with the original boundaries of the town of Roxbury starting where today’s Christian Science Center and Predefined by the Christian Science Center, the Prudential Center and everything south and east of the Muddy River (see map above). Originally the name was spelled “Rocksbury,” and Barber, in his Historical Collections, says: “A great part of this town is rocky land; hence the name of Rocksbury.” The rocky soil caused challenges for farming, and William Pynchon, the original founder of Rocksbury, gave up on the location just before John Gore settled there and left with a third of the population to settle what became Springfield. Despite these initial challenges, Roxbury eventually became famous for its apples, pear, and other fruit.

“John arrived in Roxbury with his wife Rhoda on April 18, 1637 and was one of the few men in the colony honored with the title of “Mister”. He is mentioned in a list of landowners of the year 1643 as owning 188 acres. When he landed at Boston and passed on Boston Neck to Roxbury, “Mrs Gore was carried by two men, as the ground was wet and swampy. Arriving at Roxbury, the men stopped with their fair burden on a small hill, when Mrs Gore, who was much fatiqued, exclaimed “This is Paradise”, and the spot was henceforth named “Paradise Hill”.”

–from: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pacamero/gorefam.htm

In 1638 John was a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest chartered military organization in North America and the third oldest chartered military organization in the world (as a descendent of an early member I can claim membership by “Right of Descent”!). Multiple generations of the Gore family stayed in the Roxbury area, and indeed many of the early Gore Family, including John, are buried in the Eliot Burial Ground.

Finally, John Gore was one of the founders of Roxbury Latin School, and his signature is on the school charter. His son John was an early graduate of the school, studied at Harvard from 1651 – 1654, and later became a master in 1673 back at Roxbury Latin. “About 1674 he leased the Bell Homestead in Roxbury for twenty-one years, agreeing either teach the free school, to provide a substitute teacher or to pay twelve pounds yearly in corn or cattle.” (Cutter)

At the time of his death, John Gore’s estate contained 812 pounds of real estate and buildings, including 4000 acres (over six square miles, although I have not been able to establish where all of that land was located).

The Gore Homestead

“The Gore homestead (see picture from Drake’s “Town of Roxbury” above) stood by Stony Brook (before it was put into a culvert) and Tremont Street near Roxbury Crossing.  A piece of the estate was later sliced off when the railroad to Providence was built. The homestead, however, continued to stand until 1876 and was inhabited by the Gores, until the land was sold and cut up as a prize location in a Roxbury that was rapidly becoming industrialized.  The present Gore Street, running parallel to Tremont Street on the west side into Parker Street, still commemorates the ancient Roxbury family and is probably the reason why the municipal government ordered Paul added to the Gore Street in Jamaica Plain to prevent confusion.”

— Walter Marx

I will now walk through the process that I went through to find the Gore Homestead, although with hindsight it was not all necessary. We are told that it was near Stony Brook (which is unfortunately now below ground… a great loss for the area) and Tremont St (zoom in of map above). This map, made in 1832, is the oldest map of Roxbury that I had been able to find (although see below…). Of course, this is still almost 200 years after John Gore first settled in the area! As pointed out in the quote above, the Gore Homestead survived until 1867, meaning that it should be one of the squares in the map above… I next found a map from 1843, in which the rail line mentioned above is shown (below). At the intersection of Tremont, Stoney Brook, and the rail line is a house on a little street called Gore Place!

I went to the Boston Public Library to view the original versions of these maps, and in front of the Leventhal Map Center there is a reproduction of a map by McIntyre from 1852 on the floor. The map is 10′ wide, but amazingly if you look closely it actually lists Watson Gore as the owner of that house (see below)! Consistent with the previous description, the Gore Homestead was just north of Stony Brook at the end of Tremont. Watson Gore was the final owner of the Gore Homestead, and as far as I can tell he was born in 1793 to Jeremiah Jr., who was son of Jeremiah Sr., who was son of Samuel Gore, who was son of John Gore Jr (the one who taught at Roxbury Latin).

Finally, now that we know where the original house was located, we can look for it in earlier maps. Unfortunately, as far as I have been able to ascertain, there are no surviving maps of this area from the early days of the colony (the map of Boston above does not extend across the isthmus). However, a happy side effect of the Revolutionary War was that Britain became exceedingly interested in the Boston Area and commisioned a number of maps to be made, the most famous of which is likely the Pelham map.

The Pelham map shown above is owned by Mt Vernon, and is one of the only versions that is colored (~dozen surviving versions). The Pelham map is not only beautiful, it is also exceedingly detailed. Indeed, it even includes what I believe is the original Gore Homestead if one zooms in to Stony Brook (go ahead and download and see if you can find it… zooming in is easy on the version at BPL). The location, just north of the old Roxbury town center, is consistent with the original rule that all homes had to be within a half mile of the Meeting House, to facilitate mutual defense.

Today, at the site of the Gore Homestead sits the Roxbury Crossing subway station, and in that particular spot there is a falafel shop. As much as I like cities and public transit, standing on the street in front of the falafel shop and imagining the rolling hills of Roxbury in the mid-1600’s was a bit sad.

In addition to the current Gore St. near Roxbury Crossing, there is also Paul Gore St. in Jamaica Plain (Paul being added later, presumably so as to avoid confusion between the two streets). This street is named after a father and son of the same name who owned a five acre estate in the area (this branch was John Gore->John->John->Ebenezar->Paul->Paul). The estate was in the family for over a century, from 1743 to 1880. This house can be found most easily in the 1843 map, where the house is located at the end of Lamartine St. on the Stoney Brook river. It is also in the map made in 1832, where it is off a little nub from Boylston St (helps to find Paul Gore St. on google maps first).

Finally, there is also Gore St. in East Cambridge. I suspect that this was named after Governor Christopher Gore (see below), but I have not confirmed this.

The second generation

John and Rhoda had ten children, and I descend from his son Samuel (1638 – 1692, although some sources list 1651 as birth date). As we have seen in discussions of the original Homestead, many of the descendants of John Gore Jr stayed in the Boston region, whereas many of Samuel’s descendants spread across the Union. Although primogeniture was not commonly practiced in the Northern colonies, there may still have been a difference in inheritance that led to this asymmetry.

Samuel was still relatively young when his father passed away in 1657, but his father’s property should have provided a launching pad for the young Samuel. His mother also received land, and in any case within two years was remarried to Lieutenant John Remington (Rhoda would have four husbands during her life).

Samuel grew up to be a carpenter and, like his father John Gore, served as selectman in Roxbury. In 1689, Samuel was one of the three officers in the military company from the town of Roxbury that took part in what you might consider a prelude to the Revolutionary War that would occur nearly a century later. In 1684, King Charles II revoked the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony because the colonial leaders had refused make administrative changes that would have brought the colony under tighter control of the Crown. In response, King James II–the successor to King Charles after his passing in 1685–created the Dominion of New England an appointed former governor of New York Sir Edmund Andros dominion. This was deeply unpopular among the colonists, and in 1689 there was an uprising in which 2000 milita members rose up and deposed Andros, eventually leading to the restoration of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Of course, a hundred years later many of his descendants would fight in the revolutionary war. Indeed, Samuel’s grandson Obadiah will lose five of his sons in a single battle (see below).

The Gore and Weld Families Marry

At the age of 21, Samuel married Elizabeth Weld (1655 – 1717), granddaughter of Captain Joseph Weld. Joseph Weld was one of the richest men in Massachusetts, and indeed the Weld family has a long distinguished history within the region (William Weld, governor of Massachusetts from 1991 – 1997, is the most famous living member of the Weld family). Given that the Weld and Gore families both had extensive land holdings in Roxbury, the families would have known each other well. Indeed, both Samuel and Elizabeth were born in Roxbury, with Samuel born four years earlier.

Elizabeth Weld was the daughter of John Weld (1630 – 1691) and Margaret Bowen (1623 – 1692). As was the case for most of these early colonists, her family traced their roots back to England. Captain Joseph Weld (1599–1646) was the youngest of the three brothers who immigrated from England. For his role in the Pequot War of 1637, the colonial legislature granted Weld 278 acres (1.13 km2) in the town of Roxbury. Captain Weld’s land is now much of present-day Jamaica Plain and Roslindale, and in particular the Arnold Arboretum. With the wealth generated from this grant, Joseph Weld became one of the first donors to Harvard and a founder of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.

“Captain John Weld, son of Captain Joseph Weld, inherited his estate and served as an officer in King Philip’s War of 1675. He built his home, Weld Hall, on what came to be called Weld Hill in Forest Hills (still marked by the presence of Weld Hill Street across the street from Forest Hills MBTA station).

The descendants of John Weld created Weld Farm towards the Brookline border around what is now Hancock Village but was formerly Weld Golf Course.

Other descendants of John Weld moved on to develop the valley of Sawmill Brook near Dedham as the Williams Farm. Part of the Weld properties in this area were sold in 1854 for the construction of what is now the VFW Parkway in West Roxbury, Mass.

While the Weld’s Brookline and Dedham properties were developed in the 17th and 18th centuries as agricultural lands, in the 19th and 20th centuries these became Weld-owned estates of great luxury.

This first Weld Hall in Jamaica Plain was home to many generations of Welds, the last of which was John Weld’s great grandson, Colonel Eleazer Weld, one of seven Weld family members who fought in the American Revolutionary War. Weld Hill was selected by George Washington as a rallying point for the patriot army to fall back upon in case of disaster.”

–geni.com

Christopher Gore

Although my line continues with Samuel Gore Jr, it is worth mentioning that one of Samuel Gore Sr’s other sons, Obadiah Gore, was the grandfather of Christopher Gore (1758 – 1827), who was a well-known lawyer, financier, and politician. He served as Governor of Massachusetts as well as US Senator from Massachusetts. His summer home, Gore Place (image above), is in Waltham and can still be visited. In addition, the former library at Harvard, Gore Hall, was named after Christopher (donations by the childless Christopher probably helped…). Gore Hall played a major role in the history and identity of the City of Cambridge, and indeed an image of Gore Hall is in the official seal of Cambridge (below). Unfortunately, Christopher Gore did not have any children.

Christopher’s older brother Samuel Gore was a firebrand Patriot during the time of the Revolutionary War (similar to the other Samuel, Sam Adams…). Christopher’s brother Samuel was one of the leaders of the Boston Tea Party and took part in the protests that preceded the Boston Massacre. The protesters were throwing rocks into the home of a British customs agent (and apparently hit his wife), after which the agent fired his gun into the crowd. The shots killed eleven-year-old Christopher Seider, considered the first fatality of the Revolutionary War, and and also injured Samuel Gore: “Two [slugs] hit the nineteen-year old son of John Gore, wounding two fingers of his right hand and lodging in his thigh.” (Zobel)

Pennsylvania and the Wyoming Valley Massacre

Samuel Gore Sr and Elizabeth Weld had six children, and I descend from the eldest son, Samuel Gore Jr (1681 – 1756). Samuel married Hannah Draper (1686 – 1741), another Roxbury native. Her grandfather was James “The Puritan” Draper (1618 – 1694), who had come to New England in 1647. Draper’s descendants include many notable people over the years.

Samuel Gore Jr and his family moved to Connecticut sometime 1715-1719, then later Samuel and his son, Obadiah (1714 – 1779), became members of “The Susquehanna Company” (their names appear among the grantees in the Indian deed of July 11, 1754). In 1768 Obadiah and his family then moved to the Wyoming Valley in Northeast Pennsylvania to start a blacksmith business. As Wikipedia describes it:

“In 1753, amidst a flurry of land speculation and westward expansion that captivated the imagination of American colonists, Connecticut settlers formed the Susquehanna Company for the purposes of developing the Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania. A shortage of farmland and a growing population had encouraged some in Connecticut to revisit the terms of the colony’s original land grant, the Charter of 1662, which England’s King Charles II had issued. This document described Connecticut’s western border as extending (through Pennsylvania-claimed lands) all the way to the “Southern Sea,” or Pacific Ocean. The long-ignored provision held new appeal with the growing scarcity of unclaimed land in Connecticut… The dispute between Connecticut and Pennsylvania seemed to calm during the Revolutionary War, save for the Battle of Wyoming. On July 3, 1778, Loyalist and Indian forces some 700 strong overwhelmed a colonial militia of about 300 men. (Some fighting on the British side had, in fact, lived in the valley until the Yankee settlers forced them out.) The attack left hundreds of settlers, including noncombatants, dead and thousands more homeless”

Obadiah Gore and his sons figured prominently in the Wyoming Valley Massacre. Obadiah served as a Captain in the Connecticut militia in 1776, but due to his age he did not fight. However, five of Obadiah’s seven sons died in the battle. Obadiah then succumbed to smallpox the following year. This story is told in colorful fashion by Hayden, Hand, and Jordan in their Genealogical and Family history of the region:

“[Obadiah Gore] was one of the first white men in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and was the pioneer of the family in the Wyoming Valley. Captain Gore was commissioned by the Connecticut Assembly ensign of the Eighth Company, Third Regiment Militia, May 1761, lieutenant of same, May 1762, and captain May, 1766. He was an aged man at the time of the massacre, and was left in Forty Fort while the army went to meet the enemy. In the little band that marched forth on July 3, 1778 were his five sons, Samuel, Daniel, Silas, George, and Asa; also his sons in law, John Murfee and Timothy Pearce. At sun setting, five of the seven were on the field, mangled corpses… Lieutenant Daniel Gore was near the right wing, and stood a few rods below Windermoots’ fort, close to the old road that led through the valley. Stepping into the road, a ball struck him in the arm, tearing it from his shirt. He applied a hasty bandage…”

Moving West

Lucky for me, Obadiah’s son Daniel Gore (1746 – 1809) survived the Wyoming Valley Massacre, living out his life in the area after marrying Mary Parke (1748 – 1806). Indeed, Daniel was buried at the Gore Burial Plot in Plains, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania together with his father. Daniel and Mary’s son George (1781 – 1856), however, eventually moved west. George was a Blacksmith like his father and grandfather before him. He was also a farmer. He married first Polly Larned and had 7 children, but after Polly’s death he married Susanna Carey and they had 8 children, including John C. Gore (1811 – 1874).

George, Susanna, and some of the other family including John and his wife Susan Ann Barney (1817-1856) settled in Illinois. I have not been able to determine when they moved, but at least John and Susan’s third child was born in Illinois in 1845, the move presumably took place before then. The family settled in Marshall County, Illinois, about two hours southwest of Chicago. The heart of the county was Lacon, which reached a population of 963 in 1850 (around the time of George’s death), and today has 2000. Existing records do not indicate why the Gore Family chose this rural community to settle. Of course, in 1840 even Chicago was rural, as the population size was still less than 5,000 (Chicago was only incorporated in 1837).

“John Gore, an old and well known citizen of Lacon, dropped down from Heart Disease, in his house last night, and expired before medical aid could be summoned. He was unconscious and never spoke. He came to Lacon many years ago, and for several years was Constable, Deputy Sheriff, and Detective, displaying considerable skill in ferreting out robberies. He was well respected, and leaves a wife and family of grown up children, most of them married.”

— Genealogy Trails: Marshall County Illinois, Obituaries and Death Notices, April 1, 1874

Miland Gore (1855 – 1929)

One of John C. Gore and Susan A. Barney’s sons was Miland Gore (1855 – 1929), who worked as a farmer and laborer in Central Illinois (photo above). Miland married Sophronia Way and the couple raised six children including Roscoe Gore (1885 – 1939), who was born in Illinois (see image below).

Roscoe Gore (1885 – 1939)

A yearning for new opportunities, reports from earlier pioneers, or record hail and floods may have prompted Roscoe to push west to Utah, where he met and married Dora Clark (1889 – ?). Roscoe first worked as a barber at Fort Douglas, Utah. He moved his family to Idaho for a time, but later returned to Utah where he was an insurance salesman and a proprietor of barber shop in Salt Lake.

Dora Clark’s grandparents Charles Joseph Gordon Logie (1828 – ) and Rosa Friedlander met and married in Sydney, Australia in 1853. The couple joined a group of Australia’s Pioneer Saints and set out for America aboard the Julia Ann in 1855. But on the evening of October 4th, 1855, the ship smashed into a coral reef. As the Julia Ann broke into pieces, the passengers abandoned ship. In the morning, fifty-one survivors of the wreck, including Charles Logie, his young wife, Rosa, and their infant daughter, Annie, were stranded on a coral reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Sixty days after the wreck, the Emma Packer was sighted and the castaways were rescued. The Logie family eventually made it to San Francisco, and then eastward to Salt Lake. Charles and Rosa settled in American Fork, Utah, in 1860. Young Annie eventually met and married Lemuel Clark and gave birth to Dora.

My grandfather Wilbert “Bill” Gore, Roscoe and Dora Clark’s son, grew up in Utah and Idaho. He met my grandmother Genevieve Walton in Utah, and they eventually moved back East to Delaware. My grandfather Bill was a chemical engineer at DuPont and eventually became a successful entrepreneur.

The Walton Family

— Section by Wells Fargo Researchers

The Rev. William Walton, perhaps from Seaton, Devonshire, England, attended Emmanuel College in Cambridge, before marrying Elizabeth Cooke and coming to the New World in 1635. William and Elizabeth were among some of first settlers in Hingham, Massachusetts. William moved his family to Marblehead in 1637 because the town was in need of a minister—he served as teacher and preacher in Marblehead for the following thirty years.

Samuel Walton, son of William Walton and Elizabeth Cooke Walton was born in 1639 in Marblehead. He married Sarah Maverick, the daughter of Elias and Ann Maverick. Samuel served in civic and church activities as a tax collector, constable and selectman. After the death of his parents, he inherited the place of his birth.

Samuel Walton, Jr., son of Samuel Walton and Sarah Maverick Walton, was born at Marblehead in 1684. Samuel had a grist mill in North Hampton, Massachusetts and was called “the miller of Hampton Falls”. He married Hannah Leach, daughter of John and Mary Leach, in 1702.

Samuel Walton III, son of Samuel Walton and Hannah Leach, was born in 1705. He married Rebecca Davis in 1729. They settled in Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts. A few years after their marriage, the governor of Massachusetts bestowed grants of land on the legal heirs of soldiers who had fought in King Philip’s War. Under that proclamation, Samuel’s legal heirship came through his mother Hannah, the granddaughter of John Leach Sr., who was a soldier in that deadly struggle.

The grant was called Narragansett No. 3 or Souhegan West, until it was incorporated as Amherst, New Hampshire County, Massachusetts. Samuel and Rebecca went with their children, to face an uncertain future in the wilderness. The land, though densely forested, was rich and fertile, but it was also lonely and unsettled. The husbands, wives and children all helped to clear the land of trees to make it habitable.

Subsequent generations migrated north through the wilderness, eventually settling in Mexico, Maine. However, Charles Wesley Walton, son of Artemas Walton, left home to work as a printer’s apprentice and then to study law. He was elected U.S. Representative in 1861, but resigned from Congress when he was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Maine—a position he held from 1862 to 1897.

Charles’ son, Wesley K. Walton graduated from Norwich Military Academy in Vermont with a law degree before heading to the west to mine. He met his wife, Frances Huffaker when teaching in Utah. Wesley converted to the Mormon faith in 1875. He, too, was involved in political affairs—promoting Utah’s statehood in 1896 and representing both Rich County and Salt Lake County as a State Senator.

Thaddeus Walton, Wesley’s son, worked the family ranch and then worked for the Utah Oil Refining Company. His daughter, Genevieve, married Wilbert Gore after spending two years at the University of Utah and earning a degree from Henniger Business College.

My parents

It was in Newark, Delaware that my father David Gore (born 1945) was primarily raised. After graduating from high school he chose Colorado College and studied physics. After briefly considering a PhD in Physics, he spent two years in the Peace Corp teaching in Malaysia before returning to the US for a Masters in Linguistics at the University of Oregon. This is where he met my mother, Hwei-Yun Gore (born 1947). My father wrote a brief biography of my mother, some of which is reproduced below.

A Short Biography of Hwēi-Yǘn Gore

(Born as Chen Hwēi-Yǘn, AKA Cecilia)

By David Gore, October 2001, Updated November 2017

Hwēi-Yǘn’s parents were natives of the southeast China city of Fuchow (or Fújōu). Her mother’s maiden surname was Fu, and her personal name Méi Shēng means “Plum Born,” or born during the time of plum blossoms.

Hwēi-Yǘn’s father was named Shŕ Syīng, which means “Solidly Happy,” and he was the sixth of eight children. His own father was a physician. Shŕ Syīng (AKA Tim Chen) worked for China Airlines until the communists took over the mainland in 1949. He left ahead of the communists, taking his family to Taiwan. There he worked as movie film distributor for Columbia Pictures. He operated a ham radio station from Taiwan, one of the first Chinese to do so, and became well known among ham radio enthusiasts worldwide. He learned to speak English, using the name “Tim.”

Hwēi Lyóu, Rūng Shēng, RS husb, HS wf, Hwēi Sz

Hwēi-Yǘn, Méi Shēng, Shŕ Syīng, Hwēi Tyén

Shŕ Syīng and Méi Shēng had five children, and four of them were named according to the Family Naming Poem that specified use of the word “Hwēi” in the names used for their children’s generation. These children were as follows: Hwēi Sz (Bright River Sz, born 1936, AKA Jeff), Rūng Shēng (Fújōu Born, born 1938), Hwēi Lyóu (Bright River Lyou, born 1940, male), Hwēi Tyén (Bright Provence Tyen, girl born 1944, AKA Dolores), and Hwēi Yǘn (Bright Sea-Foam, born 1946). In addition, two of Shŕ Syīng’s younger brothers also came to Táiwān and lived above and below Shŕ Syīng’s family, which lived on the 2nd floor of their extended family’s 4-floor apartment building on Kin Men Street (Jīnmén Jyē – Golden Gate Street). They had their own children (three in all – Chēn Chēng, Jyāu Méi, and Syău Hwā) and these became nearly as close as brothers and sisters to Hwēi-Yǘn.

Hwēi-Yǘn was born on the tenth day of the eleventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar, in 1946. On the western calendar, this happened to be December third. Traditionally, Chinese people celebrate birthdays according to the lunar calendar, but since she spent most of her life in America, for many years it was not clear to her family which day they should celebrate as her birthday. Only rarely do the two days coincide. She finally settled on November 10th, the date on her driver’s license.

So Hwēi-Yǘn was born in Fújōu but grew up in Taípĕi. Her mother tongue was the Fújōu language, one peculiar to that city, but she quickly learned Mandarin, which was used in all the schools and by virtually all her friends as well (since few of them came to Táiwān from Fújōu). Her family called her uāi (rhymes with the English word “high”), which was the Fújōu dialect’s version of the Mandarin guāi, which means “good” in the sense that someone is a “good” child.

Hwēi-Yǘn’s childhood was dominated by schoolwork and family celebrations (feasts, generally). Few of the peripheral activities that girls enjoy these days in the United States – soccer, piano, girl scouts, parties – were available to her. Her family was middle class and could afford a maid and a nanny, so it was not that these activities were beyond their means. Such activities were simply not part of the culture of that time and place.

She was a good student. This gained her admittance to the best schools, including Táiwān National University, where she majored in English. Her father’s interest in the West no doubt influenced her decision to major in a western language.

Hwēi-Yǘn at age 20

When Hwēi-Yǘn graduated, she spent a year in the Taipei office of an American company, translating documents to and from English. During this year she grew restive and bored. She felt unchallenged by the translation tasks given her, and chafed at the continuing social demands at home; some family member or friend was always having a birthday or anniversary, and there were unending gifts to buy and dinners to attend. She looked for something else.

For many in Táiwān in those days, going to America was akin to seeking the holy grail. Hwēi-Yǘn’s brother Hwēi Sz went to New York to study architecture, and her sister Hwēi Tyan followed. Two of Hwēi-Yǘn’s best college friends were planning to study in America, and Hwēi-Yǘn decided to do the same.

Cost was a major consideration in choosing where to study in the United States. She had to depend on the generosity of her brother for tuition and living expenses. The University of Oregon offered one of the lowest tuitions available for out-of-state students, so that is where she decided to go.

She arrived in Eugene with several enormous suitcases; she liked clothes. One of the harder decisions she had faced was what to major in for graduate studies. She chose Speech and Communications, though soon after arriving at the University she changed this to Linguistics. She especially liked Phonology, which involves writing mathematical rules that model the way the brain processes the sounds of words and parts of words. Her master’s thesis was on the phonology of Mandarin.

Hwēi-Yǘn had enjoyed the social aspects of Táiwān National University, and enjoyed the social aspects of the University of Oregon as well. She made many friends in her dorm, and quickly assumed a leadership role in the Chinese Student Association.

Chinese young people did not date. Instead, they went out in groups. As soon as a girl began dating, everyone assumed she was serious about the man. So it is not surprising that Hwēi-Yǘn had never dated in the American sense, though she did have friends who were male. This began to change in May, 1972, when she became increasingly friendly with another linguistics graduate student, David Gore. At one point she wrote home to say she was dating an American. Her father replied that Americans were fine as friends but she should not marry one; it would embarrass the family. Later that summer, after they moved to La Jolla so that David could do graduate work at UCSD, they both wrote letters to her father, telling of their wish to marry. Dave wrote a draft in English, and Hwēi-Yǘn translated it into Mandarin, and finally Dave painstakingly recopied all the Chinese characters into a final draft to be sent. The letter had to be in his own handwriting; in China, calligraphy is regarded as a window to one’s personal character. It must have been painful for Shŕ Syīng to read the ugly characters written by the young man his daughter wanted to marry. Shŕ Syīng’s reply to these letters continues a mystery, but Hwēi-Yǘn and David married in San Diego on December 14, 1972.

Back in Boston

I think that it is fun that my family’s history started in Boston and I am now back here!

My son summarized the family tree that led to him:

John Gore + Rhoda Gardner

Samuel Gore + Elizabeth Weld

Samuel Gore Jr. + Hannah Draper

Obadiah Gore + Hannah Parks

Daniel Gore + Mary Parke

George Gore + Susannah Carey

John C. Gore + Susan A. Barney

Milan Gore + Sophronia Way

Roscoe B. Gore + Dora Clark

Wilbert L. Gore + Genevieve Walton

David Gore + Hwei-Yun Chen

Jeff Gore + Sena Kang

Benjamin Gore

References

“The Gore Family of Roxbury: New Evidence and Suspected Connections,” NEHGS Register 1994, Volume 148

“The John Gore Family,” by Mary Walton Ferris, 1943

“A Brief Genealogy of the Gore Family: especially in the line of Gov. Christopher Gore,” William H. Whitmore, 1875

“The Gore Family: John Gore of Roxbury, Massachusetts and his descendants to the ninth generation,” NEHGS Mss SB/Gor/7, 1904

Perspectives on theory at the interface of physics and biology

BialekAbstract

William Bialek has just posted on the arxiv a thoughtful piece exploring the role of theory in biology. He argues that theory has played a more important role in the development of biology than it is given credit for, and also that there is cause for optimism regarding the role that theory will play in the future. For example, he wrote “What is emerging from our community goes beyond the “application” of physics to the problems of biology. We are asking physicists’ questions about the phenomena of life, looking for the kinds of compelling answers that we expect in the traditional core of physics.” I also liked the introduction to Bialek’s Biophysics textbook, which explores some of the same issues.

One of the topics that Bialek addresses in the arxiv article is the explosion of parameters in biological models. I particularly appreciated his historical discussion of the Hodgkin-Huxley model of action potentials in neurons, and how progress can be made by analyzing the class of behaviors that can be achieved and to consider how the cell can adapt to remain in the proper regime. He summarizes his thoughts on the role of parameters with the following:

BialekParagraph

Students don’t always understand what you think that they understand

Below is a figure that had a tremendous impact on me when I saw it ten years ago in a paper written by Carl Wieman and Kathy Perkins (figure adapted from work done by Eric Mazur at Harvard). The figure shows two  problems designed to test the same basic physics concept, namely how current flows in circuits. Determining the current through the various resistors in part (a) requires solving a pair of equations, and as a teacher a reasonable assumption is that if students can do the question correctly then they understand the concepts. However, what Mazur found is that many students could solve this challenging problem but were unable to solve the (apparently) much simpler conceptual problem in part (b) asking about how the brightness of the light bulbs will change when the switch S is closed.

The students were simply using a “recipe” to solve the problem given in (a), indicating that they would quickly become confused when attempting to apply their knowledge outside of the artificial realm of the problems that they had practiced. This realization played a significant role in my decision to spend three months as a Christine Mirzayan Fellow at the National Academics with the Board on Science Education , where I became convinced that active learning approaches could help students with these conceptually challenging topics.

MazurExample

Nick Bostrom’s “Great Filter” and the Fermi Paradox

This Fall DARPA invited me to speak at their annual gathering “Wait, What! A Future Technology Forum.” I thought that I was invited to speak about my research on tipping points in biological populations, but as it turns out they wanted me to serve on a panel entitled “Are we alone, and have we been?” together with Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrobiologist, and Mark Norell, a paleontologist. Needless to say, this was pretty far from my area of expertise, but it gave me an exciting opportunity to read about issues that all of us are curious about.

One of the most exciting ideas that I have come across over the last ten years originated in a wonderful essay by Nick Bostrom in 2008 entitled “Where are they? Why I hope the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing” (pdf). I strongly encourage you to read the article if you are not familiar with the argument, as I will only give a brief sketch here. The starting point is the Fermi paradox, in which the famous physicist Enrico Fermi asked his lunch partners “Where is everybody?” Fermi was referring to the apparent contradiction between estimates of the likely number of intelligent lifeforms throughout the galaxy and the absence of any evidence that they exist.

One resolution of this paradox discussed by Bostrom and others is The Great Filter, which is whatever stops a huge collection of lifeless planets leading to life that expands across the galaxy. Bostrom’s argument is that there must be something that is exceedingly unlikely in this process. Perhaps the extremely difficult step is evolving the first self-replicators, or maybe it is evolving cell-based life, or possibly it is evolving multi-cellularity. On the other hand, it is also possible that essentially all technologically advanced life wipes itself out by powerful nuclear or biological weapons (or by advanced AI, a concern recently expressed by my colleagues Max Tegmark and Frank Wilczek).

This gets us to the crux of the argument made by Nick Bostrom in his 2008 article in Technology Review. The Great Filter is something that is either in our past or in our future. If we go to Mars and find life that evolved independently from us, then this makes it more likely that the Great Filter is ahead of us. Finding life on other planets therefore bodes poorly for humanity’s future. Indeed, the more advanced the life is that we find the worse the news is for us.

There is another “solution” to the Fermi paradox that is more hopeful for our future survival but perhaps more depressing regarding the quality of that future. Many people take it for granted that if we wait long enough then we will develop the technology to reach neighboring star. For example, Marc Millis has calculated based on the world energy budget that we will not be able to send an interstellar probe (much less human colony) to another star for 500 years. Even this depressing estimate is perhaps overly optimistic, as it assumes that the world energy allowance increases indefinitely by about 2% per year. However, recent evidence suggests that worldwide human expenditures will actually stop growing in the next fifty years. Indeed, over the last 30 years total energy consumption per person has been constant in both the United States and Europe. If humanity’s energy budget stops growing then perhaps we will never send a colony to another star, and the resolution of Fermi’s paradox may simply be that traveling between the stars is prohibitively costly.

My New Year’s Resolution

For the last few years I have  joked that my New Year’s Resolution was to start using Facebook. I have had an account for many years, but I only log on once a year, and I have to confess that I find the whole thing rather mystifying. As a professor at MIT this is all a bit embarrassing, so this year my resolution was to at least update my personal website, which hasn’t changed for ten years. This blog is the result.

Part of my motivation has also been the excellent blog by my friend Arjun Raj. We were postdocs together in the van Oudenaarden lab, and his blog has been a fun way for me to keep in touch with him (or at least to hear what he has been thinking about, since I typically don’t respond in any way).