Sunday, February 15, 2009

Learning more than I wanted to starting out....2/14/09 (and 2/15/09, and 2/16/09...) version

2-16-09:'s word of the day today is:
interminable: seeming to have no end
...quite appropriate to THIS tale!!!

So we have a whole bunch of VHS tapes, mostly kid's movies from when our daughter was young, that take up a lot of space and are in some cases becoming damaged from overuse, so we've decided to convert some of them to DVD. Simple enough, right? You just capture the output of the VCR into the computer and then write it to a DVD, right?

Hmmmmm, well, maybe. Here are the steps I had to go through BEFORE what follows:

  1. VCR hookup to the TV/tuner card in the computer (had to find correct dongle)
  2. Repeatedly crashing Windows Movie Maker and Windows Media Encoder
  3. No sound in the feed from the VCR (need the RCA cables along with the S-Video cable)
  4. Overnight encoding resulting in full disk (didn't realize could set Encoder to a time limit)
  5. Had to re-encode video with Windows Media Encoder becuase it had no "index"
  6. Attempt to use AdobePremier to create DVD. Was able to add "markers," but not able to get Premier to recognize DVD-RW.
  7. Conversion to AVI (using Premier), with thought of using Nero to create DVD.
  8. Nero kept saying there was no disk in the drive.
  9. Went to Office Depot to get new DVD+Rs thinking maybe the ones I had were corrupt.
  10. Still, no response from DVD-RW
  11. Attempted Driver updates - no newer driver (it's using generic Microsoft drivers)
  12. Firmware flash to change Firmware from BGS4 to BSOY (stock)
  13. Attempt to use Lite-On BSOY driver....says it already has latest Lite-On driver
Then, I decided to search the Microsoft site for an updated generic driver. I typed "Microsoft atapi driver" into Google. Second on the list was the following:

how to enable 48-bit Logical Block Addressing support for ATAPI ...
Describes Microsoft Windows XP SP1 48-bit Logical Block Addressing (LBA) support ... To determine if you have the latest ATAPI driver, verify that you have ... - Similar pages -

This was the first I'd heard of "Logical Block Addressing," but I saw the "To determine if you have the latest ATAPI driver," and decided this might give me something useful, so I clicked it.

I read

"This article describes the Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) 48-bit Logical Block Addressing (LBA) support for ATA Packet Interface (ATAPI) disk drives that can increase the capacity of your hard disk to more than the current 137 gigabyte (GB) limit."

This was a hard drive issue, clearly, and not what I wanted. So I typed "atapi dvd" into the Microsoft search box, and it offered to auto-complete this to "atapi dvd drivers download," so I accepted that. This brought me to an Advanced Search results page, with a few things near the top that didn't look especially relevant, so I searched the results on that page for "dvd." I found this entry on the list:

List of fixes included in Windows XP Service Pack 2
(811113) - ... com/?kbid=330232) Debugging cannot debug drivers ... Windows XP Does Not Recognize a DVD-RW Disc: Base ... 816764 ( ATAPI ...
While I've kept my computer updated with the service packs, the "Windows XP Does Not Recognize a DVD-RW Disc" looked very promising, so I followed the link. It brought me to

a list of Microsoft Knowledge Base (KB) articles that describe the fixes and updates that are contained in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). This article is primarily intended to help IT Professionals and corporate helpdesks to support and maintain a company’s computer system.

If you are running Windows XP SP2 on your home computer, notebook, or small network, and you have questions about Windows XP SP2, please visit the following Microsoft Web site:

Clearly, Microsoft would prefer if I not pursue this line of inquiry, but I am not one to easily accept that I'm not able to handle the role of an "IT Professional," so I searched the page for "DVD" and found:

818733 ( Windows XP Does Not Recognize a DVD-RW DiscBase operating system

and clicked on the link, taking me to "Windows XP does not recognize a DVD-RW disc". I read under "Symptoms":

When you insert a DVD-RW disc into the DVD drive of a Microsoft Windows XP-based computer, Windows XP does not recognize the disc. For example, you do not see any files on the disc.

YES! My problem exactly. So then I read under "Cause":

"This issue occurs because the Universal Disc Format driver, Udfs.sys, tries to read the DVD-RW disc by using a packet length of 32 blocks instead of by using a packet length of 16 blocks. CD-RW uses a packet length of 32 blocks, but DVD-RW uses a packet length of 16 blocks.

Hmmmm...... This certainly could account for exactly the problem I was having (wouldn't read any DVD, whether commercial, homemade data, or blank. But the resolution offered was to upgrade to the latest service pack, and, as I've said, I keep my computer up-to-date using automatic update. Below that recommendation, however, was a section entitled "Hotfix information," which said that "A supported hotfix is available from Microsoft. However, this hotfix is intended to correct only the problem that is described in this article. Apply this hotfix only to systems that are experiencing this specific problem."

Well, my system was experiencing "the problem that is described", so I followed the link to the hotfix, and got a page with a "Agreement for Microsoft Services," which (of course) I didn't read but accepted, and got to a list of languages available, chose English, entered the required email address and Captcha code, and clicked "Request Hotfix." Soon, it arrived in my inbox.

Mmmmm.....I rubbed my hands. Would this do it?

In the email, there were a bunch of warnings:

This hotfix has not undergone full testing. Therefore, it is intended only for systems or computers that are experiencing the exact problem that is described in the one or more Microsoft Knowledge Base articles that are listed in "KB Article Numbers" field in the table at the end of this e-mail message. If you are not sure whether any special compatibility or installation issues are associated with this hotfix, we encourage you to wait for the next service pack release. The service pack will include a fully tested version of this fix. We understand that it can be difficult to determine whether any compatibility or installation issues are associated with a hotfix. If you want confirmation that this hotfix addresses your specific problem, or if you want to confirm whether any special compatibility or installation issues are associated with this hotfix, support professionals in Customer Support Services can help you with that. [and then some contact information and then this:]

Before you install this hotfix


If you decide to install this hotfix, please note the following items:

Do not deploy a hotfix in a production environment without first testing the hotfix.

Back up the system or the computer that will receive the hotfix before you install the hotfix.

Hmmmmm, I thought. Should I "back up my system"??!?! That seems extreme for this particular solution. However, they seem serious about this. But, what the heck, what could possible go wrong? :-)

So I downloaded the hotfix, ran the self-extractor, typed in the required pasword, and it unzipped some files onto my hard drive:




Should I read the text file? Well, since there are two executables here, I guess I should. Besides some legal stuff ("this is provided As-Is, etc), it said, under "Installation Instructions":

1. If this hotfix was delivered with hfx.exe then it can be installed by running hfx.exe from the appropriate platform directory.

Um, but it wasn't. There's no "hfx.exe" file. Just those two executables. Hmmm....

This made me nervous. I decided to do a little further investigation.

So I typed "Uniform Disc Format Driver packet length dvd" into Google. There were a bunch of Linux-related things talking about the very problem I was having, but nothing Windows-related on the first page. So I added "udfs.sys" to the search, and found about half-way down the page:

[SOLVED] Can't write DVD - Ubuntu Forum

10 posts - Last post: Dec 19, 2007
My DVD drive doesn't show up. Disc name is greyed out, ... system> ... /dev/hda /media/cdrom0 udf,iso9660 user,noauto,exec 0 0 ... [ 15.754365] Uniform CD-ROM driver Revision: 3.20 .... FORMAT allocaion length isn't sane or at the CLI I get: ... I followed that link. It deals with Linux, again. The posts are mostly one guy talking to himself. The final post is:

"I solved the problem. I swapped the DVD player out with another one and it works. Probably was some sort of firmware issue but I don't know why."

Hmmmm.....I'm beginning to think that isn't such a bad idea. However, I do have this hotfix that I could run. Thinking maybe I should just find out a little bit more, I typed "Q818733_WXP_SP2_ia64_ENU.exe" into Google.


How about, "udfs.sys windows dvd"? A few entries down, I find this:

[PDF]Re: windows wont recognize dvd ramFile Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML
replaced the original udfs.sys and cdfs.sys. (C:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers &. C:\
WINDOWS\ServicePackFiles\i386) with. Re: windows wont recognize dvd ram ...

Hey, it mentions the hotfix!!!

I also was checking into the
udfs.sys file that may
caused this problem. Im not completely sure
if this HotFix from
is the cure. I'll check back after I get the
model number and let you
the outcome.

Towards the bottom of the document, I found this:

I recently bought a Toshiba RD−XS24 DVD−Recorder. It
has a huge HDD but
I'm mainly interested in transfering the recorded videos to
computer, so I started recording on DVD−RW and
DVD−RAM discs in VR
mode, but my system (Windows XP SP1) wouldn't "see"
anything at all.
Microsoft has a HotFix (KB818733), but there is no direct
dowload, so I
looked for the files udfs.sys and cdfs.sys on the Internet and
found them on eDonkey (version 5.1.2600.2180 for both of
them). I
replaced the original udfs.sys and cdfs.sys
(C:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers &
C:\WINDOWS\ServicePackFiles\i386) with
the ones I dowloaded and the problem was immediately
solved. Now, my
system sees the VRO (mpeg−2) video files and I can copy
them easily.
When replacing the .sys files Windows will warn you against
doing so,
but ignore the warning (you should keep the originals
renamed just in
case something goes wrong).

WOW! This is another solution! Do I get the sys files from the 'net and replace them, or do I do the hotfix?

I needed to know the versions of the drivers. So I fired up the control panel and went into the "system" applet and then into Hardware and then to the Device Manager, and for some reason my DVD-RW was MISSING from the list. Hmmmmm......

I'm thinking to myself, maybe there's something unstable in the operating system....maybe I should just reboot my computer, and this problem will be solved? be continued.....

So I rebooted, and the DVD-RW drive returned to the list. I looked at the properties, driver, details, and got a list of drivers, but no udfs.sys listed there. So I looked in My Computer under Windows/system32/drivers and found usfs.sys, version 5.1.2600.5512 and cdfs.sys, same version number, both created 4/13/2005. In other words, when Windows XP Media Center edition was first installed on my gateway. These versions are HIGHER than the "new" ones listed in the PDF page mentioned just above. But maybe I do need to replace them?

Or do that hotfix?

Before going further, I decided to test the DVD-RW again by putting a full DVD data disk in it. Again, no response.

I decided to go to to find out if there are newer versions of the udfs.sys or cdfs.sys files. Turns out, it's a peer-to-peer file sharing system similar to Limewire, and most users use a client called eMule, available at I didn't really want to get into that, so (for now), gave up that approach.

Time to do the hotfix, I guess. be continued.....

So I "did" the hotfix. I wasn't entirely sure how to do it, so I just ran the first *.exe file. Something flashed on the screen that I couldn't read....then I get this message:

Hmmmm..... not very reassuring.

So I tried opening a Command window (Start....Run...."command") and running it from there:

Same exact error. However, I notice that behind that error message is another little pop-up window:

What the heck? "o:\..."? I have a drive o. It's an external hard drive. I look there, and sure enough, there's a directory there, O:\9a56ff9f258d505a5f3c30. In that directory are a few files, including the offending xpsp1hfm.exe:

I wonder if I should run it.

Why not? (At this point, I'm just throwing stuff up on the wall.) So I click "okay" on the error message, and then switch back to the window showing that odd directory on O:.

Strange! The contents are gone, and in their place is this:

Hmmmm..... So I follow the shortcut, and it takes me right back to the same place:

Damn, that's odd!!! The files were there just a moment ago. Now it's a circular shortcut reference!!!

This is getting bizarre.

I decide to run the executable again, but don't click the "ok" on the error message. There's a new directory in O: now, called O:\75e7fb32d55e3dbbabde5f2c2792. It has the files in it.

I wonder if I click "Ok" will THIS directory now have a circular shortcut in it?

I decide not to find out (yet), and run the xpsp1hfm.exe. Here goes nothin'!

And, in fact, I get another error:

Will it run in a command window? (They certainly don't make this easy!!!) When I click "ok", the directory is now gone. I realize that the circular shortcut above must have been something *I* created, preventing the directory from being erased.

So what do I do now? I decide that maybe the file got corrupted during the download process, and go back to the email and download and extract it again.

Same thing. Ugh.

So I think it's time to try a different tack. I had read somewhere that someone with a similar problem had solved it by switching the DVD-RW and DVD-ROM drives so that the latter is the master and the former is the slave drive. So I shut my computer down and open it up, and switch the drives. (They are both set as "Cable Select," so I simply switch their position and reattach the cable so that their roles are switched. Then I restart and make sure that the "Master/Slave" roles are switched. Yes. But no, the DVD-RW still doesn't read DVDs.

I am about to give up. I could just buy a new DVD-RW drive and it would probably work fine. Maybe this one is just defective?

I notice in the Control Panel (when I check to make sure the roles are switched) that device 1 (the DVD-RW, now the "slave") has an odd indicator:

Notice under "Current Transfer Mode," it says "Not Applicable"? What the heck does THAT mean? Clearly, there's something going on with that drive.

Just to be sure, I check on my wife's computer to see what that setting says on hers. Both drives are listed as "Ultra DMA Mode 2."

Hmmmm.... this seems to be the first indication that my COMPUTER is aware that there might be an issue with the DVD-RW. Just to be sure, I check to make sure it still can read CDs (in case what happened when I switched them is it got disabled). It works to read CDs.

Time to investigate DMA!! (Understand why this post it titled "Learning more than I wanted to starting out"?) be continued...

Monday, February 02, 2009

Driving Uphill (in Chicago)

(Note: updated 2-6-09)

The university where I work, National-Louis University, has a bunch of campuses. In Chicagoland, there's downtown (where my office is), Wheeling (where the primary offices of the National College of Education are), North Shore (which is in Skokie), Lisle, and Elgin. (There are also campuses in Wisconsin (Beloit and Milwaukee) and Tampa Florida, and one in Poland. The one in McLean Virginia was recently closed. )

The multiple campuses in Chicagoland (and the fact that we offer the Technology in Education program on three of them, and have meetings at various times on all of them) mean that I'm doing a lot of driving these days. I've put almost 80,000 miles on my minivan since I bought it in 2004. And NONE of that is commuting to my office, where, unfortunately, I don't get to spend a lot of time. On any given day, I might be driving to Wheeling, Lisle, Skokie, or a combination of two of those. Anyway, all of this driving is a real drag, although since I've discovered how to use my laptop to read me student papers and other things I have to read, it's less of a drag than it used to be.

When I'm not listening to something interesting--especially when I'm driving during rush hour--I have a lot of time to think. This is often a good thing. I also look at the "scenery." I use this term advisedly, because much of what one can see from the expressways is hardly scenic: grungy roads, light (and some heavy) industrial buildings, (way too many) billboards. There are a few scenic highlights that make it less deadly than it could be: the lake, the skyline from various directions and at various times of day, the Chicago River and associated canals, all kinds of railroads. There isn't a whole heck of a lot of terrain to look at (what with Chicago being pretty flat and all), but even though I've lived in Chicago for most of the past 20 years, I still don't tire of the bustle of the city, and occasionally find myself fascinated with what's visible out the car window.

Well, one thing that has caught my attention numerous times is that when I'm driving outbound on the Kennedy Expressway (headed toward our Wheeling or North Shore campuses), there is this very long, slow grade up from the city. (Or, driving the other way, a long grade down to the city.) From near the "top" of this hill (which is close to what they call the "Junction" where the Kennedy and Edens expressways come together, one gets a pretty good view of the city; it certainly looks like one is looking down at it. I've often wondered whether this grade is mostly a matter of the expressway going from UNDER street level to OVER street level, or if there was something in the underlying topography that contributes to the hill.

Knowing a little bit about Chicago's history had added to my curiosity. I know that the city was originally mostly a swamp. Before it was settled by the white man, the Indians used to travel around the area on a few well-worn footpaths that followed several ridges in the area. These ridges were formed quite a long time ago by the receding shoreline of Lake Michigan. This map from the Encyclopedia of Chicago shows the original shoreline of the lake (shaded area is the lake 10,000 years ago):

A little known fact is that just west of Chicago is a subcontinental divide. Water to the east of that divide flows eastward down the Chicago River to Lake Michigan, and water to the west of it flows down the Desplaines, Fox, and Illinois Rivers to the Mississipi River. It was that divide that was originally called the Chicago Portage and which was cut by the Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848. In 1900, the Chicago River was reversed and forced to empty into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal so that the waters of Lake Michigan (used as drinking water by millions of people) wouldn't get polluted from the sewage that made up the primary volume of water in the Chicago River. "The project involved the construction of a 28-mile channel through a glacial moraine and bedrock ridge." (source). According to The Chicagoist, this ridge was 8 feet high. Not quote enough, I don't think, to account for the upgrade on the Kennedy.

The original Indian footpaths along the ridges around Chicago have been immortalized in a few major roads around the area:
the major ancient Indian trails in and around Chicago, as well as additional trails that developed before 1830, are still visible on modern road maps, often as diagonal streets: Lincoln Avenue, Clark Street, Ogden Avenue, Archer Avenue, and Vincennes Avenue. With the coming of Europeans, the trails first became bridle paths, then roads for wagons, then stage and mail routes. For information on individual major trails in the area, see entries under Sauk (Sac) Trail, Vincennes Trail, Hubbard Trace, Calumet-Tolleston Beach Trail, Trail Creek Trail, Lake Shore Trail, Green Bay Trail, Portage Trail, Lake Trail, Cottage Grove Trail, Archer Trail (Old Chicago Trail), Berry Point Trail, and the Fort Dearborn-Detroit Road. [from Early Chicago: A Compendium of the Early History of Chicago to the Year 1835]
One of those trails was the "Northwest Trail." In this image, a map of Chicago from 1833, you can see the beginning of the Northwest Trail by the red asterisk:

That "Northwest Trail" became the basis for a long series of transportation developments. First, it became Milwaukee Avenue. Then,
In 1849, the Northwestern Plank Road was constructed on Milwaukee Ave. to Oak Ridge at what is now Irving Park Blvd.; thence to Dutchman's Point (now Niles); and finally to Wheeling. The Western Plank Road was built westerly from Oak Ridge to Bloomingdale in DuPage County and thence to Elgin. [source]
[Note: I have come to the conclusion that the quote above is in error; the Northwestern Plank Road wasn't built to Oak Ridge, which is now Oak Park. Rather, it was built to what would now be called Irving Park.]

The following map (Chicago Historical Society) shows the principal transportation routes in Chicago from 1852 (modern roads are in red).You can see how the "Northwest Trail" has become the "Northwestern Plank Road," (it's labeled only "Plank Road" on the map) leading toward an important junction (called "Oak Ridge" in the quote just above), where the "Western Plank Road" heads to the West, the "Milwaukee and Chicago Road" heads northwest, and the modern "Chicago-Waukegan Mil. Road" (I'm guessing "Mil" is an abbreviation for Milwaukee) heads north. Just to the northwest of that junction, "Higgin's Road" heads more to the west.

That spot where the Western Plank Road separates off from the Northwestern Plank Road is the modern-day intersection of Irving Park Rd., Milwaukee Avenue, and Cicero Avenue (so-called "Six Points).

Just to the Northwest of Six Points, Higgin's Road (now Higgins Road) and "Rand Road" (now called the Northwest Highway inside the Chicago city limits and Rand Road outside the city) branch off in what is now the neighborhood of Jefferson Park. Jefferson Park was originally its own town, until it joined Chicago in 1889. Interestingly, the primary reason that a town formed there was because a family had a farm along Milwaukee Avenue that had a reliable well, so people settled near the well. (For more about the history of Jefferson Park, click here.)

In 1854 [source], the so-called "Northwest Railway" was built along the Chicago River, running between he two diagonal streets, Milwaukee Ave. and Elston Ave, resulting in a population boom in Jefferson Park. The Northwest Railway (officially the "Chicago and St. Paul Rail Road") paralleled Avondale Avenue, another diagonal street. This rail line eventually became part of the Chicago, St. Paul and Fond du Lac Railroad, which was later part of the Galena and Chicago Union Railway and today is part of Chicago and North Western Railway. You can see this railroad as the diagonal line going from Chicago up and to the left in this detail from an 1855 map from American Memory. (The more vertical line is the Chicago and Milwaukee Rail Road, which eventually became another branch of the Chicago and Northwestern):

Later (1873), the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was built, also leaving from the west side of the river downtown, at first in a more westerly direction, then turning north, intersecting with the Northwestern Line in Jefferson Park. This detail map is from the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

Notice that this map labels the area near the railroad intersection as "Mayfair." Mayfair was originally the village of Montrose, and was part of Jefferson Park when it was annexed by Chicago. This detail from an interactive map at shows the relationship among these various neighborhoods:

It helps to recognize that the southern border of Mayfair on this map is Irving Park Avenue and the western boarder at first follows the tracks of the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific and then follows Cicero Avenue. The prominent diagonal white line is the Northwest Expressway (now the Kennedy Expressway). (Remember the Kennedy Expressway? That's what this post is about!).

In 1927, the Chicago Plan Commission laid out a series of limited-access highways that included the current route of the Kennedy Expressway, but the bond issue for the plan was defeated in 1928 [source The expressway was finally built in the 1950s, opening on November 5, 1960, following the tracks of the Northwest Railway and Avondale Avenue (now only existing for short segments along the expressway). It was renamed the Kennedy Expressway on November 29, 1963 in honor of the slain president. For much of its length, the Blue Line of the Chicago Transit Authority, built in 1984, runs along its median. The Northwest Railway runs on the east side ofthe expressway until just below Addison Street, when it crosses over via a massive bridge to the west side, where it continues until both the Kennedy Expressway and the railway cross Milwaukee Avenue just west of Long Ave.

(Actually, it's really the other way around. The railroad track is quite straight. It's the Kennedy that crosses from one side of the tracks to the other, doing a little jog to the left before it cuts right, as you can see in this image from Google Earth:)

So, back to the ascent on the Kennedy. As the road passes through downtown, it runs under all of the streets, going through an area between Lake Street and Ohio streets known as Hubbard's Cave:

You can see Hubbard's cave from above in this image from Google Earth:

Fulton Street crosses east-west near the bottom of this image, and Hubbard Street crosses it near the top. (Notice also, if you look carefully, that there is a railroad track running right next to Hubbard Street. That's the original route of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad, built in 1872-73, mentioned above. In the upper right of the image, you can also see another track that curves up toward the north. That's the Northwest Railway built in 1854.)

One would expect that the elevation of the Kennedy at this point (since it's under all the streets) would be lower than the elevation of downtown Chicago. So, not surprisingly, when the Kennedy emerges from Hubbard's Cave, there is a slight upgrade, which you can sort of see in this photo from my camera phone. (Most of the following photos were taken while driving north on the Kennedy's reversible express lanes.)

If you look at the Google Earth image of this section, you can see that the Kennedy indeed rises from going BELOW Chicago Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue (the diagonal street here), to going OVER Division Street.

This rise can thus be explained solely on the basis of the logistics of the road. Indeed, for the next few miles, until the road crosses Addison Street, it rises and falls to go over each major street, but more or less stays level. At the jog (described above), the Blue Line emerges from its underground tunnel and enters the Kennedy's median.

That is, it stays level until after Addison Street. In the photo above, you can see that the road begins to rise more consistently than it had before.

This detail of the above photo shows this rise more clearly. A retaining wall (outlined in red) shows how the expressway is now rising to meet the level of the ground. Behind the retaining wall is a billboard that is at the Corner of Irving Park and Pulaski. You can also see a Blue Line train coming down the hill:

In this photo, taken immediately after the one above, you can see the ground to the left (covered in snow), above the level of the road:
This Google Earth image is taken from almost the exact same point, at Waveland and North Ridgeway:

(UPDATE 2-6-09: I looked at this section again today when I was driving to and from Skokie. I've changed my mind about the rise that you can see in the photographs above. The Kennedy has to go DOWN in order to go UNDER the Northwest Railway just south of Addison, at this trestle:

It can actually be seen to be going down in the jog before it goes under the railroad. So the rise we see afterwards in the retaining wall is--in part--a recovery to above street level from that descent.)

The only indication on the Google Earth views that there is a rise in the land here is that the diagonal street just to the east of the expressway between Addison and Irving Park is called "N. Parkview Terrace." One finds no mention of a hill, or rise in the land, in any of the Wikipedia articles about the Irving Park neighborhood or its subdivisions. However, one article does say that the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was watched from several of the cupolas on area homes, vaguely indicating that there might be a particularly good view from the area.

The top of the rise on the Kennedy is just before the end of the express lanes, about a quarter-mile south of the junction with the Edens, at about Berteau Avenue, as you can see here. Part of this last little bit of rise is because the ramp from the express lanes to the northbound (officially, we've been traveling "west" on I-90) passes over the Blue Line:

After leaving the express lanes, the expressway definitely has a downward trend, as it goes under Montrose Avenue, as you can see in this photo:

Then, the expressway enters a very complex area where it merges with the Edens and crosses under the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Rail Road. (You can see the junction with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad just to the west of the junction of the Kennedy and Edens expressways.)

Once the Kennedy emerges from the junction, it trends upward again as it approaches Lawrence Avenue:

So, you might be asking yourself, why didn't I simply get a topological map to see whether the upward trend of the road is actually the result of a rise in elevation? Well, I did. However, it wasn't as easy as I imagined it would be. Most maps of Chicago have no indication of topography. And those that do are incredibly hard to decipher because of all the other stuff on the map.

I found this 1901 map with topographical lines on the historical maps site of the University of Illinois at Chicago. You can plainly see the topographical lines in the upper part of the map where the Chicago River veers westward. (The map indicates "Mayfair" just above the intersection of the railroads.) However, the lines are very hard to see in those areas of the map where there are a lot of streets.

The UIC web site offers a MrSID zooming function that lets you get very close in to see the details of their maps.

But it's still very hard to see the contour lines. So I used Photoshop to zoom in even closer on this map, and traced the contour lines that I could see with the brush tool:

According to the information given about the map, the contour lines are every five feet. So remembering that the Kennedy parallels the Chicago and North Western Railroad, starting at the lower right and moving to the upper left, four lines are crossed, meaning that the ground level rises at least 20 feet on this map (which roughly covers Diversey to Montrose.

I was able to find a more contemporary map at (for members only...I signed up for a free a trial subscription for a few minutes), but since the topological features of the land shouldn't really change much over the years, and in fact the contour lines were even harder to see, this wasn't a whole lot of help.

However, do have an interactive map feature that lets you point to a spot on the map and get the elevation (above sea level) for that spot. Here's what I found:
  • The elevation of Chicago at the lakefront is 591 feet above sea level.
  • The elevation at Belmont and the Kennedy is also 591. So there is no appreciable rise between downtown and Belmont, as I had suspected.
  • The elevation at Irving Park and the Kennedy is 604.
  • The elevation at the junction of the Kennedy with the Edens, it is 614.
This confirms what I found with the contour lines. The difference in elevation between Belmont (591) and the junction (614) is 23 feet.

Interestingly, as one goes further west, one finds even more elevation increases. The elevation at the Kennedy and Austin is 623 feet, and at Harlem, near an area called Harwood Heights, it's 656 feet.

So Chicago ain't flat, people, despite what it may seem. And in those minor rises in the land, barely perceptible to those who travel around the city on a daily basis but discernible with the help of technology, one can see the outlines of geologic history.
  • For more about Chicago-area topography, click here.
  • Lots of maps of early Chicago exist and can be found on the web. A good list is at Some of the best, which are zoomable, can be found here.