Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Weekend Adventures and Lens Shopping in Manhattan


After Leena and I got off the phone in the morning I got dressed and made the dry cleaner my first task, to pick up this week's clean laundry.  I also set up the humidifier with a completely full reservoir to run while I was out so the room wouldn't be too dry when I returned.

After getting my laundry I packed up my camera with my best general use lens, put the MacBook into its neoprene sleeve and my backpack, put on my sweatshirt and jacket and headed out to the subway station.

The train felt slow, like it wasn't running fast and spending longer than usual at the stations, with the announcement that "we are being held momentarily by the train's dispatcher, please be patient."  I got off at 14th Street - Union Square, where much of the station was full of people dressed up like Santa Claus, whooping, hollering and jumping over the turnstiles, then walked a few blocks to the Apple Store on 14th.

I ran into roving bands of Santa Clauses, many drunk and drinking, all the way from Union Square throughout my walk up to Times Square, but none at all farther up than Times Square.  The largest groups of them were smoking and drinking outside all the bars between Madison Square Garden and Times Square.

In the Apple Store, I started asking one guy for help, who got another guy, who got another guy.  In the end, it turned out they didn't have RAM for my "legacy" computer in stock (legacy being two years old) at the store, where they keep only things like that for the current models.  The final guy I talked to recommended I go to another store, Tekserve, on 23rd & 6th, and said they'd definitely have it.  He gave me detailed instructions to get there on the subway and said when I got out to look for the red Apple logo.

Instead of the subway I walked, since my plan was to walk all day, except for time in the store.  It wasn't too hard to find, except their big flag with the Apple logo was blue, not red.  It wasn't an Apple company store, but another dealer that specializes in Apple.  At the front information desk they asked what I wanted and I said RAM for my MacBook installed so I got a blue ticket and was told to go and wait by the big fish tank.

I waited.  The iPod help desk went through five or six numbers while I was waiting by the fish tank, and after about fifteen minutes of not hearing any calls for blue tickets, and noticing another whole row of seats on the opposite side of the fish tank, possibly all people waiting for computer service, I gave up and left.

From there I planned to check out all the grey market camera, computer and souvenir dealers that are all around the Times Square area and look for the lens a friend recommended, which also has really good reviews on Amazon and other camera sites.

Beginning around Broadway & 34th, by Herald Square, I started popping into every one of those shops I saw and asking for the Tokina 11-16mm lens, and every one of them shook their head and said they didn't have it.  A few were pretty hardcore salesmen who then tried to sell me other lenses.  One salesman asked, "why would you trust your friends' opinion instead of a pro, like me, would you smoke marijuana if your friends suggested it?"

I stopped at the north end of Times Square to climb up the red staircase and take some daytime photos of the crowds there, and the continued on..

Finally, after around 20 shops, at one shop the guys there said they had one, and did some digging around and some phone calls and said it was in their warehouse.  He asked if I wanted the f/2.8 or the f/3.5 and I said the f/2.8, which confused me.  I thought I'd done my homework on this and didn't know there was another one.  The price he quoted me was very, very low, too.  Maybe that was because it was grey market, but still, that was only 2/3 the regular price from all the legitimate dealers.  He asked if I wanted anything else and I said "no, that's all that's in my budget for now," to which he asked "so, what is your budget?" and I explained it wasn't fixed, just all I'd budgeted for was one lens and he kept on, "come on, tell me your budget, we've got lots of other stuff..."  I didn't, but I gave him my phone number and he gave me his card about when he could get the lens from the warehouse on Monday or Tuesday...

Back outside I kept walking up, in the direction of Central Park, still checking out more shops and all of them saying they didn't have it, eventually I got into a neighborhood with more classy sorts of shops and fancy hotels and no more grey market electronics dealers and started enjoying the walk a bit more and site seeing.

I made my way up to Central Park, but didn't cross the street to go in.  Just walked on Central Park South.  All the fancy hotels had big heat lamps set up over the sidewalk by their entrances and that felt nice, very noticeably warm.

On 5th Avenue, on the opposite corner from Central Park was another Apple store.  I'd seen it before, but never gone in.  It's so busy there it has a line to get in.  The store is below ground and on street level all that's visible is a big, glass cube with a big Apple sign and the elevator to go down.  The elevator is circular and all glass, with the glass bent into a circle.  Fortunately there were stairs spiraling around it, so I went in to check it out without waiting in line for the elevator...  But it was super busy and I didn't stay long, almost straight back up to the street again because it was crowded it was hard to move around.

From there I felt like using a bathroom, so I figured I'd just walk back down to 42nd Street and use the one at Grand Central Terminal.  It was quite a bit of walk.  On the way, St. Bartholomew's Church had a big Christmas shopping fair set up on the sidewalk, and some orange juice company was giving out free samples so I got a bottle of that for quick refreshment.

I walked down Park Avenue because from a distance I was curious what the buildings were that were sort of blocking the street.  That turned out to be the Helmsley Building and the Met Life Building, and though I didn't figure it out at first, Grand Central Terminal.  After going under the Helmsley Building I found out where I was and entered Grand Central Terminal, but a door I'd never gone in before and I got lost inside and couldn't find the bathrooms.  I exited it so I could see where on the streets I was and walk around to a place I knew, so that worked out.  Inside the line for the ladies' room stretched some way into the food concourse, with probably at least 50 women waiting...

Back on the street again I decided to walk up Lexington Avenue.  I watched the movie, The Seven Year Itch with the iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe standing on a subway grate, enjoying the wind blowing up from underneath (in the movie it's summer and the wind is cooling).  I figured out where that was and figured I'd walk up there.  The buildings are all different, or completely renovated at street level, so nothing looks the same and the older shops and restaurants, visible in still photos, are all gone.  But in the cold, the warm air blowing up from the subway, sure does feel good!

After that, on my way back down to a restaurant I saw on Lexington and thought might be good for dinner, if it wasn't crowded, I passed a good looking camera store, Camera Land, a real camera store, not a discount, grey market camera and computer dealer.  So, I went back and stopped in and asked if they had the lens I wanted.  One guy directed me to another, the "lens expert" who said he did have one stock.  I said I'd take it.  He had to search around the store a bit to find the cabinet key, but he got it out and rang me up and I walked out with it.  So, that was great, after all that searching and not even most online dealers having it.

A couple of blocks from there I stopped on a bench and swapped lenses, putting the new one on the camera and sticking the old one in the new one's box.  My first photos with the new lens ended up being the same St. Bartholomew Church where I got the orange juice earlier, simply because I was on the same street again, but the lens was great in the evening light.

I worked may way towards Times Square.  Last week, when those women on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn asked me about Rockefeller Center, I looked it up online and found out there was some park like stuff there and thought I'd go check it out.  And that was a mistake.  Because of the Christmas tree there, the crowd was insane.  I ended up in Rockefeller Plaza and packed in so tight I couldn't move at all some of the times, and couldn't not move some of the times as the whole crowd would just sweep me along.  A few times when a stream of people were actually moving, my camera strap would get caught in other peoples' accessory straps because we were all so close and it would take a bit of quick untangling to get loose.

It took around half an hour to move just over a block and get out of the worst of it.  Fortunately my camera, backpack, wallet and phone were all still with me.

It was a relief to get to the relatively uncrowded Times Square again.  Relative, of course, as it was as crowded as normal, but Rockefeller Center was just that much more crowded!

I wanted to test out the new lens at night in Times Square and see how it performed.  I worked my way up the red steps on the north end and had some fun playing around.  I tried various settings on the camera to compare how they came out.

Once I was done up there, I hit the streets.  I worked my way down, on Broadway, 7th, and 6th Avenues and some of the cross streets.  I stopped at Madison Square Park around 23rd Street to take some photos.  I thought I'd grab a quick bite at the Shake Shack there until I saw the line and decided not to bother.  Instead I continued my way down Broadway to Union Square, where I stuck my camera back in my backpack and hit the subway to Brooklyn.

Getting off at 53rd Street, I dropped my backpack off in the apartment and headed up to buy groceries, thinking I'd fry up another salmon fillet, but when I got to the store around 7:40pm, it was closed and shuttered.  I got a couple of slices of pizza next door instead.

When I returned to the apartment I found the bedroom, which I'd left closed hours earlier and the humidifier on, was quite warm and tropical.  I don't know if it was the door being closed, since I'd never actually closed it before, or if the humidifier really put out that much heat.  It was nice..


Okay, a bit less today...

I didn't mention it one way or another, but I had a light migraine in the morning when Leena and I talked on the phone, and was in the "denial" phase of hoping it'd go away on its own (which is extremely rare).

It was raining heavily while we were talking, but after I finished with shower after we called and stuffed my camera with the new lens into the waterproof, underwater camera bag, got my shoes on (first time I've worn shoes instead of sandals in a couple of weeks) and my double layer of sweatshirt and jacket, the rain pretty much stopped...  It wasn't obvious from inside, with the rain splattered windows, though...

I got outside and took the R train towards Manhattan.  I almost gave up, as the train was running so slow.  The announcement was a problem on with signaling on the Manhattan Bridge, which was backing up train traffic with all the trains that share lines with ones that go over the bridge.  It took much longer than usual to get to Manhattan.

My first goal was to try out the new wide angle lens at a neat plaza, with an interesting configuration of circular and spiral benches, outside the Javits Federal Building, a few blocks up from City Hall, so I got off the train at City Hall and walked up.  I'd been to that plaza once before, but tried a funky program on the iPhone to take panorama shots, which didn't work well.  Only this time it was blocked off with fences.  I walked around it and found a notice on the fence that it was closed for construction, with an expiration date of the construction permit in April.  No idea when it'll be open again for photos.

A little bummed out, and no rain to try out the waterproof bag, I worked my way up and west towards the High Line.  It was fun walking through neighborhoods like TriBeCa, Greenwich Village and whatever else there was.  I stopped by at Washington Square Park, near NYU so I could use the public bathroom.  On a bench there I also removed my camera from the waterproof bag, giving up on any possibility of rain by then, as there wasn't even a drizzle from the sky...

Once I got to the lower end of the High Line, I took my camera out of my backpack and started taking pictures.  It was fun.  I walked the length of the park, trying out different settings on the camera to see how things would come out.  It's the first time I brought such a wide angle lens there, so my pictures are a closer approximation of what I see when not looking through the camera.

Fortunately everyone seemed to be up at Rockefeller Center, so it wasn't crowded at all.  I was even able to get down to the windows in the "Living Theatre" part of it, which is a set of benches going down to some windows that overlook 10th Avenue where it the High Line crosses it.  I got a bunch of photos of cars going by underneath.

After getting to the end of the currently open section of the High Line I went back down to the street.  It felt like it was getting a little late for a Sunday, especially given how slow the subway was getting to Manhattan, so I worked my way down to 14th Street.  On 14th I stopped for a quick frozen yogurt, then grabbed a train at Union Square back to Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn again, I got off at 59th Street, a stop past mine, so I could hit the grocery store on the way back and pick up another salmon fillet.  Fortunately it was open this time and I got what I wanted.

In the apartment I fried it up, pretty much like last time, but with a lid.  This time, though, I let the pan really heat up before I dumped stuff in.  I had the gas on kind of low, but the butter scorched the instant I put it in.  It was already turning black and smelling burnt after I put it in and before I even got the wrapper in the trash bag.  The fish got a bit burnt on the outside, and still undercooked on the inside, but less so than Friday's.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday - Long Island City in Queens

So, Leena and I got off the phone I took a longer than planned shower because the hot water just felt so good, then got dressed, picked a couple of lenss and tossed the camera and a bottle of water into my backpack and out I went.

Even heading out the door I still wasn't sure what I planned to do with the afternoon, or where I planned to go.  The train ride felt slow, and I fell asleep somewhere in Brooklyn, waking up when we hit the sunshine of the Manhattan Bridge, and dozing again before the train went back underground.

I got off at 42nd Street - Times Square, then walked up 42nd to Grand Central Terminal to use the public washroom there (it's good to know where the handy public washrooms are in the city, and this is one of the nicest).  That's when I decided to take the 7 train from Grand Central under the East River to Queens and check out Long Island City, a neighborhood there with a state park, Gantry Plaza State Park I wanted to see.

Getting out of the subway station I didn't know exactly which direction to go at the intersection, so I made a guess based on the shadows from the sun, which turned out to be the right way.

The Gantry Plaza State Park is built from some old piers and industrial stuff for unloading cargo ships, but it's no longer used for that purpose.  Each of the piers has a slightly different theme, like one has a long, long bench, another has metal seats that look like a bar, another has more lounge-like wooden seating and so forth.  It's really cool!

Unfortunately, it was also really cold!  As it's on piers sticking out into the East River, there was a biting cold wind whipping down from the north and my fingers got kind of numb.

A few other people were there, but not very many.  It looked like a wedding party went there, too, for post-wedding photos, as the elderly groom was dancing and twirling the bride around, and a few bridesmaids had flashy, shiny satin dresses peeking out from under long, heavy winter coats.

I took a bunch of photos until my camera's batter ran out, then a few more with the iPhone.

A couple of the piers in the park are lined up just right so you look across the river and straight down 42nd Street in Manhattan.

Near the park are some new, modern, fancy looking high rise apartment buildings, too, that look like they could be nice to live in.

Once I was cold enough I went back to the subway station and back to Grand Central Terminal.  I out there and walked back to Times Square where I caught the subway back to Brooklyn.  It was another long subway ride, with a lot of stops, and at a couple waited for each of the parallel trains to stop and go for people to switch between them.  Some elderly woman was sketching pictures of people and showing a couple of little girls how she did it.

I got off at 45th Street, one stop before mine, and went up to 5th Avenue to get a couple of slices of pizza.  On 5th Avenue & 46th Street a couple of women stopped and asked if I could help them.  They asked "where's the Christmas Tree?" and I was puzzled and asked "tree?" and they said "the big one at Rockefeller Center?".  I explained they were in the wrong borough, that Rockefeller Center was at 5th Avenue and 40-something Street, in Manhattan, and they were in Brooklyn.  I gave them directions to get there on the subway (which is pretty easy, go down one block to 4th Avenue and both trains that stop there will go to Times Square...).

Then I got my two slices of Sicilian plain cheese and a small soda at Charlie's Pizzeria and walked back to the apartment...  Since my camera ran out of batteries I can't get the photos off it till the battery is recharged and I can turn it on...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What makes a book?

Nearly every day on the subway I see ads for audible.com, selling audiobooks, of mostly pretty popular titles.  Some trains have ads all the way across, from one end to the other, like this:

But one thing it got me wondering is...  

What is a "book"?

I've always thought of books as paper with printed words or pictures or combinations, and more recently with ebooks, electronic versions of printed words and pictures and combinations.  But the key thing to me is that a book is words.

But these audio books, are they still books?  Where's the dividing line between a book and a performance?  How often would we go to a play and after it's finished say "wow, that was an amazing book!"?  We might say it's based on an amazing book, but we don't refer to the play as the book.

I've only ever listened one audiobook, a performance, definitely a performance, of The Hobbit, performed by one of my favorite actors, Nicol Williamson (more famous for playing Merlin in Excalibur). This is something done long before audiobooks were commonplace, so I don't know if modern ones are similar.  In it, he did all the narration and all the voices, giving each character a distinctly different voice.  I've listened to it a hundred times or more since my mother got the tapes in the late 70's.  Williamson has probably become my favorite actor simply because of how many times I listened to that through my child hood...

And I sometimes wonder what a modern audiobook might sound like.  But I expect to be disappointed if I ever listen to one, because I can't imagine many actors doing as good a job as Williamson did for my favorite story.

But back to the original question in my mind, I have no doubt that the one I have heard was a performance, not a book.  I never thought of it as a book, but only as a dramatic performance of a story.  And maybe that's part of why I don't want to listen to an audiobook, by calling it a book instead of a story or a performance, my expectations are set for disappointment.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Manhattan and the Queensboro Bridge on Saturday

Okay, I lied on the phone this morning when talking to Leena, I really did have a light headache.  But as almost all migraine sufferers do in the early stages, attempt denial, which almost never, ever works...  And it got worse and worse all day...

After she and I got off the phone I got dressed and headed out, carrying my camera with the 50mm f/1.4 prime lens I bought last month, and no other (mainly because I'm totally uncomfortable swapping lenses and juggling expensive gear in crowded places where it'd be easy for someone to snatch a part while I'm focused on the delicate work).

I walked up to 59th Street to catch the N train, instead of the R that goes by my apartment, since the N is an express to Manhattan and a lot faster.  There was a bit of a wait for some reason, and two R trains stopped and left before the first N, although the N I did get probably passed them both long before we got to where I wanted to go.

I got out at 14th Street - Union Square in Manhattan so I could get some smaller stuff at Best Buy, a trackball, a couple of games, CDs and DVDs.  Outside Best Buy I crammed them in my backpack and then got on the subway again, intending to head to the Museum of Modern Art (the MoMA). I got off the subway again at 49th Street, near the upper end of Times Square, where it was super crowded.

From there I walked to the MoMA on 53rd Street, which wasn't too far, but all the sidewalks were pretty crowded with people.  Inside the MoMA's lobby it was jam packed with people, even more than the sidewalks and I didn't feel like getting through it all.  It wasn't obvious, either where to check my bag and stuff, so I left.  I'll go back again.

From there I figured I might as well walk the Queensboro Bridge, which wasn't too far, on 59th Street and a few blocks east.  I wended my way up and east, staying in the shade where I could because by then the sun was really heating things up out there, and with all the glass in buildings reflecting it, hurting my eyes and headache.  I was getting hungry and thirsty, and read lots of menus in the front of restaurants (all Indian ones had $20 and up dishes!) but with the headache my stomach was a bit upset, too...

As I got closer to 59th I could see signs directing drivers to the Queensboro Bridge, so I knew I was getting closer, but it wasn't obvious how to get onto the pedestrian walkway (except for jumping a 100 feet into the air, but I can't do that when I have a headache (okay, I can't do that except when I'm daydreaming...)).  Under the bridge there a giant inflatable building, like the kids' jumping things, but huge.  That turned out to be a tennis club!

Also along the river, alongside the bridge was a small park, the East River Pavillion, so I wandered down there and took some photos.  Overhead was a cable car, sky tramway going across the river to Roosevelt Island, which the bridge passes over, but does not have an exit, on its way to Queens.

It was a good walk, though I was definitely getting hungrier and thirstier all the way.  I had to take off my light sweater because it was just getting way too hot out for it, even though it's mid-November.  One disappointing aspect of the bridge is that someone would have to be eight or nine feet tall to take photos unobstructed by the fence along the walkway.  So all my photos have the fence in them.

On the Queens side the Queensboro Plaza neighborhood didn't look very nice, and I wasn't sure how to walk down to the Gantry Plaza Park that I wanted to see, or if it would be safe walking through the intervening neighborhoods...  I didn't see any place near there that I wanted to eat in, either, so I got on the subway and took the 7 towards Manhattan...

The 7 went pretty close to the Gantry Plaza Park, but I was thinking more of lunch than the park by then.  The ride on the 7 was cool, it was above ground for much of the distance I took it, so I got to see a bit of Queens from there, before it went underground near the river.

I got off it at Grand Central Terminal.  In there I found the Dining Concourse and had a good burger and fries at Junior's.  I also got an ice cream soda, which was delicious.  But I couldn't finish the ice cream soda or the fries, it was just too filling.  As I was getting near the end of my lunch a group of four slightly older women took the table next to me, all talking with extreme southern accents and struggling to decide just what sandwiches to get for their lunch.  They kept debating about reubens or ham and other stuff and I thought about interjecting, "can't go wrong with a reuben" (which of course, would work better spoken than written…)

I took a couple of Excedrin with lunch, too, hoping they'd help my headache.  Grand Central Terminal also has nice public restrooms.  It's a great station, a throwback to when train travel was a luxurious thing.

I got out of there on 42nd Street and figured I'd just walk a bit, in the Queens direction.  By then it was early evening, the sun still shining, but noticeably less bright than earlier.  I ended up near the U.N. Plaza (in the classic movie, Heavy Metal, one of the characters, Harry Canyon, narrating a sequence says "The U.N. Building. What a joke! They turned it into low rent housing. It's a dump.").  I walked around there a bit, but with all the fences and security it was hard to photograph the art well, though there were some interesting buildings near there.

A block away a respectable looking fellow was sitting on the sidewalk, having a smoke, and saw me with my camera and said "take my picture" so I did.  We talked about photography for a couple of minutes, with him suggesting I look up some French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, I think, who always shot from the hip and used Leica cameras, and I was on my way again...

I worked my way back to 42nd Street and then up again towards Grand Central Terminal, taking a bunch of photos of the street and the Chrysler Building as I went and it was getting darker...

One of the coolest things to see along 42nd Street was the Ford Foundation's building, with a huge garden visible in its atrium.  Unfortunately it's only open on weekdays, so there wasn't any possibility of going in to look closer.

The train station provided another good place to refresh myself again and then out again.

This time I made my way along 42nd Street, stopping in Bryant Park to look at the ice skaters for a few minutes, then Times Square to try some night photography with the 50mm lens.  It was jam packed there, of course.  Even after dark the signs with temperatures still reported it in the mid-60's (nearly 20 for those who use centigrade).

And after doing some photography and walking around the outside of it for a bit, I took the subway back to Brooklyn, with my headache undiminished and my stomach slightly upset.

The N train was again slow coming, with a couple of R trains stopping and leaving the station before a single N came.  Normally the it's the opposite, with the N coming once or twice before a single R.  But it was worth the way, since the N is so much faster.  It felt like a long ride, too, coming from deep in Manhattan most of way down in Brooklyn...  And I couldn't get a seat so stood the whole way, although that may have kept me from falling asleep and missing my stop...  My plan was to come home and sleep right away.

Back at the apartment, I fired up the computers and then by the time I had a quick shower my headache was gone.  I guess that's just what I needed...

So, that's how my day went...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Crazy Taxi Ride

Sunday night I flew back from Ft. Lauderdale to JFK here in New York City and had a bit of an adventure getting from the airport to my apartment...

I found the taxi stand outside the terminal, and the dispatcher gave me an official receipt with the driver's medallion number and I got in.  The driver was a sardar and I had a little trouble understanding exactly what he was asking me, directions to the address I gave him, I think, but he kept abbreviating highways I didn't know...

Then we pulled away from there and got into the road system of the gigantic airport and he suddenly slowed and pulled into the left lane, yelling "fuck, man!" and said he forgot something back at the taxi stand, but I couldn't tell if he said what...  He jumped out of the cab, turning it off, with the meter running and I yelled 'arrey, meter!" so he came back in and stopped it, leaving me sitting there...

After a few minutes I started thinking I'd just get out and go back to the stand myself and get another taxi, since this one wasn't actually taking me anywhere...  Then a tow truck pulled alongside and the driver indicated I should roll down the window.  I did and he asked "where's the driver?" and I said, "I think he said he forgot something back there," and the tow truck driver asked if the car itself was okay and I said "I guess so," and he drove off...

Then another taxi pulled up alongside and my driver got out of the passenger seat and ran around to his door of the cab and got in.  He had a cell phone in his hand that he didn't have exposed earlier, so maybe that's what he forgot, and he fiddled around to plug it into something...

He muttered, "shit, shit, shit..." and then raced away from there at high speed through all the roads in the airport, not slowing to a more normal speed until we were outside the airport.

Then I guess he got on the phone because between periods of silence he was mostly speaking Hindi, or maybe Punjabi (it didn't sound exactly like Hindi) and once in a while I'd hear another voice, probably from a headset in his left ear.

Once we got close to my neighborhood he again asked me something about BQE, which by then I'd figured out was the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, to which I replied in Hindi that I didn't know anything about it.  From there the conversation was simple enough that I answered him in Hindi.  He didn't mention anything about it, but did start calling me "boss".

Oh well, I guess the chaotic part was more amusing than troublesome, and since I had the official receipt from the dispatcher with the driver's medallion number, if anything turned bad I had enough information to report him.

And as one of my relatives commented about it, "only in New York..."

Cat Food Flavors

This past weekend my mother asked the age-old rhetorical question about why cat food manufacturers make various flavors of cat food, but don't make rodent flavor, since cats are known to enjoy rodents.

Well, I actually might have an answer...

Cats get get rodents fresh (and possibly more frequently than us humans actually know about).  But most cats, especially house cats, can't easily get fresh chickens, fresh beef or fresh fish (besides, most cats don't like jumping into the water for fresh fish anyway, it messes up their coats).

It's like people...  How many people who might have delicious tomatoes growing in their garden are going to go to the store to buy packages of tomatoes?

Same with cats.  When they can get fresh, juicy, tender, bloody rodents to chase, frighten, tease, kill and eat, why should they settled for processed and packaged rodent meat?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Over the Manhattan Bridge to Times Square

After Leena and I got off the phone in the morning I re-prioritized my tasks, as the bank closed at 1pm and seemed like it had to be the first thing taken care of, before grocery shopping.  The nearest Bank of America branch is fifteen blocks down from here and one block over.  Normally it would be two subway stops, but this weekend the R train isn't running in Brooklyn due to maintenance, so I took the N one station and walked the remaining ten blocks.

It was a pleasant enough walk, not too hot, not too chilly and I got to see a little more of the neighborhood up there.

At the bank I had to wait about fifteen minutes for one of the account representatives to become free and then Jamall helped me.  I explained what I wanted, to convert my Advantage checking account to a MyAccess checking account, and he tried to do it on the computer...  Unfortunately it didn't go very smooth because my account was opened in Oregon and he was trying to do it in New York.  It's one bank, but there are variations for each state...  He tried several different bank programs and none of them would let him do it.  Then he got on the phone with a support person who suggested a few things, but none of those worked, either...  In the end he said he would put an "order" through and it would be processed at a central center somewhere by Tuesday.

I told him I'd just moved to New York City and he suggested a few things to do see around the city, some of which I've already seen...  He mentioned there's a special event for children going on this weekend in Central Park so that sounded like a perfect reason not to go there, for me, anyway...  Where I said I worked and every place I've walked he pointed out "there's a Bank of America branch right across the street" and "you should take a look at the Bank of America Tower near Times Square," as he seemed to know where all of the New York branches were...

Finishing up there I headed back out again and made a stop at a Rite Aid drug store for soap, a loofa and a few other items...  I'd been to a Rite Aid a few times closer to my apartment, but this was on the way, and the clerk offered to sign me up for their membership program, which was free, so that I can get a discount on things.  They never offered at the nearer one...

I dumped my stuff off at the apartment and then went out grocery shopping and got a bunch of things there for the coming week.  All set...

Back at the apartment with the groceries I wasn't sure where to go next and spent about an hour tinkering on the computers and browsing the web looking for ideas.  I was considering checking out Long Island City in Queens as the Wikipedia photo looks like it could be interesting.

In the end I decided I'd walk over the Manhattan Bridge and try out a camera accessory I got from Amazon last week.  The accessory is a fisheye and macro lens attachment for a regular lens, which at $40 I figured I'd try before spending $650 on a real fisheye lens...

Up until now I only took a few pictures in the apartment and at night, so they didn't come out well, since the regular lens with the fisheye and macro attachments is so long that it blocks a good bit of the camera's built-in flash and leaves a long shadow on everything...

So, I packed it up in my backpack, put on my sweater and headed out the door...  I walked up to 59th Street, five blocks away, where I could pick up the N train.  It was by far the absolute most crowded I've ever seen that platform, as it had all the people who would normally wait for the N plus the R trains, on a holiday weekend...

Several N trains went the opposite direction before we got one going towards Manhattan and everyone piled in.  Huge numbers of people got off it at 36th Street and then again at Atlantic Avenue.  In fact, I was so "in the train" that I forgot to get off at Atlantic Avenue where I wanted to walk up to the bridge...

At the next stop I remembered my plan, so I got off.  Out of the station I didn't really know where I was, but wandered a bit and then found Flatbush Avenue, which I know cuts a huge diagonal line through Brooklyn.  It leads directly to the Manhattan Bridge, for traffic, but not for pedestrians.  I walked around a bunch of blocks near the bridge before I finally found a sign pointing walkers to the Manhattan Bridge, then I just followed those till I got on it.

It was fun walking over it, with a different view than either of the others I've walked so far.  Unfortunately, though, it has a high fence along the walkway, for safety, so it made taking photos hard.  I had to stick the camera and lens through a narrow, horizontal gap between the original iron fence and the added chain link one above it, and it just barely fit.  That meant that I couldn't angle the camera up and down more than a tiny bit, which with the lens combination I was using didn't give a lot of range...

The subway trains that run over the bridge were also ear shatteringly loud when walking only a couple of feet beside them (with fences and what-not to keep them away).

A few other people were walking it and another photographer and I stopped and talked a few minutes about taking pictures from there.  He had a thick Nordic accent and with the noise of the trains I had a little trouble understanding him.

Coming down on the Manhattan side it seemed to be over Chinatown, based on all the Chinese writing on the signs and the smell, even high up on the bridge, of Chinese food.

As I got to the end of the bridge I put my camera away again, not sure how safe it is to carry it on the streets, at least not when I'm by myself.  Then I walked all over and around that area, working my way north, figuring I'd try out that lens at night at Times Square.

I found a public restroom in Washington Square Park and outside that a black squirrel came running off the lawn and I'd swear it was begging from me.  It ran right up to my feet, standing on its hind feet and looking right at my face with front paws slightly outstretched.  I fiddled around trying to get my iPhone out to take a picture and it moved a little closer and struck the same pose.  Then while I unlocked my iPhone it came closer yet again.  Finally, when I answered the iPhone's query to not connect to any available wi-fi and it was ready for me to take a photo, then the squirrel ran away, under a fence.  On the other side of the fence it did the same pose, but I couldn't get a good shot because the fence...

Around 20th Street, give or take a couple, near Madison Square Park I finally took the camera out again where I saw the Empire State Building up, overhead, and then in the park with some of the lighting sculptures.  I didn't even bother trying to photograph the squirrels running all over.  I saw lots of other people trying to, and mostly not getting shots as the squirrels wouldn't hold still and it seemed like they were having similar problems to the one I had earlier...

I walked up 5th Avenue until I came along side the Empire State Building, then walked on the cross street there (forgot which street it was, might've been 32nd, give or take a couple).  From the opposite side of the street I tried tinkering with various settings on the camera and photographing the building to see if I could get the camera to capture the late afternoon, cloudy sunlight reflecting off the windows, without being either sharper or blurrier than what my eyes saw.

Soon I came to Broadway, near Herald Square and worked my way up.  At Herald Square there just a narrow glimmer of bright lights coming down the street from Times Square, expanding the higher up I got on the streets...

At 42nd Street I remembered that Jamall at the bank mentioned the ice skating rink in Bryant Park was set up, so I figured I'd walk that direction and take a look.  It sure was, but the short time I stayed there no one was ice skating, only the zamboni was out on it, smoothing the ice...  So I walked a few more blocks closer to the Chrysler Building trying to see if I could get a good wide angle shot of it at night...

Then back to Times Square and lots of night photos.  Having offloaded them, the results are very mixed, mostly a bit substandard.  And it was crowded, so I think a lot of my photos have people close by in front of them (at my height it's hard not to in a big crowd).  A walk up and then back down and I was ready to head back to Brooklyn again...

Now I'm home...  Tired, especially my feet from all the walking...  But it was a good day.

After looking at all the photos with the fisheye attachment, I think they're mostly a bit fuzzy at the edges of any sharp lines, especially at the outer edges of the pictures.  It's obvious why it's only 5% of the price of a real fisheye lens.  Of course, the lens I have it attached to is my widest one, the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera, which is also the cheapest and lowest quality of my lenses, so that might not be helping, either.  I wonder if the results would be better attached to a better lens, however, none of my others are wide enough to give the full, circular fisheye result.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A warm October Sunday in Central Park

Okay, a sort of busy and sleepy day today...  Yesterday I bought a large painting from an artist selling his work on a sidewalk in SoHo...  But no frame or anything like that...

After Leena and I got off the phone late in the morning, I went up and did my grocery shopping, no problems...  Then dumped them off at the apartment and headed out again.

My intention was to go to Staples near the Target and get some heavier clips, then head back and try to hang the painting with them before going out again.  Only I fell asleep on the train and missed the stop.  When I woke up I was in Manhattan.  So I figured I'd just continue on what I was going to in the afternoon...  I dozed off and on in the train till around 60th Street and Broadway where I got off.

I was a little disoriented and wandered around the block, half thinking of asking someone "hey, is there a park around here somewhere?" (the joke being that the nearest park is 50 blocks long and quite a few wide, not the sort of thing easily missed (and in the song Miss You, Mick Jagger even mentions it by name)).  But I found it and entered Central Park...

I wandered without much aim for a while, enjoying the shade.  It's not hot, but the chill we've had lately was gone, so it was comfortable short sleeve weather outside.  I got a pretzel at one place and continued walking a bit in the park.  I liked the big, green lawns and watching people playing ball games, as well as the scattered saxophone players all over.

The park is so big that looking north or south from many parts of it and the city outside is far, far in the distance...

That went on for a bit, until I wandered by the lake and kept comparing it to the lakes near my parents' house, and then into an "all natural" part called The Ramble, where it's supposed to be more natural than the rest of the park, but those two things just reminded me a lot of my parents' neighborhood, Sandpiper Village, but as only half-baked imitations (but then, Central Park is in the middle of a city, my parents' neighborhood is outside of the Waldport metropolitan area, surrounded by wilderness).

I headed out to Central Park West and walked down the blocks.  I passed the American Museum of Natural History that used to be my favorite museum as a kid, where I always just wanted to see the dinosaurs.  Somewhere around the 60's blocks I saw an interesting building off on a side street, so I walked that way.  It turned out to be Lincoln Center and I liked the fountain and sculpture there.  The steps all have LED displays in them so as you walk up you can see little notices about what shows are playing and things.

From there I headed on down Broadway, passing through Times Square where for at least ten blocks the street was blocked off and there were lots and lots and lots of booths on the street.  At each end of each block, on each side was one selling food, and in the middle a variety of things, hats, cell phone accessories, shawls and what-not...  The streets were jam packed with people and all the sellers repeated every other block, the same food items, the same tables of the same merchandise and so forth...  On a few blocks where guys with harnesses hold down gigantic balloons advertising Aeropostale clothing and outside that store someone was trying to give away 10% off coupons...

At 42nd Street I got off and headed into the subway to return to Brooklyn.  I slept a good bit of the way back on the train, again missing the station where Staples is located, and barely waking up at my own stop.

Back in the apartment I took a shower and settled in, but after a while felt like I should head out again for something...  So I looked up Staples online to see what their store hours were.  The one I planned to go to closed at 6pm, but there was a closer one near Fort Hamilton that closed at 7pm, and I hadn't been to the Fort Hamilton area at all, so that sounded like a good reason to head out.

I took the subway down there, getting off at 95th Street (only the trains and stations are so long I exited at 93rd Street).  Amazing...  The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is just gigantic down there, filling the whole view to the south.    I wish I'd brought my camera for that.  It doesn't actually go there, but one of its towers is very close (or very, very big).

I found the Staples store and looked all over the basement floor to find the clips I wanted.  I got four packs of two each, which in hindsight was a couple short, I should've gotten six packs of them.  Upstairs I looked at the laptops and they had one on clearance for $350, which I thought at that price could make a good experimental machine for tinkering with other operating systems that I've been running in virtual machines for a while, but would like to try non-virtual (e.g. not Windows, not Mac OS X, but ones like Linux or Haiku (which yes, made a recent appearance in xkcd)).  Unfortunately they didn't have any in stock.  The sales guy said maybe tomorrow.

After I paid and left I got back into the subway at 93rd Street just as a train was coming in.  It's the last stop of the R train, so I got in but had to wait while the cleaners swept it and all that before it left.

Back at the apartment I got out the clips and hammered nails into the wood above the wall and hung up the painting.  It's not hanging great, but it's up...  I wish I'd gotten more clips...  I took a couple of photos with my iPhone...

The artist is Prawech Pranaprom.  Last weekend I was just walking around in Manhattan and passed by his sidewalk display and liked what I saw.  Throughout the week I kept thinking, I've got to go back and see again, and wondering how much would an artist charge for artwork being sold on a display on a sidewalk anyway? (okay, that turned out to be around three times what I expected and budgeted for, but we bargained and got it down a decent notch, only 66% over my budget...)

A highlight of the one non-silver black lightbulb in the painting.  It's black, with white arrows and lines that the artists said was "energy" (I won't disagree with his interpretation, it's what he had in mind when he painted it, and I like how it looked).

Now I'm just winding up the day and will be turning out the lights and going to bed in a bit...

Friday, October 22, 2010

UI Design Skills, Here and There

While us software developers in general don't have a good reputation for user interface design (and I'm no exception, either), I've found that developers in India are a bit worse than developers in the U.S. or U.K. (but I don't mean incapable of picking it up).  After nearly a decade in India I have a good idea why, too...

It's because of what we grow up using.  My generation and recent ones grown up with computers as kids, while India is still a bit behind on that, so we've had more years of experience both using computers and helping our older relatives do things on then than Indians have had.  More time to learn and understand what is really usable and what isn't.

But also, when it comes to other household and workplace user interfaces, in the U.S. we've become accustomed to better design.

Take light switches as an example, since that's a technological UI almost everyone uses...  In the U.S. if there's a bank of light switches you can usually rely on the order of the switches matching the location of the lights.  Not always, but usually.  Often there isn't a bank of switches, but one switch wherever it's appropriate for the light.

Not so in India...  Electricians in India are typically uneducated, low-paid laborers, who like most other laborers require a supervisor to scream and yell at them to get at least the minimum work done and simply aren't paid enough to care to do a good job.  That means that usually a switch will turn a light on, but there may not be any logic or pattern as to which switch works with which light, and getting an electrician to make a switch turn on a light may end up with another switch not turning anything on.

Time and again I've seen lots of people at their homes simply flip all the switches on and off until the right light comes on.  Even at my in-laws' house most of the family turns on the lights in the living room when they want the fan, then get up again when they notice and turn off the light and turn on the fan.

For example, in the Weikfield office bathroom (don't worry, I won't go into the gross details of bathrooms) there are a couple of stalls with the light switches on post between the two stalls, but the left switch is actually for the right stall and the right switch is for the left stall (in a simple ASCII art drawing, which doesn't draw perfectly right in the preview...):

|               |         |               |
|  +----------+ |         |  +----------+ |

|  |   left   | |         |  |   right  | |

|  |   stall  | |         |  |   stall  | |

|  |          | | +-+ +-+ |  |          | |
|  |          | | |R| |L| |  |          | |
|  |          | | +-+ +-+ |  |          | |
|  |          | |         |  |          | |
|  |          | |         |  |          | |
|  |          | |         |  |          | |
|  |          | |         |  |          | |
|  |          | |         |  |          | |
|  +----------+ |         |  +----------+ |  
|               |         |               |


I find it confusing.  Even more so because between the other pair of stalls the switches for the stalls are in the logical order, except there are three switches and the one farthest left is actually for an overhead light outside the stalls.  When I'm done in any of them, I always get nervous turning off the light because I don't want to inconvenience any other user of a stall in case I forget which switch is which, as they're not in the most logical locations.

The switch panels in my flat in India are even worse, they're much larger, with multiple rows of switches to control lights, fans, outlets and some "nothing at all," and they're organized even more randomly with no consistency between any of the rooms.  All the rooms have a pretty similar array of lights in the same places, although some rooms just have bare wires because the builder never actually fitted lights in those spots, yet the switches don't match at al.  Since I live here I've managed to simply memorize the key ones that I actually use.

So for those who grew up in India and are used to this, the expectation when using some sort of high tech interface is to just bang away until it does what it's supposed to, because the ones in daily life aren't arranged or designed in a logical, intuitive manner.

Falling Behind

Wow,  I realized I'm really falling behind nowadays...  It was easy to blog about my daily adventures during the couple of weeks when we had all the Jewish holidays and the office was closed Thursdays and Fridays, giving four day weekends...

But the last couple, with five day work weeks, and pushing myself to get up to speed at work, have made it harder to take the time.  Earlier to bed each night to try and be rested well enough for the next workday...

I have a few things in mind to write, I just need to make the time to do it...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Headache Medicines

So, after the last follow-up with the neurophysician in Pune in which I asked him about getting completely off the medicines he'd prescribed for the nasty headache and migraines I was having, he agreed to lower the dosage, first to 10mg for a month and then cut it out.

The schedule worked out to stopping it sometime around now.  I didn't calculate the exact date, but having two four-day weekends in a row here in New York seemed good.  Tuesday night last week was the last time I took either of the medicines, figuring that would get me through Wednesday at work and if I had withdrawal issues I'd have four days to recover.

I didn't get a headache till Sunday, but even then it was pretty mild and didn't really interfere with my plans (about which I still need to process the photos and blog).  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week I had headaches.

Monday was the worst of them, and I took four aspirin in the morning before work which helped ease it.  By later in the afternoon it was getting pretty bad and I felt a bit nauseas, too.  Going out after work to deposit my paycheck in the cool rain helped and I didn't notice the headache too much while I was doing that and eating pizza near the ATM.

Tuesday and Wednesday weren't so bad, but it was definitely there.

Today, however, I was in a rush to get out the door and grab a bag of garbage to take downstairs that I completely forgot the aspirin pills.  I didn't remember until I got to work and didn't have a headache at all.

So, this is good.  Hopefully the headaches are back under control again.  And hopefully the side effects will start easing off, too, especially that nonstop ringing in my ears.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Quest in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

So for today's wandering my mother actually gave me a quest, of sorts.  After she read an email about all my wandering everywhere, she suggested I go to the Williamsburg neighborhood here in Brooklyn and look for the apartment building her family lived in when she was born in the mid-40's.

She gave me the address 239 South 2nd Street, but said she thought it might've been torn down since she lived there (which wasn't very long, as her family moved quite a bit between Brooklyn and New Jersey, back and forth, but different places each time).

Then I looked at the MTA's website and examined the map of the subway system to see how to get to Williamsburg.  Good thing I didn't get an apartment there, the subway lines don't cross those that go to my office, except in Manhattan...  To get there from the apartment I had to go to Canal Street in Manhattan and transfer from the R to the J.

I took the J over the Williamsburg Bridge and got off at Marcy Avenue, which was close to South 5th Street and I new I had to go north.  It took a little walking and one wrong turn before I found South 2nd Street and the right blocks.  Unfortunately, the address my mother gave me didn't exist.  She said 239, but there was a 237, then right next to it a much newer building numbered 241.  Probably the old 239 and 241 had been torn down and one larger apartment building put up there, judging by the architecture, maybe in the 60s.

From there I wandered around Williamsburg a little.  There was a small park where I saw some guys, one with a camera, feeding pigeons, and more pigeons that I think I've seen at one time before, so I took a few photos of that.

When I was ready to head out of there, I found signs directing bicyclers onto the Williamsburg Bridge, so I followed those and ended up on the bike path on the bridge.  The sign clearly said no walkers, but I couldn't find any other obvious option, so I went on it, besides, there were other people walking up there, too.  As I got higher up I saw a parallel path on the other side of the bridge, with both walkers and bikers on it.

I took lots of photos on the bridge, of the bridge, and a few off the side.  Unfortunately the fences on the sides were much too high for me, so it was hard getting good photos outside of the bridge without fences in them.  A few places there was a little gap between sections of fence so I aimed my camera carefully through those to get a few decent photos.

A little after halfway over the bridge a number of bicyclists yelled at me for being on the bike path and not the walking path.  At the midway point there was a connection between the paths on both sides, so I went back to there and found the walking path that I was supposed to be on, and continued my walk.  It turns out that on the Manhattan side the paths are very clearly marked, include the part where they split into separate ones.  But on the Brooklyn side, they're completely separate entrances separated by a few streets and not so easy to find, hence my confusion...

Once over the bridge and into Manhattan, on the Lower East Side.  I made a quick turn off Delancey Street that I came in on in order to get some shade from the sun on a side street.  It's a really happening neighborhood there, lots and lots and lots of young people, restaurants, bars and shops of all kinds all over the place.  Very packed, especially the restaurants, I don't know if I saw any one of them that had any empty tables in sight of the front windows.

I just sort of wandered for a couple of hours, mostly staying a few blocks on either side of Broadway, working my way up.  Eventually I got uncomfortable, with my clothes getting a bit sweaty, and the worst was my undershorts sort of rode up a bit so my inner thighs were rubbing uncomfortably against my sweat-soaked jeans.

That was when I found the nearest subway station and headed back to Brooklyn so I could get a nice shower...

Friday, October 1, 2010

First Walk Home from Work, Wednesday

This is what I wrote to Leena after I walked home from work Wednesday afternoon...


Whew, am I tired now...

I closed up the office early, around 4:50pm, since the official closing time was 5:23pm, an hour before sunset and the start of a Jewish holiday.  I was the last one in for the final hour and a half, and only three of us were in at all during the day.

When I left the office I walked up to Eastern Parkway, about five blocks, where I usually turn right and walk a block to get on the subway at the Utica Avenue station.  But then partway to the subway I thought, "ah, it's a pleasant evening, not too hot, not cold, I'll walk up Eastern Parkway and get on the subway somewhere else."

I walked west on Eastern Parkway, quite some distance to where I thought it was intersecting with 9th Avenue, where I've walked around before.  I was mistaken, but didn't realize it at the time.  I thought I was near Grand Army Plaza, but I wasn't.

So, I made left turn on a street there, thinking I was somewhere else.  Granted, it was still the right direction, I was just farther from home that I thought.  I ended on the east side of Prospect Park, which is a gigantic park in Brooklyn.  The neighborhood on the eastern side of the park wasn't very nice but I figured it was still daylight so I should be safe enough.  At one intersection I crossed the street and into the park, figuring I'd simply cross through the park, and I know the neighborhood on the other side is a wealthy, nice one.

But inside the park the roads all curve, nothing goes straight, and since I was wearing sandals I was paying more attention to walking carefully on some of the dirt roads than the direction I was going (I'd swear, in the dirt it looked almost exactly like someone was wearing shoes made for a horse!), so I ended up exiting the park still on the east side, instead of crossing through it, though I didn't realize that till I got out of the park and found a nearby street sign.

It was then that I realized I didn't have a good idea of where I was.  It was mostly cloudy, so the it wasn't entirely clear where the sun was in the sky, but I found what seemed a bit brighter and figured that was pretty much west, and the street I was on outside the park was aiming a bit left of that, which is southwest and the direction I wanted to go.

I walked that way for quite some distance, till I came to the end of the park and a circle as an intersection, which I pretty much remembered from a map is the southernmost part of the park, and the right direction for me.  However, I wasn't sure which direction to go from the intersection, as there was a nearby freeway and big streets that I didn't recognize and I didn't recognize any of the street names there, so I was lost...

I picked a direction based on the sun and where I knew my destination, still a long distance off, was and walked that way until I saw some streets with names that really puzzled me.  I passed E. 8th Street, and then E. 7th Street, but in the opposite direction from which I expected the numbers to change, since I live on 54th Street, I wanted to see the numbers go up, not down!

From there I thought the E. on the signs might mean I was on the wrong side of a major street, so I walked over an overpass above the major street thinking the other side there'd be W. on the signs, but there wasn't, and then I saw E. 6th Street and got confused even further...

Ah, but the iPhone 4 has a compass!  I pulled it out and matched up the direction and new I was facing the right direction, even though the street numbers were going the opposite of what I wanted.  Definitely puzzling...

Ah, but the iPhone has a map program!  I pulled it out again and used the map, which uses GPS to know exactly where the phone is, accurate to a few meters.  It zoomed in on my exact location and I realized that the East numbered streets aren't part of the same numbering system as the directionless numbered streets, like 54th Street, and I was actually going the right way, I just wasn't yet into the area I knew...

As I walked, the iPhone figured out what direction I was walking and rotated the map so I could see where I was going on it and I planned out a route to take.  I was closer to home than I realized when I came out of the park, it's just that I didn't know the streets in that area.

Eventually I got pretty close to my neighborhood, a few streets up the hill from where I've been before, but I hit the numbered streets at 32nd Street, so at least I knew the direction was right and where to go.  By then I was sweating and rivers of it were running down my back under my shirt, which was nearly as drenched as if I wore it in the shower.

Around 45th Street I stopped in a small restaurant for a couple of slices of pizza.  Not as good as the one I keep going back to near my apartment, but I was really hungry and a little thirsty, plus my clothes were getting more and more uncomfortable from the sweating, and I knew I wouldn't want to stop and eat much further because of that.  And besides, I didn't know it wasn't going to be as good until after I got it...  Anyway, it wasn't bad pizza, just not the best.

After eating there I still had another 20 blocks or so to go in a zig zag pattern and it was well past sunset, so getting dark out.  I passed through other neighborhoods I hadn't seen before.  In one I saw lots of Jewish families heading out to holiday services, but dressed different than the Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, with many of the men wearing big furry hats instead of black fedoras, which I've looked up and figure out where the Bobov branch of Hasidic Jews.

Then on 8th Avenue for a few blocks every single business had Chinese lettering on the windows and signs, and quite a few had not a single letter of English at all.  On 7th Avenue it was similar, but a bit more English in the mix, and on 6th Avenue, where I've walked before when going to Sunset Park, it was a mix of Chinese and Spanish, including some signs that had both and restaurants advertising Chinese and Mexican food (at the same restaurant...).

Finally 5th Avenue, which I know well enough and then down on 54th Street where I live...  And last, my apartment and a hot shower.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Great National Grid Rip-Off

I just got my first bill from National Grid the local gas company and they're ripping me off!

In the itemized section of the bill it lists:

In 10 days you used 0 therms:
Sep 23 2010 reading ESTIMATED -    3386
Sep 13 2010 reading UNLOCK -       3386
CCF Used for METER# xxxxxxxx          0

Thermal Factor                  x1.0183
Total therms used                     0

Your Cost is determined as followed
Minimum Charge                    $4.23

Blah blah blah....

What that means is that even though I've used some gas in that ten day billing period, they've given me an estimated meter reading of zero, and charged me the minimum.  Whatever gas I did use will go on my next bill...

What's would've been more fair is if they'd given me a somewhat realistic estimate (or a true meter reading!) in which I'd pay for what I probably did use.  If the estimate was too high, it would simply come off he next meter reading and be corrected.  If the estimate was too low, but still above the "minimum" charge then I'd simply make up the difference in the next bill.  Ideally, the estimate should be equal to or greater than the minimum charge.

But my giving a zero estimate they're charging me a minimum for what they say, on the bill, is no usage, and then I still get to pay for what I've used so far when I get the next bill.  This essentially means what I'm paying for this month goes towards no actual usage of their gas.

And with the 0 therms it's like their bill, translated to English says "we're charging you for nothing."  On which I'm still paying sales tax...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday - Wandering Brooklyn and Manhattan (again...)

After Leena called in the morning and we talked, I looked at the chunks of beef in the fridge and thought, "well, if I don't cook them soon they'll go bad" and figured I'd fry them up for breakfast.  I hadn't gotten around to buying any cooking oil or butter or so I figured I'd just toss them in the hot pan and let them fry in their own fat...  However, this isn't a nonstick pan, so they all stuck pretty bad before they got cooking...

I let them cook, flipping them around with a spatula until some were a touch burnt at the edges.  Whenever they were on a part of the pot where I'd already scraped some off, they stopped sticking, but when they touch another, new part, they'd stick and I'd have to scrape them off and back into the center of the pan again...  Once I figured they were finished I scooped them all out onto a stack of three paper plates and used one of my kitchen knives to cut them up and eat them.  Tasty, nice, wholesome beef with no extra flavors, all the subtleties that would otherwise get covered up.

I soaked the pan with some soap and water and almost all the burnt stuff scrubbed off.  I don't have a scrubbing sponge, either, or I'd get even more off.  Anyway, it's things like that that'll "season" the pan.  Good quality pots and pans absorb the oil, fat and stuff of things cooked and eventually cook better and smoother.  Or maybe that's only cast iron, not stainless steel...

After that I wasn't really full, so I looked up the address of the 5 Guys in Park Slope and went out on the subway.  It was easy enough to find.  I ordered a plain burger, which comes with two beef patties by default, and a single patty burger is a special order, a regular order of french fries and a regular drink.  It came to $12, and used up almost all the cash I have on hand...  For my drink I got a Cherry Coke, which wasn't very cherry, but I'd have continued to be curious if I didn't get it.  It took about ten minutes for them to cook my order and I ate it there.  The fries were a lot, their regular order of them is a small cup filled, and then since they always serve in a bag, even for orders that aren't going out, they then fill the bag above the food with fries.

Now that was a filling meal!

After I finished it I figured I'd better walk a bit to work some of that off.  I walked all up 7th Avenue until it hit Flatbush Avenue and then I walked along Flatbush until I got to the Atlantic Avenue / Pacific Street subway station, where I usually transfer on workdays between trains.

From there I hopped on a 3 train into Manhattan.  I got off at 59th Street and Broadway, which is just at the corner of Central Park.  I walked around the park for a while.  It didn't take long to figure out why I kept smelling horses as I walked along the outside of the park, there were lots and lots of horse drawn carriages going around inside the park.

I stopped at park benches a few times to cool off.  I didn't even bring my backpack, and just walking slowly and leisurely I was sweating pretty heavily.  There were a few small drops of rain here and there, but not a whole lot, and not enough to ever think, "ah, it's raining."

After walking a bit in the park I went back out to the streets, zig zagging around a bunch of Manhattan streets.  I passed the Apple Store near the park and there was a waiting line to get in because it was so crowded.  The store is all underground, I guess.  There's a big, glass cube as an entrance in the middle of a square on the sidewalk and an elevator and stairs going down into the store.

It was sort of dazzling to walk amongst so many huge buildings.  They just never ended.  Anywhere I stood there'd be tall, tall buildings in all directions, and then walk a block or two and it's all different tall buildings in all directions.

I passed by the Museum of Modern Art where I could see some interesting artwork in the windows, and thought about going in, but figured I'd check prices and things online.  Since I didn't think (and now that I've looked it up, I was right) it was free, I figured it'd be better to plan a day there rathe than just stopping in to cool off from walking hard...  But looking at their web site, I was walking on the street outside the window in the photo from that link...

Photographic evidence that my camera
(if not me) was in Times Square...
I made my way to Times Square and thought about getting an ice cream cone or something, but resisted.  I sat at a couple of places there to cool off before getting on the N train back to Brooklyn.

I also stopped at Bryant Park, which is quite close to Times Square and watched the pigeons there try to eat a piece of what appeared to be a pretzel, but it was too big for any bird to swallow and too tough to break apart easily...

The ride from Times Square to the stop by my apartment was long and crowded and I was barely awake by the time I got out.  There was some elderly guy sitting across from me who kept twitching and yawning and drifting between asleep and awake.  Whenever he was awake he'd open up his duffel bag and take out a small, black plastic wrapped, flask shaped, glass bottle and swallow a little clear liquid, then put the cap back on and put it away, then he'd sort of drift off again, twitching his hands...