Thursday, January 6, 2011

MTA Apps are Whiz Kid Certified

Lately the subway trains have had ads posted on them by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, who runs them, about the various improvements they're making to New York City's transit system.  As one says "a city is only as good as its transit system."

One of them admits that they didn't create their own apps, "Our apps are whiz kid certified.  Instead of developing transit apps ourselves, we gave our info to the people who do it best."

Now, as what they would probably qualify as a "whiz kid" I don't think I'd certify the app based on the screen shot they show.  From a UI perspective it looks awful.

A quick glance at it and I'm confused.  Those are definitely subway lines, but if I was looking for one, they don't seem to be in any order.  The rectangle in the upper left makes sense, 1 2 3 and 4 5 6 on the next line.  But why is J between 3 and 7?  That makes no sense!

My first thought was maybe they were ordered by their routes, although that might make sense for someone who really knows the whole system, knows that 2 3 4 & 5 all run pretty near each other for long distances.  But if that was the case, why isn't J by Z?  J and Z run perfectly parallel their whole routes and are so tied together a famous singer even used the J & Z lines as his stage name...

Or maybe I should make an allowance for half the screen being cut off from the ad?

Hopefully it's not made by the same people who wrote the software that creates their status alerts on their home page.  During last week's blizzard one had this:

MTA Service Notice
Due to ongoing snow related conditions:
There is no Description: service between the Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard Station and the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue Station in both directions.   
There is no Description: service between the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue Station and the Whitehall Street Station in both directions.
Please allow for additional travel time.

Ok, sounds reasonable.  One of my coworkers, who very, very rarely takes the subway, went to the Q station nearest her and found out it was closed.  She thought it was running.

I did, too.  Until I looked at a route map.  Turns out Astoria-Ditmars and Coney Island are opposite ends of the lines.  Basically, that Q notice translates to "there is no Q service" because it's not running from the stations at each end of the line.

My guess is the MTA must have some application which lists the lines and they just check the first and last stations that are out of service and it generates the message for their web page.  But it doesn't recognize that if the first and last stations on a line are checked, then the whole line is out of service.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Eve in New York

Whew, that was fun.

Nitu and I arranged to meet at the 40th Street Port Authority Bus Terminal at 4:30pm, then Meenakshi and Deepak were supposed to get there around 5:30pm.

I work up with a nasty headache in the morning and took a long, long shower with the lights off, took Excedrin, aspirin and a Suminat through the late morning and early afternoon, and cooked a high protein breakfast of a salmon fillet.  The medicines had some side effects and shortly before I left the apartment my hands were shaking so much I thought I might end up trimming a whole finger while I was trying to clip my nails.

But things eased off in transit.  I got to Manhattan around 3pm, and got off the train at 23rd Street & Broadway, figuring a bit of a walk would be nice, and I was early.  The streets were more crowded than normal, and there was a lot of really dirty snow, or partially melted and refrozen as ice all over.  At all the curbs when stepping off the sidewalks there were puddles of slush, and some were just blocked by the plowed snow.

At Madison Square Park a young couple with some kind of foreign accent stopped me to ask "is there a liquor store near here?".  I didn't know of one, off hand, but I've seen so many around Manhattan that I told them I didn't think they could walk too far and not see one if they pay attention.  I also pointed out a lot don't say "liquor" but "wines & spirits".

The higher up the streets I got the more police were out and about, within a few blocks of Times Square there were walls of them along the buildings at every intersection.  Even more than them were street vendors everywhere selling 2011 glasses and paper hats, and unfortunately, vuvuzelas...

I got to the Port Authority Bus Terminal around 3:30pm, used the bathroom then decided I was still pretty early, and it was quite warm inside, so I headed out to walk for half an hour or so.  I was on my way back, around 4pm, two blocks away when Nitu called to say she'd arrived, so I hurried back in.

We met up at our usual spot, above the stairs leading down to the subway and Nitu wanted to see what Times Square looked like with the celebrations just starting.  We got out on 8th Avenue, but it was packed.  Across the street the police had barricades and walls of cops at every street leading towards Times Square and weren't letting anyone in.  We walked a few blocks up, but it was al the same, and the sidewalk was super packed with people.

Back in the bus station we checked out the bowling alley on the second floor to find out the prices.  We thought about playing a couple of games while we waited, but by then my feet and shoes were wet and I didn't want to take my shoes off, and then have to put them back on wet after we played.  That would be too uncomfortable, and it's hard to put wet shoes on comfortably.

We waited in a Casa Java cafe in the station, talking about work stuff.

Meenakshi and Deepak were a bit later than we expected.  They'd made 7:30pm reservations at an Indian restaurant, Bay Leaf, for us.  Nitu expected them around 5:30pm, but they turned up closer to 6:30pm.

We took the subway over to the restaurant on 56th Street, though it took two trains to get there. I would've just taken one, the R, but when I said "it's not far" they didn't trust my measure of walking distances, since they all know I walk long, long distances on a regular basis...

Dinner was good.  We started with a round of drinks.  I got a lychee martini that was okay, I think my expectation was more fruity than it was, which was more alcohol.  We got a plate of paneer from their tandoori menu for a starter and that was delicious.

We stayed there for a couple of hours, visiting and talking and having a good time.

Deepak taking photos
After dinner we went out onto the street and walked down 6th Avenue, with Deepak and I using our cameras a bit.  He's a lot taller and probably got better shots over other peoples heads than I could get.  Meenakshi and Deepak wanted to get to the 7 train to head back to Queens, while Nitu wanted to get to the Port Authority terminal, but it was on the opposite side of Times Square, that was completely closed off by police.

A police officer said to cross over to the other side would require going down to 38th Street, the highest open cross street.  But going down 6th Avenue they'd blocked it off, so we couldn't go down anymore.  Another office said we could get the subway shuttle train at Grand Central Terminal, so we went that way.

The shuttle took us under 42nd Street to the Times Square station.  In the station there was a wall of police preventing people from going to any exits to Times Square, leaving only transfer to other trains or the under street tunnel to the Port Authority, so we went that way.

We said goodbye to Meenakshi and Deepak there so they could get the 7 train, while Nitu and I went through the turnstiles to the Port Authority.  She got a bus ticket and after using the bathroom I hit the streets again.

I walked around, but 8th Avenue leading up towards 42nd Street was like a wall of people and I couldn't move anywhere, so I turned around and went down.  I thought maybe I'd check out 38th to see if I could get to 7th Avenue from down there.  At 38th the police had barricades set up, and they were letting people out from where I was, but no one in.  One guy even went out but then tried to turn around and they just grabbed him and told him "you left, you can't come back" while the guy was pointing to someone near me saying "but my friend is right there, I have to get in!" and they wouldn't let him.  When a few others of us wanted to get out, they dragged the guy out of the way so we could pass.

I walked up 38th Street, but before 7th Avenue it was so crowded I couldn't move anywhere close to next avenue to see up, so I turned around headed back to 8th Avenue where I walked down to 36th Street.  Not seeing a big crowd in the distance, I walked up there to 7th Avenue and had a narrow view of Times Square between the buildings up the street.

Fireworks in Times Square
at midnight.
I got there just about midnight so I could see the fireworks being fired off from a building in Times Square.  After a few minutes it was over and there was a mass migration of people down the street.  For once I was in a crowd and it was all going the same way and easy to walk in...

I cut across to Broadway and walked down there, to walk home.

Going down Broadway, here and there I passed people, mostly women, crying and from the little bit I could hear as I went by, they were talking to friends about break-ups.  Must have been the night for changes for people...

At 32nd Street & Broadway some guy asked me "hey, do you know how to get to 14th Street?" and I pointed down Broadway and said "straight that way".  Then he asked "how far is it?" and I couldn't quickly calculate it, but said something like "12 blocks or so" and he said "no, it can't be that far...  What?  4 blocks?".  Then we stood there, struggling to calculate that it was 18 blocks. Must've been tired.

Near the Flatiron I was waiting to cross a street, while a few others were around on both sides.  Some woman in a short skirt and knee high boots came running through and then tripped and fell in the street, sliding on the wet pavement and scattering her bag and hat all over...  She rolled over, didn't instantly get up, and people were asking "are you alright?" but she didn't answer.  Then as people approached her, she crawled, gathered her things, stood up and started running again the same direction.  Halfway down the block she was waving and yelling to get the attention of someone much farther...  People said "well, I guess she's okay..."

Champagne cork at the end of the
On my way down Broadway I passed a lot of drunken people, but almost all pretty cheerful, wishing random strangers a happy new year.  One woman was going the opposite direction, carrying a bottle and some big plastic party favor or something and as she neared me she stumbled on her high heels, arms flailing, but didn't fall.  She looked at me, smiled and giggled a bit.

I made my way to the Brooklyn Bridge, near City Hall, and crossed over that.  I wasn't sure about how safe it would be, but figured I'd keep an eye on people in the distance and behind me.  It turned out nearly everyone walking on it was either a couple, or two women with one man or three women groups (well, and me).  Except for me, nearly everyone was pretty well dressed, too.  I think I scared one woman, though.  I was making a good pace on foot, but she kept stopped to take photos, and even though I slowed down a little so I wouldn't end up overtaking her, I did because she stopped near a tower for longer, and when she finished and turned around to see who was behind her, I was much closer than I'd hoped to be by the time she noticed me...  Once she saw me she nearly ran to catch up to her group.

Glitter on the sidewalk
The view of Manhattan at night from the bridge was fantastic.  All lit up and everything.  Very nice.

On the Brooklyn side I was making good walking time, but up ahead, on a long, long, straight walking path in the middle of the street, with no way on or off except ahead or behind, there were two more obviously drunk women,  all dressed up for a party and stumbling pretty bad, weaving back and forth, taking the whole width of the walkway (which was narrower than usual because of unmelted snow on the sides).  As I got closer and closer I started saying "um, excuse me, behind you" a few times so they'd know I was behind, but they didn't acknowledge me at all or turn around, but they both managed to weave left at the same time and I dashed past them on the right and scooted ahead...

By the time I hit downtown Brooklyn my feet were aching bad.  Going through the Brooklyn streets there were more, and deeper puddles than I encountered in Manhattan, and my feet just got wetter and wetter and more uncomfortable. I could feel the blisters forming and hurting...

I used my iPhone to find exactly where I was and how to get to the Atlantic Avenue - Pacific Street subway station and worked my way there.  Crossing a street on Flatbush Avenue there was a deeper puddle than any others and got both feet soaked, which in one way was good, they were both equally soaked instead of an imbalance of one of them more than the other...

At the Atlantic Avenue - Pacific Street station there was obvious signs of people having been sick in the station.  Near the turnstiles a large police officer was talking to several young women, one of them utterly hysterical, sitting on the ground and I thought she was tearing her clothing.  I couldn't make out anything she was yelling, the officer was forcefully telling them to calm down, and another was yelling at the hysterical one, "he don't fuckin' need you!".

But that faded out as I went down the steps to the platform.  On the platform there was vomit at the bottom of five or six pillars in a row, and I just kept going past that, far enough not to smell it.  Lots of very tired people were down there waiting for the train.

When I got out of the 53rd Street station near my apartment shortly before 3am the sidewalk was filled with extremely well dressed people with more going in and out of the church on the street corner, so it looked like they had some event that evening.

I stayed up just enough to drink, without gulping, some seltzer and then off to bed.