Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cattle run

My plan for Saturday was to wander around New York and see some of the sights. It rained most of the morning and so mostly what I saw was wet socks, thanks to my well-ventilated shoes. It cleared up in time for the Google-sponsored boat cruise to Liberty Island (where the statue is).

In the evening I finally got down to the Empire State building. I had the impression that I could walk in, buy a ticket and then wait for my turn on an elevator. Guess again - it is a giant machine for turning tourists into money, somewhat in the manner that a slaughterhouse turns cows into fillet steak. Apart from the basic ticket, there were hundreds extra options which you were pushed to buy with obnoxious advertising. Some examples: an audio tour; a view from the 102nd floor instead of the 86th; some VR tour; you could even pay an extra $24 to jump the queue! They funnel you along between ropes airport style (even with a metal-detector+X-ray check), and part of funnel takes you past a green screen where they take photos of everyone and later try to sell you pictures of yourself matted over various backgrounds for $20.

For all that, it's a reasonable view, but probably more worth doing in daytime because it's difficult to make things out at night (I also managed to put my camera onto a slow-exposure setting, so most of my photos are blurry). I took the audio tour, which consists of some former cab-driver telling you some interesting things about what buildings to look at and some history, filled with lots of waffle about how wonderful New York is, how wonderfully ethnically diverse it is, and what he did when he was a boy growing up in New York. He got annoying pretty quickly.

Sunday I spent with my cousin Eileen. We didn't do much of the tourist stuff, more shopping. We went to a computer store where I found a USB to PS/2 adaptor (so I can connect my PS/2 keyboard to my laptop), and to Barnes and Noble (a bookstore - in this case a five-storey one) where I found a number of interesting new books in hard-cover: a Forsyth (the Afghan), the next in the Saga of Seven Suns (which was already available several months ago, but apparently still isn't in paperback), and the first half of the finale of the Dune series (Hunters of Dune). I didn't buy any of them but it gives me some things to keep an eye out for in paperback.

Photos have also been updated. I'm now back in Cape Town, so this is probably the last you'll hear until the TopCoder Collegiate Challenge in mid-November.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Google Code Jam (not edible)

As promised, I'm posting again now that I'm gallivanting. The current gallivant is to New York, for a programming competition called the Google Code Jam. It's powered by TopCoder (a company that runs a whole bunch of contests). There are some scarily good people around.

Due to difficulty with internet access (over an hour on the phone with some surprisingly clued up tech support people - a nice change from SA), I'm only posting this now, after the contest is already over. I came 14th (our of 100 at the finals and about 20000 who signed up). If I hadn't done some silly things during the contest I could probably have made the top 10, but oh well.

Today and tomorrow are free time/sightseeing (there is an organised cruise at 3pm this afternoon). Tomorrow I'm meeting up with my cousin and just spending some time in New York. Not quite sure what I'll do today.

If the wireless connection I'm using holds up, I'll see if I can post some pictures a bit later (I found a wireless signal that requires signup for web, but allows other ports, so I'm tunneling out to UCT and back out via the proxy, and I have to tilt the laptop at exactly the right angle on my lap while sitting in just the right place for it to work).

Update: photos at http://people.cs.uct.ac.za/~bmerry/photos/codejam2006.