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.

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