Tall Manhattan Buildings That Aren’t Offices, Or Why I’m a Complete Idiot

After working at American Express for almost a year now, I’ve discovered something about our view to the north. When we look out the window, we see what looks like a large brick deco building with two antennae on top. What we are actually seeing is a brick deco building with a near-identical yet larger brick deco building directly behind it with two antennae.

I discovered this on Saturday when I attended a rooftop gathering in Tribeca, a charity fundraiser for XKCD.com‘s new comic strip compilation. Here is the view of the same building from the back. Note my office in the back on the right, and the lack of antennae. The building we see is 60 Hudson St. The building behind it is 32 Avenue of the Americas.

Looking at google maps, I see that the sightline from our office to both buildings is a completely straight line.

This drove me nuts for quite some time. I could never be sure if I was looking at 60 Hudson or 32 Avenue of the Americas. Turns out, it was both.

The fun part is the 60 Hudson is the old Western Union building, but has been converted into a carrier hotel, meaning that it primarily houses telecommunications hardware – fiber optic lines, switches, servers, etc. There’s very little office space in there. In a similar fashion, 33 Thomas Street is a massive telephone exchange building. I had often wondered what the story was with this scary, monolithic, windowless building. Who would want to work in there? Well, very few people do. In fact, the top section is mostly empty space for ventilation.

A similar purpose is served by Verizon’s 374 Pearl St. So that’s a total of four buildings in lower Manhattan that serve mainly as technology and telecommunications hubs. 60 Hudson, in fact, has so much diesel fuel in it for the emergency generators that it’s making the now-residential Tribeca neighbors very nervous, post 9/11.

Know Your Subway Cars

I tripped over a fun series of Wikipedia entries today – the various types of New York subway cars.

R32 – The tin cans from the 1960’s favored by the C line. Built by the lowest bidder in 1964 for the paltry sum of $117,000 per car!

R42 – The popular, all shiny gray interior trains with poles perfect for pole-dancing. From 1969.

R46 and R44 – The funky 70’s orange and yellow interior cars, the ones we F line travelers know so well.

R62 – Still funky 70’s colors, but with all the seats pointing the same way. From 1983, when train cars cost $918,293 each.

R142, R143, R160A and R160B – The fancy new trains with all the digital displays and automated announcements. Built by Kawasaki for a cool 1.2 million dollars each. The B article contains the information I’ve long been wondering about: the distinctive stepped-pitch whine that these cars make.

Most of the older cars were rebuilt and refurbished in the 1990’s. The names indicate the contracts under which they were purchased. There are even more articles on decommissioned trains like the R9, for example.

I love Wikipedia. It’s a place where expert trainspotters can share their vast wealth of useless minutiae. For those who want to dig even deeper into the trainspotting obsession, here is a deeper breakdown at nycsubway.org.

I Was of the Understanding That There Would Be No Math

For the first time in my life, I have a job that requires me to use algebra on occasion. I’ve come up with a tough, yet basic linear equation that I’d like to tell Excel to perform in steps. Maybe you can tell me how in this example:

What number multiplied by 18%, plus itself = 1180?

Or, (X*.18) + X = 1180

Solve for X. The answer is 1,000 but show your work. I need to know how to tell Excel to perform it.

T-Shirt Nerd Glee

I like t-shirts. I particularly enjoy wearing obscure t-shirts understood only by a few fellow enthusiasts (Achewood fans, Mike Keneally fans, musicians, etc.). I like wearing them because they’re often conversation starters for otherwise complete strangers. So when I wore my Latyrx shirt to the DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist show yesterday, I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Some background info: Latyrx was a duo comprised of rappers Lateef and Lyrics Born. They made one pretty great album and went their separate ways. I found my t-shirt at a thrift store on Atlantic here in Brooklyn for $2[1]. It didn’t start any conversations at the show, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Lateef was one of the opening acts as part of a new duo, the Mighty Underdogs, with Gift of Gab from Blackalicious.

I was even more surprised when they did a Latyrx tune, and Lateef said “my man in the Latyrx shirt knows this one.”

1.) Score. Of. The. Year.

One Reason Vista Rocks

I’ve just discovered that Windows Photo Gallery makes basic photo editing a breeze. It does Auto Adjusts, Brightness/Contrast, Cropping, Color/Tint/Saturation and Red Eye Reduction. And it does it all without having to navigate the various menus that most other photo editors require (because of course, those programs do tons more things). I don’t recall if these were features in Gallery’s XP version (maybe one of y’all can tell me). Either way, Microsoft can say they made at least one program intuitive and easy to use. Sadly, they tried a little too hard with Microsoft Word, replacing the “File” menu with a clickable logo. NOT very intuitive. I had to google it to find “Save As.” Bad move there, Microsoft. Overall, though, Word for Vista is a definite improvement visually. If it weren’t for all the bugs, Vista might have been a serious competitor against Apple for non-tech types.

UPDATE: I’ve discovered that I have some older video files (ASF format) that Windows Media can’t play (it says it needs a codec), and yet Windows Photo Gallery will play the video just fine.

Why Facebook Sucks

Sure, MySpace allows people to put up crummy animated gifs and otherwise design their profiles to look like a circa 1997 GeoCities webpage, but Facebook gives people a zillion little plug-ins that don’t really do anything. I don’t log in to Facebook often, but when I do I get besieged with things I don’t understand:

1 music invitation
1 pandora invitation
3 likeness quiz requests
2 compare requests
1 tv trivia invitation
1 tv show trivia invitation
1 werewolves invitation
1 booze mail request
1 pirate invitation
1 hi five friend request
1 super wall post request
3 my questions requests
1 get superlatives invitation
1 live it up invitation
1 top friends friend request

I guess I’m just not taking advantage of the website, but the few things I’ve clicked on turned out to be utterly pointless, so I’m never sure what I’m getting into when I click on something.

Also weird is that on Facebook you can buy “gifts” for people for a dollar, and apparently all that you get is an icon to display on your page. $1 for a gif image. What a great racket they’re running.

Tiny Triumphs

Today I was hanging out on Heather’s porch in the lovely weather eating jambalaya, and later, Girl Scout cookies[1]. In a flash of inspiration (no doubt fueled by Dos Equis and PBR) I was compelled to attempt a minor feat: from where I was sitting, could I throw a cookie into the open driver’s side window of my car?

To give you some idea of just how tricky this particular proposition was, the distance was about 30 yards, and the depth between my location and the car window was about 10 feet. The window, about 2×3 feet.

I made it in 1 out of 5 attempts. I can only assume my success was attributable to my Zen-like state of indifference[2] and my incredible tossing skills. I’m not saying it’s like landing an F15 on an aircraft carrier, but on the list of Highly Unlikely Tasks its place is probably in the thousands or hundreds of thousands, somewhere between herding cats and starting a fire with a stick on the first try.

My other recent triumph is far less impressive[3]. Last Wednesday I was watching old Star Trek: the Next Generation episodes with not one but two attractive women on my couch. The ramifications of this event were, of course, impressive only to my 8th grade self. Nevertheless, Tara and Katherine are card-carrying Trek nerds, and we hope to get together again soon. Tara’s birthday was Saturday. She had a Star Trek party with uniforms. Wow.

1.) The shortbread ones. Trefoils. From the Latin trifolium, “three-leaved plant”, French trèfle, German Dreiblatt and Dreiblattbogen, indicating a graphic form composed of the outline of three overlapping rings. Like the biohazard insignia. Or the runes for Led Zeppelin’s rhythm section.

2.) I didn’t really care. I mainly wanted to throw cookies at my car. Because that’s what jambalaya and PBR do to you.

3.) I know. “How can that be!?” I hear you say.

Oklahoma City Resident Designated As “Da Man”

Be it known on this day, the 25th of August, 2007, that Heath Harrelson is Da Man. Not only has he masterminded my improved navigation bar (now on the right), he actually wrote the collapsible archive plugin at lower right. We’ve been using WordPress apparently longer than most people, and so our archives dating back to 2003 were getting absurdly lengthy. My repeated complaints spurred Heath’s innovation and now all our lives are improved as a result. It is for this reason that we must bestow the title of “Da Man” onto Heath Harrelson of Oklahoma City.

One Evolutionary Advantage of a Rudimentary Nervous System

Animals like squirrels and small birds often move in short, rapid twitches. I’ve read that this is because their nervous systems are fairly simple, and don’t allow for much fluidity of motion. The other day I began to wonder if this might be a survival advantage for prey animals. Many predators react to movements rather than color or shape recognition, and so the less time a prey spends moving, the better for them.

Also, if you’ve ever wondered why squirrels are so indecisive when they’re in the middle of a road in front of a fast-approaching car, it’s because their first instinct at the sign of trouble is to freeze up and remain motionless. I’d also wager that a car’s fluidity of motion confuses them – they’re perhaps more accustomed to a predator bounding up and down as it runs toward them. Also, they’re most often oriented perpendicular to the car, so they only see the car with one eye, without depth perception. All they see is an object increasing in size somehow. I wonder if squirrels have depth perception at all, actually.

And in other zoological news, a great lesson I learned from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is that moths and other insects are attracted to lamps and flames because their internal navigation systems are going haywire. Many flying insects use distant light sources like the moon as fixed reference points in their flight. But artificial light sources like street lamps make that impossible. We can keep the moon on our left and travel in a reasonably straight line, but a moth can’t keep a street lamp on its left; it will end up circling it forever. Or at least until daylight when the lamp turns off. Or until it plunges into the bulb and dies.

Last night a massive cicada was buzzing my porch, and I made the mistake of turning off the porch light with the door open. He zoomed into my living room and headed for my lamp, briefly stunning himself while I turned the lamp off and turned the porch light back on. He recovered and zoomed back outside. The poor bastard.