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Monthly Archives: December 2007

New York looks like this


Flatiron building, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

I was *way* too busy Christmas eating and drinking and watching the Extras finale, but now that that is over with, I finally got around to uploading my pics from NYC.

why yes, I do (heart) NY


I’m back from New York! This was my first trip to NYC since 2000. I don’t know that the city has really changed all that much, but I think in the intervening years, I’ve gone from being a Saskatchewan kid living in Toronto to a pretty committed west-coast urbanite. I say this not because I want to suggest that Vancouver is in quite the same class as NYC, but I do have a much stronger sense of place and why I like living where I’m living. And so I will say this: it is damn hard to get a decent cup of coffee in Manhattan. Not that it can’t be done. (Is there anything that can’t be had in New York?) But you really have to know where you’re going, or you end up with watery Americanos and stale drip coffee.

Aside from that, though, New York is awesome. I got to see the sights with my friend Janelle, spend some time working in the reading room of the New York Public Library, see Spamalot on Broadway (laughed our asses off), and sleep in a tiny fifth-floor room in a Manhattan hostel which had no TV, phone or internet, but had beautiful murals on the walls of all the hallways and rooms.

I’ll put up some pictures later, but here are a few observations from my time in NYC.

  • Going shopping at Macy’s the last Saturday before Xmas was… pretty insane. You know all those shots in Koyaanisqatsi of crowds of people moving, but shot so that the crowds seemed like they were flowing and crawling like they were entities of their own? It’s like that. And it’s stressful. But I managed to buy a Samsonite suitcase at 50% off to carry home all the vintage clothes I bought!
  • Speaking of which, shopping for vintage in NYC is almost too easy. It was fun to go to Williamsburg and visit some hipster-oriented second-hand shops, but Janelle and I visited one (admittedly pretty expensive) vintage store in midtown Manhattan which had hundreds of jackets, all organized by size and colour and style, neatly labelled and sorted. And I mean, dozens of old smoking jackets, corduroy suits, disco jackets, Elvis jumpsuits — everything. It’s too easy. There’s no thrill of the hunt. Sure, I bought a red houndstooth blazer, but I felt a bit dirty doing it.
  • Abhi is right: tiramisu is a lot better in New York. So are bagels. Coffee and sushi, not so much.
  • People in New York are not particularly mean, but unlike Vancouver, they don’t generally go out of their way to be nice. And customer service is mostly pretty bad — or at least, not reliably good. I wouldn’t say I’m a people person: I want simple transactions to be smooth and predictable, and I did find it irritating to have that overruled by the whims of pissy salespeople and surly waitstaff. Seriously, I don’t care if you’re having a bad day — just do your job, take my money, and you never have to see me again.
  • My previous trips to NYC had been pretty much entirely in Manhattan, but this time I got to actually spend some time in Brooklyn (mostly Williamsburg). And for the first time I could actually see myself living in New York. I mean, you got trees and houses and people that know each other. Like a real neighbourhood. And you’re still only about 15 minutes from Manhattan by subway. And all this for only $1400-$2000 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Tofino in Winter


Tofino by Day, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

View from the house Janelle rented in Tofino. I’m looking out at this right now. Life, as they say, sometimes does not totally suck.

Rocky Balboa (2006)


rocky6snip.jpgWell, we made it to Tofino. Off-season Tofino. Which is much cheaper and less crowded than on-season Tofino — Janelle rented an entire house with a spectacular view of the harbour for less than a hotel room in high season. There’s not much to actually do in Tofino in the middle of winter, except cook your own food and watch the birds and the rain — most of the restaurants are closed, it’s dark by four o’clock, and even the few surfers out a Chesterman and Long Beach seem to be acting more out of some kind of surfer work-ethic than genuine enthusiasm. My cell phone doesn’t work here, and the internet is painfully slow. And yes, it’s awesome.

I’ve probably worked harder this year than any time since I started grad school in 2001, and I needed to decompress a few days before hitting Manhattan. Yesterday, I bundled up in layers of wool and leather and hiked the Wild Pacific Trail across driftwood beaches and rocky cliff-tops around Ucluelet. Then I watched Rocky Balboa, which I got it in the mail from Zip shortly before leaving for Tofino. It helped pass the seven or eight hours between sunset and bedtime last night, but that’s about it — it’s eye-rollingly predictable and assumes the audience doesn’t have the attention span to follow a boxing match without MTV-ing it up. Tomorrow, I’ll be on my way to New York.

And so, in conclusion give Rocky Balboa six mumbling plastic-surgery victims out of ten. At least it’s better than Rocky V. A lot better.

The Mist (2007)


themist.jpgNot sure how much I’ll be posting in the near future, since I’m beginning a working vacation — or ‘workation’ — today, and won’t be back until Festivus. Today I’m at Whistler for a machine learning conference; tomorrow, I go to Tofino for the weekend with travel-buddy Janelle; then to Victoria to catch a plane to NYC, where I will be doing touristy things and also some research and networking. I’ve mostly been doing development work, lately, for the start-up I’m working with, but I’ve accumulated a stack of interesting papers that I will be going over. Bobo geek that I am, I’m kind of looking forward to travelling across the continent to stay in a low-budget art hotel and park my ass in a Manhattan coffee shop with a stack of papers and my old PowerBook.

A break is most welcome. This past week, I’ve trying to get out to see Janelle on her tour of the lower-mainland, attending NIPS and presenting my paper at one of the marathon poster sessions, and spending 10 or more hours a day coding so that I could leave town without blocking anyone else’s work or the next release. I’ve been a busy, busy nerd.

Though I did have time to see The Mist — the Frank “hey, I did The Shawshank Redemption” Darabont-directed, Stephen “and so did I” King-written monsters-in-the-eponymous-meteorological-phenomenon horror flick. It has a few jokes and a weak set-up, sure, and parts are cheesy, but the whole damn thing is taken seriously — Darabont isn’t slumming by making a B horror movie, he’s rising to the challenge. And it works, mostly because the tension come not just from the mist-monsters, but from the survivors holed up in a small-town supermarket and reverting to a particularly savage Biblical superstition. But Janelle just thought it was cheesy, so there you have it.

And so, in conclusion, I give The Mist seven blood-encrusted tentacles out of ten. It has cool, hick-eating monsters, Marcia Gay Harden chewing the scenery, and a bizarre and bleak ending. Seriously, what more do you people even want?