Archive for September, 2006

They just live here

I find it pretty awesome that New York is full of stars, who live here and do utterly mundane things such as shopping at Gap and drinking coffee at Starbucks. Somehow I always thought movie starts lived in their own little galaxy, or maybe in Los Angeles, but surrounded by bodyguards and things either way. It’s nice that they’re people like you and me and simply live here, just like I do.


The New York Dilemma

Argh! For every really cool thing that you do in New York, you will later find out that you also missed some other really cool thing.

Today, Ders and I went to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is just down the street from my apartment. This is a decommissioned aircraft carrier that actually sank several dozen Japanese ships during WW2, and is now used as a museum. I find it very American that they just moored a warship on the Hudson River, right in the middle of Manhattan.

Anyway, the Intrepid is really huge, especially compared to the submarine that lies right next to it. It’s a whole city of its own, and when you’re inside the hangar deck, you wouldn’t even notice it’s not just a house if you didn’t know. The exhibits — mostly military airplanes and helicopters and models of ships — were ok, in particular the revolutionarily shaped A-12 spyplane (an early stealth aircraft), but the really cool thing was the ship itself. Too bad we could only get to see three or four of its ten decks. It seems to me that a museum ship would be an ideal target for urban exploration.

Also, for some reason we didn’t really understand (but weren’t going to ask about), we got in for free upon showing our Columbia ID cards. Free stuff abounds in this city.

The Intrepid (or rather, a small part of it) as seen from the pier:



Midtown Manhattan, as seen from the flight deck (the skyscraper with the green-gray pyramid on top is across the street from my house):



The A-12 spyplane:



Don’t push the red button! We don’t want to accidentally start the engines and sail away with the carrier.



Then, later today, I had a look at the first issue of TONY that I got yesterday as part of my new subscription. Yesterday, I figured it would be sufficient to have a look later. Today, I figured it would be sufficient to have a look tonight. Tonight, I skimmed through it and found that I could have seen a “free-form discussion” between Neil Gaiman and John Hodgman at 7pm, not two kilometres from my apartment. For free! Gah! I could bite myself in the ass for not checking this earlier.

The good news, though, is that this coming weekend, we’ll have the Wired NextFest fair, which involves techno-gadgets as cute and useless as the Atari Nabaztag, which I understand will sing emails to you. Tomorrow night there will be an “opera” of different Nabaztags. This sounds like an option for the weekend. Also, Christie’s is displaying original props from when they shot Star Trek episodes and movies, arranged by category (e.g., “weapons”), which will be auctioned off in October. I’d so want to go have a look, but do I really want to pay $25 just to look at a few fake phasers?

Jewish computers

Today I went to an electronics shop on 33rd Street that is so Jewish that they’re open on Sundays, but closed on Saturdays. (And also this coming Monday, which is Yom Kippur.) 80% of the sales staff were wearing those little Jewish caps. I’m not kidding!

Also, I’ve completed my tour of all five New York boroughs by setting foot in the Bronx today. Contrary to expectations, it’s not all ugly and poor and run-down. The areas we drove through, on our way to a half-day CCLS retreat, involved golf courses and the houses of the people who use the golf courses (i.e., pretty). The retreat took place in a manor in a really cool park that I didn’t have enough time to explore. I did get to talk a handful of pictures, but they really don’t do the spectacular view of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades justice.





Come out and play

So, this past Saturday I went to have a look at the Come Out And Play Festival. Unfortunately, by the time I tried to sign up for anything, everything was already booked out, so I couldn’t play anything. Nevertheless, I decided I could still go and look at people playing. Some games promised to be particularly watchable; I was particularly looking forward to Cruel 2 B Kind, which was played right in my neighbourhood.

Well, I didn’t get to see that one, due to delays related to my exterminator, and didn’t get to play Sonic Body Pong either, for the same reason. However, I did manage to watch Manhattan MEGAPutt, in which teams had to play minigolf over a ten-hole course in the East Village. Here are some pictures; you can also find more professional ones, by the photographer girl who is also visible on my second picture, on flickr.

Before the game starts, there must be some discussion:


Then, when you play long shots, in the streets, you must aim carefully:


The eighth hole was played in Union Square, with your eyes shut or blindfolded.


This was a fun game to watch.

Then in the evening, I went to see Lightning Buzz. After getting lost once or twice in the really dark Central Park, I did find a group of two organisers and five players (as opposed to forty who had signed up). They did play the game after some latecomers showed up, but it was much less exciting than I had anticipated. Instead of the game of laser-tag with flashlights instead of laser beams that I had expected, it was a simple game of tag (touch me and I’m “it” and have to join your chain) with flashlights, and the organisers had worked out a set of ridiculously complicated rules that none of the players really understood. I watched one game and then went home and slept like a stone.

In summary, COAP was a really cool event. My only regret is that I learned about it too late to really participate a lot. However, according to their website, Operation: Mission: Over Under Sideways Down will run another game this autumn, and you can register your e-mail address for being notified before they announce it in public. So guess what I just did? :)

Take me out to the ballgame

I like baseball. I had to come to New York and see it at the stadium to find this out, but it’s a very relaxed sports, in which nothing happens for extended periods of time, but the crucial situations are quite tense. Especially if you’re rooting for a team.

As the Yankees seem to be essentially the baseball version of Bayern Munich, it was clear that the team to root for as an aspiring New Yorker is the Mets. Now is a good time to become a Mets fan, as they (uncharacteristically) totally dominated their division, and were the first team in this season to clinch a division championship. They have the highest hopes that they might repeat the miracles of 1969 and 1986 and win the World Series this year. Unfortunately, they were crushed 0-5 by the Atlanta Braves when I watched them together with Ute. Tonight, I went with Ders, Edit, and Esra, and it seems that my bad luck held out: They lost 2-3 against the Washington Nationals.

Nevertheless, I had a good time (despite the chilly weather), and got to see two home runs. Ders and Esra were less impressed by the game, and left after three innings. I suppose you can’t argue about taste.

Also, I had a lot of time to think during the seventh inning, and I realised that I’m beginning to feel at home here. I’m beginning to be less of a tourist, and I’m mostly finished furnishing my apartment, to the point that I like spending time there. New York is starting to be my city, too — I can just take the 7 train and see a Mets baseball game for $9 whenever I please –, and it’s wonderful and special that this happens, and that I get to live here for a year.
Here are some pictures.

Shea stadium:



A pitch, close up:


My friends: Esra the Turkish architect; Edit the Hungarian economist; Ders the Hungarian architect (from left to right).


Come Out and Play Festival

Oh, wow. This coming weekend (starting tonight), there is the Come Out and Play Festival, where people play games with other people that take place in the streets and subways of New York City and involve the use of laptops, cell phones, etc. Favourite themes seem to include secret agents and pirates.

I love this city.

Now, I’ll need to find out what I can play: I’m going to a baseball game tonight, and tomorrow morning I’ll have to stay home to wait for the exterminator. But perhaps I could go and play Operation: Mission: Over Under Sideways Down on Sunday morning? (Note: Oh no! Registration closed on September 15! So I need to find something else to play.)

If we understand it, it’s not intelligence

I’ve recently discovered the papers of Drew McDermott, one of the great old AI researchers, who happens to be one of two people in a 500 km radius who is interested in automated planning and therefore a hypothetical, potential collaborator. Next to technical papers, he has written some very opinionated and interesting papers on AI as a whole, including such famous papers as “Artificial Intelligence Meets Natural Stupidity” (written just after he got his PhD, no less).

An interesting piece on Deep Blue got me thinking. In this article, McDermott refutes the common argument that Deep Blue is not intelligent because it “only searches through millions of possible move sequences ‘blindly.'” Perhaps the real point is that because some people understand, and many have a general idea of, what Deep Blue actually does, it can’t possibly be intelligent: Intelligence is some kind of mysterious thing that happens in our heads while we’re not looking. Once we know how it works, it just becomes another man-made algorithm; the mystery is gone, hence there is no intelligence. In fact, one reason why neural nets seem so appealing as a model of intelligent systems might just be that they function as black boxes, whose inner workings nobody except the learning algorithm that trains them really understands, and therefore still retain the potential for being “intelligent”.

It’s a bit reminiscent of Richard Feynman’s definition of a trivial theorem in mathematics as “one that has already been proved”. Once you’ve figured out how to do it, it seems easy, and everybody could have done it.


September 2006
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