Blair and Bush, Leno and O’Brien

Interesting article on the International Herald Tribune site comparing Blair’s recent comments on the drivers behind Iraq with Bush’s gung-ho approach.  While Blair has not apologised for the act of waging war, he has apologised for the mis-information that led up to this.  Given that the former was wholly dependent on the latter, I don’t quite see how this works.  The article itself was featured in Google’s world news – no such article would be likely to appear in the American section.

The US has been far less bothered about the drivers behind Iraq (to the extent that Giuliani tried to justify the war by referring to Saddam Hussein himself as a WMD at the Republican National Convention), and Bush seems to have avoided the spotlight that Blair has been under for over a year.  I think this is down to the British public being better informed than the Americans, although I also think that the American public is more easily swayed by sound-bites and diversion tactics.  The questioning of Kerry’s Vietnam record is a good example of this, as is the recent CBS debacle over Bush’s history, prompting a great quote from Jay Leno – "Dan Rather put the BS in CBS".  The American media loves the tabloid-esque stories that this sort of material generates, and with six weeks left until the election, the focus is still on the candidates’ histories (both recent and less so) as opposed to their underlying policies.

Talking of Leno, he’s given five years’ notice for his job hosting NBC’s The Tonight Show.  I quite like Leno, although the format of these shows – Letterman included – grates with me somewhat.  The sad, sad news is that Conan O’Brien will be replacing him.  While we all have five years to prepare for this, Conan’s comedy skills are non-existent, and his manner is irritating to say the least (to a similar degree to Paul Shaffer, the annoying musician on Letterman).  Apparently, he (O’Brien, not Shaffer) has his followers, but there again, so does Bush.

Baseball, football and soccer

It seems Wayne Rooney had a convincing start in his Man. Utd. debut against Fenerbahce.  Let’s see whether his form continues in the Premiership, and whether Man. Utd. can match the consistency of Arsenal this season.  A good win for Newcastle at the weekend has helped them continue up to sixth in the table under Souness’s management.

Went out with Andy last night to watch Monday night football, in the Time Out bar on Amsterdam at 76th.  The Redskins lost out to the Cowboys 21-18, missing the chance to even things up with a field-goal at the last, as the clock beat them to it.  We didn’t really see much of the match, as we were busy catching up.  Also, it is quite difficult to get into a match with the constant interruptions for adverts.  Good to see Eddie George keeping himself busy following his retirement from the Bank of England.

There was another sport underway throughout the night in the bar itself.  Tables slightly longer than a pool table were each laden with 20 plastic pint cups, ten at each end of the table in the shape of an equilateral triangle (with sides four cups in length).  Each cup contained about an inch of beer.  Two teams of two took it in turns to throw (without a bounce) a ping-pong ball into the opposing team’s cups ("win a goldfish at the fair" style).  Success results in the opposition downing the cup.  The team that clears the opposing team’s cups first is declared the winner.

The beauty of the game is the degradation in performance suffered by the losing team due to the increased alcohol intake.  It’s also a nice touch that the American obsession with cleanliness doesn’t go away, even in the throes of drunkenness, a dip-cup being used to clean the balls after they’ve been on the floor.  Some of the players we saw could easily have won scholarships on the back of their performances.

Tonight’s Yankees game in the Bronx has been cancelled due to the remnants of Jeanne hitting New York tonight.  Flood warnings are interrupting Law and Order, Special Victims Unit as we speak.  The Yankees also had a night off last night, during which, Boston won their game in hand, taking them within three games.  Boston are at Tampa tonight and have just gone into extra innings tied at eight apiece.  A win would put the pressure on the Yankees in their double-header tomorrow night.  A loss would probably leave the Yankees free to win their division.

Red Sox resurgence

The Red Sox have had a promising weekend, beating the Yankees 2-1 in their latest series.  This takes them within four wins of the Yankees with a game in hand and makes for an exciting end to the season.  The Broncos went 2-1 with a win against the Chargers, as did the Giants with a win against the Browns.

For some reason (yet to figure out why), whenever the NY Giants are referred to on the news, they’re called the New York Football Giants.  This can’t be to differentiate them from the San Francisco Baseball Giants – the New York bit makes this pretty clear.  Maybe there’s another set of Giants in New York that I don’t know about – the New York Shuffleboard Giants?

Π/2 discount

Π (pi) doesn’t look too good in Verdana (the font used on my ‘blog), but it looks great in Times New Roman (the font used in my ‘blog CMS’s rich-text editor). In Verdana it looks more like a squared-off lower-case "n".

Anyway, I just ordered some stuff from Amazon, and because I’ve been using A9 recently (Amazon’s entry in the search market war), I get an additional Π/2 discount (1.57%). Not sure if it rounds to these two decimal places or whether I get the additional c. 0.000796%. Their use of Verdana in the order confirmation confused me for a while, as I didn’t know it was a Π (apologies for all you Verdana readers out there – it looks a bit better in Courier if you want to resort to Lynx). I wouldn’t’ve thought that many Amazon users will understand why Π is being used to calculate their discount, unless Amazon’s working off the premise that all A9 users are geeks.

In trying to eat into Google’s market share, Ask Jeeves has just got a bit more clever in its approach to search, adding personalisation to its offering, enabling users to save preferences. The question remains as to whether the companies that hold personal data (Yahoo!, Microsoft/MSN, Amazon etc.) can get their software working cleverly enough before Google’s superior application gets fed by GMail’s personal data (or more to the point, the Google appliance becomes embedded within GMail). I quite like A9, and it’s the closest I’ve seen to a true search application. The buttons on the right offer a sensible list of sub-categorisations. They’ve got some work to do with their escaping of characters, as there’s a bunch of ampersands littering entries’ titles – reminds me of my Verity days. On a related subject, there’s a good article on Joel on Software about character encoding. Enjoy!

Streets and avenues

It seems there’s only one famous person who lives on the Upper West Side: Pat Kiernan, a reporter on New York One, the local news channel. We’ve spotted him on three separate occasions.

Manhattan is made up of around twelve avenues and (if you go up to the top of the Park) 110 streets. (The word twelve comes up quite a bit in my blogs – the Tube goes under the Thames twelve times; I was presented with twelve different options of shrimp in Fairway. I’m glad I made the decision to use the word rather than the number.)

Bear with me for a moment. Let’s say that First Avenue represents January, Second = February, Third = March, Lexington = April, Park = May, Madison = June, Fifth = July, Sixth = August, Seventh = September, Eighth = October, Ninth = November and Tenth = December. And each of the streets from Houston (0) to 99th Street represents its most recent equivalent year (Houston = 2000, First Street = 2001, Second Street = 2002, Third Street = 2003, Fourth Street = 2004, Fifth Street = 1905, Sixth Street = 1906 … 98th Street = 1998, 99th Street = 1999).

Now imagine that New York imposes a law stating that you must live within one block of the birthday crossroads of someone in your household. For instance, as I was born in July 1973, I’d have to live within a block of Fifth Avenue and 73rd Street. I wonder what the consequences would be.

Areas of the city would go through trend cycles. At the moment, the trendy area would probably be between 74th and 84th Streets, which would be full of twenty-somethings. Meanwhile, the area around NYU would be full of geriatrics. Twenty years from now, NoHo would become hip again (I’m allowed to say "hip" as I’m now over 30), as the geriatrics died out and those born in the early 2000s took their place.

As well as living in areas full of people of a similar age, people on your avenue would have the same, or adjacent, star-signs, and birthdays would ripple across Manhattan from east to west. You’d have to do a bit of playing around with Central Park (it would be harsh to force people to live in the Park just because they were born in the autumn), but Manhattan becomes sufficiently wide up there to accommodate the twelve avenues, without the need for Sixth and Seventh. Also, you’d have to do a bit of artistry with the Greenwich area, in which the streets are less uniform. I’m not sure what you’d do with the area south of Houston, btw, or for that matter, the area north of 99th Street. Maybe they’d be saved for business activity.

The only ways to move to a different area of the city would be:

I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but I thought it was worth a quick ponder. I think the reality of the situation would result in unnecessarily densely populated areas (where the twenty- and thirty-somethings live) and more sedate areas (where the older people live). Maybe that’s a good thing. It’d make a mean über-reality TV show!

Zip code error

Apologies to all those I confused a while back when I claimed that Plymouth, Florida and Lebanon, Missouri were the only towns with zip codes of the form 2n. Imagine my recent surprise to find out that zip codes can start with a zero. This, along with the sack-loads of mail questioning the accuracy of my proposition, prompted me to investigate further.

Yarmouth, Maine has a zip code of 04096 (27). Mansfield, Massachusetts takes 02048 (26). Apologies for any confusion that these omissions must have caused over the last few weeks.

This exercise also highlights the number of US towns that are named after other places, particularly British ones. You’d’ve thought that the somewhat contrived process used to select the above towns would make them quasi-random, and therefore representative of the US as a whole. My conclusion is that 75% of US places are named after British towns, the remaining 25% being named after Middle Eastern countries.

As an addendum, the Yankees (from New York, named after the Duke of York, North Yorkshire, England) beat the Red Sox (from Boston, named after its namesake in Lincolnshire?) 6-4 tonight. This eases the pressure on the Yankees for the number one spot which would secure home field advantage in the play-offs. Also, speaking of Middle Eastern countries, rumours are currently circulating that Michael Jordan is about to come out of retirement for the third time. I wish he’d make up his mind…

Subway line lettering/numbering convention

The M34 is the slowest bus in Manhattan, averaging 4mph, slower than walking. The numbering of bus routes is pretty simple. Their letter(s) refers to their borough (M for Manhattan, Bx for Bronx etc.), while their number usually has some indication as to the street along which they travel (this is more true of the cross streets than the avenues). For instance, the M34 takes over half an hour to go across-town along 34th street.

But who decided upon the numbering and lettering of the subway lines? They seem pretty random to me. Unlike London, where the lines on the Underground bear some indication of where they go (e.g. Bakerloo, the inspired Waterloo & City), when they were built (Jubilee) or their general shape (Circle), each New York subway line is denoted by a letter or number. The 7 goes out to Shea stadium in Queens, our local lines are the 1, 2, 3 and 9 etc. In actual fact, each train’s behaviour gets its own dedicated reference.

Now I love numbers as much as the next man (assuming the next man is a numbers freak), and I’m quite a big fan of the English language. (My affinity with specific numbers doesn’t really transfer to letters, partly because there are only 26 to go at, but mainly because they don’t share the same power or beauty as numbers.) But the system that they’ve adopted in New York makes things difficult to remember. Jubilee, Victoria, Hammersmith & City, Circle, combined with their associated colours, all bring with them a certain emotion and feeling. The Jubilee and Central lines to me evoke a sense of professionalism. The Bakerloo has always troubled me (not sure why), while the Piccadilly and Northern lines bring with them a certain level of dread.

Numbers and letters can’t do this in the same way. Also, if New York continues with the policy of one character denotation, they’re limited to 36 – unless they start introducing the likes of the Ampersand line – if so, I think I’d move just to use it. They’ve already used eight of the ten numbers (0 and 8 have failed to make the grade) and there are only nine letters remaining (H, I, K, O, P, T, U, X, Y). What did they do to get left out? London has the luxury of being able to add new lines until the cows come home. Whether it has the wherewithal, or whether London would collapse if there was any more tunnelling, is a different matter. (BTW, the tube currently goes under the Thames twelve times, with the Jubilee Line accounting for four of these.)

Back to my original point – when I arrived in London, I pretty quickly figured out the general layout of the tube system, the colours and names of the lines, even if I couldn’t name every station. (I later grew what some would claim to be an unhealthy affection for the system.) I’m still struggling with the New York system, and I figure it will be a while before I master it.

A couple of things to ponder over lunch/ignore immediately after reading:

See – there’s another selling point for the London nomenclature!

New York Public Library

I went to the New York Public Library today, partly to look around the place and partly to read some more of the Joel Spolsky book.  Approaching it from the south on Fifth Avenue, I was stopped short at 40th.  The NYPD Bomb Squad had cordoned off two full blocks outside the library, and a guy was donning a suit making him look like a khaki version of the Michelin Man.  After walking up to a suspect package outside the library and taking what seemed to be x-ray shots, all was deemed safe.

If it had been a bomb, it would have wiped out the best part of a dozen police cars that had decided to park in the cordoned off area.  Not sure if the event warranted such a big police presence, or whether the wow factor was the big draw.  I expect the latter.

No one (least of all Ms. Sands) could deny Starbucks’ success in penetrating the previously non-existent UK coffee market.  Creating the need and then exploiting it to the max (three outlets within the confines of Victoria station being a great example) has been pretty impressive.  Its dominance in New York is similar.  However, some may argue that its success is all the more impressive, given that there are so many competing outlets that address a similar market.  It’s unusual not to find at least one deli on every block, every one serving coffee – and it’s pretty good stuff (in my humble opinion) at a fraction of the cost.  Yet the queues (lines) at Starbucks don’t seem to get any shorter.  Maybe it’s because the delis don’t serve grande skimmed whipped whipped extra hot latté; maybe it’s more of an aspirational thing.  My money’s on the latter.

In a country that can’t live without statistics to support its sport, a couple of big events happened this weekend.  Barry Bonds hit his 700th career home run on Friday as he approaches Babe Ruth’s 714 and Hank Aaron’s 755.  (Does anyone know who Hank Aaron is?)  Meanwhile, in the NFL on Sunday, Jerry Rice ended his streak of 274 successive catching games – a streak that began in 1985!

New York vs. London

No city has ever inspired me to the same degree as New York.  London is a great city (yes, Simon, great), but the buildings and the feel of the place back in 1995 when I arrived didn’t arouse the same level of passion and intrigue as New York does now.

You may know that I’m a big fan of buildings; and I believe buildings contribute hugely to a city’s character and "greatness".  London has some great buildings, tall and otherwise.  Working in Canary Wharf caused quite a bit of neck-cricking and I often just walked around the place at lunchtimes marvelling at the buildings,  both complete and in progress.  The original tower itself (1 Canada Square) is impressive, the Ogilvy Building (10 Cabot Square) is beautiful and the Jubilee Line Canary Wharf station is awe-inspiring – if you’ve not been, go.  Then there’s the contrast between the old and the new in the City – the Royal Exchange, the Gherkin, the NatWest tower/Tower 42 (never been that impressed myself), the Bank of England (again, overrated), the Lloyds building, St. Paul’s.  And there are countless others – St. Pancras Station (I hope they retain its character while they’re converting it), the Globe, Tower Bridge, the list goes on.

The list of memorable buildings in New York is a lot shorter – Chrysler, Empire State, World Trade Center (as was), CitiCorp center, MetLife building, Flatiron, Grand Central Station (possibly the greatest station in the world, with the possible exception of Clapham Junction), the Brooklyn Bridge, after which you’re struggling (or at least I am).

Maybe it’s their physical prominence which increases their significance – I’m sure this contributes to the appeal of New York.  Maybe the other attributes of the city increase the inspiration and intrigue – the fact that Manhattan is an island pretty-much fixed in size (I say pretty much due to the reclamation that’s happened on the south-east); the scale and sacred nature of Central Park.  Whatever it is, the city is inspiring.  Looking south at night from our apartment over the skyline of midtown can’t fail to trigger this – the leviathans of the GM Building, Chrysler, CitiCorp, MetLife, Empire State (left to right) in the background, with the hotels running the length of 59th Street (across the south side of Central Park) in the foreground, the traffic steaming up 10th/Amsterdam, the planes tracking the New Jersey coast as they approach Newark from the north.

I’m looking forward greatly to living and working in this phenomenal city.

Ipso facto

Interesting page about the history of lorem ipsum, for those who are in the typesetting or internet industries.

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