It’s pretty rare that I read a book front to back in a single day, unless I am bed-ridden (Roald Dahl’s The BFG was read when I had chicken-pox as a kid) or otherwise incapacitated.  Even planes, which offer an ideal opportunity for reading, have many distractions which seem to get in the way – there’s always at least one film that I am happy to sit through, along with music and the aeroplane food, of which I’m a big fan.

However, yesterday was an exception.  I bought The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon at around 3pm yesterday, after some better than average reviews from a couple of friends and some recent comparisons of myself to the main character by Simon Bond.

What a wonderful book!  The way in which it is written is fantastic, and the traits of the main character are lovable and to a large degree understandable.

Just for the record, I set yesterday’s teaser about Plymouth, Florida and Lebanon, Missouri before reading the book.  The answer is that these are the only two towns in the USA whose zip codes are powers of two (32768 and 65536 respectively – these being the 15th and 16th powers).  I’m still to research the logic behind US zip codes, but I can’t find a 16384 anywhere.  One day I’ll visit these places as some form of pilgrimage.

When the main character in the book gets stressed, he calculates the powers of two (or the cubes) of sequential cardinal numbers in his head.  I used to do this too, but here’s the main difference.  I can get to two to the 23 (8,388,608) without too much bother or the need for paper.  He can get to the 45th power (35,184,372,088,832) without any bother – twice the number of digits!  It reminds me of the puzzle about putting a grain of rice on the first square of a chess-board and doubling the number on each square until you reach the end of the board – the final square would have 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 grains.  (He doesn’t say how far he can go with the cubes, but I struggle after 10.)  I’m surprised, btw, that on google, a search for "Plymouth, Florida" and "Lebanon, Missouri" doesn’t yield any results.  Has no one else observed this?  I guess not.

I’m sure that the varying performance here is largely down to the amount of other stuff that clogs up our brains, which acts as interference.  I had the closing ceremony of the Olympics on in the background while I did my calculations, and I was unable to filter this out completely.  I also found that at some of the more difficult calculations, my mind wandered on to other topics, including the very topic of interference causing a slow-down.  This is probably a reason for having cubes in offices as opposed to going open-plan.  I think the need for communication and cross-fertilisation (I hate that phrase) of ideas interferes with this ideal, and it’s important to have a balance between the two – spaces to work in isolation and places to feed (not canteens).  I’m yet to see this implemented successfully.

I’m also a big fan of The Monty Hall Problem.  A game-show contestant has three doors from which to pick one; behind one of these is a car and behind each of the other two is a goat.  He chooses a door, and the host reveals a goat behind one of the doors not selected.  He then offers the contestant the option of changing their choice or sticking with their original.  The puzzle lies in the fact that human intuition suggests that changing or not changing has no impact on the chances of winning the car.  It’s 50/50, right?  But the maths shows that by switching doors, you are twice (66.7%) as likely to win the car than if you had stuck (33.3%).  I love that.

His numbering of the chapters using prime numbers only is poetic (and resonant), and his description of his non-belief in God is very logical (and appealing).

I recommend the book to anyone who has that kind of bent (Alan, Enda, Darach, Bal), and many who don’t.  I’m not a good reader, but if I can polish it off in a few hours, anyone can.

Two to the n

What’s the connection between:

Answers on a postcard, please.

The weather here’s turned hot again. It’s 83F at the moment, which will hit 88F before the end of the day. Sultry is the best word for it. Everyone here’s gearing up for the Republican National Convention which is being staged at Madison Square Garden, lasting for four days from tomorrow. There is an expectation of lots of protests and there is a much bigger police presence amid fears of terrorist attacks. I think we’ll steer clear of downtown for the next few days. The NYPD has just arrested two guys from Staten Island (who were nicely named on the news) allegedly plotting to blow up a couple of subway stops along with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I’m sure this is a publicity stunt to raise the profile of the police immediately before the convention; I find it strange that the two guys have no links to terrorist organisations and possess no explosives. Also, why on earth would Staten Islanders want to blow up the VNB – it’s their only link with civilisation.

The Olympics are coming to a close, and still very little coverage of any American-free events. It was great to see the Brits taking the gold off Maurice "Mo" Green and co. in the men’s 4x100m.

Mets vs. Yankees

Last night, Andy and I went to see the Mets play against the San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium, courtesy of season tickets from Andy’s work. Not the best game in the world from a technical stand-point, but there were three home runs (two from the Mets) and the seats were great. Dog and beers and a great night. Mets went down 9-4. It all seemed lost with the Mets down 5-0 after the fifth, but scoring three in the sixth made a win seem possible. The Padres wrapped it up in the eighth.

It was a strange environment, one with its positives and negatives. First of all, it didn’t have the same amount of passion as would a Premiership match. This is understandable, given that they play around 160 times in a season (almost every day) before you even consider the play-offs. This must dilute the passion somewhat, and it’s certainly something that Alex Ferguson wouldn’t put up with. Season ticket holders must pay a fortune (our tickets were $58) due to the sheer frequency of the games. However, I think the passion which people take to Premiership matches brings with it a certain level of hatred and animosity that I didn’t see last night. The racism and sexism that is all too prevalent in football wasn’t there, and it was good to be in such a diverse crowd. Although I was cut short by Andy on beginning to applaud a Padres play (in America, everyone plays to win, losing is not an option, in any walk of life), it didn’t feel in any way like sitting with Ben (avid Leeds fan) in the home section of Stamford Bridge – stay stumm or die.

It was odd to see so many people leaving early (to get out of the parking lot), even a number of the Padres fans. Although you see this in soccer (sorry – have to differentiate now), it’s only when the result is sufficiently in the bag/down the toilet.

I have to choose now between supporting the Mets (à la Man. City) or the Yankees (à la Man. Utd.). Mets fans are the best fans (so I was told by the announcer last night), and I’m proud to be one of them.


More sites getting stung by the whole accessibility issue.  Priceline and Ramada.  Although they only got charged $37,500 and $40,000 (costs) respectively, the cost of retrofitting their sites will be way in excess of this. 

I saw a great sign on Leonard Street a while ago chaining off an access ramp saying "Entrance for disabled people only".  Must take a picture of it for use in accessibility presentations once I get a digital camera.  Julie Howell would love it.

Winning, more winning, most winning

American coverage of the Olympics isn’t too bad as far as it goes. The commentators at NBC aren’t as clued-up as their BBC counterparts, but all in all, it’s pretty good. However, I think I’m yet to see an event or race in which an American isn’t competing. Occasionally, you’ll see semi-final one featuring the American, and for completeness, they’ll show the second. I wonder whether they’d even bother showing the "100m dash" final if none of the Yanks were featured. BTW, I’ve heard the name 100m dash before , but wasn’t aware that it’s their official name for the event. I half expected a bus to be pulling away near the finish line with the competitors waving at the driver to stop.

In their coverage, they use the word winningest without so much of a smirk or hand-gesture indicating air-quotes: "This will make Michael Phelps the winningest athlete…". Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the evolution of the English (that’s English) language. However, this is just wrong. Is there any other example of a superlative participle compound? Is there a comparative equivalent (winninger?); what would be wrong with more and most winning? Apparently I’m wrong, although I can’t believe that. Dad? Helen?

New York is the best summer iPod city in the world (based on a comprehensive sample of two cities). There is nothing/little better than walking down the sun-drenched streets (or avenues) with the iPod blaring; New York generates an emotion that isn’t there in London. Maybe it’s because I’m relatively new here, but I actually think it’s down to NY being a better walking city than London. The weather doesn’t harm things either. The forecast is for low 80s and sun all week 🙂

I was on the subway platform at 42nd street at the end of last week (during the day), awaiting my train, listening to Down in the Tube Station at Midnight by The Jam. There’s a sound of a tube train (as its title suggests) at the beginning of the track, which had me convinced that my train was arriving. Imagine my surprise… Can someone confirm whether the same mistake can be experienced in London? Obviously this prompting will affect the authenticity of the experiment.

I’ve heard that Pennsylvania is meant to be a good place to visit, although I saw a T-shirt yesterday advertising the merits of Eastern Pennsylvania. Is it so much better than the West or is this just misplaced loyalty? Can anyone comment on the relative merits of the I’m trying to imagine a Brit sporting a West Yorkshire baseball cap or a Berkshire (except Slough) bumper sticker. (BTW, they like using bumpers as parking aids over here.) Maybe this is an unfair, given that PA is over 90% the size of England. Just like Australia, I don’t think I’ll ever get over how enormous America/how small the UK is. A British guy has just won an impressive marathon of running around 50 miles per day going from West Coast to East Coast. Shame about Paula Radcliffe, btw.

Central Park is still a great place and has seen lots more blading and will no doubt see more this week given the enviable weather we’ll be getting. They’ve got a new form of sky-writing than the loop-the-loop versions that you used to see. Five very high planes vertically above each other (as opposed to horizontally?) travelling in parallel straight lines, ticker-taping smoke in a coordinated morse-code-like fashion. Quite cool, but still not worth the time spent waiting for the end of the sentence/URL/phone number. Wonder how they measure impressions?

Arsenal vs. Man. Utd.

I’ve been reliably informed that once we get cable, we will have the pleasure of more English Premiership matches than you can get in the UK.  Whether they’ll see the light of day over and above programmes like Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens and re-runs of Seinfeld (can you think of a British programme that still gets nightly primetime status eight years after its demise?) is another question entirely.  I’ve always thought it odd that countries like Norway can enjoy Saturday afternoon Premiership football while you can’t do the same in the UK, unless you go to some dodgy pub streaming Norwegian TV.

It’s a shame that Arsenal comes before Bolton alphabetically, giving them a seemingly unjust advantage.  Yeovil Town and York City must feel the brunt of this.  Great to see Man. United’s loss to Chelsea and them languishing in 17th.  I’m sure things will change, but it’s a nice start to the season.

I’m starting to get into the whole baseball thing, and pick up some of the nuances that make it such a popular sport over here.  Going to see the Mets with Andy on Monday, which should enable me to pick up more of the finer details.  Watched the Yankees being beaten 8-2 by the Twins (Minnesota) last night, although at 6-1, it was delicately poised with all the bases loaded and no outs for the Yankees.  It’s a bit like nine-ball (not really) in that quick turnarounds are possible and you’re never out of it.

The weekend

Not a bad weekend apart from a self-induced headache on Sunday due to late night drinking with Andy & Sarah on Saturday night.  We ate at a Burmese restaurant just off 4th Avenue (I didn’t think there was a 4th, but you live and learn) which was previously flagged by Andy as Nepalese.  While Dal-Bhat is very nice, I was struggling to think what the rest of the menu would have to offer, given the limited variety in Nepal.  The food was great, followed by drinks in the Manhattan Cocktail Lounge (not a cocktail in sight; just bottled Heineken) and on to Reservoir on University Place for pool hustling and general drunkenness.  Surprising how well we played under the circumstances.

The Florida storms came northwards on Saturday night and gave NY a drenching but little in the way of the high winds that had been forecast.  Whenever there’s any rain, no matter how light it seems, flood warnings are broadcast as streaming banners on the main TV channels.  Just wondering what will happen when winter comes around.

The focus at the moment is on furniture and homeware buying, which is nice.  Again, not knowing the US market makes it difficult to work out whether you’re paying over the odds for things.  A couple of trips off the island may be in order to see whether Manhattan is overpriced.

The Olympics have started, and although MSNBC’s coverage is good, it’s obviously very US-focused, so there’s not a great deal of focus on the Brits.  (I see we got a silver in the synchronised diving.  Surely that should count as two.)  Phelps is getting all of the hype, despite South Africa trouncing him (and three others) in the 4x100m freestyle last night.  Let’s see if Thorpe can beat him tonight…

Vegetarian chicken

I couldn’t help but notice a Vegetarian Chicken Salad in the supermarket the other day. Not sure if the vegetarian applied to the salad as a whole, or the chicken that was in it. If the former, then I’m very confused, given the fact that last time I looked, chicken was found in the meat aisle.

In Wendy’s, if you want to max your meal, then you don’t max it, you biggie it. I’d argue that people are discouraged to biggie their meal due to the embarrassment of having to ask for it. Maxing (BK) has a certain ring to it, as does Going Large (the McDonald’s equivalent, I think).

Watching the traffic report in New York is as complex as is the British weather report in the UK to the uninitiated. Everything’s an acronym (generally three-lettered), the LIE (Long Island Expressway), the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway, I think), GCP (Grand Central Parkway), GWB (George Washington Bridge) to name but a few. I think I’ll hold off on getting a car until I understand more.

In the US, there are patches for everything: smoking, contraception, stress etc. Just saw a woman come into Starbucks with two. I wonder what ailments she has.

Scrambled eggs for the dogs

Martha was doing a cookery program(me) yesterday before her imminent stint in the slammer.  It was all about the different kinds of olive oil that you can buy.  As a throw-away comment, she said that she only uses extra virgin olive oil when cooking scrambled eggs for her dogs.  I’m not quite sure where to start on this one.  I wonder if they’d notice if she ran out of EVOO (as they call it over here) and had to use your run of the mill olive oil, or, heaven forbid, vegetable oil.  I bet they’re not looking forward to their five month sentence of Pal.

There was also a programme advertised entitled The Secret Life of Pies.  Must watch that – I wonder if they hang out as puddings, or flans at the weekend.

The legal system over here seems a little screwy.  Four guys have been arrested in Florida in connection with battering a family of six to death with baseball bats over an X-Box.  (I wouldn’t care, but I don’t reckon they’re that good.)  Three of them have since confessed; the fourth has not.  The police officer in charge has said on the news that the death penalty is the only option for all four of them.  This is before anything’s hit the courts, or the fourth guy has even confessed.  While the UK system can seem unwieldy at times, this kind of case highlights its strong points, and the problems that exist in the US.  Surely there’s something in the constitution to cover this?

Two full laps of the park yesterday – 12.2 miles.  I’m impressed.  I’m sure you are too…

Waiting for the train that never comes…

So, the B train doesn’t run at weekends.  Thanks for telling me!  I waited on the platform for around 30 minutes, even asking some people of its whereabouts (it’ll be along soon).  It’s quite confusing that none of the signs tell you, apart from the small key at the bottom of the maps.  Always read the small print.

TV advertising over here is very bland, with the occasional notable exception.  Geiko (insurance company) is currently running a series of ads of genius.  Basically, people delivering bad news (judge giving sentence, builder telling a couple their house is as good as derelict etc.) but caveating it with "but I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance".

New York 1 (NY1) is the main local news channel in NYC.  They have the occasional "what’s going on in the world outside New York" slot, but in the main, it’s depressing stuff about who’s been shot in the high street numbers (150+) and the like.  Irrespective of the story being told, however, it seems that none of the reporters’ voices change at all.  The Verrazano Narrows Bridge being 40 years old gets the same intonation as a baby being left in a garbage truck.  Even more so than the BBC’s World Service was famed for.  There’s one news reader whose voice actually belongs on King of the Hill.

Today saw my fourth outing on blades (sorry to harp on), and I successfully completed the full circuit of Central Park.  All the way up to Central Park North.  6.1 miles in total.  In the meantime, saw a couple capsize a rowing boat (not sure how this is possible!) on the imaginatively named The Lake on the west side of the park.

Next Page →