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Month: December 2014

The Interview

The Interview

Has everyone forgotten about Death of a President?

Nobody threatened to blow up a theater when a British director made a movie about killing a sitting American President.

We didn’t hack Great Britain – well, apparently the NSA is hacking everybody – but not over this movie!

Also – didn’t North Korea put out some propaganda a few years ago with the American flag and Obama covered in blood and fire – essentially saying “we will destroy America?”

Oh yeah – they did!

Last day in NYC, too many people, too much rain

Last day in NYC, too many people, too much rain

On Saturday we tried to use the remaining attractions in our NYC CityPass booklets, but both MoMa and the Natural History Museum had coat check lines stretching for miles. The Natural History Museum had an entry line stretching all the way back to the subway platform.

So, after giving up on both of those we headed to Grand Central Station to take pictures. Sam and I had gifted each other with new DSLRs for Christmas so, for once, Sam was even more excited about snapping shots than I was.

Around 5 we headed to the southwest edge of central park to meet our friends at Leopard Des Artistes.

The food was great, but Sam won the best pick of the menu (as she always seems to) with a (not on the regular menu) veal and tomato dish served over a bed of truffle/cheese risoto. Some other good dishes were the meatloaf, pork chops and stuffed rabbit.

After the fancy meal it was time to check off another item from Sam’s bucket list. She loves the ballet, specifically the nutcracker, so when our friends heard we were looking at tickets to the NYCB version (possibly the most famous) they snapped up tickets and told us not to worry about it.

The only thing that ate away at me during the show was that the Big Ten Championship game was going on at the exact same time. Apparently the buckeyes didn’t need me to watch for good luck, as they blew out Wisconsin 59 to 0.

After checking the show our friends took us to a tea place near Columbus circle before saying goodbye.

When the Rain Comes

When the Rain Comes

On Friday we tried to visit the Met, but only had about an hour as we had a reservation for the Landmark Cruise from Pier 83 at 5pm.

We ended up accidentally eating lunch at the Met employee cafeteria, which was surprisingly delicious.

On our way to Pier 83 we walked through Central Park and down the east side of the island.

The boat ride was very cold, but the sun was setting and the lights of the tall buildings on the island were starting to glow. However, by the time we turned the corner and headed past Brooklyn the rain started to pour, turning the rest of the ride into an exercise in finding the few dry shielded spots outside.

It was also an exercise in trying to squeeze good shots out of a camera in motion, in the rain and at night.  It was the first test of how far I can push this new camera (although there’s probably a lot of the functions I probably don’t know yet).  Unfortunately because the a7 is so capable with ISO it tends to push it up really high in low (or no) light.  I can’t stand noise in my photos, so I had to go into manual mode and experiment with shutter speeds, cranking ISO down and down the lowest I could go and still get something that wasn’t blurry.  However, when you’re boating through fog and rain it’s hard to tell if those faraway lights in your photos are blurry or not.  So, I just experimented and took hundreds and hundreds of photos at different settings and only a few of them still arrived intact after a proper lightroom review.  To get some idea, I shot about 1,200 photos on this trip, most on the boat – and the flickr album for this trip contains less than 300 photos.

After hopping off the boat we headed to the lower east side to meet our friends for dinner at Luzzo’s, a place we’d gone with them three and a half years earlier and remembered for it’s great pizza.

After that they took us to Milk for corn flake flavored ice cream, and then it was back to their apartment to talk about big life-changing events. They had some big news to share with us, which I can’t really talk about, but will say it might result in another very long international flight in a year or two – and maybe no more NYC trips for a good long time.

Observing New York

Observing New York

Unlike our other vacations, we hadn’t really planned what we’d do in New York other than seeing some friends and a few shows that Sam had on her bucket list.

Thursday was wide open until 5pm so we decided to go to the Empire State Building Observation Deck.  I’d been up there way back in 2007, but Sam had never been.  Luckily the day was merely overcast and no rain scheduled to move in until the next day.  We made it our goal to use all three of the outdoor observatories while nothing would fall upon us.  At the Empire State they confiscate your tripod after going through security.  This started a running theme in NYC, we wouldn’t be allowed to break out the tripod anywhere.

Oh – perhaps I should mention why this was esspecially annoying for both of us.  Only two days before leaving on this trip we’d bought each other new cameras for Christmas.  Now, with Sam armed with a DSLR and myself armed with a full-frame DSLR, we were barred from using these powers.  Although, not really.  With the better sensor and software (and higher ISO) of the A7 I was able to snap a lot of handheld night shots that I never could have pulled off with the old NEX.  This became especially useful on the boat in the rain Friday night, but more on that tomorrow…

We went to Eataly for an early dinner, the pasta restaurant was closed so we at branzino and soup at the seafood restaurant. Oh, and a lot of Gelato.  Surprisingly delicious was the coconut flavor.

Next was the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Special, one of Sam’s bucket list items we were checking off on this trip.

After that we went to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and visit the “top of the rock.”  Without a tripod this was highly frustrating as the top is mostly a lookout with solid plexiglass sheets forming the edges of the deck instead of the traditional fences in place at most observatories.  At least at the Empire State you can push your camera out beyond the wires and settle it on a ledge for a long exposure.

To be fair, there is a second level at Top of the Rock that does have ledges, but it’s inset from the lower level quite a bit, so the view can’t tilt down on a long exposure as much as one would like.

Next up, around 11pm was a trip back to the Empire State Observatory Deck before finally heading back to Harlem after midnight.

Another conference and no Christmas Tree

Another conference and no Christmas Tree

On Wednesday I had another conference to attend, this time at the IBM building. The event started off okay, with a presentation on content marketing – but quickly devolved from there with panel after panel of uninteresting marketing discussion. The irony is that a week before the event they’d asked me to be on one of those panels.

In the early afternoon Sam and I took the 2 up to Harlem and checked into our next AirBnB, which turned out to be very nice.

We dropped our bags and took the subway back down to midtown to visit times square and Macy’s.

I’d walked by the new flagship Citizen store in Times Square the last two days and finally now had a chance to go in. To my surprise, a new watch model had come out that was nearly the exact thing I’d been looking for a year and a half ago when I lost my old Citizen – but NOBODY sold anything like it at the time. Apparently my taste is ahead of the market and it’s now catching up. When we went to Macy’s they had the same watch on a deep discount because of holiday sales, but we didn’t buy it as the only one left was the floor model.

UPDATE: Sam has since ordered the watch for me online as an early birthday present!

We walked around times square and then headed to Rockefeller Center for the tree lighting ceremony. We arrived about two hours early, but the crowds were already so packed that there was no way we’d get to see anything. Remember, New York is a city of very narrow streets, so a free concert can only really fit a few thousand people in front of the stage, otherwise you’re just listening to echoes bouncing off the buildings and carried by the cold wind.

We headed back up to Harlem a little early to do some grocery shopping and plan our next day.  I also had quite a lot of work email to catch up on since the conference wifi had been unsecured – KP laptops refuse to connect to unsecured wifi networks.

Hell’s Kitchen

Hell’s Kitchen

By the end of November my insomnia had returned and only allowed 3-5 hours of sleep per night.  It got so bad that around Thanksgiving I went back to my doctor and she prescribed Ambien.  Desperate for something, anything, to let me get at least seven hours of sleep for the first time in weeks I happily popped those pills.

In fact, the ambien seemed to have less of an effect than the 5mg of melatonin I’d already been taking.  Given the very scary list of side-effects I didn’t bother trying it a second night.  Instead, I returned to my mix of melatonin and benadryl (taking a small dose of benadryl if I can’t get back to sleep after 2 or 3).

Still, I rarely broke six hours of actual sleep time with this routine.

On the morning I flew to NYC for business it was half that.

When I finally got to my airbnb in Hell’s Kitchen around 9pm and started looking around I noticed crumbs and food on the floor and other surfaces. It was a very small studio apartment, probably originally a large storage closet or something.  The lack of space didn’t bother me, that’s what you expect in Manhattan, but the bed wasn’t made and there were other weird little pieces of trash here and there like a sticker with some filipino guy’s name on it stuck to the floor. There were lots of other little details that just didn’t seem right. Even after I tried to clean the place myself it was still too much to bear. I knew Sam would be coming the next night, and I was already dreading trying to explain away the excuses why I’d put us up in such a hovel for four days.

The studio had one large window right under a streetlight and not much of a curtain. Beyond that window, right in front of the apartment was a construction crew, jackhammering the pavement.

I decided to clean up a little more, armed with nothing more than water and a dwindling supply of paper napkins then take a shower, surely the noise would be over by then.

It wasn’t. Now the jackhammering was interrupted by some kind of heavy equipment scraping at the pavement.  My camera doesn’t have zoom, by the way, that photo was taken with no cropping or anything, it was that close.   It’s almost a longer walk for me to go to the bathroom at home at night than to walk over to those workers, not that I was about to at midnight.

After some deliberation I called AirBnB and asked to be moved, which is something I’ve never attempted before. Because it involves sending pictures of your “problems” with the rental and waiting for a response the whole ordeal took nearly four hours until I was relocated a few blocks away to the Hampton Inn, ironically for half the price of the airBnB rental and with much better everything.

Because of all this stress I wasn’t able to get my brain to calm down and get any sleep until about 5am. But Since the conference started at 7 I basically had to jump up and get on my way an hour later. The conference was only a few blocks away, but I had to bring all my stuff with me since I had nowhere booked to stay the night after.

Making it even more complicated was that Sam was flying in that day, so I needed to figure it all out before she arrived and find another hotel – and still attend and participate in the conference itself.

I ended up booking a room at Row NYC, again, for less than a night at the terrible AirBnb. At the same time I was going back and forth with the host of the AirBnB we’d originally reserved for the following weekend – asking if she could extend forward our reservation to Wednesday night instead of Friday.

Needless to say, after Sam arrived on Tuesday and we went across the street to Shake Shack for dinner I went to bed early and got the best sleep in weeks.  For the first hour or so I actually wasn’t sleeping.  Being that we were still in the heart of Manhattan there was still quite a bit of street noise and light even on the fifth floor.  Then Sam mentioned she’d brought ear plugs and the last thing I remember is putting them in – BAM I was asleep for the next eight hours.  It’s very strange how much you appreciate just getting an adequate amount of sleep once you know how bad it feels to not get it.

UPDATE: Many people have suggested that perhaps my insomnia is caused more by stress than a chemical imbalance.  This trip proved to me that it’s a bit of both.  As the days continued and, although I still checked my work email every day, the concerns of the office seemed farther and farther away, I noticed my sleep improving.  I was wearing the ear plugs every night, as nowhere we stayed in New York was free of noise or light and still taking time-delayed melatonin.  My conclusion, weeks later, is that my insomnia seems to rise and fall with the intensity of the pressure at the office.   I still think I’m missing something as without melatonin supplements it has always taken me longer to fall asleep than normal people.