Off To New York

This is my parents last full day in Connecticut. Tomorrow, at an ungodly hour, they fly the day’s only non-stop from BDL to PBI.

The goal of the Connecticut Foxes was to make this a vacation full of activity, and we’ve succeeded. Maybe we were a little too aggressive in planning for my dad. We have taken him to the edge of his physical limits… though that wasn’t our intention.

Today was our day to head to New York and the Lower East Side. Stef, Helaine and my Mom love shopping there, but after this week, we knew it would be too much for my dad.

The solution was mine. The five of us would travel to New York together, but when the women headed to Canal Street, my dad and I would continue to Whitehall Terminal and the State Island Ferry.

When I was a kid a trip on the Staten Island Ferry cost 5&#162. Later, it was raised to 25&#162. About ten years ago, to lower the cost of commuting from Staten Island, the fare was removed altogether.

It’s a phenomenal free trip from The Battery, at Manhattan’s southern tip, to St. George on Staten Island. You go through the Upper Harbor, past Governors Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island.

It’s easy to forget, as I had, how busy a harbor this is. There are ocean going freighters moving past barges and tugs and other local working boats. We actually cruised by LSV-!, the Army’s General Frank S. Besson, Jr.

I thought the Army only had ships in Jack Lemmon movies!

Our ferry to Staten Island and back was the John F. Kennedy, christened in 1965. It, like all the ferries, is a stubby, dirty orange behemoth. There is no front. The ferry is commanded from both ends.

We took the outbound leg, standing outside on the upper deck on the port side. That’s the best view of the Statue of Liberty.

On the return we stood at the very front of the Kennedy, with an ever sharpening view of Lower Manhattan, the ‘satellite city’ of office towers that’s grown up in the Hoboken/Jersey City area and the smaller, older, office buildings in Downtown Brooklyn.

This trip, like nearly every other trip to New York was heavily dependent on the New York City subway system. I know some people are a little apprehensive, but it’s a great way to get around. It’s certainly faster than driving. Service is frequent… every few minutes on some lines.

The downside is, the cars are sometimes dirty and there are often people soliciting for (often dubious) charities. We had one guy beg while holding up sandwiches, ostensibly for any homeless on the train. We also had an accordionist join us – hand outstretched. His charity begins in the home.

There was one other downside today. When we headed from Whitehall Street, at the ferry slip, to Cortlandt Street, we discovered the Cortlandt Street Station is closed due to the reconstruction around the World Trade Center site. That aded a walk I didn’t plan on from City Hall down to Cortlandt.

We met up with the girls at Century 21, an &#252ber clothing department store, about a block from Ground Zero. My dad and I sat in the shoe department while (mostly) Stef did her damage upstairs!

The final stop of the day was dinner at the Stage Deli. It was very good, but my first choice was to head to Chinatown for Chinese food. I can’t name one Chinese restaurant down there, but I’m sure whatever we would have found would have been great.

By the way – on a trip like this, majority rules. It’s no sin to be outvoted.

The Stage is in the mid-50s on 7th Avenue while Grand Central Terminal is at 42nd and Park Avenue. That wasn’t too much of a hike for Helaine, Stef and me, but it was too a lot for my parents. We threw them in a cab and met them at the train station.

We were home by 8:30 PM.

My parents need to go home to recuperate from their vacation!

Blogger’s note: I took well over 300 photos today. I was saddened to see a few pieces of dust had settled on “Clicky’s” sensor. That was easily cured with a bulb duster I carry… but not until I had shot at least 250 photos that need an extra hand to be acceptable.

Born To Be A Ham

I was surprised, and pleased, to see Stan Horzepa mentioned my blog in his weekly “Surfin'” feature on the American Radio Relay League’s website.

I’ve been a ham for nearly 40 years. Outside of family, it’s the longest running constant in my life.

My “Elmer,” as hams call their mentor or teacher, was Bob Semensohn. I have no idea where he is today. I remember little about him, other than he played piano and was helpful in my passing the exam.

Things have changed now, but you needed Morse Code proficiency to get a ham license back in the late 60’s. I started with a Novice license and then moved up to my Advanced.

The Novice exam was proctored by a fellow ham. The Advanced meant a trip to Lower Manhattan and the FCC office in the Customs Building, right near where the World Trade Center would later rise… and fall.

I thought it was cool to go, because I got to take the morning off from school.

I easily passed the written test and prepared for the Morse exam. I sat alone at a wooden school desks – one of a few arranged in a line.

A punch tape ran through some sort of mechanical reader to produce the code. It began – “dit dit dit dah, dit dit dit dah, dit dit dit dah.” Three “V’s,” the universal letter group sent for testing and setting up equipment.

As the real text of the test began, I started to write. The Morse was being sent at 13 words per minute – basically, a character every second. And then, it happened.

From the Hudson River, a block or two away, a ship’s horn sounded. It was loud… and I was already nervous. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I missed 15-20 seconds. Just as important, it threw me off my rhythm.

To pass, you needed to copy one straight minute of the five in the test and I did… but barely. But the test didn’t end there.

The final step was sending Morse code. A simple key was bolted to the table. The examiner, a cigar chomping Mr. Finkleman, stepped up to listen.

I was so nervous, I couldn’t send cleanly. My hand was shaking… and it was the hand that was supposed to tap out letters.

Finkleman looked down and told me to head to the hallway and get a drink from the fountain. The hall was poorly lit, drably painted and had linoleum tiles. There was no confusion that government offices occupied this building.

When I walked back in, he asked me to send, “Federal Communication Commission.” I was still nervous, but I began to tap out, “dit dit dah dit, dit” and he stopped me. I had only sent “fe.”

“You pass,” he smiled.

It probably wasn’t a big day for Mr. Finkleman, but it sure was for me! Nearly 40 years later, I still remember it as if it was yesterday.

United 93

This is not a review. I haven’t seen “United 93.” I’m not sure if I will.

Actually, that is what this entry is really about. Should I see this movie?

The reviews have been very good. Manohla Dargis, writing in the New York Times, said:

A persuasively narrated, scrupulously tasteful re-creation of the downing of the fourth and final plane hijacked by Islamist terrorists on Sept. 11, “United 93” is the first Hollywood feature film to take on that dreadful day. It won’t be the last. (Next up, ready or not: Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center.”) Preceded by both the expected bluster and genuine relief that the film is as good as it is

Gullibility And The Internet

I have mentioned before how this website get thousands of hits every month for a photo I have posted. It’s a doctored, phony photo of a ship sailing toward a hurricane. I have no idea where it came from, though it is obviously bogus.

I posted it because of all the times it was sent to me by people who were impressed with this amazing capture. They so wanted to believe. And, why would anyone post something so untrue?

The ship isn’t the only phony photo. There’s the one that surfaced shortly after 9/11 of a man standing on the observation deck of the World Trade Center with a jet heading directly toward him. There are so many things wrong with that photo, yet people believed.

Today we have the latest episode. An Arab website, aligned with the Iraqi insurrection, published a photo of a soldier. He had been kidnapped they said. The photo was sad to see. The soldier, a young black man, sat on a concrete floor, his hands behind his back. He was wearing a vest with some sort of ammunition. The website said he would soon be beheaded, unless the United States met their demands for prisoner release.

We have seen these photos before. Unfortunately, they are often the precursor to an actual beheading. But the Pentagon said they knew of no missing soldier.

The photo is a fraud.

What looked like a soldier is actually a doll. This is so strange, it’s embarrassing.

In fact, looking at the package, the doll had been dressed in all the provided accessories. An automatic weapon pointed at his head was from the package too.

This story got lots of play earlier today – and this payoff will probably get play too. I’m more worried about what will happen in the Arab world.

I am told by a friend who is quite conversant in these things that al Jazeera will probably not admit this story was bogus – though they reported it all day. Saving face is very important and there’s no upside to being wrong here.

Like the hurricane ship and the guy on the World Trade Center, there will be people who continue to believe this American soldier has been kidnapped and will die. And they will be pleased. What a shame.

I’ve just checked The story is nowhere to be found.

Phony Northeast Blackout Image?

Right after 9/11, a photo circulated on the Internet showing a man on the observation deck of the World Trade Center, facing a camera. Behind him, a plane flew directly toward the building. It, of course, was a fake.

In fact, tools like PhotoShop make it incredibly easy to turn the unreal…real. Such is the case with a satellite image making its way across the world, mostly through email. It has been resized and had the levels tweaked a bit, but it’s the same image.

So far, I have gotten this from my father, my friend Howard, loads of viewers and other well meaning people. If it were true, it would be a pretty spectacular shot.

The real photo is actually a montage of a number of satellite images from a Defense Department Weather Satellite (DMSP). In order to get a fully clear view, and cover the whole country, the actual time frame of the image is Oct. 1, 1994, to March 31, 1995.

Few people look at visible satellite imagery at night, because all you can see are city lights… and normally that’s not very helpful.

If you really take a good look at the phony image, it’s done in a ham fisted way. The areas of removed light shouldn’t resemble a black hole, but should be shades of dark gray. After all, there was some illumination from the moon. Also, there were pockets of lights still working, even within the blackout area. And, though wire reports implied otherwise, most of Connecticut was powered up and good to go.

When I first saw the photo, I knew it was wrong because I know the original very well. It’s a classic. But, I also knew this satellite doesn’t see the whole country at once, nor is the whole country ever cloud free.

There are before and after images from the blackout, and they are pretty amazing. Unfortunately, fact isn’t quite as glamorous as fiction.