I have in fact come home, but I have been too busy at the moment to catch up with writing entries about my trip. Nevertheless, I saw the following and had to share it:
Scott Adams describing the news (http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/08/synchronicity.html):
"Indeed, all of the news is nothing but basic stories with randomized features. Watch as I predict tomorrow's headlines today:
EXTREME WEATHER BATTERS SOMEPLACE
IDIOTS KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE
POLITICIAN DOES SOMETHING ILLEGAL
PRIMATE ATTEMPTS INAPPROPRIATE SEX
EXPERTS WARN OF FINANCIAL CALAMITY
BIG COMPANY BUYS ANOTHER BIG COMPANY
FAMOUS PERSON DOES SOMETHING INTERESTING
A SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY MIGHT BE USEFUL IN TEN YEARS
GOVERNMENT FAILS TO ACHIEVE A GOAL"
This was amusing because the same formula seems to apply internationally as well (I thought it was just the U.S. that had shallow obsessions with irrelevant "newsworthy" figures, but Europe is quite obsessed with Madeleine McCann in the same exact "JonBenet Ramsey" kind of way. And even if there is real news on the case, that's no excuse not to indulge in baseless speculation! Ugh.)
The other day (ok, last week in fact), I went into the city [i.e. Manhattan] to hang out with some of my Stony Brook friends. One might think that, having had to deal with several different foreign subways in other languages, the NYC subway system would be a piece of cake. Nope. It's significantly more complex, even more so than that of Moscow (map). I took an "express" train instead of a "local" and thus missed my stop and had to backtrack, wherein I had to wait nearly twenty minutes for another train (apparently there was construction) since the first one that came did not match the platform. (The express was an A train, the local was a C train – I was waiting at the C platform, but an A train came, and not sure which to believe, I waited for a second train to be sure).
The finicky metro cards are a fairly terrible design. There is always a huge funnel of people trying to go through the turnstiles, and it seems that there's about a one-in-a-million chance of the reader actually working on the first (or even second) swipe. The other subways that had electronic cards sucked in the ticket and spit it back out, which always worked the first time (unless it was invalid). The better of those sucked in the ticket at the front, and then spit it out at the actual turnstile just as you approached it. The voices on the trains were automated (and thus audible), instead of mumbling gibberish, and in many cases there was also a visual indicator of the stops as well as where you were (as with some of the newer subway cars).
Scott Adams describes his experiences here, hilariously as always: http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/09/new-york-city-s.html