Wednesday, February 21, 2007

First trip to New York

Friday morning began early at 6am with a short Metro ride to Reagan National airport where we awaited our direct flight to LaGaurdia. Unfortunately icy weather kept our plane grounded longer than expected and what was supposed to be a brief journey lasted quite a bit longer, thus delaying our arrival in Manhattan until early that afternoon. Once we dropped our bags off at the hotel though we were off. As it turns out, we were located less than a block away from the U.N. which was a source of unmitigated joy for me. Those of you who know my penchant for politics should understand my reaction.

The late arrival of our flight meant that both of us were absolutely famished. Fortunately her friends Becky and Elliott were there to take us to lunch, a small BBQ place called Duke's. Afterwards, Becky gave us an afternoon tour of Midtown including such highlights as Grand Central, Times Square and the New York Public Library. The early morning wake-up combined with all the afternoon's activities required a return to the hotel followed by a brief nap. We then met up with them again that evening in the Upper East side at a place named, coincidentally enough, Becky's Pub.

Saturday began in earnest for us with a trip to the American Museum of Natural History. We'd used the Subway briefly the night before, thus giving us a heightened confidence in its use. This morning's ride would prove a much different beast. To start off, the orange 'V' line we had planned on taking was out of service as was the blue 'C' line, our backup plan. The downtown blue 'A' line was the only option left to us, but when we attempted to transfer at the 50th St. station we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle. Apparently, and this is something known only to New Yorkers and adventurous tourists like us, some stations require you to actually leave the station and walk a few blocks to get to the uptown line. This is something we discovered only after a lengthy and frustrating walk around the rather sizable station.

The museum was fun albeit very crowded. We actually spent the majority of our time there in the Hayden Planetarium. After leaving the museum we headed for Central Park looking forward to a leisurely afternoon stroll. Lazily we made our way towards the Midtown entrance on the East side stopping to snap photos of particularly picturesque settings. Eventually we came out near the Central Park Zoo whereupon we quickly headed towards the hotel to prepare for that evening's activities. Nighttime saw us at a nearby French restaurant called "Deux Amis" followed by a showing of Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic theater. It was an incredible show, one that I've always wanted to see. We followed up with dessert at Junior's, a local restaurant known for their amazing cheesecakes.

Feeling a bit stung by the previous day's issues with the Subway, I approached our trip to Lower Manhattan Sunday with a bit of trepidation. As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The No. 6 Green line was operating just fine and took us to Canal St. without any issues. Upon exiting the station, we stepped into what was truly a foreign world. Everywhere we looked signs covered in Chinese characters and decorations for the Chinese New Year dominated the view. We wandered through what seemed like endless blocks of this vastly larger Chinatown in comparison to our own D.C. version. Lunch was had at a small seafood restaurant while just outside revelers celebrated with drums and poppers.

Ground Zero was our next stop. We approached from Broadway so the first thing we saw was the large memorial photo display at the PATH station. To see those photos with the very hallowed ground behind them was truly moving. As we made our way around the perimeter of the site we stopped at various places such as the Ladder 10 and Engine 10 firehouse which lost five firefighters on 9/11. After making a complete circuit we hopped onto the blue 'E' line running back uptown to our hotel.

Monday was President's Day as well as our last day in New York city. We had hoped to tour the U.N. but it was closed on this seemingly average American holiday. Therefore we decided to go to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It was bitterly cold, much more so than it had been on any previous day of our trip. What were muddy slush puddles the previous day had frozen overnight to become well-camouflaged sheets of ice making walking all that much more precipitous. But the trip was well worth it as we were treated to such incredible pieces like Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans", Dali's "Persistence of Memory" and Van Gogh's "Starry Night".

That afternoon we had a wonderfully long lunch at a Greek restaurant called Meltemi located at 51st and 1st. I then hailed my last NYC taxi and we headed to LaGuardia airport. As I look back on our trip, it is the hectic pace of the city that stands out in my mind. This fast lifestyle that gives New York its motto as the "City that never sleeps" is what makes it so exciting and will keep people like myself coming back.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

So long Battlefield 2. Hello World of Warcraft!

In December of 2005, on advice from my buddy Brandon, I picked up a copy of Battlefield 2 and immediately immersed myself into a whole new world of gaming. Whereas my previous vice, Counter Strike: Source, was essentially a repetitive bloodbath this new game required strategy, cunning and teamwork. For about a year, this game kept me entertained what with learning new vehicles and gaining rank. From infantry soldier to general to J-10 pilot, I mastered nearly every aspect of the game and had a lot of fun while doing it.

Yet the entire time there were certain things that bothered me. While the online service was free to use, this also meant that anybody could run their own server. Once the official EA servers went offline, only these user provided ones were available and each had their own unique set of rules they expected users to follow. Oftentimes these rules were lazily enforced and instead used as justification to boot users that the admin simply did not like.

As well, the most important part of the game, teamwork, was one that the game's architecture did not easily facilitate. Users were encouraged to 'squad up' at the start of a round yet they rarely did. So getting on a good team depended more on finding one in the various Internet forums or bringing a group of your real-life friends with you into the game. The latter worked well for me until our group disbanded after which I can count on one hand the number of times I found a good squad to game with.

My character VasilyContrast this with World of Warcraft, a game which has been out for longer than Battlefield 2 and which I have been avoiding because I've seen just how addicted my friends are. Yet after playing for several weeks, I can see why they are still playing this game over 2 years after it came out. The online service, while somewhat costly at $15/month, is operated solely by Blizzard and thus ensures that no arcane rules by a petty admin will get you booted off of a server.

As for the social aspect of the game, it is light years ahead of Battlefield 2. Support for parties (five people), raids (40 people) and guilds (unlimited) are built right into the game architecture along with easy ways to access them. Early on, the quests that you receive encourage group participation. Since starting play just a few weeks ago, I have lost count of how many times I've relied on complete strangers in my party to help me through a difficult quest. Many of them have ended up on my friends' list which notifies me when they are online. Thus an environment of camaraderie is built around teamwork and it is this feature that will keep users playing WoW for many years to come.