NYC goings-on Jan-April 2024

In this post, I’ll write about some activities I’ve been up to so far this year. It has been an eventful year including two natural phenomenon–a solar eclipse and earthquake, a trip to Brazil (which I’ll cover in a separate post), lots of social activities and two visits from friends from DC. I have also been playing a lot of guitar and I think my guitar playing skills have improved this year.

Let’s start with the natural phenomenon..

The solar eclipse

On the afternoon of April 8, 2024,  New York was one of eleven contiguous U.S. states situated within the path of totality for a total solar eclipse. Several regions in the North and West of NY state were in the direct path of totality. NYC was unfortunately not and only a partial eclipse was visible from NYC.

Chatter about the eclipse had started a few days prior to the event and many people had made their “eclipse plans”, which ranged from driving upstate to witness totality, booking a romantic eclipse viewing spot at one of NYC rooftops to staying at home to avoid the craziness. As per usual, I failed to make plans in advance, most important of which was procuring a pair of eclipse glasses. On the day of eclipse, around noon couple of hours before the eclipse, I went out in an attempt to find a place that might still be selling eclipse glasses. As I had expected, everywhere I looked was sold out. A kindly cashier at Walgreens told me that the B&B camera store nearby was still selling eclipse glasses. Hopes raised, I hurried over to the store and came upon a long line that wrapped around the block. The line didn’t seem to be moving fast and it seemed hopeless to stand in that line. As I was about to give up, I noticed a guy standing at the corner selling glasses. Expecting exorbitant prices, I was happily surprised to find that he was selling them for just $10 a piece (likely still almost all profit because the eclipse cost almost nothing if bought in advance). I bought two, in case one “didn’t work” :-). Mission accomplished, I walked back to work, with spring in my step and joy in my heart. Shortly before 3 PM, I came out of the office building in Hudson yards. People were starting to gather at street corners where the sun was visible, peeking in among the Hudson Yards skyscrapers. I joined the gathering crowd in the most promising looking corner. At the appointed time, the moon started to make its way across the sun, with the moon’s disk blocking ever larger portions of the sun. It was a cloudy day and sometimes an errant cloud would block the view, but then mercifully move on. As the first pair of glasses “worked”, I gave the second pair away to a very grateful guy. Eclipse glasses should block all light except the sun’s. The sun (without clouds in front) appears as a yellow disk through the glasses. Everything around it is completely dark. Regular sun glasses won’t do–eclipse glasses are thousands of times darker than regular sun glasses. There are some other ways to safely see the sun during an eclipse also. Read about them here.

At the moment of peak eclipse, a loud cheer went out. I thought it became darker, but it was hard to separate the dimming caused by the eclipse from that caused by the clouds. People started to scatter soon after the eclipse peaked. It felt a bit like attending a highly anticipated rock concert where after a long build up, the main band finally came on stage, played a song and then left :-). It was around 4 PM, so I decided to pick up my bike and work from home the rest of the day.

I made several attempts to take a picture of the eclipse by positioning my smartphone camera just behind the eclipse glasses, but it was tricky to get a clear picture partly because the iPhone’s autofocus kept focusing on the background rather than on the sun.. The below is the best I could muster.

A couple of fun facts about the eclipse. Most people know that you shouldn’t look directly at the sun during an eclipse except during the brief (few seconds) of totality when the moon completely covers the sun. But why is this? The reason is that the sun emits a lot of harmful radiation that can permanently damage the light sensitive cells in our retina. If we look up at the sun in normal conditions, the natural tendency is to squint and for the pupils to constrict, limiting the amount of radiation that enters the eye. However with the moon covering the sun during an eclipse, there is less light and therefore less constriction of the pupil. Plus, in the excitement of the moment, we may override the instinct to squint, letting in a lot more radiation, which can cause irreversible damage.

Another fun fact is that the solar eclipse of May 29, 1919 provided the first direct evidence of Einstein’s recently promulgated general theory of relativity which revolutionized Physics by establishing an equivalence between mass and energy and a universal speed limit (nothing can travel faster than light). One of the theory’s predictions was that light is bent by the gravitational field of massive objects such as stars. The eclipse provided the conditions to test the theory by making it possible to observe stars near the sun. Such stars are normally not visible because their light is drowned out by the solar glare. The apparent position of these stars deviated from their true positions by just the amount predicted by Einstein! The confirmation of his theory instantly turned Einstein into a global celebrity and a synonym for superhuman intelligence. Most people either haven’t heard of relativity or think its effects are too feeble to observe in daily life. However relativity makes possible several conveniences we take for granted. For example, GPS position estimates would be many meters off without a relativistic correction to account for the fact that the passage of time is slightly different on a GPS satellite than on the surface of earth due to the motion of the satellite around the earth!

The earthquake

Around 10:20 a.m. of April 5, a 4.8-magnitude earthquake struck near New York City, shaking buildings up and down the East Coast and surprising residents in an area that rarely experiences notable seismic activity. The quake’s epicenter was in Tewksbury in central New Jersey, about 40 miles west of New York City. I was in the office in a meeting when I started getting texts if I felt an earthquake. I unfortunately didn’t feel anything, but several people in the office did.

The last major earthquake I experienced was August 23, 2011, when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, occurred 84 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. I had just returned home from a trip to India and was sleeping in my house in Laurel, MD when I felt the house start to shake violently. The earthquake caused some minor damage to the house. Some of the doors stopped fitting the way they used to before the earthquake. The earthquake even damaged the Washington Monument which was closed for visits for several years afterwards. During the repairs, the monument was enclosed by scaffolding. The scaffolding had lights installed which would make the monument glow during the night. I remember it being quite a sight!

The earthquake and eclipse are good reminders of the awesome power of mother nature and the fragility of the planet we inhabit!

The Baltimore Key Bridge collapses

To add to the list of disasters, on Mar 26, Dali, a 985-foot Singapore-flagged ship, lost power while leaving the Port of Baltimore and slammed into one of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key bridge’s support pillars and caused the bridge to collapse. The video of the incident is surreal to watch.

I lived in the DC metro area for 22 years before moving to NYC and had driven on the bridge dozens of times! It was hard to believe that a Baltimore landmark and an important pillar of the city’s economy was gone in an instant. Fortunately for the city, the federal government has pledged support and work to clear the debris and rebuild the bridge has already started.

The art scene..

Moving on from disasters to the world of art. I’ve visited several art galleries this year. I saw many beautiful and thought provoking art works. I’ll talk about two that left a strong impression.

This work presents a different perspective on the process of deterioration and decay. Normally we think of death and the decay that follows as the conclusion of a life. By showing a flower growing out of decaying material below it, this work takes a broader view and presents decay as the transition period between two life forms. The death and decay of one provides the raw material for the birth of the other. In this view, birth and death constitute the natural oscillation of life with matter being constantly recycled from one life form to another. Notice the irregular, slightly unrealistic, almost surreal shapes and colors in the work below. The artist (whose name I forget) used AI to generate the background layers and then painted on top.

Another was works by artist Anthony James at the Opera gallery. One of the work is a large array of panels of mirror-polished stainless steel, dented by gunfire. The idea is to convey brutality juxtaposed with modernity and beauty.

The other work consisted of illuminated tetrahedral shapes arranged between mirrors, creating a jumble of infinite reflections. The interesting bit is that these infinite reflections can be seen by a viewer standing outside the art. I’ve seen other works that involve infinite reflections but in those, the mirrors that generate the reflections surround the user

I also got to make some art of my own! My apartment building organized a charcoal painting class where a charcoal artist gave us a short lesson on how to use a charcoal stick to draw lines on paper and related techniques. For example, by varying the angle at which the stick is applied, and the pressure of the hand, one can adjust the thickness of the lines. Highlights/corrections can be created by using an eraser.

Here’s what I created after about an hour of labor. Not bad eh!

In February, I attended a bear painting workshop. You are given a small white bear and choice of three colors. You paint the bear by slowly pouring the colors on it in whichever order/pattern you like. It was an oddly creative experience though I felt bad about all the color being wasted.. These colors (likely full of chemicals) are likely dumped into the environment, where who knows what ill effects they produce. I hope they are either biodegradable or inert (in the sense that they don’t interact with the environment).

Friend’s visits

Two of my friends from DC, Megan and Mila visited me in Mar and April respectively. Staying true to the cliche that one tends to do the “touristy” activities in your city only when friends/family are visiting, I visited the observatory on top of the One World building in lower Manhattan and saw the Broadway show “Cursed Child” with Megan. With Mila, I saw The Book of Mormon. Both shows are excellent and worth watching. The Book of Mormon is more provocative and those with a more delicate religious disposition might find the message a tad too “in the face”. I particularly liked the song “Just turn it off” about how a true Mormon should just turn off any unorthodox feelings such as doubts about their faith or homosexual thoughts like one turns off a light switch. Goes without saying that this is a very unhealthy and counterproductive way to deal with such feelings, and the song expressed the irony underlying “just turn it off” very well.

Megan and I from the top of World Trade center


Mila and I at Times Square after watching The Book of Mormon

I also saw Aladdin on Broadway in February. The dancing, costumes and sets are amazing, but the story will be familiar to most.

Sailor’s ball

I’ve been involved in some wind/water sports–chiefly sailing and kitesurfing for a while now. In DC, I spent many happy summer afternoons biking along the mount Vernon trail to the Belle Haven marina, renting a sailboat and going sailing on the Potomac. Here in NYC, things are not quite so simple. So far I know, to go sailing, one needs to join a sailing club such as the Manhattan yacht club or the Hudson River Community Sailing and join one of the social sails. To take a boat out on your own, one must take a training program to qualify as a skipper. I’m not sure I want to invest the time and effort to go through all of this, specially since I want to learn wingfoiling, a new and exciting water sport. Anyhow, to meet some other sailing enthusiasts, I attended the annual sailor’s ball, organized by the New York Harbor Sailing Association. The ball was at the Down Town Association in the Financial District, one of the oldest private clubs in NYC. I had been to the venue before for some swing dance events. The crowd was a bit rowdy for my taste, but I met some interesting people at the ball and had a good time.

Books and podcasts


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