Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Closer Look at 23rd Century San Francisco

Back when the last "Star Trek" movie came out in 2009, I was excited to see the film's depiction of San Francisco in the 2200s.

I haven't seen the new film yet, but it sounds like it has more extended views of the city. SFGate's Big Event blog does a rundown of the two movies and their vision for the City by the Bay circa 2259.

Image courtesy of SFGate.

The bottom line: The city's height-limit activists don't appear to succeed.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Things Are Getting Fatalistic at the Multiplex

If you stand at a bus stop near the corner of First Avenue and 59th Street, you'll see two movie ads next to each other.

I'm not sure these "The End"-themed movies quite count as twinsies, but Hollywood is getting a bit bleak these days.

Oddly enough, neither movie has the Doors song on its soundtrack.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

This Is Either a Great Economics Lesson or a Terrible One

Elliot and I were doing laundry on Monday when he mentioned that he had found four pennies. He asked whether the money could pay for the washing machine, but I told him it didn't take pennies (and since the large washers cost $3.25 a pop, his contribution wouldn't go far anyway).

Elliot repeatedly asked what he could buy with his four cents, and I was straight up with him: nothing. I explained that there was penny candy when I was a kid, but things were more expensive now. Since we were headed to the neighborhood Gristedes after doing laundry, I invited him to find out for himself.

That's when things went awry.

As we were leaving the building, Elliot showed his pennies to the doorman. The doorman said he had some coins to contribute to the collection, and Elliot was soon in possession of nine cents (a 125 percent increase on his investment).

When we got to Gristedes, I repeated the idea that they didn't sell anything for less than a dime (or a dollar, really — Gristedes isn't known for its low prices).

Elliot found some guys in the deli department and asked whether they had anything that costs nine cents. The guys looked at each other and one of them said, "How about a cookie?"

The worker took a cookie out of a prepackaged box sitting out on a table and brought it behind the counter. Then he gave it a new label with a cost of exactly nine cents.

My first thought was: What happens to the person who buys those cookies and gets one fewer than a dozen? (Is this the opposite of a baker's dozen?)

Second: Now we've created a paper trail! Could the employee be terminated for this offense?

Nevertheless, it was a sweet gesture. And Elliot was thrilled that he had proven Daddy wrong and gotten something for nine cents. (Daddy doesn't know anything.)

On the way to checkout, Elliot wound up losing one of the pennies in the orange-juice area. So I had to agree to buy the cookie and loan him one cent.

In the end, I'm not sure what the lesson is here. He conned his way into a cookie by being cute? That's probably not going to work as well when he's 23. Or did this put him on a path toward developing Warren Buffett-style negotiating prowess?

Either way, the experience undermined his dad's credibility. Thanks a lot, everyone.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Rockefeller Center's Own Stonehenge

This weekend we visited the Public Art Fund's latest exhibition, "Human Nature," a work by the Swiss-born, New York-based artist Ugo Rondinone.

Oddly enough, the description of the artwork on the Public Art Fund's website makes no mention of Stonehenge, despite the obvious influence. (Wait, is Stonehenge a registered trademark under Druidic law?).
Human Nature includes nine colossal stone figures, standing like ancient sentries along the full length of Rockefeller Plaza between 49th and 50th Streets. Ranging in height from 16 to 20 feet, they weigh up to 30,000 lbs each. 
Using rough-hewn slabs of bluestone from a quarry in Northern Pennsylvania, the artist has imbued each figure with a distinctive personality. Like a forest of giants, their immovable legs form gateways through which visitors may pass, sensing the tactile surfaces of these primal forms.

Seems like a wasted opportunity not to make a "ROCK-efeller pun," but hey, I'm not the artist here.

The scale of the piece was a bit less impressive than I had expected — despite the stones having a higher average height than the ones in Stonehenge, which are about 13 feet high.

Still, it was better than the replica in "Spinal Tap."

Maybe it's just easier for a pile of rocks to look impressive in the English countryside...

...compared with, say, Midtown Manhattan.

UPDATE: I just realized that "Manhattanhedge" is happening tomorrow and Wednesday. This might be a good place to check it out.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Self-Sufficient At Last

We hit a milestone of sorts yesterday when Elliot pushed his sisters in the stroller all the way to the Subway — with no assistance from me.

When I imagined having three kids, I always figured the oldest sibling would pick up the slack of caring for the younger ones. In reality, he often ends up being the most demanding of the trio. (It's tough when the "elder statesman" of the children is only 4 years old.)

Of course, after seeing Elliot push the stroller, Alice demanded to do the same. She immediately steered it toward traffic, putting an abrupt end to Daddy's relaxation time.

Elliot surprised me again last night when he helped take out the garbage and then — on his own — put new bags in every trashcan in our home. (I was so stunned to see the liners neatly in place that I wondered if a do-gooder had broken into the apartment.) Elliot has clearly come a long way from his early attempts at sweeping.

I could get used to this.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Three-Year-Old Girl Explains Childbirth

We've tried to teach our kids the proper names for body parts, though none of them has ever described childbirth quite like this.

(via HuffPost Parents)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How Not to Use; Semicolons

Courtesy of the Berkeley-bred Lonely Island comedy team, this has to be my favorite rap song about punctuation since...ever?

Be sure to watch all the way through — especially if you're a grammar stickler. (It also serves as a nice send-up of "hashtag rap.")

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When Your Baby's Security Blanket Is Mommy's Hair

The thing about having at least three children is you start to discover the full panoply of baby behavior. Every kid's going to have a few quirks and until you have a big enough statistical sample, it's hard to tell what's typical and what's just weird.

Here's one in the (slightly) weird category: Lulu uses her mom's hair as a security blanket. When it's time for sleep, Lulu will reach for a nice, big handful of hair and soothe herself with it. Lucky for her, Kelly has long tresses.

The problem comes when it's time for Kelly to place Lulu in her crib. Since Kelly's hair is attached to her body, it doesn't really work as a "lovey." It also means it's harder for me to put the baby to bed since my locks aren't nearly so luxuriant.

Kelly went online to research the problem and ended up ordering a blanket with lots of fringe.

It works pretty well. When I'm feeding Lulu a bottle, I'll drape the blanket over my shoulder and she grabs hold of the threads. It's as if I've grown a nice set of dreadlocks.

The blanket also has a cool cowgirl theme.

I hope this eventually weans the baby from her habit.

After all, even Ultimate Fighters aren't allowed to pull hair.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Roaming Roosevelt Island: The 'Prow'

(Click here for the full "Roaming Roosevelt Island" series.)

If you walk down the Roosevelt Island promenade toward the Octagon (a former insane asylum turned luxury apartment complex), you'll come across the "Prow" — a rusty observation deck built to look like a the front of a ship.

The Prow was recently repaired and scrubbed clean of graffiti, which had covered every part of it.

It's hard to take the kids past this landmark without them wanting to climb aboard and play sea captain.

According to an old story in the New York Times archives, the Prow was built over an old ship's landing in 1997:
It projects about 50 feet out into the West Channel, and consists of a flat, unadorned concrete wedge clad with rusty plates of steel. . . . Set along a tattered section of the promenade, it is, at best, a diamond in the rough, though the view of Manhattan is stunning.
That description was written in 2000, six years before the opening of the Octagon and its well-manicured grounds ushered in a more genteel era for Roosevelt Island. I have to think the island looked considerably more bleak back then.

The Prow itself maintained its gritty appearance until quite recently.

Here's what it looked like back in May 2012, when we first moved to the island.

At the time, I was grateful the kids weren't old enough to read.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh Wait...

When I was talking about the relative lack of "Star Trek" merchandise (vs. "Star Wars"), I forgot that Elliot had a "Star Trek" onesie when he was a toddler. (I even did a post about it back in 2010.)

So you can't say we didn't try to indoctrinate him at a young age.

My next question: Where is this onesie now and why isn't one of his sisters wearing it?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

'Star Wars'-Loving Kid Has Never Heard of 'Star Trek'

Earlier this month I mentioned how the boys in Elliot's preschool class all seem to know about "Star Wars," even if they haven't seen the movies.

A writer for the New York Times picked up on this phenomenon last year, noting how his son was similarly fixated on the sci-fi franchise:
Other parents tell me they are also bewildered by their sons’ “Star Wars” obsession. Perhaps the younger ones heard about it from an older sibling. Or maybe it’s just further proof that marketing can create a mythology as elemental as Mother Goose. American consumers spend about $500 million a year on “Star Wars” toys, clothing, video games and just about anything else you can think of, according to NPD, a research firm.
After "Star Trek Into Darkness" emerged as the No. 1 movie in America over the weekend, I have to wonder: Why don't young kids have any love for "Star Trek"?

I'm fairly certain if you polled the children in Elliot's class, none of them would know what "Star Trek" is. That was Elliot's reaction, as you can see in the YouTube clip above. He only perks up when he believes that "Star Trek" might be a movie about "Star Wars."

I guess "Star Trek" has always courted an older audience and explored more philosophical themes. But it still seems odd that the franchise is so unknown to the preschool set.

It turns out that merchandising may be a factor in the recognition deficit. There's a dispute over licensing rights, which is one of the reasons you see fewer "Star Trek" toys and products out there.

From a story that ran in The Wrap last week:
"Star Trek's" licensing and merchandising rights are spread over two media conglomerates with competing goals. The rights to the original television series from the 1960s remained with CBS after it split off from Paramount’s corporate parent Viacom in 2006, while the studio retained the rights to the film series. CBS also held onto the ability to create future “Star Trek” TV shows.

Paramount must license the “Star Trek” characters from CBS Consumer Products for film merchandising.

Much to the dismay of Bad Robot [the J.J. Abrams production company making the current movies], CBS' merchandising arm continued to create memorabilia and products based on the cast of the original 1960s series and market them to Trekkies. The production company did market research and found that there was brand confusion between Abrams' rebooted Enterprise crew and the one starring William Shatner and DeForest Kelley.

TheWrap has learned that Bad Robot asked CBS to stop making products featuring the original cast, but talks broke down over money. The network was making roughly $20 million a year on that merchandise and had no incentive to play nice with its former corporate brother, the individual said. In response, the company scaled back its ambitions to have "Star Trek's" storylines play out with television shows, spin-off films and online components, something Abrams had been eager to accomplish.
Elliot doesn't own a ton of "Star Wars" merchandise, but he does have some clothing and the aforementioned M&M light sabers.

Maybe if the "Star Trek" folks sold M&M tricorders or phasers, the movies wouldn't be so invisible to 4-year-olds.

UPDATE: You can't say "Star Trek" marketers are laggards when it comes to this product category: beer.

Vulcan Ale, the film franchise's first “officially licensed alcoholic beverage,” is being sold in Canada. (It's unclear when it will be available in the U.S.)

Not sure this will help build awareness with children (I hope it doesn't, actually), but perhaps it's a step in the right direction.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Gender Wars Over Pre-K Television

Like good Berkeley parents (transplanted to Manhattan), we're trying to raise our children in a gender-neutral household. So I've become increasingly disturbed by the kids' very different taste in TV shows.

We let the children watch a limited amount of television via Netflix. It used to be that the kids would agree on what they wanted to see. No longer. Elliot typically chooses either "Mighty Machines" (which I've described before) or "Dinosaur Train."

Alice always, always, always chooses "Angelina Ballerina."

Every morning, there's a battle between them over what gets watched. So we've had to institute a turn system where "Angelina Ballerina" alternates with "Dinosaur Train."

I didn't expect the kids' preferences to become so clearly divided this early. I mean, they're only 4 and 2. (Lucy, thankfully, has yet to express her wishes in this area.)

I've already mentioned the reasons why ballet-obsessed Alice might find "Angelina Ballerina" appealing (it doesn't help that there's a character on the show named Alice), but still...

I'd expect the new generation to be a little more progressive.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Seems a Little Ironic... take someone who essentially has no neck and put them in a giraffe outfit.

Still cute, though.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You Guys Mind If I Change This Diaper Here?

A couple with a baby recently got into a showdown with Starbucks staff after they changed their kid in the middle of the cafe. (There was no changing table in the bathroom.)

From a local news channel in Denver:
On a coffee run Friday night, Ruth Burgos ran her one-year-old son Thiago to the restroom. 
"As a mother, you have to do what you have to do. Wherever you have to do it," Burgos said.
Burgos noticed there was no changing table at the Denver Starbucks on the 7900 block of East 49th Avenue so she changed her son's diaper in the seating area. 
"I just kind of wiped him off, cleaned him off as quickly as I could," Burgos said. 
Alex Burgos says a Starbucks employee tossed his wife a rag and spoke to her in a "demeaning" tone. 
"He said make sure to wipe the seat when you're done," he said. "They started talking amongst themselves and laughing about it." 
Burgos says his blood started boiling, hotter than the venti coffee with extra sugar he decided to pour on the floor. 
"And I said make sure you clean that," Burgos said. 
He says they exchanged strong words and hand gestures. 
The store called Denver police to report a "disturbance" and an officer responded around 10 p.m. but nobody was arrested. 
Starbucks spokesperson Jaime Riley says the company is "concerned," has "apologized to the Burgos family," and wants all customers treated with "dignity and respect."
I'm sympathetic to the parents' plight, though it sounds like the dad was a bit of a hot head. Strong hand gestures were exchanged! (I recommend viewing the video above for an awesome black-and-white recreation of the coffee being spilled.)

This is also why it's good to carry a portable changing pad, which can be laid down on the bathroom floor — no table needed.

The Consumerist site asked readers if it's ever acceptable to change a diaper in public. So far, the response "that's disgusting" is winning 2-to-1.

Personally, I think changing a pee diaper in public is probably OK. But if it's a No. 2, you're definitely crossing the line.

And if it's a full-on blowout, you may just have to burn the place down.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Perfect Rejoinder

In my last post, I alluded to the fact that not everyone thinks the new One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the U.S. There's some debate over whether to count the spire when calculating the structure's height.

1 WTC, with Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) inset.

From the NBC Chicago website:
The final decision will be made by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, headquartered on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, and according to executive director Anthony Wood, the spire is questionable. 
"The feature that counts in the height has to be an integral part of the architecture. The thing that manifests itself is that is it a spire, or is it a piece of technical, functional equipment, like an antenna," Wood said. "The discussion about whether that is a spire or an antennae, is a discussion that is ongoing now, and we're convening our committee to rule on it." 
Willis Tower has 108 floors — four more floors than the WTC, which some people think should count for something. 
"You've got to go by more floors," Chicagoan Rob Reiner said. "Otherwise you could just keep putting towers on top of towers — a big pole."

It seems unfair that a person in Illinois is going be deciding this. (It's also worth noting that the original World Trade Center had 110 floors, yet was never considered taller than the Sears Tower.)

But there's only one answer to give someone who thinks the Willis Tower is taller than 1 WTC...


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The U.N. Building's Strange Antenna

One World Trade Center's spire was hoisted to the roof this month, making it 1,776 feet — and the tallest building in the U.S. (depending on how you measure). A red beacon now flashes from the structure's spindly top, and it's clearly visible day and night from much of New York.

Photo courtesy of CNN.

But New York is a city of skyscrapers, so for many people, 1WTC's spire appears to jut out from the top of another building.

From the window of our apartment, it looks as if the U.N. headquarters has sprouted an antenna.

But maybe there's some poetry to this particular view: Both the United Nations and 1WTC were created after tragedies (World War II and 9/11, respectively) and represent efforts to restore hope to a weary people.

If only I could see the Statue of Liberty from here, it would complete the picture.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Our Snappy Dressers

Last year there was a story about a dad in Germany who started wearing a dress in public — just so he could make his 5-year-old son more comfortable. The kid liked to wear dresses himself and they lived in a conservative town that made a big issue of it. (Gawker called the dad "Father of the Year" for being so supportive.)

My kids don't do any gender-bending with their wardrobes, but Elliot has started wearing a tie in situations where it's not appropriate. (It doesn't help that he frequently pairs it with a t-shirt.)

Alice, meanwhile, will wear a tutu in a non-ballet environment.

Unlike the German kid, my children are only slightly eccentric with their fashion choices. Commensurate with that, I'm only slightly supportive.

This is probably why I'm not Father of the Year.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

It's Christmas for Baby-Name Geeks

The sequester may have caused government furloughs and airport congestion, but it's comforting to know it didn't slow down the delivery of baby-name data.

Lucy, our own member of the naming class of 2012.

The Social Security Administration released its annual rankings of the most popular names today — almost a week earlier than last year, in fact — letting us wonks pore over the numbers.

The top names, culled from 2012 data, aren't much of a surprise. The seven most popular girls' names are exactly the same as last year, other than Emma and Isabella trading places in second and third place.

Sophia remained No. 1, which is no shock — I seem to meet a new Sophia every week. I think it's a wonderful name, so I have no complaints on that front. Actually, all 10 of the top girls' names are respectable (other than the persistent scourge Madison). You've got great taste, America!
1. Sophia
2. Emma
3. Isabella
4. Olivia
5. Ava
6. Emily
7. Abigail
8. Mia
9. Madison
10. Elizabeth
Jacob continued its mysterious reign at the top of the boys' chart, followed again by the dubious Mason (it's a bit too "surname-y" for my tastes). One favorable trend: Jayden appears to be releasing its grip on our nation's parents. It fell from No. 4 to seventh.
1. Jacob
2. Mason
3. Ethan
4. Noah
5. William
6. Liam
7. Jayden
8. Michael
9. Alexander
10. Aiden
All three of our children's names climbed the charts. Elliot rose to 242 from 272. Alice jumped to 127 from 142. And Lucy is fast approaching the top 50: It increased to 66 from 72.

It's perhaps odd that with each child we chose a more popular name than the last. (You might think people would get more adventurous as they had more kids.)

The fastest-climbing girls' name is Arya. I was a little puzzled by this, until I learned that she's a "Game of Thrones" character.

From the Social Security Administration press release:
Arya is the daughter of a leader of one of the Seven Kingdoms. She also is an expert sword fighter, so doubt her influence on the popular names list at your own risk.
I think I can live with Arya being a popular name. I'm more disturbed by the fact that even faceless government bureaucrats have HBO.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

When Being Gross Is Good

I don't maintain high standards when it comes to the timely changing of diapers or keeping kids tidy at mealtimes, so I was surprised to discover that parents do something even I think is gross: clean pacifiers by sucking on them.

Photo courtesy of WBUR.

Yes, apparently some moms and dads have no compunction about popping a binky in their mouth and siphoning off any dirt and grime that's collected on it. Um...ew.

It would never even occur to me to do this. Well, before Monday at least. That's when my world was rocked by a new study, which reported that (a) parents do indeed lick pacifiers clean (b) this is a good thing.

From a New York Times story about the research:
In a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, scientists report that infants whose parents sucked on their pacifiers to clean them developed fewer allergies than children whose parents typically rinsed or boiled them. They also had lower rates of eczema, fewer signs of asthma and smaller amounts of a type of white blood cell that rises in response to allergies and other disorders.

The findings add to growing evidence that some degree of exposure to germs at an early age benefits children, and that microbial deprivation might backfire, preventing the immune system from developing a tolerance to trivial threats.

The study, carried out in Sweden, could not prove that the pacifiers laden with parents’ saliva were the direct cause of the reduced allergies. The practice may be a marker for parents who are generally more relaxed about shielding their children from dirt and germs, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research.

“It’s a very interesting study that adds to this idea that a certain kind of interaction with the microbial environment is actually a good thing for infants and children,” he said. “I wonder if the parents that cleaned the pacifiers orally were just more accepting of the old saying that you’ve got to eat a peck of dirt. Maybe they just had a less ‘disinfected’ environment in their homes.”
I'm all for exposing the kids to dirt. Hey, I take them on the subway. (In fact, I recall one time when Alice's pacifier fell on the floor of the F train. I used my shirt — not my mouth — to clean it before giving it back to her.)

What's odd is the phenomenon of parents spit-cleaning pacifiers is so widespread that the city felt the need to put up PSAs to warn against the practice. (I learned this in the Times article too, since I've never seen the ads personally.)

"Use water, not your mouth, to clean off a pacifier," one of the PSAs says.

I suppose the city may now have to rethink this message. Personally, I'm going to keep using the edge of my shirt.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Boy Loves 'Star Wars,' Despite Never Seeing 'Star Wars'

I posted a photo yesterday of Elliot in his R2D2 hoodie. But the fact is, Elliot has no idea who R2D2 is.

Elliot doesn't know any of the characters from the Star Wars films (other than Darth Vader, who he's somehow picked up through cultural osmosis). He's never watched any of the movies — or seen any of the affiliated cartoons or books.

We don't own any Star Wars toys either, other than a pair of small light sabers that double as M&M containers (regretfully given as stocking stuffers).

And yet, Elliot loves Star Wars. I'm not sure why or how. I think it's because other boys at school talk about it. But it's clearly stricken his fancy, even if he hasn't bothered to learn who any of the characters are.

A typical conversation...
"Daddy, let's play Star Wars."
"You be a bad guy from Star Wars, Daddy."
"Alright. How about Darth Vader."
"I'll be a good guy from Star Wars."
"Who do you want to be?"
"Who is a good guy from Star Wars?"
"Luke Skywalker?"
"Okay, I'll be that guy."
Then Elliot spends the next several minutes trying to stab me with his M&M light saber.

We received a Star Wars shirt as a hand-me-down and Elliot was very excited to wear it to school. He thought one of his friends would be impressed by it. And from what I gather, the friend was.

I wonder if this boy has actually seen Star Wars either, or whether he's just excited about the concept. (The name has "stars" and "wars" in it, so that's going to appeal to a boy no matter what.)

Back in the 1980s, I used to pretend we had cable television and that I had seen all of the current music videos. ("Friday Night Videos," which aired on NBC, would allow me to fake it well enough.) I also would claim to have watched a lot of R-rated movies, such as "Flashdance" and "Risky Business." I'm not sure I was fooling anybody.

Of course, I wasn't in preschool at the time. Perpetuating this subterfuge on 4-year-olds seems to be a good bit easier. I'm pretty sure no one has quizzed Elliot on plot points of the Star Wars films after seeing his shirt.

At some point, I'm going to have to give him a Jedi-like schooling in the ways of Star Wars. If only our DVDs weren't sitting in storage in Berkeley...

Saturday, May 04, 2013

A Trendy Name...From 1897

The movie "What Maisie Knew" is opening this weekend. The story (and title) is taken from an 1897 novel, but you'd be forgiven for thinking the name was created in 2013 to describe the spawn of Brooklyn hipsters.

Maisie (or the more common spelling of Maisy) comes across as a completely modern name. A co-worker of mine was surprised to hear the title was from a Henry James book, rather than the result of a screenwriter picking a popular kids' name.

Just look at its chart on

I haven't seen the movie, but apparently the setting of the story has been updated to current times. It's fortunate that the character name so easily made the transition.

"What Ethel Knew" (the eighth-most-popular name in 1897) would probably not have worked as well.

Friday, May 03, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald Gets a Billboard on His Favorite Bridge

F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of “The Great Gatsby,” was a fan of the Queensboro Bridge — the 3,724-foot span that arches over Roosevelt Island en route to Midtown Manhattan.

This is what he said about it in “Gatsby”:
“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
So you have to wonder what Fitzgerald would think of a “Gatsby” billboard being the first thing that greets Queensboro commuters when they reach Manhattan. (The ad is part of a promotional campaign for the new film adaptation, which opens this month.)

Would he be delighted, or would the commercialism of it kill "the mystery and the beauty"?

In fairness, the same spot used to have a billboard for the Hustler Club, which was described in the ad as "New York's best-kept secret."

You would think putting up a billboard near a major New York thoroughfare would be a bad way to keep a secret.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

While We're At It...

Speaking of observation decks: Our apartment looks out on the Citigroup Center and I often wonder why the public isn't allowed to enjoy the view from its top floors.

With its slanted roof and inset front panel, the thing looks like a giant periscope. It's just begging for some kind of observation floor. (Since the going rate in Midtown is $25 to $27 a ticket, you'd think it would be worth their while.)

Also, what are these windows on the side?

The Citigroup Center (officially known as 601 Lexington Avenue) also is one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in New York. I would rank it No. 3 — after the Empire State and the Chrysler Building — thanks in part to its star turn in the "Law & Order" opening credits.

And it has a fascinating history. The structure's most famous feature — the slanted roof — stemmed from a desire to put up solar panels. But the building wasn't positioned to provide direct sun access, so they scrapped the idea. (Four years later, President Reagan took down Jimmy Carter's solar panels from the White House roof, so it was a rough period for sun power.)

The building also was constructed on stilts to accommodate a street-level church, and it suffered from a design flaw that made it vulnerable to collapse during a wind storm. The structure was reinforced in secret a year after it opened to fix the problem, and the public didn't find out until much later because there was a press strike going at the time.

Maybe that's a reason not to have an observation deck: People enjoying the view might not want to hear about the building's history as a death trap.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Midtown Manhattan's *Other* Observation Deck

The observation deck at the top of the Empire State Building is one of New York's biggest tourist attractions and the setting for countless movies (well, maybe not countless — the official Empire State Building website puts the number at 105).

But this post isn't about that. On Monday we went to the top of 30 Rockefeller Center, a storied building in its own right, but not one that gets a lot of Hollywood attention (however, it was featured in 138 episodes of "30 Rock").

If you visit the roof of 30 Rock, which they call "Top of the Rock," you'll hear a long narration about how the Rockefeller family financed the construction of the complex at great risk to themselves — all so they could shuck to tourists about their accomplishments 80 years later.

The views from the top are quite impressive, especially considering you're only on the 70th floor (the Empire State Building's main observation deck, in contrast, is on the 86th).

A view of Midtown East, including the Bloomberg Tower and (farther out) Queens. Photos courtesy of Papa Jeff.

Central Park.

The Empire State Building, with One World Trade Center rising in the distance.

Still, a trip to the Top of the Rock isn't cheap. An adult ticket is 27 bucks. In fact, the price is $2 more than a ticket to the Empire State Building's observation deck.

How in the world does the shorter and less iconic building get away with charging more?

Well, my mom had a pretty good explanation: It's the one that gives you a view of the Empire State Building.