Josef “Jeff” Sipek


Last week I got to spend a bit of time in NYC with obiwan. He’s never been in New York, so he did the tourist thing. I got to tag along on Friday. We went to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and a pizza place.

You may have noticed that this post is titled “Biometrics,” so what’s NYC got to do with biometrics? Pretty simple. In order to get into the Statue of Liberty, you have to first surrender your bags to a locker and then you have to go through a metal detector. (This is the second time you go through a metal detector — the first is in Battery Park before you get on the boat to Liberty Island.) Once on Liberty Island, you go into a tent before the entrance where you get to leave your bags and $2. Among the maybe 500–600 lockers, there are two or three touch screen interfaces. You use these to rent a locker. After selecting the language you wish to communicate in and feeding in the money, a strobe light goes off blinding you — this is to indicate where you are supposed to place your finger to have your finger print scanned. Your desire to rent a locker aside, you want to put your finger on the scanner to make the strobe go away. Anyway, once the system is happy it pops a random (unused) locker open and tells you to use it.

What could possibly go wrong.

After visiting the statue, we got back to the tent to liberate the bags. At the same touch screen interface, we entered in the locker number and when prompted scanned the correct finger. The fingerprint did not get recognized. After repeating the process about a dozen times, it was time to talk to the people running the place about the malfunction. The person asked for the locker number, went to the same interface that we used, used what looked like a Wikipedia article: one-wire key fob near the top of the device to get an admin interface and then unlocked the locker. That’s it. No verification of if we actually owned the contents of the locker.

I suppose this is no different from a (physical) key operated locker for which you lost the key. The person in charge of renting the lockers has no way to verify your claim to the contents of the locker. Physical keys, however, are extremely durable compared to the rather finicky fingerprint scanners that won’t recognize you if you look at them the wrong way (or have oily or dirty fingers in a different way than they expect). My guess the reason the park service went with a fingerprint based solution instead of a more traditional physical key based solution is simple: people can’t lose the locker keys if you don’t use them. Now, are cheap fingerprint readers accurate enough to not malfunction like this often? Are the people supervising the locker system generally this apathetic about opening a locker without any questions? I do not know, but my observations so far are not very positive.

I suspect more expensive fingerprint readers will perform better. It just doesn’t make sense for something as cheap as a locker to use the more expensive readers.

Trinity Church @ New York, New York

This past Monday, it was a year since I was introduced to a very interesting (and a very English) activity — change ringing. Wikipedia’s Wikipedia article: article has a good summary:

Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called “changes”. It differs from many other forms of campanology (such as carillon ringing) in that no attempt is made to produce a conventional melody.

Trinity was the first bell tower set up for change ringing that I went to (I think there are about 40 or 50 in all of North America). The bell tower is part of the Trinity church on the intersection of Broadway and Wall St in NYC. Here’s a link that has information about the bells at Trinity. I’ll probably include most of it here, as well as “borrow” some of the photos. (If I don’t say where I got a particular photo, it’s because I took it myself.)

Wall St & Broadway

I tried taking a photo of the church further down the street, but it didn’t go all that well (it was late afternoon, so the church walls were in a shadow, and the sky behind it was bright). So, here’s someone else’s photo that’s from the same perspective as the one I was trying to make:
Trinity tower from Wall Street

Trinity is one of only two towers in North America that has 12 bells (the other is St. James’ Cathedral in Toronto). All the other towers in North America have less (8 bells being the most common). The practice of change ringing is originally from England, and there 12 bells is pretty normal.

These are the “specs” for the Trinity bells (all cast by Taylors, Eayre & Smith in 2006):

Bell Weight Diameter Note
Treble 4-2-11 25 9/16” A
2 5-0-5 26 5/8” G
3 4-3-9 26 3/4” F#
4 5-0-1 28” E
5 5-1-23 29 3/8” D
6 5-3-14 30 5/8” C#
7 6-2-24 32 1/2” B
8 7-3-16 34 7/8” A
9 9-2-10 37 7/8” G
10 12-1-21 41 1/8” F#
11 16-3-9 45 1/2” E
Tenor 23-3-17 51” D

The weight is represented by a triple of numbers. The first is the number of Wikipedia article: hundredweights (1 cwt = 112lbs = approx. 50kg); the second number is the number of quarters (0.25 cwt = 28lbs = 12.7kg); and the third number is the number of pounds (1lb = 0.454kg). So, for example, the tenor is 2677lbs = 1214kg (23*112 + 3*28 + 17 = 2677).

For comparison, the Wikipedia article: Liberty Bell (as recast by Pass and Stowe in 1753) is 18-2-8 (2080 lbs; 943 kg).

Alright, let’s head upstairs into the ringing room. (photo taken from flick).


Inside the tower, the ropes to control 12 bells (or however many a change ringing tower may have) are arranged in a circle, so that if a person stands near each rope, they can see all the other ropes easily.

This is what the Trinity ringing room looks like (also taken from flickr):

Ringing Room

You can see the ropes hanging from the ceiling. They are at the back-stroke (more on this later), therefore you can’t see much of them.

Each rope goes though the ceiling, to a wooden wheel that’s affixed to the bell. The whole assembly looks like (this is the tenor from Trinity while still at the foundry):

Trinity’s Tenor

You can easily see the wheel, and the (red) headstock. When a person pulls on the rope, it turns the wheel, which in turn moves the bell.

Anyway, that’s it for the introduction to the Trinity Church bell tower. You’ll have to wait for the next post to learn more about change ringing itself. :P

What? 2008? Already?

Wow! Time flies when you’re having fun.

This year, I had friends visit all the way from Indiana. They got here on the 30th, and left on the 2nd. In those 3.5 days, I’ve seen more of NY than I thought possible (Central Park, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Wall Street, Battery Park, WTC site, a Broadway musical — just to name a few).

For new year’s eve, we went to Times Square..

Times Square

Clockwise starting from…well, ladies first, right? ;)…Wikipedia article: Valkyrie (yes, that’s her real name), Ethan (from Indiana), me, Ilya (from Stony Brook).

If you haven’t noticed on TV, Times Square was quite packed. We got there around 15:30, but didn’t get to be penned (like cattle) with a couple of hundred other people until about 16:15. We were about 15m north of 47th Street, where we stood till bit after midnight (yes, that’s effectively 8 hours).

Fun, but exhausting 3.5 days.

Max Raabe & Palast Orchester

This is a bit dated, but I feel like making a note of it anyway…

On November 1st, I was told by a friend that Wikipedia article: Max Raabe was going to have a show the next day in Carnegie hall in the City. I couldn’t say no — and it was worth it. As wikipedia states: “He and his orchestra specialise in recreating the sound of German dance and film music of the 1920s and 1930s.”

I’d say that about 50% of the songs he did were in English, and the other 50% were in German. I didn’t understand the songs that were in German, but from what I figured out, they lyrics are absolutely awesome. (E.g., a song about his gorilla that lives in a villa in the zoo and is very happy because the gorilla doesn’t know about politics.)

Anyway, if you got an MP3 or some other audio format of Max Raabe, listen to it, you might enjoy it because it’s different from other music you tend to hear these days.

The trip to the city was pretty painless. Finding Carnegie hall was pretty simple. And the trip back was equally painless. Sorry, no photos.

NYC - the city that never sleeps

Well, I don’t know if the city never sleeps (I only visited it during the day), but I can tell you that the city is definitly not naping during daytime. Speaking of the city…I visited it on Sunday. Yes this is the third time this year. Last year I’ve been there once and that’s because I had to - paperwork :-/. This year, I am guessing I’ll visit it at least 8 times. Of course I had a camera with me, and of course I filled up my 1GB CF card. I’ll post some photos (hopefully) shortly.

As Per Your Request...

As you have requested in January, here are some more photos from my trips to NYC.

When I saw this, I was very surprised just how saturated the colors were, Graffity

This is a photo of a train..Amtrak to be exact..

This is what the Long Island Rail Road looks like inside. This is a car that went from Penn Station (the location in the photo) through Jamaica, to Babylon, and eventually Patchogue.


On the way back home, I saw this outside the window…tracks on fire. (Apparently, they pour a bit of gasoline on the switches and light it on fire to prevent them from freezing.)

Tracks on Fire

All these were from the first trip to the city. Some other time (hopefully soon), I’ll go through the photos from the second trip.


NYC reloaded

I have visited the city again. Got some snow pictures in Times Square and around the Empire State Building. I have to go through them, and sort them out. :-/

NYC Trip

Yesterday (Saturday) against my better judgement, I went with my friend to the city to take some photos.

New York

By the time we got back (~16:30) there was a plenty of snow around. Driving in it was kind of fun, but really dangerous. Going 20km/hr on average and still sliding quite a bit.

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