Author Archives: Rob

Build that Paywall

It’s not a surprise that the Times Union has shoved it’s popular staff written blogs behind the paywall. Steve Barnes addressed this in an apologetic post in his Table Hopping food blog, explaining that the paywall also applies to Capitol Confidential and Kristi Gustafson Barlette’s blog.

Hey, I get it, content has value.

I subscribe to the digital edition of the New York Times and get the Times Union delivered, which also gives me access to their online content. I may joke about the TU, but I still like reading an actual local newspaper — even though it may infect me with COVID-19.

And it’s all good — mostly.

But here’s the thing: if I pay for your newspaper, I should not be subjected to a barrage of trashy click-bait advertising, like what’s found on every page of the Times Union’s website. It’s full of garbage ads for nonsense websites, celebrity news, slideshows, unwanted videos that auto-play — if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go to any story on their site and scroll down.

I believe in advertising, and legitimate ads from local and national advertisers are welcome — even targeted ads that prey upon the instincts and desires tracked by my browsing habits. What the Times Union is doing, however, is destroying the user experience for those who visit their website. Period.

Advertising is a social contract, of sorts. I’ve pointed out the relationship we agree to have with a lot of television content: I watch your ads in exchange for being informed and entertained. When the ads are intrusive and onerous? Then the contract is broken — and if I’m actually paying and still seeing all those shitty ads, shame on you.

Wipeout

If there’s one good thing about this coronavirus mess, it’s the way that it’s brought us together. That’s ironic considering how we’re being told to stay away from one another.

But let me ask you a question: Did you expect this thing with the toilet paper?

You’d think that certain food staples would be scooped off the shelves, but now we know that people are more concerned about wiping their ass than they are about eating.

This turns everything upside down, including what we know about dealing with a crisis. And zombies.

In The Walking Dead, you sometimes see the characters foraging for food and weapons, but toilet paper? Never. I argue therefore, that the Walking Dead is not realistic, because people are not obsessed with toilet paper. Yes, I know, the whole thing about people coming back from the dead is also unrealistic — but the toilet paper!

Art imitates life, so zombie stories will probably start including some toilet paper sub-plots, and you know what, it’s something we’ll all relate to.

Meanwhile, continue to ration and wipe with care. Me? I’m waiting for the bidet I ordered from Home Depot. The key to survival is self-sufficiency.

Fuggetaboutit

I was about to peek in the oven when I noticed them, the raisins on the counter that were supposed to be inside my soda bread. Oh, shit.

This was in the middle of a busy morning of baking for the annual soda bread contest at the Irish American Heritage Museum. This loaf, one of two for the “family style” competition would not do. I needed to start over.

My wife was like, what? How could you forget the raisins?

I didn’t have a good answer for that one — and I hustled into mixing my ingredients.

Everything was under control — until later in the morning when I got a sick feeling about my traditional loaf. I peered in the oven and saw that things were not right. I forget to add the baking soda to the soda bread.

These traditional loaves only have four ingredients — flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda — and without the baking soda, you have something that’s inedible, like a big white hockey puck. What kind of idiot leaves out an ingredient that’s right there in the name?

This kind of idiot.

The wife eyed me suspiciously. Was he finally losing his shit, she must have thought, giving in to the early effects of dementia?

I assured her that I was not incompetent — or senile — and pushed ahead. Even with the delays, my loaves made it into the contest with five minutes to spare.

They say all’s well that ends well, and after all the trouble, my family style bread won second place. Nevertheless, I’m beginning to think that I may need to keep better track of what’s going on while cooking, the way I always go to the grocery store with a list these days. When I remember to bring it.

Long Overdue

First, full disclosure: I have not always been the best at returning library books on time. Once or twice, I actually racked up fines high enough to cover the cost of the item I borrowed. My bad, please accept my donation, sorry for the inconvenience.

Today I am much more conscientious, but if I were a patron (library users are “patrons,” BTW) of the Troy Public Library I would not need to be conscientious at all, because Troy has joined the growing number of libraries that are eliminating fines.

According to news reports, the Troy library said that fines can be a deterrent to those who need their services the most, and a fine avoidance can actually delay the return of an item. They told WRGB, “Fines can interfere with the library’s important mission of providing information to the residents of Troy.”

Makes sense, right?

Well, WAMC dug a little deeper into the subject and found that the director of Utica’s fine-free library has much a diffferent take. He said that library workers are subjected to “stressful and often very contentious” work conditions, and that dropping fines reduces trouble. Director Chris Sagaas says, “There’s a lot less conflict between library users and our staff,” and that “removing conflict and aggression or the possibility for it is a good thing for library services.”

What’s puzzling about this is what’s always puzzling about everything: people. It’s one thing to be lazy, or a procrastinator, or downright irresponsible — but then to walk into the library and start a fight over the fines you accumulated?

Well, I think we can all agree that we don’t go to the library for conflict and aggression. If I want that, I’ll stop in at the Spectrum Cable store.

Snooze You Can Use

My kids say that I like Facebook because I’m old. Ok, whatever, what can I say? I enjoy finding out what people are up to and seeing pictures of their dogs and whatnot. What I don’t like are people who post ridiculous political shit or push their crazy ass ideas about things like vaccinations.

Fortunately, Facebook has a great way to make people go away, but not forever. The feature, commonly called the “Snooze button,” allows you to stop seeing a person, page, or group for 30 days.

It’s like saying, “I like you and I care about you, and I want to be friends, but I’m a little sick of your crap and I need a break.” Even better? They never know they’ve been snoozed, so no feelings, like when you unfollow a friend.

A guy I know pointed out that he’s found himself having to snooze the same people every 30 days. It’s true. I’ve got one person who’s become the Rip Van Winkle of Facebook friends.

Ah, modern living — but you know what we really need? An easy way to snooze people in real life. That would be useful.

The Case of the Parking Lot Pooper

Well, I haven’t written about poop in a while, but this one caught my eye. From the MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, MA:

At least eight times since early December, the owner of the Natick Outdoor Store made an unpleasant discovery when he arrived at work – a pile of human feces. On Wednesday, Natick Police arrested Andrea F. Grocer, 51, of Ashland, in the parking lot of the store at 38 North Ave. where they found her getting ready to use it as a toilet once again, authorities said.

A related story says that Ms. Grocer claimed to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, but she could not explain why she would not simply poop in one of the many public toilets that were nearby. It’s sad — shitty, really — especially when you see her mugshot, which I won’t re-publish, but you can look at here.

However, the real reason I wrote this was to point out a remark from Natick Police spokeswoman Lt. Cara Rossi:

“At first, they thought it was an animal but then they noticed toilet paper and other wipes – items animals would not have access to.”

I can’t tell if Lt. Rossi is being a wiseass or inintentionally funny, but either way, she wins the award for quote of the week.

Rat Race

Sometimes it’s better to remain in the dark.

I’ve always enjoyed running in the pre-dawn hours, and though I always wear a headlamp, I seldom turn it on.

The darkness is where I’m most comfortable while running, and there’s great peace and beauty found at that time of day. There’s nothing like pounding the pavement on a clear, cool morning with no wind. Sometimes the moon is out, throwing a sharp shadow on the road as you trudge along. On days like that you can hear things more clearly and odors of wood smoke and pine linger in the air. It’s inspiring and fills you with energy.

And then you kick something on the road, and you’re like, “Oh, fuck.”

My years of experience have taught me that when you stumble across a soft object on a dark road, it’s never a bag full of money, no, it’s usually a dead critter.

This happened recently, and when I switched on the headlamp, a plump rat was revealed. It was a healthy looking creature who must have come from the fields that line the road. I’m guessing he was killed by another animal, rather than struck by a car, because he was in very good shape — very good shape for a dead rat, that is.

Your very first thought at this moment is to see if there’s anything on your shoe, such as blood or other rat residue. No? Thank God for that.

Oh, well, switch off the light and move along. With many miles ahead and behind, you’re bound to trip over a rat or two sooner or later

Hindsight is 20/20

It’s very satisfying to look back on the year and know that you successfully fulfilled your New Year’s resolution. Mine for 2019? Eat more beans.

Yes, beans. I can’t tell you how many cans of beans I’ve popped open over the past twelve months, but this was clearly the year of the legume. Black beans, kidney beans, cannellini, pinto beans. I didn’t eat them right out of the can, like a hobo, but the prep was always rather spartan. Mostly for lunch, always drained and rinsed, mixed with a little salsa, leftover chicken, or whatever I could throw in there.

Today, I bid farewell to the year with kidney beans with some rotisserie turkey breast from Hannaford.

What else about the year, besides the beans?

I’ve grown more grateful of how blessed I am to have a beautiful family who love me – and sometimes my feelings toward those I care about bubble up in surprising ways. I’ve had to assure more than one person on the receiving end that I’m not dying or in the midst of a crisis.

A laser-like focus on what’s really important in my life caused me to set some things aside that were not a productive use of my time. Fewer tweets. Not much blogging. Hardly any local talk radio. Less and less TV. And I don’t feel that I’m missing anything.

I’ve remained relatively healthy for a man my age. I attribute this to a heightened awareness that the grim reaper is lurking behind every tree. I still run, but I’ve also added weight lifting to the mix, something I’ve never done in all my years. It’s humbling to discover how weak you are, but the slow and steady progress is rewarding.

Also of note, this year did not seem to zip by like so many others. Is it possible that time is slowing down? Let’s hope so.

Owly McBeal

Finally, a word about the ailing barred owl I rescued off the street in Albany. We originally called her Hoota, but I later decided that Owly McBeal is a better name. She spent two months in rehab at a local vet’s office, but they never exactly figured out what was wrong with her. They think Owly may have hit the side of a building, but maybe she was just weary. Perhaps owls get worn down by the day-to-day humdrum of owlhood, the way life grinds away at us sometimes. It could be she just needed a new perspective, a shot in the arm (wing?) to help her see her life and the world with a fresh eye.

Either way, she’s off somewhere in the wild now. When I stand on my back porch at night, I can hear barred owls calling from the woods. Maybe Owly McBeal is there, peering out into the darkness, ready to fly into another year.

History Lesson

To say that Hamilton is a work of genius would be understating things.

What was it that pushed Lin-Manuel Miranda to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton in such a brilliant and bold way? On paper it must have looked like an insane idea, but what I saw on the stage at Proctor’s this week was like nothing I’d ever experienced could have even imagined.

I know I’m a little late to the game on this, but it’s easy to understand how people have become obsessed with the show — and too bring history to people in this way, even if it’s a wee bit superficial, is a positive thing for our culture. Think of all the people who have delved more deeply into Hamilton and American history after this musical ingited their interest.

That’s good for all of us.

NBTW, Miranda left a lot of material on the table that didn’t make it into the show, mincluding a song about Ben Franklin that the Decemberists scored and recorded. It’s pretty great