Category Archives: Modern Living

The Berkshire Hotel

Now, I don’t know much about structural engineering, but how long do you think it will be before the shell of the Berkshire Hotel goes tumbling down into the street?

The building is part of Albany’s Wellington Row, a stretch of derelict structures within spitting distance of the capitol. This prime location has been targeted for redevelopment that would preserve the historic facades that line the street, but it seems to be going nowhere. Meanwhile, we can just wait while it all falls to pieces one brick at a time.

Stroll through downtown and marvel at its vacant lots and empty buildings. Welcome to Albany.

Get the Lead Out

We’re all laden down with wires and gadgets and i-this and i-that — but even as the electronic gewgaws pile up everywhere, I cling to my pencil.

pencilGlance around at your next meeting and you’ll find that most people are gripping pens. Sure, pens, like pencils, are an analog tool, but pencils are not merely low-tech, but organic. And renewable. How’s that for a couple of buzzwords? Scratching out your notes with a pencil, like using the tip of a burnt stick to draw on the cave wall, is much more primal than a pen.

My current weapon of choice is the esteemed Mirado Black Warrior, an impressive looking pencil. That name, Black Warrior would not be a great thing to call your school’s sports teams, but it’s an awesome name for a pencil.

Curious about the Black Warrior, I found a tremendous review on Pencil Revolution, a blog that’s all about… well, pencils. And let me tell you, this guy can write. A few excerpts:

Of course, the Black Warrior smells heavenly because of its cedar construction, and sharpening a rounded wooden pencil is a breeze with any quality sharpener.

The Black Warrior, with its black finish, banded brass ferrule and rounded shape, stands out among American pencils when on a desk or sticking out of a shirt pocket.

The round shape allows for holding the pencil in different positions, and I imagine that Comrades who have had the corners of a pencil embedded into fingers will appreciate the gentler shape of the Black Warrior. They fall right off the desk, so angle them carefully.

Now, if I could only make a habit of actually using all those notes I scribble with the Black Warrior, then maybe I’d be making some progress.

Data Cleansing

In the IT world, data cleansing is “the process of detecting and correcting (or removing) corrupt or inaccurate records from a record set, table, or database.” Thanks, Wikipedia!

In my world it’s something much simpler: leaving a USB drive in your pants pocket and sending it through the washing machine.  I was disappointed by the shoddy make of this SanDisk drive, but after it came out from a load of laundry and still worked? That’s quality.

I suppose that this is sort of like the modern equivalent of leaving a pen in your pocket and and having it run through the wash, but with some exceptions. Pens I’ve laundered never wrote again, and if they made it into the dryer — as one recently did in my house — they can really make a hell of a mess. I’m thinking that 45 minutes of high heat might have cooked the USB drive, too, but at least it wouldn’t leave ink blots all over your clothes.

The Lost Art of Raking

Gas powered leaf blowers are all the rage in my neighborhood. It’s easy to understand why people like them. Nobody thinks raking is fun, but there’s more to it than that; creating your own wind is almost godlike, even if it’s only a narrow gust that just hits your own lawn and driveway.

And what do you suppose the leaves make of these contraptions? I think they prefer being spirited away on the breeze instead of suffering a merciless manhandling at the end of a rake. That being the case, to the leaf blowing public I say exactly what a leaf might say: “Blow me.”

No, I’m not a big fan of the leaf blowers. One reason is that they are so godawful noisy. There is something about the high pitched whine of these things that’s really irksome, nothing like the low and throaty rumble of a lawnmower. And the lawn is cut just once a week; I have neighbors who get out the leaf blower every day — even twice a day, sometimes.

When did we become people who covet our lawns, treating them like an extension of the living room carpet. It’s October. A couple of leaves on your lawn is no big deal. Get over it.

Me? I have a date with my rake this weekend. It’s tedious, but there’s a simple pleasure in moving the leaves from one place to the other. It’s enjoyable, especially if you listen to a football game or music while working — and you can always turn up the volume in your headphones to drown out the leaf blowers.

STFU Man to the Rescue

I love discussing the hypothetical zombie apocalypse, especially talking about which weapons and vehicles you would use to survive. What a geek — but a close second fave is the superpowers conversation.

Here’s how that goes: if you could choose, would you want the power to fly or be invisible? Superhuman strength or blinding speed? Shapshifting or x-ray vision? All of them have their pluses and minuses.

But I believe I have now decided on what superpower I would really want: the ability to make people STFU. Here’s how it would work: you could use your telepathic power to silence the obnoxious.

The best and most obvious use would be to literally make people STFU. Boorish louts who insist on having loud phone conversations in inappropriate places. STFU. Annoying co-workers. STFU. Teenagers who do not grasp their place in your world. STFU. Movie theatres? Goes without saying. STFU.

Talk about doing something heroic!

Naturally, you would only use this power for the good of mankind, eliminating behavior that everyone finds deplorable. I suppose a costume of some sort would be needed, right? No tights, please — but a cape might be nice.

It would be even better if you could squelch things like Facebook posts — especially during this election year —  but that might be asking too much. Even superpowers have their limits.

How Planet Fitness Made Running Dangerous

I’ve been running for years — almost always before dawn and on the road. I’d never see many cars along my route, and when one did approach I turned on my headlamp so they would notice me. Some mornings, out along the road at 5am, you wouldn’t pass a single car.

Then everything changed.

Suddenly there was a steady stream of traffic between 5am ands 6am. I wondered where they all came from — but soon realized that it wasn’t where they came from, but where they were going: Planet Fitness.

The populist mega-gym moved from the other side of town to a grand new location — and brought with it a throng of early morning exercisers. Suddenly there was an influx of vehicles — not exactly like rush hour, but by 5am standards it felt like the Northway.

The interesting thing is that these people seem less mindful of a pedestrian on the side of the road. In the past almost every car would give me some leeway when they saw my light and reflective vest. Now? Not so much. These people on their way to exercise can’t be bothered with… someone exercising.

This is a great example of how a tiny change can alter traffic patterns. It’s just one more of a hundred things that have made where I live more crowded and hectic. I used to see deer and hear the turkeys off in the field before dawn. Now there are just more cars.

Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment

Some people now keep a high tech piece of equipment with their first aid supplies: an automated external defibrillator (AED). Home AEDs are becoming all the rage, but they don’t come cheap. You’ll pay at least $1100 to get the most affordable model, the Philips HeartStart Home Defibrillator, but who can put a price on living through a sudden cardiac arrest?

If you think this is a good idea, I advise you to BUY NOW because BJ’s Wholesale Club has an amazing deal: order the Phillips HeartStart and they will throw in an electric toothbrush. Yes, you read that correctly.

That may seem like an odd combo — and it certainly caught my attention — but if you think about it, it does make sense. You may never have a heart attack, but you’ll definitely need to brush your teeth. And if the defibrillator doesn’t do the trick, it couldn’t hurt to be minty fresh when they come to cart you away.


I take a shortcut through a walkway in downtown Albany that takes me below the steps in front of the Times Union Center.

When I started walking this way, I noticed that every single morning there was a guy out here with a bucket and mop cleaning all around the dark nooks and crannies. Wow! They do an amazing job of keeping this place tidy, I thought. It smells like bleach — which to me is the odor of CLEAN.

Then one day the bucket and mop guy wasn’t there — and the entire area reeked of urine. Ackkkk! Apparently, this is Albany’s favorite spot to urinate, which makes perfect sense. There are a couple of bars nearby and lots of street people — not to mention all the beer drinking at the arena — so the urinating is understandable.

Because I always have to go to the bathroom, I find this interesting — but just for the record, I do my best to find a bathroom.

I think the mayor should stop down here and have a look; if we clean up around Albany as if people are peeing everywhere, it would surely be a better place. And the mayor could stop worrying about Alex Trebek dissing the city.

Simcoe Island

The only way you can get to Simcoe Island, Ontario is to take this cable ferry. Except in the winter — then you might drive across the ice if you are brave enough.

There’s a lighthouse at the tip of Simcoe, and fifteen years ago you could sit next to it and look out on the vast horizon of Lake Ontario. Today there are signs everywhere warning you to keep out. How times have changed.