Sunday, July 26, 2009

What I Read on Vacation

I bought four books last week for beach reading. With various things happening during the week, I read two of them.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. That's right, I opened the page of a book most read in high school. Before reading the book, the only impression I ever had of Frankenstein was the infamous scene in the movie when the good doctor gave life to the beast by literally jump-starting his head. I remember it was a long scene. In the book, it took about a paragraph.

Shelley's work at such a young age made me regret not taking the course "Forbidden Knowledge" at BU. My friend Lauren D'Angelo, who was with me for part of the vacation, took the class. They read Frankenstein, because it touched on such issues as cloning, civic obligation, and life-long ambition versus the public good. I definitely didn't give enough attention to the book as one would in college. I did note that the doctor in the book is actually Frankenstein, not the beast itself.

The Innocent Man, by John Grisham. I used to read a lot of Grisham when I was a teenager. His books are action-packed even if they are not very deep. Many a lawyer criticizes Grisham for making the courtroom far more interesting than it actually is and the judicial process far more rapid than in real life. The Innocent Man was an ambitious project for Grisham, since it is actually non-fiction. Grisham definitely did his homework, for the tale of Ron Williamson and his conviction for a crime not committed was presented in detail. Moreover, one who reads the book certainly has a more negative feeling about the death penalty.

Back to work tomorrow!

As a footnote it's worth noting that my friend Kim recommended both books.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Toast to Being From "The In-Between"

Point O' Woods at Sunset
South Lyme, Conn.
July 22, 2009

The biggest thing I miss about Connecticut, believe it or not, is being in-between. I grew up in Connecticut, and I returned to the Connecticut shore this week for a mid-summer vacation.

Connecticut has a bit of an identity problem. Situated between New York City and Boston, Connecticut is in-between. My home state is part of New England, but it is also one of the tri-states (N.Y., N.J. and Conn.). Parts of Connecticut have a New York accent, parts have a Boston accent, and still others (including me) aren't really sure what our accent is (I don't pronounce w's that come after r's, whatever that means).

I often describe the state as being split in two by the Connecticut River. To the west of Connecticut river, the state is essentially an offshoot of New York, and most hail from the Empire State. To the east, New England influence dominates, and the attitude is different.

In college at BU, being from Connecticut meant hearing an endless series of complaints about the state, since most people drove through it to go home. The traffic was horrible. The rest stops were far between. And Connecticut had left-hand exits that made directions confusing. Oh the horror. Connecticut was the drive-through state. To many, Connecticut simply meant Route 84.

So far this week, I actually have enjoyed being back in-between. Stores here sell the Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and the New York Times (as well as the hyper-local New London Day). I can watch the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox each night. I can choose between Boston or New York local news.

I brought a New York Yankees sweatshirt with me. On a visit to the supermarket in Old Saybrook (a few miles southwest of South Lyme, where I am for the week), I ran into no less than three fellow Yankee fans who patted me on the back or gave me the thumbs up.

Each year, my hometown newspaper, the Norwich Bulletin, would write a story about how a certain spot in Norwich was exactly equidistant between Boston and New York City. The story inevitably came the night before the first game in the seasonal Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. The story chatted with fans on both sides, and came to the conclusion that the mixture of fans made life more interesting. I can't help but think that the general in-between-ness of the state does make Connecticut interesting.

I am sure the Connecticut identity crisis has benefited me. I appreciate distinct identities, like Boston's, more, and I would guess I am more open to them. By the same token, it's somewhat nice to be back where you see the mesh of different identities. It's nice to be back where Boston and New York City meet.

[For the record, I grew up east of the Connecticut River; my family presents many New England characteristics.]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Forecast Roulette

I am enjoying a nice vacation on the coast of Connecticut, at a cottage my family owns in South Lyme. To kick off the vacation, this past weekend I hosted friends for a beach BBQ on Saturday and Sunday.

I have decided that if one is hosting a BBQ, it's necessary to invite a meteorologist. I used to say I would invite a doctor, lawyer and mechanic. The doctor is in case I do something to myself, the lawyer is in case I do something to someone else, and the mechanic is in case I do something to equipment vital to the event.

A meteorologist is now on the list.

Let's just say that last week was not a good week for New England meteorologists. And that drove me crazy. On Wednesday morning (three days ahead of the BBQ), I checked no less than seven forecasts. All of them were different. Twenty-four hours later, on Thursday morning, they were all in agreement. It was going to pour on Saturday. A regular wash-out. Make no mistake, one meteorologist wrote on his station's website, "the rain is coming."

Saturday ended up being a fantastic day, even though the rain scared away two of the BBQ's attendees. By 11 a.m., it was sunny and in the mid-70s along the Connecticut shore.

Now I must say that I know the weather is fickle, especially in the Summer and especially in New England. However, my suggestion is the forecasters should note in their predictions that they really don't have a clue what the weather will be further than 24 hours out.

As an example, I took the liberty of recording the Connecticut forecasts twice a day during the week last week, and for the purposes of this exercise I will show you below what those forecasts predicted for Saturday (as well as my reactions to each). To protect the innocent, I will not say where the forecasts are from, but I can tell you they were all from the same source.



Saturday: Mix of sun and clouds. Low: 61. High: 82.

Sunday: Partly to mostly cloudy with a chance of showers. Low: 62. High: 79.

[OK, I can deal. My first check of the forecast and it looks ok. Better order extra hot dogs. Also, better expect people will leave early Sunday if they stay over.]


Saturday: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms possible. Low: 66. High: 81.

Sunday: A mix of sun and clouds. Low: 66. High: 83.

[Ahem? Where did the clouds come from on Saturday? Must be a glitch in the system. It will be back on track tomorrow.]


Saturday: Cloudy with a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Highs in the upper 70s. Chance of rain 50 percent.

Saturday Night: Cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers. Lows in the mid 60s.

Sunday: Partly sunny. A chance of showers in the morning. Highs in the lower 80s. Chance of rain 30 percent.

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy. Lows around 60.

[Crap. What's the difference between mostly cloudy and cloudy? Now there's a "chance" for storms, whereas on Tuesday night, it seemed definite there would be storms. Why can't it be Tuesday morning again? I was happy then.]


Saturday: Showers with thunderstorms likely. Cooler. Humid with highs in the mid 70s. Northeast winds around 5 mph. Chance of rain 80 percent.

Saturday Night: Showers likely with a chance of thunderstorms in the evening, then a chance of showers after midnight. Patchy fog. Lows in the lower 60s. Chance of rain 60 percent.

Sunday: Patchy fog in the morning. Partly sunny. Highs in the lower 80s.

Sunday Night And Monday: Partly cloudy. Lows around 60. Highs around 80.

[Screw the clouds, it's going to rain. This BBQ is going to be a washout. Should I cancel? Maybe I should move to Sunday? Do I have boardgames at the cottage? Do people still play Chutes & Ladders?]


Saturday: Scattered showers and thunderstorms in the early morning, then mostly sunny. Another chance for storms in the afternoon with clearing tomorrow

night. Low: 60. High: 82.

Sunday: A mix of sun and clouds. Low: 60. High: 83.

[God must have listened to my voice message that I left last night! However: "Mostly sunny"? That's pretty dramatic from scattered showers earlier in the day. I will take it, I guess.]


Again, I know that weather forecasters have a tough job, but what irks me, and probably many others like me who had outside events last weekend, is that each forecast is presented as if it's absolute. The forecast for Saturday that was given on Tuesday morning was written in the same tone as the Saturday forecast published on Friday.

Shouldn't they attach a level of probability to each? I wouldn't mind it if they inserted text in front of the forecast that said, "No one has a clue what's going to happen on Saturday, but if you ask me to take a swing at it, here goes." I would actually respect the forecaster more for such a tone.

For the record, it was a nice weekend, and thanks to my friends the event was a very memorable affair. I thank them for that. I also thank Mike Binder, one of the guests, for nailing the forecast on Thursday afternoon, when he told the group that the coming storm would clear out.

You see, I did invite a meteorologist to my BBQ. And I am happy I did.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Took the Plunge-- I Now Own an iPhone

My brother Brett's recent blog post outlines how he avoids the fad in life. In other words, he is suspect of trends.

It must run in the family. I am also not one to purchase what is trendy. At college graduation, my fist car was a Saturn, not a Jetta (everyone else went with the German pick). I really don't go to the trendy new fancy restaurant or drinking establishment. My reasoning might be found in my profession-- marketing. To me, if something is trendy, I tip my hat to the marketer behind the fad, I dissect how they did it, and then I try to apply those tactics to what I do for a living.

Except now I own an iPhone, and I must admit, things are different. When I bought the phone last week, I went into the AT&T store (I have been an AT&T customer since my first cell phone in 1998) with the 20 dollar pay-as-you-go phone I bought on New Year's Day. I asked the sales person how to flip the SIM card between my iPhone and my old phone. You see, I wasn't really going to use the iPhone that much. I was going to check it out for my work, but most of the time, I intended to use my old phone.

You can probably guess the end of this story. I have not switched the SIM card once. I have been using my iPhone ever since.

My friend Elizabeth puts it best. The iPhone really eliminates the need for me to check my laptop for simple things, like checking the weather or my email.

I am not saying I buy into all of the iPhone hype. But let me just say that I am not turning mine in anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Top Five Beacon Hill Issues-- June 2009 Issue

Every six months, I have gotten into the habit of providing a brief summary of the top five stories affecting Beacon Hill. You can review the list from late December of 2008 and the end of May 2008.

Here is the 1H 2009 edition. (Apologies for being a tad late; I meant to post this last week.)

5) Single-stream recycling

We could not have a top-issues-on-Beacon-Hill list without something about trash. And here it is. Single-stream recycling basically means not having to separate your recyclables. You place them all in a plastic bag and put them on the curb ten feet or so away from your regular trash.

The great thing about single-stream is it makes recycling easier. And it's catching on. Beacon Hill started single stream recycling last year, and now the plastic bags used for recycling are the hottest items to buy in the neighborhood. For the record, one can find them at Charles Street Supply.

4) 3rd Suffolk House Election

We had an election that affected part of Beacon Hill during the first part of the year. It was to fill the seat left vacant when former State House Speaker Sal DiMasi left office in January.

The election had a local candidate, Lucy Rivera, but she never really was in the running. This race came down to two candidates hailing from two other neighborhoods. Aaron Michlewitz from the North End, and Susan Passoni from the South End. In truth, the district only includes a tiny portion of Beacon Hill, though I can tell you many of the neighbors on those four or five streets are very active.

Michlewitz won the Democratic primary by a fairly close margin and went on to win the special election easily.

3) Robberies

Crime is rarely an issue on Beacon Hill. Except when there are a couple of robberies clumped together, residents get worried.

The Boston police have stepped up patrols on Beacon Hill, following robberies that happened in the Spring. Let's be honest-- we're not talking a lot of incidents here. But the connection between the robberies and youth gangs in Downtown Crossing is a bit unsettling.

2) Protecting the Esplanade

Last year, the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) board of directors (I am a member) voted to support making the Esplanade a historic landmark (in colloquial terms, a process called "landmarking.") At the time, the effort was so that the State would not decide to turn the Esplanade into a highway- diverting Storrow Drive while the Storrow Drive tunnel was rehabilitated. While that threat has abated (in fact the fate of the tunnel is, for now, on hold), it does make sense to landmark the Esplanade. And I am happy to hear the process is moving forward.

However, landmarking the Esplanade does directly impact an effort by neighbors to place a locked fence around the Teddy Ebersol Fields. On a portion of the Esplanade, the fields are used by children who live on Beacon Hill. While I can understand the need for a fence, I cannot understand why the fence needs to be locked. Such an occurrence only extends the long-held belief that Beacon Hill residents feel privileged.

Supporters of the fence want to get it approved before the landmarking occurs, since at that point making any changes to the Esplanade would get a lot harder.

1) Navel gazing

The BHCA has launched a noble effort to define priorities for the neighborhood for the foreseeable future. While still in its early stages, the process has yielded some interesting facts. For example, a significant percentage of my neighbors are young. As in younger than 30. I think you can expect the BHCA will make an effort to get these young residents involved.

The BHCA's vision for the future is fairly conservative. I was especially interested in a proposed phrase from the planning process that supports development efforts "around" the Hill. As long as you don't touch the neighborhood itself, and as long as the development doesn't affect us in any way, we're ok with it.

In truth, the BHCA's conservative streak has long been noted in the meetings I have attended (I have been a Board member of the group for many years). As a former board member once said often, "If Beacon Hill isn't Heaven, it's at least in the same zip code." Why change it? Of course, the conservative nature of the BHCA might soon come into conflict with the younger residents it's trying to court.

Obviously I speak someone facetiously, and I do support the planning effort, though I wish my neighbors were a tad more open to new ideas that might in the long run benefit all of its neighbors, even if they do represent the dreaded "change."

And it's great that the BHCA is opening itself up more to younger neighborhood residents.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

The Hatch Shell on the Esplanade
July 3, 2009

Friday, July 03, 2009

Day on The Esplanade

Each July 3rd, it has become a tradition that my parents come to Boston, and together we wait on the Esplanade at the Hatch Shell. You see, while there is a Fourth of July Concert at the Hatch Shell each year, the special secret is the same concert is performed the night before. It's a dress rehearsal.

Getting to the Hatch Shell early means you get a nice spot close to the act. This year, the special guest performer was Neil Diamond. He actually came down near the crowd while he sang "Sweet Caroline."

Neil Diamond at the Hatch Shell
July 3, 2009

One of the interesting aspects about the yearly tradition with my parents is seeing the avid fans (groupies, if you prefer) of the special guest. Since the special guest changes each year, the dynamic of the fans changes as well. It's safe to assume that the avid fans who follow Neil Diamond (Or "Neil" as they call him) are very different than the fans who follow Rascal Flats (last year's special act).

This year we waited to get into the oval in front of the Hatch Shell with a Diamond fan that has seen "Neil" perform seven times in the last year. I have now seen Neil Diamond once in my entire life.

At one point in the evening, we were warned about a threat of rain. Suddenly, the blue tarp we had been using to mark our territory on the Esplanade lawn was transformed into a tent. The three of us not-so-quite fit under the canopy.

Ready for Rain
The Oval at the Hatch Shell
July 3, 2009

Fortunately, the rains never came.