Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Baby, I'm Amazed

Back in the late fall of 2007, when I began to scribble on these pages, the town of Sturbridge was in turmoil. Actually, turmoil is the more polite word to use. For a little over a year after that there was one negative incident after another. Name calling, innuendo, verbal attacks, written attacks and counter-attacks on, and by various residents of our town.

It was very hard to keep track of it all. It was exhausting keeping track of it all.

It was as if there were two young kids in town each representing a particular point of view, but were smitten with a touch of ADHD. One would accelerate, and the other would follow suit to counter the first.

Eventually, it got to the point that no matter what was being discussed, or acted on, it would launch a whirlwind of nonsensical debate, and a war of words. I half expected both parties to start speaking in tongues out of shear frustration with each other.

Then, something remarkable happened: there was a major shift in focus by one of the parties.

Imagine two armies marching towards one another, meeting, bumping heads, then retreating a few steps, and then repeating the entire exercise over, and over again, when suddenly, one of the armies decides that instead of bumping heads next time, it was going to sidestep, and avoid the anticipated confrontation.

Rather unique strategy, but it worked. It threw everyone off kilter. The long time head butting had instilled a particular behavioral response that could not be broken until one party or the other made a change, and when that happened, everyone was left on the field of battle looking lost as the side stepper concentrated on something they found much more important.

That act, that side stepping act, was first looked on with suspicion, sort of a "what the hell are they up to now?" kind of look, but the side stepper re-focused their energy. That was the key, a refocusing of a lot of pent up energy with no real place to go except to Negative Land.

What caused this epiphany?

I dunno.

Maybe it was seeing that all that spent energy was not producing anything close to the results that they wanted to see. It's like banging ones head against the wall over and over again and expecting a different result other than pain. It ain't gonna happen. One either has to move to a softer wall, or just stop banging ones head.

The head banging stopped with whatever that epiphany was.

So, where did all that pent up energy go to? Well, it was re channeled to political campaign, and the winning of a seat in our Town government. Somehow, all the ideas, and energy actually found a home. A venue for eliciting change. Yes, there were a lot of obstacles to overcome. for one, there was the history of all those head bumping battles, but one can't just tell others to forget about that, and "look at me now". One has to act.

And, they have.

During the past many months a new organization has been formed in town, The Merchants of Sturbridge, headed by that side stepper. This one organization has taken a fractured business community, united it, and directed it towards very positive changes that are having a wonderful affect on the businesses and residents alike. From offering the ambassador program to meet large groups coming to town, and promoting Sturbridge in a a great way, to a common web site, placing flags up around town, encouraging the beautification of our town, and actually doing it, decorating bicycles and placing them outside of local businesses to recognize the Pan Mass Challenge riders, to the big "Feast and Fire" event coming on October 10th at Turners Field in Fiskdale with music, crafts, vendors, food, and a bonfire. More positive acts have been done in town since the winter than have been done in years.

This is just one of the avenues that energy has been re channeled to.

Now, I am not one of those people that are going to say, "I knew that if things were channeled in a more positive direction, it would be a wonderful thing". That's the way it is supposed to work, and I tried to encourage it with my writings here, but I seriously had my doubts that that would ever happen.

There has been more positive change, and innovation in the last 8-9 months than I have seen in years here in town. Of course, it is not because of just one person, there are many, many people that have contributed to this wonderful change here in town, but I really believe that it could not have been done unless the "troll under the bridge" became a vegetarian first. Otherwise, it wouldn't have mattered how many goats wanted to cross that bridge for a better town, they were going to get eaten no matter what.

Change of strategy. Re-focusing ones energy. Doing something completely unexpected. All of these tactics can result in the positive outcome one wants to see.

And, I for one, and glad to watch it all unfold. Nice change.

To further illustrate my point, check out this video. It is all about doing something unexpected, instead of the same 'ol, same 'ol to get the results one wants.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It Was A Very Quiet Year, Till Now...

Back to square one.

That's where we are now in the search for a town administrator for Sturbridge. I'm not exactly too clear on what the hell happened this past week, but 80% of the search committee resigned abruptly when they felt their integrity was in question.

Here's what I do know, the search committee was charged with the search, and interviewing of potential candidates for the position of town administrator. Several requirements had to be met for a person to apply. Seven years as a town administrator, or as an assistant, and they had to have a masters degree. Fairly simple criteria, and as a result, 49 applicants applied and were interviewed. There were three that fell into the final numbers for consideration, however 2 dropped out leaving only one.

This is fairly straight forward. Folks applied based on the criteria, were interviewed and either ruled in or out. Now, here's where it gets a little sketchy. Somehow, through an email, one selectmen found out that a Sturbridge resident that is currently the town administrator in Paxton was interested in the job.

Interested in the job. He didn't apply. He wasn't interviewed. He was only interested, and besides, he didn't meet the search criteria.

Well, that just won't do apparently. So, the Search Committee was accused of tweaking the criteria to allow the local person to be considered by the selectmen.

I don't know what proof they had of this. Did the committee actually begin the process with the Sturbridge resident? Did the person actually apply? Regardless, just the hint that the search committee was "tweakin" the criteria so that a local person could be considered was enough for these four members of the search committee to resign en mass at the selectman's meeting on September 8th.

They all resigned for the same reason: their integrity was being questioned.

There has to be a bit more to the story than what has been released to the media. First of all, the email that got one selectman all in a tither, did it contain information that led the selectman to believe that the un-candidate was actually considering, or being considered by the committee? Was the committee actually "tweakin'" the criteria to meet the qualifications of the hometown boy?

I have no idea, but this I do know, the member's of the search committee are an honorable lot. I know one in particular, and he is a straight shooter, very honest, and would not stray from a charted course if his grand mother was in a life boat 100 yards off port. Based on this, I can understand why the group resigned en masse. Integrity is a valuable commodity, and to have it questioned by others is tough. Only one way to show that nothing was ever awry, resign.

But there lies the real problem. The mission was never completed. I think a different action should have been taken, especially by likes of these committee members. They should have stood tough. They should have asked for evidence that the selectman had that compromised the search process, and if any was actually presented, then respond to it appropriately, and if it is a bunch of hooey, then tell him to put it where the sun don't shine, and offer him a flashlight so he could review it from time to time, and then move on.

Cripes. If they say they didn't compromise the search, and favor the hometown guy, and he wasn't even on the list of finalists then what the hell is the issue?

Now, if at the end of the search, only three viable candidates made it out of forty nine, and two of the finalists booked it, then maybe the committee should have gone before the selectmen and said, "Folks, this is where we stand, we need to loosen our criteria in order to attract more candidates into the mix". Then, if a homegrown, under qualified person was to express an interest, it would not be something that would not have been seen as suspect. Oh, yes there would be the whole ethics thing with his wife serving on the board of selectmen, but that is a whole other issue.

Bu, that didn't happen, or at least it wasn't reported as happening. Instead, four out of five committee members took their toys and went home. When one has worked all their life to be who one is, and if ones integrity is questioned, then I can see not wanting to have it held suspect, but I can also see staying put, and being tough.

Sometimes we are in the mood to make a stand, other times it may not be worth all the energy, we know who we are. That is purely a personal choice, and either way, resigning, or staying put, they can't be blamed.

I guess the real issue here is, what was that "email" that triggered the whole fiasco? What was in it that prompted the selectman's questions?

In the meantime, we are back to square one. After reviewing 49 candidates with one set of criteria and coming up empty, I say, the criteria should be tweaked a tad, and if a local guy, with lots of town experience makes it into the final three, then so be it. Contracts are made with specifics for performance. Local guy or not, if he makes it, he would be held as accountable as anyone else.

Problem solved. Let's fill out the committee again, reset the criteria, and search once more, and let the chips fall where they may.

Times a wastin'.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sturbridge On The Map Again...err, Or Is It Off The Map?

The article below is from, Sept. 14, 2009--ed

DIY Pics From the Edge of Space for Just $150

"For $148 in off-the-shelf parts, two Massachusetts Institute of Technology students have taken pictures from the edge of space.

Justin Lee and Olivery Yeh’s DIY dirigible launched on September 2 from Sturbridge, Massachusetts and rose 18 miles before popping. It was recovered, photographs intact, upon landing in a nearby construction site.

To carry the camera, a second-hand Canon A470 running open-source software that shot every five seconds, the students used a $30 weather balloon filled with helium from a party favor store. A prepaid cell phone with enabled AccuTracking service sent GPS coordinates via text message. Protecting the apparatus from minus 50 degree Fahrenheit stratospheric chill was a styrofoam beer cooler and pocket hand warmers.

Photographs and a full parts list can be found on the students’ website."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ma!! They Done Blowed Up Main Street!!

Holy Blasting Caps! The private construction company that is laying new water pipe on Route 131 has been issues a cease and desist order from the state for blowing up the road.

Well, not exactly blowing up the road in the true sense, but darn near close! They have been accused of improper blasting techniques which led to severe heaving of the road bed.

Severe heaving?

The road is a foot higher on the southbound side than it is on the north side!

Apparently there is a lot of ledge under the roadway, and explosives were needed to get through it all and lay the pipe, however it looks as the Master Blaster didn't calculate the need of explosives that well, or the ledge was over calculated. Either way, what is left is a major mess that the company has been ordered to fix pronto.

One would think that after heaving maybe 20, or 50 feet of the roadway after a blast that a recalculation would be in order, but no, they continued on for well over 1500 feet!

Boys and their toys. Sometimes just blowing something up is a lot more fun than doing the math. I'm not saying that this is the case in this particular instance, but what else would be their reason for screwing up repeatedly?

I guess that will be discussed fully as time goes on, in the meantime, they will fix the road bed, re-dig the pipe trenches and fill them correctly. It's like starting over without the blasting. They've got to move fast, though. The cold weather is coming soon, and this job has just doubled in size.

If anyone has an old stump in their yard that they see from their window everyday, give this company a call, they'll blast it real good. Of course, you won't be able to view where the stump used to be from your window any longer because your house will have moved to Southbridge.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I Got My HDTV!

Now, before I get all crazy excited about the fix Charter Cable did, let me preface it with, "It weren't easy".

True to their word, the cable fix-it guy arrived here at the predesignated time. I explained the issue to him, and he studied the TV, cable box, and wires. He observed the "snow" on the screen, and then made this observation, " I've never seen that before. It isn't the cable, or the box. It's the TV."

What? The TV? The TV is brand new.

Of course I am not a cable guy, but there are some things that are just common sense. If the TV has a great picture when just the cable is plugged into the back of it without going through the cable box, and the actual cable has been changed out to a new one for that connection, then it is safe to surmise that the problem is in the cable box.

"No. It's the TV. I'd contact the manufacturer", the cable guy told me.

On the last cable guy visit he installed a signal amplifier in the basement that is designed to boost the cable signal to all the TV's in the house, so I know the signal is good. The TV is new, and although the chance that it is defective is there, I seriously doubt it since it has great reception without the the box.

Now, about that cable box. It is an older model HD box. It doesn't have the new HDMI port in the back of it to plug into the newer TV's. It has a component port, the ones that have the green, yellow, and blue cable cables. There are separate cables for audio as well. At the TV end there is, of course, an HDMI port, so I needed a combination cable to connect the box to the TV.

Very old school, and not the best thing to do, but is supposed to work fine. That box, and those connections were the only thing remaining in my quest to find an answer to the issue. The cable guy just kept saying, "It's the TV".

Finally, I asked him for a new cable box. He told me he was willing to try it, but it was, all together now, "The TV".

He went out to his truck, and came back in with a new box, I mean a really new box. A box that was not only HD, but had the HDMI port on the back, and it also had a different screen on the front hat at lit up as it processed HD format, and actually displayed the amount of resolution as well.

Now, this was a true HD cable box.

We removed the old box, and installed the new box in its place, connected it to the cable and the TV, turned it on, and...wait for it...wait for it....

It worked. It worked flawlessly. No snow. No bad reception. Crystal clear picture.

It was the box. So there.

The cable guy looked at the picture on the the TV, and said, without batting an eye, "It was the box".

I guess the lesson learned here is that even technicians can only go with the knowledge they are taught, and have absorbed with their experiences, they also are keen on preaching the company line when nothing else works. Use your intuition. If you suspect something other than what you are being told, then just insist on a new box, or what ever else you feel may be the problem.

Can't hurt.

The technician that came to our house last Friday was professional, courteous, and did have a knowledge base that was good, however, this was a new problem he had not run into before, and now I am sure he will add the "fix" to his repertoire.

My advice is if you are having issues with HDTV, and you have an older cable box as I did, ask Charter to change it out. I believe it will solve your problems. Keep in mind that Charter Communications filed for bankruptcy this past summer, and as they work to get their act together, they may not have enough of these boxes available to switch out.

Just one more thing to consider as it comes closer to the time to renew the towns contract with Charter. We certainly will not be renewing for another ten years, I am sure, and if Verizon FIOS joins the mix, great.

Not So Wildlife

I've said it before, my world is like a Disney movie.

Today I was waiting around in the house for the cable guy to come by when I decided to sit on the back steps, and have a Diet Coke. When I sat down, I heard a little ruckus down and to the right of my feet where the rain spout bends onto the grass. There, sitting on the downspout, was the Bald Eagle you see to the left. Actually, I am not sure if it was a Bald Eagle, or not, it was probably just a Wood Thrush.

He looked up at me, caught my gaze, and did not run for cover. In fact, he advanced a bit toward me. I reached behind me to the plastic bucket I keep the wild bird food in, and tossed some in his direction. He didn't go for it, but he didn't fly off either.

Now, I had to get my camera and take a picture of this character. Too often I tell Mary about all the woodland creatures that stop by each day, and she smiles and nods, but deep down inside her head she is hoping I won't have to go on medication, and that I will be safe when left alone.

I needed proof. Proof of my encounter.

When I returned, I filled a small glass dish with water, and set the little dish in front of my visitor. He promptly hopped up and sat his butt in the water.

As I studied him closer I noticed he had a small piece of grass in his beak, with some dirt around the tip of his bill as well.

I'm by no means an ornithologist, but I can put things together fairly well. It looks like my friend had taken a header into the sliding glass door on the porch, ricocheted off the glass, and then fell face first in the dirt.

His "laddee-dah" attitude also told me he had taken a good whack to the noggin. He was able to walk about, and open his wings well. It seems the only thing the collision with the Marvin window did was knock the sense of fear right out of him.

After he sat in the Jacuzzi I had provided him, I reached down and took him in my hand in order to examine him closer. He obliged, and did not get all frantic on me. He just seemed to enjoy the attention, and company.

I half expected him to start singing to me.

He hung onto my finger for a while, just long enough for me to snap a couple of photos, and then he looked off, squatted down, leaped from my hand, and flew off to be with the other feathered visitors sitting in the trees. The other birds were just sitting and staring at the strange scene. Their mouths all agape. Covering their eyes with their little wings.

Totally flabbergasted that one of their own was returning to the flock unscathed after its close encounter with human. I hope this isn't the start of something. I enjoy wildlife a great deal, but I've been down this road before. You show a little friendship to a wild animal, they react in kind, and before you know it, they are stopping by every day, eating all your chips and salsa, hogging the remote, watching "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" over and over again, and texting you all hours of the day and night.

Gets to be a bit much.

When I see him later today, I'll just ignore him, and maybe he'll just be a wild bird again. In the meantime, I hope he returns my truck with a full tank of gas.

I should have hidden the keys better.