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

Monday, September 30, 2013



More specific: hi tech, has evolved over the past ten years at a speed  I would compare to the wheel becoming a Corvette over a long weekend.

The speed at which technology has developed is not only amazingly fast, but mind numbing.

60 million o fhe Motorola Razr phones
were sold between 2004-2006.
Think about it for just a minute.

Any longer could cramp your frontal lobe.

Think about where cell phones were in ten years ago in 2003.  Don't bother thinking of a "bag phone"
from the 1980's.  That is like comparing spaghetti to mufflers.  Think about the be all, end all Motorola Razr cell phone from 2003.  That phone was not only small, it was thin.  and folded neatly onto itself, and it fit seamlessly into jeans pockets.

Everyone wanted one.

Then, everyone wanted a Palm Treo,  Blackberry, and eventually, an iPhone.  Technology developed so quickly that with each amazing advancement, a new product was developed, and it was like you never owned a cell phone before.

Cell phones are only a fraction, most visible, form of hi- technology.  Technology has developed to the point that there is not a time in the day that it is not known  where you are, what you have just bought for dinner, what highway you took to arrive at the restaurant, the movie you are seeing after that dinner, the brand of soap you use at home, the breed of dog you have.

Technology knows when you left your home to drive to Albany, where you are along the way, and when you can be expected to arrive, even if you do not have GPS in your vehicle.  If there are delays ahead then technology will warn you, and divert you around them.  Technology knows how fast you drove en route, and the speed limits all along the way. It also knows if you went over those limits.

Once you have parked the car in the city, and begin walking to your destination technology can find you in the crowd of hundreds using facial recognition by comparing your DMV license photo to all those other faces around you.  Video cameras are everywhere, and are recording the last time you coughed, checked your zipper, or smiled at a baby.

Big Brother is not only here, he has been welcomed, given the spare room, and keys to the minivan.  We are not the least bit fazed by it.

George Orwell is rolling over in his grave, and I am sure you can view the video of it on Youtube.

If you carry a cell phone with you then your location is known at any given moment.  You have been essentially tagged like a bear in the wrong neighborhood.  When you drive on I-495, or the MassPike, your speed is tracked by your blue tooth phone.  This is how traffic times are calculates, and posted on those digital signboards on the roadside.  They say only the blue tooth signal is used, and then then timed from location to location, but it is just as easy to attach your name, and face to that blue tooth signal as well.

So what is the point of all this?


The tech creep has occurred with great fanfare with each development, but the side tech developments have slipped in quietly.  Are you comfortable with "being out there" for all to monitor, and observe?

What is the alternative?  Going back to 1986, and living "off the grid"?  Possible? Not really.  Not today.  Even if you lost your cell phone, and your GPS enabled vehicle, there are the video cameras at the gas station, and the hot dog stand, your ATM card, and your new home thermostat that knows if you are home, or away.  Facial recognition is here despite what service you subscribe to.  As long as there has been one photograph taken of you you can be found in a crowd.

The new age has arrived, as predicted, not with a bang, but with a ring tone.

Very shortly, you will be able to confront your high school student with videos of just where they have been when they said they were studying at a friends house, check on a friends whereabouts, and check to see if your girlfriend is really at work.

We won't be able to call sick to work with a fever, since the thermal camera in your phone will show you to be cool as a cucumber, and the GPS will show you "recovering" at the beach.

All this amazing technology has been welcomed either openly, or by our just enjoying it.  Could it be used in ways that could harm us?

Of course.  Fire is a wonderful tool, but with the wrong intent, it is terrifying and dangerous.

Can we prevent hi tech from being used against us?  I don't know, but it all starts with awareness, and un-numbing your head.

In the meantime, smile, you're on someones camera, and they know what you're up to today.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Worth The Thought?

Our selectmen voted not to fund a school resource officer for Tantasqua Regional High School last spring.  If the school committee would like one, then they can hire one, and pay for the officer from their funds.  In fact, since, the regional school is a school representing five area towns, the towns could all do their part in funding an officer.

I do not believe the vote last May by our selectmen was a vote against the concept of a SRO, but rather against the funding of one.  Nationally, the need for an SRO has been shown to be there, and for schools as large as TRHS, it is almost a requirement.

Like any small village, that hires a constable, or has single police officer, and TRHS's population is like that of a small village, there is a need for an SRO in that community.

Safety vs. funding.

Why is this concept so difficult to overcome?


Monday, September 23, 2013

A Reminder

"Anonymous comments not accepted, and will be rejected. Please use your FULL, REAL name. Choose Name / URL" and enter your name, and your name ONLY. Leave "URL" blank."

I started using the above wording above the comment box a few weeks ago.  Comments are down, as expected, but there are those that actually have read the paragraph above before writing a comment.  To those people I say, thank you.

Now, there are some other folks that are still trying to sneak an anonymous comment in, or use a name with an initial as a last name.

Full name only.  

If you are passionate about your feelings enough to speak up, then step onto the soap box. If you don't feel that strongly enough about what you have to say to attach yourself to your thoughts, then neither do I.  I set the same standard for you that I have set for myself.  My name is everywhere on this page.

Then there are those that send the same comment under different names in case I didn't choose to publish the first one, or have a buddy do it by "cuttin' and pastin'" their comment from an email saying, "post this for me".

Well, duh.

If I feel your comment is hurtful, hateful, inciteful, or I just don't like you, I won't publish your comment.  If you try again under a differnt name, then you just look stupid.

Remember, my blog, my rules.

By the way, there is no rule that says you must comment on everything you read.  You can just either smile, nod to yourself in agreement, and take another sip of coffee, or mutter something like, "Crazy bastard." under your breath.  Either way, you'll feel as good as if you had typed it out, and I am very used to to both.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Let The Heating Games Begin!

We bought a Nest.

Yesterday on the way from one errand to another errand we stopped at Home Depot, and bought a Nest.  

Nest is the ultimate in home thermostats, and was invented by the very same person that brought us the iPhone.  It is well designed, attractive, and by no means, a cheap set back thermostat.  Not by any means.

We have had a programmable thermostat since we bought this old house, and it worked as it was intended.  We set a low temp for the night, and a wake up temperature.  All other times of the day were handled a la carte since I work an abnormal schedule, we only kicked the heat up if we got too cold.  Yes, it worked.  It worked as it was intended to work.

So is the Nest a big, major improvement in thermostats, or just some good looking hi tech, digital gadget stuck on my wall?

Yes.  Yes it is.

This thing is not only smart, but it learns every time it is adjusted up, or down.  It senses when you walk up to it, and it's black, round screen lights up to reveal the temperature, and what the temp is set to.  When you walk away, it turns it lit screen off.  It knows when you are home, and when you are not home.  It will set it self to the away setting.  It will allow you to check your homes settings, and control it live,and in person, or from your smart phone at work, or the restaurant late in the evening so that home is warm, or cool, when you return.

The Nest allows you to either enter a set schedule of when you want your heat to come on each part of the day, or allowing the Nest to learn your schedule on its own.  The learning part is what the Nest was designed for.  It will learn when you manually adjust your thermostat each day, compare the inside temperature with the weather at your location, and remember it.  If you rise everyday at 5:00 and turn the heat on to 64f  to knock the chill out of the air, then the Nest will determine the time to heat time, and come on early enough to have your home at 64f when you get out of bet.  Or, you can have it just begin to heat at exactly 5:00 AM.  It is entirely up to you.  The Nest will also put some extra thought into those houses that have boilers, and radiators, and radiant floor heating in order to eliminate large temperature swings.

Each month, the Nest will send  you an email report of just how you did with your heating, or cooling, for that month.  It will congratulate you if your settings are saving energy.  It will tell you why your energy use has changed from the previous month.  It could be that there was more cloudy weather, or the Nest was in the Away mode more often, among other things.  The Nest will give advice on how to save more energy based on your overall usage.  Each time the Nest is set to a temperature that will save energy, 62f for heating, and 84f for cooling, a small green leaf will appear on the Nest.  The monthly report will tell you how many leaves you earned.  This is a wonderful incentive, and a great way to put your inner Energy Saving ninja in competition mode for more savings.

The Nest doesn't come cheap, but it can more than pay for itself in energy savings your first heating season.

Since we bought this old house we have tried to do whatever we could to save energy (read that as money).  New windows, caulking up air leaks, and watching how we tweak the thermostat.  We've done well.  From 10 oil deliveries our first year in 2006-2007, to just 3 last year.  All this in a house build in 1858 with little insulation, if any.  This past spring we had a new boiler installed, out of necessity, that will save us even more energy.

This heating season we are ready.  Not as ready as we would be if we had some insulation blown in, but with a new boiler, and now the Nest, I believe we are going to do very well.

I will post the reports the Nest sends to us each month for you to follow along at home.  If nothing else, it may give you some inspiration to become an Energy Saving Ninja yourself.  Heating costs are one of the largest expenses for families outside of the mortgage, and food.  Saving energy will not only make your wallet happy, but the planet smile as well.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Consider It Nipped

I get an "occasional" email about something someone has either heard, seen, or picked up something through their aluminum foil hat about the goings on in town.  I usually don't pursue them, and just send out a "thank you".  Other times, I will just ignore the emails--they are just that off the wall.  I really mean that.  Then, there are the times I get emails from folks that contain information in them that I haven't a clue where the heck it came from.  Today is one of the those times I get to put a rumour to rest right in front of you, and show you how easily it is done.

Recently, I received the following email.  It came from a person that has shared a lot of legitimate concerns, and observations with me, so I was perplexed when this one came in.

On this last Blue Grass Festival how much money did it cost the residents for running this from the STA.
I heard people saying around $20,000 plus to do this.   And next year they are talking spending $65,000 for the next event.

I hadn't heard any of this, and I do listen.  So, I did what I usually do when confronted with something I know nothing about, I make up a believable response.


I contacted Carol Childress, who is the treasurer of the Sturbridge Tourist Association.  Below is Carol's response.

Hi Wally

Thanks for sending this to me; I'm always amused at how rumors get started, especially the ones that are way off base.

The funding that the STA uses comes from the hotel/motel tax; that funding is split between Betterment and the STA, and it is designated for specific uses. In terms of the STA, that money can only be used to promote and facilitate tourism. It can't be used for schools, roads, or anything else - the use of the funds is specific to tourism only. Also, that budget is voted on at town meeting, so "Steve" appears not to attend town meetings, because if he did, he'd know this.

Therefore: 1) it didn't cost the residents anything; 2) that $65,000 is a whopper and made me laugh - whoever came up with that has a very active imagination because the STA hasn't met since August and there's not yet been any discussion about cost for the next event. That said, the next event will be larger so it will cost more; but since our charge is to promote and facilitate tourism, and we want to do fantastic events that will fill up hotel rooms and restaurants, who knows - it may just cost $65,000.

Please tell your reader the STA holds public meetings on the 2nd Wedesday of each month and if they have questions of suggestions, they can attend a meeting and get the facts. Also, attached is the General Bylaws; Page 12 is where the Sturbridge Tourist Association's responsibilities are listed. I suggest people read this before listening to more gossip.


Thanks Wally! 

Thank you again, Carol.

So, there you have it.  An actual rumour nipped in the bud, and you were hear to see it.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cue The Banjos

Tourists have been around since people have had a curiosity about things, and places other than their own.   In America, people began getting really curious when the railroad gave them quick access to other cities.  Railroad tourism led the way to a more controlled, and customized tourism when automobiles began occupying the side lawns of American homes.

With more cars on the road, the need for better built roads was obvious.  The Lincoln Turnpike in Pennsylvania was the first road build for commerce, and tourism, followed by many others including the Wilbur Cross Highway (old Route 15) that ended here in Sturbridge.

These new, and safer roads not only brought goods to consumers, but tourists to places
they had never been before.  Niagara Falls, the Jersey Shore, Cape Cod, the White Mountains were all with in a day, or two's drive from home.  Many inns at these destinations filled up with people out on their first explore about the country.  The numbers of people traveling on the roadways led to a need of where to accommodate the excess that couldn't find a room at the inn.  This led to the start of the motor court.  Small, little motel like cabins along the route to wherever you wanted to go that offered a warm bed, and maybe a cup of coffee.  These motor courts soon became motels, a combination of the words motor, and hotel.  Now, travelers could not only drive to a destination, but find good lodging along the way.

Sturbridge took full advantage of motor tourism with the east-west US 20 beginning to be built across country in the 1920's, and Route 15 as a north to south bringing people from New York and Connecticut to Massachusetts.  Several Tourist Cabins, and motor courts opened on Route 20, and Route 15.  People now had a direct routes through town, and places to stay as well as they traveled on to other places.

The availability of those highways coming through town did not go unnoticed to those with vision such as the Wells family of Southbridge. The very same vision that built their American Optical Company to world renown drove them to purchase land in Sturbridge, along Route 20, for a place to build a museum to house their enormous collection of early American antiquities.  Old Sturbridge Village opened for business in 1946 just when the automobile beginning to take families outside their neighborhoods, and towns, to parts yet to be discovered.

The timing was brilliant.

Old Sturbridge Village prospered, and grew.  Soon, there were numerous inns, motels, and tourist cabins in town along with restaurants, and shops to cater to the numbers traveling to town to visit the Village.  Generations of people were first exposed to Sturbridge on a class trip the Old Sturbridge Village, and with those wonderful past memories, they took their own children back, years later, to relive those times.

The antique shops in town, the speciality shops such as the Sturbridge Yankee Workshop, and restaurants prospered.

During the late 1940's through the 1960's, and into the 70's, this was tourism in America.  Williamsburg, Old Sturbridge Village, and the Worlds Fair were all on the itinerary.  Load up the beach wagon, grab a new map at the Shell station to make sure  the latest interstates that were being built would not be missed, and point the car in most any direction for adventure.

In the early 70's it all changed.

Walt Disney World opened to the public on October 1, 1971, and suddenly the destination on everyones wish list was Orlando, Florida.  Hershey, Pennsylvania, Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, and Old Sturbridge Village became secondary "on the way to" or "on the way home" places to visit, and that was only if the tourists were driving.

The next thirty years were were hard for many attractions along America's highways.  Many did not survive as the mentality on family vacations changed to flying to a specific mega destination instead of hitting the road, and visiting several over a a week or so.  Those that survived did so with not only great leadership, such as Jim Donahue, the CEO over at Old Sturbridge Village, but with a complete change of mindset in order to meet the needs of today's tourists.  Jim Donahue helped rescue a floundering OSV, and brought it back on track.

Old Sturbridge Village reconfigured itself in order to not only survive, but to succeed more than they had in the past.  Leadership, team work, and a plan is what it took.  In the meantime, the town of Sturbridge was still living in 1971.

The Host Hotel has many conventions, and, although they bring large numbers to the hotel, only a few spill into the town.  The annual Outdoor Exposition at the Hamilton Rod and Gun Club attracts great numbers as well, but they are interest specific, and I don't beleive many people come into town to shop the stores after the archery demonstration.

The PanMass Challenge is a wonderful charitable event that comes to Sturbridge each August.  The attention the town receives, and the numbers of people that come to our town are phenomonal, and unmatched, yet they come for a reason far greater than sightseeing -- those that ride have more on their minds than buying a primitive piece on Route 20.  I am sure the restauruants, and shops do see an uptick in sales, as they do when the flea market in Brimfield is open three times a year.  The  shops, and restaurants do benefit by the numbers of people taking that same old highway, US 20, that started it all years ago, but it is not because we are a tourist destination, but rather a "a place on the way".

And, there's the rub.  Sturbridge is not a tourist destination, we have been demoted to just "that place on the way"'.

Sturbridge does have a tourist destination within its borders at Old Sturbridge Village, but the days of making the town of Sturbridge the family destination for spring school vacation were 40 years ago.  The times have changed, and those willing to see that, like Old Sturbridge Village, have embraced it, and planned for it, and have been succesful.

Like any industry, a re-tooling is always needed every so often in order to upgrade the product.  Sturbridge Fest, the Blue Grass Festival, was one such re-tooling.  A new idea, totally unrelated to anything done here before.  No historical attachement, no same 'ol, same 'ol, but a music festival, and a blue grass music festival at that.

With the exception of the blue grass festival this past weekend on the town Common, there has been little success in attracting those "lost tourists", and that was because they were trying to recapture a past tourist, something that no longer existed.  It is only when fresh heads came up with a new idea, did it gather acceptance, and momentum, and became a success.  A new tourist was sought, and for that to happen, a new destination event was created.

I think they succeeded.

This took vision, the kind of vision that may once again make Sturbridge an actual destination, and not just someplace to grab a bite before heading south on 84 to NYC.  The same vision, from fresh eyes, can help lead us to a better place for all of us, and not just for those new tourists we will be welcoming to our town.

I see a welcome change a-coming story being written, and what better soundtrack could there be to this new story than a little blue grass music.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What Is Missing

Last week a letter to the Editor of the Sturbridge Villager was pointed out to me.  The letter, written by Donald Fairbrother of Sturbridge,  offered some thoughts that many of us have, and he placed them on paper.  The sad thing is, as well as the letter was written with obvious passion, it will be read, commented on, and it may just be lost to history.

That's just the way we roll in Sturbridge.  We bitch, moan, and then roll over.  We are unable to bring issues to the next level.  It exhausts us.

We bring observations, and insight to our neighbors, often with suggestions on alternative ways to make life better within our borders, but there is nothing more than a rumble, a nod, and then, nothing.

Mr. Fairbrother addressed the recent loss of "hard working employees" from the towns roles.  Several reasons for this are offered, such as the "heavy handedness" of the BOS, the suggestion that department heads should only be residents of Sturbridge (as if that will insure better performance), a zero % merit raise, and bullying by the members of the BOS.  All of these factors, plus others, have led to a high attrition rate among town employees.

Replacing employees is costly, yet we do little to raise their moral to retain them in our employ.  In fact, the BOS does quite the opposite.

All of this is nothing new.  I've written about  attitudes towards others here in town many times.  I've written about specific incidences, yet nothing happens to either cause a riot at the town hall doors by residents, or a denial, or explanation of incidents by those involved.

Life just goes on.  It goes on unchanged because WE allow it to.  We will readily comment anonymously here, and at the Telegram site, as if that has to power to evoke any kind of change, yet do nothing to lend a name to any kind of grassroots movement for change.


What makes it worse is that those we know are the worst offenders here in town know full well that they are safe from recalls, or having anyone question their actions, because they will make life miserable for those that do anything they consider an attack.

We have strong voices that want change, and write strong words encouraging others to join them, yet they fade away because, although an idea, and a voice are always needed, what it takes to carry an idea one believes in to fruition is balls, and we lack those.

The BOS has them.  They have brass ones.

Until we can compete in their arena, give it up.  Nothing is going to to change, just accept life as it is, take a deep sigh, and move on.

Keeping this in mind, I have decided to stop taking anonymous comments here at Thinking Out Loud In Sturbridge.  I've wanted to do this for a long time.  Anonymous comments mean little, and do little to inspire change.  My accepting anonymous comments did  little to affect change, but only maintained the culture of bitch, moan, and sit down.  From now on if you have a feeling, a suggestion, a rant, or just an opinion, then own it, and attach your name to it, just as Donald Fairbrother has done.

This blog may be small in size, but in five years it has had over 100,000 visitors, and way over 300,000 page views.  In fact, it is being read by at least 150 to 300 people each day, and you can be very sure that those very same people holding meetings at the Town Hall every week are part of the readership.  I know they are, and if you want to to make an impact, then say it, and sign your name.  Otherwise, your words are like gossamer.

To see a need for change takes an understanding; to see a way to invoke change takes vision; to believe in that change takes passion, but the courage to fight for change takes something I have yet to see, it takes balls.

For those that would like our town to be a far better place to live, a fairer, more affordable place to live, and have the conviction to fight the powers that be that you believe are holding us back, then go to the next step, and grow a pair.  It is the only thing that has been missing from all the rhetoric for years.

It's really just that simple.