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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Another Fruit From The Bully Tree

When one makes the decision to put their thoughts out there in a blog for others to read, most will also make decision to do so responsibly.  It just comes with the territory, and is determined by the writers personality, and ethics.

Rule #1   Never attack a persons physical being, or lack of mental prowess.  Personality is different. That often is the reason behind the issue, but tread lightly, and stick to the subject.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and whatever some bloggers are thinking of at the moment about a subject will be unleashed from their fingertips with little involvement of their brain.

That has everything to do with personality.

We have seen this before, but when one goes away, there is always another to rise up, and stand in the "Stupid Spotlight".

Recently, it happened in Southbridge.

Former state rep, and Southbridge Town Councilor, Ken O'Brien is a blogger that jumped on the bandwagon when anonymous comments to his blog began to come down on school committee chairwoman Lauren McLoughlin, and her weight.

“she is of sufficient mass to have her own gravitational field” , he wrote about the chairman.  He wrote that her weight was a bad example in a state encouraging  anti-obesity, and fitness programs in schools.


It doesn't matter what the original argument was that spawned the comments, all that matters now is that a bully has exposed himself to the world, and the ball is in our court.  If we ignore the bullies, they will only grow bolder.  And, bolder.

That is the responsible, right thing to say.  What is not right, or responsible, is acknowledging that the blogger is merely an ass, and not worth our time,  except that we owe it to the person he has hurt to support her.

And, I will, as I am supporting her here today.

But, I  will still acknowledge the ass thing.  I have my wild, irresponsible moments, too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Technology Creep Is Subtle, And We Love It

When I am done with my banking business at the ATM I now have a choice as to how I want to receive my receipt.  I can print it at the ATM, email it to myself, or both.  I choose email.  Less paper, less clutter in my wallet, and I have a record of the transaction available anywhere my email is, and that is everywhere for the most part.  This is a good thing for those of us that accumulate receipts like autumn leaves that linger in our wallets until they become totally unreadable.

I can monitor traffic flow on the map display in my car.  The roads are highlighted in either green, yellow, or red to indicate the speed of the traffic ahead in real time.  This heads up has allowed me to go around heavy traffic by getting off a few exits sooner, and taking side roads.

Last Thursday morning an alert went off in my car as I was driving home on the Pike.  "Low Tire Pressure" the alert read on the dash board.  I was puzzled.  Just two weeks before I had replaced all four tires at C&R Tire.  Not willing to write the alert off as being an overly zealous alarm, I pulled into the service plaza in Charlton, and added a bunch of air to the right rear tire that was the culprit  I then headed west again toward exit 9.  When I got off the Pike,  I made a bee line to C&R Tire.  Mike took me right in.  They found that the tire had been punctured, but whatever did it had left the building.  It was no longer in the tire. They patched the hole, and I was on my way.

Technology had saved my bacon that morning.  Being a rear tire, I did not feel a change in the way the car was handling like I would have had it been a front tire.  By the time I heard that "thump-a-thump-a-thump" it would have been time to pull over.  Changing a tire on the Turnpike is something I do not wish on anyone.

I downloaded the UPS app to my phone before Christmas.  The app alerts me when a package has been shipped to anyone in our household, when the delivery date will be, and an approximate time.  I have the option to adjust the delivery date in case we won't be home, or to have the package delivered to a neighbor.  I can even ask to have the package delivered to another door.

These are just little examples of how little bits of technology have subtly crept into my life over the past few months.  Ten years ago their arrival would have been highlighted on the evening news, but today, the only acknowledgment they get is maybe an acknowledging smile, or a comment at the app store.

We are no longer blown away by what has become everyday technology.  We accept it into our lives, and actually expect it to only get better.

Dash cameras for cars other than for law enforcement will be big this year.  Credit card security will be huge.  I see credit cards being issued with a generic number on the front of the card to identify the you, but each time the card is swiped at the point of sale, only a secure, random, one time account number will be generated.  No longer can your card be compromised from its data being hacked at the register.  The same will be true for online purchases, and some banks already offer the random, one time numbers that are linked to your account.

Each time we are confronted with a problem, or issue, that technology could make better, safer, more convenient, more portable, more secure, or, more fun someone will develop a way to do it.  Most of the ideas, and developments, don't go far after conception, but for the ones that do, they will wiggle their ways into our lives.  We will accept them, and eventually, not do without them.

For those of you old enough to remember, think of how your day was in 1977.  You awoke to an irritating electric alarm clock, poured coffee from a percolator, listened to the AM radio in the kitchen, or the car for the weather, hoped the tire store took checks,  made sure you had change in your pocket to use in the payphone to call for a ride home, and took the package that that you ordered from the Sears catalog inside after the mailman jammed it in the mailbox.

That is all so familiar.  So expected, and normal, yet today, it is also medieval.

Here is something you can do today to make the day a bit more fun, make a mental note of all the little pieces of technology that you are exposed to that would not have been there 2, 5, 10, 25 years ago. They are everywhere, and for the most part, so ingrained in our everyday world, we barely notice them.  Everything from digital sign boards on the Pike telling us how many miles to the next interchange, and how long it will take you to get there, to the weather alert you just received on your phone.

How has technology made your life easier?  Or, has it?  Are you saving time?  Healthier?  Safer?  More aware of your finances?  More entertained? Is life more convenient?

Or, do you wish you could just go off the grid, and pretend it is 1974 all over again?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

They Went An' Built A Skyscraper

"Everything's up to date in Kansas City They gone about as fer as they can go They went an' built a skyscraper seven stories high About as high as a buildin' orta grow."

--Richard Rogers / Oscar Hammerstein II

Believe me, I appreciate a good change now, and again.  Really, I do.

It was well past the time for the old Cumberland Farms on Main Street in Fiskdale to be torn down, and a new building built in its place. Not only for  aesthetic reasons, but safety reasons, too.  Too often cars pulling up to the gas pumps would wait in line blocking Hinman Street.

This practice did not allow residents free access to their homes, or the ability to leave their street at times.  When I was filling up I often saw a lot of frayed nerves, steely stares, and digital salutes offered both ways at the intersection of Hinman and Main.

Yes, it was high time to tear down the old building, build a new one, and reconfigure the gas pump island location.

So, Cumberland Farms Corporation went off to those at the town hall with a plan.  They wanted to build anew at the same location, and for all the right reasons.  The town supported the request to build, issued the proper permits after the plan was reviewed, and scrutinized as they do at town hall.  

Remember, white posts only in the front of the building.  

Construction began this past fall.

First the lot was prepared, the trees removed giving the condos behind Cumberland Farms a fantastic view of the gas station to be.  Next came the demolition of the building, and the removal of the old tanks.  Soon, the foundation was poured, and the building began to rise.

And rise.

The new Cumberland Farms on Main Street.  

One of the many things one learns in architect school is building to the scale of the surroundings.  Determine what the building will be used for, and build to suit the need, and the traffic that will come.    This is done in concert with those that hired the architect.  The client expresses their need, and the architect designs to suit that need.  However, the bigger the project, the more money for the architect.

Cumberland Farms must have expressed a wicked lot of needs, and the architect was willing to fulfill those needs.  Usually, gasoline, lottery tickets, cigarettes, coffee, newspapers, and milk top the list of items sought at Cumberland Farms.  Everything else are those all important sundry items, ice, charcoal, 8 ounce bottle of Dawn, eggs, and of course, Entenmann's.  

The next part of the process is that "take things to the town hall" part that is in place to make sure that the plans are up to snuff, don't violate any codes, regulations, or bylaws.  It will also allow those at the Planning Committee, and elsewhere, to get a good picture of the proposed building, and just how it will fit in the surrounding neighborhood.  Maybe it's me, but did some folks call in sick the day when neighborhood fit was discussed?

I make it a point not to listen to rumors, or report on them, but somethings I over hear things, and I heard that Macy's will be anchoring the south wing of the building right under the new Olive Garden.

The building is big.  Actually, enormous would be a better word, but if our town fathers, and mothers, thought it was good fit for Sturbridge, then that's good enough for me.  If I can fill up my car with gas, buy a pair of jeans, get the cat groomed, and sip a coffee while waiting to have an eye exam all under the same roof, well, then my life just got a whole lot easier.

I do like change.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

If You Do It, Do It Right.

I am all for renewing what we have on Main Street.  The current  renewal plan is to include  new sidewalks on both sides, street trees, new plantings, decorative lighting, a reconfigured intersection at the intersection of Stallion Hill Road, a crosswalk at the Host Hotel, and a roundabout at Route 131 and Route 20 with a reconfigured roadway, lighting, and plantings.

A lot of renewal, and a lot of money - $13 million dollars, but let's face it, there is a need for a lot of that work to be done.  I don't know how I feel about the roundabout.  I have to work out just how that will make the traffic flow better, and make things safer than the lights that are currently in place, especially since other safety issues are not being addressed.

The reconfigured Stallion Hill intersection is long overdue.  The redesign is to allow traffic to turn left at the light, when heading west on Main Street, and onto Stallion Hill Road.  This will be better for those heading to Old Sturbridge Village, and the shops at the intersection.

New trees, plantings, pavers, reconfigurations, roundabouts, decorative lighting, a new crosswalk, sidewalks all designed to make the road more esthetically pleasing, and safer.

$13 million dollars to be spent to make the changes happen.

This will be a huge project.  Another project this size won't happen for another thirty years so we may as get as much bang for our buck now.  So, what's missing from this undertaking?

  1. Burying the utility lines.  The road will be dug up, sounds like a great time to bury the lines.  No amount of planting, and decorative lighting will hide the ADA noncompliance of the poles in the middle of the sidewalks, and their plain unattractiveness.  Flowers, lights and trees are nothing more than lipstick on a pig unless those lines are buried.
  2. Traffic light at the intersection of Arnold Road, and Route 20.  This should have been addressed years ago.  Today, those leaving Arnold Road for parts beyond must wait, and wait for a kindhearted person driving on Route 20 to stop, and allow them to come out and onto Route 20.  This can take a very long time, and as a result, people become impatient.  This can lead to all sorts of problems.
  3. Traffic light at the intersection of New Boston Road, and Route 20.  This is the most dangerous intersection town.  Two lives have been lost there in recent memory, yet drivers must run the gauntlet each time they pull out of their road, and onto Route 20.  If you are spending the money for a roundabout that is being touted as a traffic flow, and safety improvement, then why not take on the bigger issue 1/10 of a mile to the east.

Tell me why these long time issues are not being addressed in this massive project.  Give me something.  An explanation as to why safety is a concern at one place, but not an issue elsewhere.  Tell me why beautification of the roadway doesn't include removing the current monuments to ugliness.  I would think that these improvements would be more affordable, and a heck of a lot easier to do while the road way is being redone.

I don't miss much, and if I am missing something this time, please tell me what it is so I can begin to understand this plan better.  

Don't say it's money.  This is Sturbridge, and recent history has shown that that is not a concern.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Got Those Northern Lights Could Break My iPhone, And I'm Feeling Blue Blues

I start my day by shuffling off to the bathroom.  One of the things I do in there is  confirm in the mirror that I am still here.  Once that is established, I can continue my day.

After the bathroom visit, and self confirmation, I grab my iPhone, and check for recent news and weather alerts, emails, and Facebook posts as I am pouring a cup of coffee.  I may turn on the TV for a bit, or as it was this morning, turn on Mary's  wireless speaker system and beam a  smooth jazz radio station playing live in Florida from my iPhone to the speaker system.

Later, I'll do some banking on my phone, pay some bills, check the status of the 403b,  do some stalking on Facebook, track a UPS shipment from LL Bean, and compare my electrical usage to others in the area at, and I do it all from a chair in the living room

On the way to work I'll put in my work address into my car's GPS, but not so much for me to find my way, but for the
alternate route feature in case I get stuck in heavy traffic on the way in, and to get a heads up of any traffic problems on my route.  The car's GPS also offers a traffic monitoring feature through Sirius satellite radio that shows the speed of traffic on all the major routes in color - green for going 45 MPH up to the speed limit, yellow for doing OK, but slower, and red for crawling.  This is a great feature when we are driving north, to Maine. It allows us some time to tweak our route if possible.

When I am commuting, I can choose to listen to the local radio, the satellite radio, the music from the flash drive I have plugged in with a lot of my favorite music, or from the 40 GB hard drive I downloaded a few Cd's to that I had not loaded my laptop.  As of last week I now have another option since I began a subscription with Apple iTunes Match to place all of the music on our laptop in "the cloud", and playable from any device we own, at any place, at any time.  The neat thing is that iTunes matches all the music on the laptop, and other devices,  with what it has, and makes it available to you.  It doesn't upload the music, and it just matches ALL your music, and not just the purchased music you bought from iTunes!


On the way to work I'll call Mary on the cell via the blue tooth connection from my phone to the cars speakers, and talk hands free.  At work we'll share a few text messages back and forth.  I'll sometimes use the alarm on my phone to remind of an important task, too.

I am "well connected".  All of the little things I used to do without the internet, wi-fi, blue tooth, and cellular data usage, has shifted to being controlled from my hand.  My world has stayed the same size, but the ability to control my world has become more manageable.  All my excuses about being late with a payment, missing an oil change,  not knowing when my next dental cleaning was, forgetting my internet password at work,  loosing the serial number for our new refrigerator  have been deleted.

I no longer have excuses for being out of the loop, or not knowing.  The information is somewhere on my phone.  All I need to do is search using a keyword, and there it is - a phone number, an email, a window measurement, a policy number.

Mary shares her calendar with me, and I share mine with her.  No longer do we have two separate things booked for the same night.  The UPC code for the shirt I want to return is in the picture I took of it, the tickets to the movies are in the phone in an email.  The dentist appointment I made was confirmed by email, and I clicked it to make a part of my calendar. Mary see's the appointment on her phone as well.

Hotel reservations, dinner reservations, the daily traffic report for my commute, delivery confirmations from UPS, contact information of a long lost cousin, Mary's shoe size, and my contact lens prescription are among the hundreds, and hundreds of scraplets of information inhabiting my iPhone.

I have a system.  It is a far better system than the system I had all my life, which really wasn't a system, but a mashup of penciled notes, post-its, appointment cards lost amongst the receipts in my wallet, highlighted overdue notices, and relying too much on the check engine light.

Yes, it's a far better system.  I have achieved peace of mind, a sort of a task management Nirvana.

Then came the solar flares.

Last week there was a giant solar flare that shot up from the sun and headed to Earth.  Solar flares happen, and depending on their size, their radiation will cause  will cause amazing, and beautiful Northern Light displays in the sky when it interacts with our atmosphere.  They can also interrupt our electronics, our cell phones, and our power supply.


My phone?  M-m-my life?  Interrupted by solar flares?

Just when I thought I had this whole organization thing licked, now I have to worry about solar flares, but first, I need to check on Amazon and see if they have solar radiation shield cases for the iPhone 5s, and if I strike out, then I'll worry.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"You Have Arrived At Your Destination. In The Woods. All Alone."

"In 300 feet, go straight."


"Go straight."


"Go straight."

"Really?  Go straight here?  This doesn''t look right", he must have said as he tapped the GPS display with his finger.

Yet, now he was totally committed.  There was no turning back.   He drove his rig,  pulling the 53 foot trailer , into the woods along a road that was first laid two hundred years ago.  The road is dirt, leave and ice covered with small hills, and acute angles.  Not a place for a 2014 tractor pulling a trailer that is meant for interstate cruising.

The driver pulled that trailer as far as the road, and slick ice would allow him. Finally, he became hung up making a tight turn on an incline, and he slid back wedging his trailer against a rock in an ancient stone wall.

He was done.

This  happened around 3:00 in the morning.  At 8:00 that evening, he called for help.  I imagine he spent the night in the truck trying to come up with a convincing script for the benefit of his employer.

The following morning, after I rolled in the door from Boston at 8:00 AM, I received a call from Craig Moran, the owner of the Sturbridge Service Center.

"Hi, Wally.  I know you like hearing about the wacky things in town.  You got to hear this.  In fact, you got to see it!"

Craig then told me about the truck driving up Stallion Hill Road as his GPS instructed, turned onto Leadmine Road, as his GPS had told him to do, and followed the road for 1.87 miles just as his GPS designed especially for truckers told him to do.  This special GPS helps truckers avoid low bridges, roads unfit for their rigs, and other obstacles they could encounter on their route.

The GPS told the driver to drive straight on Leadmine in order to get to I-84.

View Larger Map

If you look at any online map, or any GPS, Leadmine Road is continuous.  It appears that it is a legitimate road from the old Route 15 to the east, to Stallion Hill Road in the west.  Problem it's not.  There is just under a mile of old dirt road riddled with holes, and boulders in the road that is only passable to vehicles with a high clearance, and 4-wheel drive.  This section  connects the two ends of Leadmine Road, and on the GPS one would never know it is a path in the woods.

The driver of the truck had no idea what he was in for.  He, like most of us, just followed the map in front of him, and listened to the calm, directing voice leading him to his destination.

I will admit, I followed this road using my Garmin GPS when I first moved to town in 2000.  I was lucky, and after I posted the photos on Facebook today, another Sturbridge resident mentioned that she had done the same thing.

It's well past time for a fix.

If you pull up a Google map you will notice there is a small "Report a problem" link on the bottom right corner of the map.  I've clicked that link many times to report that a business is no longer where it is listed on the map, or in the wrong place.  Google always researches it, and gets back to me. Today I reported the Leadmine Road fiasco.

The dirt part of the road is marked "Private", if it is private it should be marked as not being a through way.  If it is a town road, then spend some money to either make it a legitimate gravel road, or block it off with a gate.

The poor truck driver is probably in hot water with his company, and they may accept his reason that he was stuck in the forest because the nice lady on the GPS led him there, but most likely they are going to ask, "Why didn't you back out, and turn around?".

By the time he realized something was wrong it was too late.  The dice had been tossed.

Technology is moving faster than we can adjust, and fix the issues that it brings to light.  When those issues are made known, we need to do a fix.  In this case a simple sign reading, "Not a Thru Way" would be good.  Sure beats hearing, "You have arrived at your destination", and your stuck in the middle of a forest.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Good Sign

I came home from work this past Friday morning around 8:00, and was greeted by my very excited step-daughter, Jenny.  She told me that our mail box, which used be over there was no longer over there, but way up there.  She pointed to a sad looking mailbox sitting high on the snow berm at roadside about 75 feet from its post.

This was our first mailbox vs. plow contest since we moved into this old house on Route 148 in 2006.  Of course, the mailbox lost.

I had placed a tall stake with a reflective red top on it about 10 feet before the mailbox, and I had lined the mailbox post with red plastic reflectors all in hopes of alerting the plow driver that our mailbox was there, and keeping that mailbox attached.  It worked for seven years.  Not bad, really.

Now, the issue I was confronted with now was making sure we continued to get our mail at our house, but first I had to notify the highway department.  I just wanted them to know that the mailbox had been hit.  The gentleman that answered the phone at the town garage said he would swing by, and check it out.  I imagined it was some sort of documentation thing he had to do in order to account to the damage the mailbox had done to their plow.  In the meantime, I had to work this past weekend in Boston, and that left little time to construct a temporary mailbox anchored in a bucket of concrete.  So, much to Mary's chagrin, I bungee'd a Shepard's crook from the garden onto the post, and hung a large, orange Home Depot bucket from its hook.

Worked for me.

I came home from work this morning, and turned the bucket horizontal on the Shepard's crook, and bungee'd the bejeepers out of it. I wanted to keep the rain out of the bucket, and although not the best looking solution, it worked for me.

My plan was to travel to Home Depot later in the day, buy some concrete, a post, and a new mailbox; I already had the bucket, and plant it at the roadside till spring.  Not how I wanted to spend my day off, but just one of those things that has to be done.

Around one o'clock I awoke, and headed downstairs.  I pulled back the curtain and stared at the rain hitting the road, and there, beside our front walkway, was a mailbox, on a nice post, standing in a bucket of concrete.

I swear there was a glow emitting from the mailbox, and heard angels voices singing when I first saw that mailbox.

I stared at that baby for a minute, or so, then called the Highway Department, and spoke to the young lady that answered the phone.  I asked if the Highway Department had dropped off the mailbox.  Which, looking back was a really dumb thing to ask.  She confirmed that it was them, and that a gentleman was out placing mailboxes today.

Seems there were other casualties the night of the storm.

I thanked her for the loan of the mailbox, and told her I did not expect it at all.  I promised I would get it back to them as soon as I could dig a hole, and put in a new mailbox, and post in the spring.  Funny thing is I had planned on putting a new post and mailbox in last fall.  In fact, I had notified Dig Safe, and they came out to mark the utilities along the road so wouldn't pierce a water main digging a post hole.

Good thing I waited.  In the spring I'll move everything back a foot or two, and hope we can avoid another snowplow encounter in the future.

The bottom line is that I am a happy man today.  The Town of Sturbridge, specifically, the Highway Department, surprised me, and made my day.  Thank you.

This is a sign.  I already knew that 2014 is going to be a better year in town.  Now, I can feel it.