All posts by Will

A chemical engineer living life to the fullest

If I want to vote for Cuomo, which Cuomo do I choose?

People seem to be sick of this election. Even though in Schenectady we don’t have a highly visible contested election. Perhaps I’m just oblivious to the election because I don’t watch cable TV, which is a fantastic way to avoid political ads and binge watch my favorite show-du-jour on Netflix.

But today is election day, and it’s time to vote. I always make a point of voting in these non-presidential years and any other small election because my vote counts that much more.

Which brings me to an odd thing about NY ballots…the same candidate is listed multiple times? (at least I was surprised the first time I saw it).

Let’s take a look at this year’s ballot for Governor:

NY state ballot for Governor 2014
NY state ballot for Governor 2014

Andrew Cuomo is listed 4 times? Rob Astorino comes in second with 3. Even if I know which candidate I’m supporting, how am I supposed to know which candidate to vote for? As an aside, I’m questioning just how real these parties actually are. The Stop Common Core Party? Sounds like a ploy to be listed one more time on the ballot. Apparently, the Women’s Equality Party is equally dubious. I have never voted in a state before where it is important to not just vote for your preferred candidate, but also for your preferred candidate AND party.

You see, NY State lists candidates by party by order of votes received in the last Gubernatorial election. Having never voted in a state before that did this, I decided to look into how states vote.

Ballot Sorting By State

As you can see from the pie chart, the most popular way to sort candidates is randomly (or through some sort of rotation). I was surprised to see how many states sort candidates by party, but perhaps it’s just a format I’ve never experienced before. I would have thought more states would have sorted candidates alphabetically. All the data were taken from this site.

The interesting thing is how different each state is with respect to ballot order. As I looked through the list, however, one state stuck out: Minnesota. Sure, they sort candidates by the number of votes a party receives, but they do it in reverse. Imagine a NY ballot with Cuomo and Astorino sharing the spots where the Stop Common Core and Libertarian Parties now reside. Unfortunately, it won’t stop the sort of political games going on in this election where Cuomo is actively trying to remove the Working Families Party from the ballot because they ran Ms. Teachout against him in the primary.

At least for those who are tired of this election, after tomorrow it will all be over and all those yard signs will be removed. I can dream, right?


Nine Pin Cider Works completely changed my opinion of hard cider

When I first heard about NY’s push for hard cider, I was skeptical.

My skepticism came from my dislike for what I thought was a typical cider: Woodchuck hard cider. I first learned of this super sweet, syrupy version of hard cider when my college roommate drank it instead of beer. I still find it hard to believe how he was able to enjoy substituting Woodchuck for the watered down light beers typically consumed at college parties.

My dislike of hard cider persisted until last week when I finally decided to listen to the hype and try some hard cider from Nine Pin Cider Works. I’m certainly glad I did. I started with the ginger, which was not super sweet and had the ginger heat from great ginger ales.

Nine Pin Cider Ginger
Nine Pin Cider Ginger

After my surprising revelation that I might actually be able to enjoy hard ciders, I decided to revisit my old nemesis. I tried a Woodchuck Amber, Nine Pin Signature Blend, and a homemade version from one of my coworkers. It wasn’t a scientific double-blind tasting with repeats, but after trying all 3, I reached the same conclusions. While the Nine Pin cider was refreshing, the Woodchuck tasted more like a melted green apple snow cone (I exaggerate a bit; and whether or not you agree with my description, the Woodchuck didn’t get finished).

Since my Nine Pin revelation, I’ve tried the Hunny Pear and Belgian varieties, and I can’t wait to try more from their extensive product list. If you have dismissed the hard cider genre like I had, I encourage you to give Nine Pin a try.

It’s elementary…or is it pronounced elementary?

Pop quiz:

How do you say the word elementary?

If you’re like most Americans, you pronounce it like documentary or complimentary just like Merriam-Webster suggests.

But here in Upstate NY, people pronounce it differently. In Upstate, elementary rhymes with fragmentary. The emphasis is on the wrong syllable (the penultimate one in case you pronounce the other words differently, too).

This regional dialect seems to be largely overlooked by the many regional dialect maps. As far as I can tell, there’s one working paper that explores this odd pronunciation for elementary (it does reference a couple of other studies). All Over Albany made a brief reference to this odd pronunciation, and the Central New York Wiki page refers back to the same working paper.

I haven’t noticed too much of an accent for the Albany area (aside from the airport, of course), but the working paper from U Penn sums up the importance of elementary’s pronunciation:

[The pronunciation of elementary’s] overall distribution is shaped by overt regional
boundaries and communication patterns. The stressed-penult -méntàry pronunciation, therefore,
can be seen as a unifying linguistic feature of Upstate New York.

So, how do you say it? If you’re from Upstate, you probably pronounce it differently from everyone else. It certainly drives me crazy.

Pug Parade…need I say more?

When I learned that Chestertown was having its annual pug parade, I had to attend. The basic premise, as far as I can tell, is crazy pug owners travel from miles away to show off their dogs in crazy costumes. Proceeds go towards the local high school’s college scholarship.

This year, I saw Pocahontas, 4 flavors of m&ms, a full band of 60s rock musicians (including one with dreadlocks), Pug Dynasty (of duck fame), and many more. Owners with license plates proclaiming their love for pugs traveled from other states to stand around in the rain with their costumed dogs. I saw license plates as far away as NJ, but the organizer told me he’s had people come from Virginia just for this event.

If there are two things we can take away from this its:

1) Pug owners are crazy

2) Pugs are ridiculously cute

Below are some photos from the event. If you want to go, they have it every year in Oct.


IMG_0612 IMG_0610 IMG_0604 IMG_0600 IMG_0599 IMG_0596 IMG_0594 IMG_0593 IMG_0589

Mozzarella sticks worth singing about?

I guess I’ve been on a food kick lately, but I can’t help sharing this odd food that I hadn’t ever tried or heard of until moving to Schenectady. It’s greasy, salty, and cloyingly sweet. What am I referring to?

Mozzarella sticks with Melba sauce.

Mozzarella sticks with Melba sauce
Mozzarella sticks with Melba sauce

For those not familiar with this regional specialty, Melba sauce is a raspberry sauce, which most likely is the same as that used in the Peach Melba, a dessert named for an Australian soprano from the Victorian era. In case you were curious, Melba toast is also named after her. A quick search for this food reveals an effort by the Times Union to determine its origin. From the comments, it quickly becomes apparent that no one commenting has any idea, but many seem to suggest its origins at the Lexington Grill. My thought is that someone decided to use some leftover sauce from the Peach Melba to dip their mozzarella sticks in. It’s similar to dipping french fries in a Wendy’s frosty.

Some have even taken the effort to taste test these fried delicacies at multiple restaurants in a single day.

Having never tried them before, I had to give them a shot. I have a 3 strikes rule for new foods. I need to eat something at least 3 times before I can completely rule it out. I tend to like most foods, but this combo seems like a food best suited for a child. It’s not necessarily the sweet/salty combo that bothers me (I enjoy many other foods that are both), but the sickeningly sweet Melba sauce is too much for me. It reminds me of a casual version of a guava jelly & cheese dessert I had once, which I found more tolerable, but not overly enjoyable.

So far, I’ve had it twice. Both times, I’ve been significantly underwhelmed. I’ve got one more shot, though, so perhaps I will check out one of the best places scouted by more dedicated eaters in the Capital Region.

So, here’s to you, Nellie Melba! You’ve given us a dessert, toast, and (I assume) a regional treat.

The New York Yellow

No place I have lived has as little respect for traffic lights as upstate NY.

I know you see it happen…you may have even done it yourself. I’m talking about driving through an intersection on, what I will generously call a “late yellow.”

Before moving to the Capital Region, I took it for granted that cars would stop when the light turned red; but not in the Capital Region. I’ve had to adjust my driving/biking/walking habits to assume someone will run the red.

One winter when crossing State street, I was wearing a hoodie to stay warm. After waiting for the walk sign, I proceeded to cross the intersection. Only after I felt the wind from a passing car behind me did I realize that a car had almost hit me while running the red light. I no longer wear any head coverings that restrict my peripheral vision for my own safety when crossing streets.

This issue is not new. Below is a video showing the very New York Yellow behavior I described previously.

So, if you live in the Capital Region or plan on visiting anytime soon, wait when the light turns green. Your safety depends on it.

How do you know Schenectady doesn’t suck?

So, bashing Schenectady is one of the top things to do if you’re from Upstate NY (#25, apparently), and certainly there are many things one could complain about…or as I like to say, there is a lot of potential. Ever since the Gazette ran the article about a couple of instagrammers trying to change the image of Schenectady, I began to think about what it is that makes a place ‘suck’?

Should we define whether or not a place sucks by our desire to live there? If so, then there are many places that would suck for no other reason than the weather. Many people would lump the entire Northeast into that category. San Francisco has many great attractions, great scenery, beautiful weather, great food, and an avant-garde art scene, but with home prices higher there than almost anywhere else in the country, I certainly wouldn’t want to live there unless I made significantly more money.

Perhaps a place sucks because of bad schools and dilapidated buildings? It’s tempting to think of less-than-perfect locations as places that suck, but it’s also important to realize that less expensive places to live provide valuable opportunities for people on fixed or small incomes to establish themselves. These places define the American dream more than any wealthy suburb. Does Schenectady have that vibrant churn of prosperity? I’m certain it could be much better, but I know that Schenectady doesn’t suck because its citizens are low income. The schools also do not suck because of bad test scores, since they are tied to income as this summary of SAT scores versus family income shows from the NY Times. The income and schools, however, are the reason why people think Schenectady sucks. This thinking is a symptom of the growing socioeconomic divide plaguing the country, and all the more reason to have a day to celebrate Schenectady, as I’ve argued before.

Growing up in my hometown, I would always complain about the lack of things to do. Compared to Schenectady, a city of similar size, that was certainly the case. Schenectady has Proctor’s, which shows great performances year round, as well as SLOC and Schenectady Civic Players. I haven’t see the Civic Players, but I was very pleased with SLOC’s performance of Next to Normal. Not to mention its own museum, scientific history, and delicious local food. My hometown had a mall and a movie theater. So, Schenectady doesn’t suck for a lack of things to do even though I hear the same complaints from high school students as I had for my hometown when I was their age.

Ultimately, what matters are the people we interact with on a daily basis because even in the wealthiest zip code in Manhattan, if your neighbors are rude and mean spirited then where you live will suck. Last winter, two teenagers in the neighborhood came to help me clear snow from my car after one of our large snowstorms, and my neighbor helped me keep my sidewalk clear during the day, so when I came home from work I had less to shovel. I meet people across the city who are deeply concerned with improving their neighborhoods by picking up trash, as was revealed during the Goose Hill NA citizen awards. Even just last night, a biker ran into my car and broke the cover on my taillight, but instead of leaving anonymously, he rang my doorbell, told me about the accident, and gave me his information so he could pay to get it fixed. That sure beats the time I had my side view mirror smashed intentionally in CA!

So, does Schenectady suck? It’s certainly not perfect. Quality of life issues, e.g., litter, noise, potholes, can all be improved; but when it comes to the people I live with, Schenectady doesn’t suck at all.