Category Archives: Random Musings

Albany’s @WAMCRadio Hostage Crisis

I miss my NPR content!

Three times a year for about 2 weeks each almost all programming is kidnapped by WAMC while they try to raise money for the station. I am used to being annoyed with public radio pledge drives in the past, but the stations I used to listen to would at least give you some content with 15 minute pledge breaks scattered throughout the day.

Alas, at WAMC the content for these weeks is replaced by rote repetition of their phone number (1-800-323-9262, by the way), while pleading to save the station.

Perhaps I’m making too much of the pledge drive. With most stations streaming content online, I replace my WAMC morning feed with either WNYC or KQED while I get ready for work. It’s really only during my short commute to work that I need to do without…something that I do during the summer months anyway because I drop the car for a bike. If I were being untrue to myself, I would say that I’m sticking up for those who have much longer commutes, but in truth, I desperately miss Paul Caiano’s 7 minute weather forecast. He’s taught us so much. How many of you knew where Eureka, Nunavut Territory, Canada was before listening to him? I’m convinced that location is only included to make us feel better about having lows below 0F.

WAMC has greatly improved the pledge drive experience by shortening it with the lock box, a term that always reminds me of Al Gore’s Social Security saving plan (SNL skit). But we could make this even better by having a pledge-free stream for those of us who donate to the station. KQED does this, so I know it can be done.

I guess I’ll just have to live with the occasional pledge-drive inconvenience (WAMC does need to raise money somehow, of course) while stressing over whether or not I should also donate to the alternative pledge drive stations that provide a semblance of normalcy during pledge weeks.

It’s time to pay the ransom so WAMC will give back our NPR content! After all, in this drive we’re so close and it’s only day 3!

Skiing my way through Snowmageddon

There’s been much hype, and post hype criticism of the handling of the snow storm this week. My friend from the area says he uses a factor of 3 (not of the American Pie variety) to estimate the quantity of snow we will receive. Take the forecast, he says, and divide by 3.

I was actually disappointed we didn’t receive more snow because I used the snowstorm as an excuse to get out of the house (shoveling could wait, of course) and go cross-country skiing at Schenectady’s golf course just before sunset. I am new to the whole idea of skiing, so I immediately fell on the downward slope next to the parking lot; and unlike downhill skiing, where I am moderately successful, cross-country posses unique challenges for me. Specifically, I lack the ability to turn or stop with any success. But it was a beautiful day to visit the course! The low light combined with my terrible photography skills makes for a grainy photo…

Skiing at Schenectady's Municipal Golf Course
Skiing at Schenectady’s Municipal Golf Course

Not only was it a great place to ski, but it’s close, free, and has some great tiered hills which looked great for sledding. Most of the locals I speak with talk about Dead Man’s Hill in Central Park, which is a great large hill, but I think it will be even more fun to sled in the golf course, and I’ll give it a shot the next time I get a chance.

As a random aside, apparently a movie was made called Snowmageddon. From IMDB:

An Alaskan town is in danger of destruction by a mystical snow globe that appears on a family’s doorstep, wrapped like a Christmas gift, and causes deadly “natural” disasters in the real world, while simultaneously occurring in the globe.

It looks like one of those Troll 2 good-bad movies to add to my queue. if only it were on Netflix…

Are you ready to travel back to the 90s?

I’m not talking about Portland.

A city known for its historical scientific progress has brought about something that’s currently only available in science fiction. It’s possible right here in Schenectady to travel back in time.

In fact, the city of Schenectady is so generous, even you can be transported. It’s really simple. Just type in www.cityofschenectady.com into your browser, and you can revel in the glories of busy, hard-to-read websites that are as difficult to navigate as they are informative. The clip art traffic light gif is especially nice on the metrics page.

It’s time for a facelift. The city should ditch the various PDFs and make the site cleaner with easier navigation. City employees’ emails, not just their phone numbers, should be listed so they can be contacted when it’s convenient for the resident outside of working hours, and more forms and information should be made electronic. As much as I love playing phone tag with the wrong person, I’m confident that they have enough to do besides call me back. And that’s the crux of it. An easier to use website will not only help improve civic engagement, but it will help improve employee productivity. Now that’s tax dollars well spent.

No one told me I needed lotion

I think Winter is one of the scariest words in English. At least, it must be based on the reactions people have when I tell them I moved here from out of state. It doesn’t really matter where I came from. After an incredulous reaction to this information and the inevitable “why?”, the follow-up questions usually involve my ability to handle Winter and snow.

I think most people in the Capital Region suffer from the-grass-is-always-greener syndrome. It does get cold here…we have a wind chill advisory tonight (-25 F !), but I don’t find it to be too much of a burden to add on an extra layer. By now, I’ve learned how to handle a pair of gloves, hat, and scarf. I’ve even gotten long underwear for those times when it’s necessary to be outside for an extended period of time. But most days, it’s not such a big deal.

Even snow, which must be the second scariest word, is fairly easy to handle. I’m just hoping it stays cold enough so we don’t have that awful slush we got to start the year. I actually find it very peaceful to shovel snow in the late evening or early morning when few people are out and the snow pack reflects the faint glow of moonlight. It’s a nice outdoor exercise.

But the one thing no one ever seems to mention with respect to Winter is the dry skin. I guess it should be obvious that extended periods of time below freezing will result in low humidity, but I struggle trying to apply enough lotion to keep my knuckles from cracking and bleeding. It certainly doesn’t help that I am constantly washing my hands throughout the day, which just washes away the lotion I actually managed to remember to apply. I guess my New Year’s Resolution should be to apply lotion every night and morning to help prevent the inevitable cracked skin. Maybe I’m just not using the right type of lotion? If I can make it through Winter without bleeding knuckles, I’ll be very happy indeed.

Here’s to a healthy-skin New Year!

A better way to measure snow

I’m sure you’ve either over heard or taken part in a conversation that goes something like this:

A: Can you believe it was 110 F in Las Vegas today?

B: That’s high, but it’s also a dry heat, so it doesn’t feel as hot .

A: True, but it’s still very hot.

To help resolve these comparisons, we use the heat index, which accounts for the relative humidity and temperature. At the other end, we have the wind chill, which predicts how cold you will feel by using wind speed and temperature. The key thing that comes out of each of these estimations is an adjusted temperature that accounts for the wind speed or humidity to give you a real-feel temperature.

I think these approximations are a great way to easily convey many pieces of information into a single number.

So what does this have to do with snow? Well, perhaps it’s because I’m a relative novice to the whole concept of shoveling sidewalks, but what I want to know when it’s going to snow is not how many inches of snow I will receive, but the amount of time and effort it will take me to clean my driveway and sidewalk before I need to head to work.

Unfortunately, inches (or feet if you are in Buffalo) is not an effective measure because snow can be light and fluffy or heavy, wet snow. I haven’t survived too many winters, yet, but it’s clear to me that the heavier snows are much more difficult to clear.

The relevant metric should not be inches of snow, but mass of snow. (It’s at this point that we could consider a more complicated formula with wind speed, to account for snow drifts in this driveway-clearing snow metric). Getting everyone to refer to snowfall by mass is a loser’s battle, just look at how difficult it is to get Americans to use metric units.

So, I propose a snowfall index similar in nature to the heat index or wind chill in that the snow total is adjusted by the density of the snow to give a real-feel snowfall total.

We already have tabulated the snow density based on the temperature, so it’s really a mater of combining the temperature at which the snow falls with the total inches in a meaningful way. I will start by picking a reference temperature of 10 F. This temperature will be used to provide a mass equivalence for the snow index.

Using 10F as a baseline, I used the liquid equivalent to determine a snow index factor to multiply any snowfall total.

SFI = (Actual Snowfall)*(3e-5*T^3+1e-3*T^2+1.9e-2*T+6.968e-1)

Actual snowfall is in inches and T is in degrees F. It may be aggressive to use the equivalent density to adjust the snowfall totals. After all, 3 inches of snowfall at 32F would give a snowfall index value of 9 inches, which may be a little extreme, but snowfall totals are in desperate need of a wind chill equivalent, and this is my first stab at it.

So, will it actually take me 3x longer to clear snow at 32F than 10F? I doubt it, but this winter, I will put it to the test.

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.