Monday, July 9, 2012

New York Public Libraries

Libraries are some of the greatest resources that a city can have.  You can borrow books and movies, use their reference section to look up things (note:wikipedia doesn't have everything), enjoy the air conditioning on a hot day, use their computers or bring your own and use their free wi-fi.  The best thing about the free wifi is that the staff does not come around to give you the evil eye if you sit around too long watching movies, surfing the net or running a small business.  As long as you do not exhibit any objectionable behavior and mind your own business, no one really cares what you do at the library.

Just as any institution with multiple branches, some libraries are better than others.  Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the neighborhood location.  Allow me to rate the 5 branches that I have frequented over the past month.  Ratings have absolutely nothing to do with the books or movies that are available to borrow, rather it has to do the the people who frequent the library.

The Battery Park City Branch -- You may think that because it is located in a posh neighborhood, that this one would receive the highest rating, but you are mistaken.  The library is located in very nice building and it seems very clean inside, but when you enter the library, there is a very strange odor.  Also, the clientele seems to vary between the borderline homeless, students and people with children.  Thankfully (for the children), the children's section is located far away from the adult reading section.  It has nothing to do with the amount of noise, rather it has to do with some of the questionable adults who frequent the library.  The second floor reading area seems clear, and I think it is because the borderline homeless usually come in to use the internet, or they do not bother to walk up the steps to the second level.

New Amsterdam Branch -- Located a few blocks north of the Financial District, one would think that this storefront branch would attract some of the more common library users.  Again, borderline homeless are asleep at the reading tables of this one floor library branch, but at least there is no strange odor upon entering this establishment.  There is a small children's section near the front of the library, but I do not know what parent would want to wade through all of the sleeping giants to get there.

Chatham Square Branch -- Right in the center (a little right of center) of Chinatown.  This branch is composed of three floors with the children's section on the upper floor and a reading room in the basement with some Chinese language reference material.  For the most part, the basement is quiet, but crowded.  The first floor and second floors are complete mayhem with kids running around playing first person shooter games on the computers and parents speaking very loudly in Chinese to other people or their children.  For some reason, the whole idea of a library is lost on these new immigrant Chinese who believe that holding a conversation across the room of a library is considered appropriate behavior.  This branch is nothing more than a place for hard working parents to drop off their kids in a relatively safe environment so that they can go to work with peace of mind that their kids are not picking up bad habits (did I mention that they are playing first player shooting games and holding conversations with each other across a room).  I would give this an extra point because there are no smelly homeless people here.

Seward Park Branch -- Located about 5 blocks north of the Chatham Square branch, this is another area where the immigration population tends to gather, but unlike the Chatham Square Branch, the atmosphere is much calmer here.  I believe that it is because there are three separate floors with considerable barriers that make this possible.  The first floor is mostly reserved books and movies, with a few tables for the occasional web surfer.  There is a youth community lab near the back, but no one really goes in there.  The children's section is on the second floor and is relatively large.  For some reason, it is much less chaotic than the Chatham Square Branch, one can actually read a book to their children without being interrupted by people yelling across the room to each other.  The third floor has a nice quiet area for students to study, people to read and bloggers to rate other neighborhood libraries on their laptops. 

Mulberry Street Branch -- This is located in a nice neighborhood and seems like it was a converted warehouse of some sort.  Composed of three levels going down. Again, movies on the first level with some banquette seating and little cafe tables for you to plunk down your laptop.  I did see a homeless guy sleep in the corner, but the security guard is quite vigilant and makes sure that no one goes near him.  The first level down is the children's section which is small and kind of maze like, but it works.  The second level down has a teen/youth section for studying and socializing and then a separate adult reading area for those who seem to be working on business plans, studying for professional exams or just surfing the web on their laptops.  Other than being in the sub-basement of a warehouse (very Silence of the Lambs), it is okay.  This branch gets style points and good library points.

If you are looking for a good library experience, you may want to consider the following:
--Find a library with multiple levels.  This is to avoid those who are borderline homeless or those who generally do not bathe.  They tend not to make a trip up or down stairs for reasons only they will know. 
--Avoid libraries where the clientele do not understand the purpose of a library.  It is not a daycare center where you can drop off your kids. 
--If it smells bad on the first step in, then it's not going to get any better.

I hope that your library experience will be a productive one.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What would you do for five cents?

Now that I have resigned from my formal job, I have a lot more time on my hands.  I have a planned reading schedule in addition to doing small errands.  In the past three days, I have finished a book, re-filed some documents, borrowed out a book and fixed the shower faucets.  Most of these things required some amount of time that I did not have due to the work schedule that I have had.  Most libraries and hardware stores are not open past 8pm, my family requires round the clock use of the bathroom and it is difficult to read when my children feel like sleeping in our bed and by the time I move them, it is even more difficult to read more than 4-5 pages of a serious book.

In between the all of the tasks that I have performed in the past 3 days, I have been able to observe the lives of others.

Just sitting  and looking out the window in the early evening, I noticed some strange economic activity taking place across the street.  Living in a big city, we are accustomed to seeing various people going through garbage to collect cans or bottles and redeem them for the the deposit of five cents.  Most of us can live without redeeming the bottle/can deposit for five cents and because of that, an economy was created where people rummage through garbage and collect the bottles and cans.  Most supermarkets have machines set up outside and away from their entrances to collect the bottles and cans where there are long lines of people with overfilled shopping carts making the redemption. 

It is quite predictable that these collectors become quite frustrated with each other and displays of unpleasantness result.  In order to avoid semi-violent confrontation, redemption schedules are arranged among the groups who utilize this service.  But what happens if the redemption machine becomes the problem and refuses to cooperate.  There is no overnight storage facility for their collection and they must make room for the new inventory for the next day.  This can result in a loss of a day's work for a person who derives their income from such activity. 

Let us estimate the possible income from such activity.  It is five cents per can, so 20 cans is equal to 1 dollar.  200 cans is 20 dollars.  The volume of a typical can is 12 ounces and a typical large garbage bag can hold 30 gallons.  If 1 gallon is 128 ounces, it is possible that each large garbage bag is equal to 15 dollars in redemption fees.  Let us consider the amount of labor that goes into collecting 300 cans and the sordid behavior at a can redemption center, can that be worth 15 dollars?  Usually, a day's harvest can be 6 bags of cans which can bring in 75 dollars.  For 30 days work, that is 2100 dollars.  So, if the machines at the redemption center are not working or if you lose your turn, you can lose at least 2 days of harvest.

Luckily, there are even more industrious people around who can help.  Since scrap metal can trade at a premium and the quality of the metal collected in the cans has already been sorted out by the harvesters, a "grey" market can be created for those who do not want to deal with the redemption centers.  Every evening at about 6 pm, a the can harvesters wait along the street and a box truck drives up to collect their harvest.  Looking at the back of the truck, it does not seem that this is is first pickup, nor will it be his last for the day.  Whatever he pays, it cannot be more than what they get at the redemption center, but upside for the harvesters is that they do not have to deal with the seamy and surly behavior of those who monopolize the redemption machines.  Even if they receive 80 % of their harvest they will be receiving 1680 per month.  This is approximately 20000 a free!!!!  That may not seem like a lot of money, but if one is collecting cans for income, they are probably not sitting back watching CNBC nor are they reading BusinessWeek.  For the trucker, at 20% per bag and consider that a truck can hold 128 bags, that is approximately 140,000 annually before the the cost of fuel and truck maintenance.  Everyone wins, the harvesters receive cash, the trucker/aggregator make money on the difference paid out and the actual redemption fee, cans are recycled, and the environment is greener.  Possibly the only loser is the consumer who pays the 5 cents and does not redeem.

Collecting and redeeming cans is a completely sustainable industry. As long as beverages are delivered in metal cans and consumers are forced to pay the 5 cent deposit, but not redeem the cans themselves, there will be a whole industry centered around the redemption cans. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I work in an office where all of our gustatory need and wants are not lacking.  The pantries are filled with all types of snacks and ready to eat meals.  The refrigerator is stocked with soft drinks, juices, milk, yogurts, etc.  We have an ice machine that makes perfect cubes of crystal clear ice and an espresso machine that can rival that of any coffee bar in the area.  In addition to these gastronomical delights, we have dishwasher that cleans the plates, cups and other associated utensils that are used to consume the food contents of the kitchen.  (Are you really going to eat that Snickers bar with you hands?). 

At the beginning, in order to reduce waste and be ecologically responsible, we had ordered plates, cups, mugs, forks, knives and the like from a local home goods store.  It was a great experience to have pizza on bone china with a knife and fork.  The immediate problem that arose was that no one wanted to load the dishwasher and left everything in the sing (I mean EVERYTHING, or worse, the half-eaten meals were just left on the desk.  The situation was remedied when an extra person was hired to load the dishwasher and to round up the half-eaten food off the desks and bring them into the kitchen.  Also, various members of the company were put to shame for not cleaning up. 

A second problem arose when people started to toss various items in the trash absent-mindedly.  Soon, there were an uneven pairs of bamboo chopsticks, sets of silverware became individual pieces and demitasse spoons for the esspresso cups went missing.  The addition of disposable cutlery and plates mitigated the inadvertent disposal of the more permanent cutlery, but it also increased the amount of waste that was produced.  Soon, paper and plastic cups where available to everyone and it further reduced the load on the dishwasher. 

The presentation of these things have a point.  Not that reducing waste (disposable plates, cups and cutlery) will increase water usage by the dishwasher because I do not have any metrics to support that assertion nor do I even want to make that point.  Rather, last night as I was leaving the office, I went into the kitchen to put my coffee cup in the sink because I was a good and responsible citizen.  It seems that I am not the only moral being in the office because to my surprise I found another item in the sink...a plastic 16 oz. cup that was filled with detergent and water. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Why do become become addicted to things?  Addictions can be to substances or activities.  I can attempt to explain with with a lot of neurochemistry and how the biology of some brains have over or under expressed receptors for neurochemicals or how certain neurochemicals are over or under produced and that these imbalances drive some people towards addiction.  The biochemical explanantion would make it hopeless to break out of addiction and external chemicals are necessary to restore balance.  Medication can be remedy for a small percentage of people.

I suspect that most people become addicted to something because they need an escape from reality.  The numbness results from addiction gives one a temporary respite from the pains and pressures of the real world.  It would be great if all I had to do was to close my eyes and everything would disappear.  The world would not matter, there would be no problems because I do not see them anymore. 

The search for such ephermal peace makes some people so desparate that they will try anything, just to get back to where things did not matter anymore.  To live like a person in nature, where all needs and wants are provided without asking.  A few minutes of a mind altering substance does not solve any problems because eventually, everyone has to come back to live in this reality.  The need to stay in the altered state becomes the goal because the pain of reality becomes unbearable.  When does it stop? 

Although addicts do not want to harm themselves, ultimately, they  do harm themselves.  Their quest is no different than that of anyone else.  All of us are searching for some kind of paradise, an Eden, so that we can live there forever.  Numbing the pain cannot bring you there, because paradise is place where there is no pain, there are no deadlines.  Each of us has to make an earnest attempt to find heaven, and it is not by numbing the pain of everyday life.  There is something out there, beyond what we know and see. A life that is longing to be.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The 1 %

No, not the rich Wall Street bankers who reaped zillion dollar bonuses and not pay any taxes while the rest of the country suffered and lost their jobs.  I am speaking of people who live in rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments with the most tenuous claims to those apartments. 

Recently, residents of the upper west side of New York City have complained about large chain stores taking over complete blocks with their stores.  The residents say that the small business owner has no chance of succeeding when these stores come into their neighborhood, so they have proposed some kind of zoning regulation that new stores can only occupy a certain amount of storefronts.  All in the name of protecting small buisnesses, neighborhood aesthetics and warding off large and greedy businesses.  Yes, the true champions of humanity.

Allow me to suggest another motive, rent-control or rent-stablized aparrtments.  I think that most of these concerned citizens are more concerned with the status of their cheap rent in that neighborhood.  In the past fifty years, the price of almost everything has gone up, except for the rent they pay to live in those apartments.  The owners and landlords of those apartments have to pay for all of the services of those places, but they cannot pass on the costs to the renters.  So, how can they maintain these residences for low rent paying people?  One way to do it is to rent storefronts to chain stores who will pay market price or even a premium for the space to offset all of the low rent coming in from rent stabilized/controlled apartments. 

The fear of the large chain stores is that a different set of people will move into the neighborhood.  People looking for the convience of chain stores that are open for 24 hours and not just during working hours when those residents are actually at work.  Imagine working a very long day and getting home at 9 pm, only to find that there is nothing in the refrigerator, and all of the stores around you had closed at 8:30 pm.  You would have to go back out, walk 8 blocks to the large super chain store to get a package of instant noodles for dinner before collapsing in front of your television at 11 pm.  You are the type of person that these champions of humanity are rallying against.  Because you can afford to pay more rent than they pay, they fear that they will lose their sweet deal of an apartment. 

The fear of modernization and moving forward because one has to give a deal to which they are not entititled is worse than being a banker who bought insurance on bad debt and profited from it.  No one wants to pay rent, just as no one wants to pay taxes, but all of us do because that is the cost of living in a society.  If everyone just looked out for their own interests, then no good would come out of it.  For those who do not like paying market prices for rent, they should heed the advice of the President of the United States...PAY YOUR FAIR SHARE!!!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The War Between The States...

...and the Federal Government of the United States of America.
That is what it should have been called instead of The Civil War (what the winners called it) or The War Between the States (which is how it is referred to in the South). 

New York City public schools have cast it as the war to free the slaves.  Although slaves were freed during the war, it was not the main point of the war as many would have you believe.  The war did end slavery and the slave trade in the South, but eventually, that was going to come to an end.  I understand that slavery (as practiced in the United States until the end of the 1870's) was a really bad thing because human beings were routinely mistreated and involuntarily denied their freedom.  The practice of slavery had to end for that reason.

Let us go back to the discussion of the war in the 1860's.  The reason for the war was that some states felt that the federal government had overreached its mandate and started to butt into the rights of the states.  The ugly practice of slavery was just one of the issues, but because it was really convienient and a despicable practice, it became the face of this war.  The South could not frame the war as a fight for the sovereignty of States and that is one of the reasons they lost the war.  If they had a better public relations machine, then they would have stood a chance. 

What was so important about States' rights?  The Constitution of the United States allots the Federal goverenment a certain degree of responsibility and it also leaves other responsibilities to the States.  The Bill of Rights, specifically the tenth Amendment, grants the States the rights that are not given to the Federal government and not prohibited by the US Constitution.  States are sovereign entities, although the exist within the context of the United States.  They are recognized for their individuality and entrepreneurship.  The States were not meant to be clones of each other.  When the Federal Government steps in and starts to regulate the States so that Vermont can be the same as Georgia, there is a problem.  The Federal goverenment has to recognize that the States have different economies, different resources and different needs and things that are good for Vermont are not necessarily good for the Georgia. 

The Civil War was much deeper than slavery, it was about the ability to decide one's own destiny (ironically for some Southerners, the ability to decide their own destiny depended on the suppression of that ability in other people).  A 'watered-down' presentation of the Civil War as the struggle to free the slaves is really a disservice to history.  It is a deep discussion on the resposibilities and roles of the many pieces of our government.  If it is simply presented as a war to end slavery, then where is the discussion of state sovereignty?  How will anyone learn about their rights and responsibilities?  By not delving further into the subject matter, all of us have become slaves of the federal government. 

All of us need to understand our system of government to become better citizens.  Following rules does not make us better citizens, it makes us slaves.  Being able to operate freely because of our deep understanding of our system of government makes us better citizens.  Better citizens make this country better.  The United States alows us to be free, but what does it really mean to be free in this country and what should we do with that freedom?

Saturday, January 21, 2012


At least once a year adults get dressed up in outrageous costumes to engage in fun.  I am not talking about what goes on in the privacy of one's bedroom (or whatever rooms on their private property that they may choose to engage in that type of activity between consenting adults).  Nor am I talking about Halloween, when some adults indulge in some healthy (and not so healthy) fantasies.  I am talking about sports fanatics, a breed that is probably worse than the most avid D and D 15th level warrior/mage fluent in Elvish, Orcish and Dwarvish.  I am not preaching tolerance, rather, I would like to propose that as a society, both should be treated with the utmost disdain because they are the same animal.

Let us consider two events and their participants.  The San Diego ComicCon which is considered the Super Bowl of all ComicCons.  Other cities may host their own events, but nothing can compare to this one event where people from all over the world come to see the lates in science fiction/fantasy dressed up as their favorite characters that range from Japanese anime characters to modern television adaptations of Japanese anime characters.  And the one sporting event that brings everyone together from all over the world (mostly the United States), the Super Bowl, which is considered the San Diego ComicCon of all football games.  There are other football games, but none of them can attain the fever pitch of the once a year event of The Super Bowl.  Fans come dressed, rather, adorned in their team uniforms (I choose the word "adorned" because some fans tatoo and paint themselves in the colors of that team).  Is it becoming obvious that these are the same type of people?

Let us examine some of the similarities...

Each is extremely knowledgable about their subject.  The sports fan can recite the rosters of each team (pre-season, regular season and post-season) since inception and even if they had switched cities.  They can also explain why the 1965 incarnation of the team (although not a championship season for them) was much superior to the 1988 incarnation of that team (a championship season) adjusting for all of the rule changes in the game and the extended regular season, the dilution of talent, the impact of free agency and the extended post-season.  They will insist that in a head to head match up, the 1965 team will handedly beat the 1988 team.  The Battlestar Galactica super fan will be able to recite the constitution of the governmental system and all of its laws and amendments of the 12 planets.  Not only that, he can list all of the presidents of the 12 worlds and their major political achievements. 

Each has a sacret object (or objects, depending on their economic status).  For the sports fan, it will be a signed football from a past championship season that has all of the autographs of the players and coaches.  If it is a super fan, then he would have bribed a locker room attendant for a used towel on that championship day.  This item will be sealed in a glass case and placed in a prominent area of the home.  For the sci-fi/fantasy devotee, it will be the lightsaber that was used by Darth Vader when he struck down Obi-Wan Kenobi on the Death Star as Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie were boading the Millenium Falcon.  And if he is lucky, there would be a picture of him and George Lucas in this collection of objects.  Actually, it will technically be a picture of him and Mr. Lucas, because as George Lucas was waiting for his take out order, this fan sidled into view and a friend snapped a quick photo to record this moment in history when the fan met his god.

Each will also have built a shrine in his place of residence (that is if his place of residence is not already a shrine) to their object of worship.  This most sacred place will be filled with the sacred objects much to the envy of their friends who share the same passion and to the misfortune of all others.  With every object, the story of its signficance to the team and the adventure of how it was obtained will be unfolded before you like the gift of crisp underwear on a Christmas morning.  All will listen with mouths agape, some in wonder and awe, and others in disgust and utter disdain for the loss of 30 minutes of their lives that can never be reclaimed.

One area tha I would also like to discuss is the pageantry of the events where the individuals arrive in full regalia of their respective events.  The confidence of a person to dress in this manner with utter disregard to the lack of physical fitness is not quantifiable in humanly attainable methods.  Sports jerseys (modest ones) may be acceptable, but tattoos, body paint and other types of identifying marks cross the lines of good taste.  The same can be said of people dressed as costumed superheroes.  I am quite certain in the limited number of comic books that I have read that Superman did not have a beer gut and Wonder Woman did not have spider veins (also, I am quite sure that neither Spiderman nor Spiderwoman had spider veins).  Just for the sake of decency, please consider the rules of good taste.

Just one more comment about dressing up.  Putting on the sports uniform of your favorite quarterback will not give you the magical ability to throw touchdown passes with pinpoin accuracy, nor can you catch passes thrown at 90 miles an hour.  The same goes for comic characters, fashioning Batman's utility belt out a hardware tool belt does not make you Batman and capable of fighting crime.  A piece of paper with the bus schedule between the convention center and the basement apartment in home of your parents is not a GPS. 

I am certain that many more simliarties can be made between these types of people, but I must go back to the original question: why is society more tolerant of a sports fan than a comic book fan?  The sports fan may have partcipated in organized sports in school which give him some kind of physical development that Jedi Knight training academy or Klingon language schools may not have endowed on others.  The present society encourages the bullying of the weak by the strong.  Is there one school counselor in the world who would advise a football player that maybe he should work on his Boba Fett costume because the jet pack does not match the armor?  If it were the other way around, a school counselor would advise someone working on armor for the Society of Anachronistic Arts to play some sports. 

It has been embedded into our belief system that might is right, and that is the reason that sports fanaticism is much more tolerable and accepted than sci-fi fanaticism.