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.