Service of Extraneous Embellishments: Balconies on NYC Apartment Buildings

July 17th, 2019

Categories: Architecture, Gardening, New York City

A balcony was never on my bucket list but I am having fun with mine. It came with my apartment, which was chosen in a rush. It has a super view of the East River.

I use it to play city gardener on a miniscule scale. I enjoy watching my posies blossom and grow. The geraniums, some that moved to the city from my house in Dutchess County and lived indoors since–until it warmed up; coleus; a sunflower, a spiky plant and petunias [not shown], all grow much faster outside than in. They aren’t subject to the predators of the country but they have their pet peeves.

Pigeons like them too–so I bought pinwheels hoping to discourage them from disturbing my balcony garden. New York pigeons have moxy–they’re not afraid of much. Rules are strict at the building: we can’t hang pots off the railings. If I could, I bet a few well placed pinwheels in those pots would discourage the pigeons big-time.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to show the many balconies that are never used– which is most of the ones I’ve seen all over the place. They appear on new and old construction. Way to the back of the photo at the top of this post–if you look carefully–you can see some being added to a building under construction. And they line the sides of the black apartment house across the street from mine [photo below, right], like vertebrae on a dinosaur. The structure was just finished.

Why do architects and developers opt for such a little-used addition? Do you think people would take more advantage of the space if it was a sunroom with walls of windows? Why don’t more people enjoy their balconies?

 

 

 

 

Service of Amazon Moving into Your Home & Hotel: American Passivity is Creepy

July 15th, 2019

Categories: Passivity, Surveillance, Technology

Photo: forum.phish.net

Get the feeling that Big Brother is closing in and that our lives are under an increasingly powerful magnifying glass while we join in like gleeful children without weighing the ramifications? Recently I wrote about Walmart’s gaining access to homes when no one’s there to deliver groceries to the fridge. In June 2015 I wrote “Service of strangers knowing more about you than your family does.” Today I cover Amazon’s plan to “get more people using its services and locked into its Alexa ecosystem,” as Christopher Mims wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

In “Amazon’s Plan to Move In to Your Next Apartment Before You Do –The tech giant has figured out a way to get millions of its smart speakers into homes without consumers lifting a finger, as property managers bring in Alexa to manage tenants,” Mims reported that already 25 percent of Americans own some kind of smart speaker, the lion’s share belonging to Amazon.

Amazon’s Alexa-controlled Echo speaker. Photo: amazon.com

The brand’s Alexa Smart Properties team, a little known part of its Alexa division, is “working on partnerships with homebuilders, property managers and hoteliers to push millions of Alexa smart speakers into domiciles all across the U.S.” The division offers hardware and software at a discount as well as “new ways for property managers to harvest and use data.” Voice based wish lists and shopping habits of an increasing number of users will propel Amazon ahead of the competition in the rental and new home construction market according to Mims.

“Amazon has figured out a way to get into millions of homes without consumers ever having to choose its hardware and services in the first place.”

Alexa, which some call a personal assistant, responds to its owners voice and carries out tasks. Echo is one of Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled speakers.

Mims reminded readers that renters, buyers and hotel guests “may not be aware of all the parties monitoring their smart-home interactions.”

He continued “  ‘We envision a day when you can say ‘Hey Alexa, pay my rent,’ and it will transfer that money from a resident’s bank account,’ says PayLease chief executive Dirk Wakeham.”

Great: Now everyone knows your bank account number and how much rent you pay.

Thanks to smart phone technology, property managers also benefit: They save money, wrote Mims, because they can easily cut back air conditioning and heating in vacant apartments; provide access to units by contractors and change door locks.

Photo: yelp.com

Americans appear to be walking the plank on this one without blinking twice. I witnessed another example of passivity at a favorite store in the suburbs  last weekend. A long line at checkout developed an offshoot and nobody at the juncture said, “The line ends over there.” I went to customer service asking for a staffer to direct the line and sort out the confusion. The woman turned her back on me saying “I know.” Such acceptance makes me nervous. I fear that Americans are setting themselves up to be whacked for takeover by nefarious souls–like a golf ball on a tee.

Add surveillance to passivity and the sum is more than creepy, don’t you think? Are city folks more inclined than suburbanites to speak up in public? Do people signing up for or playing ball with smart speakers–installed where they will live or visit–realize what they are giving up? If your hotel room had a smart speaker/spy would you ask that it be disconnected?

Photo: pixels.com

Service of Unashamed Theft: Are Perpetrators Bolder Than Before?

July 11th, 2019

Categories: Morality, Moxy, Retail, Theft, Transportation

Photo: teachercreated.com

Thievery is as old as time but are robbers bolder these days?

Busing It

I was on a NYC bus last night. The driver had left open a back door to let passengers out while adjusting a ramp allowing access to the front door for an incoming passenger in a wheelchair. There was a patient line waiting behind the wheelchair.

Photo: nbcnewyork.com

A young woman hopped in the rear door and headed to the back, clearly not walking to the front to pay her fare. The driver saw her, motioned to her to get off, which she did. Two women sitting behind me remarked on the nerve of the sneak who rejoined the line and a friend who was still standing in it. She didn’t seem phased though when another bus pulled up behind ours, she ran to get on.

Spraying It

Photo: pointofsale.com

Last Sunday I saw a well dressed woman in sundress at a chain drugstore on East 34th Street spraying her arms and legs liberally with sunscreen as though she was at the beach. When she was done, she put the used canister back on the shelf and left.

Turnstile Larceny

If you take the subway often enough you’ll see people slip through the turnstiles without paying. I saw a youngster do that a week ago. Whether cheating bus or subway, the public pays the fare.

How come people aren’t embarrassed to steal in public or has it always been so and I didn’t notice? Have you witnessed petty theft lately?

Photo: gothamist.com

 

Service of Keep off the Grass: Bryant Park & Bicycles in the Big Apple

July 8th, 2019

Categories: Bicycles, Parks, Traffic, Transportation

 

Photo: eventbrite.com

Bryant Park [photos above and to the right below] is one of my favorite places to roost at lunch in summer. There are kiosks selling food in the park and plenty of takeout places around it and the price is right when I bring the fixings from home. Sitting with a friend and a box lunch under one of many trees on a green folding chair with matching round table is heavenly. I pretend I’m in Paris.

I mentioned this to a pal who shared the following story. Her son had recently been in that park to grab a bite to eat. As he did so he laid his bike on the grass in the center of the park and, she texted, “Pretty soon a security guard came along and told him he had to remove his bike. My son protested citing a nearby couple with a giant stroller also on the grass. ‘A double standard’ said my son. The guard apologized and said that they can’t approach a family and ask them to remove a stroller [the size of a Smart Car]. But a single guy with a bike can be shooed away.” She ended with “It’s all about being PC I suppose.”

Photo: activerain.com

However, when it comes to this city, bicyclists are on the long end of the stick in most other ways. A community board just agreed to new protected bicycle lanes on Central Park West from 59th to 110th Street which will eliminate 400 parking spots–but the impact on residents is far more than the loss of parking. It has to do with pedestrian safety. As I’ve bemoaned countless times before, you walk at your own risk in this city if there are bikes around. I was almost smashed into by speeding bicycles two Saturdays ago during a mid afternoon walk from 39th Street and First Avenue to 23rd Street off 5th. One bike surprised me from behind on the sidewalk; the other paid no attention to the traffic light that was green in my direction and the rider, a woman, didn’t respond or apologize to my protest. She just kept going.

Central Park West Photo: nybits.com

Michael Riedel rides his bicycle to work. The WOR 710 morning radio show co-host said he got a $90 traffic ticket for hurtling through a red light and ever since has followed traffic rules. He agreed that many of his fellow bike riders are menaces because they ignore the laws.

Shouldn’t keep off the grass rules apply to all vehicles with wheels, bicycles and baby carriages alike? Similarly, shouldn’t bicyclists be held to the same standards as motor vehicle drivers when it comes to traffic laws? Before forcing citizens to pay exorbitant fees to park in garages or leave cars out of town shouldn’t the city first increase the capacity of its public transportation options? Do bicycles cause consternation where you live? Do you have favorite places to picnic where you live or work?

Photo: 123rf.com

Service of Who’s the Boss II? Social Security, A Bank & A Museum

July 1st, 2019

Categories: Bank, Boss, Complicated, Customer Service, Museums, Sloppy

Photo: db4beginners.com

The answer to “who’s the boss?” often muttered as a rhetorical question, isn’t always negative, though in two of the three following examples it is. Sometimes a decision-maker deserves praise and other times, he/she doesn’t seem to be watching the ball. In either case, you really may want to know.

I’ll start with a happy surprise.

Feeling Secure

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

I’ve recently needed to make countless calls to ask for documents and information. I lucked into Mr. Gopaul who picked up the phone at the West 48th Street NYC Social Security office. He didn’t pass me on to someone else as seems to happen increasingly these days, but quickly answered my questions, some relating to recent correspondence. I asked for his name so I could write a letter to recognize his exemplary service. His voice, at first impatient so as to get on to the next call, softened and he ended our conversation saying, “bless you.”

Who’s the boss? I took to Google.  My letter to the regional Social Security director went out that day.

One + Zero=Five

Photo: credit.com

In the private sector, I had a different experience. A bank handling my husband’s pension—Bank A–needed to take back a direct deposit payment I wasn’t entitled to.  My retail bank—Bank B–said it happens all the time and would handle the request from Bank A.

But Bank A didn’t take that one simple step. Instead, it sent me three documents, each one with different information and dollar amounts about upcoming payments. Two customer service people couldn’t figure it out any more than I could. To pay itself back Bank A has instead given itself five steps–that many more times to mess up—instead of one. I’m neither a banker nor a numbers person but this doesn’t compute. Who’s the boss?

Water, Water Everywhere….

I received a sell piece from a major museum for a five day trip to the Berkshires accompanied by the institution’s curator of American paintings and sculpture. I know this area well and have been to most if not all of its museums—there aren’t many–but was tempted by an excursion not too far from NYC with a knowledgeable curator. The fee got my attention–$5,999 per person double rate or almost $12,000 for two—but the charge is not why I ask “who’s the boss?” The “Rate Includes” section on the sell piece was the reason. You get “bottled water and coffee/tea with all meals.” For $12,000, I wouldn’t call this out any more than I would put on a dress’s price tag “$175 includes thread and zipper.” The program director should have deleted this and created some toothsome or valuable perks for the sell piece. [I also noted that not included are “meals not specified.” Let’s hope participants get all meals.]

Do you sometimes wonder who’s in charge and if the person is focusing on the work? Do you take time to find out who’s the boss to credit people who have done a superlative job as well as to gripe about those who don’t?

Photo: twitter.com

Service of Leave it Alone, Already II: Why Buy a Landmark if You’re Going to Destroy It?

June 27th, 2019

Categories: Architecture, Historic, Landmark, Preservation

Booth Cottage Photo: chicago.curbed.com

I complained, in the 2016 iteration of this title, about the person who bought a Brooklyn brownstone I once coveted that had all of the original plasterwork that they tore out. “Couldn’t they have bought another house?” I thought after I visited the remodeled, stripped down atrocity on a house tour. That post addressed physical attacks on public buildings—The Waldorf Astoria and Grand Central Terminal.

Photo: curbed.com

I had a similar sinking feeling when reading Michael J. Lewis’s article, “Bulldozing a Modernist Landmark” with subhead “The looming demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Booth cottage is the latest example in a long history of our culture’s disregard for its architectural past.” The owner’s complaint about the Glencoe, Ill. property: it’s a small house on a big lot. So pick on another property!

Lewis wrote: “People are usually surprised to learn that America’s historic buildings, no matter how significant, go unprotected unless there is a local preservation ordinance. Even those ordinances are typically toothless, since they can be overruled for reasons of ‘hardship,’ a category so elastic that the inability to maximize the profit potential of your property can count.

Photo: 6sqft.com

“As it happens,” Lewis continued, “there is a preservation ordinance in Glencoe, but the Sherman M. Booth cottage has been given only ‘honorary’ landmark status. That means that demolition can occur, but the town can mandate a 180-day stay of execution. For the moment, the cottage still stands; behind-the-scenes negotiations might save it yet.”

Lewis cited statistics kept by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy which report that only two of Wright’s structures have been demolished with 380 existing, so losing a third may not be the big deal I think it is. Your thoughts? Why are Americans so blasé about their architectural history?

Photo: travelandleisure.com

Service of Goodbye II: Nurses and Teachers Saying Adios to Children

June 24th, 2019

Categories: Goodbye, Nurses, Teachers

Photo: jobs.ac.uk

Goodbyes are one of my least favorite things which is why I’ve broached the subject head-on only twice in the 11 years I’ve written this blog.

Photo: americannursetoday.com

I marvel at the glowing faces of hospital nurses as they wave goodbye to children leaving for home. I’ve seen this in news clips or documentaries. Many of the nurses have helped bring the tots, some under their care for months if not years, back from the brink of death. Yet they also don’t want to see their patients return to the hospital for treatment.

I’ve thought: “How do they feel losing contact with the little ones they must have become attached to?”

You can’t know the emotions of a stranger you’ve never spoken with, but Leanne Sowul‘s blog post, “The Perpetual Goodbye,” shares a glimpse at how others, who share the lives of children, feel when the kids move on.

She wrote about this year’s au revoir to the fifth graders she taught in band for two years in 60 small group lessons and 85 rehearsals. “I’ve gotten to know many of them quite well, and I’m going to miss them very much.”

Photo: teacher.org

She continued: “It’s something that isn’t discussed much in teaching circles: the perpetual need to say goodbye. We talk about the stress of the end of the year, how crazy the students get when the weather turns warm, and how much we can’t wait to relax. Sometimes we say, ‘This was a good group of kids. I’m going to miss them.’ But we don’t really talk about the deep loss we feel. We swallow it and move on. It’s the nature of the job.”

My first grade teacher, Miss Woods, would look right through you if you saw her in the hall once you moved to second grade and beyond. I was told that she had lost her own child which is why she did that–she didn’t want deep connection with her students.

Sowul continued: “That’s how it is when you’re a teacher: the students move on, and you’re supposed to stay the same. But you’re not the same. You’re different, because they’ve changed you.

“It’s like having your kids grow up and move away every single year. It’s not something that gets easier with time. In some ways, as you become a better teacher and learn to connect better with kids, it gets harder.”

It’s not just children that nurses and teachers miss nor are these two professions exclusive in this aspect of a job. What are some others? Why don’t teachers address and admit the loss among themselves?

Photo: northwestschool.org

Service of an Obnoxious Co-Worker

June 20th, 2019

Categories: Jerk, Obnoxious, Work, Workplace Disputes

Photo: npr.org.

A friend who directed a large department at a major corporation advised her staff about dealing with difficult people at the office. “They are like mosquitoes,” she said, “they can’t hurt you; they are just mindless irritations that you can swat away.”

Photo: youtube.com

At least one insufferable person works in almost every office, organization or business. Most of us have faced or observed them. “They’re the people who demean and disrespect you. They might steal credit for your successes, blame you for their failures, invade your privacy or break their promises, or bad-mouth you, scream at you and belittle you. As the organizational psychologist Bob Sutton puts it, they treat you like dirt, and either they don’t know it or they don’t care.” Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, wrote this and shared his tips on how to best endure in a New York Times article, “How to Deal with a Certified Jerk at Work.”

Photo: mindsight.clinic

Becoming defensive isn’t the solution, wrote Grant. He approached a heckler in the audience of one of his presentations. He called for a time out, approached the offender and said “You’re welcome to disagree with the data, but I don’t think that’s a respectful way to express your opinion. It’s not how I was trained to have an intellectual debate. Were you?” The critic had called him ignorant and said Grant didn’t know what he was talking about. After Grant sent him backup data, the fellow apologized. Dr. Sutton calls a person like this “a temporary jerk.”

Grant reported: “Research on the psychology of certified jerks reveals that they have a habit of rationalizing aggression. They’ve convinced themselves that they have to act that way to get the results they want.” The way conflict mediation expert Sheila Heen told Grant that she might respond to an aggressive person is by saying “Really? It was my impression that you were smarter than that, and more creative than that — so I bet you could come up with some other ways to be just as clear without having to actually rip somebody else apart.”

You might not be able to speak with a boss or manager this way so Grant suggested decreasing your independence and minimizing your interaction with the chief while at the same time increasing his/her dependence on you. Dr. Sutton had a different idea: consider the person a “spectacular, amazing specimen” for your study of jerks to change “your attitude toward the situation.”

How have you dealt with an obnoxious creature at work? What do you think the inspiration is for a person to act this way? To use my friend’s analogy of treating work jerks like a mosquitos, what repellant do you use to divert their attention? Are there any positive outcomes of surviving the negative dynamic?

Photo: wikihow.com

Service of Mi Casa es Tu Casa–Come on In!

June 17th, 2019

Categories: E-Commerce, Food, Hackers, Retail, Technology, Trust

Photo: tierrafina.com

Daily we hear of hacking that’s happened either to a friend, big corporation or organization. It’s a form of break-in. I think it may have inured the public to the normalcy of loss of privacy that gorges on volunteer personal intrusions. Think such smart speakers like Alexa and Amazon Echo.

Photo: wired.com

Maybe that’s why Walmart and Amazon have or are about to introduce a new wrinkle to their delivery services. In select markets, both will or do arrange for access to a customer’s home to put food in the fridges of the former and leave packages in a home, garage or car trunk in the latter.

Citizens of Kansas City, Mo., Pittsburgh and Vero Beach will be the first to officially invite Walmart delivery staff to put perishables in their refrigerators through a program slated for a fall launch called Walmart InHome. [The system was tested in New Jersey.]

Photo: commons.wikipedia.org

In “Walmart Wants to Put Groceries Into Your Fridge,” Sarah Nassauer wrote “The workers will wear a body cameras [sic] clipped to their chests, allowing customers to watch live streams of deliveries being made while they aren’t home.” She reported in her Wall Street Journal article that they’ll have access to homes via a smart lock that connects to the Internet allowing a door to unlock remotely. Wallmart sells the device.

Delivery staff for the service must have worked for the company for at minimum a year. “Not everyone embraces the concept at first, but just as people have gradually accepted renting out rooms in their homes through services like Airbnb Inc, ‘people are very quickly comfortable with it,’ said Marc Lore, head of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.”

Photo: gate labs

The Amazon service, Key by Amazon, wrote Nassauer, is for Prime members in 50 cities. Fresh groceries aren’t involved. In another program Via Prime Now customers get orders from Amazon’s Whole Foods division on doorsteps.

Not every delivery business received the mega company’s stamp of approval. Sebastian Herrera reported last week in the Journal that Amazon is deep sixing its restaurant delivery service.

Would you be comfortable inviting strangers into your kitchen or your home, garage or car trunk when you’re not home? Do you think comfort level for this kind of trust may be higher in some parts of the country than others? Have privacy-breaking services like Alexa and Amazon Echo paved the way? What if you’re in a meeting or otherwise inaccessible when you need to unlock your front door remotely with no time to watch while the delivery person with body camera drops off your perishables? Do you think that this person—or the staffer who packs the order–will be trained to leave foods like tomatoes and bananas out of the refrigerator and on the counter?

Photo: orchardestates.com

 

Service of Whose Job is it Anyway? Fact Checking a Nonfiction Book

June 13th, 2019

Categories: Authors, Books, Facts, Fake, Nonfiction

Photo: arstechnica.com

Writing a book is daunting. Grasping the tremendous amount of information often gathered over many years and then wrapping it in the coherent and engaging form of a nonfiction book leaves me in awe and admiration of authors. Writing is just the second of many essential steps.

Lynn Neary wrote “Checking Facts in NonFiction,” a transcript of an NPR program I heard on Weekend Edition Saturday. “Authors, not publishers, are responsible for the accuracy of nonfiction books. Every now and then a controversy over a high-profile book provokes discussion about whether that policy should change.” Fact checking is in an author’s contract with the publisher.

Photo: phys.org.

The controversy Neary mentioned involved feminist author Naomi Wolf’s latest book Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love. Matthew Sweet, the host of a BBC 3 podcast “Free Thinking,” said in an interview “I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened.” According to Neary, The New York Times joined the fray adding that she’d also made errors in previous books.

An author/journalist friend wrote me in an email: “It’s a privilege to be an author and it’s also a responsibility. We’re human and mistakes are unavoidable…and it sure would be nice if publishers were willing to pick up the tab for fact-checking. But at this point, they’re not, and I think there is a level of due diligence where you are responsible for either hiring a fact-checker or putting in the long, tedious hours to do it yourself.”

Photo: phys.org

Neary reported that Maryn McKenna “paid $10,000 to have someone check the facts in her last book ‘Big Chicken.’” McKenna concentrates on science and health. Best-selling authors like Wolf– and another author caught with errors, Jared Diamond who wrote “Upheaval”–can afford to pay fact checkers McKenna told Neary.

McKenna said “It really makes one wonder whether accuracy, as a value, is something that’s really top of mind for publishers or whether there’s a separate calculation going on about sales volume that accuracy and veracity doesn’t really intersect with.”

My author/journalist friend, who did her own fact checking for her fifth book—it was nonfiction–added: “I also asked a leading neonatologist to read the whole manuscript so he could tell me what I got wrong, and he very generously pointed out my errors so I could correct them before the book went to press. I’m sure there are still mistakes in there somewhere–there was so much conflicting source material and as a journalist there’s also a point where you need to make your best judgment. (For instance, newspaper eyewitness accounts of the same event on the same day conflicted, which I explained in the end notes.)”

The author/journalist added: “I was terrified of making mistakes and agonized over details. So while this opinion might come back to bite me, my feeling is that there was a level of sloppiness in Wolf’s book that’s troubling.”

Photo: pediaa.com

Neary wrote: “Money, says literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb, is the main reason writers don’t get their books fact-checked.” Parris-Lamb told her “I would like to see every book fact-checked, and I want to see publishers provide the resources for authors to hire fact-checkers.” Neary said: “Parris-Lamb sympathizes with writers, but he doesn’t expect publishers will start paying for fact-checking anytime soon because, in the end, he says, the author has more to lose than the publisher.”

Do you read nonfiction? Do you assume the information in the biographies, history, memoirs, journals and commentary you read is accurate? Does a sloppy research job feed the fake news monster? Given the state of book publishing today, what if anything do you think will inspire publishers to step up and pay for fact checking?

Photo: prowritingaid.com

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