Writog? A writer-photographer. Citizen journalist. Unless indicated otherwise all content, text and images, here at www.writog.com (C) Copyright 2006 - 2016 Luke T. Bush

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Location: Plattsburgh, New York, United States

Writog: writer-photographer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bad Layout

No  one noticed this before going to press?  A different headline or article would have avoided this problem.

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Non-Story Story

What Writog has learned from his experience:
Need answers?  Try elsewhere.

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY -- Sept. 12, 2016

Is there a story here?

A key question for a journalist when someone passes along information pertaining to a possible rule-breaking/illegal activity.

There's a technical paper called Municipal Fundraising And Gifting (August 2012) published by the New York State Tug Hill Commission that outlines the limitations for a city regarding donation solicitation.  You can find a PDF copy here .  Before perusing this fascinating document I would recommend consuming a full pot of coffee or a half-dozen caffeine pills (More pharmacists recommend NoDoz more than any other brand.)

The publication details how a municipality must act independently from any non-profit group, no overlapping allowed.  Basically the Podunk administration can't directly act on the behalf of a group such as the Friends of Podunk.  There's a little problem called conflict of interest.  When Podunk municipality backs one non-profit group over all others it's giving that chosen group an unfair advantage.

So there's this letter sent out last year by Podunk to businesses asking for donations for a special event promoting the city.  Donations to the Friends of Podunk are to be mailed directly to the city hall office of a particular municipal employee.

A no-no?  Maybe.  I contact the New York State Comptroller's office to learn if a violation has been committed.

After a few emails I get a copy of a 1983 opinion about a unnamed county selling for profit  decals with the official county logo.  A no-no according to this opinion.  

I ask the NYS Comptroller's office how does this pertain to the matter of Podunk and the Friends of Podunk.  The official contact tells me that this is the best case related to the matter.  Am I to infer that a SWAT team will sweep in and shut down any decal selling operation in violation of state regulations?  ("Put down that sticker!  Up against the wall!")

I ask if the state will look into the Podunk affair.  The reply: "It certainly is an issue our audit team could examine in the future."  Or could not examine.  You gotta love tautology.

The 1983 opinion includes this disclaimer at the end:

"This opinion represents the view of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered.  The opinion may no longer represent the views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments on the issues discussed in the opinion."

Of course NYS doesn't refer me to any other rulings.  What they sent me might be an invalid point to write about in an article.  After 1983 a different opinion could have come along, allowing a governmental body in New York State to sell all the decals for profit it wants.  If that's the case here's my recommendation for a sticker message: Democracy = Transparency.

The question remains if Podunk overstepped its bounds. Who knows?  Is Little Nell alive?  Who shot J.R.?

The matter of Podunk and its Friends is a non-story. Dead end.

This means an Albany apparatchik can relax his office, being paid top dollar to promulgate vagueness on the behalf of taxpayers.

That's another story.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Does Anyone Sell Asshole Remover?

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - Sept. 5, 2016

In Plattsburgh City, NY assholes like to harass photographers.

Sometimes they like to shout stupid drive-by insults from a car. But the worse ones are those who walk up to you and want to argue, not listen.

Today around 6 PM.  I'm sitting on a bench on main street, minding my own business.  I notice my shadow falling on a large bright white crosswalk stripe in the street so I take a few shots.  No people in the frame, just my head's shadow.

Someone walks by, sees me, stops and turns around.  From his appearance and his use of English he seems to be a foreign exchange student.  He asks me if I take photographs of people out in public.  I reply yes.  He tells me I shouldn't do that.

I explain to him that for the most part if I want to photograph someone in public it's my right. I don't need permission.  I ask him if he's an American.  He dodges the question by asking me if I'm an American and whether I'm familiar with the constitution.

What seems to be at first just a discussion, an opportunity to learn something, turns into verbal belligerence on his part.  He tells me, an American citizen, I have no right to photograph anyone in public unless I ask permission.

Before he leaves he tells me: "You should only photograph things like ice crystals."

Since it's a holiday -- Labor Day -- another such incident has to occur less than two hours later.

I'm at the McDonald's down by the lake, sitting at a picnic table with a friend, taking shots of the view.  Day is shifting into night.  I converse with my friend while shooting.  There's a woman sitting fifteen feet away at another table.  She gets up and comes over, telling me I can't take photographs of people in public.  She's a local yokel, a drunk redneck. My camera was never aimed at her.

Obviously she's ignorant.  Before she confronted me she wanted to make her burger flatter by pressing it into the bare wood of her picnic table.  The same table that seagulls shat on.

My friend tells her that we were having a private conservation and she was being rude.  She leaves, saying that if I photograph her she will have me arrested.

What I need is an aerosol can of Asshole Remover.  Spray once and the problem disappears, deleted from reality.

An extra large can.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Rock-Throwin' Rednecks

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush


During the evening the spot where the Saranac River flows into Lake Champlain is usually placid.  For me it's an opportunity to photograph the ducks floating by in the water.

Of course all that is wrecked when a couple of redneck kids hurl stones at the ducks, hoping to injure them.  After a couple of close calls for the ducks I yelled at the rock-throwers to stop.

Hanging in the background was a redneck adult who didn't mind if the kids broke out a duck's wing or put out a duck's eye.

The kids resented my interruption of their vicious fun.

I noticed a set-up down the river where the three knuckle-draggers were fishing, folding chair and some rods.  They picked up their equipment and skulked off.  Was any catch for food or torture?

So why the cruelty towards the ducks?  This points to the major tragedy of the North Country: inbreeding with diseased farm animals.  The rednecks acted out of jealousy, knowing that their IQs would never approach that of an average duck.  

In case I needed to ID them later I noted their prominent features, especially their troglodyte sloped foreheads.

Of course after the encounter I kept looking over my shoulder.  If someone is stupid enough to throw rocks at ducks then it wouldn't be surprising if they used the same attack against a person.

So this time no ducks were hurt but there's always tomorrow, another opportunity to wound some harmless creatures.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Heartwarming Story

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush


Apparently the defunct PlattInfo kiosks are getting some use.

A reader witnessed a touching incident that he shared with me.

There was a family strolling about downtown, visiting the city.  One member was a little girl who noticed a PlattInfo kiosk.  She stopped, staring at the unit with great excitement.

What caught her attention?  The dead screen that was intended to show points of interest in downtown Plattsburgh City?  Maybe she thought it was a special TV that would show her favorite cartoons.

No, that's not what caught her eye.

She said: "Look at that big spider web!"

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Proprietary Lock Out

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush  


What to do with those dead PlattInfo kiosks?  Their screens  -- designed to display points of interest in downtown --  remain blank.  A recent paint job conceals the rust.

The kiosks have spent more time being dead than alive.  After thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent there should be a way for Plattsburgh City to kickstart them back to life.

So just bring in someone to fix or update the computer system.  No, forget that.  Proprietary blocks that option.

Local software engineer Jesse Feiler was hired by the city to write the source code.  In the deal he struck with the city all his work is proprietary.  

The city boondoggle boys didn't realize that proprietary meant only one person, the code's creator, can touch it.  If the city wants to update the system it has to work with Feiler -- obviously for additional payment.

The city should've paid for open source code and bought the license for its use.  That way it could modify the system as needed.

I've emailed Jesse Feiler to get his part of the story.  Two emails, no response.

In the meantime the boondoggle boys are just itching to get their hands on that $10 million grant awarded by New York State.

Maybe they could update the kiosks with some of that money.  Just  rip off the tops and gut the interiors to convert them into planters with flowers to spruce up downtown.

At least flowers can be replanted.  They aren't proprietary.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Conducive For Comments?

How many comments were recorded?

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush


Downtown Rising is a busy event, people milling about, talking, while a band plays tunes with amplified sound.   And while it's a good event for socializing and buying from various vendors it's not the place I would hold a public forum. People have their minds attuned to fresh carrots, ice cream, hot dogs, and other items being offered.

But last Friday the city had its set-up under the big tent, images spreading across an array of free standing panels.  This presentation detailed proposals for using the $10 million grant recently awarded to the city.  The set-up was supposed to elicit comments from the public regarding the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.  While I didn't hang around and witness all the activity it seemed most of the time volunteers were explaining concepts to passersby. I didn't see any note taking or voice recording of citizen input.  I didn't see a table to write down comments.

Then again, if I wanted feedback from the public I would concentrate on accepting such observations via postal and email addresses.  Even an old-fashioned telephone answering machine would be better. It's easier to comment in the quiet of your home where you can think.

But there will be another public outreach for taxpayers to comment on how to spend the $10 million grant.  Another set-up will be available to passersby at the Battle of Plattsburgh.  BOP is  the annual celebration of the American victory over the British during a key naval battle on Lake Champlain during the War of 1812.  It includes reenactments of the fighting on land and water.

So please feel free to comment while rifles and cannons are being fired.  Bang, BOOM, bang!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Nose Job

Decades ago a vandal knocked the nose right off this poor guy.  A concrete surgeon was brought in to fix the missing feature.  The replacement nose has withstood years of heat and cold, rain and wind, facing whatever Lake Champlain could dish out.  It never cracked or fell off.  Plattsburgh City should find out what magic mixture was used and apply it to rebuilding the Plattsburgh Public Library front steps.  The latest installation is cracking and crumbling like the previous one.  The new entrance hasn't even celebrated a one-year anniversary but is already suffering from old age.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Dust Devil

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Back To Patching Over A Problem

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush


For years the concrete front steps of the Plattsburgh Public Library kept falling apart.  Patch jobs only covered up the problem.  But recently a full renovation to the entrance promised no more cracks, no more chunks falling off.

So much for that promise.  Cracks are already appearing, especially a long one from top to bottom.

The solution?  Back to patching.  Part of the crack is covered but has it really gone away?

Definition of Plattsburgh Smart: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Previous article: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

Bean Counters = Crap Quality

LLBean: Quality Guaranteed Since 1912.  Forget it.  In the last few years LLBean clothing is sub-Made-In-China quality.  I’m not that hard on my clothes so there’s no excuse for my LLB purchases falling apart.  After a wearing them for a few times they just start deteriorating.

People tell me: “Well, send it back.  They guarantee their product.”  Sure, send one POS back and get another one that breaks down in six months or less.

I’m not alone. Google “LLBean Quality” and you’ll find complaints just like mine.  Apparently the Bean counters think they can maximize profits by charging top dollar for third rate quality and consumers won’t care.

Boycott LLBean and any other clothing manufacturer trying to foist their fragile fiber crap on us.  That will force them to make good clothing.

With other pants I could easily re-attach a button that fell off with needle-and-thread.  But how do you attach a button to a riphole?

Cargo pocket shorts, worn a few times.  Holes just growing on their own.

Another pair of LLBean cargo shorts, another hole growing by itself in a pocket.

LLBean chamois shirt disintegrating.  Never worn tucked in so no real stress was put on it.  Maybe gravity was the culprit.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Green Dome And The Parking Lot To Nowhere

Mayoral candidate Colin Read meets the press.

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY -- August 1, 2016

Something was missing from the news conference.

That Smell [TM]. The olfactory attack from the sewage treatment plant.  It still could happen.

At least The Parking Lot to Nowhere didn't threaten us with a fecal bouquet.

Kicking off the news conference Colin Read, first time Democratic candidate for mayor, warned the crowd that the event would end when the Amtrak train rolled in.  With the clock counting down he shared a list of ideas that he would pursue if elected mayor.  Part of his POV was from being a downtown businessman, proprietor of the Champlain Wine Company.

Holding his conference at the lower level of the train station Colin faced the media, standing behind a white folding table.  A cluster of microphones picked up his voice.

Across the railroad tracks the hulking sewage treatment plant was easily visible and smellable.  I've always wondered who was the genius who decided to build it at the mouth of the Saranac River, prime lakefront property.

The gray plant sat beyond what Colin called The Parking Lot to Nowhere, an empty expanse of asphalt and white lines still waiting for the planned hotel/conference center to be built.

The lot was another white elephant example: city spending money on a project that never functioned as planned.   And maybe that was for the better.  Who wants to stay at a hotel with a beautiful view of Lake Champlain accompanied by an ugly miasma?

Colin observed: "People want a change."

One change he proposed would be a green dome over the sewage treatment plant to contain odor.

 He talked about the fiscal challenge faced by the city since its reserve fund -- $6 million -- was down to zero. (The reason why the city once again had a negative financial rating.) That money, he said, was reserved for emergencies such as the failing water system in the south part of the city.  (Old system = water flooding streets.)

But more money was on its way: a $10 million revitalization grant.  So how to plan and spend it?

On the topic of his qualifications Colin mentioned that he wrote a book on municipal finance and taught finance at Plattsburgh State University College.  Indeed with his black-framed  eyeglasses he looked professorial.  While he was sans tie he was snappily dressed in a medium blue blazer and light tan pants.  (I include those details because articles like this are supposed to detail the subject's appearance for sartorial-minded readers.)

Colin mentioned the city should do its homework before spending the grant money.

He gave an example of such homework: his number crunching with one proposal to tear down the farmers market building in the Durkee Street parking lot and replace it with a mixed use building.  A new parking garage would be needed to replace the 320 spots now in use.   Demolition costs alone would eat up a good share of the $10 million grant.

The cost of a new parking garage worked out to about $20,000 per spot, he said.  A private developer would expect ROI.

Colin: "The awkward thing is if we're going to use taxpayer resources taxpayers would like that fund replenished at some point.  If we use private resources we're going to have to charge for it.  Now the $20,000 per parking spot -- if you do the calculations a private developer is going to need about $300 of revenue every month [per spot] assuming that parking garage was full every day.  No private developer would be able to extract those resources."

He concluded it was quite inevitable taxpayer money would be used to build a new parking garage.

 Colin Read listens to a question from a reporter.

There was Q&A after Colin wrapped up his list of ideas.  A reporter mentioned that Plattsburgh wasn't the only New York State municipality with a downgraded financial rating.  Colin wasn't caught off guard.  He said that there were nine other cities with the same status but Plattsburgh shouldn't be one of them.

Colin offered more of his perspective during Q&A including --

The voice suffocating horn.  The Amtrak train from NYC was rolling in.

End of news conference.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Info On PlattInfo: Cost

"Oh boy!  New toy!"

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush


So how much money do you need for one of those fancy outdoor information kiosks?

After my previous article -- What's The Info On PlattInfo?  -- I was curious about the pricing for the kiosks the city installed to promote local attractions.

There was fanfare when the PlattInfo project was revealed to the taxpaying public in 2012.  After that giddy announcement --  "“Plattsburgh is one of the first cities to use technology in this way” said then mayor Donald Kazprzak --  three touchscreen information kiosks were up and running with more planned to augment the system.

Then the project died.  For the last two years the kiosks have been dead, blank, tombstones to a semi-forgotten boondoggle.

I wanted to get a rough estimate on how much money was spent.  I suspect if I ask the city for project costs I would be FOILed in the process.

So to save time I Googled for pricing on outdoor kiosks.  There was a range of prices dependent on what type was ordered and the options included.  This gave a rough idea of what could have been spent.

One hit took me to CostOwl.com, http://www.costowl.com/b2b/kiosks-outdoor-cost.html

CostOwl: "Basic countertop-style models start at about $2,500. On the other end of the spectrum, a highly customized, full-sized outdoor kiosk could cost you more than $20,000."

Outdoor kiosks cost usually cost more because they have to be built to withstand the elements.  With most models, continued CostOwl, the hardware alone is around $5,000 to $7,000.

CostOwl: "Software is typically sold separately and can add thousands to the total price. The total cost can be $3,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on the level of customization you require."

Obviously an outdoor kiosk requires more investment per unit than a 19 inch flatscreen TV on sale at Best Buy.  At least the TV would still be working four years later.  CostOwl notes the average lifespan for an outdoor kiosk is 3 to 10 years.  Did anyone mention that to eager city officials before they jumped and grabbed their new toys?

On the question of durability the metal kiosk shells have been rusting.  A new paint job covers up the defect.  No change with the kiosk viewing feature. The screens: windows into an empty void.

The PlattInfo software was provided by a local programmer.  He wrote it in proprietary code, not open source, meaning that only he can work on the system.  There's mention of repurposing the kiosks but only he can modify and update the original system.  One wonders what he would charge for that work.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What's The Info On PlattInfo?

Way back in the day when the info kiosks worked.

(C) 2015 Luke T. Bush


The poster hung on the large bulletin board, protected by a plexiglass shield.   Brief description of the poster: annoying.

Matt Hall walked by the bulletin board while going to work, day after day, until he decided it was time to say something about the poster.

None of the few words on the poster were offensive, obscene or discriminatory.  The simple words were superimposed over a painting featuring Plattsburgh City landmarks, City Hall and the towering obelisk with the bronze eagle on top.

The poster proclaimed: PlattInfo. Sights.  Shopping.  Dining.  plattinfo.com

Near the bulletin board stood a metal kiosk, recently repainted to cover up the rust.  It's electronic touchscreen remained black.  At one time -- probably two years ago -- the screen brightly glowed, displaying all sorts of info about downtown.

Matt knew the story behind the poster, the info kiosks, the PlattInfo website.  More than I had realized when I was just covering the kiosk aspect.

November 22, 2012.  An article appeared in the city (news)paper announcing the PlattInfo project. Three touchscreen kiosks would be installed.  It sounded like it was about ready to go, including a website providing info on restaurants and other attractions in the city.  Business subscriptions were $52 a year, an amount even a small business could afford -- or so it was claimed.

In an email interview Matt explained: "As coordinator at ROTA Gallery I was approached by the PlattInfo folks to buy into a subscription at $52 a year. I told them that I wasn't comfortable approving the expense and wanted to wait and see how the kiosks did over time before putting money into the project."

It's a good thing he waited.  The info kiosks have been dead for the last two years.  And plattsinfo.com?  Outside of a basic introduction nothing has been added despite the site's statement: Stay tuned for news.  Matt verified the inactivity with the online resource the Wayback Machine.

Don't believe everything you read.

Matt went online to raise the issue, reaching out with Facebook posts.  He wanted the poster taken down. Many comments have resulted, some critical about the waste of taxpayer money.

Seeing the posts a city councilor looked into the matter and contacted Matt.  The councilor had learned the kiosks were installed before mobile phone apps became popular.  Also due to the terms of the grant the info kiosks had to remain in place until 2017.  The councilor had heard the city IT department was aware of the problem and the city was planning to repurpose the kiosks for a more practical use.  (Stay tuned for news!)

Previously Matt attempted to find out what had happened with the PlattInfo program.  He contacted one source aware of the situation who told him there was a "sordid" story about the project.  Then the source went silent, no more correspondence.

Matt wants the PlattInfo poster taken down because it's just an awful reminder of the project's failure and waste.  The poster's contact info is useless.

Matt: " If any visitors or interested parties actually looked up #plattinfo or any of the links listed on it, they would just find dead websites. Why would we keep that up there? At best its irrelevant, and at worst it makes us look foolish."

Or makes us, as I say, Plattsburgh Smart.

Hey, Binky, ya need a domain name? 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Hanging Out

(Click on image to enlarge.)