Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Safe Rides

From the Troy Record:
County to offer free rides on New Years Eve
Rensselaer County will offer free transportation to patrons of bars and restaurants within the county’s borders on New Year’s Eve on a first call first serve basis.

Editorial: Do planning now before party starts
As we approach New Year’s Eve, one of the biggest party days of the year, it goes without saying that revelers should not drink and drive.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ship Rams Pier

Article from the Coast Guard News, dateline Dec. 29:
Ship rams pier at fuel containment facility
The Coast Guard is investigating an allision [collision?] between a ship and a pier at a fuel containment facility in Rensselaer, N.Y., that occurred at approximately, 12:30 p.m., today.
There were no injuries or pollution, but significant damage to the pier. If anyone has a photo I can post, please e-mail

MORE: The ship, the Sanko Phoenix had already passed NYC and was headed out into the ocean at 14 knots as of 7:30 pm this evening. (The site has a cool Ships Map application. But so far nobody is hosting a tracking station any further up the Hudson than NYC.)

MegaBus to NYC

I've been meaning to post about the new MegaBus direct service from the Rensselaer Amtrak station to Penn Station in New York City. (Fares are as low as $1 if you book far in advance - it's currently $19 each way for a late Jan. weekend.) The schedule looks very convenient, so I hope to try it soon.

But for now, I found a great review from someone who has already made the trip. Matthew Loiacono's blog "the view from here" gives you detailed instructions, tells what to expect:

How to Travel from Albany -> NYC for $1 Each Way

The MegaBus site has this notification, which is a change of pick-up location (Matthew's review describes the old location):
The bus stop in Albany/Rensselaer has been moved. We are now picking up in the North Service Parking lot of the train station. The entrance to the parking lot is off East St, just North of Wendell St on the West side and this lot can be accessed from the train station.

Matthew Loiacono is a local musician, so while you're on his site, take the time to listen to a few tracks. It's very cool stuff! (Traditional instruments like mandolin and banjo with modern technology and sounds.) If you get to his site before the end of the year, you can download a free live album.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Author Bruce Hiscock

The Rensselaer Public Library [810 Broadway] will be hosting a talk by an upstate NY author on Friday, January 2nd at 3 PM.

Author and illustrator Bruce Hiscock will talk and show slides about the process of creating his children's book about the Alaskan Arctic. A quick look-up on Amazon shows he has several books about the Arctic. The latest is called Ookpik: The Travels of a Snowy Owl.

The author lives at the edge of the Adirondacks, and has some great photos of his woods on his web site.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Evelyn Edwards Exhibit

I believe there are still a few days left to see paintings by Rensselaer artist Evelyn Edwards at the East Greenbush Library [10 Community Way, E. Greenbush]. Library hours on Mon. and Tue. are 9am - 9pm. This Wed. they are open 9am - 5pm (closing early for New Year's Eve.) This is their December exhibit, and I'm not sure what day the paintings will be removed.

Since the description on the library's Exhibits List will probably change soon, I'm quoting their December 2008 posting here:

Walls: Watercolors & Prints by Evelyn Edwards

Evelyn Edwards is a local artist whose work is primarily in watercolor media of landscapes, still life and some figure drawings. She has exhibited her work at Columbia-Greene Community College, Hudson Valley Community College and at the Chatham Mini Mall with much success. Evelyn is currently 95 years of age.

There is a profile of the artist in today's Times Union as well:

Therapy by the brush stroke
At 94, Rensselaer woman wants her art to make people feel good

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tech Valley High

Tech Valley High School is a small regional public high school located in the RPI Tech Park. The school partners with regional businesses and economic development organizations to develop an appreciation for real world technologies and local industries such as biotech, nanotech, alternative energy, etc.

Press Release: Wanted: Students for innovative regional high school’s third class

From the Times-Union: Find out about Tech Valley High
Tech Valley High School will conduct tours and informational sessions over the coming months for eighth-grade students and their parents in the Capital Region interested in being a part of the innovative school that teaches students through project-based learning principles and focuses on what students need to be successful in a 21st century work force.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More Eligible for HEAP

A one-time federal grant has allowed New York State to broaden eligibility for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), to serve more people in need. For more info, read the press release:

As Winter Officially Begins, Governor Paterson Announces An Expansion Of Emergency Heap Eligibility Guidelines To Help Heat More Homes This Winter
Beginning January 1, a family of four earning as much as $56,635 could be eligible for emergency HEAP benefits; an additional $100 supplemental benefit to be issued to current HEAP recipients.
The HEAP program includes three components available to New Yorkers:
  • Regular Benefit - annual supplement for home heating costs
  • Emergency Benefit (Second Emergency Benefit available)
  • Furnace Repair or Replacement - to keep primary heating source functional

Click here to learn about HEAP and how to apply (HEAP website).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

More Holiday Lights

I got a few more photos on Tuesday night, before the rain came along to wipe out the fresh snow. (Click to enlarge)

These are from Broadway up to the high school. Even on Tue., some of the streets were still too snowy to navigate in my little car, so I got fewer pictures than I'd hoped.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Car Mishap at High School

From CBS Channel 6 Monday night:
Car driven by teens slides down embankment by Rensselaer High

A car with at least two teens went off the road, through a fence and slid down a deep embankment by Rensselaer High School tonight right in front of one of our crews tonight.
No one was injured in the accident.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PQI Web Site

The NY State Health Department just released the Prevention Quality Indicator (PQI), a web-based tool to assess regional hospitalization rates for conditions considered preventable from a public health perspective:
When you analyze the 12144 zip code, you can compare our rate of adult "avoidable hospitalizations" (over the 2 year period 2005-6) with the number that would be expected based on statewide statistics for a variety of conditions.

So how does Rensselaer stack up? Our best score was for diabetes care, where our hospitalizations were 52% of expected (22 Rensselaer residents were hospitalized for diabetes, while the number expected would have been 42.) The hospitalization rate for circulatory complications (cardiovascular disease) was 89% (73 hospitalized when 82 would have been expected).

Rensselaer's worst hospitalization rate was for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), at 166% of expected (which is adjusted for age of population). There were 44 hospitalizations, versus the 27 that would be expected. This probably indicates a need for more attention on reducing smoking. (Looking just at overall respiratory conditions is deceptive, since we scored better than average in asthma, which masks the bad score for COPD.)

Local Gov't Too Big

I almost missed this story in Sunday's Times-Union:
Government not shrinking with population
Declines in how many people live in a community haven't meant smaller government
Their main point is that "With the economy in turmoil and governments looking to trim costs, rarely do leaders' eyes turn toward their own institutions." But they should, and this article proposes shrinking city councils to reflect current circumstances. In fact, Rensselaer topped their list of over-sized governments:
No community is as well-represented as the city of Rensselaer. There is one elected council member for every 792 residents. That compares with one board member for every 11,680 residents of Colonie.
Remember how our local property taxes compared with our counterpart in Indiana (almost 4 times as much)? That high tax supports our many layers of local government, something Attorney General Cuomo is hoping to address by making it easier for citizens to force votes to consolidate local services, schools, towns or villages. Check out this T-U article from Dec. 14, which proposes merging Rensselaer into the city of Albany:
Cuomo's plan faces pride angle
Complexities color Cuomo's idea to put government merger to public vote
The 2010 census is coming up, which will probably result in redistricting anyway. This is a great opportunity to evaluate whether local government is serving our needs, and make changes accordingly.

The T-U has entered this in their Local Politics Blog, and since I haven't implemented comments here yet, I encourage you to go there and post a comment: Things change, governments not so much.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Lights

Here's a bit of holiday scenery from a drive through the North End of Rensselaer, NY (mainly Farley Dr., Eastland Park, and Partridge Run).

There are many other pretty houses, but my camera does a bad job at night, and these were the only photos that came out.

You can click the photos to zoom in, but I kept the size pretty small, because of the low image quality.

Here is my favorite of the really bad photos...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Police Chase

Yesterday afternoon, a high-speed chase in Schodack ended with the driver abandoning the car on East St. in Rensselaer, after injuring a construction worker on South St. Rensselaer Police arrested Neil Dearstyne, 38. The injured worker was treated and released.

UPDATE: (Saturday, 12/20/08, 12pm)

Speeds during the chase apparently reached 120 mph as they entered Rensselaer. The driver is in jail without bail. The Troy Record claims the pursuit arose from an attempted pull-over for improper registration.

In many cases, where the suspect poses no immediate danger to the public, it's the chase itself that causes the threat.
[Glenn Morshower, quote on Voices Insisting on PursuitSAFETY]
The U.S. Supreme Court [Scott v. Harris, 127 S. Ct. 1769 (2007)] recently chose NOT to rule that police must allow fleeing suspects to get away if they drive so recklessly that they put bystanders' lives in danger. However, the Model Pursuit Policy of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) states that:
The decision to initiate pursuit must be based on the pursuing officer's conclusion that the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the pursuit is less than the immediate or potential danger to the public should the suspect remain at large.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Local Rail History

In 1826, John Stevens demonstrated a prototype steam locomotive. That same year, the first railroad was charted in New York State. The Mohawk & Hudson Railroad was built to connect the two rivers (and to enhance Albany's position in its rivalry with Troy). The cost to build the 6 miles of track was $1.1M ($27M in 2008 dollars). Transportation of goods between Albany & Schenectady dropped from 2-3 days down to 3 hours, using horse-drawn rail cars. In 1831, the locomotive DeWitt Clinton reduced the travel time even further.

Rail Building - East of the Hudson

The Albany & West Stockbridge Railroad began operations in 1842, eventually connecting Greenbush to the Mass. State line. The route ran from Greenbush through Kinderhook to Chatham, where it connected with the Hudson & Berkshire tracks. Their 1842 rail map also shows the proposed route from Greenbush to Troy. (There was no “Rensselaer, NY” yet, and “Albany” often meant “just across the river from Albany”).

The tracks for the Troy & Greenbush Railroad were laid during 1840-41, but by law they could not be used until $250,000 more was spent to build track from Chatham south into Columbia County. Troy's citizens believed that Albany's politicians pushed for this legislation to benefit from (and rein in) Troy’s commercial success. The T.& G. was finally able to commence operations in 1845. The track building continued and in 1851, the Hudson River Railroad extended the T. & G. south to New York City.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Meanwhile, railroads were also being built along the Mohawk River Valley. In 1853, Erastus Corning merged those 10 railroads to form the New York Central Railroad. On the east side of the river, Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired the Hudson River Railroad in 1864.

The Hudson River Bridge opened in 1866, and was jointly owned by the New York Central (50%) on west side, and the Hudson River Railroad (25%) and Boston & Albany Railroad (25%) on east side. (The Boston & Albany was created by a merger of the Albany & West Stockbridge with the other lines along the route to Boston.) As soon as travel patterns were established across the new bridge, Cornelius Vanderbilt stopped allowing transfers from the New York Central to the Hudson River Railroad, and used this as leverage to acquire the N.Y.C. and merge the two lines.

The railroads were major local employers. As noted in this 1899 state factory inspection, the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad employed 70 men doing locomotive repairs in Rensselaer. The car and railroad repair shop of the Boston & Albany Railroad had two buildings in Rensselaer, and employed 254 men.

Additional References:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dec. Leg. Report

Here's the December Report from our local Rensselaer County legislator, Mike Stammel. It includes mention of the recently approved Community Program Grants, including $6,000 for the Rensselaer Public Library.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Power's Mostly Back

Power outages in the City of Rensselaer are finally down to single digits: 9 customers tonight, versus 99 yesterday. I didn't note the total at the peak, but I think it was over 2,000. Or maybe that was Poestenkill - it's all kind of fuzzy now (I was still half-sick - it took a long time to get over that bug).

National Grid crews were working both last night and this morning on upper Washington Ave. It looks like they finally got service restored to the Farley Dr. neighborhood across the creek. Notice where the guy in the bucket is in this picture (click to zoom in). This line goes right across the gully, through the woods. What were they thinking?

I decided against a giant roundup of storm story links. But you might check out the Times-Union Storm Map, which lets you read short comments about the storm (mostly people's power status and their opinions of National Grid). These are tagged with their locations, and the points are mapped. My first try using Firefox showed me the ocean off of Africa, and then the map interface stalled. Internet Explorer wouldn't show the map at all. The second try with Firefox worked. It's an interesting application - has some potential to be useful.

Monday, December 15, 2008

CDTA Board

According to this article in the Business Review (NY Senate meets to vote on key positions), Governor Paterson has nominated County Legislator Mike Stammel to the Board of Directors of the Capital District Transportion Authority. The State Senate was scheduled to vote on it today.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

St. Paul's Center

The Times-Union has a piece which mentions the St. Paul's Center on 3rd Street:

A new face of homelessness
A family's plight is typical of a single mom and children seeking help

UPDATE: St. Paul's Center values support

Judging Postponed

Because of the power outages, judging for the holiday decorating contest in Wards 8 & 9 has been postponed until December 15.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008


Ice Storm Update

Just a quick update... The grocery stores on Rt. 20 in East Greenbush are open. I wasn't in Price Chopper, but Hanaford was well stocked. They didn't lose power, as far as I can tell, so they didn't need to jettison the perishables (I heard that the Hoosick St. Price Chopper in Troy did).

Also, Rt. 4 was open all the way from Rt. 20 beyond Rt. 43. (The light at Rt. 151 was out though.) All the gas stations have lines.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Word to the Wise

OK, so someone in the unwashed masses at the Troy Victorian Stroll gave us both the "stomach flu". Be aware that it's going around, and if you get it, it'll probably take you out for a good 4 days.

Although I can't be certain, I suspect we may have been the victims of the norovirus. In any event, I googled some depressing facts (I was trained as an engineer, so obviously this isn't medical advice - this list came mostly from the above link, as well as the CDC and the NYCDOHMH):
  • It takes a good 20 seconds of vigorous handwashing to get rid of norovirus.
  • Over-the-counter hand sanitizers are mostly ineffective against it.
  • Chlorine will kill it in a strong concentration (not diluted in a swimming pool or tap water).
  • It survives freezing, and heating up to 140 degrees (water this hot burns within seconds).
The good news is that a company called LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals has a vaccine in human trials. I sure hope it gets FDA approval!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Snow Equipment

From the Times-Union: Council approves winter equipment purchases
RENSSELAER — The city will buy new snow removal equipment to replace the equipment damaged in the summer flooding.

The Common Council voted 7-2 Wednesday night to approve the purchase of $510,314 in new equipment, Mayor Dan Dwyer said Thursday. One council member was absent.

Craft Fair Update

Just a quick update to the Troy Victorian Stroll Craft Show (see my earlier post). The hours are actually 10am - 5pm, so you can come early and get a jump on shopping. will have a big show discount: $15 off retail prices!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rensselaer, IN

When I'd seen Rensselaer, Indiana in enough Google search results, I began to wonder about the place. I learned that it's half-way between Chicago and Indianapolis, about an hour and a half drive from either city. Here's how we compare:

Rensselaer, NYRensselaer, IN
Population: 7,924Population: 5,660
Land Area: 3.01 sq. mi.Land Area: 2.90 sq. miles
Median Income: $41,161Median Income: $38,188
Cost of Living: 88% of US Avg.Cost of Living: 77.5% of US Avg.
Median Home Value: $138,917Median Home Value: $108,189
Median Property Tax: $2,173Median Property Tax: $546

Rensselaer, IN was named for James Van Rensselaer, a 5th generation descendant of Patroon Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. James lived in Utica, NY, but moved to Indiana after his trading house failed in the 1820's (Van Rensselaer & Kane, which traded in grain, coffee and spices - reference: The Van Rensselaer Family).

The City of Rensselaer, IN has a fantastic homepage, with contact information for all their public services, and online access to the agendas and minutes of their city council meetings. (We need to be doing this!!) The city has a Chamber of Commerce and a Visitor's Bureau.

There's even a daily newspaper, The Rensselaer Republican (they're far from any larger cities, so there's no competition). They don't seem to have a community blogger, but if Rensselaer, NY had a city home page and a daily newspaper, neither would we!

Friday, December 5, 2008

MWK Biogas

I noticed a press release which fits well with the other "energy" postings of the past week. MWK Biogas North America Corp. of Rensselaer is the US branch of a German company. They market "digester" systems which harvest biogas from manure and other organic feedstocks, generating electricity and heat via anaerobic fermentation.

Their technology is said to produce 1.2-1.3 kW per cow. According to a recent article about a proposed greenhouse gas tax on farm animals, New York State has about 627,000 dairy cows. That's a lot of energy waiting to be captured - about 750-800 megawatts. For comparison, Maple Ridge Wind Farm in Lowville produces 320 MW of electricity with 195 turbines, which they claim is enough to power 160,000 average New York homes.

The article Farm Digesters For Small Dairies In Vermont tells how "Cow Power" provides renewable energy from dairy farm "output", as well as from other organic waste like whey from the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stroll Craft Show

I'll be exhibiting with at the Troy Victorian Stroll's Craft Show this weekend. (Quiltboxes is my boyfriend's business - he also co-owns Bankshot Antique Pool Tables, in case you've wondered about my "banner ads".)

Troy Victorian Stroll
Sun., Dec. 7, 11am - 5pm
Craft Show at Troy Atrium
3rd St. and Broadway

Parking is FREE in all City Lots, the Troy Atrium Garage, and on all city streets.

You can see a few boxes at, his e-commerce site. But there will be about 50 boxes to choose from at the show, and you really should see them in person to appreciate the beauty of the wood.

If time permits at the show, I'll be demonstrating my great-great-great grandmother's art of paper weaving. This Victorian era technique can produce some amazingly intricate and beautiful designs. I've never seen directions for this - I had to reverse-engineer it from her paper scrapbook. Come to the Stroll craft show and check it out!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Senior Center

Here's a short blurb and video from Capital News 9, about how members of the Rensselaer Senior Center donate warm, hand-made items to homeless shelters: Seniors knit for less fortunate

County Budget Passed

Coverage of the Rensselaer County budget vote:

Majority Press Release: Legislature Approves 2009 Rensselaer County Budget

Times Union
: Rensselaer County budget passed
TROY — In a 12-6 party line vote Monday night, the Rensselaer County Legislature approved a $287.7 million county budget for 2009.
Troy Record
: Rensselaer County approves $287.7M budget
TROY — The Rensselaer County Legislature passed the 2009 budget in which the tax rate remained unchanged for the first time in seven years.

With the newly-approved $287.7 million budget, the average annual county tax bills for homes valued at $100,000 will remain at $523, county officials said.

Monday, December 1, 2008

SBA Disaster Loans

From a Nov. 13 press release:
The U.S. Small Business Administration announces today that federal economic injury disaster loans are available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes located in Clinton, Essex, Rensselaer and Washington counties in the State of New York as a result of excessive rain, flooding, flash flooding, high winds, hail and tornadoes that occurred June 1, 2008 through August 31, 2008. ... Eligible small businesses and non-profit organizations may qualify for loans up to $2 million. These loans are available at a 4 percent interest rate with loan terms up to 30 years.
For details, see the SBA Press Release Number: 09-089, VT 11512

Apply online at the SBA's Disaster Assistance website