Friday, June 27, 2014

Issues confronting Millbrook Meadow and Pond

Lura Phillips and Gunilla, 1993


June 26, 2014
To the editor:
Regarding the future of Millbrook meadow and pond, we will shortly receive the final report from our contractors, Milone & MacBroom, a great step ahead in the restoration of the meadow and ponds. We have already learned some of the findings. My own thoughts on some of the most crucial issues in the meadow:

Mill Pond: The pond has silted up, and the invasive plants (phragmites, purple loosestrife and others) have spread out and overtaken a large section of the pond. Having seen a picture of the pond from the fifties, I can imagine what is to come.

Cattails and other invasive plants are filling up our Pond.

The silting then had caused the pond to be so shallow that you could walk across the mud to the other side. It is happening again, and if not stopped, we are in danger of having the pond turn into a (possibly malodorous) marsh, with the brook finding its way through it. The pond must be dredged, and the invasive plants curtailed.

Frog Pond: This little pond needs cleaning out, and, as with Mill Pond, the plants adjusted to allow the proper flow of the brook as well as an open area for ducks, etc.

Hardly room for ducks in our clogged Frog Pond!

The Meadow: The drains under the meadow must be rebuilt in order to take care of drainage from parking lot, Mill Lane, etc. Water-tolerant trees need to replace dead or lost ones.

The Mill Brook: Milone and MacBroom has done studies and taken flow measurements of the brook. They will advise on the best shape, depth, and width of the brook to accommodate the water flow. The brook may remain straight, be slightly curved, or deepened to accommodate larger water flow. The culvert under Beach Street has to be structured to allow unobstructed flow in and out of the meadow.

This old willow, planted about 1912, is dying from inside out. (1980 photo)

The Willows: Oh, the beloved willows. The memories. Sitting underneath for a chat with Lura. Story hour with our children.
Now, the willows must be pensioned. The great willow was a grand, mature tree in 1950, and is now past even simple decline. The core of the trunk is full of sawdust, the great branches are dead and falling. Let’s not wait for a calamity that causes injury to children playing underneath, or damage to the Settlers Bridge or a neighboring yard if the tree falls. If we simply cut all the large, dead branches, the tree will be completely unbalanced, and even more likely to come crashing down.

Instead, there should be a celebration of these beloved old giants, and then a planting of new willows to take their place. Not saplings, but young trees of perhaps 10 or 12 feet.
Willows grow at a rate of five feet a year, and we would soon be sitting in their shade again. Arbor Day may be a nice day for planting the new trees.

 [Note: Gunilla Caulfield has been the Trustee of the Lura Hall Phillips Trust for the Meadow since 1994, when Lura died.]

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Electronically-challenged senior citizens

Take a Senior for a Ride!

We’re out there, just waiting to be hooked. 

Marty, my wife, and I bought a television the other day.  Then I went over to the Comcast place to get a cable box for it. I brought it home, and then the fun began. 

Do you remember when you brought a new TV home and plugged it in, adjusted the rabbit ears, and there was the picture?  Maybe there was some climbing up on the roof to put up an antenna, but we were young then. Watching television was not hard.

Now we have cable, with scads of channels, most of which are filled with the deadliest of sludge. The Comcast people gave me a big new box, a fancy-looking remote, and a lot of paper.  I brought it home and then the fun began. 

The instructions were very detailed.  Different choices of which box you had, which television brand you had, a different number to program into your remote, and maybe that number didn’t work, so try another. 

On and on it went, but after each trip through the checklist, “No signal” showed up on the television screen. I switched components, went from downstairs to upstairs, swapped this and that, changed to the old television, which worked.  Still, with the new combination, “no signal.”

Well, I’m 80 years old, and that means I’m probably electronically challenged.  I asked a sharp young fellow named Alan.  He tried to help, but drew a blank.

Then another Alan, my nephew, came to help.  Oh, he managed to get the television to display all kinds of stuff, but in the end, “no signal”.  He managed to get a woman from “Comcast Customer Service”, a misnomer if there ever was one.  She marched us through a whole bunch of steps, and then the phone line disconnected, and we knew it would be many, many minutes to get her back.  So that was another blank.
Today, I thought I would try to find that woman in “Customer Service” again.  I looked up on line for “Comcast Customer Service.” 

I called this number and immediately, a man with an Indian voice answered.  That should have been my first clue that something was wrong.  Who ever heard of “Customer Service” ever answering without many minutes of taped messages about how much they wanted to talk with me, and how important I was to them, and how the conversation, if it ever happened, would be taped for quality purposes?

No, the Indian gentleman was right there, at my service.  I told him that I kept getting a “No signal” on my television.

He started off by telling me that I would have to go to my computer to log on, to check my “network” because, you see, this was a “Smart TV”.  That should have been my second clue.

I went down two floors to the basement, where my desktop computer is located, and as instructed, I logged on to an obscure web address, and then on the screen saw a box that called for some numbers.  He conveniently supplied me the numbers, I downloaded something, and soon, he was controlling my computer.  Some guy in India (or Kenya or Bangla Desh, or maybe Saugus, Massachusetts) whipping the mouse around the screen in an impressive manner.  Why travel two floors away from the television to work on a connection?  That should have been my third clue.

It’s always exhilarating, when an Indian in Bangalore takes your computer for a ride.  They find things in it you never knew existed!

And, boy, did this guy find stuff.  He opened up my router, which sends the wi-fi signal to three other computers in the house, and presumably to my new “Smart TV”.  He showed me squiggly waves going up and down, as my router routed electronic signals.  And then he showed me that 24 separate computers were tapped on to my router. Yes—instead of four, there were 24.  And six of them were “foreign”.  Apparently six unknown, mysterious creeps in some foreign location, were tapped on to my computer, reading my deathless emails and Facebook entries.  And God knows where the other 14 were.  “Did you give anyone your password?” the Indian voice asked.  No, I didn’t.  “Well, this is serious, but I cannot correct it.  If you will give me permission, I will transfer you to the Cisco anti-hacking branch, and he will help you."

            “Oh, yes!” I replied.  I was thoroughly hooked by these nice Indians, who were obviously laboring mightily to save my computer from legions of hackers. 

            On the line came Mr. Anti-hacking Cisco man, another Indian voice.  He went through a few questions, and then he told me that yes, indeed, he could clear all this up, and rid me from these merciless hackers.  For $399 for six months, $699 for a year, and $999 for life. 

            That was my fourth clue.  I had heard of the scams involving locking up people’s picture files and then unlocking them for loads of bitcoins, and here I was, being asked to spend $399 to rid my computer of unscrupulous hackers from around the world. 

            I said to the Indian Anti-hacking Cisco man, “Well, I guess I’m out of luck, then.  Thanks!” And I hung up and disconnected my computer, hopefully to rid myself of the little parasite. 

            If you read this, you likely know far more about all this than I, but I presume that the squiggly lines that showed all the illicit tappers on my router was all stuff that was inserted by these crooks.  And if I had given him my credit card information to rid myself of these hackers for only $999 for life, he could have drained my card and left me hanging out to dry. 

            In the end, I still have a useless television and a useless Comcast cable box, and tomorrow I will try once again to find if there is indeed such a thing as “Comcast Customer Service.”

Sam Coulbourn