Daily Archives: August 6, 2015

If the original version were taught, I might agree

Supper's done!

Supper’s done!

NYC school chooses “Three Little Pigs” to illustrate a morality tale to 11th graders.

The city DOE said the use of “The Three Little Pigs” at Landmark was a five-minute “Do Now” activity at the start of class to get the juniors settled down and ready to work.

It was also intended to help the kids consider whether telling the tale from the wolf’s point of view would change the moral of the story, officials said.

Leaving aside the question whether 17-year-old students should be stuck at 6-year-old’s reading level – that issue was resolved long ago when the NEA took over our schools, what about the school’s defense that the object of the lesson was to see the conflict from the wolf’s point of view? The wolf sees something it wants: pigs, and decides he’s entitled to take it by force. The two idle, lazy pigs race to Big Brother’s house, where they are saved by his foresight and wisdom, and poor Mr. Wolf goes hungry, even though it’s not his fault. In our inner city slums and in the hearts of liberals (see, e.g., illegal immigration, reaction thereto), this makes the wolf a sympathetic character, as well as reinforcing the idea that there’s a wise, powerful source of protection available to even the most stupid and lazy. In that sense yes, it’s a modern morality play.

In the original version, as read to me before Disney and modern educators went to work on it, the two idiot pigs who built their homes from straw and sticks, respectively, pay for their sins with their lives. Only the smart, industrious one who built with brick  survives and in fact, tricks the wolf into coming down the chimney and falling into a cauldron of boiling water, whereupon he provides dinner, as well as entertainment.

As The Three Little Pigs is taught these days, there is no punishment for the lazy, or even for aggressive predators – wolfie now escapes with scalded buttocks and nothing worse. The original lesson has been perverted to fit the needs of modern educators and our new society. That’s too bad.


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Like a Fiat, “smart homes” are only for those who enjoy tinkering with finicky systems

Fix It Again, Tony

Fix It Again, Tony

Today’s WSJ reports on the growing dissatisfaction with so-called “smart homes”, which control all the basic – and non-basic – functions of your house. 

At his home in New York, hotelier and real-estate developer Ian Schrager has a “smart-home” system that allows him to remotely control the lighting, window shades, entertainment and even the temperature of the swimming pool. It drives him nuts.

The system breaks so often—about five times a year, he estimates—that he has installed a second system, with a hard-wired electrical switch to override it.

Mr. Schrager decided not to include a smart-home package at his company’s new luxury-condo development in the Bowery district of Manhattan, and hasn’t included one in any of his previous projects.

By the end of this year, some 20 million households in the U.S. will have some form of smart-home device, double the number in 2012, according to a Strategy Analytics Inc., a global technology market research firm based in Newton, Mass. Apple, Google and Samsung are rolling out rapidly evolving platforms for a range of home automation products. Home builders are increasingly including preprogrammed systems and apps so that owners can remotely control lighting, blinds, music, door locks, security cameras and appliances. Even some rental apartments are coming outfitted with smart home systems now.

But some homeowners find themselves frustrated by the proliferation of smart-home technology. They complain of complex systems for once-simple tasks like turning on the light, “learning algorithms” that get their preferences wrong and systems that simply go on the fritz too often. As a result, they’re being more selective about what technological amenities they’re installing.

Paul Wright is no techno-dummy. And he cares about saving energy. As the director of The Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute and a professor of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley, his research includes smart materials, intelligent objects and the design of wireless sensor systems.

But last year, when Mr. Wright, 68, received as a birthday present a Nest “learning thermostat” that programs itself, sends an alert if the house is too hot or too cool and can be controlled from a smartphone, he put it away on a shelf, where it still sits, uninstalled, today. “It isn’t worth the fiddle factor,” he says.

Mike Fitzpatrick, a 53-year-old furniture maker and home renovation contractor in West Borough, Mass., estimates that he has spent $60,000 over the past few years—as well as hundreds of hours of angst—on a system by the home automation and smart home control company Control4 that is supposed to let him control the lights, audio/video systems, temperature and security at his 5,000-square-foot house.

“I’m a pretty handy guy, but even I can’t figure out what to do when it goes wrong,” he says. Lights constantly flicker, the doorbell shuts off and the controllers don’t work. Now, when he renovates a house, he advises his clients to avoid such automated systems.

From my experience, buyers are no more excited by “smart” systems than they are about multi-hundred-thousand sound systems, which is to say, not at all. Upgrade to these toys if you wish, but don’t expect anyone to pay you extra for your trouble: they won’t.


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So, nothing’s changed during my absence

Binney Park hits a dry spell

Binney Park hits a dry spell

Greenwich bureaucrats announce yet another neighborhood plan, this time for Old Greenwich, and residents yawn.

The Eastern Greenwich Neighborhood Plan is almost complete.

But residents want to know what will happen to it once it is finished. And they want to know what is happening with already-completed plans for improvements in other parts of town….

“I’ve been involved in a number of plans and I spent years working on the Byram plan,” said forum attendee Paul Pugliese. “We have to figure out a way of actually implementing these plans.”….

“There are 20 plans that had really fantastic ideas and only a fraction of it ever gets implemented,” Pugliese said. “We have to figure out a way in terms of policy to prioritize things, implementing them somehow and getting the (Board of Estimate and Taxation) involved in this process so we can actually see some fruits from the collective work we’ve done over the years.”

Town Director of Planning and Zoning Katie DeLuca said she understood the frustration, but added things can get done.

“The neighborhood plans are actually quite a difficult thing to do in my opinion,” DeLuca said. “There’s a limited budget for them and it’s a plan where you have quite a large area to study. So you start to ask yourself with the resources that we have, how is the best way to create a plan?”

DeLuca said BFJ Planning, consultants who are putting the plan together, are reviewing all the other town plans and working with town departments to see what can be accomplished.

In terms of what could be done relatively quickly, DeLuca said there is “low hanging fruit” which could be taken care of even with budget restraints, such as exploring creating a village district inside Old Greenwich to allow residents to preserve and enhance community character through regulations on what can be built and developed there.

Susan Favate, associate principal for BFJ Planning, said some changes had been made since the previous meeting on the plan in May. For example, proposals to change parking on Sound Beach Avenue have been removed.

Favate said there would be an increased look at concerns about people using fill and other techniques to elevate their homes illegally, allowing builders to create the illusion of having a basement and skirt around town regulations on home size.

“We have heard a sense of urgency needs to be there,” Favate said. “Resolving that issue, which is a town-wide issue, is a high priority for the Planning and Zoning Commission. Getting that point across is one of the key priority areas.”

The real point of these neighborhood plans, I suspect, is to justify the continued existence of an unneeded town division and to keep its employees on the payroll. Plus, of course, hiring consulting firms so that there’s a friendly place to decamp to when and those employees decide to jump to the private sector. Certainly nothing else has come from al this expense and effort.

I’ve highlighted that last comment by consultant Favate about homeowners using fill to “illegally” meet the new FEMA flood zone mandates because it’s the only real news in this article.. There’s nothing illegal about what homeowners re doing, but it does thwart DeLuca’s publicly stated determination to remove all existing houses from our shoreline and prevent any more being built. Watch for this coming your way.


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The turkey is landing

591 Indian Field Road

591 Indian Field Road

Greenwich Time reports that the house at 591 Indian Field Road (Mead Point) has been put up for auction, “after several times on and off the market”; minimum bid, $2.995.

Lynch said the Greenwich home located at 591 Indian Field Road has been off and on the market for several years, and now the owners simply want to get the house sold as quickly as possible. As a result, she sought alternative sales strategies and decided auctioning the home could be a great way to accelerate a sale.

“We’re really putting this on the fast-paced plan,” Lynch said. “This is a fairly new process in this area of the country, but it has been successful throughout the country and there’s no negativity surrounding the auction. It’s a homeowner making a choice to have an auction and that’s really important to note. It is entirely the homeowner’s choice.”

Well, maybe.

I’ve written about this house before, back when its original 2008 price of $8.9 million had finally, by 2014, dropped to $4.5 million.

The house sits on an undersized lot: 0.9 acres in the R-2 zone, and is already grossly non-conforming, so no room to add anything. Which wouldn’t be a problem if you like the house but so far, no one has. To my eyes and to those of my clients and, presumably, all the other people who’ve seen and rejected this home over the years, it’s too dated and chopped up to do much with except raze it and rebuild and if that’s to be done, the new owner is faced with a maximum size, including garages, of around 3,500 sq. ft. Nothing wrong with that, but you wouldn’t want to spend $4.5 just for the land on which to site such a modest sized house, especially in Mead Point.

The next house down, 565 Indian Field, also was on just 0.9 of an acre, but it included a very nice house (3,800 sq.ft) in move-in condition, and sold for $3.375 in 2012. I’d peg 591’s value well below that: $2.5, perhaps? Unfortunately, there’s something like $4 million in debt on the place, so the most logical course to take is to let the pending foreclosure conclude and then deal directly with the next owner, the bank.

From the judicial docket accessible here, it appears that that’s exactly what’s happened, and the bank is now auctioning it off. That’s not what the Greenwich Time article says, so I may be wrong, but read the docket and decide for yourself. Either way, I hold to my opinion that, even at $3 million, the place is no bargain.


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