Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Snow Melt - The Great Uncovering

Salt crystal causing snow to melt
Seventeen years ago, in another snowy city (Chicago), our neighbor's son secretly smoked cigarettes and flipped the butts out his bedroom window onto our snow-covered yard. Of course, come spring's snow melt I confronted our neighbor with the evidence. His son spent some time on his hands and knees, sprucing up our lawn.

This spring, across eastern Massachusetts, many surprising things are becoming uncovered by snow melt. Morning dog walkers have reported a bonus of found silver - all the coins dropped into the snow as people tried to reach snow-bound parking meters. Dogs also left evidence in the snow - ____ that dropped out of sight at the time, but now reappears, first frozen, then softening. Smells less than expected, yes, because all the bacteria were killed by the cold, but still visibly offensive.

Garbage has surfaced, too. Soda cans, scraps of paper waste, plus various and diverse car parts left behind from winter's accidents. Those with spring clean-up in their hearts are advised to set out on street, path and trail with plastic bags and glove clad hands.  

Dirty snow is closer to road
Since fresh snow was sparse after the spate of big storms, what remains has taken on a darker hue. The blackest snow starts at road's edge, then fades in intensity by six or seven feet out. The source of all this darkness is an aerosol of shredded tire particles, residue of oil leaks, asphalt dust, road sand and exhaust condensate. And this is why cities now refrain from slinging street snow into rivers and lakes and the ocean. It's better when snow melts in place to convey its residue into the storm sewers and thence to the waste water treatment facility before discharge to the Assabet River.   

Copied from
Speaking of black snow, the groundskeepers at Fenway Park came up with an ingenious means of removing snow from the subnivean field. Rather than shoveling, which could have damaged the grass, they scattered two plus tons of black sand atop the snow. The boost to absorbed heat sped the melting process. Boston's baseball season opens April 13th.  

Bicyclists are suffering. This winter most towns never bothered to spread sand or salt, but the grit generated from uncounted potholes clogs the margins of streets, there to abrade bicycle chains and sprockets until street sweeping cleans and/or spring rains washes it all away. And yes, streets suffered. When water seeps into crevices the subsequent freezing into ice under asphalt splits and shatters the pavement, leaving potholes aplenty.  

Bowl of deer vertabrae
This winter was seriously severe on the non-hibernating mammals of Massachusetts. Opossums, raccoons, skunks and deer all suffered. Last spring's fawns, not quite yearlings, were at greatest risk of starvation, but this spring's fawns will be at risk if their mothers cannot find enough green browse to nurse successfully. Woods walking with an eye out for scavenging crows and vultures may lead you to a decomposing winter-killed deer carcass, perhaps in time to salvage a few bones. Advice here - repeated days-long soaks in water followed by soaks in hydrogen peroxide leaves bones smooth to the touch and smell-free.  

Lastly, the seasonality of flowers has been condensed, so that rather than having snowdrop, crocus, daffodil and tulip blooms spread out over six to ten weeks, all will be in flower almost all at once. Think if it as a symphony of saturated color, blessed by spring rains.

 Yes, all the sibilant "s" sounds of this column were deliberate. Because it's s-s-s-s-spring.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Coolidge School: Past, Present and Future

Town of Maynard website: "In December 2014 the school’s main tenant, The Maynard Public Schools Administration, vacated the building. Now the town must decide what to do with Coolidge: use it, sell it, demolish it."

Click on any photo to enlarge
Going back to beginnings: May 1905, townspeople voted to appropriate the sum of $18,000 to purchase 18 lots of land (total area a bit larger than 2.5 acres) located between Route 27 and Bancroft Street, and build thereon a one-story, four-room, flat-roofed, brick school building. Maynard issued ten $1800 bonds, maturing one each year for ten years, each paying 3.5% annual interest until mature. Actual cost was $20,841.30. 

Construction of the Bancroft Street School - four classrooms - was completed in time for the beginning of the 1906-07 school year. The building was really two stories tall on the back (playground) side, with the lower level containing furnaces, an assembly hall and student bathrooms. One immediate problem - the roof leaked. Repairs were ineffective. Roof replacement was deferred until 1909 when the Town Building Committee recommended that another floor of four more classrooms be added. This project's budget was $12,000. It was completed in time for the start of the 2011-12 school year. Classrooms on both floors were about 25x30 feet.

Calvin Coolidge Elementary School, Maynard, MA
Used as school 1906-1981; admin building thereafter
The impetus for this and subsequent expansions of the school system was a population explosion of school age children. State law required school for children ages 7-14. The mill complex had been taken over by the American Woolen Company in 1899, which almost immediately began major expansion and hiring. Maynard's population soared from 3,100 in 1900 to 6,400 by 1910. Many of the new hires were immigrants from Europe, here with their entire families. Student enrollment increased from 600 students in 1900 to 730 by 1904, 900 by 1910 and 1,300 by 1915. Throughout this period, Maynard's teachers were dealing with 40-50 students per classroom.   

The Bancroft site was selected for being near the new mill-owned housing development. From one of Maynard's Walking Tour guides: "The New Village contains 206 houses (150 singles and 56 duplexes), built beginning in 1903. All streets were named for presidents. A typical house sits on a 4000-5000 square foot parcel. Thirteen different styles of houses were built. The village was built on the old Mahoney and Reardon farms and boasted a private sewer system. Each house had pine flooring, a cold water tap, a toilet in the cellar, and no central heat. Houses were rented to mill employees for $3-6 per month." That rent sounds unimaginably low, but in that era it would have represented 10-20 percent of a worker's pay.

Side view shows basement level; note window ACs
Bancroft became Calvin Coolidge School in 1932, same time Main Street School became Woodrow Wilson School. Coolidge's use as a school ended in 1981. Wilson burned in 1952; site now town's administrative building and police station.

The decision to close Coolidge was a combination of enrollment shrinking from the school system's 1970 peak of 2,098 students plus financial restrictions imposed by Proposition 2½, a property tax restriction that was going into effect in 1982.

The Board of Selectmen appointed people to a Coolidge School Re-use Committee in order to study and propose alternative uses, including keep, lease, sell or demolish. The decision was to keep the building within the school system. The building underwent a major renovation in 1984. Until recently it housed the school system's administrative offices and other operations such as Maynard Adult Learning Center and Food Pantry. It currently stands empty.

Coolidge Community Park, Maynard, MA updated 2013
Back of Coolidge School building in background
Now, Maynard's Board of Selectmen has appointed a Coolidge School Re-use Task Force, which meets twice a month at Town Hall (meetings open to public), and is charged with recommending a course of action for the building and all property - including playground - before the end of June.

Problems abound. The building is listed with the Massachusetts Historic Commission as a historic property, and probably would qualify for the National Register of Historic Properties. Abiding by these strictures would limit what can be done to the outside of the building. Interiors are rarely designated historic. For example, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law has deemed 31,000 properties as landmarks, but only 117 of those are for interiors. Conservative estimates are that the Coolidge building would need between $2.5-3.5 million for repairs and modernization.

Damaged brick wall around back
Maynard has been down this road before. The Roosevelt School closed in 1988, after Green Meadow School was enlarged, then stood empty and deteriorating until it was resurrected in 2006 as the Library, at a cost of $5.7 million, partially covered by a $2.1 million grant from the state's Board of Library Commissioners.

P.S. Back then, children were also required by law to be vaccinated - meaning smallpox. Massachusetts was one of eleven states with mandatory vaccination. In 1905 a case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court :Jacobson vs. Massachusetts, in which an adult man refused to be vaccinated. His case drew support from the Massachusetts Anti-Compulsory Vaccination Association. He lost by a 7 to 2 vote. The decision in the favor of the greater good of the community was reaffirmed in 1922, when the Supreme Court ruled that a school system could refuse to accept a student that had not been vaccinated.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Health Benefits of Standing Versus Sitting

Working title for this was: Get Up Off Your _____

We sit. Much of our work time and leisure time includes sitting, often looking at a screen (or, for twentieth century techno-peasants, words on paper). It's a given that regular exercise - even as modest as 20-30 minutes of brisk walking every day - prolongs lifespan. The question arises then, is sitting per se so bad that sitting less and standing more improves health, regardless of how much exercise one does otherwise?

Five reviews published in reputable science journals summarized the evidence. Conclusions are presented here, preceded by the last name of the first author, the journal and the year. For the scientifically curious, a computer search on author/journal/year will yield abstracts of the work, and for some, the complete article. [See below for complete reference information.]

Wilmot/Diabetologia/2012: A review of 15 published human studies concluded that when comparing most to least sedentary, there was a 112 percent increase in risk of developing type 2 diabetes, 47 percent higher for heart attacks (90 percent higher for heart attack deaths) and 49 percent higher for cancer deaths. In another review, the same authors concluded that sedentary time increases the risk of metabolic syndrome by 73 percent.

Cong/Brit J Cancer/2014: Sedentary behavior increases risk of colon cancer by a statistically significant 30 percent, with a trend of 6 percent for rectal cancer. Schmid/J Natl Cancer Inst/2014 similarly reported that time spent watching television correlated to a 54 percent increase in colon cancer and a 66 percent increase in endometrial cancer in women, but not for other types of cancer. Each 2-hour per day increase in sedentary time was related to a statistically significant increase in colon and endometrial cancer risk.

Ploeg/Preventive Med/2014: After tracking 221,000 Australian adults ages 45 and up for four years, more standing time reduced risk of dying. Importantly, this was independent from benefits seen for exercise or not being obese. Along the same lines, Biswas/Annals Internal Med/2015 concluded that independent from time spent physically active, higher sedentary time was linked to higher all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and mortality, cancer and cancer mortality, and type 2 diabetes.

Buddy Products desk resting on 6x6 blocks for more height.
Softer evidence suggests standing uses more calories than sitting, although not entirely clear if an increase in appetite compensates for this modest increase in calories burned.

In conclusion, the evidence is strong for reducing risk of certain diseases (and dying thereof) by sitting less. "Why?" is a good question. While the consequences of exercise have been extensively researched, research on inactivity physiology was a long-neglected field. In fact,  "bed rest," was once a popular treatment for everything from recovering from a heart attack to nervous hysteria, but as far back as 1999, a review concluded that prolonged bed rest was no better than early mobilization in any of the comparative trials and had a worse outcome in 17 out of 39 (Allen/Lancet/1999). Research on astronauts, mimicked by complete bed rest studies on earth, found that immobility leads to accelerated bone loss (osteoporosis) and muscle wasting (sarcopenia).       

Theories on mechanism are still unsettled. Sitting causes leg muscles to slow the process of taking up circulating low density lipoproteins and releasing high density lipoproteins - changes with cardiovascular consequences. Obesity, one consequence of inactivity, increases chronic inflammation and lowers blood levels of vitamin D, both with negative cancer and heart consequences. Finally, sitting while watching televised entertainment is often accompanied by consumption of unhealthy snacks and tobacco use. 

When considering a standing desk, what to buy? Ideally, with palms flat on the surface, elbows should be bent at a 90 degree angle. Zoro sells a fixed height desk made by Buddy Products for $215. Top surface is 37x27 inches. Height of 40 inches is good for someone about 5'8" tall. Height can be adjusted upward with two 2.5 foot lengths of 2x4, 4x4 or 6x6. IKEA sells an electric motor powered adjustable desk made by Bekant for under $500. Prices can get north of $2,000 for fancy desks or work stations, including ones that incorporate a treadmill.    


Biswas A, Oh PI, et al. Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med 2015;162(2):123-132.
Prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes (all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease incidence and death, cancer incidence and death, diabetes incidence) regardless of physical activity.

van der Ploeg HP, Chey T, Ding D, Chau JY, Stamatakis E, Bauman AE. Standing time and all-cause mortality in a large cohort of Australian adults. Prev Med 2014;69C:187-191.
This study showed a dose-response association between standing time and all-cause mortality in 220,000 Australian adults aged 45 years and older who were tracked for an average of four years. Increasing standing may hold promise for alleviating the health risks of prolonged sitting

Schmid D, Leitzmann MF. Television viewing and time spent sedentary in relation to cancer risk: a meta-analysis. J Natl Cancer Inst 2014;106(7).
Prolonged TV viewing and time spent in other sedentary pursuits is associated with increased risks of certain types of cancer.

Cong YJ, Gan Y, et al. Association of sedentary behaviour with colon and rectal cancer: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Br J Cancer 2014;110(3):817-826.
Sedentary behaviour is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Subgroup analyses suggest a positive association between sedentary behaviour and risk of rectal cancer in cohort studies. Reducing sedentary behaviour is potentially important for the prevention of colorectal cancer.

Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, et al. Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia 2012;55(11):2895-905.
Sedentary time is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality; the strength of the association is most consistent for diabetes.

Hamilton MT, Hamilton DG, Zderic TW. Role of low energy expenditure and sitting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes 2007;56(11):2655-67.
Sitting = high level of physical inactivity, and leads to metabolic changes for the worse.

Chau JY, Grunseit AC, Chey T, Stamatakis E, Brown WJ, Matthews CE, Bauman AE, van der Ploeg HP. Daily sitting time and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013;8(11):e80000.
From a review of six population studies, higher amounts of daily total sitting time are associated with greater risk of all-cause mortality, and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity appears to attenuate the hazardous association.
Herkner H, Arrich J, Havel C, Müllner M. Bed rest for acute uncomplicated myocardial infarction. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007 Apr 18;(2):CD003836.
After a heart attack, patients fared no better nor worse for short (median six days) or long (median 13 days) of bed rest.

Allen C, Glasziou P, Del Mar C. Bed rest: a potentially harmful treatment needing more careful evaluation. Lancet 1999;354(9186):1229-33.
Out of 39 trials, none showed a significant improvement for prolonged rest over early mobilization and 17 had results that were worse.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Maynard News, 1915

One hundred years ago the weekly local newspaper, The Maynard News, editor and proprietor Robert S. Osterhout, served the towns of Maynard, Hudson, South Acton, Stow and Concord Junction (West Concord). An annual subscription had just increased from $1.00 to $1.50. Newsworthy items found via the Library microfilm collection:

The main function of the newspaper appears to have been akin to what we now think of social media - personal items people wanted to share with the community. To wit:
  • C.C. Murray has a new ice wagon. 
  • Mrs. Julia Lynch installed a telephone in her home last week. 
  • William O'Brien attended the Auto Show in Boston
  • E.R. Lemon is confined to the house with the grip. That last, also known as 'la grippe,' meant the flu, with symptoms that grabbed the body in a misery vortex of muscle ache, headache, fever, and cough.
In February, Oscar Jensen, age 11, was catching a ride on a freight train, fell onto the track, and had one leg crushed below the knee. Fast action by local doctors saved his life. He was transported to Deaconess Hospital for an amputation. As his name was not among deaths listed in the town's annual report we know he survived. The 1940 Census had him living in Wayland.  

March saw publication of a statement from the recently formed Hudson branch of the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, putting forth six reasons why women should not be able to vote. Selections: "The proportion of women actively or inactively supporting the suffrage movement is so small a minority of the adult female population to indicate that the great majority of women are either opposed or indifferent to the franchise." and "They believe that evolution and civilization have led steadily toward differentiation of functions between the sexes, not toward similarity."

Massachusetts was the first state to have an association of women opposed to the right to vote. These anti-suffrage efforts began in 1882, then organized at the state level in 1895; the Association published a newsletter "The Remonstrance," and at its peak had nearly 37,000 members. One argument was that women could achieve more for social issues by not being aligned with political parties, which were viewed as not sensitive to social uplift. A popular slogan was "Better citizens without the vote." In a non-binding 1915 referendum the state's voters (all male) voted 2-to-1 against women gaining the vote. The anti-suffrage movement's abrupt end came when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in August 1920.

May: "It has been supposed that the Assabet River below the mill was so filthy that nothing could live in it, but such is not the case...two large turtles seen in that repulsive appearing and noxious smelling stream." After this lede the story went on to describe the turtles (my guess, snapping turtles) and an attempt to rope them before they slipped away. Children of that era did frolic in the river, but only upstream of the mill. 

Plaque for JOHN A. CROWE PARK, Maynard, MA
October: A ceremony dedicating John A. Crowe Park took place on October 1, 1915. Six acres of land had been purchased by the town in 1901 for use as a public park and sports ground. Reverend Crowe was pastor of St. Bridget's Church 1895-1905. He was responsible in getting the town to buy the land, and was the first superintendent of the park. Crowe was transferred away from Maynard in 1905, but he was a frequent visitor to his former church, and attended the dedication. He died in 1918, age 58 years.  

The trolley schedule, in the paper every week, showed that it took one hour to get from Hudson to Concord, with stops at Gleasondale, Stow, Maynard, Westvale (by the Damon Mill building), Concord Junction (West Concord) and Concord. Tracks ran alongside Route 62. The first and last rides were 6:00 AM and 11:00 PM. Inter-town trolleys were supplanted by privately owned bus companies. Locally, trolley operations ended in 1923. The Lovell Bus Line started in 1924.

One hundred years ago the term 'hybrid' could have been applied to the Triple Crawford kitchen stove. An advertisement for this top of the line model described a combination coal & gas stove. The cooktop had cooking space over the wood/coal burning chamber to the left and gas burners to the right. Above the cooktop was a gas oven/broiler. Optional was a gas water heater, piped to provide hot water to the kitchen sink.

Added later: Maynard in 1915 was also serviced by another weekly, the Maynard Enterprise. This was published in Markborough, Walter B. Morse, President, and served Maynard, Acton, Concord, Sudbury and Bedford. The subscription price started the year at $1.00 but by the fall was raised to $1.50/year (one copy cost four cents). Content and advertising was much the same as The Maynard News. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

SNOW - a Record Year for Boston

There are winters wherein February sees the first snowdrops and crocuses of spring, but it is not this year. There are years wherein the first returning robins are already arriving, but it is not this year. There are years the snow blower goes untouched, the snowmobile trailered to Maine, but not this year. This year we struggle against the white, the ever recurring, ever piling higher snows of the winter of 2014-15. By all that you hold dear on this frozen earth, you must shovel, women and men of Massachusetts.   

WINTER 2015: Fence is six feet tall.   Click on any photo to enlarge
This winter's snow is rapidly closing in on setting a new record for Boston, for Worcester, and for points in between. These cities, each with 125 years of weather data, average 44 and 64 inches, respectively. The snowiest winter on record for both cities was 1995-96, at 107.6 and 132.9 inches. As of March 23rd, Boston is at 110.3 inches and Worcester 116.8 inches, making it now Boston's snowiest winter in recorded history. Worcester's winter is currently third snowiest. [Interestingly, 2011-12 was the 2nd least snowiest for Boston, with 9.3 inches.] 

Snowfall measurement methods are described in great detail in a 14 page document from the National Weather Service. Briefly, if snow is falling continuously, depth in the measuring device is measured every six hours, the device emptied and set out again. This maximizes measurement for large storms because it reduces the compression effect of late snow piling up on early snow.

One reason for the records being set this winter is that all snow is not created equal. Wet snow means 6-8 inches convert to one inch of water, but the northeasters that have been repeatedly sweeping through our area have been cold enough to generate powdery snow that is averaging 17-18 inches per inch of water. Telling here is that the thirty days of storms that put so much snow on the ground will in time melt to only five inches of water - above average for this time of year but in no way record setting.  

Other reasons are meteorological. Weather forecasting professionals toss about terms such as North Atlantic Oscillation, the "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" and Polar Vortex.  The net result was that over a short period of time the storms were colder, larger, and every storm dumped on eastern Massachusetts, with little melting between storms. February 2015 was Boston's second coldest on record. For the entire month, an average of 18.8 (F) and only three days had a high temperature above freezing.       

ICICLE: Estimated at ten feet and 100-150 pounds
Whatever happened to global warming? The short answer is that New England is getting wetter faster than it is getting warmer. For Boston, over a 120 year period the average temperature has gotten one degree (F) warmer, but 10 percent wetter. As a result, winter is two weeks shorter, but six of the top ten snowiest winters have occurred in the last 22 years. As storms track up the east coast the warmer (and thus wetter) air over the ocean blows inland over/atop cold air, resulting in more snow.

At some point in the future the temperature trend will mean more winters of wet snow, sleet, ice storms and rain. Portland, Maine has already experienced the crossover: weather records dating back to 1870 show two degrees of warming, a 15 percent increase in total precipitation, but a decrease in annual snowfall from 75 to 65 inches. When it comes, the crossover will affect Boston before it impacts the inland cities and towns.

On closer parsing of snowfall records, the less snow trend is already showing up in Boston. but intermittently. The 40 years from 1975 to present contain 7 of 10 of the snowiest winters (over 75 inches) AND 8 of 10 of the least snowiest winters (under 20 inches). 

The first paragraph of this column was a riff on the "But it is not this day" pre-battle speech in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Other fictional pre-battle speeches to outnumbered, underdog troops include those from movies Braveheart and Independence Day, and the progenitor of them all, the St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's play, Henry V. That speech gave us five repeats of "...this day..." and also the line "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."

The Lord of the Rings/The Return of the King (Lord Aragorn speaking)
Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers!
I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
A day may come when the courage of Men fails,
When we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship,
But it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Man comes crashing down,
But it is not this day!
This day we fight!
By all that you hold dear on this good earth,
I bid you stand, Men of the West!

Henry V (King Henry V speaking)

    What's he that wishes so? 
    My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin; 
    If we are mark'd to die, we are enow 
    To do our country loss; and if to live, 
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour. 
    God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. 
    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, 
    Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; 
    It yearns me not if men my garments wear; 
    Such outward things dwell not in my desires. 
    But if it be a sin to covet honour, 
    I am the most offending soul alive. 
    No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England. 
    God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour 
    As one man more methinks would share from me 
    For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more! 
    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host, 
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight, 
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made, 
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse; 
    We would not die in that man's company 
    That fears his fellowship to die with us. 
    This day is call'd the feast of Crispian. 
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, 
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd, 
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian. 
    He that shall live this day, and see old age, 
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, 
    And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.' 
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, 
    And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.' 
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, 
    But he'll remember, with advantages, 
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names, 
    Familiar in his mouth as household words- 
    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, 
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester- 
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red. 
    This story shall the good man teach his son; 
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, 
    From this day to the ending of the world, 
    But we in it shall be remembered- 
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; 
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me 
    Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, 
    This day shall gentle his condition; 
    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed 
    Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, 
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks 
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Winter snow records posted at