Thursday, August 28, 2014

You've Been Droned - Is there a Law?

Internet download of Phantom with camera
Maynard, MA 2014: August, toward the end of the James Montgomery Blues Band concert at Memorial Park, a drone showed up, hovering some 50-100 feet above Summer Street. It looked like a four-rotor Phantom with a built-in remote control camera. These models allow about 25 minutes of flying time, and are smart enough to automatically return to the launch location if the control signal is lost. On newer models operators get a real-time view of what the camera is capturing. Hobbyist drones are available for $100 to $2,000.

The proper term is unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which covers fixed wing and helicopter type vehicles from toy-sized up to jet-powered and missile-armed. Image the latter equipped with facial recognition software and pre-approval to fire a missile if it decides it has the right person.    

Federal law on what civilian drone owners can and cannot do is WAY behind the curve of development. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules date back to 1981, and were written to cover radio-controlled model airplanes and helicopters operated within line-of-site of the operator. Non-binding advisory rules included not flying higher than 400 feet (because airplanes are not supposed to fly lower than 500 feet), and notifying an airport if intending to operate within three miles. The FAA hopes to have more comprehensive rules in place by the end of 2015.

Until then, no mention of whether it will be legal or not to hover over a concert. Or your neighbor's backyard pool. Or have drone races. Or drone Fight Club, aka Game of Drones.

On June 23, 2014 the FCC took a first step by banning - for the present - any commercial use of UAVs. Take that, Amazon speedy delivery! This would also include a wedding photographer's aerial shots, or a post-midnight delivery of a fifth of Johnnie Walker Blue. OK, I thought I was joking, until I saw a news item about a brewery in Minnesota experimenting with delivering beer to ice fishermen. Meanwhile, other countries are exploring using drones to deliver emergency medication and equipment into hard-to-reach regions. For security purposes, a delivery drone could incorporate fingerprint recognition before delivering, for example, a replacement passport.

Got paranoia? UAVs are the next big thing in law enforcement. These machines can help with search and rescue efforts. But many Fourth Amendment (right to privacy) questions have not yet been court-tested. If police can follow you or your car without a warrant, can they sic a drone on you 24-7? There is a proposed law in Congress that people not be droned without a warrant (and no weaponized drones).

Locally, Massachusetts is also considering a law to prohibit government use of drones for surveillance without a warrant. But at present there is no privacy law that prohibits civilian drone snooping. So you may have good reason to worry about UAVs being TFCs (tiny flying cameras).   
Can't we just shoot them? An interesting question, and one that was raised in 2013 when a Colorado town tried to pass a law making it legal to shoot UAVs, and furthermore, proposed payment of a bounty for turning in drone parts as evidence. As it turns out, federal law makes it a crime to in any way damage an aircraft (including UAVs on government business). Whether that applies to civilian operated drones is not clear. Historic law says you own your property and the air above it - this allows cutting of branches from a neighbor's tree which are overhanging your property. But the FAA states that it owns all air higher than 500 feet above the ground. Below that is a grey zone. Still, wiser to call police rather than reaching for the shotgun.

For the moment, all that protects individuals from low-level snooping is a patchwork of local and state privacy laws. Many of those are in the process of being amended. National Parks have declared a ban on all UAVs, citing concerns about visitor safety and impact on wildlife, but the legality is being questioned. Individual towns are considering laws banning any use of UAVs in residential areas without the landowners' permissions. California is considering an anti-paparazzi law to protect the privacy of celebrities and their families. Per current Massachusetts law it is illegal to film someone who is nude or partially nude in a place where that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. But not illegal if they have clothes on. See below:

Massachusetts law Chapter 272, Section 105(b): Whoever willfully photographs, videotapes or electronically surveils another person who is nude or partially nude, with the intent to secretly conduct or hide such activity, when the other person in such place and circumstance would have a reasonable expectation of privacy in not being so photographed, videotaped or electronically surveilled, and without that person’s knowledge and consent, shall be punished by imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2.5 years or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Woodchucks Are Hermits

My resident woodchuck, August 2014
The woodchuck/groundhog, a rodent, is native to New England. And much of the rest of the eastern half of the United States. And well into Canada. The name is derived from Algonquian Indian: wu-chak. If pups survive the first year's risks, lifespan is three to six years.

Woodchucks are by nature hermits. Each establishes its own system of burrows within its territory: a modest winter burrow for hibernating, a larger, multi-entrance burrow for the three other seasons, and often a few small holes scattered about its territory as places to duck into if pursued by a predator. The major burrow can include 20 to 40 feet of tunnels, and will include a sleeping chamber and an indoor toilet. Males establish territories which will overlap with one to three females, but the only visiting time is a few weeks in early spring.  

Litters of two to six pubs are born in late May. "Mom time" is short. By early July these younguns are weaned and then evicted to wander until they can find a territory unclaimed by a resident female or male. What they are looking for is 'edge' terrain, meaning woodland and brush near open meadows. This preference matches up with suburbs. What we like, i.e., property with borders of perennials and annuals, a lawn, and perhaps with a vegetable garden, they like, too. Given that an adult woodchuck can consume up to a pound of vegetation per day, this can make a big dent in a lettuce patch!

Woodchucks are diurnal (most active during the day), particularly in the early morning and late afternoon hours. They stay close to their burrows when feeding and typically only stay above ground a couple of hours per day. Despite their heavy-bodied appearance, groundhogs are accomplished swimmers and excellent tree and fence climbers. Websites offer tips on how to set up garden fencing to be woodchuck resistant.

Woodchucks are winter hibernators. They gain thirty percent in body weight, almost entirely as fat, before entering a den in late October to begin a months-long state of torpor: body temperature dropped to 40F degrees, heart rate dropped to about five beats per minute and breathing rate decreased to less than one per minute.

Roughly every two weeks the hibernating animals rouse to full awareness, go to the bathroom and undergo a day or two of normal sleep in order to catch up on their dreaming (as confirmed by rapid-eye-motion sleep). If this coincides with February 2nd, then it is Groundhog Day. One puzzle not yet resolved by naturalists: what late summer signal triggers the beginnings of over-eating to gain all that weight?

Hunting is allowed in Massachusetts. Trapping is also allowed without any need for a license or permit, but it is against the law to relocate live animals off your property. A licensed trapper can be contracted to remove and kill nuisance animals, but if the empty burrow is not sealed at all entrances the likelihood of a new woodchuck moving in is high. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maynard, MA: Churches, Closed

Maynard was once host to a dozen church congregations but four have since dissolved or relocated. Nationally, a decline in mainline Protestant churches (Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopal) has been going on for decades. Estimates are that over the past fifty years these faiths have lost more than one-third of their membership. Surviving churches often find themselves with an aging congregation and less than excellent financial health, compounded by problems associated with maintaining an aged building.

Against these trends, there is evidence that the decline in total number of places of worship and worshipers has reached a plateau or even reversed this trend over the last decade. However, most of the growth is in new churches rather than increased membership in existing churches, with many of the new congregations identifying themselves as non-denominational and biblically conservative. Those interested in learning more about worship trends should e-visit the Hartford Institute for Religious Research [].

Closed churches in Maynard:

Click on photos to enlarge
United Methodist Church (1895-2014): There is often a gestation period between initial interest and steeple - in this instance 30 years. Services began in 1867, but were held in various meeting halls until the congregation completed the existing building in 1895. May 11, 2014 was the last Sunday services at UMC, ending 119 years in the building and 147 years as a congregation. Members are joining other churches. The local Alcoholics Anonymous groups, which had used the church for their meetings, relocated within town. The future of the building has not yet been determined. The Maynard Historical Society has remarkably little information on this church's history, so the hope is that information can be passed on rather than discarded.

St. George's June 2014, quite overgrown
St. George's Episcopal Church (1895-2006): Episcopal services began in 1894. The cornerstone of the church was placed on August 10, 1895; the church consecrated as the Parish of St. George in 1897. The church had an active men's group, the Order of Sir Galahad, a women's group, the Guild of St. Hilda, also a youth summer camp program at Fort Pond. Membership declined after the Church of the Good Shepherd opened in Acton in 1962. After the Maynard church closed, the parking lot and rectory were sold separately. A remodeling project, intended to turn the ex-church into housing, is in limbo, leaving behind a deteriorating building with an uncertain future. August 2014: something going on - the brush and weeds around the building have been cleared.

Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (1908-1967): The woolen mill attracted many immigrants from Finland. August 1894 saw an outdoor service and picnic on the banks of the mill pond - an event proposed by a traveling Bible salesman. The event served as a catalyst to start a Lutheran church. In 1902 the nascent congregation incorporated and bought land on Glendale Street. Construction started in 1907. The church was dedicated on June 6, 1908. The congregation stayed active, although over years the members and their children and grandchildren assimilated (services switched from Finnish to English). In 1967 the congregation decided to construct a new church in north Sudbury. The Church of the Nazarene took up residence for a while, them moved out around 1995. The building is currently a private residence.

St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church (1928-1999): By 1910, more than 600 immigrants from Poland live in Maynard. Even though the Mass was in Latin, these immigrants wanted to hear sermons and other aspects in their own language. The St Casimir Parish - services in Polish - was established in 1912, meeting at St. Bridget's. Fourteen years passed before the congregation bought the powerhouse building of the defunct Concord, Maynard and Hudson Railway [electric trolley], and two more years before the converted building was blessed as their own church.

Formerly St. Casimir Roman
Catholic Church (1928-1999)
In time, death of first-generation immigrants, assimilation of their descendants and dearth of new immigrants tolled on all of Greater Boston's Polish parishes. In 1995, Cardinal Bernard Law announced that 10 of 14 would stop celebrating Mass in Polish. Four years later the Beacon-Villager ran an article about the pending closure of St. Casimir. A locally circulated petition could not reverse the decision. The parish was merged back into St. Bridget Parish, although the St. Casimir building remained a consecrated space, used by the Polish community for baptisms, weddings and funerals. In 2003 the building was sold to St. Mary's Indian Orthodox Church of Boston.

CODA: Churches still open in Maynard (in color if hyperlink to website)
And once there was a synagogue in Maynard. In the early 1900s, the Maynard Hebrew Society invited a rabbi to conduct Sabbath services in rented meeting halls. September 1921, the congregation established Rodoff Shalom Synagogue in a house on Acton Street (next to where Avis car rentals is now). The congregation was active to 1980, when it merged with the newly formed Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton. In a temple newsletter, Adam Jacoby remembered, “In 1980 we built a new building and marched the Torah from Maynard to Acton under a chuppa with shofars blowing. I was one of the shofrot during the walk.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hidden History of Maynard


128 pages. 54 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.62619.541.7
Price: $19.99 (e-book $9.99)

The book is available in Maynard at The Paper Store, as e-book at various venues, or directly from the author, who will be scheduling appearances at the Maynard Farmers' Market and other locations.

Maynard resident David A. Mark brings his years of experience as a writer to create this fact-populated collection of fifty short essays gathered into seven theme-linked chapters. The contents were originally published 2012-14 as Mark’s column in Maynard’s newspaper, the Beacon-Villager.

Mark continues to write for the newspaper.
His more recent columns are posted at

In this, his second book, the content is 100% history. Chapters again cover the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, plus a focus on the unusual people and unusual businesses that prospered here. So, from the question as to why there was a mink ranch in Maynard, to whether Babe Ruth came a-drinking here when he lived in Sudbury, here is David Mark with his well-researched and entertaining answers to those questions.  

Only in Maynard
Meet the Maynard Family
19th Century
20th Century
Unusual Businesses
Unusual People
21st Century

         A reading/signing/party is scheduled for October 14, 7:00 PM, at the Maynard Public Library.


MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors (2011)
128 pages. 53 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.60949.303.5
Price: $19.99

Maynard: History and LifeOutdoors mixes 2/3 local history with 1/3 observations on nature and local recreational activities as a means of exploring what Maynard, Massachusetts offers to anyone willing to get away from too much time looking at screens and not enough time spent seeing, hearing, touching and smelling the life going on outside. History starts with eighteenth century stone walls, then carries forward to twenty-first century river clean-ups and farmers’ markets. Nature spans skunks to skunk cabbage, deer to deer ticks, and birds to bird food. Recreational sports essays range from describing the slow-motion, nightmarish feel of snow shoeing to how to avoid overhydration – the potentially deadly opposite of dehydration.

Author selfie, one fine cold morning (5ยบ F)

Maynard – Why “Outdoors”
Eighteenth Century
Birds and Bugs
Nineteenth Century
Assabet River 
Twentieth Century
Marble/Whitney/Parmenter Farm
Twenty-first Century

First Time You Bought Art

Today’s question: What was the first piece of art you remember buying?  A few rules here: music is art, but buying an album does not count. Theater, live music and dance are arts, but buying a ticket does not count. Posters, no. Sculpture and statues, yes. Jewelry, no. Clothing, no. Pottery - yes if on display, but not if kept in a kitchen cabinet.

Results of an admittedly informal survey of one hundred people found a few having bought something when quite young, perhaps at a yard sale. The more common memory was of buying art after moving away from home, be it first apartment or college dorm. From the survey, most of those who were able to remember that first purchase either still had the item or remembered what happened to it.

Alexander Calder lithograph, 9x12 inches, 1972
My first was a signed Alexander Calder print from a Boston art gallery for $125, in 1974. I had just started my first job after college. It currently hangs on my office wall. Many twentieth century artists took advantage of the concept of selling multiple copies of work at a lower price per piece, making up the difference in volume. In this business model the artist signs and numbers each one (traditionally in pencil, as a means of indicating that it was done by hand). Art galleries sell the work, take their cut, and remit payments to the artist.

After correcting for forty years of inflation, the value of my purchase has roughly doubled. For comparison, a person with the foresight to purchase Apple stock when it first issued in 1980 would have seen their investment increase one hundred-fold in inflation-corrected dollars.   

A decision to purchase art is colored by whether there was art on display at the home you grew up in, or else in homes of friends and relatives. School field trips to museums may have been for naught if walls were bare at home. Elementary schools also teach art (which is different from teaching appreciation of art) so often the first art a person owns is their own creation. This, too, does not qualify as bought art, but is a start.    

Collections are distinct from art, but can engender the same emotional resonance. Be it a baseball card or a Star Was figurine, the first purchase can cascade into a desire to complete a set. Collectibles can also be seriously expensive – in the same realm as original art.

Speaking of serious art, there are art buyers who think of this solely as an investment. Switzerland offers secure warehouses for art storage. There are literally billions upon billions of dollars of valuable art, which, when sold, may do no more than move from one storage locker to another. Very, very high quality security lets art insurers sleep easy, but there are still disquieting thoughts about all those insured assets being in one place.

Technology is changing the concept of owning art. Given the feasibility of having sizeable flat screens hung on various walls, a person could subscribe to ever-changing e-reproductions of nature scenes or famous paintings: Ansel Adams one week; Van Gogh the next. Not so different from subscribing to a music service.

E-art comes hyperlinked. Already it is possible to stand in front of a painting at a museum and have a free smart phone app (the museum’s or other) whispering in your ear the artist’s name, biography, when this particular piece was created and what various art critics opine.  

In the meantime, while the Town of Maynard has no public displays of
statuary or sculpture (!), it does offer myriad opportunities to buy art, buy more art, buy lots of art. Art & Soul and Denault Studios each sell the work of many local artists and craftspeople, as does the Open Studios program at ArtSpace. Goddard Richard Goldsmith and Earth Changes Pottery are venues for owner/artist work. Gallery Seven is primarily a framing shop, but always has artists’ work on display/sale. Paint ‘n pour allows you to create your own. More than half a dozen consignment, collectors, antique and second-hand establishments carry used art and/or collectibles. Buy art! Support your local artists!!