Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hidden History of Maynard


Cover photo from 1910

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.

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.

I continue to write for the newspaper.
My 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
Click on photo to enlarge


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

Monday, November 21, 2016

My Adventures in Ego-Surfing

The term "ego-surfing" dates to 1995 and refers to using internet search software to find public information about yourself. The main reason people search for themselves is that they're curious about what other people see when they search for their name. And the truth of the matter is that unless you are famous or have an unusual name, there is always someone of the same name more famous than you, a person who dominates the first screen of search results, and possibly every screen after that. (Imagine being one of the dozen or so Donald Trumps in this country.)

Let's start with my exploration at www.howmanyofme.com, a site that identifies frequency of first names, last names and full names without delving into any identifying information. According to this site, David is the seventh most common given name in the United States, given to a tad over 3.8 million men. Wow! Mark is far less common as a surname, with an estimate of 19,100 (Marks scores 58,000). The website goes on to estimate that there are 226 people in the country named "David Mark." A cruise through Facebook and LinkedIn confirms multitudes. Could be worse: being named "John Smith" means you share a name with approximately 47,000 other men. Or be among the 37,600 women who share the name "Mary Smith."

A pivot to the search engines confirms that I am by no means the most famous, most searched, David Mark. Foremost among my name-mates is David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, a senator in the Nigerian government since 1999. Depending on which accounts you read, he has been either a pillar of stability and competence in a tumultuous government, or a volatile and perhaps corrupt official who has accrued a fortune in offshore accounts. Senator Mark was a strong champion of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, passed into law in 2014.

Even for searches for "David Mark" limited to authors I am not first nor second nor third. David Mark is a U.S. born, Scotland residing, one time crime journalist, now novelist, known for his D.S. Aector McAvoy series of crime fiction books. Mark's debut novel, entitled The Dark Winter was published in 2012. The lead character is a Scottish policeman in the city of Hull, employed in the Serious and Organized Crime Unit. Mark types fast, as his fifth and sixth McAvoy books saw print this year and he is already working on a seventh.

Next on the authors' list is David Mark, political journalist, author and public speaker. His career began as a reporter in Washington, DC. For six years he as a senior editor at Politico. Mark's latest book is Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs and Washington Handshakes (2014). It decodes what politicians really mean when they use odd-sounding, insider-ish phrases. His first book was Going Dirty (2006), a history of negative campaigning in American politics and an examination of how candidates and political consultants have employed this often controversial technique. He may need to come out with a revised version after this most recent election.

Third on the authors' list is David Mark, founder and chief editor of Israel Rising, an Israel-based, pro-Israel media organization. And then me. 

Finally, I searched records at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to see if I share my name with other alumni. Turns out David Mark got a BS in electrical engineering and is now with The Boston Consulting Group, a second David Mark was a Research Associate at MIT while completing a fellowship at Harvard Medical School, and a third David Mark completed a Harvard-MIT MD and PhD program. Add me, and there are enough of us for our own reunion.  

So, set out on your own adventure in self-Googling, but expect to be surprised, perhaps dismayed, by the antics of your doppelgangers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Acacia Communications, Maynard, MA

A Billion Dollar Company in Maynard (again)

Acacia Communications is one of the tenants in Mill & Main, and until May of this year has been a 'stealth' company, meaning privately owned by founders, employees and venture capitalists and thus below the news radar nationally and locally. All that ended when Acacia (hard C and long A, accent on second syllable: a-KAY-sha) conducted an initial public offering (IPO) of stock.

Suddenly, Acacia had become a technology unicorn, defined as a newly listed company with a valuation in excess of one billion dollars. Acacia is rare among tech unicorns with recent IPOs in that it is already profitable. Which begs the question - what, exactly, does Acacia Communications do?

From a non-technical interpretation of the company's website, Acacia appears to make really, really, really fast devices that send and receive bits of information. A more technical description: signal processing devices that utilize silicon photonics - integrating light signals and electronics using semiconductor technology - to simultaneously lower power consumption and increase speed over fiber optic cable. From the company's website: "Connecting at the speed of light."

Speed is of paramount importance as more and more information is in the cloud, meaning in remote storage, rather than on individual computers. The current product line includes devices operating at up to 400 Gbps (gigabits per second). 

It is traditional for the U.S. stock markets (Dow Jones, NASDAQ...) to
invite staff from the company that is having its initial public offering (IPO)
of stock to be at the stock exchange and ring the opening bell. This internet
downloaded photo is from May 13, 2016. Acacia's stock symbol is ACIA. 
Acacia started at Clocktower Place, now Mill & Main, in 2009 with 8,000 square feet of office and laboratory space. Product sales began in 2011. As of this fall the company has grown to 257 employees - the majority in Maynard - and is actively hiring. The company occupies 58,000 square feet with expansion plans that will almost double that.  

Mehrdad Givehchi, co-founder, and Vice President of Hardware and Software, was asked how the company got started, and why it is in Maynard. He and his co-founders had been with Mintera, in Acton, doing much the same type of research and development. They left around the time it was acquired by Oclaro, a California based company.

According to Givehchi, "We were attracted to Maynard for its location in the greater Boston area and the potential for expanding office, R&D and manufacturing within the mill complex." He added, "In Maynard we support research, development, initial manufacturing, new product introduction, sales and financial operations. We believe that having these functions under one roof has helped to improve our efficiency."  

As for involvement in the local community, Acacia indicated that it intends to be more active now that it is a publicly help company. Acacia is one of the sponsors for the 2017 Maynard High School Band and Chorus trip to Disney World, which includes performing in a Disney park.

Other one-time billion dollar tenants in the mill complex were DEC and Monster. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) started in the mill in 1957 with an initial rental of 8,680 square feet and rose to be the second-largest computer company after IBM, with annual sales in excess of $10 billion and 130,000 employees worldwide. It owned all of the mill complex plus other facilities in Maynard, including a helicopter landing pad. Downsizing and spin-offs began in 1992 and continued until the last core of DEC was purchased by Compaq in 1998. Many local residents were once Digital employees. Most still remember their badge number.

Monster Worldwide, known for its jobsearch website Monster.com and its entertaining commercials premiering during Superbowl games, moved to Maynard in 1998 and remained headquartered at Clocktower Place until March 2014, when it relocated to Weston. As recently as ten years ago it was valued in excess of $5 billion and occupied 250,000 square feet of office space in the mill complex, but this significantly downsized company was purchased in August 2016 for only $429 million. Monster continues to exist as a profitable international jobsearch company.

Stratus Technologies moved into the mill complex in 2016 with the rental of 100,000 square feet, so not quite the same origins story line as DEC and Monster. Stratus began as Stratus Computers in 1980 in Natick. A part spun off as Stratus Technologies in 1999. The core of ST's business is fault tolerant computers and operating systems that are "Always-on," with extremely rare down time. Stratus is not a publicly held company, so harder to get a grip on the history of its financial arc, but the company was acquired in 2014 for $350 million.

I wish I had bought Acacia stock back in June. I also wish we had kept the 200 shares of Apple we bought in 1983 rather than selling for a modest profit in 1984. With all stock splits that 200 shares has become 5,600 shares, and...  well, you figure it out.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Assabet River Rail Trail - Nov 2016

Photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and Acton, Massachusetts, as of mid-November. There has been a tremendous amount of work done in Maynard, much less in Acton. In Maynard, all parts widened (resulting in removal of >600 trees) and all railroad ties removed. Two-thirds of the Trail has received preliminary paving (there will be another layer added later). Curb cuts and street-crossing lights are being installed. The old footbridge was removed and abutments are in place for the new bridge. In Acton, the focus has been on the boardwalks over wetlands in front of and to the north side of The Paper Store building, on Route 27. There is also work on the north end, from Maple Street. Click on any photo to enlarge:

This is the Stow end, at the Maynard/Stow border. In the opposite direction the future path of the Rail Trail continues as unpaved 'Track Road.' Access to this end is via White Pond Road. No parking allowed at the Trail end, but there is a lot a short distance south in the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Dogs (leashed) allowed on Trail but not in Refuge. 
This sand, soil and gravel site near the DPW garage, at the end of Winter Street, is a future ARRT parking lot. From this location it is a short portage to the Ice House Landing canoe and kayak launch site on the Assabet River.
Complicated construction at the 117 end of Winter Street, with the road on one side and the canal on the other. The canal connects the Assabet River to the Mill Pond. Water from that pond was used to power waterwheels and wash wool. The complex of mill buildings was a woolen mill from 1847 to 1952 (starting small, enlarged as years passed). The existing brick buildings of the mill complex date from 1859 to 1918. 

Road crossings will have flashing lights activated when someone wants to cross. This one is next to the former Knights of Columbus building. That building is on the site of  the Riverside CO-OP, which burned January 30, 1936.

Bike crossings will be indicated on the pavement approaching the crossing. The view is from the Nason Street intersection with Summer Street, looking west (uphill) on Summer Street. The brick building on the right is apartments, occupied 2004.
Acton, parallel to Route 27. The light-colored material on both sides of the trial is an erosion barrier, temporary until after the paving and landscaping are completed. This section is bordered on both sides by wetlands. 
Pilings will support a boardwalk over a stormwater retention pond next to The Paper Store building on Route 27, then continue along the north side over 150 yards of wetlands before reaching dry land again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Ketchup - America's Condiment

BLUE LABEL KETCHUP  bottle, made 1930
Ketchup is 23% sugar by weight. One tablespoon contains 7% of the recommended limit for sodium (salt), and little else in the way of nutrients.

The impetus for this week's column was finding an intact glass bottle while doing a bit of trail clean-up in Acton. The bottle in question is a bit over nine inches tall, tapering from a three inch wide base to a 1.25 inch top. The bottle is twelve-sided from the bottom to about two-thirds up, then round. There is no remnant label, nor embossed branding on the side, but the bottom has BLUE LABEL KETCHUP embossed into the glass, along with the Diamond-O-I symbol of the bottle maker, Owens-Illinois Glass Company. These markings date it to 86 years old.

In the late 1800s there were scores of ketchup making companies. Many were primarily tomato and tomato sauce canneries. Waste scraps and underripe tomatoes were crushed, cooked with salt, spices, some vinegar and sugar, then sieved into bottles and sold as ketchup. This was a thinner, less sweet product than we are used to now (25% sugar). Sodium benzoate was added as a preservative.

The Blue Label brand was made by Curtice Brothers Co., Rochester, NY. Simeon and Edgar Curtice started out with a produce store. In 1868 they started canning surplus fruits and vegetables. By 1900 they were operating one of the largest ketchup, produce and preserves companies in the eastern half of the country, with billboard and magazine advertising for ketchup and also Blue Label Soup (20 varieties). At its peak the company was contracting to buy produce from 8,000 acres of farmland and orchards, and employed 2,500 people. The Curtice family's involvement ended with Edgar's death in 1920. The company continued as Curtice-Burns Foods.

In the ketchup market, Curtice lost out to Heinz by taking the wrong side on the benzoate debate. In that era, increased industrialization of food production led to rampant unsafe practices and fraud in packaged foods. A consumer backlash known as the Pure Foods Movement lead finally to the passage in 1906 of the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act, the predecessor of today's Food and Drug Administration. One catalyst was the publication of Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle, a vivid description of the plight of immigrant workers in the meat packing industry. Meant to be a Socialist cry for labor justice, Sinclair later complained that “I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident hit its stomach.” 

Blue Label Ketchup bottle, made 1930.
9" tall. Top threaded for screw-cap.
Sodium benzoate is an antibacterial and antifungal preservative for acidic foods. It's use was common at the dawn of the twentieth century with foods such as pickles, sauerkraut and ketchup.

Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, chief chemist in the Department of Agriculture, was strongly opposed to what he considered unsafe preservatives in foods, which at that time included benzoate, formaldehyde, sulfites and others. The Heinz Company had already been experimenting for years with processes of making ketchup without preservatives. Curtice Brothers argued that there was a safe level for benzoate. New laws required that preservatives be listed on the label. Heinz pounced, by advertising its ketchup was without preservatives, and doubled down by offering a money-back guarantee for spoiled product. What's ironic about this is that there is a safe level for sodium benzoate. To this day it is an allowed food preservative for pickles and other acidic foods at one-tenth of one percent, which is what Curtice was using back then.

Back to the bottle. The Owens and Illinois glass companies merged in late 1929. The Diamond-O-I symbol post-dates the merger. An "0" to the right of the company symbol indicates the bottle was made in 1930, as starting with 1940 the company used two digits to signify year. By then, Curtice Brothers had converted to making ketchup without benzoate, but it was too late to regain market share.

This close-up of another Owens-Illinois
bottle shows the O superimposed over
the diamond, with an I in the center.
The number to the left indicates
which factory; to the right, the year.
Interestingly, the name Blue Label has been resurrected as Camden's BLUE LABEL CATSUP, a boutique brand out of Portland, Oregon. Much more confusingly, Curtice Brothers Company is the name of a 2015 start-up ketchup company based in Europe featuring "Organic Tomato Ketchup made in Tuscany." Although the website mentions the original Curtice Brothers, there is no connection. No one is named Curtice, the six men who started it are not brothers, and the recipe is not the original Curtice recipe. They just like the name.

Ketchup or catsup? Both spellings were used by nineteenth century companies, but Heinz and Curtice preferred "ketchup," so that became the preferred version. For people who remember glass bottles, ketchup is a thixotropic liquid, meaning viscous at rest but much thinner once it starts flowing. Back in the day when glass bottles of ketchup were on restaurant tables, one waitstaff chore after closing was to "marry the ketchup," meaning pouring the dregs of near-empty bottles into other partially used bottles to create full bottles. Eeeewww!

I do not put ketchup on hotdogs, an opinion I share with President Barack Obama ("...not acceptable past the age of eight.") and also Clint Eastwood's character in Dirty Harry: "Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hotdog."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Mallard Ducks in Mating Season

Male Mallard duck in mating season. Males are called drakes, females hens.
Ducks molt (shed feathers) twice a year. Males sport these bright colors from
October to March, otherwise the same drab, mottled browns of females.
Only females quack. Only males have the curled tail feathers. 
Mating and reproduction is a prolonged process for Mallard ducks. Males sport their mating feathers - most obviously the bright green head and neck feathers - starting in fall and all winter long. This is the time when ducks pair up. Ducks do not carry over the same pairing from year to year (unlike swans), but during the course of one mating and egg laying season, attempt to be a monogamous couple.

The key word is "attempt." Males do not contribute to nest-sitting time nor care for offspring. Due to higher predator risks to females from their nesting on land and during weeks of care of ducklings, adult males outnumber females by 10 to 25 percent. Unpaired males will pursue paired females and attempt to forcibly mate with them. Paired males will defend their mates, but also briefly leave to force mating on other females. Females try to escape non-pair mating. Despite the best efforts of paired couples, genetic analysis has shown that many broods  - typically 8 to 12 ducklings hatching from eggs laid at one to two day intervals - contain ducklings sired by multiple male parents.

Eggs hatch in a month. The newly hatched ducklings are precocial, meaning hatching with downy feathers, eyes open, and capable of moving about on land and on water within hours after hatching. From birth to fledging - the completion of growth of adult feathers that allow the young birds to fly - takes two months. During this period the ducklings stay close to their mother. From her, they learn where to feed and how to hide from predators. Predation is high. In addition to predator birds such as hawks, ducklings are at risk from herons, snapping turtles and even large fish. Those that survive reach adult weight of two to three pounds in three to four months and will be able to breed next year. In the wild, Mallards may live five to ten years; in captivity can exceed twenty years.

Mallards - like geese and swans - are "dabblers," meaning that they bottom feed in shallow water by dipping head downward, tilting tail up. Other duck species and distant relatives such as loons are by contrast "divers," spending 10 to 40 seconds at a time completely submerged. What Mallards are eating when head down is everything: water plants (greens and roots), insect larvae, tadpoles, snails, small fish... Like Canada geese, Mallards will also land-feed on seeds and farmers' crops such as wheat and barley. Prior to and during egg-laying season females will shift to a higher percentage of animal matter because of the need for a higher protein diet. Keep in mind that a clutch of eggs - laid over two weeks - can be as much as half the mother's body weight.

As everyone who has ever visited Maynard's Farmers Market knows, ducks are happy to eat any bread people are willing to cast on the waters of the mill pond. Yes, they are happy to eat bread. No, they don't need it. Bread does not provide all the vitamins and minerals they require, and feeding birds teaches them bad habits. (When ducks learn to fly toward people it does not always end well.) Junk food once a week will not put the ducks in harm's way. Daily feeding will. Keep in mind that the mill pond and neighboring waters contain far more to eat than the birds can ever consume.

Internet download. Click on photos to enlarge.
Do people shoot ducks? Yes, but not so much in Massachusetts. According to flyways.us, the Mallard population in North America - migrating between the US and Canada - is estimated at 11.8 million. During the 2015 hunting season 3.4 million were reported killed by licensed hunters. The count for our state was around 5,000. Back in the day, our own American Powder Mill, located on the Maynard/Acton border, sold smokeless gunpowder under the brand "Dead Shot." The brand's image was a male Mallard duck falling from the sky.

By the way, lead shotgun pellets have been banned in the U.S. for more than twenty years, reducing by millions the numbers of waterfowl suffering from lead poisoning, either from surviving being wounded, or from fallen pellets being swallowed by bottom-feeding birds.  

In late spring adults molt (shed their feathers). Males forego their mating coloration for the summer, adopting the same drab browns as females until the fall molt, when they get gaudy again.