Category Archives: Uncategorized

‘Let’s not screw this up’: please be responsible with reopening

Dear Central New York:

Our region is approved for Phase 1 of regional reopening, starting May 15. Please: Let’s not screw this up! Obviously, it comes with a mix of trepidation of “opening the valve” safely, as the governor would say, but also with a ray of hope for friends and neighbors. I know so many local business owners who are hurting, and have many friends out of work. Ultimately, it’s on us to do things the right way.

– Support local small businesses if you’re in a position to do so. Many of these are the ones who step up to support others in their time of need, so helping them can also serve as giving back.
– Maintain physical distancing protocols in public.
– Wear a mask or other PPE for any interactions and direct person-to-person transactions.
– Be considerate of the health concerns of others.
– Be patient as people learn to do things in new ways.
– Keep washing your hands.

– Take actions that might compromise the safety of others.
– Be a jerk.

I shouldn’t have to tell anybody not to be a jerk, but … have you looked around Facebook lately? So yeah.

Remember, the only way to move forward is to be responsible. Think of others. And be kind. We’re all in this together.

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For the birds: Taking a lesson from nature

Photo of trees and birds on a pre-spring March day

The other day, I went out in the backyard with a glass of wine and spent several minutes listening to birds high up in the trees. They are singing the folk songs they have exchanged for thousands and thousands of years. It’s their mating season, and while all around us seems so stressful, they are living lives more or less unchanged.

As last week went on, I began seeing and hearing less and less people, and seeing and hearing more and more birds. Now that I’m working for home, they’re about the only entities I hear in real life and real time. Our feathered friends have always been here, but now I’m just back to appreciating them. My relationship with them is uncomplicated; they want and need nothing from me, and don’t pay much attention amidst their courtship rituals as I gaze up in silent admiration.

There is change, and there are constants. The birds still sing and flirt and carry on their life cycles. They flit from branch to branch, not worrying about the latest news or how many likes any given post has or how the stock market is doing. They live their lives in the moment.

In these complicated times, may you have opportunities to find peace and the simple, small moments to remind you of the joys of life.

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Running to where the sidewalks end

Runner standing in sidewalkOne interesting challenge of finding different running routes is that my little southwest corner of the city is The Land Where The Sidewalks End.

My house sits at the top of what was once known as “[derogatory nickname for a Polish person] Hill,” and is one of the oldest in the neighborhood. Most of the houses south didn’t appear until the 20th century, and some not until after World War II. Somewhere in there, the city decided residential streets didn’t necessarily need sidewalks. So where you run the new streets around the Shapiro Park neighborhood, named for folks like Eisenhower and Kennedy and Lincoln, you’re either in somebody’s lawn or the road.

With one exception: my road, West Fifth, a thoroughfare that continues long after Second through Fourth and Sixth and everything else disappears. How far, exactly, do the sidewalks go on West Fifth?

Challenge accepted.

So southward ho, leaving my familiar neighborhood to where the houses span further apart and give way to cul-de-sac streets with names like Ash and Lee and Darling. Where Windsong Lane scurries past Heather Way into Lilac Lane. The Fragrance District, one could call it.

The sidewalk of West Fifth finally ends at Mark Fitzgibbons Drive, just before railroad tracks, Eagle Beverage and the city line, but a new sidewalk thrusts westward toward Oswego Middle School. Fitzgibbons takes you past the school and circles up into Murray Street, which becomes a north-south artery of a nouveau riche neighborhood.

My new route passes the land of gates and giant goldfish ponds and gigantic gardens. Of palatial porches and garages the size of a house. “Country living with city convenience” is the code I learned as the real estate editor for The Palladium-Times. Sidewalks connecting a lot of neighbors who would have no intentions of using them. But for kids walking from the middle school and us weird running types, they are our red carpet.

As Murray Street stretches toward my neighborhood, the middle-class houses return and I realize this is the longest I’ve run without stopping since … I don’t even remember. Past Gerritt and a left onto the familiar Ellen Street and I stretch out my stride a bit for the last two blocks (one of which seems way longer than I remember). I feel the runner’s high making everything blissful as I close the loop with a left onto West Fifth and onto my own modest porch.

I’ve now become a wearer of one of those fitness watch/tracker things, and it tells me I did a non-stop 2.4 miles at a bit more than 10 minutes per mile. That’s what I was running way back when I was actually in shape and way younger! My best run in a decade, maybe more.

Plus, I found both where the sidewalk ends and the beginning of a good new route.

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Goodbye to a handy man, a gentle man and a gentleman.

The world lost a good man today. Jack, the guy with the white beard in this picture, passed away early this morning. He was my mom’s longtime boyfriend and, for many of those years, the closest thing to a father I had.

He was a handyman, a gentle man and a gentleman. He was also a quiet man and somebody most comfortable behind the scenes. If you live in Central New York, there’s a decent chance you might have set foot in a place he renovated, built or supervised a crew doing work.

Closer to home, he willingly blended into this crazy family who were a package deal that came with dating my mom. He was there to celebrate as the family expanded, and while Arius and Emerson were not his actual grandchildren, at times like in this picture, he very much enjoyed their company.

His health failed in recent years and for various reasons, he and my mother couldn’t spend much time together. But she lives in a place he helped build and, for many years, made feel like a home with the kind of love she hasn’t had much of otherwise. It’s a sad day, but we do take some comfort in knowing he’s no longer in discomfort.

The last project he ever did was leading the reconstruction of my front porch. That feels like an honor for me, since he was a man who constructed and accomplished so much, even if so few know it. I do know that when I step on my porch, I will often think of Jack, and remember everything he built — in every sense of the word.

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‘Heaven is a better place today’: RIP Gordon Downie

Gordon Downie performs live

“Heaven is a better place today
But the world is just not the same.”
— “Heaven is a Better Place Today,” The Tragically Hip

There may have never been, and may never be, a better frontman in a rock band than Gordon Downie. That’s a high mark, to be sure, but if you’ve ever seen The Tragically Hip live, you know that he belongs among the greats for his vocals, his sense of flair and drama, his showmanship and connection with the fans.

That’s why I was so saddened to learn that he has succumbed to the brain cancer that robbed us of one of the great songwriters and minds in rock and roll.

The first time I saw The Hip live, he wound up on the floor shouting “let me out!” during “Locked in the Trunk of a Car.” I can’t explain it other than to say it was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen live.

When I saw the band live at Highland Park in Rochester, a rainstorm moved in and scattered most fans, but Gord wanted to keep playing despite the not-so-safe conditions because he had that kind of connection with the audience. The band came back and played to a much smaller crowd after the rain passed and the stage cleaned up, but he put forth the effort as if he was playing to a packed stadium.

I mapped a visit to the Pacific Northwest around the time the band played in Vancouver and my friend Laura somehow scored us second-row seats. I’d seen The Hip a few times in the States but to see Gord up close in his home and native land, where he was revered and among the most beloved statesman, was to see a performer in all his glory.

Throughout the years, he had so many small and entertaining running bits, almost blending pantomime with performing. He would do crazy antics with a handkerchief, scuffle with a microphone stand and generally make the smallest things entertaining.

But even as he improvised bits, he also improvised songs on the stage that later became tracks on records. His extemporaneous brilliance was awe-inspiring.

And when the band made its last tour last year, despite the circumstances of his illness, it was a kind of victory tour: Venues sold out, fans packed every stadium, ovations were loud and moving, and Gord and the boys kept their emotions in check (mostly) to return the love letter to the fans. I cried then.

I’m fighting back tears now. I knew this day would come and I thought I could write something profound. But my heart hurts for his family, his friends, his fans. This man meant so much to me, so much to those who loved him — and maybe more to his native Canada then any entertainer.

You were ahead by a century, Gordie. Your music will continue to be a treasure. We’re all richer for hearing you.

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Break the cycle. Go do your thing.

Person does thing.
Internet reacts to person doing thing.
Internet expresses outrage about reaction to person doing thing.
Internet expresses outrage about outrage over reaction to person doing thing.
Internet expresses outrage about outrage about outrage over reaction to person doing thing.
Internet becomes outraged and miserable.

Break the chain.
Turn off your internet.
Do your own thing.

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How losing a job 25 years ago made me a better person today


I got laid off from my first professional job 25 years ago (give or take a few days). It seemed crushing back then, but ultimately it was a needed wake-up and “grow-up” experience.

The recent trend of posting #sevenfirstjobs (or #7firstjobs?) has been a great reminder of the number of grunt and entry-level jobs many of us worked before finding our paths. But it also reminded me of how what seemed like a dream job got away at the time.

In spring 1991, I was hired to be the office manager of the Sterling Renaissance Festival. The fest was not just a business or attraction, but where I grew up — I spent summers there since I was 9 years old because my mother was a craftsperson there. (Maybe one day she’ll let us build a website for her woodworking business, The Wooden Unicorn.) I did a little bit of everything there over my summers, from fetching thrown objects and knocked-down bowling pins at games to running the Ladder of Truth for four years (helped pay for college!).

So when the owners, who I’d known since I was but a wee nipperkin, interviewed me and offered the job, I was ecstatic. I could use my communication skills in a variety of promotional and administrative ways to help a business I grew up loving.

But it’s not always simple when you’re new out of college and at a place that was long your playground. I was immature, I didn’t have the best attitude and my work wasn’t as good as it should have been. My boss, one of the owners, expressed disapproval but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have and did not level up accordingly.

One morning toward the end of the season, my boss asked me to sit down for coffee and let me know I would not be renewed for the off-season and next season. At the time, I was rather heartbroken. I worked out the rest of the season and my last day was my birthday. (Happy? Not so much.)

It’s not you, it’s me

At first, I did what many an angry young man would and blamed them for what had to be a mistake. But as weeks of unemployment stretched into months, the truth set in: I should have done a better job. I should have had a better attitude. I should have taken it all more seriously.

Rest assured, that when another special-events job that I really wanted came along — publicity coordinator for Oswego’s Harborfest — I was ready. I went all-out in applying. I didn’t have a news release sample (since my background was more journalism that PR), so I took a risk: Instead of a cover letter, I wrote a news release (“Tim Nekritz applies for Harborfest job”) with the credentials I’d put in a cover letter. I figured it would either get me an interview or tossed aside as too weird.

I got an interview. It went pretty well.

They offered the job to somebody else. She quit after one day.

Then they offered the job to me. I said “yes!” (I had to stop myself from screaming “yes!”)

Work is serious, but fun

I read up on public relations as much as I could and learned a lot about PR on the job, as fortunately the organization had board members and volunteers who were willing mentors because they saw I (now) had a work ethic and a desire to learn. I did not want to let this job slip away, and promised myself I’d be more professional, responsible and responsive to criticism. The learning curve and workload were challenges, but I made it through the first season (as a part-timer) and they offered me a full-time job.

A key lesson is that work is, well, work and requires a serious attitude. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun — it was a very fun job! — but that you have to produce, be part of a team and (if you’re lucky) do what you can to make the people around you better.

I learned and grew as much as I could and seven years later, now with expanded responsibilities as Harborfest’s public relations and marketing director, chose to return to my beloved field of journalism to become arts and entertainment editor of the Palladium-Times. I felt like a different person leaving the job than taking it, having matured and learned and realized every day was an opportunity to grow.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I mustered the maturity to get retained at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone down the path to where I am today. I certainly wouldn’t have learned many of the things I have. Two roads diverged about 25 years ago, and what seemed awful at the time actually paved the way toward many awesome opportunities.


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Bangor Police Department: an arresting social media star

Among the most awesome things about social media are the unlikely superstars, such as the Bangor Police Department Facebook page. Not only has success failed to ruin the helpful, folksy content that brings smiles to multitudes, but the page shows us key insights into how to do the right things — in social media and in life.

Started by Sgt. Tom Cotton as merely a way to help keep the community informed and safe, the Bangor Police Department page has had a few posts that drew widespread attention, big media placements and a fanbase over 100,000 (or three times the city’s size) and growing.

The latest to go viral was friendly advice to Mid-Atlantic residents not used to the large snowstorm heading their way in late January. While many heartless Northeasterners chuckled at, smirked toward or derided the misfortune of the region, BPD extended heartwarming and humorous tips on how to whether the storms. Then they added:

Most of all, take care of each other. Be nice and invite neighbors to hole up at one location. Hide expensive things, but help them. (that’s the cop talking).

You will be fine. We drink lots of coffee and complain when we get hit like this storm. It works ok. It makes us grouchy but that’s why you come here in the summer. To hear stories from grumpy Mainers who sell lobster traps. Now, you will have some of your own to share with us when you get back.

Be safe and well and if you have any Cap’n Crunch left after the storm. It keeps very well. Bring it up this summer.

I found that rather beautiful, really: Advice, encouragement, a reminder we’re all humans who are all in this together. Cotton — who refers to himself as TC — quite simply nailed everything that makes an awesome post. Some would complain it’s too long, doesn’t feature eye-catching photos, isn’t posted at what social media gurus would say is the ideal time. None of these matter more than having a good story and a kind heart.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 2.05.32 PM

Handy life advice, whether you live in Bangor or not.

In a world of self-puffing #humblebrags and narcissists who show false humility by pinning #blessed at the end of their boasts, BPD’s posts, even the ones acknowledging the size of their audiences, bear a beautiful bemused befuddlement at it all.

TC put it well in writing how awed and thankful they were at the huge reaction to their storm advice post:

With no knowledge of social media and apparently breaking most every rule, we have had a really good run on FB. I think it’s because people want to find out what police officers are actually thinking and doing rather than depending on everyone else to tell them. Maybe that is too simple an explanation but no one has ever confused me with with a genius. No reason to change hearts and minds now.

In addition to the above, a few key points related to social media come to mind.

Be yourself. Authenticity is the key to social media, and you can easily hear a friendly veteran officer offering advice or an interesting yarn in each post. TC pokes gentle fun at his fellow officers, makes corny jokes and celebrates the spirit of local kids. You expect that if you visited the station, you’d get the exact same tone and warmth.

Be awesome. Despite his humility, TC is a master storyteller relating everything from the human condition to the quirks of his town. He tells uplifting stories of simple but kind deeds like when Officer Dustin Dow asked an elderly woman they were checking on if there’s anything they could do, and she asked him to cook an egg. Which, of course, he did. And then there’s the even more unlikely celebrity, the wooden Duck of Justice.

Keep your audience in mind. BPD still posts safety tips, photos asking the public to help with an investigation, visits to local schools and other homespun advice, but it also celebrates everyday users far and near. After the winter storm/Cap’n Crunch advice, they posted fan-sent photos from readers as far away as Maryland and Virginia — all in the spirit of fun and community. (If Cap’n Crunch isn’t working on an endorsement deal yet, they should be.)

Don’t overdo it. TC doesn’t pour every off-topic idea or meme or thought onto Facebook; the updates come across just enough to always feel fresh and enjoyable. The department doesn’t try to replicate their experience on their Twitter account, and thank goodness it doesn’t autovomit every Facebook post onto Twitter.

Passion and purpose are key. When I hire interns, the things I look for more than anything are passion and a willingness to help others. TC’s passion comes coated in droll Maine wryness, but it’s clear he really cares about what he does and the people he and the man and women of the department serve.

TC finishes posts with some variation on “The men and women of the Bangor Police Department will be here.” It’s good to know that they are there for their community as well as on Facebook to make the world a brighter place.

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Free soundtrack music on YouTube? Who knew?

Did you know that you can add copyright-cleared music to any video you upload to YouTube? I didn’t, until this week.

Super-intern and video blogger Alyssa Levenberg was assembling a video slideshow of photos submitted by members of our Class of 2018 proudly declaring their college choices by wearing Oswego gear when we hit a sticky wicket. The song she originally wanted to use wouldn’t clear YouTube copyright control (redacted rant about how we already pay for music licensing), yet when I went to figure out what options existed, YouTube offered a solution via its audio library.

Audio library? Full of music you can add for free? Have I been under a rock?

Perhaps, since the feature has been around a couple years. But the process of adding music is pretty easy. From your account’s Video Manager page, click on the arrow next to the Edit prompt by the thumbnail:

Screen shot 2014-05-21 at 1.32.57 PM


Click on Audio and your video will appear with a selection of top songs you can add. Or you can click the Top Tracks tab and get a variety of genres from ambient to alternative & punk, classical to country & folk, rock to reggae, among others.

Screen shot 2014-05-21 at 1.33.23 PM

With the video playing, click on the tracks (which include lengths, which is helpful) and see how they work with your visuals. That song doesn’t work? Click and try another. You can also search a database of what YouTube lists as 150,000+ tracks. Honestly, I thought a lot of the songs were good and catchy and flexible enough to work with many videos. You can also use the Position Audio feature to drop it in or out when you want it.

If you do a search, which you can even do by genre, you can scroll down and see all the songs offered, or even sort by songs that could fit your video’s length.

Screen shot 2014-05-21 at 1.59.44 PM

If I had one critique, it’s that the minimum audio level available (if you slide the bar that says Only Music all the way left it will give you a lower volume and change to Favor Original Audio) can still be a bit high if your video involves a person speaking and you want the words to be clear. Maybe YouTube will tweak this feature eventually, although if you mix the original audio higher maybe it could work better. You’ve probably never heard of most of the artists available, but good music is good music regardless of whether it’s a recognizable artist.

And honestly, for a free fix that provides compelling background music for videos, the added audio feature for YouTube basically hits the right notes.



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Is a web service (G+, Facebook, etc.) ‘dead’ or ‘alive’? A quick users’ guide.

Image courtesy of Points if you get the reference.

Image courtesy of Points if you get the reference.

Much typing and responding and counter-responding of late has gone into whether Google+ is dead or alive, as is also happening with Facebook and myriad other past, present and future web services and communities.

What’s the answer? It’s simple.

Merely ask: Is this useful to me?

If you answered YES, then congratulations, it’s alive! Don’t sweat over what the pundits — most of whom make contrary claims mainly to get recognized and boost traffic to their own sites — say. When it’s no longer of use to you and what goals you want to attain, then it’s dead.

If you answered NO, then it’s dead to you. Not dead to the world, but to you. No pundit is in a position to tell others that a web service that they find useful is “dead,” no matter how many blogs they write or followers they have. It’s like telling your neighbor “using the hammer is dead” when you need a screwdriver for a project. If your neighbor needs a hammer, then it’s useful to him or her, no matter what anybody else says.

Glad we were able to clear that up. Keep using what you’re using, as long as it’s useful to you.


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