1. I voted last night, using the new electronic voting machines for the first time. While I understand the need to deploy new technology and phase out antiquated equipment, I’ve always thought that the “ker-CHUNK” sound the old voting machines made when you pulled the lever was the sound of democracy, so the new system doesn’t offer quite the same tactile experience for me. I don’t know how it went down at other polling places, but I do think they need to figure out a better way to handle the part of the process between filling out your ballot behind a privacy screen, and then feeding it into a machine for scanning. My polling place had a volunteer standing at the scanner who stuck his hand out to help me feed my paper ballot into the scanner. There’s something that doesn’t feel right about the opportunity for someone to look at your ballot, and it bothers me that you don’t have a (private) opportunity to see how the computer read your ballot, and to confirm that it’s what you wanted, before the process is done.
2. I live near the Northway’s Exit 6 in Latham, and am a map geek, so I’ve been intrigued by the construction project to rebuild that interchange into the region’s first Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI). The new lane configuration and light system opened the past weekend, so after well over a year of avoiding that intersection during rush periods, since construction made it painfully slow, I’ve actually been going out of my way this week to drive over it. My initial reaction to it is that it’s sort of the opposite of a traffic circle in terms of safety. In a rotary, while the number of accidents may increase, their severity decreases, due to the slowing effect that that circle creates as you approach an enter it, and the fact that contact is likely to be side to side. In the SPUI, you move through the intersection rapidly, and I suspect that the number of accidents will decrease, but if someone gets confused about where they’re going and drifts, then the ensuing accident is likely to be at higher speed, and of a head-on variety, increasing its severity. I’ll be interested to see how it works over time.
3. I also live near the new Fresh Market grocery store in Latham, and am a food geek, so watching that project unfold has also been of interest to me, though not nearly as much as it apparently was for many of my neighbors, who lined up to be among the first ones into the store when it opened. I waited a couple of weeks for my first foray into it, and after browsing for awhile, I came out feeling a bit like a victim of media hype fever. It’s a nice, pleasant store, yes, though much smaller than I expected it to be, and its selection, quality and pricing are really not any better than what I’ve been able to get for years at our own home-grown Honest Weight Food Co-Op in Albany. So that makes me feel like Fresh Market is really just a store for suburbanites who just don’t feel comfortable going into the City to shop, which is kind of sad to me. I also don’t see Fresh Market as being the type of grocery store where you can do all of your staples shopping week after week after week, so I don’t think it poses any competition to the Hannafords and Price Choppers of the region. Unfortunately, I think it instead will compete for business with the great small, locally-owned, specialty markets nearby, like Genoa Importing Company in Loudonville, Roma Imports in Latham, or the relatively new branch of Uncle Sam’s Health Food just a few blocks south of Fresh Market on Route 9. When the Home Depots and Wal-Marts of the world come to town and cause the closure of local hardware and variety stores, there’s generally some sense of community outrage against them, but I’ve heard nary a political peep against Fresh Market, even though they’re a national chain, and their impact on small, long-standing local businesses could be just as damaging and severe. I suspect that there’s an uncomfortable socioeconomic element to this disparity in response, in that Fresh Market stereotypically would appeal to the sorts of suburban, higher-income, left-leaning, NPR-listening customers who would be the first ones on the protest lines if Wal-Mart (which stereotypically appeals to more rural, lower-income, right leaning, NASCAR-watching customers) planned to put a big box store in their hamlet. Just because it’s a yuppie-friendly national chain, though, doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt local business every bit as much as Sam’s Club does. Just saying.