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February 25, 2015

Simon's Random Thoughts

Why I accentuate the negative

I find the cult of optimism and positive thinking to be one of the strangest scourges of modern times, a bizarre rash of attempts at self-hypnotism and projection whose costs become clear if and when the dreamer awakens.

I say that, though, as someone who doesn't fit. I don't think everyone in search of positive reinforcement and focus should shift to the negative path. I suspect that just as people have their own thermostats for comfortable temperature, people have their own needs for the warmth of positive thinking or the cold of negativity. The challenge is finding a mix that's comfortable for a crowd.

I need that thermostat set low because I have too many ideas. I need filters to keep them down. I'm willing to write without knowing, walking into fields I don't understand well because I think many more of us should understand. I know many things at a level only slightly deeper than the stories I tell about them. I want to change the world and hide in a cave, to connect with people yet retreat from exhausting conversation, to build community while enabling individuals to follow their dreams.

Somewhere in that I need a pause button, and I'm not good at providing it.

For me, optimism is dangerous. If I say "I was optimistic" or even "I am optimistic" it's a criticism, not a compliment. Optimism invites me to attempt too many things and get too few of them done, a constant hazard. Even at my current level of negativity, I rarely complete projects the way that I'd like, because I see too many other great opportunities. I like many of the results, enough of the results, but I see the costs and wow do I feel the overwhelm.

For many of my friends, the challenge seems to be getting started, convincing themselves that a dream is worth pursuing despite a world full of people who might not value it. For me, the challenge is keeping my fondness for lost causes and difficult projects down, so I can actually get a few of them done amidst the clutter.

For me, constraints are valuable, necessary, and need to be found in the world. You may have a different approach. Let's try to find ways to walk together without having to follow the same path.

by Simon St.Laurent at February 25, 2015 12:35 PM

February 20, 2015

Upstate 2050

After the land grant

Ezra Cornell's legacy would be permanent, the one partially public piece of the Ivy League. Centrally isolated, but important enough to prosper through connections less direct than highways.

"Too many hippies" ran a headline about Ithaca, but in the end the problem was more that there was one too many billionaires, in a place with vastly more connections.

When Cornell first created its tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City's East River, it seemed like a relatively small thing, an extension of the main university like its medical school (already in NYC) or its venture in Qatar. Connections flowed between Ithaca and New York, as bus and eventually airplane shuttles moved a perpetual flow of professors, administrators, and students between them.

The Tech Campus, though, had a major advantage in fundraising. Titans of industry like their names on the building to be highly visible, and though Roosevelt Island was isolated in New York City, it was far more visible than anything in Ithaca.

As the campus slowly grew to include the entire island, it also grew more connections to the surrounding city. The tech and business focus eased links to surrounding industry, and the new campus connected more tightly with New York business than any of its predecessors had done. Judges still came from Columbia and NYU, but business, engineering, and even media came more and more from Cornell Tech. The connection with the Technion, though a longer reach, also brought new opportunities the original campus lacked.

Companies and individuals both donated heavily to the new campus, but the key gift came in 2039. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg shocked New York by leaving 80% of his legacy to Cornell Tech. The City renamed Roosevelt Island to Bloomberg Island in recognition of his public service and his gift, and Cornell began to reshape itself and the island campus.

Until 2039, the two campuses had co-existed. Money flowed from New York City to Ithaca overall, provoking a burst of architectural exploration at the Ithaca campus. While Cornell Tech had grown rapidly, overall Ithaca enrollment, especially undergraduate enrollment, had remained steady or grown slowly. The Bloomberg bequest changed all of those conversations, because the vast sum could only be spent within New York City. Even administrators and professors had to live in the five boroughs.

The Johnson School of Management had been one of the earlier schools to split across the campuses, shifting most of its program to New York over three decades. The School of Industrial and Labor Relations followed a similar pattern, roughly five years behind, and by 2045, three-quarters of its students were in New York. While the Statler Hotel remained open in Ithaca, the School of Hotel Administration's New Statler Hotel on Bloomberg Island prospered.

Some schools - Agriculture and Life Sciences, along with Veterinary Medicine - had at least some projects that required large tracts of land and access to farm animals. Most, though, saw brighter prospects along the East River than Cayuga Lake. Art, Architecture, and Planning announced in 2041 that they would move their programs for undergraduate majors to New York City, and Engineering joined the move a few weeks later. Arts & Sciences, after years of sometimes ferocious debate, announced that they would follow in 2045, and the University President's office moved in 2046.

Cornell remains on East Hill, but with a cast dominated by freshman and sophomores, with some graduate students. The University still describes the first two years in Ithaca as a critical learning and bonding experience, but most students now spend their last two years on Bloomberg Island. Graduate students are split across the two campuses, but the trend seems clearly away from Ithaca.

The hippies continue to celebrate Ithaca, but it is rapidly becoming theirs and theirs alone. Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College have grown, but as the weight of Cornell shifted downstate, the city and county suffered a sharp decline in tax revenue. Falling housing prices were praised as finally achieving goals set at the beginning of the century, but the underlying collapse in property values was all too obvious.

Can wind farms, tourism, and food keep Tompkins County from the fate of the many Upstate towns that lost their reasons to be?

by Simon St.Laurent at February 20, 2015 12:53 AM

February 14, 2015

Living in Dryden

Etna Community Center schedule, 2015

Alas, the first of their events - the always amazing Etna Chocolate Festival - just passed, but here's a list of more fun to come from The Volcano newsletter:

  • Easter Egg Hunt - Sunday, April 5th, 1:00pm

  • Soup & Salad Supper - Wednesday, April 15th, 5:30pm-7:00pm

  • Annual Meeting - Tuesday, May 5th, 6:30pm

  • Ice Cream Social - Thursday, June 11th, 6:30pm-8:00pm

  • Ice Cream Social - Thursday, July 9th, 6:30pm-8:00pm

  • Yard Sale - Saturday, September 5th, 9:00am

February 14, 2015 05:24 PM