f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

April 24, 2006

Old Dorp: less backwards! less appealing?

Filed under: pre-06-2006,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 8:47 pm

Pop quiz: which Upstate New York city is often called “Old Dorp“?

[Hint: it is the now-disowned birthplace of GE] Give up? The answer

is my adopted hometown of Schenectady, New York. As f/k/a

explained a year ago:

Probably because the name Schenectady is tough on headline

writers, our City is often called “Dorp” or “Old Dorp,” from the

Dutch word for village or hamlet.

We also noted, per Encarta, that

dorp” is especially used in South Africa to refer

to a village “perceived as backward or unappealing.”

That characterization drew no dissent from us at the time. But, Old Dorp

might be getting its high-tech aura back, and earning the name RoboDorp.

(You’ll have to decide for yourselves whether our image become more or less




Remington ELSAG



The exciting law enforcement news around here last week was that our city

of 62 thousand souls now has two SPD police vehicles equipped with the

Mobile Plate Hunter 900 from RemingtonELSAG. MPH900 is at the leading

edge of license plate recognition technology. What does that mean? Mounted

atop a police vehicle, the device can:

“scan 20 license plates a second and then feed the information into

a computer database to determine if the owners are wanted for any-

thing from unpaid parking tickets and lapsed vehicle registration to

murder and robbery.” [“Plate Hunter 900 has your number,” Times

Union [Albany], April 20, 2006 (reprinted here) ]

Granted, Los Angeles, CA, had the gizmo a year ago [see “Wired.com,

Grand Theft Auto Meets Robocop,” June 17, 2005], but Old Dorp just had

its credit rating raised above Junk Bond status a week ago by Moody’s, and

this old town has not been cutting-edge in anything this Millennium. It’s no

wonder then that the media is all a-buzz: See, e.g., Fox23News; and Daily

Gazette,A high-tech hunt for scofflaws,” April 20, 2006.



As its creator tells us: MPH900 not only “operates independently of officer on
board (in the background) – enhancing officer safety by keeping hands on the
wheel and eyes on the scene,” it also

“Works at patrol and highway speeds – oncoming differential speeds
of in excess of 120MPH and passing speeds in excess of 75MPH+
(truly mobile-to-mobile). LPR translates the read plate data into a
digital image, checks versus an onboard hotlist, and returns an alarm
back to the operator in milliseconds for appropriate interdiction.”

The Editorial Page of our daily newspaper, the Schenectady Gazette, was

thrilled — praising the City’s ability to recoup the $20K per unit in a matter of

months by finding ticket scofflaws, and opining:

“Being harassed for a relatively minor violation will make the

scofflaws feel less welcomed in Schenectady; and if that en-

courges them to clean up their act or get out of town, so much

the better.”

The Gazette even added:

“Now that the city has embraced this kind of gee-whiz technology,

we have a suggestion for another: red-light cameras. They’re in-

stalled on traffic signals at busy intersections, and triggered when

motorists run red lights.”

[See “Let Big Brother do more to help police,” April 21, 2006; scroll

to Reply 5]



Normally quite opinionated, the f/k/a Gang admits to having mixed feelings

about this high-tech RoboCopping. Part of me is quite pleased to think that

parking and motor-vehicle scofflaws will be under the all-seeing eye of MPH900.

And, having Old 900 checking plates so that patrol officers can keep their eyes

on more important dangers to the community is a big plus. [As part of a commun-

ity policing seminar I took two years ago, I spent a couple hours on a night shift

in a patrol car. The officer has a lot of responibility out there, and both needs and

deserves to be focused on things other than unpaid parking tickets.

tiny check As a small boy, I remember asking my dad whether

the red lights left a mark on the top of your car if you

ran a red light. I can’t remember whether I was relieved

or disappointed when I learned they didn’t.

Still, I am a bit concerned about privacy rights (not to mention the fact that

those who can park in garages are beyond MPH900’s view).

traffic cop s The Times Union article states:

“Each computer can store up to 1.5 million license plates. Police said
they expected to keep a record of all scanned license plates, even those
that don’t register a violation, in the off-chance the vehicle surfaces in
connection with a future crime. Police could then search computer files
to determine if a suspect’s car was recorded in the vicinity of a crime

“That raises concern with civil libertarians. ‘That would be a privacy
concern of ours,’ said Melanie Trimble, executive director of the New
York Civil Liberty Union’s Albany office. ‘They shouldn’t be storing infor-
mation on people who are perfectly innocent. They should wait until
the person registers a violation.’

traffic patrol

“The Police Department was undecided about how long the records would
be kept, but [SPD Lt. James] Sanders said it was likely the memory would
be erased every 30 days.

What do you think? Don’t be shy (and don’t be as lazy as Your Editor). Please

think about the issues and let us know. Maybe Albany Lawyer weblogger Warren

Redlich, who handles lots of traffic tickets in the Capital Region, including Schenectady,

will post on this topic soon, or leave a Comment here.

update (April 26, 2006): RiskProf Martin Grace isn’t worried about MPH9000

(or, is he?) See “High Tech Scofflaw Detection System,” April 26, 2006.

“tiny check” Do you need a haiku break? For a little transition, I should

tell you that it has been raining a lot in Schenectady the past

few days. I’ve been wondering how two of our Honored Guest poets,

who work here in Schenectady, at Union College, have been coping

with all these April showers. Until I find out, proefssors Hilary Tann

and Yu Chang can speak to us through their haiku and senryu:

mud season

three brown cars

at the intersection

umbrella neg


the end

of the story

work load —

low clouds

over the swollen river

spring sun
the snake and I

Hilary Tann Upstate Dim Sum (2004/II)

turning over

a dead leaf

an earthworm twitches





nesting season

I drift

a little closer





a man in cowboy boots

asks for latte



umbrella vert



April shower —

making small talk

under the awning




back on shore

the river

pouring from his swamp boots


Yu Chang Upstate Dim Sum (2004/II)


Post Thoughts: You may have noticed over the past couple years, that I

never link directly to an online version of Schenectady’s Daily Gazette. That’s

because I refuse to pay $2.95 per week for an online subscription to the Gazette.

The paper — which was once available at no cost online — can be delivered to

your home for $3.50 a week. (The subscription page even explains that “7 day

delivery” includes Sunday.) Luckily, we have a community chat website that

often posts pirated images of Gazette articles that interest me. Still, it annoys

me no end that I can get “real” newspapers online for free (like the Washington

Post and the New York Times), but the folks at the Gazette — whose Circulation

Department often calls offering 6 free weeks of home delivery, no strings attached —

want money for online access.

A post from our Region’s main media weblog Albany Eye caught me eye and

my heart last week, therefore, when its anonymous Editor said:


“Let’s face it, most of you would sooner chop off one of your fingers

than pay for news on the web. Who can blame you —and what are

you really missing by not having The Gazette online, or the godforsaken

Amsterdam Recorder?


“Still, it’s frustrating that instead of figuring out how to profit from the

internet, papers like The Gazette slam shut the door. Is it possible to

make money with your newspaper on the web? Absolutely, but it takes

work. It also takes a new mindset from people who can’t get past the i

dea of you putting $.50 down on the counter. They call it a business

decision; I call it alienating your customers.”

Albany Eye even has a webpoll in the margin asking “How much are you willing

to pay to read The Gazette online?” So far, fewer than 4% of respondents would

pay anything at all (and quite a few have chosen the less-polite options offered in

the poll).

false dawn

the paperboy hits

the snooze button


Since the Gazette now offers “free” Saturday and Friday home delivery with its $1.50

Sunday subscription (which I do get for the comics, coupons and ad circulars), it

seems that the management wants more eyeballs badly. The web version is an exact

replica of the print edition. Albany Eye is right that, with a little work, The Gazette

should be able to make a profit from its website. With its grander competitor, the

Albany Times Union, offering a considerable amount of its content for free online, it is

difficult to figure out the Gazette‘s decision to hide behind an online subscription wall.

It’s going to be hard to shake our Old Dorp “backwards” image, even with new RoboDorp

gadgets, if search engines can’t even get to our newspaper of record. Does your home-

town newspaper have free online access? Does online availability keep you from buying

the hardcopy edition? Does f/k/a erode its readership everytime it mentions Schenectady?

p.s. She doesn’t use purple prose, but she sure does use purple: It’s Brandy Karl

and she’s hosting Blawg Review #54 at her bk! weblog this week.

traffic cop sf

Powered by WordPress