Paul Nordberg

My activities & loves

<  Blog – 2023

Good fortune with machines · August 13, 2023menu icon


A few days after my last post, John Deere returned my tractor to me, fixed. They replaced the whole mower deck, which lists for $900 on Amazon. There was no charge for the parts, labor, or pickup and delivery. This was beyond my expectations for warranty service, I must say. I have cut the lawn twice since then. It is a delight not having to struggle with the process.

Meanwhile, I have been working at clearing an area of my yard that is overgrown. I decided that I needed (soon, not now) to bite the bullet on devoting time to my brush chipper, which refused to start last summer. Drat. On the face of things, this would be a dirty, sticky, yucky task.

Today, I decided to give it a try, with about zero expectations that the chipper would work.

It came alive on the second pull! Hurrah!

The curse of the tractor · July 10, 2023menu icon

dead tractor

I try to avoid whining here (and elsewhere). A positive approach (usually!) works better, and people have little interest in others' peculiar grouses. Each of us has his emotional Achilles's heel, however, and feels abused when beaten relentlessly on that particular point. My sore spot of long standing, you'll note from following this blog, is machine maintenance. I can't stand it.

The chronicle of events goes back some two years. A repair shop advised me that my old tractor was in good enough shape to be worth repair. After a thorough and able overhaul, in short order it twice had other freak problems that caused it to be immediately unusable, with no warning. Phooey.

Okay. I bought a new one.

The first time I went to cut the lawn, I experienced a freak accident. The mower blade hit a root – over which I'd driven routinely for eleven years – and screwed itself down into the ground, immobilizing the tractor. I worked off and on for three days in freezing weather to release it. (I would have been glad to call an outside service to deal with the situation, but there don't seem to be people who specialize in rescuing tractors that have screwed themselves down to the earth.) Suffice it to say, I tried a number of different approaches. I ended up chiselling away the root, bit by bit, remote under the mower deck, using a flashlight, with the grain of the root going in exactly the wrong direction. It was an extremely slow process. I got the tractor freed just in time to garage it out of the winter snow.

In spring, after spending some time going over the machine for potential damage from the last season's accident, I set out to cut the lawn.

The tractor made it most of the way through, but then the cable to the mower deck broke, so the blades didn't move.

The new tractor is back at the dealer's again, and has been for a month. Eventually, it will make its way back, repaired. In the meantime, I am mowing the lawn with a small push mower, which is where I was two years ago. The new machine, which I bought so I wouldn't have to play repairman with the old one, has taken far more of my time in mechanics than it's given back to me in use.

This, too, shall pass. And, thank heavens, the rest of my life is going far more fortunately.

(Photo by ali elliott on Unsplash)

Spring chores · April 16, 2023menu icon

spring chores

It’s bad! Awful! Negative headlines draw more readers · April 2, 2023menu icon

frowning browser

A blurb in the current issue of is Nature is cute and perceptive, though (unfortunately for casual readership) requires a subscription. The longer full article is open-access.

As the latter notes –

… we found that negative words in news headlines increased consumption rates (and positive words decreased consumption rates). For a headline of average length, each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%…

The tendency for individuals to attend to negative news reflects something foundational about human cognition – that humans preferentially attend to negative stimuli across many domains. Attentional biases towards negative stimuli begin in infancy and persist into adulthood as a fast and automatic response. Furthermore, negative information may be more ‘sticky’ in our brains; people weigh negative information more heavily than positive information, when learning about themselves, learning about others and making decisions. This may be due to negative information automatically activating threat responses – knowing about possible negative outcomes allows for planning and avoidance of potentially harmful or painful experiences.

Crocus Pickwick · March 10, 2023menu icon

crocus Pickwick

Videomaking · March 4, 2023menu icon

video making

A neighbor recently suggested that I create Instagram posts of my music.

It was a very good idea, though social media are not quite the right channel for me.

I tried playing my piano, for the first time in my life, with video and audio recording. Not surprisingly, I found myself horrified with the initial efforts. My arm and hand posture was appalling, and the musical effect about the same.

I expected that, if the first experiments were successful, that I would need to acquire at least some techical video and audio learning and equipment, and that I would need to work on my piano technique a lot before I would be willing to share it publicly.

The technical aspects and equipment needs of audio and video production are of course endless. In initial browsing, I found that the price of a top-quality microphone for studio recording of classical music was $3,000 – and for serious work, one microphone is hardly enough, to say nothing of other equipment. I ended up spending $300 on a high quality microphone, and bit more on upgrading my clamp-on lights, which I have used regularly for decades for art protography. Overall, a modest investment for things to support core activities, which music and art certainly are for me. The necessary software is included in my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, as it happens.

Though my starting point for learning about electronic media production was the status of rank beginner, I figured anything so prevalent must be attainable without undue skill or effort, at least at the level of competent amateur. And so it has proved.

My initial chagrin at my musicianship was fully anticipated and very short-lived. I quickly found the recording process amazingly helpful in my musical efforts (again, at the level of competent amateur). I immediately appreciated the critical and urgent need to maintain a constant tempo. Then, the recording enabled me to see moments of hesitation that pointed to unlearned passages and so focus my practice efforts. It doesn't hurt, either, to be doing something with the idea that other people will be paying attention to it. Fortunately, the recording process is much more forgiving than live performances, when the musician has exactly one chance to get things perfect.

Home building in Ipswich: A look at the numbers · January 9, 2023menu icon

This material first appeared on January 9 as a guest column in the Ipswich Local News.
Ipswich housing development

In the years since 2000, Ipswich has seen about 685 new housing units built.

About 5% of those are in the downtown area. This is in contrast to the focus of the Town and the state MBTA Community program on the town center.

Annual growth has averaged about 30 units, with some hills and valleys as large projects come online. However, over a longer time frame, growth has not accelerated.

These are some of the findings of a review of 2000-2021 data from the Ipswich Assessor's Office.

The Town’s Community Development Plan (CDP) and Housing Production Plan (HPP) have explored Ipswich Housing in depth and proposed directions. Both find a significant shortage of housing and focus on possibilities for the downtown area.

Neither offers broad analysis of root causes or review of what building has taken place in recent years.

The state recently published final regulations for its MBTA Community program. (See ipswichmbta.org for further information.) At least 40% of the required new zoning area must be within half a mile of the Commuter Rail station.

Review of the Assessor’s data found that a majority of the new housing units are in multifamily developments, most of them in large projects. Ten developments accounted for over half of Ipswich newly-built dwelling units.

The average floor area and FY 2022 assessed value of new multifamily units were less than half that of new single-family homes.

Large projects may reflect special circumstances and provisions outside of routine zoning, allowing them in rural districts. For instance, Turner Hill was considered a Great Estate, with cluster planning.

Powder House Village fell under 40B regulations, and Essex Pastures could as well. This designation allows large developments where they would not otherwise have been permitted, even in prized rural areas.

Ipswich zoning in theory allows multifamily housing downtown, but the area was built out long ago. While there are conversions from commercial to residential space at an incremental rate, the Assessor’s data reports no developable lots there currently.

New building added over 100 units to the Town Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI), and some dozens of other affordable units. Nearly 90% of the SHI additions came in 3 large projects.

The SHI is particularly visible because it is what the State uses to judge whether a community has met its affordability requirements, and is protected against further 40B development.

The Assessor’s data indicated that the number of SHI units added under inclusionary zoning is actually quite small. This is not surprising, since inclusionary zoning applies only to a minority of developments and does not require SHI certification.

Ipswich homebuilding since 2000 used about 400 acres of previously undeveloped land. For comparison, the Assessor’s data indicates about 550 acres currently developable or potentially developable.

A detailed white paper covering this material and a PowerPoint version are available online.

A new year · January 1, 2023  menu icon

creation of Adam

I feel that I can do no better than to take the final lines of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, noting that they are dated in spring:

26 April: … Welcome, O Life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

27 April: Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.

© 2023 Paul Nordberg