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In 2010, Suffolk County hired a contractor to install cameras at certain dangerous, traffic-light intersections with the expressed purpose of improving public safety, since running red lights is a major cause of crashes, injuries and death. Currently, 100 camera locations are used for traffic light enforcement in Suffolk County.

To say those cameras have been controversial is an incredible understatement. In theory, if people were automatically issued traffic tickets when cameras detect violations, then people would be less likely to run a red light. However, the effectiveness of the program is hotly debated, both nationally, as well as locally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, different research methods, when applied, have been used to draw different conclusions. This is the case in Suffolk County, where a recent $250,000 study showed accidents actually increased by about 60 percent at the intersections with cameras, while the number of crashes with injuries decreased, and the total number of fatalities remained the same.

Despite conclusive findings, the study’s author, L.K. McLean Associates of Brookhaven, has recommended that legislators continue the program, because the combined statistics of fatalities and injuries decreased overall. The Republican caucus disagrees. They call the program “a money grab.”

The issue, though, is not totally partisan. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she was extremely underwhelmed with the report, saying it gave no indication that the cameras prevented crashes.

The county explicitly states on its website that making money is not the main purpose of the camera program: “The goal of photo enforcement is to deter violators, not catch them.”

But the program in nine years has generated about $190 million.

Under the current system, violators pay a $50 fine, when a camera catches them running a red light, plus a $30 administration fee, plus $25, if violations are paid late. According to contract terms, the county’s vendor Conduent gets 42 percent of citation revenue. In 2018, for example, the county is estimated to receive $27.5 million from the program with $8.8 million being fees for services, most of which are going to Conduent. The balance of the revenue is transferred into a police district account and is used to finance its operations.

The red-light issue should not be political — it should be about public safety. Without clear safety data to justify its existence, we at TBR News Media believe the program should be discontinued at the end of 2019.

If there is a financial benefit to the program for the police district, these interests should be made more apparent, so the public good is understood. If revenue is in fact driving support for this program, then the county needs to compare multiple vendor offers. A 42 percent share of revenue paid to an outside vendor seems incredibly high. So is the program’s administration fee, which is estimated at $9.5 million for 2018. It’s unclear what this fee is for exactly. The county needs more transparency on this topic.

The outcome of the Sept. 4 county vote was not available by press time.

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know that summer camp game where two or more teams line up with a spoon? The objective is to carry a tablespoon of water across a small lawn to the other side, dump whatever you can keep on the spoon into the cup on the other side, and race back with the spoon so that the next person can bring as much water as quickly as possible to your cup.

For me, parenting is about battling the urge to sprint at top speed, hoping that there’s at least some water to dump into the cup on the other side.

I had one of those moments when I wanted to share all the right pieces of advice for our daughter as we drove her to college. Would she even hear the pearls of wisdom I was trying not to drop from the spoon?

My first thought was to tell her that, “You get out of it what you put into it.” Of course everyone who passes the requisite classes gets a degree. What differentiates one set of experiences from another is the amount of energy, effort and dedication from the student. I scratched that one off the list because she’d heard it too many times before. If that lesson were going to make it into the cup, it had plenty of time to do so.

Then, it occurred to me to tell her to study smarter and harder, in that order. I wanted her to put in genuine effort — see the previous piece of unspoken advice — but I also felt that she needed to focus her efforts on specific chapters or concepts. Exams don’t tend to demand total recall of every word on every page in a textbook. Try to figure out, perhaps with some help from upper-class people or your resident adviser, what are the most important ideas for each class.

I considered telling her to appreciate and learn from her mistakes. I had suggested that homily in her academic life, on an athletic field and in her social interactions. I couldn’t possibly say that on the ride to college because her response, at best, would be some version of, “Daaaaaaaddd!” No, clearly, telling her to learn from her mistakes would be a mistake.

Maybe, just as I contemplated another recommendation, the clear skies on the drive ahead were a sign that I was on the right track. I wanted to tell her to get to know her professors, regardless of the size of the class. In fact, the larger the class, the greater the need to walk up to her teachers, introduce herself and express an eagerness to learn about a subject this person had spent a professional career teaching.

Maybe I should also tell her not to fall behind. Catching up becomes a regular struggle when the professor has moved away from the lessons you’re trying to process and commit to memory.

By the time we arrived at school, I hadn’t shared any of those words of wisdom or fortune cookie advice, depending on your perspective, because our daughter slept during much of the car ride. Carrying boxes, bins and bags up the stairs became the primary focus, as did trying not to sweat too profusely over everything I was lugging into her room.

As she was scrambling to figure out how to attach pictures of her friends to a wall, it was clear the timing wasn’t ideal to offer advice. Maybe it’s best this way: She’s now reached an age and a stage in life when she’s got to figure out how to fill her own cup with water.

A scene from 'The Farewell'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three-day weekends are wonderful. When you go to sleep Sunday night, you know you have an extra day of weekend on Monday, and you feel so rich. What did you do on Labor Day? I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

First I met some old friends at the bagel store and we had breakfast and caught up on summer activities and the latest news. Then I did some work, so I should feel a little bit virtuous. And as a climax to the free time, I went to see a movie with a good friend. Just imagine! Going to the movies on a rainy Monday afternoon. What a treat.

We saw “The Farewell,” and we both loved it. I checked it out first, and it is probably the only movie I have ever seen with a 99 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In spite of having such high expectations, we were not disappointed.

The movie is an independent Chinese film, largely autobiographical from Lulu Wang, with subtitles and speaks to several themes all centered around one peg. I won’t be revealing anything that would spoil the experience for you by saying that the plot revolves around a lie. In fact, at the beginning of the film, we are told that what we are about to see is based on “an actual lie.” The deception is as follows. Grandma Nai Nai is terminally ill, and everyone wants to see her one final time. But the problem is that she has not been told that she has malignant spots on her lungs. Her X-rays reportedly show “benign shadows,” or so she is made to believe. The immediate family do not want her to know the truth about her condition.

Her granddaughter Billi, who grew up in New York City and is thoroughly Americanized, doesn’t agree with that decision. The rest of the family tries to leave Billi behind as they go back to mainland China to visit the grandmother, but she follows anyway and asks the expected questions: “What about her individual rights? Isn’t it illegal to withhold such information? What if she has some last details she would want to take care of if she knew she were dying?”

But no. The rest of the family agrees to enter into a charade in which they act as if the reason they are all coming back to China is to celebrate the marriage of the grandson, who has in fact been seriously dating a Japanese girl for only three months.

The grandmother, of course, is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her scattered family return home and of hosting a wedding celebration, although she is not so sure about this Japanese addition to the family. And despite their sad faces and behind-her-back anguish, grandma is persuaded that the return is as presented. She goes about arranging for a bountiful reception for family and many friends.

The Chinese explanation for the deception serves as stark contrast in the film between the cultures: Chinese people aren’t regarded as individuals to the extent that they are so clearly in America, but rather as a member of a family structure and a social community. One’s life is part of a whole, and no one wants to tell grandma that she will soon be leaving this world and bring her sadness in her last days. In China, a diagnosis of cancer means certain death, we are told.

Yet despite the depression felt by the family, their love for their matriarch shines through, and there are the universal family interactions of anger, laughter, grief, memories and regrets. The film is both deeply personal and can be universally appreciated for its sweetness and familiarity.

China has modernized physically. Billi finds that her old neighborhood has been replaced by a forest of high rise apartment buildings, none quite completed yet, and modern highways link the city. That is a measure of how long she has been separated from her roots. But can there be a “good” lie? Billi will effortlessly lie on her phone to her grandma about whether she is wearing a hat to ward off the cold in Brooklyn, but she is deeply troubled trying to bridge the cultural big lie that is at the heart of this film.

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Above, Leila Esmailzada, executive director of BeLocal observes a traditional charcoal making process in Madagascar. Photo from BeLocal

By Daniel Dunaief

BeLocal has progressed from the drawing board to the kitchen. The nonprofit group, which was started by the husband and wife team of Mickie and Jeff Nagel as well as data scientist Eric Bergerson, has been working to improve and enhance the lives of people living in Madagascar.

BeLocal, which started in 2016, has sent representatives, including Laurel Hollow resident Mickie Nagel and executive director Leila Esmailzada, to travel back and forth to the island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent.

Working with Stony Brook University students who identified and tried to come up with solutions for local challenges, BeLocal has focused its efforts on creating briquettes that use biomass instead of the current charcoal and hardwood, which not only produces smoke in Malagasy homes but also comes from cutting down trees necessary for the habitat and the wildlife it supports.

Biochar briquettes reduce the amount of hardwood Malagasy residents chop down to provide fuel for cooking. Photo from BeLocal

“In the summer of 2018 we figured out that we had something that works,” said Mickie Nagel. “We had all the agricultural waste and could turn it into fuel. Our goal is to start thinking about how to bring it into communities and into the daily lives” of people in Madagascar.

In January of this year, Esmailzada partnered up with Zee Rossi to introduce the new briquettes to residents of three villages, who were interested in the BeLocal process and offered feedback.

Rossi worked in Madagascar for three years as a part of the Agricultural Food Security Advisory Section of the Peace Corps, until he recently joined the staff at BeLocal.

At this point, BeLocal has helped create four working production sites for the briquettes, all of which are on the outskirts of the Ranomofana National Park, which Stony Brook Professor Patricia Wright helped inaugurate in 1991.

The biochar briquettes solve several problems simultaneously. For starters, they reduce the amount of hardwood Malagasy residents chop down to provide fuel for cooking. The biochar briquettes are made from agricultural waste, such as corn husks and cobs, rice stalks, leaves, small sticks and even unusable waste from the production of traditional charcoal.

The briquettes also produce less smoke in the homes of the Malagasy. At this point, BeLocal doesn’t have any data to compare the particulates in the air from the briquettes.

One of the current briquette makers is generating about 2,000 of the circular fuel cells per month. As a start-up effort, this could help with several families in the villages. Nagel estimates that it takes about 12 briquettes to cook a meal for a family of four. The families need to learn how to stoke the briquettes, which are slightly different from the cooking process with the charcoal and hardwood.

Esmailzada and Rossi had planned to return to Madagascar in July, where they hoped to understand how people are using these sources of energy.

Esmailzada has taught and workshopped with the Malagasy on how to make the briquettes. Since returning to the United States, where she recently completed a master’s program in public health with a focus on community health at Stony Brook University, she was eager to see how much progress has been made.

BeLocal has continued to refine the technique for creating these briquettes. Working across the border with Stony Brook graduate student Rob Myrick, Malagasy residents have tried to char the biomass in a barrel, instead of digging a pit.

“Hopefully there will be movement” with the barrel design, Nagel said.

Myrick is working on refining the airflow through the pit, which could enhance the briquette manufacturing process.

Myrick will “work on techniques [at Stony Brook] and [Rossi] will work on the process with the villagers over there,” Nagel explained in an email. Myrick has been “such a helpful and great addition to BeLocal.”

Esmailzada and Nagel are delighted that Rossi joined the BeLocal effort.

“It’s such a natural partnership,” Esmailzada said. “He built this incredible trust with this group of really dynamic people. Having him be the liaison between us and the community really came together nicely.”

Rossi explained some of the challenges in developing a collaboration that works for the Malagasy. “One of the biggest barriers is being a foreigner,” he said. “With any new thing you present to a farmer, you have to sell yourself first. It’s really important that you connect with a farmer on a person-to-person level.”

Numerous farmers are skeptical of the ongoing commitment foreign groups will have. Many of them have experience with a foreigner or a local nongovernmental organization coming in, doing a program and “not following up,” Rossi added.

Nagel is putting together a nongovernmental organization conference to get the organizations “working on projects in the same room,” she said.

Through this effort, BeLocal hopes to create new partnerships. The organization continues to work with Stony Brook’s VIP program, which stands for vertically integrated projects.

Students from sophomore year through graduate school can continue to work on the same projects. The goal is to enable a continued commitment, which the school hopes will lead to concrete results, instead of one-year efforts that often run into obstacles that are difficult to surmount in a short period of time.

Ultimately, Nagel believes the process of building briquettes could translate to other cross-border efforts and suggested that these goals should include the kind of information crowd-sourcing that benefits from other successful projects.

BeLocal is receptive to support from Long Islanders and elsewhere.

Nagel added that projects like the briquette effort keep the context and big picture in mind.

“Helping Patricia Wright save this rain forest and the lemurs will always be a goal and we know the only way to do that is to help with alternatives to food and fuel sources, and better farming techniques so they don’t have a need to slash and burn more rain forest to add more farming fields,” Nagel said.

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Stock photo

Parents across the North Shore are hoping their teenagers will soon get to sleep in — even during the school year.

Many studies now point to the benefits of teenagers starting high school later in the day, and some residents are delving into the research and discussing the issue with other parents.

It may take work, but we think the idea is important and we hope district officials will keep their minds open.

Studies have shown that teenagers do better when their first class starts after 8:30 a.m. Start times in our coverage area can vary with East Setauket’s Ward Melville High School’s first class bell ringing at 7:05 a.m. Many other high schools start well before 8 a.m.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day for teens “to promote optimal health.” The reason why many teenagers don’t get the recommended hours of sleep each night may have nothing to do with tons of homework, juggling activities and spending time on electronic devices. It may just be that children tend to fall asleep a few hours later when they become teenagers due to biological changes. The outcome when you add early school start times to late nights? Many teenagers walk around like zombies, constantly sleep deprived.

Insufficient sleep, which can cause drowsiness and impaired memory, can affect an adolescent’s academic and athletic success, as well as health and safety. Scientists have found that over the long haul, sleep deprivation in one’s younger years can lead to more severe problems in the future, including obesity and engaging in risky behaviors such as drinking and drug use.

It’s an invalid excuse to say kids need to get used to waking up early to prepare for the workforce. It’s equally detrimental to call out young people for spending too much time up late. The science says these rhythms are to be expected.

In the past, it was considered beneficial for high schoolers to come home after school earlier, so they could babysit their younger siblings. Today, most high school students are involved in sports and clubs, and aren’t available to help out with this task. And with the existence of after-school programs, there are many opportunities to make life easier for working parents.

An earlier morning for elementary students could also prove beneficial to working parents, who need to get kids on the bus before work. Furthermore, teenagers are able to get to the bus stop without the supervision of their mothers or fathers.

While it may be true that a change in start times can create issues when it comes to scheduling sports games, schools start at different time all across the leagues. Some student-athletes are already waiting around for games to start after the last bell rings. The most important thing, beyond both sports and academics, is a kid’s mental health and well-being.

While it may not be possible for all high schools to start at the same time to create the perfect scenario for sporting events, it is feasible for each district to listen to parents and, more importantly, find a start time that will help their students reach the fullest potential.

The ways of the past don’t always pave the way to future success.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

You know Murphy’s law, right? Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Well, it seems that we need to update Murphy’s law. To that end, please find a few of my experiential and observational corollaries.

• Your kids know more about electronics than you do. Yes, I know there are information technology people who are keeping up with the latest apps, some of whom may actually write the apps. But most of those people stop using their phones or looking at their work when they go home. Your kids are using them all the time. They are professional app users, while you likely know one app extremely well.

• You will receive a message from your airline when it doesn’t help. I appreciate how airlines, and even Expedia, offer to send you updates on your flights. Most of the time, however, the text that the plane is delayed two hours will arrive just after the car that’s brought you to the airport pulls away from the curb.

• Following the rules at the doctor’s office, the DMV or anywhere else you might be a captive audience rarely works. I recently went to a doctor’s office half an hour early because the email requested that I arrive then for my first appointment. I waited more than an hour for a consultation that lasted a few minutes.

• You’re likely to leave out a critical word at a critical time in a critical email. Let’s say someone proposes an idea at work that you find wholly objectionable and unworkable. You respond: “I can agree with this idea.” Forgetting the word “not” then means that your boss, who proposed the idea in the first place, now gives you ownership of a process that is even worse than it seemed when you first read the email through your sleep-deprived eyes.

• The cute baby that made you smile in the airport or the bus station will be sitting behind you for hours. In the few moments when he’s not screaming, he’s kicking your chair right behind your head, rendering the noise cancellation headphones you bought utterly useless.

• In the world of TMI (too much information), you’re likely to hear something that makes you wish you had a plastic bubble. Someone near you on a subway will be talking to his friend on the phone about a strange rash that’s spreading everywhere while coughing violently into the air.

• The cable or appliance repair person who gave you a four-hour window when he might arrive at your house will come at the beginning of the window, the end of the window or in those three minutes you stepped out to get a cup of coffee just down the street. When you return to find the note indicating how sorry he was that he missed you, you have an adult tantrum which terrifies the neighbors and their kids, who will no longer come to your house during Halloween.

• Complaining about the performance of an athlete who never seems to live up to his or her potential means that athlete will do something incredible within moments of your most vocal complaint. That will be the case unless you’re complaining because you secretly believe that will lead to a winning effort. In that case, the athlete will meet your low expectations.

• The year you move to a place where you’re assured there are no hurricanes, you watch the familiar sight of wind tearing through your backyard, as a hurricane fells trees you have owned for all of two weeks. Ah, cypress tree, we hardly knew you.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This week there was a mini-reunion at my house of college classmates who happened to be in the area. One actually came in from Arizona, but she was making her annual New York visit anyway and included a trip to my house from the city. It was great fun to see the nine women who arrived for lunch and chatter. As classmates we do share a lifetime bond and, as contemporaries, we share a lot of history and culture. We don’t have to stop mid-sentence and explain our obscure references to younger listeners because everyone gets the point.

Each of us is curious to see how the others have aged. We mentally compare wrinkles, double chins, weight gains. We talk about our children, our grandchildren, our husbands and, in a couple of cases, ex-husbands. We tell each other about good plays we have seen, worthwhile books we have read, interesting trips we have taken. But these are superficialities. What we really want from each other is to share wisdom. After all, we have been around the block a few times by now and hopefully have learned a few things in the process.

So we ask the question of the group: At this stage of life, what is a most important insight you have had?

One answers, “To be appreciative.” I can certainly relate to that. To wake up in the morning and know you have the gift of a new day, and if you are lucky, to do with that time as you wish. Some who came still work, others are retired. Most people who come to reunions, I think, are basically happy with their lives. So since the miserable ones don’t come, those who do make it find common currency in appreciation. “I have had a good life so far, I’ve been very lucky,” is a frequent refrain.

“To be in the moment,” posits another. Yes, it’s a cliché, but one with significance. To be fully aware at any given point of where we are and what is happening around us is to enjoy a full existence. Feeling the sand give way underfoot during a walk on the beach, hearing the calls of seagulls over the water as they search for dinner, feeling the soft wind coming up from the southwest as it blows against one’s cheek, smelling the salt in the air as the waves break against the shore — all of those experiences enhance the present moment.

“Let it go,” offers another. Now we are getting into deeper discussion. We carry guilt to some degree, all humans do. We also carry anger, or fear, perhaps. We may struggle with resentment, envy, an affront, disappointment, hurt, traumatic memories and any number of other negative emotions. Have we learned after all this time to let them go? Or at least have we learned how to work through them so they lessen in our hearts and minds?

“I have learned how much it pleases me to make connections,” was another response. “If I am somewhere and meet a stranger who is striving for a goal, and I know something or someone else who could perhaps help that person to realize his or her ambition, I enjoy connecting them.”

That comment made me think of one of my favorite analogies, that of comparing life to a game of billiards. We glance off each other as we move along, perhaps exchanging a few words in just a few moments that have meaning.

I remember one day waiting for the light at Ninth Avenue in Manhattan on my way to the Lincoln Tunnel and New Jersey. How many times I had made that trip, and always the same way. But this one time I noticed that the pick-up truck waiting next to me was turning in the opposite direction despite having New Jersey plates. So I rolled down my window and called out to the driver, asking where to turn. He yelled back his answer, the light changed and we both drove away. But his way shortened my trip by several minutes. In that brief exchange, he changed my life positively. How meaningful even the briefest connection can be.

As you might tell, we had a good time at our mini-reunion.

Small fry fish in the water beside the Poquott dock. Coastal acidification harms not only shellfish but also can affect the development and behavior of young fish. Photo by Maria Hoffman

A local task force recently took part in a vital water testing project and chose the Village of Poquott to accomplish its task.

George Hoffman lowering the Sonde sensor to collect water depth, temperature and salinity readings before taking water samples for alkalinity. Photo by Maria Hoffman

George Hoffman, co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the organization participated in Shell Day Aug. 22 when the group tested water from the Village of Poquott’s new dock. Shell Day is a six-state water monitoring event coordinated by Northeast Coastal Acidification Network. NECAN, which serves as an interface between research and industry interests, enlisted 50 water quality groups run by citizen scientists to test for levels of ocean acidification along the harbors and bays from Maine to the Long Island Sound.

Covering more than 600 miles of the U.S. Northeast coast, the testing will give scientists a broader picture of the extent of acidification that comes into the ocean from harbors and bays.

“[Acidification] is having impacts on shellfish and baby fish,” Hoffman said. “The problem with a higher acid content of the water is that it starts to impact the shell of the baby shellfish as they are emerging. It weakens the shells and makes them more susceptible to die-offs, and they don’t survive. It’s just impacts the whole food chain.”

Hoffman said the task force tests water conditions in the Sound’s bays and harbors twice a year and was thrilled to participate in Shell Day. The Village of Poquott was the ideal spot for the testing, he said, due to its new dock in the middle of Port Jefferson Harbor, and the task force appreciated village officials allowing them to use the location.

Testing was done during three phases of the tide — low, mid and high — which took place at 11:18 a.m., 2:18 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Hoffman said two water samples were taken from every phase of the tide and then put on ice. The samples were then sent by ferry to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where they will be analyzed at the University of Connecticut’s laboratory for alkalinity and salinity.

Poquott Mayor Dee Parrish said in an email the village was pleased that the dock, which was officially opened in June, was chosen. While the goal was to provide a place for residents to use for fishing, photography, summer lounging and social interactions, the testing on the dock was a first.

Mark Smith and George Hoffman with equipment used for water testing. Photo by Maria Hoffman

“Being able to assist the Setauket Harbor Task Force in obtaining the water samples that will provide actionable information for watershed management, strategic habitat protection and restoration is a really fabulous end of season way to celebrate our first year with this wonderful new community asset,” Parrish said.

Laurie Vetere, president of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said in a statement that the group is eager to participate in every study that can determine the health of Port Jefferson and Setauket harbors

“We hope that our efforts on Shell Day 2019 will drive the local and regional governments to step up their efforts to improve the ability of our local waters to provide optimal habitats for our native and dwindling marine life,” Vetere said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the state’s Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, applauded the group’s efforts in a statement. Englebright is responsible for drafting legislation to establish Stony Brook University’s Ocean Acidification Task Force.

“The process of ocean acidification is invisible, and we need to have regional scientific datasets to bring the magnitude of this enormous threat to marine life into plain site and help us develop strategies to address its impacts,” Englebright said. “Time and again, we see that ordinary citizens are ready and willing to help with critical scientific data collection. Shell Day 2019 is a powerful and inspiring example of how we can bring citizen scientists together with leading government agencies to make a real difference.”

Public Works Committee to vote on extending the program Aug. 29

Suffolk County's Public Works Committee will vote Aug. 29 to decide the future of red-light camera program. TBR News Media file photo

The future of red-light cameras in Suffolk County remains up in the air. 

Legislators took issue with a report on the county’s red-light camera program in a meeting Aug. 26. It left some with more questions than answers regarding the divisive program as they prepare for a vote that could extend the program’s lifespan this Thursday, Aug. 29.

The countywide report carried out by Brookhaven-based L.K. McLean Associates found that the number of total crashes at 100 intersections with red-light cameras increased by nearly 60 percent from 2015 through 2017, compared to the time period (2007-09) before the cameras were installed beginning in 2010. The study found that at red-light intersections the number of crashes exceeded projections by 42 percent in total. 

Also, it found that a total of 17 fatal crashes occurred at red-light intersections for the duration of the report. Crashes that resulted in injuries decreased by nearly 11 percent, while the number of rear-end crashes increased by 46 percent. 

Officials from the consulting firm presented the report, which cost the county $250,000, to the county Legislature’s Public Works Committee Aug. 26 and disclosed they estimated the red-light program had generated more than $5 million in savings by reducing serious accidents. 

Despite those findings, legislators on the committee took issue with the results and said it left them with more questions than answers. 

One criticism levied was the way the consultants collected their data and how they determined if an accident was linked to an intersection with a red-light camera.

Raymond DiBiase, president and chief executive of L.K. McLean Associates, said they based their parameters from the New York State Department of Transportation. 

“The DOT in their crash data analysis and summaries identify an intersection crash as one that occurs within 10 meters or 33 feet from the center of the intersection,” he said. 

The consultants for the report expanded the crash area to within 200 feet of the center of the intersection, but some legislators questioned that decision and argued it could have captured crashes that fall in line with the definition of an intersection crash.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she was deeply disappointed in the report’s findings and criticized the firm with not looking at the link between distracted driving and crashes at red-light intersections. 

“What has not been mentioned at all during your report is distracted driving,” she said. “I have a traffic safety issue in my district; I have two of the most dangerous roads on Long Island —[routes] 25 and 25A.”

DiBiase responded by saying it is difficult to prove what exactly caused a crash from the data. Their goal was to make the study objective as possible and said distracted driving falls in a gray area as it is difficult to prove due to factors like lack of witnesses or evidence. 

“Distracted driving is why a lot of these accidents are happening,” Anker said. “We are here to try and understand how to make this program better. We know it’s saving lives, but we also know it’s also creating problems.”

The red-light program has generated more than $20 million in revenue annually for the county.

Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who has long been a severe critic of red-light cameras, said the program is a money grab and a tax on the taxpayers. He also criticized the consultants for only mentioning that fatal accidents at red-light camera intersections were lower than projected, and not also including data on fatal crashes that occurred at intersections without red-light cameras. 

“You can take these reports and throw them in the garbage can, it’s a joke — literally embarrassing,” Trotta said. “Everything here is jaded to make this program look good, it is a $32 million sham on the people of this county.”

Despite the lukewarm response to its report, the firm recommended continuing the red-light program, pointing to a decrease in crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities as well as a reduction in left-turn crashes.

The Public Works Committee is expected to vote Thursday, Aug. 29, on whether it will extend the countywide red-light camera program for another five years. If it were to pass it will go to the Legislature for a vote that could take place as soon as next Wednesday, Sept. 4.