The Week: What Caught Our Eye

February 13, 2021

A giant snowman built between a garage and house along the road.Franklin, this 20-foot tall snowman built by the McCormick family, towers happily over Route 3 in Vermontville (in Franklin County). Given the frigid temperatures in the Northeast, this fellow will be spreading joy for quite some time. (Nancie Battaglia)

Good morning, Colleagues and Friends:

On this Valentine’s weekend, we celebrate good and generous hearts with the words of the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz: “I shall take the heart,” he said. “For brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.’’

NOT FAKE NEWS: On the eve of the impeachment trial, two Trump organization executives took their wedding vows at the Whiteface Lodge Hotel in Lake Placid last weekend, with Eric Trump officiating.

JUST A FUNKY OLD SHACK: Readers of a certain age will instantly recall Love Shack, the song that shot to the top of the charts for The B-52s in 1989 (we apologize that the song will be playing in your head all morning). You may not know that the house that served as the backdrop to the group’s MTV-Award winning music video is an eclectic place in Ulster County, New York, that needed no special effects or modifications for the video shoot.

COME OUT, COME OUT WHEREVER YOU ARE: Good news, Scarecrow. A remake of the “Wizard of Oz” is in the works. There have been many adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s beloved book over the years, the most memorable being the 1939 musical with Judy Garland, but New Line Cinema is promising a fresh take. The woman behind the curtain? Nicole Kassell

BOOKMAN: Not all heroes wear capes, as the saying goes, even the ones who draw inspiration from those who do. Paul Collins-Hackett grew up a huge Batman fan, and like the caped crusader, the Albany native has made it his mission to serve the people in his community, one gently used book at a time. 

HIDDEN TREASURES: David J. Whitcomb was changing a light bulb in the house he bought last December in Geneva, NY, near Rochester, when he noticed something unusual about the ceiling. Turned out it was a drop ceiling, installed decades ago. He found an access panel leading to a secret attic that contained an amazing trove of historic photos, including a portrait of Susan B. Anthony, taken the year before her death.

PEAK MOMENT: New York City-based Thrillist — dedicated to finding the best underappreciated places to eat, drink and have fun — names the Adirondack Park one of the “best state parks in the country.’’ The only surprise is that it took these hipsters so long. With 46 High Peaks, 3,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of river and 2,000 miles of hiking trails, Thrillist advises readers, “you’re gonna be here awhile.”

OUTDOOR ESCAPES: Add another superlative to the 2020 ledger: An estimated 78 million people — a record — visited New York State parks, historic sites, campgrounds (which were capacity-limited) and trails last year, according to the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

SAVE THE BRANCHES: In the land of abundant branches, some banks are struggling to keep theirs open. Generally, more online transactions mean fewer customers visiting the brick-and-mortar branches, which are expensive to staff and maintain. But in Adirondack communities people face special hardships: Broadband service is spotty, the customer base is aging, and customers still crave the personal touch. So, they’re rallying to save their branches.

AN ICON TURNS 50: To say All in the Family broke new ground in television is a massive understatement. The show, about a Queens family and its profane, bigoted patriarch, changed the way sitcoms dealt with serious societal issues and made TV legends of its cast. But when it debuted 50 years ago, it was far from certain to endure.

A view from above at dusk of a small-town main street with a frozen lake and mountains in the background.A clear, cold winter dusk along Mirror Lake and the lights of Lake Placid shine brightly. (Nancie Battaglia)


WARNING SHOT: If you haven’t yet been vaccinated for COVID-19 and intend to do so, be forewarned: The potential side effects, especially of the second shot, are no joke. The good news is, those side effects show that your body’s immune system is functioning as it should. As Katherine J. Wu explains in a magnificent essay for The Atlantic, “When the immune system detects a virus, it will dispatch cells and molecules to memorize its features so it can be fought off more swiftly in the future. Vaccines impart these same lessons without involving the disease-causing pathogen itself — the immunological equivalent of training wheels or water wings.”

ONLINE DISORDER: A software engineer for Airbnb is among the tech-savvy individuals who have lent their skills to streamlining the often-chaotic process of scheduling a coronavirus vaccine. In his case, he looked at the tangle of websites offering vaccine appointments in and around New York City, knew he could improve the process, and launched a site he named TurboVax for less than $50 and in under two weeks.

BOTTLING UP COVID: If you collected all of the COVID particles in the world, how big a container would be needed to hold them? The BBC looked into the question.

PREPARING FOR WHAT’S NEXT: We’re still very much in the midst of a global health crisis caused by the coronavirus, but some of the missteps in the early stages of the pandemic make it clear that more focus and planning are necessary to deal effectively with the next national crisis, former IBM chief Ginni Rometty writes for Fortune. “The federal government must take the lead in defining and establishing clear lines of communication and coordination during crises, creating a network of state-of-the-art command centers for national emergency response and surge and supply efforts, and better leveraging technology, data, and analytics to power our response.”

NEW PUSH FOR WORKERS: Facing another tourism season with a shortage of workers, Warren County, NY, is teaming up with local hospitality industry leaders and educators to offer a new, free program to recruit, train and place new workers in the retail, food and beverage, and lodging sectors of the hospitality field. The program – Pathways Up for Success in Hospitality (PUSH) — includes 16 hours of free online courses in professionalism, customer service, communication, problem solving, teamwork and time management that participants can take on their own schedule.  The second component of the program is a three-hour local tourism class called “Arrival 2 Departure (A2D)” through the Lake George Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.

UNBEATABLE AMBITION: Marc Renson has endured a lot in his two decades as owner of Ambition Coffee House & Eatery in Schenectady, from economic downturns to the coronavirus to battles over code enforcement and vacant storefronts. It’s been a struggle at times, he told the Times Union, but to him, Ambition is not just a place to grab a quick bite and a cup of coffee. “Ambition is more than a business,” he said. “It’s my soul. How do you describe a soul?”

SPACE DEBATE: Malta, NY, was a rural farming community a generation ago, before GlobalFoundries and a wave of development turned it into a major Northway corridor commercial hub. Now the owner of one of the last family farms in town, Louis Gnip, is hoping the town will step forward with an acceptable offer to purchase the development rights on his 160 acres, preserving one of the last large, open parcels in the town.

CRISPY COMEBACK: La Serre restaurant, a monument to fine dining and quiet political deal-making in Downtown Albany for 43 years, is sadly gone. But manager John Trimble lives to cook another day, with his new venture Hot Crispy Oil. With fresh garlic, shallots, chili pepper and blended olive oil, it’s great on bread, pizza, corn salad, eggs, avocado toast, even crispy feta.


WHY THEY CALL IT THE SUPER BOWL: Almost 92 million people watched Sunday’s Super Bowl  on CBS, the lowest number of viewers for the game on traditional broadcast television since 2006. Another 4 million watched on other platforms like streaming services and mobile phone apps. Still, the Super Bowl will surely be the most watched television program of 2021, and the NFL is expected to see a huge increase in television rights fees when it signs several new television distribution agreements over the next year.

GAME RESPECTS GAME: Speaking of the Super Bowl: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers blew out the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, a game in which Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes – The Magician -- seemed to be on the run every time he tried to pass and still made several spectacular throws. The Bucs’ wide receivers were more than a little impressed, as you’ll see and hear.

FORD FOR THE WIN: General Motors earned a few laughs with its 60-second Super Bowl commercial in which Will Ferrell insists Norway’s dominance in the electric vehicle segment cannot stand. GM released the commercial a few days before the game, which gave crosstown rival Ford’s creative team time to prep, with some help from the prime minister of Norway. They appear to have used the time wisely. (Turns out a popular band in the 1980s helped usher in Norway’s electric car revolution.)

THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR: Believe it or not, about one in 12 U.S. adults is a millionaire, according to a report by Credit Suisse. Author and radio host Chris Hogan surveyed more than 10,000 U.S. millionaires to learn how they did it, and found that one of the biggest differentiators was an almost universal belief that they were in charge of their own destinies.

NEW NAME FOR AUNT JEMIMA: The pancake mix and syrups formerly sold under the brand Aunt Jemima will now be sold under the name Pearl Milling Company, a nod to the originator of the self-rising pancake mix that became known as Aunt Jemima. The new packages should be on store shelves in June. Efforts are under way to preserve the legacy of Nancy Green, a former enslaved person who moved to Chicago and originally portrayed the Aunt Jemima trademark.

DON’T DRINK THE WATER: A computer hacker attempted to poison the drinking water supply of a small Florida community last week by remotely ramping up to dangerous levels an injection of lye, a caustic compound usually used to clean drains. The cybersecurity attack was amateurish, but it raised concerns about the security of 151,000 public water supplies nationwide.

HOME SWEET PRINTED HOME: The first 3-D printed home is up for sale on Long Island, at $299,000, half the price of a conventional home in that part of the world. Inside, you’ll find attractive amenities, including an open kitchen, an island with a marble countertop and a farmhouse sink. Gas heats the home; air conditioning cools it. Could this be an answer to the affordable housing shortage?

AN OVERACHIEVER HE: Glens Falls native Charles Evans Hughes was governor of New York, U.S. Secretary of State, and the 11th Chief Justice of the United States. He also was a forceful advocate for women’s suffrage, civil liberties and policies to balance protection of his beloved Adirondacks with support for its fragile local economy, as recounted in a new documentary.

ANGELS ABOVE: A trio of Cuban refugees spent 33 days stranded on an uninhabited island in the Bahamas, surviving on rats, coconuts and conche. Their ordeal ended when the crew of a Coast Guard plane conducting routinely surveillance spotted their makeshift flag, then spotted them. 

FOR THE BIRDS: The annual Great Backyard Bird Court, launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, takes place this weekend, with volunteer bird lovers encouraged to count birds and report their findings. The project’s purpose is to help track late-winter bird populations across North America. It also helps monitor how birds are responding to environmental change.

SET PIECES: Period pieces and historical dramas are hot, thanks to the success of such hits as Downton Abbey and The Crown, and that’s good news for folks like Dennis Holzman, whose eponymous antique shop in Cohoes, NY, has sold several items used as props in film productions.

TRUST BUSTERS: Business leaders, beware: Almost a year into a pandemic that upended the workplace for many, there are signs across industries that employees are beginning to question how much work their colleagues are getting done. This erosion of trust threatens to lower morale, increase attrition, lower productivity and stall innovation.


MARY WILSON was 15 when she became a founding member of The Primettes and joined her fellow performers, who included Diana Ross, in lobbying Motown founder Berry Gordy to sign them to his record label. He finally agreed, but only if the group changed their name. Thus were born The Supremes, who became Motown’s most successful act of the 1960s, with 12 No. 1 singles, including "Stop! In the Name of Love," "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Baby Love." She died unexpectedly at 76.

LARRY FLYNT shattered all sorts of norms and made himself fabulously wealthy by building an adult entertainment empire, along the way fashioning himself a champion of the First Amendment and surviving an assassination attempt that left him in a wheelchair. He died of undisclosed causes at 78.

BRIAN SHATTER worked for 25 years as a manager for Tires Unlimited in Michigan without ever calling in sick. He took pride in his yard, and loved to cook and travel. The first time he called in sick, it was because he had contracted COVID-19, which took his life at 63.


CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? A mathematics professor in Singapore completed his full two-hour lecture before realizing none of this students could hear him. After appearing to lose it for a moment, he regained his composure and repeated the entire lecture — this time with the mic on.

THAT’S ENOUGH: Jackie Weaver has a mute button and she isn’t afraid to use it. She hosted a Zoom meeting of a local council committee in England, and when the chair and vice chair wouldn’t stop interrupting, she calmly booted them out of the meeting and continued, becoming an internet sensation and an instant hero to women tired of being talked over or disregarded.


You have plenty of courage, I am sure. All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.
-- L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz 


BEST OF THE WEB: If you spend any time online or watching the news, there’s a very good chance you’ve seen the Zoom call where a lawyer in an official judicial proceeding couldn’t figure out how to turn off his camera's cat filter. If you didn’t, you’re welcome! 

THANK YOU TO OUR CONTRIBUTORS: Bill Callen, Bill Richmond, Tara Hutchins, Claire P. Tuttle, Kelly Donahue, John Brodt and Lisa Fenwick.

FACING OUT is what we do. We help companies, organizations and individuals work effectively with their most important external audiences – their customers, their shareholders, their communities, the government and the news media.

Facing Out features news and other nuggets that caught our eye, and that we thought might be of value or interest to you, our friends and business associates. Some items are good news about our clients and friends, others are stories that we hope will leave you a bit more informed or entertained than you were five minutes ago. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback. 

Let’s make it a conversation:

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