03/14/12 6:56pm


I worked as an electronic journalism editor and television broadcast engineer for 27 years. I’d like to share some thoughts and insights about our current Cablevision service here and future expectations.

The bridge has been built. Not on Route 114. It is the bridge that gets us on to the information highway. How many of us can travel on this bridge at the same time, how fast we can go and how much of a load we can carry back and forth is determined by the bridge keeper, Cablevision.

We all depend more and more on this bridge for telephone, television and Internet. Many of us have VoIP (Internet) telephone as part of our cable TV package. We surf the web at the drop of a hat. Businesses and our government couldn’t fully function without the Internet. Our medical center will be able to download high-resolution X-ray and CAT scan images to better serve patients. School kids can get intuitive online lessons that teach the way that they can learn. We download whole books and read newspapers via the Internet. We can listen to WLNG or watch a Town Board meeting from almost any place in the world.

Cable TV, as we know it, will soon give way to IPTV, (Internet television) and more VOD (video on demand). Most importantly, the Internet provides Real Time HD-3D interactive multiplayer video gaming. This will all require much larger data streams to be delivered to and sent by all of us, all at the same time.

Can the bridge support the huge increase in traffic now, 10 years from now, and when the summer people show up? Or will we have digital gridlock and computer crashes at peak hours of use? It’s all about bandwidth.


Although it works just OK now, most of the time, we have become somewhat complacent about TV and Internet problems. Our Cablevision bridge is antiquated. It was originally designed to distribute analog TV channels within a portion of the RF (radio frequency) spectrum. Several decades ago, this “bridge” was retrofitted to carry telephone and Internet services, when the Internet was little more than email. More recently, it was again modified to transport digital TV signals as well. This bridge, or rather a cable TV/ISP distribution system, seems physically old and weak. The coaxial cable that runs around the Rock is technically “leaky” and is susceptible to RF noise, rendering parts of the RF spectrum unusable.

In other words, it is inefficient, obsolete technology and may not be suitable for our future bandwidth needs. The coaxial cable needs to be replaced by a state-of-the-art fiber cable, such as what Verizon FiOS uses. A fiber cable of the same size can provide much more bandwidth within the visible light spectrum than it uses. This means many more real HDTV channels, more phone circuits and much faster Internet uploads and downloads. Fiber technology is not exclusive to Verizon FiOS. Anyone, including Cablevision, can buy it and install it.


When we replace the dirty old copper co-ax cable with shiny new fiber cable, we should bury it! Many municipalities have realized that the space under their roadways is a valuable resource. Let’s trench the entire length of Route 114 and drop the Cablevision fiber cable into it. And throw in the LIPA power line too. (You cannot run primary AC power and copper signal cables alongside each other. The power cable will interfere with the copper signal cable. This is not a problem with a fiber cable). We are not digging the Panama Canal here. Trenching Route 114 is not impossible. We can rent this space to the utility and make it part of the franchise deal.

When the next storm hits the Rock, most of our business and government buildings on Route 114 would stay up and running, with cables underground instead of being broken and lying on top of it. If we trenched the rest of Shelter Island, it might be considered a long-term infrastructure project and qualify for some Obama federal funding. It would also provide a good number of well paying jobs for a long time. We could also eventually get rid of all those ugly telephone poles to boot.


Have you ever watched a TV show that starts to freeze frames, drops lines or sound, pixelates or goes out of lip sync? It happens all the time. It is usually because of too much encoding and signal compression. The signal is compressed to reduce the amount of bandwidth required to transmit the TV channel to your cable box, which is the decoder or expander. The more signal compression, the less bandwidth needed per channel, which means that more channels  can be squeezed into the limited amount of RF spectrum that Cablevision is allowed to use.

Cable boxes used to be simple TV tuners that descrambled the analog signal and converted it to TV channel 3 for your old VHS VCR or TV set. Our digital cable boxes are not only tuners and converters but also computers. It takes time and CPU processing power to properly decode a highly compressed signal. A sports program is more difficult to decode than a talking head news show. The faster action in the picture of the sports show makes the signal more complex and requires more processing than the talking heads that hardly move at all.

If your box cannot decode properly, the picture will freeze or breakup or lose lip-sync. When enough viewers call Cablevision and complain about the same TV channel, Cablevision can increase the bandwidth and decrease the amount of compression for that channel, thus fixing the problem. However, they must take bandwidth away from another channel or reduce your Internet service.

If an HDTV channel is compressed too much, it will still have 1080i lines when decoded but it might have lip-sync delay and digital artifacts (noise) in the picture when viewed. The TV will technically see it as HD but the overall picture quality might suffer. Again, it’s all about available bandwidth. The cable TV box is the last link in the chain. We need boxes that decode better, boot faster and change channels quicker. Cablevision needs to ensure that we have the most current and best box technology to be had.


One more thing about cable boxes. Even when you turn it off, it is still on. Touch it in the morning and you will see that it is warm after being “off” all night. It is the same as paying LIPA to keep a 60 or 80 watt light bulb on all day and night. Cablevision uploads scheduling information to the box at night. It can also download information about you to Cablevision’s servers. I don’t know what, if any, data Cablevision downloads. Other cable companies record what channels, programs and commercials you watch, for how long and at what point you change the channel. They know when you mute the sound. They know when you are sleeping and they know when you’re awake. Couple this with the financial and other information that they already have on you. It is what is known as “behavioral marketing” so that they can target you with specific commercials. We should be told if Cablevision is collecting such data and have the ability to opt out.


While we are at it, how about Cablevision making the entire Island a free Wi-Fi hot spot, as a public service? While this would be good for all of us, it would be great for Island businesses and visitors. Imagine a day tripper or weekender getting their ferry receipt and the message printed on the back is “Welcome. Please go to shelterislandreporter.com, timesreview.com or shelterislandchamber.org for links to lodging, restaurants, public toilets, dog parks and real estate listings.” Visitors will spend less time getting lost and trying figure out where what is. Instead, they will enjoy the Island and have more time to spend their money here.


Cablevision can provide a public access channel in addition to the government access channel 22 that we now have: that is, if we request it. They will also provide some basic equipment and training. A public channel could broadcast local sporting events, Sunday morning religious services, high school plays and so on. We certainly have enough creative people here to fill the broadcast day. There is a bill (A03534) in Albany that requires towns to have a Citizen’s Cable Franchise committee. The Town Board should see if the community has any interest in any of this.


Our Town Board is looking forward to an increase in the amount of money that is kicked back to the town for a 10-year franchise agreement. This will give Cablevision the right to provide TV, telephone and broadband Internet service with little or no competition. That also means that they have no incentive to upgrade and improve our services, as we have seen for the last several decades. At the time municipalities began granting long-term utility franchises, technology evolved slowly. Now technology innovates from day to day. We need Cablevision to contractually commit to a constantly changing technological environment. Or else we should not commit to a 10-year contract.


Shelter Island was the last town in the state to still have a manual telephone switchboard operator and party lines in 1966. Dial tone telephones were a big deal when they finally reached the Rock. We cannot afford to be left behind in the digital age. We pay a lot of money each month for that one little cable to come into our homes. Let’s not be penny wise and pound foolish.

The Town Board should consider employing a telecommunications consultant who can expertly project and quantify our needs over the next 10 years. Then we can negotiate with Cablevision using facts and hard numbers. This is also the time to see if other TV/ISP companies are interested in serving us. We might all get a better deal. But it’s not only about dollars and cents. The future quality and dependability of our TV, Internet and phone services depends on what is agreed to now.

Will Cablevision promise the following over the next 10 years?

• True HDTV quality on every HD channel at all hours.

• Faster ISP capabilities for large file uploads and downloads for all customers, all of the time.

• Dependable high quality IPTV and VOD, as it gains in popularity, for all customers at anytime, all of the time.

• Improved VoIP telephone dependability and quality.

• A total system overhaul and upgrade to include a true state-of-the-art high-speed broadband distribution system and improved cable boxes, as they become available.

• Freeze our rates that are already too high for at least the next five years. A limited increase after five years, but only if Cablevision keeps up with our needs.

We need Cablevision to invest in Shelter Island!

03/08/12 9:00am


All around the country, around the world, and even here on Shelter Island, almost everyone agrees that the weather has certainly been unusual, to say the least. They often ask: What’s going on? Is it global warming? Climate change?

To attempt to get some sort of understanding, it’s important to consider some of the complex theories and research, and last but not least, the very basic science and physics behind it all.

But first, reflect on our weather. Remember last winter (2010-2011) and all that snow! This year, almost none; there isn’t even any frost in the ground, and it is projected to be the second warmest winter on record in Central Park. Two years ago, in the spring of 2010, there were days of torrential rains that caused record floods in certain areas of the Island.

Then there has also been tidal flooding along the causeway, now temporarily “resolved” after a major effort to raise the roadbed and repave that section. Don’t forget about Shell Beach either; repeated storms there caused significant damage and another major reconstruction project was necessary.

Now, go back a decade or so. How about those massive ice flows that challenged our local ferries? Ice boating and ice skating too are just distant memories. And less than a century ago, there was sufficient ice to permit horses and buggies to cross Long Island Sound to Connecticut. Again recall last winter and also the Halloween snowstorm last October that just missed us (yet set records from Maryland to Maine).

And in Europe and Russia, this winter has been so severe that it may set an all-time record there. How does anyone begin to truly comprehend such complex and contradictory events across the globe? How can we be experiencing what almost seems like the start of another ice age in one region and almost no winter at all some place else? And in that same year, there also exists extreme heat and drought. And even worse are the record numbers of tornadoes this winter in our central and southeastern states.

Much historic, as well as more recent scientific data, indicates some of the more significant factors at work. The Milankovitch Cycle indicates one pattern that is about 100,000 years in duration due to the slightly elliptical orbit of the earth and the influence of the other planets in our solar system; axial tilt and “wobble” are also cited as causes. Sunspots and volcanic activity have also affected the climate at times.

However, none of these seem to be able to adequately integrate all of these unusual events.

What may be happening is that our complex global climate feedback system is undergoing some major readjustments due to recent changes in the atmosphere (with a fair amount of uncertainty in regard to the exact details). We may be experiencing those interactions as they become incorporated into certain oceanic and atmospheric patterns. The jet stream and gulf stream are perhaps the most familiar of them.

Those two, and other similar systems, exist and function due to energy absorbed from the sun that has been trapped by certain greenhouse gasses normally in our atmosphere, which makes it possible for life as we know it. However, due in part to man’s activities, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, the concentration of those gasses has been rising and, consequently, more of the sun’s energy is not only being trapped but also entering into some of those basic cycles that influence our weather.

A precise cause-and-effect connection is not possible at this stage of our understanding but a general connection seems justified. Basic science and laws of physics provide reasonable explanations at this level.

That additional energy does not nicely and uniformly make us a bit warmer but flares up in erratic fashion in those cycles, one interacting with the other, becoming more complex, less predictable and less stable: sometimes hotter, sometimes colder. Droughts and deluge may result as well. Even more serious is the potential to set off some self-perpetuating feedback loops that may not be possible to control, much less reverse. For example: the melting of Arctic ice exposes the underlying dark, heat-absorbing ground, which then results in the carbon dioxide and methane, once frozen in place, thawing and escaping into the atmosphere, adding to the other accumulating greenhouse gasses, thus trapping even more of the energy from the sun, and on and on it goes.

Now, again to the basic science and physics behind all this. It seems quite possible that due to that additional solar energy being trapped, the air, land and oceans are gradually warming, thus leading to changes in those cycles that influence our weather and possibly causing climate change as well.

So far, Shelter Island has been fortunate except in a few instances, although it appears that such unusual events may continue, affecting more of us in the future. However, for the most part, “business goes on as usual.” While something may truly be blowing in the wind … who is listening?

Herb Stelljes chairs the town’s Green Committee, which explores alternative energy and other “green” technologies.

03/01/12 6:00pm

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | As they appeared in the August 1, 2002 Shelter Island Reporter: Dr. Alex Garcia and Barbara Wright at the Mashomack dinner dance.


The friendship began in early 1980, in a snowstorm. I’d recently bought a house on Shelter Island and friends wanted to introduce me to the other Islanders they knew — Alex and Helen-Ann Garcia. We met at the friends’ apartment high above Central Park. A convivial evening and several Negronis later, Alex, Helen-Ann and I waved a cheery goodbye to our hosts and ventured out into what seemed to be a white-out. The streets were still, the snow a foot deep. Not a cab in sight. Even the subway had shut down. Eventually, a crosstown bus wove into view and the three of us boarded. By the time we’d skidded our way to the far side of Central Park, we’d bonded as refugees from the blizzard and vowed to meet again on Shelter Island in the spring.

My future husband, Gordon Potts (DGP), had met Alex years earlier — in 1960, the year he arrived in the U.S. DGP had been recruited to the Neurological Institute at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. Alex was a top orthopedist at the hospital; the two of them collaborated over difficult spinal injury cases that required both specialties.

In 1976, Alex became the chair of orthopedic service at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, a post he held for seven years. He was also the founding editor-in-chief (in 1971) of what became the American Journal of Orthopedics. And during the tumultuous civil rights era he became the public face of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital to the Latino community, with which it shared a neighborhood.

He retired in 1983 as the Frank E. Stinchfield Professor Emeritus of Orthopedic Surgery and was honored in 2003 for his distinguished service to the university and the College of Physicians and Surgeons. By any measure, Dr. Garcia’s was an extraordinary career.

My husband, too, went on in his profession, first to Cornell University’s New York Hospital, then as chair of radiology to the University of Toronto in Canada.

Both ultimately bought houses on Shelter Island. Alex and Helen-Ann — also a physician — bought their house on Big Ram in 1958 without ever going inside. Alex, who toured the site alone, peeked through dusty windows and knew, he said, that it — with its wide-open view to the west, a deep-water dock and spacious grounds — was just the right spot for them. They became full-time residents of the Island in 1983.

The search for sailing and other waterside adventures for their three children brought DGP and his late wife Ann to Little Ram in 1975. Because they were near neighbors, the two men kept in occasional cordial touch.

In 1995, when DGP returned to Shelter Island after being widowed in Toronto, Alex — along with a few other friends — undertook a mission: to roller-derby hip-check the two of us toward each other at every possible opportunity in hopes of making a match. They succeeded. DGP and I were married in March 1996, with Alex as our best man. Helen-Ann was my flower girl.

I was nearly 50 and long devoted to the single life when DGP and I married. When Justice Pete Hannabury asked, “Do you, Janet…” I had to think for a moment. My silence rankled with Helen-Ann, who piped up with some asperity, “I do. I do.”

Thus did our lives become entwined. Over the years that followed, DGP and Alex dredged for scallops together, put up competing batches of marmalade, signed on to Cornell University’s SPAT program to re-populate Coecles Harbor with oysters, relived the good old days over cups of coffee on the sun porch. Helen-Ann suffered the discombobulations of dementia, eventually losing her ability to speak and walk.

Alex coped — bravely, generously, cheerfully — all the while maintaining a full schedule of involvement with Shelter Island and those who dwelt thereon. He served on the board of the Shelter Island Public Library and as president of Friends of the Library. Among his initiatives: adding a dumbwaiter to the library so that staff didn’t have to carry stacks of books up and down stairs. “I had visions of people breaking their hips,” Dr. Garcia told the Reporter in 2001.

He was also deeply involved in the Mashomack Preserve, serving on the board of directors for 14 years, eventually taking on the responsibility of vice chair, then chairman of the board. At their annual dinner-dance, he was always among the first to hit the dance floor. “He moved the way only a man with Latin blood in his veins could,” observed one woman admiringly.

He immersed himself in the Ram Island Association, serving as its chair for multiple two-year terms and hosting its annual picnic until just five years ago.

He served for several years on the 2-Percent Committee, leading efforts to preserve open spaces on the Island. He was past president of the Senior Citizens Foundation and a member of the Senior Citizens Affairs Council. He was also a member of the Windmill Club, a group that gathered monthly to discuss Island matters and foster solutions to the common good.

In between times, he created bonsais in his greenhouse, raised chickens and distributed their eggs, fished and sailed the waters of Coecles Harbor, called in frequently for a natter about the good old days on our sun porch and — the occasional Negroni in hand — watched sunsets from his deck or the warmth of his fireside.

Through all the years of his “retirement,” he also quietly tended to Shelter Islanders of all descriptions. When the late Charlie Manillo fell from his Little Ram roof during a DIY project and injured his back, it was Dr. Garcia who guided him back to health — and worried as Charlie launched into renewed DIY activities far from the ground. He advised many other back-pain patients on the pros and cons of surgery, describing himself modestly as “a body and fender man.”

The Shelter Island Lions Club celebrated him as Citizen of the Year in 2001.

But it was only after the need for heart surgery fired a shot across his bow that Alex added Barbara Brush Wright to his life.

Helen-Ann, long lost to Alex as wife and companion, was by then being very capably cared for at home by Kasha Lisek.

DGP and I were in New Zealand the winter Alex and Barbara started seeing each other. But the occasional email from Alex sounded cheerier, happier than we’d heard him in a long while. When we returned in the spring, it was impossible not to notice the renewed bounce in his step, the renewed vigor in his approach to life. For 11 years, Alex and Barbara kept company — dancing the night away at the annual Mashomack dinner-dance, sharing a love for movies, searching all over the East End for the best sources of fried calamari.

Even as advancing age limited his mobility, Alex remained intensely interested in the Island and Islanders. He scoured the Reporter each week for news, welcomed visitors and their tales of Island life; took up a spot near the clam-shucking station at the Mashomack dinner-dance so that he and Barbara could visit with all who partook of the bounty on offer there.

With the help of Kasha, who continued as caregiver to Alex after Helen-Ann died, he got out most mornings for a tour of the Island, with stops at the pharmacy for newspapers and the IGA for supplies. Passersby, knowing his car, waved or stopped to chat, always receiving smiles of welcome.

On January 3, just before his final illness, he and Barbara participated enthusiastically in a luncheon celebrating the third term inauguration of Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty.

Alex died on February 5 at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. He was 92 and a half. Kasha was with him until late in the evening; Barbara had also been with him until late afternoon. The two of them gave Alex very lively last years, filled with excellent care, lots of laughter, a social life worthy of a man as sociable as Alex.

Besides Barbara Brush Wright, Alex is survived by five nieces and one nephew: Vicky Garcia Maryon, Janice Garcia, Lynn Garcia Dutry, Carol Garcia Landry, Gail Donohue and Hal Proskey; his son and daughter-in-law Alex and Jody Garcia of Valencia, California.

It is sad now to look across Coecles Harbor toward Alex’s house. There are no lights any longer, and the light he brought to our lives for so many years has also dimmed. But saddened as we are at his passing, we are grateful to have had such a wonderful man among us for so long and comforted by the knowledge that Barbara, Kasha and his many Shelter Island friends loved him well and truly to the end. May flights of angels sing him to his rest, and may those who remain cherish the many memories of happy times we shared with him over the years.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Shelter Island Public Library, the Friends of the Library or The Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve.

A gathering of remembrance is being planned for May 5 at Mashomack.

Janet Roach knew by the time she was 10 that she wanted to be a writer. She started as a police reporter, later worked as a writer-producer on “60 Minutes” and with Bill Moyers at public television. She has won five Emmys, the citation of the White House Council on Working Women, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her screenplay of “Prizzi’s Honor.”

12/17/11 6:00am

The night before the PTSA Holiday Boutique, which happens December 20, the lobby of the school is transformed with the help of elves into a Christmas wonderland. The jewelry table is especially elegant, the baubles and bangles displayed with all of the artistry of Lord & Taylor’s jewelry counter.

Clutching their Ziploc bags filled with dollar bills and quarters and gift tags hand-printed with the names of family members for whom they want to put something under the tree, the kids browse the tables, looking for that perfect gift. They are shrewd shoppers, these kids. My husband is usually the only dad volunteer so he helps out in the men’s section. He’ll suggest something: a book (“My dad just watches TV.”), a baseball DVD (“My brother likes the Jets.”) or a fancy Scotch decanter (“My grandpa only drinks beer.”).

They give him the polite but condescending look saved for clueless dads that they no doubt learned from their older brothers and sisters. Overheard last year: “My dad likes to drink water so I’m buying him a cup.”

Each present is carefully and thoughtfully chosen. Though they may not be presents adults would pick out, who wouldn’t want a “diamond” pin the size of a ring lollipop, a matched set of sherry glasses, a cassette tape of Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits or the “well-loved” naked doll with the yellow fright wig?

There are plenty of “perfect” presents at the Holiday Boutique, too: the Christmas ornament purchased every year for the mom who collects ornaments, the beautiful “Willow Tree” angel holding a sunflower for the grandma who gardens, the train set for the brother who loves trains.

Even the littlest kids quickly get into the spirit of picking out a gift and they often do it with their own money. Prices are low, a quarter or a dollar for an armload.

After the presents are paid for, the kids choose wrapping paper. As one of the elf helpers, I wrap presents. I try to wrap as fast as I can so the anxious teachers can get the dawdlers back to class. But some of the moms wrap with the finesse of a Macy’s gift wrapper, with tiny boxes and tissue paper and elaborate bows. How, though, to wrap the cross country skis, the five-foot white Christmas tree, covered in lights? (Big or gaudy is almost always better when you’re searching for the right gift.) While I am wrapping, the bell rings, signaling the end of class, and the hall fills with older kids. A high school student greets a second-grader, or a first-grader calls out to a senior with all of the pride of a buddy — one of the best things about a K-12 school.

Later, after the little kids have finished, the older kids are allowed to shop. And even though they pretend to be too cool, they choose as carefully as the younger ones do.

Some of the kids are so proud of what they bought, they make the recipients open it right away, sometimes even in the car, on the way home.

On Christmas morning, the children give their beautifully wrapped gifts. The excitement, the anticipation they must feel, not of receiving, but of giving the perfect gift. Long after the boy has grown, and the diamond pin breaks or disappears, his mom will remember her second-grade son presenting his gift, as proud as if he’d discovered the Hope Diamond.

That’s what Christmas is about.