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If the postal service gets its way, you could be getting a lot more of this. (courtesy of Flickr user Domiriel under Creative Commons license)

If you already get a lot of junk mail, a lot more could be coming your way.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) announced on November 15th that they lost over $5 billion last fiscal year, due to the continuing downward trend in first-class mail. To cope, the USPS is trying to increase the volume of commercial mail in the system — what many would call “junk mail”. They plan to do this, in part, by exempting heavier commercial mail from the postal rate increase that’s scheduled to go into effect on January 22, 2012.

In a statement, Paul Vogel, president and chief marketing/sales officer for the agency, said that the initiative will “[give] companies expanded opportunities to advertise new services and products to their customers as part of bill and statement mailings.” But a recent survey I conducted shows that many customers already get a great deal of junk mail.

Most survey respondents don’t get very much mail per week: less than five items. But those that get more get a lot more:

And those who get more than 15 pieces say that most of it is commercial mail:

The agency’s efforts to increase commercial mail volumes flies in the face of many companies’ efforts to promote paperless billing, particularly via bill aggregation portals like Manilla. But it hasn’t stopped them from trying to convince businesses that paper mail is better because it’s more secure. Check out this recent television advertisement from the USPS.

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One of Brooklyn’s major environmental cleanup sites is finally getting some attention.

The City of New York’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is in the midst of rebuilding the Gowanus Canal’s wastewater pumping station at the north end of the waterway. The station pulls fresh water from Buttermilk Channel, near Governor’s Island, into the closed-ended canal in order to circulate water.

“It’s basically a toilet tank for the Gowanus,” said Butler Street landlord Rick Rehak, 41. Rehak owns a building next door to the pumping station site, and says he’ll be glad when construction is finished. “When it’s all done, it’ll be great — in the meantime, it’s a train wreck,” he said. Continue Reading »

Even a protest against banking and finance has a certified public accountant.

That’s one curious aspect of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is trying to deal with the crush of donations from the month-old movement. According to Pete Dutro, 36, an NYU finance student and member of the Occupy Wall Street finance committee, over $100,000 has been raised since the occupation started on Sept. 17. But the movement is struggling with the overwhelming volume of donors that have overloaded the online donation system.

Read more at City Limits.

DITMAS PARK — There’s a brand new coffee shop in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, and it’s serving up more than just espresso.

First-time café owner Josh Rubin has opened Whisk Bakery Café at the corner of Newkirk Avenue and Westminster Road, just east of Coney Island Avenue and directly across from P.S. 217. The café held its grand opening party on Sept. 17 in conjunction with local artists’ association Flatbush Art Studio Tour (FAST). FAST’s paintings, photographs and even a wooden sculpture remain on the cafe walls for another month.

Read more at the Brooklyn Eagle.

Once a vital transportation channel for Brooklyn’s heavy industries, the toxic Gowanus Canal was named a federal Superfund cleanup site in March 2010. Until now, little work has been done, but in spring 2012, the first remediation project will be completed: the Gowanus Sponge Park, intended to soak up harmful pollution before the toxins can reach the waterway.

Here are a few photographs of the canal and the surrounding areas. Continue Reading »

Last week, the New York Times reported that Narrative Science, a Chicago-based startup, had developed software that would automatically digest sports data and generate a news brief. The software will also create articles out of other material such as a company’s financial reports and housing statistics. Ironically, the software was developed in collaboration with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Narrative Science isn’t the only company in this space. Automated Insights (a company that recently scored $4 million in additional financing and changed its name from StatSheet — could it be because they wanted to use “AI” as their company logo?) has also developed technology that creates “long & short form articles, headlines & summaries written entirely by software, that derive insight from data.”

It’s clear that software like this works best for data-heavy content. And in the aforementioned CJR interview, the founder states that special algorithms for style and tone had to be created; something feasible for data-driven sports and business articles with a consistent tone, but perhaps not that easy for news articles. On Twitter, one user commented that automated content does not equal understanding:

People Don’t Want Charts, They Want Answers. http://t.co/oeCfxZDa. Narrative Science doesn't do #dataviz, but creates #BI #strataconf
Lawrence Hecht

Software like this could also be used for mischief. For example, web content farms like eHow could quickly increase the amount of “content” that’s hosted on their sites, solely for the purpose of selling more ads (something they’ve been criticized for previously).

What do you think? Do you think robot-written journalism has a place in the newsroom?

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It’s no omnibus spending bill. But President Obama’s American Jobs Act contains more than just the tax cuts and retention bonuses that have made headlines.

Buried deep within it are several provisions that seemingly have little to do with job creation. Here are three of them:

Continue Reading »

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Chris "The Dutchess" Walton shows off her Guinness-world-record-winning fingernails.

There’s a new Guinness world record holder — though her feat is neither one of strength nor endurance.

Chris “The Dutchess” Walton, 45, of Las Vegas, Nev., has just been certified as having the longest fingernails in the world. Walton’s nails, which she has been growing for 18 years, total 19 feet 9 inches, about the height of an average giraffe. Her nails on each hand range in length from 1 foot 3 inches to 3 feet.

She tries not to let her long nails get in the way of her daily routine. She can even use a smartphone to send text messages. However, in a few areas of her life, she has had to make adjustments, particularly in choosing and modifying her clothes. “I acclimate the clothes to me… I’ll take the seam out,” she said, explaining that many people just assume she struggles every day to put a top on. Asked how she does the dishes, she laughed and said, “I have grandkids now so I have earned the right not to do dishes.” Continue Reading »

New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., gathers with other local politicians to denounce the gun violence that injured three on Monday, August 29, 2011.

Politicians gathered two days after the shooting of two preschool girls in the South Bronx neighborhood of West Farms to decry the violence and call for stronger gun control laws. But local residents said that endemic problems in the community require longer-term solutions, and cannot be solved merely through legislation or enforcement.

In a prepared statement, Democratic Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera said, “Quite simply, strict gun control laws in this State are necessary.” Rivera, a former NYPD detective, called on Republican Assembly members to join him in enacting stronger legislation. Other area politicians, including New York State Senator Ruben Diaz and Community Board District Manager Ivine Galarza, echoed his remarks, emphasizing the need for an increased culture of respect.

While politicians hope that the incident at East 181st Street & Daly Avenue will be a turning point for the area, many long-time residents do not share that optimism. Some said that the endemic problems in the community run far deeper and require long-term solutions to gangs, drugs, and prostitution. Continue Reading »

Eddie Hernando and Paul Sandeep running Faith's Halal Food outside Madison Square Garden

Despite the economic downturn affecting many Manhattan street vendors, Paul Sandeep, 25, and Eddie Hernando, 42, have caught a lucky break at 8th Ave. and 34th St.: the lunchtime influx of construction workers from the massive Madison Square Garden renovation project.

Sandeep and Hernando, who operate Faith’s Halal Food from a tiny, overheated cart across the street from Penn Station, say that they haven’t noticed the impact of the economy at all. “We previously had a truck but have spent seven months with this,” Sandeep said, noting that the city’s crackdown on parked food trucks has actually benefited their business. During their lunch break, construction workers line the sidewalk halfway down 34th St., mostly eating take-out food from boxy styrofoam containers purchased from one of the many vendors dotting the street.

Shah, 52, a newsstand vendor in Midtown, helping a customer.

Other vendors in Midtown, however, have not been so lucky. Shah, 52, from India (who declined to provide his last name), runs a newsstand at the corner of 8th Ave. and 35th St. and decried a 50% decline in sales. “It’s very down,” Shah said, noting that despite his Midtown location, 80% of his sales come from locals and not from tourists. In particular, he said, with the price of a package of cigarettes hitting $13.00, many patrons are choosing to buy cigarettes individually — something he does not sell. “They’re not smoking less,” he said, but being more judicious about controlling their budget.

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