Friday, March 16, 2007
Great Brook Park looks to the future despite state budget woes
When winter really and truly yields to spring, Great Brook Farm State Park will transition from cross-country skiing to hiking, canoeing, farm tours and consumption of ice cream, drawing visitors from Carlisle and beyond to one of the town's treasures.
So it was with some concern that I read in the Boston Globe about the significant drop in spending on state parks proposed by Governor Deval Patrick. During his campaign for the governorship, Patrick promised a $10 million increase in the budget to help support state parks, many of which are in terrible shape. But the reality of a deficit instead of a surplus from the Romney administration forced Patrick to shrink the increase in the parks' budget to $740,000.
On March 2, the Mosquito reported on plans for capital expenditures at the park and a more robust educational program, headed by a newly hired park interpreter. Fearing that these enhancements would suffer from lack of funding, I phoned Steve Carlin, the new supervisor of Great Brook Farm State Park. He was upbeat about Great Brook's future, despite reports of lower attendance in recent years since a parking fee was imposed. Funding for a new barn that will allow dairy farmers Mark and Tamma Duffy to increase their herd has already been allocated, Carlin said. In fact, plans for the new barn are in the "pre-design" phase, preparing for the RFPs to follow.
Carlisle is fortunate that in 2003, nearly $1 million was spent in upgrading the park. A new open-air pavilion for picnicking and programs was constructed that included an office for the park interpreter, display space and restroom facilities. The parking lot was relocated away from the duck pond and paths were widened to provide better access for wheelchairs and strollers. Other parks in the state are in far worse shape. In fact, Massachusetts ranks 48th in the nation in per capita spending on parks, according to Governing magazine, and environmentalists are concerned with "crumbling infrastructure, trash and inadequate staffing" at state parks and beaches.
Staffing at Great Brook seems secure. Funds to hire a new park interpreter to replace Rebecca Markey were also previously allocated, Carlin noted. This is a full-time seasonal position, from March through October, and it is critical to the innovative educational programs planned for the park in the coming season. Candidates for the position are still being sought.
For now, Great Brook Farm State Park is financially stable, but it needs our continuing support. Plan to visit, don't grumble about the $2 parking fee soon to be imposed, enjoy the rich beauty and history of the land, and participate in the park's programs. And support the Duffys by buying their ice cream when the stand opens in April.
Seduced by Sudoku
Ordinarily at this time of year, feeling the newly warm rays of sunshine, one's thoughts turn to spring and summer, to cookouts and corn on the cob, to swimming and sunning. But this year, since winter arrived just when spring should have, I found myself instead holing up for dark days and evenings by the fire.
And so it was that, looking for something to do, I found myself filling out the Sudoku puzzles from the newspaper. They can become addictive. In case you're not familiar with them, they present a grid of squares like a crossword puzzle with nine rows and nine columns. The rows and columns are further divided into nine three-by-three subregions. About 30 numbers (never more than 32) from one to nine are scattered about in the diagram to provide the initial clues. The goal is to place the digits one through nine in the rest of the squares so that each digit appears only once in each column, once in each row, and once in each subregion. While the rules are simple, the reasoning necessary to place digits and solve the puzzle may be difficult.
I have learned from a web site called spiritustemporis.com that the puzzle originated in 1979 with one Howard Garns, a retired architect apparently with nothing better to do. A paper in Japan published by a company called Nikoli began printing puzzles called Sudoku (SUE-dough-coo), the name contracted from "suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru," which can be translated as "the numbers must occur only once." Nikoli and its subsidiary Pappocom hold the copyright on the name Sudoku, which is used in the Boston Globe's puzzle among many other places. Other publishers use other names.
The reasoning required to reach a solution involves mathematical logic, but the numbers have nothing to do with the logic; the numbers are not essential, and any set of nine distinct symbols could be used. Some puzzles use letters with the solution spelling out, say, a couple of nine-letter words along the diagonals. Various puzzle books describe logical patterns to look for, though one quickly learns most of the patterns by trial and error — especially error. Unfortunately, when one makes a mistake the error does not usually become apparent until many moves later when one reaches a point where two of the same number must occupy a row, column, or subregion. By then one usually has no idea at which step the blunder occurred and it is necessary to erase almost everything and start over.
According to the web site, some Sudoku puzzles are constructed by hand, but most are done by computers. It is certainly possible to make puzzles that have more than one solution or puzzles that have no solutions. The trick is to make a puzzle with a unique solution. Wayne Gould, a New Zealander and retired Hong Kong judge, is said to have spent six years developing a computer program that would produce suitable puzzles quickly. Pappocom, which is Gould's software house, claims that each subscriber who pays a fee will have a unique puzzle generated just for her.
There's more, of course, but now I must get back to my current puzzle. I am in training for extreme Sudoku.
© 2007 The