Sunday, February 28, 2016


Rochester, without a doubt, is the master of under advertising world-class offerings.  Whether this skill is applied to our universities, scientists, artists, or architecture, Rochester (despite some earnest efforts) has an uncanny ability to make sure that visitors and residents alike underappreciate the region.  While there is no denying some allure to fancy/new/chain-store-laden strip plazas, pop music, and beach novels, Rochester's forte is usually found at a deeper, more complex level.  The 58th Grammy Awards, presented two weeks ago, provide a perfect example.  While we don't offer Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, or Bruno Mars (although his keyboardist John Fossitt is from Rochester), we do offer Maria Schneider, Dave Rivello, and Bob Ludwig.  But who are these guys anyway? As per the Democrat & Chronicle:

  • Maria Schneider earned her master's degree from the Eastman School of Music.  She has won multiple Grammy Awards, including two this month for (a) Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album (The Thompson Fields) and (b) Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for her arrangement of David Bowie's "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" from his album Nothing Has Changed.
  • Dave Rivello also earned his master's degree at Eastman and is currently an assistant professor at the school.  Rivello produced Grammy-nominated album Lines of Color which might have won Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album were it not for...Maria Schneider.
  • Bob Ludwig, another Eastman alumnus, has had a remarkably successful career as a mastering engineer.  The Alabama Shakes album Sound & Color did quite well at the Grammys, winning (among others) Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical thanks to...Bob Ludwig.
It's worth mentioning that these artists were just 3 of 7 Grammy-nominated musicians with Eastman ties.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Rochester, with its Upstate New York/Rust Belt location, has the perfect combination of intelligence, hard work, and grit.  This formula is responsible for Rochester's perseverance and (slow) growth despite reasonably long odds.  This formula also happens to be a perfect recipe for making great coaches.  The Rochester region has an impressive list of characters who have achieved remarkable coaching success on some of the country's biggest stages.  Admittedly, a few of the Rochester ties are soft, but that shouldn't stop us from claiming the following as our own:

  • Jay Wright has taken Villanova University's men's basketball team to four Sweet 16 appearances, two Elite Eight appearances, and one Final Four appearance.  The Wildcats are currently ranked #1 in the country.  Wright's first coaching job was at...the University of Rochester.
  • John Beilein led the University of Michigan's men's basketball team to the 2013 national championship game (unfortunately defeating Syracuse in the Final Four.)  Beilein's third coaching job was at...Nazareth College.
  • Stan Van Gundy has coached the NBA's Miami Heat, Orlando Magic (taking them to the 2009 NBA finals), and Detroit Pistons.  He honed his understanding of the game while playing college basketball at...SUNY-Brockport.
  • Jeff Van Gundy, Stan's younger brother, has coached the NBA's New York Knicks (leading them to the 1999 NBA finals) and Houston Rockets.  He is currently one of the most colorful basketball analysts in the country.  He played high school basketball at Brockport Central and college basketball at Nazareth College.  His first coaching job was at...McQuaid Jesuit High School.
  • Jim Boeheim has taken Syracuse University's men's basketball team to 28 NCAA tournaments, including four Final Four appearances, three national title games, and one national championship.  Boeheim was born in...Lyons, NY.
  • Tom Coughlin has been an immensely successful head football coach in both college (Boston College) and the NFL (Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants.)  Under his watch, the Giants won two Super Bowls.  Coughlin was born in Waterloo, NY, and his first head coaching job was at...RIT.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


The overall purpose of this blog is to help earn Rochester the respect that it deserves.  In general, this goal can be accomplished simply by highlighting the virtues of Rochester without disparaging other locations.  At times, however, the need to deflate another area is overwhelming.  Take, for instance, the case of Texas.  The Lone Star State has been billed as America's utopia, a land with no taxes, nearly free housing, and two high-paying jobs per every one resident.  But before we all relocate to Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, here are a few tidbits worth noting (granted many people may have limited or zero interest in these issues):

  • As of 2013, Texas, quite comfortably, had the highest percentage of residents without health insurance (27%) of any state in the country.
  • As of 2011, Texas accounted for 12.18% of the country's annual carbon dioxide emissions.  In contrast, its nearest competitor, California, which has about 1.5 times the population of Texas, accounted for only 6.42%.  New York State, despite having 6.26% of the country's population, accounted for only 2.93% of the country's carbon dioxide emissions.
  • As of 2013, Texas had 400,000 workers earning at or below minimum wage.  Its closest competitor, Pennsylvania, had 189,000 such workers.
  • Judging by the commentary in our local newspapers, Rochester apparently has a crisis of inequality.  As previously shown, Rochester is actually one of the ten least income-segregated large metro areas in the country.  If you want to see true income segregation, move to San Antonio (#1 in the country for income segregation), Houston (#4), Dallas (#8), or Austin (#10).
  • As of 2009, about 79.9% of Texas residents aged 25 and over had at least a high school degree, good enough for last in the country.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Intelligence, on a higher level

For unexplained reasons, I decided to make Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronomy writer Donald Goldsmith, my latest "leisure reading."  With my rate of understanding on a really good day hovering around fifty percent, I have mostly learned that there are some ridiculously smart people in this world.  Not at all surprisingly, a decent chunk of this brilliance finds itself in our own backyard.  In typical modest, understated, and under advertised fashion, Rochester's contribution to astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology is beyond comprehension (literally and figuratively.)  Here are just a few examples:

  • Optimax, based in Wayne County, specializes in small volume, highly complex optics manufacturing.  The company has participated in many NASA programs by providing lenses designed for position sensing, mapping landforms, and optical analysis.  Optimax products have been a part of Mercury Messenger, various Mars Rovers, and Pluto New Horizons.
  • A 2013 study in Nature's Scientific Reports attempted to identify the world's leading producers and consumers of knowledge in Physics.  As of 2009, Rochester ranked 18th (in the world!).
  • Adam Frank is co-founder of NPR's 13.7: Cosmos & Culture blog.  He is an occasional contributor to The New York Times and has written two books, The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate and About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang.  His research involves the development of advanced supercomputer tools to study the formation and death of stars.  Adam Frank happens to be a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester.
  • Until recently, Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity had one unverified prediction: the presence of gravitational waves.  As it turns out, about one billion years ago, two black holes collided, causing massive ripples in space-time which were detected on Earth...a few months ago?! But how did scientists even know what these gravitational waves would look like when they found them? This critical knowledge was provided by earlier mathematical and simulated predictions performed by none other than the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation at RIT.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Flip Side

As seen in many previous posts, the misrepresentation of the Rochester region has landed the city of Rochester on certain undesirable lists that focus on poverty, crime, and undereducation.  Redrawing city limits to be in line with other metro areas across the country could statistically eradicate many of Rochester's problems.  But since we are stuck with the current boundaries, we can be equally irrational and use the city population of about 210,000 to our advantage to show how we match up with much larger cities and their respective metro areas:

  • With a population of 679,036, El Paso, Texas, has over three times the population of Rochester.  As of 2010, 19.6% of its region had a college degree - about 163,992 residents.  In the same year, 33% of Rochesterians had a college degree - about 347,926 residents.
  • With a population of 612,780, Louisville, Kentucky, is almost three times as big as Rochester.  Its flagship university, the University of Louisville, is ranked #168 by U.S. News & World Report.  That's 135 spots behind the University of Rochester.  In fact, that's 22 spots behind St. John Fisher College.
  • With a population of 557,169, Albuquerque, New Mexico, is over 2.5 times as big as Rochester. Per Newsweek, it has one public high school in America's top 500 public high schools.  As noted in the past, Rochester has five. 
  • With a population of 464,704, Mesa, Arizona, is over double the size of Rochester.  As of 2011, it had 2,409 arts-related jobs.  In the same year, Rochester had 12,600 arts-related jobs (i.e. over 5 times as many.)
  • With a population of 446,599, Omaha, Nebraska, is over double the size of Rochester.  Omaha has a Triple-A baseball team (as does Rochester), was once home to the current Sacramento Kings of the NBA (as was Rochester), and does not have an AHL team (which Rochester does.)

Monday, February 8, 2016


While recently visiting the truly amazing balloon-based depiction of the Genesee River at the Sibley Building, I overheard the following conversation:

Person A: "It's like we're not even in Rochester."
Person B: "I know.  I didn't know we have stuff like this in Rochester."

This type of dialogue is commonplace and illustrates:

  1. Rochester's tendency toward self-deprecation.
  2. Downtown's slow yet steady comeback.
  3. A sometimes perplexing lack of knowledge about the inspiring work that is done in the region.  There is a sense (apparently not quelled by recent greats such as Abby Wambach and Philip Seymour Hoffman) that greatness and Rochester cannot co-exist.  Yet a brief glance at just a few artists in the region reveals some remarkable accomplishments:
  • Airigami, responsible for the aforementioned balloon art, is a Rochester-based entity that has been featured extensively and has made appearances on The Martha Stewart Show, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and at the White House.  Two Guinness World Records have been set by Airigami.
  • Albert Paley, a renowned metal sculptor, has site-specific works in Washington (DC), Philadelphia, and Toronto among numerous other cities.  In 2013, thirteen of his works were featured along Park Avenue in New York City.  His pieces can also be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), and the Victoria and Albert Museum (London).
  • Wendell Castle, a prominent furniture artist, has site-specific works in cities such as Chicago, Toronto, Washington (DC), and New York City.  His art can also be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), the Smithsonian Institution, and the White House.
  • Garth Fagan, a celebrated modern dance choreographer, is best known for his 1998 Tony Award for Best Choreography of Broadway's The Lion King.  His dance company, based in Rochester, has performed on every continent except Antarctica.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


As reported extensively in recent days, one of Rochester's iconic companies, Xerox (headquartered in Connecticut since 1969), is being split into two separate entities.  The document technology business and business process outsourcing services will soon be completely independent.  This economic maneuver will undoubtedly inspire the usual chorus about Rochester's death.  However, if we were to use the splitting of a large organization as a simplistic marker of a region's demise, the following cities would also be on their way out:

  • Palo Alto, CA (Hewlett Packard)
  • San Jose, CA (eBay)
  • Northfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago (Kraft)
  • Schaumburg, IL, another suburb of Chicago (Motorola)
  • Tysons Corner, VA, a suburb of Washington, DC (Gannett).  Although since Gannett was founded in Rochester, its relocation and subsequent split may provide undeniable evidence of Rochester's decline.