Morning Rain brings Barky Showers

I awoke at 6 in the morning as it was my habit to do.  I was even able to get partially dressed before Mrs Dog decided that she heard me and came to investigate. 

The pleasures of an older dog.  When they’re puppies they’re under foot and don’t know why it is a problem.  When they’re adults, you tell them they’re under foot and learn not to be quite so close.  Now that she’s 10 and her hearing is getting selectively worse, I’m noticing that she isn’t quite as aware of what I’m doing any longer.  I can even get out of The Poang Chair and get standing before she opens her eyes.  Sleep is the number one activity.

I got out of bed, dressed, and padded my way into the Kitchen to roast a half cup of coffee beans.  Seven minutes in the roaster cum popcorn popper and I had time to feed her and grab all the gear we needed for a walk.

Finally, we were able to step outside and were greeted by a light mist of rain.  More like someone was standing on the roof and spraying a bottle of water into the air above my head.  I called to Lettie, and she decided that she didn’t hear or really didn’t need to hear what I was saying so I pulled her back into the door.  Inside the door is where we keep our umbrellas and this was going to be a wet walk.  We got to the corner where the 25 year old grey and maroon umbrella was opened and we walked into the progressively degrading conditions. 

By the time I rounded the corner the fourth time, I could see the sun rising over the ocean front condos, the ocean itself, and the Bahamas.  It was still raining but not so hard as I didn’t take the time to close the umbrella and use it to knock two mangoes off the tree on the corner on the rental property.   The people who live there are from Minnesota, they won’t mind, they don’t know what good mangoes are!

I walked inside and prepared a mug of coffee, a biscuit and a chicken pattie and continued to watch as it got progressively worse.  The rain danced across my swimming pool making the little rubber duck thermometer that floats there look as if there was someone draping some gossamer sheers past it in rapid succession.  The pool lost its sheen and the water’s surface became a uniform layer of grey from the droplets.

It was this time that I realized that this little storm would have the weather alert radio in Philadelphia sounding off about heavy storms and low visibility, but here in South Florida, the land of Hurricanes, nothing.

Then it began.  My little summer shower flexed its muscles.  While I had a mouth full of biscuit, chicken, and coffee, the world flashed brilliant white and the note of a giant bass drum sounded off.   The lights in the house flickered off, then on again.  My power conditioners snapped into use while the shoddy FPL infrastructure surged into the forefront of my consciousness. 

And the dog started to bark.  Barking from Mrs Dog is a rare thing.  Even when she was young she almost never barked.  I never quite understood why dogs bark at thunderstorms but it is a thing I’ve grown used to and accept as I have this wonderful creature living with me.   If she barks, I pay attention.  There’s a reason for that.

One dog trainer I read at some time in passing said “Make Storm Time, Fun Time”.  So I reached over onto the counter and found the Pumpkin Orange bottle of soap bubbles.  Now Lettie was barking for joy.  Not just one bark when the BOOM! happened, but a steady stream of baritone barks that showed she was really happy to play and take her mind off of the horrible maelstrom outside.

Not really a maelstrom, I can only imagine how she’ll be when we get a hurricane…

Holding the bubble wand near my lips I blew out a stream of about 20 bubbles and she leaps for joy snapping at each and every one while jumping like a puppy.  Reminding myself to blow bubbles out away from my body, I watched her ivory teeth chomp each impending bubble as a lightning strike happened with the BOOM! and she merely went on happily chomping away at soap.

I doubt that having a dog eat soap is a good thing, but the tiny amount that she gets in from snapping at bubbles and only occasionally getting one can’t be a life threatening situation, I swallowed more shampoo last night after I climbed out of the shower after using the pool.  She seems to enjoy it greatly, and its mental health benefits outweigh the little bit of soap that are in those shimmering spheres of soap that mysteriously fall from the sky.

Here we are, an hour and 45 minutes later, the storm is beginning to fade.   The sun is now higher in the sky, the Bahamas are sunny with only scattered red blobs over the radar near Freeport, over 60 miles away.  Our own rain storm will fade away into canine memory and the rainbow over Wilton Manors won’t be so redundant.

Death of a Mac iBook

I come to bury Mac not to praise him.

Perhaps some praise.  What you are looking at was what I did most of this weekend.  This is my Mac iBook G3.   It was made around 9 years ago and I believe that it is finally just scrap. 

This machine has been through the mill.  It started out as a laptop given to a teacher in a suburban school.  That teacher used it for a number of years and then turned it in to their tech support when they were upgraded.  Tech support decided that it was surplus some time around 2004 or 2005 and it was given to a friend.  The friend had it for a while but had an accident that I’ll call “Deceleration Trauma” and that is how I ended up with it.

At that point most people would have tossed it and been done with it.  I got the little white iBook and replaced the cracked screen, upgraded the memory, and upgraded the hard disc.  I had it for about 4 years myself when I decided that I’d try to upgrade the hard disc again.  I never really used it hard, which was fine since it was underpowered for what I was doing with it.  I had installed OSX Tiger on it when a friend gave me a dead Mac and the Retail Tiger Discs that she had with it.   I couldn’t raise that machine from the dead and the smell of smoke inside told me why… 

When you upgrade a laptop you have some varying degrees of success.  I don’t recommend anyone attempt upgrading most components in a Mac laptop.  They use a lot of hardware that, while beautiful, is meant to be installed and never upgraded.  One Way Yellow Tape to hold down components.  My achilles heel with this machine was the cable that powered the hard drive and CD Rom.  Mylar with embedded copper wiring is not going to last many cycles of being removed and replaced.

While it may sound like I’m bemoaning a fragile machine, it is quite the opposite.  This machine was abused.  Schools are never gentle to computers.  Any laptop that falls off of a table will be damaged, some may not recover.  Once the hardware was replaced, this machine performed well enough for me to become one of my favorites. 

I am a Project Manager. That *requires* extensive knowledge of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Visio.  I’ve got all of those and know them well.  That’s work, that little Mac was a playground.  I could do things on it and not pretend that I was being productive.   It showed me that while I could think like the herd, I can also “Think Different”.  It also convinced me that the next time I have to shell out for a new off the shelf laptop, the first thing I’ll do is look at a Mac Book or what ever they’re called at that time.

For the mean time, I’ll reclaim the hard drive, memory and the Airport card from my little white buddy.  I’ll also be looking for a new one on Craigslist.  It will have to be free, which means it’s going to be pretty low end.  A G4 would be nice.  An Intel Based Mac Book would be perfect.  I don’t use a desktop machine here, they’re just too impractical in this house.

If anyone has one gathering dust… let me know.  😉

Windows 7 Annoyance – Shut Down or Restart

I use Windows 7 on “this” machine.  Actually I use a virtual copy of Windows XP that is an image of a PC that I retired running virtually on my copy of Windows 7 via Microsoft Virtual PC 2007… but that is a different story.

Virtualization is an interesting tool, it lets you run programs in a “sandbox” keeping the mess that sometimes happens if you surf a web site with a .RU extension (Russia) that turns out to be not entirely friendly.  

On the other hand Windows 7 has a couple of very different aspects from a visual standpoint.  There are certain things that happen in background that the operating system says to the user “Hey, Buddy, Wake Up! There’s something important!”. 

How does it do that?  Simple… Black the screen.  Completely.

Oh sure, it comes back with a box with choices of things to do afterwords, but that always catches my breath and makes me think “Oh Crap! Did FPL Have Another Power Pop that Killed my old Laptop”? 

I’m on a roll here, there’s more to it….

I use this machine that I am on as my “big boy” computer.  It is an old laptop, about 3 or 4 years old, running Windows 7 that I upgraded from Vista (Ugh) and for the most part Windows 7 runs well on it.  Much better than Vista (Ugh) did. 

In my consulting work and my job search I beat the thing up.  I run a LOT of program windows at the same time.  For the most part, repeated programs are a web browser.  My personal preference is Firefox.  I know how to make it not show me advertisements using “adblock plus” and I highly recommend it.  I make Firefox open up as many as 60 windows at a time because it makes it much easier to automate my job search by reading a page within a tab and closing it when through. 

Needless to say, it works for me.  Once through The Daily Job Search, I typically have as many as 10 separate Firefox windows open and some of them have multiple tabs with their own web pages open.  It is a neat trick to open all your multiple email accounts in one browser window on their separate tabs, use another to research Joomla! and how to import a web site, and have a few job opportunities that you wanted to read a second time before applying.  Right now, I have seven Firefox Windows open, three windows with more than three tabs open.

There’s a lot going on on this old machine.

I was going to post a picture today for the blog, and will do that tomorrow instead.  Why?  Simply because I got into the big Windows 7 Shutdown Feedback Loop. 

ARRGH!

There are a lot of configuration settings on both Windows and Firefox.  I’m a strong fan of manually adjusting things and not letting the computer do things “automagically” for me.  When you shut down this particular machine, first I have to shut down the Virtual PC which can take about 10 minutes itself.  Then Click Start, and click on Shut Down on the Windows 7 “side” to shut down the main PC. 

Here is where it gets tricky.  Firefox is told by Windows 7 “Hey, I’m shutting down”.  Firefox says Hold On, let me tell the owner of this thing something, and pops up a box saying “Do you want to Save and Quit, Quit, or Cancel”. 

Obviously in this case, I almost always click “Save and Quit” since it is too much effort to bookmark every single page I have open on every single tab.  At this moment that would be 15 extra bookmarks and it is just after 8 AM on a Monday morning.  But I don’t ALWAYS want to so I won’t tick that box that says “Don’t Prompt Me”.  You don’t want that because if you hit a web page with a virus, a bad piece of code, or something else that crashes your browser, when you restart the browser, you are right back where you started and in a loop.

The problem is when you miss that little window of time.  The dog barks.  The parrot is climbing down out of the cage.  You just got out of the comfy chair and went to make the second mug of coffee… what ever happens to distract you and…

You come back to a big black screen with the ghost image of your desk top and information that a program is holding up the works.  Won’t you please fix it, I’ll sit here patiently.

Stop being so helpful Windows.  We are Not All Idiots, Microsoft.  You’re doing it wrong.

Fail.

See the problem is that you have a prompt on the desktop from Firefox that is demanding to know “Do you want to save your work” and you just covered it all up with a big piece of black taffeta and are trying to act all sly and sleek about it.

I know you have focus groups to look at things and ask Is this Better Than That? like some stupid Eye Test for Operating Systems, but this was a place where you took the short yellow bus into town for your Happy Meal.

Systems are my work.  This system doesn’t work (for me).  Here’s the solution.  Don’t cover things up!  Real basic right?  The problem is not limited to Firefox.  Any program where you are able to save your work may hold up the system from a restart and there are many times that you won’t want to save.  If you open up a copy of Notepad and use it as a scratchpad intending to destroy it when through and you go to restart, you will go through exactly the same issues.   Changing to Internet Explorer is not an option since it is big, fat, and bloated and would slow me down massively in comparison to Firefox.  I almost NEVER use Internet Explorer since it slows down the computer and introduces some problems with the operating system because someone in Redmond Washington have decided that everyone needs this kludge called “IE” threaded all through your Operating System like a cancer that ends up turning it into a Single Point of Failure.

Someone up at Microsoft needs to go to their design team and say “Hey when you shut down, if there’s something blocking the operating system, just pop up a window so they can get to the offending prompts”.   It would be so much simpler.

There you go, it only took me 20 minutes to write this down.  I’m the project manager – you come back when it’s fixed.   I’ll see you on Friday.

(Yeah, I didn’t think so either!)

Stonewall Pictures from Last Week

Someone threw a party in town last week.  Wilton Manors and Wilton Drive hosted Stonewall Pride Celebration for 2010.  I got an invite to Commissioner Tom Green’s apartment for a get together party with him and his friends including the Mayor, Gary Resnick, and some other local friends who are active in the city.

The apartment is four floors above Wilton Drive, so I managed to get the pictures from a Birds Eye View.  They are not at people’s scale, but I did manage to grab a few good shots. 

Waving at us is Tom Green, the Commissioner and the Host of our party.  It’s only fitting to lead off with his shot.  This is the confiscated Police Pickup Truck that we either got in a “police confiscation” or bought with the funds that were from a confiscation.

Think of that when you go out driving.  Don’t become a DUI, you’ll be paying for our next Truck.

Unfortunately the shot shows the back of the Mayor… Sorry, Gary, I didn’t get a clear one of you but if you hear this and would like one posted send it along, I’ll be happy to.

Oops!

What’s next are the view North and South on Wilton Drive from 50 feet up.  We have this raceway in the middle of town that we’re trying to decide how to do something about it… but for the day it served as the setting for the party.  You can see here what it was like as everyone was waiting for everyone to arrive. 

 The View North toward NE 6th Avenue before the party got started…

Looking South and West-ish from the balcony, here’s the view before.  We did get a good view from above.

I did manage to get a clear picture of Vice Mayor Justin Flippen here smiling in a blue shirt.  Justin you look hot!  It was 90 that day and we were all wilting by the time you got there.   It really did turn out to be “Wilting Drive” as some of the wags call our Drive.

Also there were Commissioners Ted Galatis and Scott Newton.  I didn’t manage to get a picture of either but I did manage to try to get Scott to toss a handful of Mardi Gras beads up four floors.  He only made it to the second floor.  Sorry Scott, better luck next time!  

Someone had said that they were on the ground and that one of the nicest things about the festival was that people were tossing Mardi Gras beads from the balconies “Just Like New Orleans”.  I’d add without the public drinking and the crush of people, but it was a nice touch.

What is a parade without some dancers and floats?  This dragon with wings was there with a coterie of dancers behind it.  Beautiful work, and as it was going down the parade route, the wings were flapping and head was reaching out as if to find a tasty dragon snack in the crowd.  

This is one of the dancers that followed the Dragon.  The person in front will give you some idea of the scale of that costume.  We were guessing that it was around 10 or 12 feet tall.  Luckily the thing was made out of a thin material, but I can imagine how tired that person was by the end of the “workout”!

Speaking of dancers, here are some cowboys dancing.  This one’s for you Pat, they were square dancing all the way up the Drive and let me tell you from four floors up it was LOUD.  Country Music isn’t my thing at all but they did seem to have fun there.

Here was the view at the end of the Parade looking North toward NE 6th Avenue.  The crowd had finally filled in and the rest of the day was this crowded.  90 degree heat and thousands of people.  I managed to last another hour before hiding at home in the pool for a bit and came back out after Dinner for a little.

Finally the last view – South on Wilton Drive.  The crowd was filing back toward NE 6th Avenue and the bandstand.   The Party was there, and so was I for a while.  These Festivals we have here in Wilton Manors are always well attended, well behaved people.   Always fun. 

So when is the next one?  In a couple months?  Wicked Manors for Halloween?

Truck For Sale

After all that Political Stuff, Velma sent me a cute joke.  I guess she had had enough of it.

So we have a break for the day:

Subj: truck for Sale……love it!!

    
A sixteen year-old boy came home with a new Chevrolet Avalanche and his parents began to yell and scream, ‘Where did you get that truck???!!!’ He calmly told them, ‘I bought it today.’

‘With what money?’ demanded his parents. They knew what a Chevrolet Avalanche cost.

‘Well,’ said the boy, ‘this one cost me just fifteen dollars.’ So the parents began to yell even louder. ‘Who would sell a truck like that for fifteen dollars?’ they said.

‘It was the lady up the street,’ said the boy. I don’t know her name – they just moved in. She saw me ride past on my bike and asked me if I wanted to buy a Chevrolet Avalanche for fifteen dollars.’

‘Oh my Goodness!,’ moaned the mother, ‘she must be a child abuser. Who knows what she will do next? John, you go right up there and see what’s going on.’ So the boy’s father walked up the street to the house where the lady lived and found her out in the yard calmly planting petunias!

He introduced himself as the father of the boy to whom she had sold a new Chevrolet Avalanche for fifteen dollars and demanded to know why she did it.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘this morning I got a phone call from my husband. (I thought he was on a business trip, but learned from a friend he had run off to Hawaii with his mistress and really doesn’t intend to come back).

He claimed he was stranded and needed cash, and asked me to sell his new Chevrolet Avalanche and send him the money.

So I did.’

(Are women good or what?)

I love it!!!!!

Commission Meeting on Waste Management

During the Commission Meeting on June 23, 2010, the Contract for trash hauling and pick up with Waste Management was extended for another three years.

This was written into the contract and was the path of least resistance.  After having at least three Refuse companies come up during public comments wanting to have the contract put out for bid, and having various residents and business owners sing the praises of Waste Management, the city took this action.  To paraphrase Commissioner Ted Galatis: Nobody came up in a timely manner when the city needed an RFP.

Come back in three years. 

One of the other companies had a deal with something that I had used in Philadelphia that I truly hope we can get written into the next RFP.  I know I’ll mention this to some of the Commissioners when I do some more research.  There is a process where a separate recycling bin is given to the residents.  The recycling is picked up in a large green bin, mechanically by a specialized truck just like Waste Management uses now.  The City is given a payment from the company, the residents are paid in discount coupons, and the recycling happens painlessly.  There was a payment to parties done on a basis of weight of recycling picked up at the curb.  We all had accounts that we could log into and see what we were earning – all just for doing the right thing, Recycling.   By the time I moved out of Philadelphia, I was recycling more than I was throwing out in trash on a weekly basis.  I was actively looking at the packaging of what I was buying in order to try to minimize waste and increase recycling.

This company was the Recycle Bank, and the entire city of Philadelphia were participants.  I Highly recommend this!  You can read their FAQ here.

One issue that I find troubling is that trash hauling in this city is basically a hidden tax upon the residents.  We pay a fee to the city who contracts with Waste Management for the services.  The services from what I see personally are excellent.  I’ve watched them pick up trash from my front room and when we have had spills I have seen the person get out of the truck and pick things up from the ground and place them in the cans.  I didn’t see that level of care happen in any other city I lived in. 

I have no complaints about Waste Management as a company or their services.

My concern is that Waste Management pays back to the City approximately $360,000 per year in “franchise fees”.  In round numbers that works out to approximately $28 per person paid out in commissions to the city as a hidden tax.  If you assume that households are on average a little more than two people per dwelling and that businesses are also required to use Waste Management as a franchise, I think it is reasonable to say that that number is about half – so basically every business and home owner is paying out an Average Estimate of $56 back to the city.  This really should be cut out and if the City needs that money to survive, either adjust the tax rates or cut expenses or both.

Sure, raise taxes… that will go over well, right?   Well that comes from an accounting background.  If the residents and businesses demand a service, the city will provide and do so at a fair cost.  We the citizens pay for those services with taxes.  It is all part of living in a modern representative democracy.  It also is something that should be priced correctly so that fees don’t exist where they should be covered as a tax.  Probably nothing more than a philosophical difference on my part.

Commission Meeting on the Two Lane Initiative Board

The City Commission on Tuesday night had a Board proposed in New Business by Vice Mayor Justin Flippen.  This Board would be created to help the City wrap their minds around the very complex issues surrounding Wilton Manors Main Street’s Two Lane Initiative.

The details of this plan are what are the most interesting.  It is the intent of the Commission to have this Board self fund via donations and grants.  It also is to reflect the complex diversity of those who will be effected by the changes to the Drive.  Since the Board is also subject to the Sunshine Laws, it will be required to actually pay a Board Secretary.

The Board hasn’t been created and already is running at a deficit.

They are now drafting a resolution to create this board and the selection of the members therein, which means that the Two Lane Initiative will be delayed again.  The very soonest that this resolution will be presented will be at the next Commission meeting as a First Reading, followed by debate, and a Second Reading.  By the time the Board gets up and running, it may be Fall or Winter before anything actually happens.

The tricky part, and I do applaud the Commission at at least trying to figure out a way to do this, will be to attempt to make the Board accurately reflect the diversity of the people who will be effected by the proposed changes.

The Commission will have a seat on the Board via the City Manager, Joe Gallegos.  Wilton Manors Main Street is proposed to have a seat on the Board of their own selection.  Of the other seats on the Board, it blossomed to as many as 13 and back down to 7.  There will be an attempt to find an Architect or other Technical resource, a resident from the public at large, someone from the Wilton Manors Business Association or Chamber of Commerce, and a member from Planning and Zoning.

The situation is that since the actual selection of the members will be a very complex issue.   I don’t see how they will manage to do it in this fashion unless they were to allow each Commissioner and the Mayor to select one member to the Board directly, and then to have that person be of a specific “class” such as a Technical Resource or from Planning and Zoning.  Otherwise they’re going to have a large number of people who will apply for specific seats and it will be a long and drawn out affair.

This suggestion was brought up in the Commission meeting by more than one Commissioner.  Since the Commissioners all have their own views on constituency, it seems most appropriate to have specific seats filled by specific Commission appointees.   For example, Commissioner Tom Green was most interested in having an “At Large” person from the residential community on the board who does not live “directly” on the Drive.  He would be the best person to find this At Large appointee.

The Self Funding aspect is another interesting wrinkle.   The Two Lane Initiative can fund itself once it is up and running.  It is expected to create a surplus to the city of $81,000 but that is once Phase 1 has been completed.  It will cost $139,000 to get Phase 1 completed, but that will be paid off within the first year.  The intent of the Commission would be to have people on this Board who are adept at finding Grants and other Funding sources to come up with the money to actually get Phase 1 and perhaps more completed.  This is a challenge to most so your pool of individuals who are able to knock on doors and find a business or governmental entity with deep pockets who actually live in the city may not be all that great.

Just getting this Board established may be the hardest part.  The Two Lane Initiative as presented by Wilton Manors Main Street was to show a framework under which the City could progress with a project to get another 115 parking spaces at a lower price than any other and do so with a surplus.  Getting to that first Phase is a big hurdle, but finding the particular mix of people who can make that happen will be a challenge.

I go to the City Commission meetings twice a month because I am genuinely interested in the goings on in this quirky little city.   I expect to be going to this new board as well because the process is fascinating to me.  I’ve had my hands in the whole Two Lane Initiative process from the beginning as a Board Member on Wilton Manors Main Street.  Since the public will be allowed to be in this as well, we will also be able to give our input whether a member of Main Street or not.

As such I don’t expect to be involved in this Board other than as a spectator.  The reason is that they intend to have this Board to be subject to the Sunshine Law.  I have no problem with a Board being required to be open to the public.  Back room politics have the connotation that they have because of the effect they have on people in the broadest sense of the word.  The problem is that if you are on multiple boards, one with the Sunshine Law and one or more without being under it, your effectiveness on those other boards will be limited.  You end up sending one of the people who are co-board members outside of the chambers while you are discussing these issues.

With a group that is tasked to be as creative as possible in finding solutions for the Two Line Initiative’s challenges, being limited by a requirement that gags you outside of the Board’s scope is a bit of overkill.

What ever your opinion is of Wilton Manors Main Street, I believe that their impact in Wilton Manors has been greatly positive and would prefer to see that group thrive as long as it remains so, to jeopardize it would be a major loss.  The City of Wilton Manors is proud to have such a strong class of Volunteer workers servicing its needs, the Mayor Gary Resnick and each and every Commissioner has said the same from the Commission Chambers on the Dais.  To limit their work would be unfortunate, whether they be Elected Official or whether they be Volunteer.

Now if we can just find those Seven People!