Rain Clouds and Missed Shots

Early in the morning, lately South Florida has had some fascinating clouds just off shore.  I’ve been trying to take pictures of them, but there has been a problem each morning.

Either the light is wrong – too dark, too light.
Or the Clouds aren’t behaving – too few or too many.
Or my hand shakes too much – the dog, the hand tremors on a long exposure, a bird screeches in the dark.

All of the above.  

If you talk to a fisherman, they will tell you about the one that got away that was ‘this big’.

I could bring a tripod with me.  There is one that has been lightly used in the house.  It sits in a box stuffed at the back of the closet.  Most folks that enjoy taking pictures will have one around.  My pictures are better than some, worse than others, occasional moments of genius but not quite enough that I thought about gathering them up for an exhibition.

In short, I’m probably normal… or average.

But when you’re out with the dog at 6:30 in the morning looking at clouds to take pictures of, you are forced to consider your subject.  Since the county came through a week or so back and sprayed for Mosquito control, I’m able to stand around just before dawn staring up at the sky like a chicken in a rainstorm. 

Since it wasn’t raining, I could have my mouth open to catch flies, but I did notice them. 

Here we have very different weather.  It easily could be raining at one side of the street and not where you are standing, and you can get a sunburn at the same time.  I have stood in front of my house and watched the rain come down the block as if someone is drawing on the street with a great big hose.   Sitting in the hot tub in the back yard, the rains once sheeted across the pool in gossamer curtains until the entire yard was being watered.

Walking home, I paid no attention, thinking it was a “Pixel Storm” – something that shows up as a single green dot on the Radar.  Managing to get into the house completely dry, I boiled water for the morning coffee and later iced tea and went about the normal business of settling in to the daily routine.

I didn’t even notice that the pixel had arrived until I heard the parrot flapping his wings in the cage in the living room and the dog cozying up to my right leg.  Looking out at the pool it seemed as if there were giant clods of water falling from the sky in a slow motion display of surreal wetness.

The world was dark, green, silver and wet.  A lone gnat was bashing its head against the speckles of the kitchen window trying to get at me or the coffee for its morning breakfast.  The sound of the moment was that gravel against a sheet of metal as the rain pounded down on the tin roof on the lanai.

At that point, barely seven in the morning, one small speck of color floated by.  Completely unperturbed by massive raindrops, flapping parrots and paranoid pooches, I saw a single shaft of color work its way across the green backdrop of the yard.

A Single Monarch Butterfly.

A camera just would not do that picture justice.

Bring Me … A SHRUBBERY!

Monty Python References aside, I was out with the camera again.

There is something called The Golden Hour.  This is right after sunrise or right before sunset where the colors change.  This is known as the time to go and get your favorite camera and take pictures.  There will be more gold and orange and fiery highlights at that time of day than at any other.   It is especially apparent here in South Florida because at “High Noon” everything is brilliant and the colors have a surreal technicolor quality that I’m still kind of getting used to.

Taking the pictures at that time means that you get a broader palate of color with the right subject.  This one picture worked out well enough that I dropped it into my background shots directory and will cycle in as time allows. 

I’m not sure what the name of this particular shrub is.  They’re very common and very popular here as an accent plant.  They don’t get very tall, this specimen is about a foot tall.  People put them in for a bit of color, and they excel at that.   They don’t put out any fruit, I’ve never heard that they spread and I haven’t even seen any flowers on them.

Do they really need flowers?

I didn’t think so.

This one is next door to M.E. DePalma Park in Wilton Manors, but you can see them all over South Florida outside Banks, Restaurants and other commercial buildings where slow growth is prized.  I’ve even seen them inside malls up North.  Christiana Mall in Delaware had a row of Palm Trees indoors and a few of these things… basically a plant prison but they looked interesting there.

Here we can let our crazy plants roam free until someone gets a wild hair and says that they’re invasive.  Invasive?  Talk about an artificial environment, almost everything that grows here that is showy is imported from somewhere else.

It does make a nice background though…

Update:  I was told by Diane Cline of the Wilton Manors Main Street and Wilton Manors Historical Society that this particular plant is called a “Croton”.

Thanks, Diane!

The Moon and Mars

You probably have heard some sort of fuss about Mars being so close that it will be larger or brighter than the Moon.

Wrong.

The planet Mars will be at its closest point in a long time, and for many years to come.  It will be brighter than usual, but still just a red dot in the sky.  Venus is the brightest “star” in the sky most nights, excepting the Moon, and Mars just isn’t bright enough to steal that honor away.  If you would like to see what it looked like on August 24th, here is a picture of it with a short description from NASA.   Nice shot as well.

It’s an internet hoax.  Actually to explain it away, it is more like the Telephone game that we played when we were kids.  If kids still play it, you line kids up in a row, and whisper into one ear a sentence.  That kid whispers it to the next and it gets to the end all mangled up.  Basically Mars was 75 times smaller than the Moon in 2003 when it was at its closest approach then.  If you took a 75 power telescope it would look, to the eye, as if it were as large as the moon with an unaided eye.   In 2003 everyone was looking up, checking out Mars, and if you had a telescope, you had a great view.   If not, you would be looking online like I did for pictures.

If you did get swept up in that hype, don’t worry, I did until I caught the APOD link above describing it. 

If you like celestial pictures, I highly recommend APOD.  You get a picture of something connected with the stars and space every day.  I’ve saved a few to go into my background rotation, and if I ever manage to get an electronic picture frame of any size, they’ll end up in there too.

After all, we all need some art in our lives.  Sometimes it is a picture of the skies, other times it is a giant spider or dancing naked women in Key West!

A Real Live Spiderman Signal – Picture

Definitely not the Spider Pig

This spider has taken up residence between two slash pines near the house.  This one, has a web that is probably as big as the T Shirt I’m wearing right now, and would cover your entire palm from tip to tip of the leg.

I will pause for you to look at your hand.

To give you an idea, I have a rather run of the mill 8.5 MP Samsung Digital Camera.  Nothing all that special by today’s standards.  It isn’t an SLR, has a little 3 inch screen in the back that makes it difficult to do true close up photography because I can’t discern the detail, and won’t accept external lenses.  Model S85.  Mine is black.

The nice thing about this camera is that it is VERY flexible.  I’ve learned how to use it fairly well as you can see from the pictures you see on the blog.  I tend to be very free with taking pictures now that I don’t have to pay for a developer.  The pictures are originally 3264 by 2448 which is large enough that it is bigger than any computer monitor I have ever used.  There’s a lot of room to edit out bits.  This bit is about an eighth of the picture, then I reduced it down to 640 by 480.

So why all that blather?   I was standing about 20 feet from this monster bug when I took the shot.  Using the Optical Zoom, I managed to get a nice frame that had all sorts of things caught in the web, then cut it down for here.  Maybe I’m patting myself on the back too much, but I’m surprised how well this turned out. 

On the other hand, it also goes far to tell you just how big this monster is by my Northern standards.  In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, spiders are dinky little things, rarely larger than your smallest fingernail.  I’m just not used to seeing a creature that is large enough to carry off a Buick hanging in mid air.

Someone had earlier tossed a piece of palm front into that web, and it remained there.  A hand sized piece of palm stem, held up by a T Shirt sized spider web glistening in the sun, and creating a home for a palm sized spider that has been there for months at this point.  That says a lot for just how big all of this is. 

So every time we do yard work, we get the broom and knock down anything that is “in the way”.  We don’t know if this particular spider is poisonous, but we treat it and all the wildlife here as if it is.  They’re not Geckos after all!

Fake or Astroturfing Reviews on iTunes

Having read a lot of reviews and having written a few on my own, here and other places, you get a feel for when something is not quite right. 

I worked with someone once who wasn’t quite right, well about a lot of things, but he had a good feel for marketing.  His comment was that if there is only one review, it is probably from the company that produced the product.  That tended to make a lot of sense, since the one lone review in a product forum tends to be very positive, if not overly so.  Positive and sweet as a bowl of sugar usually.   Reading that review will lead you to believe that you can cure cancer and poverty and famine merely by buying this little box of crap that was invariably made in China by prisoners.

I have always taken a similar view.  When I do shop for products online, I search for a link for reviews and only read a few of the positive reviews, preferring the negative ones.   They’re usually a lot more entertaining and can give you a good idea of what can go wrong with a given product.  If that doesn’t scare me off, then I may proceed onto looking at the positive reviews.

The process of having the company or one of its minions write favorable reviews is called Astroturfing.  I guess its from having something look like but not be grass in a field.  Too Perfect of a turf since it isn’t real.  The US Federal Trade Commission just decided that Reverb Communications engaged in deceptive advertising by writing fake reviews on iTunes for people to buy their latest game.  This practice is wildly popular and I hadn’t realized that it was illegal until reading an article pointing it out.  Certainly it is highly deceptive, but then again, isn’t Advertising the practice of convincing someone to buy something that they don’t need by deception and suggestion?

Advertising changed dried, spoiled, milk with bacteria and cows intestines enzymes, poisonous artificial colors and flavors, chemical preservatives, excess salt … and so forth… into Cheese. 

Can you imagine if everything were quite THAT descriptive?

For the record, I’ll probably have an omelet with cheese and some sort of either turkey bacon or thinly sliced sausage for lunch… we could have a field day with the “correct” description of those products.

We consume products that aren’t exactly healthy for us every day.  If we were to market cigarettes completely truthfully as a product that will drastically increase your chances of cancer, emphysema, and other diseases there simply would not be a large market for the product. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether a cowboy in the middle of the plains of the US West is appropriate to make a decision that will impact your health 10 or 20 years later.

Technology tends to be easier, the item will perform a task, there are quantifiable ways it will do so and it will do it with some very specific aspects.   Screen size, processor speed and type, disc drives and all of that gobbledy gook.  If the consumer chooses to be educated, purchasing technology can become a simple process.  There are brands you would want to stay away from in any “type” of technology, most do come from specific places in the world, some with better reputations for quality than others, and some are more open to being repaired than others.

Wait, do people still repair things?

I do, but I’m … odd.  I’m currently listening to music on a laptop that I repaired a couple times that is over 12 years old.  It is quite comfortable for the task.  Even if the drawer to the network card is broke, the machine works incredibly well as a table radio and could easily be used for light gaming or surfing the web.

There is an advertisement that I remember hearing that said “An educated consumer is our best customer”.  I am afraid that the best help I can give is that you’ll just have to become educated.  Reviews can help but take them with a box of salt.  Don’t forget your friends, they’re most likely to have a good idea whether something is worthwhile or not.

Dancing at the Museum in Key West – Picture

Right off of the water, next to where the Angels land and the Fire Jugglers try not to burn the five year old children from Ohio, there’s a little museum.  The building itself isn’t all that small, and coming from a big city in the North, it only seems like it is a small museum.  On the other hand, there is a wonderful collection of Public Art there.

In Key West, which is a small city, on a small island, on a small planet, there is Public Art. 

There are traditions of public art in many large cities.  If you have a collection of people that crowd into a small place you create the economies of scale that result by simply not having enough space.  Key West should be one of those places.  When you have that situation, you can make certain assumptions.  The assumption is that people have a higher standard of living when there are artistic expressions easily visible.  Think of Paris with the Place de la Concorde, Philadelphia with art literally everywhere in Center City, Chicago on the loop with the Bean off of the Chicago River and the Calder Mobile.  These things happened because there was a conscious decision that there is more to life than concrete and commercial space.

In Philadelphia, there is actually a requirement that a certain percentage of the value of the building is spent during construction or re-construction on public art.  The result is a massive collection of art.  Walking through Center City Philadelphia is like walking through a giant museum of modern art.  Then they take the stuff they can’t leave outside and put it in a big barn of a building on top of a hill and let some guy run up the steps.

I think his last name is Balboa.

The next best use for those steps is for tired inline skaters to congregate before their next 9 mile run, trust me!

When ever I go somewhere, I consciously or subconsciously look for public art.  I have found that the quality of life in that city is directly proportional to how many “Pretty Pictures” you can spot by driving down their main street.  Compare “this” city with “that one” and you’ll realize which one has a better art scene.  I’d expect Austin Texas to be a better place to live in than say … Brownsville.

Last trip to Key West was a Working Vacation.  I spent 3 days in a Conch House in New Town doing Virus Remediation and got all the machines back up and running.  When that happened, we took a walk down to see the sunset and I noticed that building.

You see, in Key West I didn’t notice much public art that really wasn’t more like a shop display.  When I got to this spot I stopped.  Stuck to my tracks, I thought “This is it, I’m home”.  Sure, its naked women dancing outside the Children’s Museum, and had some real warm flesh and blood women been doing that, there would have been a bit of a “discussion” happening, but there it was, public art in a small city of 30,000. 

I can’t really call myself an Art Lover.  I have been to the Louvre, seen Mona Lisa, the Bayeux Tapestries, visited the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Rodin Museum on The Parkway in Philadelphia, but I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until I got to see these beautiful pink ladies, prancing in an expression of joy.

At least that was how I saw it.  After looking at the picture above, I’m smiling and thinking the same that I did then.

Speed Kills Key Deer – Picture

Recently I drove to Key West to perform an act of mercy.   I went down there to rescue an Executive Client I have and restored four PCs.  He got hit by a virus that popped up a window demanding that he buy their “product” not once but twice.  I managed to save his data and got all four PCs up to date and running smoothly.

In Home PC Service…

Anyway… on the drive back, I headed through the City of Big Pine.  As you cross onto the island you see this series of signs.  It used to be more than just this, there used to be a series of speed limit signs saying that they ticket for 1MPH over the limit, its expensive, had a traffic information radio station broadcasting why, and so forth.

The Key Deer are a little bit of a thing.  They’re deer that are the size of a dog.  I’ve never actually seen one, although I’ve been seen by them, and I am fine with that.  If it means they’re safe, the better for them.  Now the road is fenced in and there must be less pressure on the little things.  The settled area looks like any other in the Keys – strip malls on US1, homes behind it, water that is bluer than the sky, low trees.  Once you get out of the settled area, the fence starts and continues until you pass out of Big Pine.  Each road that leads out from US1 out of the settled area has grates that are designed to make it difficult for the deer to put their feet on it with little bumps on each ridge.  Seems to work, although I’d hate to breakdown in that area.

Driving the Jeep through there, I’d note the signs, slow to 44mph during the day, and watch intently hoping to see one of the little guys first hand.  Maybe Next Time, I’d tell myself and plan to actually visit Big Pine on the next trip so I could see them.

Who knows if there will be a next time for me in Key West, but I do hope that the Key Deer will continue.  A one of a kind creature in a one of a kind ecosystem, they deserve to survive.

Superglue helps protesters in Edinburgh

I am amused.

Apparently, in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, there have been some climate protests.  People who are genuinely concerned about where our world is going so they’ve taken to the streets.  Finding a corporate shill that they believe is a partial cause to our global warming, the protesters have taken chaining themselves to it to another level.

They superglue themselves to it.

Superglue is a fairly common item in the US, and I would imagine in Scotland and the West.  I assume there are few people who haven’t used it, but if you are that person, there’s a problem with superglue.  It sticks to “everything”, especially skin.  The glue is watery and clear, has a pungent odor, and will bond immediately to your skin.  To remove it or unstick yourself from yourself, you either use nail polish remover (acetone) or you pry gently apart the afflicted items with soap and water and perhaps a spatula.  Make sure that you don’t breathe in the fumes directly.  Some folks can become quite allergic to the fumes and they result in flu like symptoms in about 5% of those exposed.

Once I was working with some superglue in my house.  It was summer, I was in the third floor bedroom of my old house in Philly, and it was warm.  My shoes and socks were off and my bare feet were resting on a heavy plastic floor mat that my chair rolled on.  Of course, I spilled the superglue on my feet and was almost immediately stuck to the floor. 

That will teach me to use the stuff when I’m sipping on a beer, right?  Three beers is even more stupid…

Luckily the floor was a little dusty due to the cockatoo dust from the bird next to my desk and my feet came up after a little bit of surprise and annoyance.

Going back to the protesters, these folks are sticking themselves to buildings, fences and former Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown’s suit coat.  Mr Brown merely removed his coat and was freed from this person, so sticking yourself for Shock And Awe is something that you should do carefully or else your effectiveness is going to be reduced.

Stick to sticking yourself to a Tesco supermarket instead of a former PM.  Much more effective, and annoying too. 

As for removal, I’ve always found it somewhat painful to remove my foot from a floor, so I can imagine these folks are in for an uncomfortable episode.  I’m sitting here amused and wondering if it might just be best to cordon off the area and allow the stuck individuals to stay put until they remove themselves from the item – and not allow them help.  Cordon them off and allow people to point and laugh.  After about 8 or 16 hours, Nature would call I’m sure…

“Hey Charlie, you’re still stuck to the Tesco’s front door, it’s been three days, don’t you wish you brought along the nail polish remover?!?!?”

Ahh the work of a protester is never done!

Durian, Scourge of Mass Transport!

Sure, its a bit dramatic but read on…

If it is from Asian cuisine, most likely I will eat it.  Cruelty free of course, and there are some things I think I may pass on, but for the most part, I have yet to have had a bad Asian or Asian inspired meal.  Thai food can be sublime, Indian is hot and savoury and probably the best vegetarian food, and Chinese food is commonly available and the worst of it is better than the best you’ll find at some fast food chains on the roadway.

I’m talking to you Golden Starches.

Lately we have been watching a lot of shows from the Travel Channel.  The wonderful, pixieish Samantha Brown and the Crazy Big Brother Anthony Bourdain have been wandering around Asia.  Both have hit the same spots, and I think if I ever hit the lottery they have convinced me that I have to go to a Hawker’s Market in Singapore and have some local delicacies.  Both presenters seem like people who would be a fascinating person to spend a lunch with, and you had better follow their suggestions because I’m sure they’d find something in your own back yard that you never knew existed and is now your favourite for the next year or three.

Having moved to Florida, I noticed strange and wonderful trees with fruit here that you only see in stunted varieties or very seasonally back in Philly.  I’ve written many times about my love for Mangoes.   I have a Mango tree in the yard, along with a Banana, Lemon, and of course a Honeybell Orange.  In the neighborhood, there are Papaya trees with fruit the size of a honeydew, a few Soursop trees and some others that I can’t describe. 

Luckily there are no Durian.  They won’t grow here because it gets below 72 and they require full tropical conditions – Fort Lauderdale is not tropical, that starts 20 miles north of Havana if you are being particular. 

Durian is something that has been described as a custard strongly flavored of almonds.  The problem is the smell.  They are banned from hotels and public transport in Singapore because the smell of them when opened is more aptly described as a stench of mouldy sweatsocks mixed with carrion.  Certain varieties are worse, others not so bad.

Notice where this picture is taken – on the hood of the car in the driveway.  This is not even a true Durian, and is only “flavoured” by Durian. 

Why on the car?  Notice that there are three missing on the left, and there is a very heavy plastic bag the whole package is sitting on.  Saturday I found an excellent Asian Market and went shopping.  Got my Oolong Tea which is my first choice for tea both hot and iced.  I got some wonderfully odd candies there flavoured of tropical fruits, some Kimchi, and of course these wafers.

You aren’t going to find Durian Flavoured Cream Wafers in a Publix. 

So why on the car?  I’m getting to that!  Chill!

I got all my prizes back from the market and decided it was time for a snack.  I had heard about all the dire warnings of how pungent Durian could be, so I smiled thinking I had beat that by getting a confectionary made from something resembling Durian.


WRONG! 

With the scissors piercing the mylar wrapper, I was assaulted by what can only be described as a wall of smell.  I’m thinking that there were fruit scents mixed in with Skunk Cabbage, Sewage, and perhaps a little pepper just to make the eyes water. 

Just who knew you could eat Skunk Cabbage too?

I had three little wafers, wrapped the rest up in that bag and had a laugh.  It was about 3 hours later that I noticed that the house still smelled of Durian when I was coming back from the dog walk at 6.  Luckily I had been given some green coffee beans and started roasting them for the neighbor across the street.  I did three cycles of roasting over the next hour and a half, and when I came back in to the house, the pungent smell of coffee roasting was fighting that of the Durian and I knew that it was going to be that way for a while.

Sunday morning, for a snack, I grabbed that bag and had some Durian wafers out on the car.  Even opening the bag a day later was a feat.  For two days, after eating those wafers on top of the flavors of the food that I normally ate, I tasted Durian.  After burping, I didn’t taste chilis from the leftover Chinese Food that I doctored with Sriracha Sauce, I tasted Durian.  Trust me, Sriracha Sauce is one of the strongest spices I keep in the house!

Until Durian.

Fast forward to Sunday.  I woke up and didn’t notice anything awry, went through my motions and even prepared a Pizza with scratch crust, four cheeses, Peppers, Onions and Ham.  After we had our pizza, I took Mrs Dog out for a lap around town and when I got back there it was in the air, under the Pizza and Coffee smell the house usually has… Durian.

Durian, at least in the case of these wafers, was not an unpleasant taste.   It tastes like … Durian.  Distantly like Almonds, somewhat sweet with a strange undernote of something almost chemical.  I really don’t know how to explain it.  The people in Singapore are right, this does NOT belong on Mass Transit.  Leaving one open inside of a car on a hot day would mean the car would be a total wreck and a write off.  But the flavour is something that you just can’t describe. 

At some point, I’ll go back to the Asian Market.  I’ve learned if you can find good Kimchi, Oolong Tea, and Durian Fruit, it is an Excellent Market, should be patronized and happily so.  The people at the market were helpful and I found everything I needed.  They also have, right by the door in mesh bags, Durian fruit. 

So the next time I go back, I may get one Durian.  They grow to the size of a large papaya – about a foot long, although the ones I saw were about the size of a softball – six inches.  Trust me though, when I get this fruit that is covered in spines and has a rough woody skin, I’ll open it outside and seal it up inside of a glass jar.  Not something you particularly want inside your house..

Rainbow’s End is Wilton Towers – Picture

This morning, after all the rain of last night, I realized that I really should bring my good camera every time I leave the house.

You can find beauty everywhere, and a cell phone camera does not always do it justice.  For a blog posting, I’d say this is fine, after all, it is shrunk down to the size of a “standard def” TV screen.  The fog that is in the picture is probably due to the junk that the lens gets on it from riding around in my left pocket.

But enough of that waffling about right?  Spilt milk and all that…

There was a lot of rain last night.  My pool is filled somewhat, my yard watered although the sprinklers kicked in which means the orchids got their water.  The streets were cleared of the dust that collects and everything had jewels that sparkled in the early morning light. 

At the midpoint of this morning’s walk, Lettie stopped to sniff yet-another-interesting-smell and I looked up.  There was a full rainbow.  The end of the rainbow happened to be at the middle of the roof of the Wilton Towers, and the other side was towards the Wilton Drive.  Some might say that it is redundant, rainbows over Wilton Manors.  Others say it is a good omen, after all it was centered over new City Hall and the lot that used to be old City Hall.  At 7AM sunrise, it was a nice moment.

Nobody is up at that time of day but the dog walkers and people on bikes going through town.  It is quiet.  All the partiers are back at their hotels or passed out somewhere under cover.  There weren’t any people banging around trying to get somewhere before traffic, and the Beach Volleyball Court here more resembled a sandbox devoid of attention.  One of the routines of owning a dog is that you must for their sake walk them three times a day.  If your dog acts up, walk them.  Mine gets three miles a day, never a problem which is saying something for a Border Collie.  One of the benefits of going through that slog every day is that you get to see your own city at an intimate level that you flat out don’t from inside a car.  After all that is why urban police departments still perform patrols on foot. 

I’ll remember to bring the camera more often.  The “real” camera just takes better pictures.