A High of 84 in the Living Room

If you want to move to South Florida, you have to like it warm.

You also have to understand that things are different here.  The stability that you have in some other areas isn’t completely guaranteed here.

Things work for the most part, but when they go wrong they leave you scratching your head. 

In the seven years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen water spouts, tropical storms (weak, and I’ve been lucky), thunderstorms that threatened to fill the street in front of the house, power “pops” on a daily basis, and wildlife that really shouldn’t be here.

Don’t get me started about the iguanas.  I’m thinking about finding that recipe they had in the little restaurant in Port of Spain, Trinidad for Iguana Tail Soup.

When life gives you Iguanas, make Iguana Tail Soup!   Skip the Lemonade, I’ll be in the kitchen for a while.

There isn’t a “perfect” place anywhere in the United States.  Even San Diego has earthquakes (minor ones, but they’re there) and it’s a near desert climate.  If utilities were completely cut off in Las Vegas, the interstates would be clogged with SUV’s loaded up like the Clampetts heading off to Bev-er-lee within a day or three I would wager.

But here on our quirky little island smack dab in the middle of the South Florida Sprawl, you get to expect weirdness.  Nothing terribly threatening, although a tornado would ruin your day. 

When Wilma came through, my neighbors tell me, power was off on my block for two weeks.

I guess then waking up warm and sweaty at 5:30AM the other day was a minor inconvenience. 

It was 79, in the house. 

Air Conditioning is a requirement here.   We go from cooled house to chilled car to cold offices, stop off at the refrigerated mall for lunch, and reverse our paths to come home at night to our climate controlled comfort.

Sure you adjust to the heat some.  I keep my house at 78 during the day if I forget to turn the air conditioning down to it, otherwise it goes up to 80.   Meh.

But at that time of morning I knew something was up. 

We had had a shower come through, and I slept in blissful ignorance.  The dog doesn’t seem to mind the weather, and the parrot is off in the living room too far for me to hear.

Every time we have a storm, we have a power surge.  I swear if you can put a personality to the power here, Mrs. FPL is a menopausal middle aged woman with bad knees and a limp.   Wilma slapped FPL’s infrastructure around and it left the power creaky at best.

If we have a power surge, then anything can happen.

In our case, even though everything is on filters, the house, plus each major appliance, the router went mental.  It stopped working for us.  

It also weakened a capacitor in my air conditioning.  That capacitor took a couple days to finally blow.

Knowing the symptoms, I got a late in the day appointment to get it fixed and made sure there was plenty of ice for drinks in the house.   If it got too bad, I’d grab the dog and take him somewhere more comfortable.   As it was it only hit 84 indoors by the end of the day.

It’s not even getting into the 90s yet which is a bit late by my memory for this time of year.

So while I was scrambling to restore my daily driver computer that got hit by a virus, we had to figure out the a/c and the wifi router.  

Busy day.

It was interesting to watch the dog get thinner as the day went on.   He planted himself in the middle of the living room, under the ceiling fan, on the tiles.  Spreading himself out as wide as he could get, he melted into the Florida Tiles on one side, caught as much of the breezes as possible on the other.

Just one day without A/C.  Not a major problem, and the temperatures weren’t too terrible.  After all, this isn’t the desert with 110 or 120F heat. 

Our Crusty Old Compressor got fixed by our Crusty Old A/C guy with a couple interesting stories about how it was Back In The Days.  One thing he said was that he’s heard stories from other A/C people.   Down here, A/C repair is a racket.  They know they have you.  Billboards scream “Your Wife Is Hot” and in smaller print it says “get your A/C fixed today”.  That company I have been told is a ripoff, and you really have to have a recommendation from a friend for repairs here.

The story goes that with Tropical Storm Chantal looming, and it has since blown out in the Caribbean, they were looking for more money.  You see, storms have lightning.  Lightning strikes the power lines and sends a surge into them.  Those surges blow out the capacitors or compressors and Your Wife Is Hot becomes truth and not a cute slogan.  These bozos were looking forward to “raking in the dough” – his words, not mine.

Now I understand why when a major storm is coming through, people cut power off to the house.  May as well let the next guy watch their dog melt into the floor instead of you having to do it too.

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Stop SOPA

There’s a protest in the US about this badly written law called SOPA.  If you don’t know what it is, there are plenty of websites that will tell you about it and why it is bad for society both in the US and in the world.

Here is a fairly well written article from a tech website that puts it all into a somewhat readable for the average person perspective.

Simply put it says if you own “property” on the internet, you have the right to have websites that are using it to be closed.  You do that by demanding that the search engines block that site, internet providers block the site and so on and so forth.

You send a letter to a search engine saying block this, and they’re expected to comply.
You send a letter to Paypal or any other online banking system and they are expected to block you from ever receiving any more funds.

And so on…

If you get on this black list, the person or company who put you there is immune from prosecution.  This is whether it is done correctly or not.

You’re blocked.  Period.  You have no recourse.  Bye!  You are now digitally dead.

Luckily President Obama has said (in this Forbes Article) he does not support the law and will not sign it.  That will stop it.  This Time.  It will be back.

So how do we stop this sort of thing from happening in the future in this country?

Maybe the motto of the time shouldn’t be Tea or Occupy but Throw the Bums Out, selectively.

Anyone who is in favor of this sort of legislative garbage is clearly against the rights of the individual.  It’s up to you whether you support that or not.  After all, there are still elections in this country and November is coming soon.

Back your data up – or F.U. FPL

I am not having a good technology day.   It started yesterday mid morning around this time. 

I was making a serving of grits in the microwave and it boiled over.  Spectacularly so.  There was grits all over the microwave that dried into a concrete that the city of Portland would be proud of.  I managed to clean that up, and promised to really clean the inside of the microwave later. 

After spilling the boiling water over the top of the coffee maker and making a mess that later cleaned up easily, I settled in to do the morning routine. 

Later I took a break and set off the smoke detector while roasting some coffee. 

Some would say that I’m being clumsy and should get out of the kitchen so I did.

I settled in the chair with the old creaky laptop and went through the rest of the morning and the lunch hour, without incident.

Part of the morning routine is maintaining a spreadsheet of everything I have done in the Job Search.  There’s a significant amount of data on that sheet, and I tend to back it up on an infrequent schedule.  The last time was November 29, as I was going to go to Key West.   When that trip fell through, I thought nothing more of it, since I could keep that little SD card inside the slot securely.

Not so very securely it turns out.

I was sitting in that same chair, surfing, looking at job sites, considering whether to write something for the blog, and listening to some music online.  Trinidad All Stars, a wonderful competition that happens annually in Port of Spain Trinidad was playing some bouncy Steel Drum music through the speakers on the laptop when “it” happened.

The laptop shut off.

I don’t mean it went through an orderly shut down.  It didn’t say “Battery is low” and wanted me to plug it in.  It didn’t do the windows 7 shutdown routine.  It was as if some invisible ghost unplugged the laptop from the wall, removed the battery, and off it went.  I still can get more than an hour out of this battery and the laptop is more than 3 years old.

Uh Oh.

There was more to it than that.  At that very moment the music shut down on the internet radio, the stereo amplifier snapped off, and the house was briefly filled with the hum of the refrigerator – coming back up to speed.

We had taken yet-another power hit. 

This power hit also reset the clock on the microwave and some other clocks in the house.  They were flashing 12:00 at me and let me know that what ever happened, was big.

I’m used to this, I have lost two desktop computers in FPL’s very dirty power.  I have written about this before, and moved to laptops because I thought them safer with the power going through a brick on the floor that is plugged into a surge suppressor power strip.  This took out the music – which didn’t come back until much later when I unplugged the Logitech Squeezebox Classic and the stereo amp from the power conditioner.

I was NOT happy.  I didn’t see anything wrong with the laptop but had to go through a couple restarts before it felt stable again and didn’t realize that there was more to happen.

What happened wasn’t discovered until this morning.  The old Acer Aspire laptop has a small slot.  The slot is for an “SD Chip” and that was where I kept my job search data.  Last backed up November 29th.  I couldn’t get to the chip on windows 7 and it helpfully asked to format it.  NO!  After unplugging it and plugging it and cursing FPL, Thomas Edison, IBM, and the Chinese for making most of this technology, I put the chip in an older windows XP machine. 

Still nothing.  I had a “fried” memory chip.

I have two others.  The other chips are 8GB each, this one was only 256MB.  I was thinking that if it were fried, I got enough life out of the little Sandisk 256 Meg chip so I could toss it and move onto one of the 8GBs.  Finding that none of them had a more recent backup, I formatted the chip and got on with life.

If this could happen to me with many years of expertise in PC and Computer technology, it can happen to you.  Florida Power and Light is notoriously unstable in this are so if the data is worth keeping, it is worth saving.

Here is how I will do that henceforth:

1) I have moved the data backup onto the laptop hard drive and will work from there as the “master”.

2) When through the daily work, I will copy the data back out to the 256MB chip and then remove the chip.  It will now be my daily backup not the daily source of the data.

3) Weekly copy the data from the laptop to the other two 8GB chips I have hidden.

You see, backing your data up is very important.  It can get anyone. 

If you’re moving into South Florida, get yourself some power conditioners and preferably a power conditioner with a battery backup.  They aren’t terribly expensive and will save you what I went through.  The power conditioner will take the hit and you will be able to recover without spending extra time or money on new equipment. 

Remember my own personal experience and my own personal opinion – FPL has Dirty Power.

The first time I wrote about it is here for Part 1.  The second time for Part 2 is here

Good luck keeping your data safe!

Boom, That wasn’t good…

It is a cool winter day in South Florida.  Since everything is relative the windows are open and we’re in shorts in the house. 

The morning semi quiet was disturbed by the normal sounds of a Friday.   The radio was on playing some quiet classical music from an internet radio station.  The drip feed irrigation was watering the pots.  The water for my coffee was just at boil and I was taking it off the burner. 

Getting ready to pour the water over the grounds, the lights suddenly cut off.

The house was in an instant quiet.  There was a “PING!” noise like you hear in a Hollywood post apocalyptic movie.  At the same time, there was a distant BOOM! as if something just got hit. 

I hear from the other side of the house “Uh Oh, That wasn’t good!”. 

Setting the teapot back on the cooling burner I came out into the main house and surveyed the damage.  The TV Computer was restarting.  It hadn’t been enough of a power pop to restart the stereo, but the internet radio had just rebooted itself with a cheery “Logitech” logo streaming across its face in florescent cyan.  Ceiling fan was spinning back up to speed and the washer was burbling in the laundry room for the Friday Laundry-Fest.

Sensing all was normal, I padded back into the kitchen.  Pouring the hot water over the coffee, and stirring it to make the morning half-caff, I notice there are now sirens screaming in the distance.  

Apparently someone had hit a pole on the raceway that is Wilton Drive.  With our creaky power infrastructure here, any time that happens, the side of the city grid that that pole is on goes dark for a second or two then back on.  Not enough to stop you from making breakfast or that coffee pot that I am enjoying now, but just enough to restart sensitive electronic equipment like computers and internet radios.

This side effect of having a raceway in the middle of the city is a minor one.   We have a four lane highway running through the heart of the business district.   It is placed to move people from Downtown Fort Lauderdale to Oakland Park.  It is a bypass of Sunrise Boulevard.  People use it and see it as a good alternative to sitting at the lights next to Holiday Park.

This being South Florida, the speed limit is merely a suggestion at 30 MPH.  People seem to change their tires at speeds higher than that.  They also strike down pedestrians and cause a fatality at speeds higher than that.

A good argument for narrowing the drive is to watch the people fly past all the businesses on their way to somewhere else in rush hour.  An even better argument for doing that is to watch them fly past at 9pm on a Thursday Night.

The power pops we have here are usually only an annoyance. I have lost a significant amount of electronics since moving here.  Not enough of a reason to expect a city to rebuild its central core.  But it is yet another reason.  The accidents, not my electronics.

Hopefully that person who was in a rush to get from one side of our little island to the other didn’t kill anyone or cause too much damage when they caused that accident.  At this time of day, someone’s work day will be messed up.  Luckily few people are out walking their dogs at 7AM.  At 7PM it is a very different story.

This sort of thing happens at least once a week.  It is fairly predictable.  It is completely preventable.  Leave 10 minutes earlier, reduce your speed to legal limits, and chill out South Florida.  My neighborhood will thank you.

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.

FPL Has Dirty Power Part 2

When I had my board meeting at City Hall, we had a bit of a Bull Session before hand.
It turns out that my experience with FPL’s Dirty Power is common here in Wilton Manors. Out of the seven board members there, and the Board Secretary, every one of us have had a complaint about losing electronics here.   When you have computing equipment plugged into the walls, they can take a Power Hit at any time whether they are turned on or not.   NOAA Weather Radio will tell you to unplug your unused equipment when a storm approaches, but how reasonable is that when some of it is hard wired like your oven, is required to be on all the time like your refrigerator or freezer, or is needed for “normal” life like your Tivo, Cable Box, or electric clocks?
Not that any of my rant will have that much of an effect, but FPL in their great wisdom is agreeing with me.  They have a For Profit group called FPL Fibernet supplying Internet to Downtown Ft Lauderdale at the old ImpSat building at Dixie Highway and NE 20th Drive.  They have agreed with my comment by digging up the lawns on NE 20th Drive and sending the Fibre Optic lines underground.   Wow, underground?   Its For Profit, that would be why, and I’m waiting for the trees that were disturbed on the properties to start dying.  Thankfully the trees on my property are well back from the swales and I am a couple blocks from having my yard torn up.  After all, trees and the neighborhood are not as important as paying customers who aren’t being directly served by better internet access for Downtown?
So when will the power lines go underground?