Wendie’s Japan Trip

My friend Wendie is back from Japan. I suggested she use Picasa to download and ‘improve’ her photos and Picasaweb to display them to her friends.

My friend Wendie is back from Japan. I suggested she use Picasa to download and ‘improve’ her photos and Picasaweb to display them to her friends. They’re both products from the “Google Boys.” They make their money if you have your photos professionally printed and use them as the middleman.

When she saw how all of this worked, and how easy it would be to pass the photos to her friends and family, she was pretty happy.

The truth is, there are lots of these hidden gems on the Internet – little out-of-the-way places that perform amazing time saving or value adding work, usually with no cost to you.

My dad, who teaches computing to lots of the seniors at his condo complex, sees this kind of result all the time. It’s part of the reason he’s a minor deity in Palm Beach County.

Here is the result of Wendie’s work.

Arrival In Boynton Beach

Is there a tuberculosis sanitarium here in Palm Beach County? I’m asking because of an experience in Tampa last night.

We were standing in line, waiting to board our flight, when the hacker arrived. She was not a Richie Hebner type hacker. This was a woman with a cough loud enough to wake the dead.

When you first hear a cough like this, your reaction is to look up and speak to God. I begged him not to put her in an enclosed aluminum tube with us for an hour.

So much for my pull with God.

We got on and moved about two thirds of the way to the back. She got on and moved farther back. Trajectory was on her side.

As the door to the plane closed, it became apparent she had a partner in crime. Another woman began hacking and coughing. Southwest, now with stereo coughing.

Isn’t this the fear of every airplane traveler? You’re a shut-in with diseased passengers.

So, though we’re thrilled to be here… should Helaine and I come down with something terrible, you read it here first.

Sad News About The Egrets of Boynton Beach

My all time favorite blog entry was about a flock of egrets that lived in a dead tree in my parents’ condo complex. They’re nesting quietly in the picture on the left from January 2004. If you get a chance, read what I wrote. These were special birds.

Of course that was written long before Fall 2004 – a season of two hurricanes here in Palm Beach County.

This afternoon, and again tonight, I returned to their tree to see how the birds fared. Not well is the simple answer.

What was hundreds of birds is now dozens. The lower photo shows the flock this evening. By my visual reckoning 10 to 20% of the birds are left.

I assume, with time, the flock will grow. The space available had probably limited their numbers in the past. Their rookery is in a place with few predators. It will still take years.

If today was my first day visiting the condo complex, I’d look at the tree and never give it a second thought. Now, it’s sad.

Frances As A Spectator Sport

The names used for hurricanes are on a rotation. Every seven years the names repeat. There is, however, one exception. When a storm becomes ‘notorious,’ it is retired. That’s where Frances is headed.

As of this evening it was about twice the size and significantly stronger than Hurricane Andrew was at this stage of the game. That’s not to say Frances will be another Andrew – but there is that potential.







A few weeks ago while watching Hurricane Charley, I remarked about the steady stream of data available. There is less from Frances because of its track. As far as I know there are no weather radars available on the Internet from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos or The Bahamas. There are also few, or no, surface observations nearby.

The information is a little more abstract. It needs to be analyzed more carefully and digested. It is not self evident, like looking at Charley on the Key West radar.

There are weather buoys, drifting in Frances’ vicinity. There are also sporadic readings from hurricane hunter planes. And, of course, there is satellite imagery (though the highest resolution images are only available during daylight hours). These are good, but more would be better.

Hour by hour, computer run by computer run, Frances’ destination seems to be locking in on the Florida East Coast. If I had to venture a guess today, I’d say what I said yesterday – somewhere around Jupiter or Hobe Sound.

That’s no guarantee. No place from Homestead to Savannah would surprise me.

If I were anywhere in Florida tonight, I’d be making sure I was prepared. Even with Frances’ strength, most people inland will be forced to weather the storm in their homes. On the coast it will be a totally different story.

Wherever Frances lands, communication will stop. TV and telephone will be limited. Power will be spotty. In some communities, power will be shut off before the storm as a safety precaution.

Most people who live in South Florida have never felt the impact of any direct hurricane hit – much less a category 4 storm. It will be a sobering experience.

My parents live down there, in Palm Beach County. Of course, I worry for them. Their condo has storm shutters and is reasonably well built. The thing it has most going for it is its inland location. I won’t give them specific advice until we get closer.

My friend Wendie lives in the Miami area. Her office and home are close to the Intracoastal Waterway. That is more worrisome.

In a few of the later computer models, Hurricane Frances slows down while approaching the Florida coast. That could mean an extended period of torrential rain and very strong, damaging wind (possibly not hurricane strength if the storm is far enough off shore).

The are really no good scenarios left.

Much Ado About Frances

Every few years a hurricane like Frances comes along. I’m not talking about the strength or look, because other storms have looked more menacing and posted more impressive stats. I’m talking about the projected path, which at this early stage, brings the storm to South Florida late this week.

Watching a hurricane is like watching a car accident in slow motion. There’s really nothing you can do but get out of the way. Even if we knew exactly where it would strike, there’s little that could be done to change the outcome. Hopefully, people will heed warnings. Inanimate objects stand little chance.

Hurricanes can be so powerful that their strength is beyond our ability to comprehend.

I’ve spoken with a few people who decided to ‘ride out’ hurricanes at home. To a person, after the fact, they all said they made the wrong decision. In each case the person speaking felt that they would surely die, their home would certainly be ripped apart.

My parents live in Palm Beach County, Florida, so this storm gets even more attention from me. Yesterday I told my mom to go out and buy batteries and bottled water. It is very early. There is no immediate threat. Still, if things get worse, I wanted them to already have what they need and not worry about the stores running out – as they surely will.

Tonight, on the air, one of our anchors asked if this storm could blow itself out or dissipate? I suppose anything’s possible, but that is quite an unlikely scenario. Most likely Frances has a good week to ten days ahead of her as a named storm. She’ll either slam into the East Coast or curve into the Atlantic, meeting her demise over colder water.

At the moment, slamming into the East Coast is the odds on favorite.

Wakodahatchee Wetlands

This is probably going to be my last entry concerning the Florida trip, and the one I least anticipated before I went to visit my folks.

I had played golf Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday, my dad was a little sore (I was too) and he begged off. It was a lazy day – very quiet around the house. By early afternoon my mom had asked if I wanted to go to Wakodahatchee.

Sure… except, what is it?

Wakodahatchee Wetlands&#185 is a man made nature preserve in suburban Palm Beach County. If I understand correctly, it is the product of heavily treated waste water (I’m sure heavily treated and clean are two very different words) which is released into a number of manufactured environments.

The actual wetlands were built to allow for a number of different wet habitats. With no human encroachment, the wildlife is varied and flourishes.

For humans, the treat is the 3/4 mile long boardwalk which winds its way through the preserve. The afternoon we went, it was moderately busy. I would guess there were at least 100 people on the boards.

My luck was stumbling upon a ‘prosumer’ photographer. He had a substantial Nikon film camera with a long lens. He stood and shot, watching two blue herons building a nest high in a tree. I’m not sure I would have notified them had he not been so intense.

I took his cue and pulled out my Fuji S602Z. This is a great camera – the best I’ve ever owned. It can be used as a point and shoot camera, but what a waste. Its manual controls allowed me to preset for the shots I wanted, especially with the herons, where I made sure the shutter speed was fast and that I could burst 5 shots in rapid succession with the lens zoomed in fully.

That afternoon, I took some of the best shots I’ve ever taken. I’ve put together an album in my online gallery.

My recommendation (if you have high speed access); use the slideshow mode for the first 6 or 7 images (at least). The sequence with the heron arriving at his nest is really captured well.

&#185 – The official Wakodahatchee Wetlands website hasn’t been updated in over 2 years. A real shame.

What Have I Learned in Florida?

I leave here in a little over 12 hours. Over the course of my flight north, I will lose anywhere from 40&#176 to 60&#176!

The five days I spent with my folks has been wonderful. I spent more time with my dad, nearly every waking hour, but lots of time with my mom too. As sappy as this sounds, every second was a treat. I am so lucky to have had this opportunity.

Tonight, in conversation, my mom told me there were times when I was growing up, when we didn’t speak. I don’t remember that at all. Maybe I blotted it out. Those days are certainly gone.

My mom and dad have a great marriage. They are excellent companions and good friends. And, for the most part, they are friends with each others friends. That’s a bonus in any relationship.

I’ve said in the past that living here in Florida has been life extension for them. I’m sticking with that. It could also be argued, it’s the happiest time of their lives. Even more than happy, they are content.

They have their health… though it’s tough to say both parents are in excellent health when my dad has been through a bypass operation, both carotid arteries have been cleaned, he’s suffered the loss of one eye and now failing hearing. My mom’s a cancer survivor. Still, there doesn’t seem to be anything they want to do that they don’t do because of physical restraints.

My dad and I have talked about his being 78. It’s an age he never planned for – never imagined living to. He doesn’t feel like 78, but what should 78 feel like? Both my folks are older than any family member before them. Neither seems old.

Even Steffie has commented on their relative youth, compared to their friends specifically and their contemporaries in general. This is a major compliment coming from someone who does not throw out compliments easily.

The area in Florida where they live is Utopia for seniors. Today, my mom went to ceramics class. She has started painting again – something she hadn’t done seriously for decades. My dad has easy access to golf and high speed access on the computer. Their condo complex has social events and shows on a regular basis. John Davidson is coming in a few weeks. They’ll be going to a cousin’s condo to see Elaine Boozler.

In this part of Palm Beach County, seniors rule. They are mainstream. They are catered to. They are the goose that lays the golden egg – and you think twice before screwing with the goose.

They are surrounded by friends. The group of friends they’ve had for the past 50+ years – a group that was scattered across the New York City Metropolitan Area – is now here… and in the same town! And they have made Florida friends here in the condo complex.

My dad is a computer guru here. I had always kidded him about that. Friday, a man approached my dad in the condo clubhouse and thanked him for earlier advice. He was proud of his accomplishment, and vindicated, all at once.

Tonight, at dinner, someone talked about a development named “Journey’s End.” No one in Florida wants to think about the journey’s end. I don’t blame them. Yet it surrounds them.

My mom attended a memorial ceremony a few days ago. “I didn’t know he had done so much,” she said. The sound of sirens is often heard along Military Trail or nearby Boynton Beach Boulevard. Their coterie of friends is smaller than it once was. Most have, so far, dodged serious ailments.

Helaine and I talk often about dumping winter and moving here, where it’s always warm. After five days here – five days of beautiful weather while Connecticut suffered through cold temperatures of historic proportion – I am more enticed by the idea than ever. It’s still too early in our lives, but our day will come.

We should be as happy – as content – as my parents.

The Amazing Egrets of Boynton Beach

Egrets are not deep sleepers. From time to time one will move or adjust his position. That motion will affect other nearby birds, and before long a section of the tree’s population will have their wings up for stability or even take a very brief flight. A sound sleeper would soon be in the lake.

This place–the condo complex my parents live in is built on swampland. They’re not alone. Much of South Florida’s inhabited land was once the province of birds, game and gators.

In many cases, civilization has killed the wildlife off or forced it to move away. In other cases, people and animals live together in harmony. That’s what this entry is all about: cohabitation between the species.

My folks moved in nine years ago. Back then they noticed an amazing tree. By day, it was bare… in fact, much of it looked dead with no leaves or hint of green. In the twilight of early evening it came alive as egrets flew in and landed. Overnight the birds slept on the tree.

As far as I can tell, what we have here is called a rookery.

rook-er-y ( P ) Pronunciation Key (rk-r)
n. pl. rook-er-ies
A breeding place of gregarious birds, as of herons, penguins, etc.

The tree sits at the edge of a small, man made lake. This part of Palm Beach County is crawling with little lakes, dredged to afford water views and raise housing prices for the developers. This lake, maybe more of a pond, isn’t special in any way I can see… but it is to egrets. They chose it for their home.

It’s not out in the wild nor removed from civilization. The tree is about as close as it can be to the clubhouse for this complex of 600 units. There is foot and car traffic every day. The egrets don’t care.

They fill this tree 365 days a year and every morning they all fly away to do whatever it is egrets do. They return, flying in groups of 5 to 10, swooping down and heading upwind before finding their branch just before sunset. It’s tough to believe that the landing patterns at LAX or JFK are any more precise or coordinated.

They sleep in close proximity. Egrets are not deep sleepers. From time to time one will move or adjust his position. That motion will affect other nearby birds, and before long a section of the tree’s population will have their wings up for stability or even take a very brief flight. A sound sleeper would soon be in the lake.

In the quiet of the evening looking across the lake at the motionless birds you sometimes hear a staccato sound. It’s bird poop, hitting the water.

Last year, someone thought it would be a good idea to have a contest. Count the birds and win a prize. A photo was taken, setting the benchmark, and everyone took a guess. There are a little more than 300 birds in the tree. My mom’s guess was closest. She won a stuffed bird (a toy stuffed bird – not something that had visited a taxidermist).

Earlier today, when I went to take my daylight ’empty nest’ photo, a few people sat on a bench, looking out at the lake. This evening, getting the return shot, there were more people and what looked like twin toddlers. I’m sure their grandparents were more excited than they were and that some day they’ll be quizzed to see if they remember the tree with all the birds.

When I returned tonight I had the birds to myself. It is an amazing sight.

From the distance, the tree looks like it’s lit by small incandescent bulbs. It’s only as you get closer that you begin to see the individual birds. Even then, they don’t really look like birds. Their heads and beaks are tucked down in their feathers, probably to preserve heat and energy in the cool of the evening. For the most part it’s a still life.

I’ve never seen anything like it and probably never will anywhere else. Not that they had anything to do with it, but the birds are a matter of pride for the condo dwellers.

Nearly every place has something special and out of the ordinary that only the locals know about. If only I knew the right questions to ask.