Monday, June 30, 2008

Offlede has writer's block, probably because of the humidity

I'm beginning to learn that I must always carry an umbrella in Florida. In this photo snapped on my cell phone, I wait inside the movie theater for the rain to let up. But this couple seems to have the right idea: That umbrella is so big that it must have been pilfered from the outdoor dining area of one of the nearby restaurants.

I have been tasked with writing something, but in order to write it, I have to be able to write.

In other words, I can't write. I've contracted the block. And I just can't shake it.

Lack of any vacation time in the past seven months must have something to do with this feeling of stupidity and helplessness. My planned trips to Washington (the Newseum), Maine (home) and northern California (of which there will be little of when I visit because of the wildfires) can't come soon enough.

Another likely contributor to this writer's block is the Florida humidity.

Having thrown my arms up in defeat when trying to put my fingers to the keypad, I decided to take in a movie. I caught the $6.50 matinee of "Wall-E," Pixar's brilliantly dark-yet-charming film about too much garbage on Earth (which, really, is already a reality) and robot love.

It's funny that the underlying themes of the last two movies I've seen - "The Happening" and "Wall-E" - made political statements about the environment.

Because of its political correctness in its environmental sensitivity and because of its references to Apple computer products, "Wall-E" is both a PC and a Mac movie. How 'bout that?

But despite its appeal to Al Gore, "Wall-E" surprisingly surprised me, too. It was the best film I've seen since "Shrek." I like how the most clever films these days are made for children. It says something about the devolution of adult entertainment.

Whoa, way off track there. OK, what was I talking about? Oh yes, humidity. It's about 150 percent.

When the sound faded at the end of the movie, I heard raindrops pelting the roof of The Rave theater in Viera. The sound was soothing: As the gap in the sky widened, the rain sounded like waves crashing against the beach.

It was pouring so hard that I didn't want to leave and get soaked in the process. I was planning to plant myself in a cafe to complete my writing assignment, and I knew that wearing drenched clothes in an overly air-conditioned room wouldn't be conducive such a task.

So I waited. And waited. And ... waited.

Lighting struck nearby.

My strategy to wait out the storm was unsuccessful. I'm sitting in Panera and drinking coffee to stay warm. But it's not helping. To say that I have cold feet about this writing assignment is both literal and figurative.

I just can't flush those words out of my head.

It's time for medium coffee cup No. 4.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Offlede gets cute and ugly animals (goes mainstream)

A worker was leading an emu around the grounds of the Brevard Zoo during my visit Monday. I don't consider this baby emu very cute, but the kid reacting to touching it is, so I'm good.

This post picks up where the last left off.

Actually, this just dawned on me: I have never been to a real zoo.

I'm from Maine, so I've been to plenty of aquariums. I've been to parks. I've been to animal preserves with deer and lynx and other more northerly creatures.

But a zoo? Tropical birds? Gators? Kangaroos? Giraffes? Nope, never seen that stuff.

So the latter half of Monday consisted of my first visit to a real zoo.

The Brevard Zoo is small and inexpensive - $11.50 for an adult. It's a place you can easily visit in a single afternoon. So I did that.

Most of my time was spent fooling with my new video camera, which I will blog about later. I focused on video instead of still photos. But about an hour into my visit, my battery died. I didn't have a spare, as I do with my still camera, so I was out of luck.

Unfortunately, I don't have enough footage for a good video. I plan to return to the zoo to make that happen.

The most momentous portion of the visit was when I saw an alligator for the first time. Too bad it had to be in captivity; I don't think it counts.

My recent focus on cute animals is all part of an effort to take The Offlede mainstream. As we all know, traditional readers love cute kittens, dogs and bears wandering in someone's backyard. Because I got some heavy traffic with the Nibbler piece earlier this week, I think this strategy will pay off.

I took few photos because of my preoccupation with the video camera, but these are some of what I did get.

It's a sign. Nothing misspelled in it, either. So far, so good.

For an extra fee, you can kayak on one of two water courses on zoo grounds. Above, a tour guide leads a group through the Expedition Africa part of the zoo, a course that seems geared more toward younger children.

Flamingo. First time seeing one. They congregated in a pond at the center of the zoo.

Another bird. Don't know what.

Some parrot variety.

Mr. Long Beak.

Much fuss has been made about the Chilean pudu, the world's smallest deer. If you ask me, this little fawn is ugly. Certainly not as cute as Nibbler.

White rhino gets kind of dirty. ... You were ugly in the first place. Can't hide that with mud, dude.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wait! What? There's sunshine in the Sunshine State?

I went to Port Canaveral to photograph a rally of people worried about the loss of jobs at Kennedy Space Center. I wasn't too impressed by the rally, so I instead photographed the moon, the destination of NASA's next mission.

As a copy editor who works nights, I spend most of my weekends - Mondays and Tuesdays - in bed.

Well, that's not entirely true. I spend most of the daylight hours of my weekends in bed. And when I do that, there's little time to enjoy life because Florida - especially this part of it - is a very 9-to-5 kind of place. And, in case you couldn't gather from its nickname, it's a very sun-worshiping kind of place, too.

I took a different - though tiresome - approach this weekend.

At 4 a.m. Monday, before going to bed after working Sunday night, I spontaneously decided to get up early and make the most of my day.

At 8:30 a.m. in Port Canaveral (25 minutes north), there was supposed to be a large rally of people advocating for NASA jobs. Florida's senators - Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez - were supposed to speak in front of a crowd of 6,400, with each rally participant representing a Kennedy Space Center worker who will lose his job when the shuttles are retired in 2010. I thought it would be a good photo op. I thought it would remind me of D.C. protests.

So I woke up just before 7 a.m. It was a solid three hours of sleep. I took a quick jog to wake myself up. It's amazing how cool Florida is in the morning, just after the sun has risen. It's much easier to jog in 75 degrees than in the 95 degrees I usually experience in the mid-afternoon.

I made it to the port at 8:45 a.m. I took my time, so I was a little late. But when I arrived, it was obvious that I hadn't missed much. There were a few hundred people, and the senators had already wrapped up their rally cries. Where were the 6,400 people? Probably either at work or at home doing the crossword puzzle.

Plan B.

Without anything exciting to do, I resolved to walk around the port, looking at the cruise ships and waterfront restaurants that serve seafood and drinks with umbrellas. Unfortunately, it was 9 a.m., and fried fish didn't seem appetizing at the time. Even if it did, none of the eateries were open.


Among the restaurants are boats. Public ramps offer a point from which the more wealthy residents of Brevard County - or, more likely, Orlando - launch their fancy boats. Above is a storage place for several.

The SunCruz casino ship takes cruisers on daily gambling trips along the east coast of Florida. At 10 a.m., as I walked by the ship, its workers were arriving and the deck was being sprayed with water.

But I didn't want to get hosed, too. I laugh at suckers who gamble. Wasting money isn't my cup of tea.

I walked some more.

Paintings on the outside walls of small, rickety buildings advertise half-day deep-sea fishing trips or nighttime shark-hunting expeditions. That would have been fun if I had planned ahead. That's another foreign concept in my pursuit of fun-having: forethought.


Not having the time or the energy for such an undertaking, I decided instead to do some shopping in Cocoa Beach.

In the two months I had lived in Cocoa Beach, I had never visited Ron Jon Surf Shop, above, a 24-hour superstore in the heart of the city. Most of the time I spent there Monday was consumed by the rather tedious and frustrating search for a been-there-done-that T-shirt. Most of the options screamed too loudly "surfer dude." Flowers. Wild designs. Large printing. One changed colors in the sunlight, and another was scented.

I eventually found a brown shirt with the classic Ron Jon logo on the front and, thankfully, absolutely nothing on the back.


The exterior of the store is guarded by large artifacts of the water-faring culture. There's a statue of local surfing legend Kelly Slater. My favorite was of a no-name windsurfer, above.


Feeling a bit famished after the exhausting search for a T-shirt, I wound up at Coconuts on the Beach, a restaurant-bar-club with direct ocean frontage not too far from where I used to live on the beach. Knowing I had to go with the seafood, I settled on the crab cake sandwich and sweet potato fries, above. It was risky because I can easily dislike a crab dish. It's not like a piece of haddock, which, good or bad, I could devour.

But when it arrived, I was blown away. It was fancier than I had expected from a beachside joint: The remoulade was delightfully spicy. The crab cake's mix of spices was just enough to complement the meat without overpowering the shellfish taste. It was excellent. And only $9.


And of course, my view, above, from the deck outside Coconuts probably made the meal taste even better.

It was a good day. But it was only 1 p.m. On a usual weekend day, after being up for six hours, it would be dark already.

But on this day, there was much more left. And there was only one thing stopping me from enjoying it: a low camera battery.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

At least I can tell myself that I made a difference

I think the Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too (such as spelling) had a hand in this transformation.

I'm sure my post had nothing to do with this, but either way, it's nice to see a wrong righted.

Harvey's Groves spelled "magic" with a J instead of a G on its sign, left, in Cocoa Beach. I noticed it and photographed it when I was there for a rocket launch on June 11.

On Monday, I returned, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it corrected.

I would like to think that I reported it, and someone decided to do something about it. It makes me feel important.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No more sugar = more water at Lake Okeechobee

I had never seen sugar cane before taking this photo.

Lake O still has some water.

I took a trip in January to Lake Okeechobee, where I investigated the surprising lack of water in the lake and toured the refreshingly rural area that surrounds it.

Go here for that post.

Years of farming crops such as sugarcane have sucked the water out of Lake O and the connected Everglades. Corn, left, is also cultivated in the region.

But Gov. Charlie Crist, in a big conservation move, announced today that the state o' Florida will buy U.S. Sugar for $1.7 billion. The company owns 187,000 acres of land around Lake O and has contributed greatly to its downfall. A New York Times story says:
"The intention is to restore the Everglades by restoring the water flow from Lake Okeechobee, in the heart of the state, south to Florida Bay. That flow had been interrupted by commercial farming and the Everglades have suffered as a result."
U.S. Sugar Chief Executive Robert Buker Jr. said, "It the right thing to do." (Yes, that's right, he left out a verb in that sentence. Or maybe The Times left it out? Not sure.)

I thought this would be a great time to revisit my map of Lake O.

I took a counter-clockwise drive around the lake and took photos and notes along the way. I capped the day with some fried okra at a local hole-in-the-wall diner.


View Larger Map

Living with crime: His wallet stolen, roommate gets guard dog

Nibbler, a 3-month-old Pembroke Welsh corgi, undergoes guard-dog boot camp in the living room with drill sergeant Mark, my roommate. Nibbler already has distinguished herself as having what it takes to PROTECT THIS HOUSE. Grrr. Get that rope.

This is her tactic: She poses, then ... ATTACKS!

As I blogged about a few weeks ago, my roommate was the victim of a rash of car burglaries in the area of Wickham Park in Melbourne (rash = 12 burglaries, approximately). His black leather wallet was stolen from his Dodge.

I was shaken. I have a Nautica black leather trifold, and if it were to be stolen, I would totally flip.

My roommate, however, handled his misfortune with grace: He ordered new credit cards and IDs without grumbling.

But, in the wake of the crime, I think he has come to his senses and is taking matters into his own hands to prevent this from happening again. And if the perps do try it again, they will be mauled.

Yes. My roommate has purchased a guard dog.

She's a mean, less-than-10-pound Pembroke Welsh corgi. She's 3 months old. And the people yesterday at Petland in Viera told my roommate, Mark, that the dog would grow to be a fierce 25 pounds.

And if that doesn't scare you, her name definitely will. It's Nibbler. My roommate chose the name in honor of Lord Nibbler of Comedy Central's animated series "Futurama." Wikipedia, the most reliable source on the Internet, says Lord Nibbler "masquerades as an innocent, cute and unintelligent pet. In very rare circumstances he may break his undercover identity and suddenly be discovered to be super intelligent, equipped with unique technology and strange natural abilities, which he uses as part of his secret mission to guard the existence of the entire universe."

How perfect is the name Nibbler?

When you look at her, she's a cute dog you'd like to pick up, put on your lap and pet while you're reading a Judy Blume novel on a rainy summer Saturday.

But get her mad, and Nibbler acts like a creature straight out of Stephen King's "The Langoliers." She'll nibble at your ankles and nibble at your toes, and then she'll rip your socks off.

The breed, Pembroke Welsh corgi, is known as the perfect herding varietal. The corgis may be little (the smallest of the herding group), but they pack a punch when they nip at the legs of those sheep they have over there in the U.K.

Nibbler will be locked in her cage until Mark can train her sufficiently so that she doesn't nibble off the legs of the dining room table. Several cords behind the big-screen TV in the living room are in danger, too. Mark sprayed all of them with a substance that supposedly tastes awful to dogs. But tonight, that didn't seem to stop Nibbler as she followed Mark and sniffed each area that he sprayed.

I'll be monitoring miscreant levels in the Baymeadows subdivision to chronicle any decline now that this new crime-fighting measure has been deployed.

But to be honest with you, I might feel safer outside this house. Now, the biggest danger is coming from within. I mean, look at her ...

Tongue ... has ... evil ... powers.

Photography mission possible: daytime lightning shot

This successful daytime lightning photo was taken in the parking lot of J.C. Penney in the Melbourne Square mall.

I've always wondered how difficult it is to get a photo of lightning during the daylight hours.

I have plenty of night shots, taken with a lengthy shutter speed in order to catch whatever bolts strike within the frame. But during the day, a lengthy shutter speed would overexpose the photo.

So how do those photogs do it?

I'm too much of a male to consult a manual or guide book, so I set out to devise my own approach. And the only solution, I thought, was to use the rapid-fire technique, depressing the camera trigger, snapping shot after shot until lightning struck within the frame.

I tried that during a thunderstorm last night over a parking lot at the Melbourne Square mall. It was before sunset, so it was still quite bright, but storm clouds had darkened the sky a bit.

I pointed my camera toward an area that seemed to be getting the most strikes. And I snapped at will.

I can get only about 2 1/2 frames per second on my Nikon D40. But on the 65th shot, lightning struck. And I caught it.

So it's really not that difficult.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

D.C. college to hire copy writer/editor/security guard

The Craigslist page dares fools to apply.

I don't use "OMG" lightly, but this is just one of those occasions when it's appropriate.


Just after bashing The Associated Press for suggesting that my six years of journalism education qualified me to be a security guard, I noticed that a college in Washington was offering a two-in-one position for a copy writer who simultaneously acts as a security guard.

The position was advertised on Craigslist, and the lucky candidate who scores it will be paid $18 an hour. This was the actual Craigslist page. But it has expired, so go here instead; I saved it to an Offlede page.

I had previously reported - incorrectly - that the employer was American University. But because AU is not a "for-profit college," as the advertisement said, I now know it was not the beloved institution that granted me a master's degree. (Phew.) A reader alerted me to the fact that I had misread and not read certain parts of the advertisement - quite important parts, too.

But either way ... O-M-G.

Here are the highlights:
"You will ... be responsible for writing, editing and proofreading a wide range of print and online materials including content for our web site, emails to students, and other marketing materials.
The twist: while you are writing copy you will also fill the role of security guard, working 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. ... The security guard spends most of the shift seated at the reception desk, and there will be very minimal security duties. Practically the entire shift you will be able to focus on writing copy – you’ll just happen to be wearing a uniform."

Do I need a degree for this? The qualifications:
"The ideal candidate will bring a BA or BS Degree in Journalism, Communications, English or other Liberal Arts degrees. Candidates who are currently working on such a degree will be considered."
I must have been onto something when I wrote that the skills of a copy editor translate well into the security field. When journalism dies, I have a future - as a part-time security guard.

Blogger's note: My error occurred when I thought the "American University" part of the heading was the employer and "Tenleytown" was the closest Metro stop. I'm used to calling the Metro stop just "Tenleytown," not "American University/Tenleytown," which is its real name. So "American University/Tenleytown" only had to do with the location, not the employer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Jason launches (I think), makes Al feel all tingly inside

Is that the rocket? Nope, that's just the light from a house.

Space can't stop me.

Despite the 2,738 miles between me and the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, I tried to take some photos of the Delta 2 launch that starts a NASA mission to measure the Earth's rising sea levels through a satellite called Jason 2.

I should have used the 200mm lens instead of going with the wide-angle shot because all I got was clouds. The house lights played with my mind a few times when I thought they were the glow from the rocket.

The NASA-TV image to the left, however, proves that the rocket successfully pushed off from its earthly moorings at 3:46 a.m. and that it is headed toward space to effectively increase to size of Al Gore's ego.

According to the AP, I'm qualified to be its security guard


I wasted a lot of time during my job-hunting excursion last summer.

I had just graduated with my second degree in journalism, this one a Master of Arts from American University. I had several newspaper internships on my resume, including the Dow Jones position at Newsday I was serving at the time. I thought I stood a good chance of getting something I would enjoy.

And I did. But there were plenty of pointless tasks that I could have done without.

I placed my resume on, and Each gave me the same result: jack.

Then I signed up for job alerts from The Associated Press. Its Web site prompted me to enter my qualifications, and it promised to send messages when it thought I was qualified for a position.

When they started coming, I realized that I had further wasted my precious time. These were the positions the e-mails suggested: business systems analyst, product specialist, business assistant, product support specialist, administrative assistant, order processing specialist, marketing/administrative assistant, production coordinator, order specialist, editorial assistant, photo retoucher and sales correspondent.

It's a no-brainer that any position ending with "specialist" or "assistant" is going to be lame-o.

Oh, but "production coordinator?" COORDINATOR? That sounds important. Then I read the job description: "transcribing sound-bites for use in scripts and by the AP wire." Another yawner.

I never unsubscribed from the e-mails because they were good sources of amusement. But the one I got today was a real laugher: security guard.

Here are the responsibilities of the position. Let's see if I could handle it.
  • Experience in providing security in the assigned area.
    • Each time I edit a story, I kill grammatical and factual errors that try to enter it. Unlike most editors, my tactic is: Shoot first, ask questions later.
  • Enforce that all visitors wishing to enter the building show proper I.D. and sign in before entering.
    • I equate this security responsibility with protecting the paper against plagiarism. If they aren't who they say they are, WHACK! POW! KA-BOOM!
  • Providing information and directions as needed.
    • At FLORIDA TODAY, we frequently get callers who demand to speak with the circulation department because, "I DIDN'T GET MY SATURDAY PAPER!" I'm pretty good at giving them directions to call the proper department, to go somewhere else or to get a computer/life.
  • Properly log in outgoing and incoming visitors into a spread sheet.
    • Spread sheets? FLORIDA TODAY's lottery numbers are published in the newspaper via an Excel sheet. I'm all over that. I loooooooove data entry. Spread 'em!
  • Receives and directs visitors; answers telephones and directs people as appropriate.
    • Again, I'm totally cool with dealing with irate people on the phone: It's what makes my job amusing.
  • Profound ability to resolve customer complaints and concerns.
    • Oh, it's deeply profound.
  • Proficient in providing protection services to individuals in the area assigned.
    • I protect more than 80,000 readers from crap.
  • Ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing.
    • I have a master's degree in journalism, which remotely required some writing skills. And I was born with a big mouth.
  • Organizes and coordinates name tags for visitors and groups meeting.
    • I don't know. This sounds like a lot of responsibility. And in six years of college, I don't think I took a class on making name tags.
  • Performs other related duties as assigned.
    • Copy editors do whatever they're told - usually a gazillion things.
Hmm. I just might make the cut. The thing that would be the real clincher would be a salary that would pay for a Manhattan apartment.

Pff. Yeah. Right.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Offlede is going to the moon?!

A PDF document certifies that my name will reach the moon, along with more than 1 million others.

Like FLORIDA TODAY and Paris Hilton, I too am sending my name to the moon.

Through the NASA Web site, people can send their names to the moon aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will scope out the lunar terrain for suitable outpost sites, maybe even for the next location of the Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville if this space tourism trend continues to grow.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

From the Archives | NASA really can put on a show

The view of space shuttle Discovery from south Cocoa Beach on Oct. 23. It was my first launch.

I was digging into the pre-Offlede photo archives when I came across some shots of the first shuttle launch I witnessed.

It was Oct. 23, and Discovery was set to launch at 11:38 a.m. I was living on the beach in Cocoa Beach, which isn't far from Kennedy Space Center, but I was too lazy to get out of bed and get closer to the launch pad for the liftoff.

Instead, I rolled out of bed 10 minutes before the launch and walked across the street to the beach, armed with my camera, and waited for the thing to head into space.

Being a rookie shuttle gawker, I didn't know what to expect. I was looking about five miles to the east of the actual launch pad when I saw the glow of the rocket boosters.

I hadn't expected such a cool sight or sound. The rockets glared, and the engines blared. (Incidentally, this Saturday, I heard the double boom of the shuttle during re-entry for the first time. In fact, it woke me up around 11:13 a.m.)

Discovery's STS-120 mission delivered the Harmony module to the International Space Station. (Yes, I do believe FLORIDA TODAY capitalized on that great opportunity for word play and used "Launch Harmony" or something similar for the headline.)

I'm glad I don't live in Cocoa Beach anymore: The apartment was a dump. (Incidentally, I may have to find a new apartment soon if this house I'm in now garners any interest on the real estate market.) But I do miss walking across the street to watch one of the greatest shows on Earth.

Since my first launch, I will never make such a lackadaisical effort to view a shuttle launch. I can't wait for the next one, which should be early in the morning on Oct. 8. I'm returning from vacation in San Francisco and Napa Valley late on Oct. 7, so a glorious evening launch will be a great way to cap a great break from work.

I lived in the old Baptist church in Cocoa Beach, which was converted into apartments. And of course, the old church is next to the new church. But the predecessor of that steeple you see in front of Discovery's trail fell during Hurricane Frances in 2004.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mars Phoenix communicates with Earthlings via Twitter

The Mars Phoenix lander beamed this photo back for the pleasure of Earthlings following its actions on Twitter, the microblogging Web service. High-res version here. (Photo by NASA's Phoenix, a Twitter superstar)

On May 7, the Mars Phoenix lander was weeks away from the red planet when it decided to join the latest blogging craze: Twitter.

Since then, it has sent more than 260 updates and has gained more than 20,000 followers on Twitter, creating an interactive forum for the lander, its engineers and the inquisitive public. Check it out here. Its latest post - however off-topic - says, "Godspeed Tim Russert."

On May 25, Phoenix expressed its anxiety to the world as it plummeted through the Martian atmosphere:

"Atmospheric entry has started. time to get REALLY nervous. Now I'm in the 'seven minutes of terror.'"

"parachute opening is scariest part for the team."

"parachute is open!!!!!"

"come on rocketssssss!!!!!"

"I've landed!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

"Cheers! Tears!! I'm here!"

Since landing, Phoenix has beamed information about the Martian atmosphere and soil back to Earth, but it has continued these Tweets that succinctly (in 140 words or fewer) present its findings without all the scientific mumbo-jumbo. The lander's entries on Twitter include links to high-resolution photos, high-definition videos and animations of its activities on the surface of Mars.

Some posts have bordered on funny/geeky/nerdy. Some have divulged the secrets of its engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where the operation is headquartered: "
Eating peanuts in mission control is a good luck tradition at JPL. Jars are being opened now! Wish I had some, too!"

As of Saturday afternoon, there have been 264 updates since Phoenix started Twittering. Many of them are answers to questions posed by other people on Twitter, so it's a great way to communicate directly with the robot. Its intelligence reminds me of that trailer I saw for the movie "Wall-E," but then - what do ya know? - I saw this Tweet: "A Pixar animation team went to JPL to study the rovers. In fact, a rover is going to the Wall-E premiere in L.A. :-)"

The Phoenix has portended its own demise, however. Now, Phoenix said, the "temperature here is a balmy (ha) -31F (high) and -112F (low). ... Forecast is sunny and dusty." But such weather won't last for long: "I'm sure to freeze up over Martian winter" and die.

Twitter geeks universewide will miss you, Phoenix.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Offlede can't fight urge to edit while taking photos

The sign at the Harvey's Groves location in Cocoa Beach.

Did Harvey's Groves spell "majic" this way because "juice" begins with a J?

I report; you decide.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

GLAST blasts toward space, not Tampa

This is the view across the beach at Jetty Park of the Delta 2 rocket carrying a rather pricey space telescope.

Today was the much-anticipated and long-delayed launch of the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, or GLAST. It went up on a souped-up Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral.

I woke up early for the 25-minute trip north for a 11:45 a.m. liftoff. Wisely, I took time before I left to sign up for FLORIDA TODAY's launch updates via text messaging.

I dropped a whole Lincoln note for the parking fee at Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral. Most people were there for an easy, not-too-hot day of fishing and lounging on the beach.

But a few people knew what was up. We gathered on a boardwalk to the beach, a high vantage point from which to view launch pad 17B.

One oblivious beach bum came up and asked me, "Is there a launch or something?" I told him about it, and then he asked, "Where's it going?"

"Space," I said.

"No. When is it going?" he said. (I suppose I misheard him the first time.)

"Oh, 12:05," I said. Of course, I knew that because I had received inside information on my phone that said the launch was delayed 20 minutes.

The spectators in the vertical photo laughed when I told the bum that the rocket was headed for space. "Oh, I thought it was going to Tampa," one said. (It was going east, not west, so I doubt it, dude.)

When it finally lifted off, I - of course - messed up my camera a few seconds after it became airborne. I accidentally adjusted the settings dial to an automatic preset for people who don't know how to manually adjust the camera. I don't even know what it was for, but the photo came with an interesting silhouette, below, and the colors seemed better, too.

This was the closest I have been to the pad for a launch, and it was quite spectacular. Besides, GLAST rhymes with 'blast,' which makes for a perfect launch.

Accidental shot with the weird settings.

Bird bird, bird bird, bird

Beautiful rocket headed toward space (not Tampa).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lightning is shifty, won't say 'cheese' to camera

I used the sunset as a backdrop for the star of my photograph, the lightning. Unfortunately, the lightning wouldn't cooperate and never really stood in front of the sunset. So, in this photo, there's only a bit of sunset and some not-too-impressive lightning.

It's getting that time of year again. It's thunderstorm season.

I was eating dinner when I saw that the sky was getting quite dark. The sun was setting at the same time, creating an interesting contrast. Add some lightning, and I've got a pretty good photograph, I thought.

So I ventured out to find such a scene.

I came upon a fence-lined farm on Turtle Mound Road in Melbourne.

I set up my tripod along the road at the same time a car was pulling into a nearby driveway. Its occupants must have been suspicious and called the cops. A sheriff's cruiser showed up minutes later. But the deputy just flipped a U-turn and left. I must have looked credible.

The lightning was a bit difficult to work with. It was here one minute, then there the next. I tried giving it a hot dog because that's what my father does when he's trying to take portraits of dogs.

But the lightning didn't even sniff it, probably because it wasn't kosher.

I varied my exposures from two seconds to 15 seconds, but no matter the length, I was either wiping the raindrops off my lens or adjusting my tripod when the good lightning showed up.

From Turtle Mound, I went to the Eau Gallie Causeway. In the 20 minutes that I stood on a dock over the Indian River, there was one good chain of lightning. And this time, I actually caught it on camera. But it was way too overexposed.



Living with crime in Brevard County

In the Baymeadows subdivision in Melbourne, them streets is hard.

I've witnessed some gruesome things in some tough cities.

I saw a drunken homeless man get nailed by car in Philadelphia. I saw a 7-Eleven clerk get assaulted in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington. I saw a woman walk out of a Dunkin' Donuts without paying for her Coolatta in Manhattan.

But this weekend, crime hit home.

When I got back from work Saturday night, a message from the roommate asked me to park my Chevy Prizm on the street. He wanted to remove an old refrigerator from the garage in the morning.

So I backed my vehicle from its covered safe haven. When I walked away from it, I thought I should check to see if it was locked. But why bother? Nothing bad would happen on the one night since I moved here that I parked my car outside, right?

When I awoke in the morningafternoon, my roommate was searching for his wallet. We checked under the couch, in the couch, in the trash, in the sink, on top of the refrigerator, in the refrigerator. Nothing. He checked his car. Nothing. But he noticed a few items inside his new Dodge Magnum that were out of place.

We were firmly in denial of what took place, so we concluded that he had left his wallet at his girlfriend's place. No need to worry.

Then the doorbell rang.

I opened the door. It was a sweaty woman in running shorts. "Who lives here?" she said. We told her. Then, she presented my roommate with his Social Security card. She had found it while jogging past our house. And it confirmed our deepest fears: His car had been burglarized.

Luckily, the paper card was the most valuable thing in his wallet. His plastic cards and various IDs could be replaced. And nothing on his online bank statement flagged any use of his credit cards.

But oh no. What about my car?

I checked it. It was locked. Phew. My two cameras and my GPS unit were spared.

But the ordeal was a bucket of water in the face. When I went for a jog yesterday, I noticed the shady characters who had been roaming the neighborhood since I moved here.

A boy in a tattered tank top rumbled down the street on a skateboard decked with subwoofers. He formed his fingers into the shape of a handgun, and he pulled the trigger.

A Vietnam vet-looking dude in a cowboy hat and aviators rolled over the crosswalk with a guitar slung on the back of his wheelchair. I'm sure the instrument carried bags of crack.

A woman in high heels and a short skirt meandered down the sidewalk, likely tired after a long night on the job as a prostitute.

The ground was littered with tops from fast-food soda cups. Stuck through them were straws that could double as needles with which to shoot drugs through the nose or as barrels with which to shoot spitballs at rival gangsters.

And I'm sure the Starbucks being constructed in my neighborhood will prove an inconspicuous hangout for gunslingers and weed dealers.

This 'hood is going to pot. Literally.

But I'm a man of faith, and I know that if I keep that faith, I will be safe. This neighborhood will experience a resurgence. If it doesn't, I'll leave.

So, pray for me. Pray for everyone in the Baymeadows subdivision.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Civil war breaks out between Moxie, pecan tarts

One can of Moxie, Maine's official soft drink that represents the North, bravely takes on two pecan tarts, fighting for the South. Though outnumbered, the Moxie won this civil war.

The primaries are over. Copy editors everywhere are rejoicing: The less late-breaking news, the better.

But the close of the season has reminded me of how it all started in Florida.

It was primary day back in January, and there was plenty of food flowing in the newsroom at FLORIDA TODAY. My contribution was a few cans of Moxie. A friend of mine had sent a case of it down from Maine, where the age-old soft drink and the state's official soda is quite common. Down here in Florida, it can't be found.

Because of its rarity, I didn't want to share all of it with my co-workers, but I at least wanted them to taste what it's like to be a real Mainer. And most people who try Moxie just can't handle the cola's bitter, dandelion-like aftertaste. That's why most people don't have what it takes to be Mainers.

I told my co-workers to take sips, not gulps. I wouldn't be offended if they spit it out.

Most people didn't care for it. But my boss was quite enamored. Why? He's from New Hampshire. He isn't a Mainer, but he's close enough: New Englanders are more apt to hold their Moxie than my other, more Southern co-workers.

Another co-worker supplied the eats: pecan tarts.

Then, my boss keenly pointed out the symbolism: It was civil war.

There, sitting side by side, was a can of Moxie and a few pecan tarts: The best of the North meets the best of the South.

But when the crumbs and fizz settled, the Moxie won out. The pecan tarts were so good that people gobbled them up. The Moxie wasn't as popular, so it was the last refreshment standing.

The North wins again.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

And you think gas pricing is a conspiracy? Bikes are evil

Matt of Matt's Bicycle Center in Cocoa Beach produces literature to inform Beth for her impending purchase of an overpriced piece of aluminum and rubber. I say "overpriced" as a general term for all "nice" bikes. Matt actually had the best prices of the day.

A co-worker of mine, Beth, is lacking four-wheel transportation because of an unfortunate event a few weeks ago involving a tree and her Chevy Malibu. According to the insurance agent, the tree totally won.

But instead of buying a new car, she's buying a new bike to save money.

With gas prices inching upward, Beth has decided to abstain from using a motor and to obtain the ultimate pedal-powered transporter. She has just a few miles to commute to work. Her previous bike caused her great pains because of its large size, so she wants a new one.

That's where I came in. Without a car, she can't shop for bikes. So I was drafted to escort her in my gas-powered vehicle to three bike shops around to county in search of her sub-$500 "dream bike."

We checked out that dream bike at a place in Indialantic called Bob's Beachside Bike Shop. And she discovered that it wasn't too dreamy after all.

It was an Amsterdam made by Electra. It was red and shiny, but it wasn't as pretty as Jennifer Garner in "Elektra," who also was red and shiny. And according to Beth, the Electra didn't move as smoothly as Elektra either.

Beth found a few bikes that looked promising at Matt's Bicycle Center in Cocoa Beach, where the owner, Matt (go figure), was one of the nicest salesguys I've met.

Beth says she'll make up her mind soon.

The whole ordeal got me thinking about the time I bought a bike when I was living in D.C. Unlike Beth, I'm not willing to spend oodles on a self-powered contraption.

But I needed a cheap bike to ride around the mean streets of Georgetown, where parking is scarce. And when I think cheap, I think Wal-Mart. I thought the one in Bowie, Md., would be the most accessible. To me, "accessible" meant the most direct route. That looked like New York Avenue, which would take me straight to Bowie.

After a two-hour drive, I found a bike for about $50. But I spent lots of money on gas to get to Wal-Mart.

And then I had another problem: How would I cram the thing into my car?

My solution was to take one wheel off, roll down the rear driver-side window and leave the handlebars sticking out to whistle in the wind.

In the end, I used the bike about five times. Many parts of D.C. are hilly, unlike Florida. So driving my car was much easier.

As for Beth, she says she'll bike to work until the November election. Her theory is that the next president, if a Democrat, will single-handedly pound gas prices back down.

Then she'll buy a car.

Honestly, I don't think this is a financial decision. I think it's a conspiracy to get me to vote Democrat so I won't have to take Beth shopping anymore.

Accessories, including mirrors, can really pimp out a bike - for a price, of course. Personally, when I'm riding a bike, I can always see more when I turn my head and look.

Bike seats come in the styles of normal, left, pimp/ho, middle, and goth, right.

And, my mom rode this bike back in the 1970s.