Monday, July 28, 2008

The clouds in Florida are just dang cool


No visible lightning with this storm that's rolling over the house now, but the clouds certainly do look menacing.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Space museum will make you young again

Big rockets reach for the skylights at the National Air and Space Museum.

As long as you have friends in the city, Washington is one of the cheapest places to be a tourist. Without the cost of a hotel, tourists save money visiting the free Smithsonian museums and, if they're like me, just appreciating the architecture and nature beauty of the District.

I'll admit that I'm more of a fan of the outdoor attractions, though. I appreciate history, but I get restless, tired, bored in static museums that have little to engage the senses. That's why, by the way, the Newseum's eclectic offering of multimedia is no snoozer.

But before my visit to journalism's historical icon on Day 3 of my D.C. trip, I checked out one of Washington's more traditional venues: the National Air and Space Museum.

I went to the place only because of my renewed interest in the space industry. When I was young, I would go to school in a blue astronaut flight suit. I very much wanted to visit the space station via the shuttle some day. And I was very lucky that I didn't get teased.

But my interests propelled me into the journalism field, where I now work at a newspaper with great focus on a dominant player in the local economy: NASA.

In a photo from the archives, the shuttle Enterprise at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International.

So my visit to the museum on the National Mall was more informed than it would have been last year. When I lived in Washington, I did visit the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, a satellite extension of the building on the mall. At Dulles, the Enterprise test shuttle was the most stunning exhibit, above. You really appreciate the size of the orbiter when you're standing beside it: It's not just that glowing streak on the horizon as you watch the shuttle lift off.

The only drawback to the Air and Space Museum is that the exhibits tend to draw more of the younger sect. Big planes and rockets are decidedly more fascinating to children than a Van Gogh or a bust of Thomas Jefferson. They scream to let you know they're excited. But really, it's not so bad: We're all kids when we visit a place like this.

My trip through the museum was hurried because I had a meeting to make at the Newseum later Monday. But these are a couple of the things that did grab my attention.

During every shuttle mission, seemingly, there's a spacewalk in which an astronaut has his picture taken. But you can't see his face in the photo, of course, only the reflection of the space station, the Earth and the camera lens. This is my version of that photo here on terra firma.

This is Skylab, the first space station, which was used for scientific testing starting in 1973. It confirmed that humans could stay in zero gravity for extended time periods.

A tour guide explains the Mercury Friendship 7, which first brought man - specifically, John Glenn - to Earth orbit in February 1962, about 10 months after the Russians beat us to it.

Yes, this is just a mural. But there's a story behind, not this one, but the one at FLORIDA TODAY. In the main lobby of my newspaper's building, a similar painting of a lunar landing graces the wall. But in that painting, there are three astronauts hopping over the desolation of the moon's surface. In this one, there are only two. What's the big deal? There were never more than two people moonwalking at the same time. The FLORIDA TODAY version is incorrect.

This museum-goer is marveling at the innards of the Apollo 11 command module, part of the mission that sent man to the moon for the first time. I can't wait until we go there again.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

When it rains, it pours: stuff that's coming up

I took this shot of the Capitol dome on the night of the lightning storm.

Please forgive me as posts to The Offlede will be light in the next few days. On top of an illness, I have another task to deal with first.

The air travel debacle Wednesday and Thursday at Baltimore-Washington International threw me for quite a loop.

In a way, it was a good experience. I learned that you can never get to an airport too early: I allowed two and a half hours to get to BWI on Wednesday, but it should have been three and a half. I also experienced my first lengthy delay cooped up in an airport terminal. Because all the other flights to Orlando had been either canceled or sold out through Thursday afternoon, I had no choice but to wait out the rain-tornado delay.

And when I finally made it to Orlando, my phone wouldn't pick up the towers. Apparently, returning to its home towers in Washington confused it so it didn't reacquire the towers in my new home in Florida. That made it difficult to arrange transportation to Melbourne; I used a pay phone with a phone card. The folks at my local Verizon store fixed my phone, then suckered me into ordering a Blackberry.

But I made it back - eventually. I even went to work Thursday night. That was propelled by three cans of Red Bull.

The ordeal took a toll, though. I lost five pounds, and I'm ill, probably because of the nasty chairs I planted my face into while trying to sleep at the airport. It also was quite cold in the terminal, so that may have played a role.

It was an educational headache, but like all good education, it came with a steep financial price: I spent more to get home than I did on all of my other expenses: my round-trip ticket to D.C. and my food, public transportation and entertainment while there.

I have several posts in store, including two about visits to the Newseum and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the one monument I hadn't seen while living in D.C. There will be a few videos, too.

But first, I have three chapters of a book manuscript to edit. It's a journalism history written by a former professor, and I won't divulge much more than that.

I also need to do some public relations work for The Offlede. I have been contacted by several people looking for more information or presenting proposals about certain things on this blog.

This could get interesting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Live blog: After missing flight No. 1, No. 2 is delayed, delayed ...

All the other flights to Orlando are on time, except for mine, which has been delayed three hours and 10 minutes. I'm looking into hopping onto one of those other flights.

8:13 p.m.: I meant to keep the posts about my Washington vacation in chronological order, but this is urgent. I'll post the pleasing stuff later, but first ... THIS JUST IN:

The travel bug has finally bitten me.

And it's not the good bug - the one that chases you, prodding you to see new places, do new things. It's the big honkin' mosquito that bites you on the eyelid, making it absolute that you'll never travel again.

For the most part, I have lucked out with my few air travel experiences. After I interviewed for my job at FLORIDA TODAY, I was stuck in the plane in Orlando and waited about an hour for the weather to clear for my flight to Long Island.

But that was minor. My other flights have been on time and pleasant. I've even enjoyed rather tasty peanuts on a few occasions.

But today, I first missed my flight altogether, then the second flight I booked has been delayed by three hours and 10 minutes.

This story begins in Columbia Heights, D.C., where I was staying during my vacation. I looked at the clock after checking my flight's status (on time), and I had more than two and a half hours to get to the airport, Baltimore-Washington International. But I had never taken public transportation to the airport, so, fearing unreliability, I left with plenty of time to spare. I thought.

The subway ride was fine. The second leg of my Metro ride to the airport was on a bus, the B30 "express" from the Greenbelt, Md., Metro station to the terminal. And that was OK, too. We rumbled over two-lane roads that led through cornfields and by government research facilities. Very scenic.

Then came the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Everything stopped. The cars. The passengers' laughter. My heart.

For an hour, the bus inched along. I arrived at the airport at 4:45 p.m. for my 5:30 p.m. flight. I thought I could make it. But when I arrived at the USA 3000 check-in counter five minutes later, I was told I was five minutes late. I almost cried then and there.

My next plan of attack was to, indeed, cry. But I did it out of public view. My head became very familiar with the inside of the my new luggage.

Then, I wandered the terminal for a half-hour, calling my friends to complain and my boss to say I would be sick - *cough* *cough* - probably until Friday, when the next direct flight to Melbourne was scheduled. I also scoured BWI for a Wi-FI connection, something that is quite lacking here. I sat beside a man who was answering survey questions from an airport worker. I walked away mumbling something about the airport's lack of the Internet.

I finally found it after paying $8 for a 24-hour subscription outside a McDonald's, where my dinner consisted of a cheese-deficient cheeseburger and an overly chocolatey chocolate shake.

I booked a 7:30 p.m. flight with Southwest, only to find out minutes later that it was delayed until 10 p.m. Then, it was delayed until 10:40 p.m. Now, I'm flying into Orlando, not Melbourne, around 1 a.m. And I'm paying $100 more than I did for my round-trip ticket.

This totally bites.

At least I'm flying in business class. It comes with one free cocktail - something to take away the sting, I guess.

8:43 p.m.: I walked up to the Southwest travel agent and asked him if the flight was still scheduled for 10:40 a.m. He pushed a few buttons on his computer, stared at it, flipped on the loudspeaker and said, "Attention, passengers on flight 1921 to Orlando: The departure time is now 11:40, arriving in Orlando at 1:30 a.m." Lightning is crashing everywhere, so it's probably good that we're not leaving.


9:25 p.m.: "All flights are ill-advised," the travel agent just said over the speaker. Tornadoes in northern Virginia might be headed this way. The photo above is of the window directly behind me, as I sit on the floor, with a Southwest airplane beyond.

Lots of people waiting impatiently.

10:16 p.m.: Just got off the phone with an old friend I haven't talked with in a long time. I guess lengthy flight delays are good for something. The people flying to Columbus and Chicago are quite upset; their flights have just been canceled. As of this update, mine is at 12:40 a.m. and is the only flight to Orlando left standing. I guess I chose the right one after all.

10:20 p.m.: Flights are leaving, and it's not raining anymore. That's a good sign.

10:35 p.m.: No change in flight status, though I have been thinking: If the in-flight movie is "The Terminal," I'm going postal.

11:10 p.m.: When his flight to my old stomping grounds, Islip, Long Island, began boarding, a man yelled, "Woo hoo! That's my flight, baby. You'll feel the same when it comes your turn." We all clapped.

11:13 p.m.: I just saw the same people I sat next to on the train this morning while I was in downtown D.C. That was hours before I even thought about heading to the airport, which makes it kind of funny.

11:23 p.m.: 2:10 a.m. with arrival just before 5.

11:32 p.m.: Nap time for Knapptime. I'll let you know how comfy the chairs are.

11:49 p.m.: I always say I'm going to bed, but I never follow through. I just heard something about a flight to Philadelphia. Who would wait so long for that flight? Rent a car and drive. Or take a bus. Something other than stupid air travel.

Looking at the board.

1:21 a.m. Thursday: 3:20 a.m. departure now. I don't even care anymore. I didn't even take that nap.

3:05 a.m.: My cheek has become extremely familiar with the black leather chairs of BWI. One of the most interesting things I have heard while trying to sleep: "There are mice running around everywhere," a flight attendant said. "They said it's normal." Flight time is at 4 a.m.

4:15 a.m.: I lifted off at this time.

6:30 a.m.: Home, sweet Orlando. Never thought I'd say that. SeaWorld and Disney stores are surrounding me at Orlando International, and I'm taking it all in. The flight went without incident, except for that one time the guy next to me tried to use my shoulder as a pillow. I didn't sleep a wink, and I'm still an hour from home. Somehow, I have to find a way there before work at 5 p.m. Rental car? Shuttle? Taxi? Friends? Friends are the cheapest, so I'll try them first.

11 a.m.: I finally made it home after an $80 ride from Melbourne Airport Shuttle, which runs from airport to airport and, for an extra fee, to places in between. My 80 bucks got me great conversation, too. I talked with two fellow passengers from Annapolis, Md., who said they were avid newspaper readers and would rather not see the industry go south. That was the uplifting thing for today.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Finally! Finally! Finally! Offlede gets THE lightning shot

Yes, I, Andrew C. Knapp, took this. And it's on Flickr here. The photo received absolutely no editing in Photoshop. Not even a crop job.

Update: This post made it onto July 22's "DC Blogs Noted," a compilation of links to D.C. blogs about what's going on each day.

After trying for two months to catch a great lightning bolt in Florida, I finally got one at an unexpected time and in an unexpected place.

I had just eaten dinner with some friends in Chinatown, D.C. After that, I split with the group and walked downtown as clouds were steadily building over the nation's capital. There were a few drops of rain, but they didn't scare me away.

I noticed how the clouds were forming behind the Capitol, and I thought the contrasts in the sky would make for an interesting photo.

How's this for interesting?

When I reached First Street, the roadway that runs between the Capitol and the large reflecting pool in front of it, lightning began to flash behind the building. But I knew I would need a tripod because of the long exposure I would have to use: There's no way to hold the camera steady for that time period.

Of course, I didn't bother to bring a tripod on the flight from Florida. So, I improvised: I set my camera onto the concrete divider alongside the walkway, set my arm down perpendicular to the camera, propped the lens on my wrist to get the proper upward angle. Then I started firing.

Nineteen frames later, I ended up with the shot above. I knew I had clicked the shutter just before the lightning struck, and I was using a relatively fast shutter speed for the amount of light, so I wasn't sure if I had gotten it. But I looked at the screen on my camera, and there it was. Bingo.

"Yes! Woo hoo! All right," I yelled as I did the signature Tiger Woods fist pump. I was happy.

These are my camera settings on my Nikon D40 for that shot: 18mm, two-fifths of a second shutter, 200 ISO, aperture at f/3.5. The real key is the 200 ISO. Higher ISOs - say 400 and especially 800 - make for a grainy photo, and I was glad to avoid that in this shot.

I didn't stop trying after that. But it's funny: I took about 1,000 more shots in rapid succession, but none of them were nearly as successful. One of the other shots is below.

I'll share more about Day 2 later, though it mostly consisted of great times with great old friends and just a few photos.

But Day 3 is still ahead. It's Newseum time! Copy editors, unite!

Washington Capitol Lightning
This one is a different look: It's slightly to the right of the first photo's shooting location. But the bolt action isn't as pronounced, obviously.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

D.C. stays the same, but it's still cool ... and hot

Colorful rowhouses in Columbia Heights.

THE DISTRICT -- Things don't change much in a city not meant to change much.

Trying to readjust to a normal daytime schedule while on vacation caused me to sleep in Saturday morning. That left me little time to wander around town and shoot some photos before going out with some friends at night.

But in the little time I had, I saw that the city was much the way I left it. There is a considerable amount of construction happening in Columbia Heights, the neighborhood where I'm staying. A huge condo/apartment complex is being built near the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro stop, which is only two blocks from my friends' place.

But much of this area isn't exactly Pleasantville. I've heard Columbia Heights described as the "new Penn Quarter," a reference to the ritzy part of downtown D.C.

But most of what I saw and heard of it Saturday wouldn't fit that description. Parts are still occupied by rundown rowhouses that serve as popular hangouts for bass-thumping wannabe rappers. It's not exactly the atmosphere for the wealthy and definitely not acceptable for Palm Bay, Fla., where they've banned that sort of loud music.

But it's a pleasure to be back in the District.

I took a short stroll on the National Mall, passing the Smithsonian, the Botanic Gardens, the Capitol, but not the street vendor, where I bought a bottle of water. It may be hotter here than it is in Florida, but the lower humidity makes it bearable. Tomorrow, however, could include the record high for D.C. But it's forecast to be only 96 degrees, and I've seen it well over 100 here.

I snapped some photos, but most of what I saw yesterday was old news. Been there. Done that. Got the photo already. But here are a few of the more interesting ones.

The cleanliness of the Metro system in D.C. makes it far better than New York's subway. This is inside the National Archives-Navy Memorial stop, where I got off for a jaunt along the mall.

I just thought this photo was cool because I caught the sign through the window of a moving train. It's a long exposure, so I meant to get the motion blur.

A skateboarder takes advantage of the statue of Gen. George G. Meade in front of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse on Constitution Avenue.

It was nice when the sun went behind the clouds, such as the moment caught in this shot, complete with a bird.

It's so much hotter when I walk around downtown with my backpack, my SLR and my video camera strapped around me. This is reflection taken in front of one of many of the federal agencies on Constitution Avenue.

Now, I have to go to my next scheduled event: a cookout on top of an apartment building in Dupont. I hear there's a rooftop pool involved, too. That should hit the spot.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What's better than sunsets? Sunsets with lightning from a plane

I couldn't really avoid getting the wing in the frame, but this thunder cloud and its lightning were pretty cool.

IN THE AIR OVER FLORIDA -- As my USA 3000 flight was lifting off last night over beautiful Brevard County, the sun was setting in front of us.

When the crew said that the use of electronic devices was permitted, I whipped out my camera and starting shooting. The sky wasn't as brilliant as when we lifted off, but it was still great.

Most of these were taken in North Florida, where some stormy weather created some turbulence. The thundercloud in the photo above contained lightning. I was able to catch some of the purplish glow from the lightning and the reddish hues from the sunset.

I finally have Internet access at my friends' house in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington. I'll be posting more photos later, of course.

Before reaching the clouds, I could see the glow of the lights below and, of course, one of the many lakes in Florida. This is somewhere north of Orlando.

The blue sky, above, was equally as magnificent as the red sky, below.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Nothing but nobody at Melbourne International Airport

Nothing but lights and empty chairs, except for a fellow techie sitting at the laptop terminal and talking on his phone.

My roommate gave me a ride to the airport about two hours before my flight. That way, he'll have plenty of time tonight to watch "The Dark Knight," which my friends in D.C. also will be seeing while I'm in the air.

I hate to miss out.

My USA 3000 flight from Melbourne to Baltimore-Washington is the last of the day for this small airport, so the population here in the terminal is rather scarce as I type. I'm about an hour away from liftoff at 8:30 p.m.

This is only the third flight of my knowing life (I took one as an infant, but I can't remember it.) But this place makes me feel like a veteran flier.

Many of my fellow passengers are senior citizens who, no doubt, have flown before but can't remember how it's done. My trip through security was five minutes only because the old man in front of me tried to sneak a 2 million-ounce bottle of sunscreen in his carry-on. Even I know better than that.

But the TSA had no problem with my video camera, digital SLR camera, point-and-shoot camera and Mac, so I breezed through. They did check my boarding pass five times, though, four more than the people at Orlando International Airport.

Two minutes until boarding now, and the children - the few who are here - are excited.

Me, too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Offlede buys real luggage, gets set for Washington

Ready to roll.

I've gone 24 years without purchasing a single piece of baggage meant specifically for travel.

My little airline experience has employed only two backpacks and a canvas bag from L.L. Bean. My road trips have required even less: Those mostly entailed throwing necessities into my car wherever they would fit.

With three flights scheduled within the next three months, I needed some heavy-duty and convenient travel gear. That led me to splurge on one of the most expensive pieces of luggage Walmart carries: a $45, 21-inch upright by American Tourister. It's the kind with wheels, like the ones that loser high school and college kids use to carry books. American Tourister is the classiest brand of baggage Walmart carries, aside from Jeep. But that wasn't going to happen: I'm a Toyota man.

The bag is small enough to be carried onto the plane but big enough for some serious storage. Coupled with a backpack carrying my "personal item," my laptop, it should do the trick.

Speaking about traveling, I should tell you what's in store.

I'm leaving Friday evening on a USA 3000 flight from Melbourne to Baltimore-Washington International Airport for five days in the District of Columbia. For $160 round-trip, I got a real steal, and the closeness of Melbourne International Airport is a plus. A day I don't have to go to Orlando is a good one.

This will be my first vacation since the "Assignment NOLA" trip just before Christmas. I haven't taken a single day off, aside from my usual weekend days.

It will be great to be in D.C. again. The last time I was there I almost wrecked my car, which was loaded with all of my belongings as I was moving to Florida. It's a long story of stupidity that I won't divulge. I'll just try to avoid any mishaps this time.

I'll be staying in Columbia Heights with a bunch of good nonschool friends. They probably won't be happy to see me, as I was notorious for stealing their food while I was a starving graduate student.

Columbia Heights is a neighborhood that has spots of seediness, but it is gentrifying, especially now that it has the District's first Target. But I have to walk from the Georgia Avenue Metro stop to my friends' house, which could get hairy. I'll have my new video camera on me, though, so if anything happens, at least I'll get it on tape. Sweet hits for The Offlede.

Professor W. Joseph Campbell of American University has offered to give me a tour of the Newseum, where he works part time. There, I'll look for misspelled words and any sign that shows the need for or indicates a blatant absence of copy editors. Lawrence Downes' "An Elegy to Copy Editors" in The New York Times was the precipitator of that outrage.

My AU friends also will be paid a visit from yours truly. The School of Communication's master's in journalism program contains about 30 people in each class, so we were a tight gang. Some stayed in D.C. after graduation. They include people who work for U.S. News & World Report, ABC News, the Army Times and Al Jazeera.

I'll also hit up the one monument I never got a chance to gawk at: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

And because of my baggage, I'll be taking my equipment along, so I can document it all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Video | Shot with a Canon: Dog guards house against ice cube

It's time for the much-awaited announcement of my new video camera.

Actually, this is so delayed that the camera isn't really new anymore. I got it more than two months ago.

After thoroughly researching the video camera market, I chose the Canon VIXIA HV30, whose predecessor, the HV20, has accumulated a cult following on the Internet. By browsing, a user message board, I realized that the camera made most everyone who had it very happy. Thanks to that Web site, I didn't feel totally lost in this media venture.

Now, a bit about the equipment.

The HV30 is a top-of-the-line consumer model. It's capable of 1080i high-definition video, producing rich colors, vivid detail and great motion. The 1080i part means that the picture has four times the number of pixels than in standard-definition.

I've been shooting in HD since I got the toy, just because it's new to me. But really, that's not necessary for most of the videos I post to the Web because sites such as YouTube and Viddler won't support such high-quality films. They must be compressed to no more than 500 megabytes for Viddler and 100 megabytes for YouTube. I upload videos to both, but I embed the Viddler version on The Offlede because of its superior quality.

My first big experiment with the camera comes in the form of - what else? - Nibbler the guard dog.

I discovered after shooting most of the video with the external microphone - a 16-bit Rode VideoMic that I bought separately (it almost dwarfs the actual camera, left) - that the sound needed to be kicked down a notch. Many of the peaks and pops are beyond the range of digital sound, making for a crackling noise at those heights. After consulting the handy-dandy user manual, I learned how to attenuate that noise and prevent distortion.

I did something in this video, "Nibbler: The Guard Dog," that I probably will never do again: I used music. I did it mainly to learn how to handle it during the post-production process. And the actual score, by the way, was provided by Kevin MacLeod at He allows the royalty-free usage of his work as long as it's credited. After listening to a few songs on the site, I realized that FLORIDA TODAY also uses his creations. But music doesn't go well with journalism, so I probably won't use it often - though I don't plan to do much real journalism.

As a pup, Nibbler isn't exactly a poser. She was quite antsy when I tried to get the crucial shot of her name tag. And using a tripod isn't ideal when your subject is always running, jumping and crawling out of the frame. The video shows that Nibbler is doing an excellent job protecting roommate Mark's house from tennis balls, pig ears, ice cubes, rope, insects and even her own leash.

I bought the Canon online through Meijer, a superstore chain in the Upper Midwest. I had never heard of the company before being referred by contributors to a special deal it was offering. The sale, combined with a 10 percent discount for registering for Meijer's Web site and its spam, put the camera into my hands for $330 less than the suggested retail price. I used the saved funds for the $150 microphone.

The VideoMic - probably the best shotgun mike of the less-expensive sect - came from the always-dependable B&H Photo Video in New York. Probably the biggest thing I miss about living in Long Island is its abundance of photo superstores and international camera companies, such as Nikon, that base their U.S. operations in the area.

I shelled out $670 for the camera itself, bringing the grand total to $820. I promised myself that it would be my last large purchase in quite some time.

I just bought a cup of coffee to allow me to write this post. Yeah, it's Starbucks, but it was only $2. So ... so far, so good.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rainbows are almost as fleeting as lightning

I went to save money and live better; instead, I got two rainbows.

I was headed out to the Wal-MartWalmart late this afternoon when I saw a pair of rainbows touching down in Wickham Park in Melbourne.

They weren't too vivid, but the sky was neat at the same time, so I took a few photos. The sun was setting behind me, and that was cool, too, but none of the shots came out the way I would have liked.

By the time I saw what would make for good foreground in front of the rainbows, they had faded too much. There was a cross on each end of the small Catholic church by the park, which made for good continuity: two crosses in the foreground, two rainbows in the background.

The colors may have faded, but at least I had the right idea.

By the time I made it to the side of the church to get a closer shot of the crosses and the rainbows, the colors were gone.

Multimedia blogging via text message

Does this work? I am testing The Offlede's mobile blogging capability with my Motorola RAZR, which is surely light years behind the iPhone 2.0. It is time-consuming to properly punctuate this post. The photo is of Nibbler the guard dog, of course. Unfortunately, she seems more occupied with peeing in the house this weekend than protecting it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bertha's big waves are totally gnarly - dude - in Cocoa Beach

Boy walks out with dog.

Wet boy walks in with wet dog.

A woman hundreds of miles away made me want to live on the beach again. The traffic I went through to get to the beach, however, changed my mind.

verticalsea0363Bertha, the female hurricane traveling at a snail's pace near Bermuda, kicked up some gnarly waves. "Gnarly," being the operative word, should be defined. The Urban Dictionary says it's "an adjective used to describe a noun, in which said noun could be alternatively described as 'totally sick', 'radical', or 'wicked'."

Adjectives that describe nouns are the best. So here, I think "gnarly" is a telling descriptor Saturday for the waves, the sand, the air and Cocoa Beach, all of which are nouns.

Bob Freeman, surfing columnist for FLORIDA TODAY, said there would be some fun surfing this weekend, but it turned out to be some of the best of the year. It might not get better than this in 2008.

I don't surf, but I did appreciate the size of the waves that crashed onto the beach. I took my camera to Cocoa Beach yesterday to document it. I snapped away for quite some time, but no one cared. One lady walked up to me because she couldn't find someone and wanted me to use my telephoto lens to look for a surfer in a blue hat. "I'm supposed to make sure he's not dead," she said. I couldn't find him, but she later tracked him down, came back and showed me that he was all right.

My first Florida home was in a bug-infested and leaky apartment in south Cocoa Beach. The shoddy apartment and the effect that salt air had on my car, forced me to move inland.

The biggest drawback Saturday was the half-hour it took to get in and out of the big surfing portions of the beach - near the Cocoa Beach Pier and Ron Jon Surf Shop.

But it didn't matter too much. The beach was relaxing. The breeze was cooling to my skin. And the high waves were soothing and fun. Too bad I forgot my sunscreen. Though it was somewhat cloudy, I left the beach looking like a steamed Maine lobster.

That I am from the North and a virtual caveman because of my night hours at the paper, I'm not used to such sunshine in the Sunshine State. But I could definitely get used to it.

Ready to roll.

Plotting a plan of attack.

Two guys trying.

Two guys and a girl trying. They realized they shouldn't have all tried at the same time, and each one ditched into the surf before standing up.

Getting some good action.

Crashing all around him.

Ahh, the nice aqua-green of the Atlantic.

The youngsters tried their boards in shallower water.

It doesn't look like he'll stay on that board much longer.

Nice balance.

It's going good for him.

Oops, maybe not. Where did he go?

Back flops are worse than the belly variety.

Actually, this guy made an excellent recovery after the wave bounced him upward, and he landed back on his board. Just kidding.

He fell on his face soon after this.

Boarding and smiling for the camera. That's talent.

Looking for sunken treasure.

Not sure why all the kids were boys.

I just liked the water in this one.

She was kind of timid of the waves, as she tried to take photos of them.

Instead of watching the surfers, the lifeguards watch each other.

He gives the day two thumbs up. Me, too.