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Posts Tagged ‘florida’

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Photo: Samsung
Sixth-graders at the Downtown Doral Charter Upper School in Florida worked with teacher Rebeca Martinez on a device to detect sediment buildup in a storm drain. The students’ project, which aims to stop flash floods, was among five grand-prize winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

To my way of thinking, no amount of money is too much to pay teachers like those guiding the middle school students in today’s story to tackle a science competition. Whether in public or private school, teachers build the future, but since most students are in public schools, the type of education there is the most critical and most in need of funding. Every child should have opportunities to stretch themselves.

Lela Nargi reports at the Washington Post, “In late May, storms flooded streets in Miami-Dade County in Florida. The floods made cars sink and turned roads into brown rivers.

“A team of local middle school students has a plan to stop this ongoing problem.

“Alyssa Neuber, Bianca Verri and Jose Pirela are sixth-graders at Downtown Doral Charter Upper School. They designed a device to warn city workers when and where there is a danger of flooding. The team is one of five grand-prize winners of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest. The contest asked for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) solutions to the biggest challenge facing a school community.

‘I’ve been living here my entire life, and all of us have encountered problems with flooding,’ says Bianca. ‘We knew that was the problem we were going to tackle.’

“Flash flooding can happen when storm drains get plugged up and, especially during hurricanes, overflow into streets. It’s the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States.

“The students’ device uses a laser system called lidar, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging.’ The device, if approved by the city government, could be attached to Doral’s 2,575 storm and manhole drains — one device per drain. If a drain gets clogged with sediment, the device could send a computer alert to the city’s stormwater management office. Then the stormwater manager could send someone to clean the drain.

“ ‘We had our class help us in the beginning to find information about how we were going to use lidar,’ says Jose.

“The three STEM whizzes then started to work more closely with their science teacher, Rebeca Martinez. They figured out what each of them is good at. … Class parents who were engineers and website coders helped them figure out the details.

“Starting in March, the school was closed, so team meetings went virtual. Luckily, says Bianca, ‘We already had a prototype device, and we just had to tweak it some more.’

“They also had to pitch their idea virtually to contest judges. …

“A team from Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, California, made a wildfire alert. At Fairfield Senior High School in Fairfield, Ohio, students designed an app to prevent deaths of kids left in hot cars. Students at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham invented an app that helps people recycle. And in Wisconsin, kids at Omro High School created a sensor that lets ice fishers know when it’s safe to walk on frozen lakes.

“Each of the five teams won $100,000 for technology and supplies for their science classrooms.” More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Laurie Wolf at National Geographic
A screech owl in a Florida backyard was caught cohabiting with a duckling.

My sister had an idea that I’d like this story about an owl and a duckling, and she was right. Nature has a way of delighting us even if we’re grumpy, and according to a new Gallup poll, Americans are grumpy lately. Writes the New York Times, “Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. … Last year, Americans reported feeling stress, anger and worry at the highest levels in a decade.”

I can identify with that. But as it’s too rainy today for me to calm down with a walk in the woods, I will indulge myself in a vicarious bit of nature therapy from National Geographic.

Jason Bittel interviewed the amateur photographer who captured the scene above in her backyard.

” ‘Oh, we have an owl chick. This is wonderful!’ These were Laurie Wolf’s first thoughts when she noticed something small and fluffy bobbing up and down inside the nest box in her Jupiter, Florida, backyard. An eastern screech owl had taken up residence in the box about one month before, so she suspected it was an owl hatchling. But the truth was far stranger.

“As a storm rolled in and the sky darkened, Wolf and her husband caught a glimpse of the mother owl poking her head out of the nest box. And right beside the owl was a tiny, yellow-and-black duckling.

“ ‘The two of them were just sitting there side by side,’ says Wolf, a wildlife artist and amateur photographer. ‘It’s not believable. It’s not believable to me to this day.’

“Concerned that the predatory owl might eat the wood duck chick, Wolf contacted a raptor expert, who confirmed the duckling might be in danger. A local wildlife sanctuary agreed to care for the animal if she could catch it.

“But just as Wolf and her husband were about to intervene, the wood duck chick leapt out of the box and ‘made a beeline’ to a nearby pond, and she hasn’t seen the little critter since. …

“ ‘It’s not commonly documented, but it certainly happens,’ says Christian Artuso, the Manitoba director of Bird Studies Canada, who made a similar observation back in 2005 while he was studying eastern screech owls for his Ph.D. In that case, the female owl was actually able to incubate and hatch three wood duck chicks. …

“Parent ducks will sometimes lay an egg or two in someone else’s nest—usually another wood duck or another closely related species. …

“But shouldn’t the female owl be able to realize she’s sitting on the wrong eggs? After all, wood duck eggs are not only more oblong in shape than owl eggs, they’re also about twice the volume.

“Artuso says it’s impossible to know what a wild owl is thinking, but that it could be a case of what scientists call supernormal stimuli.

” ‘The parents might be thinking, Oh my god! This egg is huge! We’re going to have the best baby in the world!’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Alfredo Sosa
The newest solar farm of Florida Power & Light Company [FPL] is equipped to generate 74.5 megawatts of power, enough for approximately 15,000 Florida homes.

Large numbers of Americans are not as concerned as I am about fossil fuels and how they hurt the planet and until recently have not supported sustainable energy. But as the cost of renewable power comes down, many of them are giving wind and solar a new, pragmatic look.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “There’s a new crop sprouting in southern Florida. Amid fields of sweet corn, squash, and okra dotting the landscape outside Miami, rows and rows of solar panels now soak up the Florida sunshine. …

“Despite being the Sunshine State, Florida has long lagged when it comes to tapping into the abundant rays overhead. But now that is changing as utility companies in the state have begun to recognize solar power as a vital component of a diverse energy future. …

“As solar has become more economically viable, the state’s utility companies now see opportunity more than competition in the technology Florida utilities’ newfound embrace for solar power echoes trends seen across the country, as the renewable energy source has shifted from a fringe indulgence for wealthy environmentalists to becoming a conventional part of power production. …

“With abundant sunshine, Florida ranks ninth in the United States for solar potential. But as recently as 2015, just one-tenth of a percent of the state’s power came from the sun. …

“Solar is still a bit player in Florida. At the end of 2018, solar power made up just 1.07 percent of the state’s energy portfolio, according to the [Solar Energy Industries Association] reports. But the rapid acceleration reflects a broader shift happening nationally. …

“Some of the ways Florida stands out among states make it a particularly good indicator of the renewable energy’s newfound status as mainstream. Many leading solar energy states, such as Massachusetts, Vermont, and California, have installed solar as part of a legislative push to diversify the energy sector in pursuit of emissions reductions. Policymakers in Florida, however, have not set specific renewable energy requirements or even aspirational goals. …

“The utilities want to maintain their control over the market, says Professor Fenton of the University of Central Florida. In 2016, they fought to amend a law that required them to purchase the electricity generated by customers’ rooftop panels at the net retail rate. … The recent foray into solar is a testament to the increasing economic viability of solar power. …

“ ‘[In 2016], the price point was just becoming right for us to be able to have it make economic sense for our customers for us to go and begin building large solar energy centers,’ FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly says.” More here.

One thought: As my friend Jean, of the environmental-education nonprofit Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, reminds me, it’s important not to cut down trees for solar arrays. Trees help the environment even more than solar energy. We need to keep the big picture in mind.

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vvzodywnvei6rlikbya67or4yePhoto: Charlotte Kesl/For The Washington Post
Leroy Wilson outside his home in Marianna, Florida, a day after Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle.

I believe that when a hurricane is coming and you’re told to evacuate, you should evacuate. But this story about a homeowner who refused to leave is pretty great anyway.

Like the wolf in the “Three Little Pigs,” Hurricane Michael huffed and puffed, but the homeowner’s brick house not only stood strong, it welcomed neighbors whose houses were not so strong.

Read what Patricia Sullivan and Frances Stead Sellers wrote at the Washington Post about why the Marianna, Florida, native couldn’t bear to leave his house. It adds a whole other level to the story.

“The modest one-story brick house on Old U.S. Road,” they report, “meant more to Leroy Wilson and his family than a roof over their heads.

“Their ancestors lived on this land as slaves before Wilson’s grandfather acquired five acres here in 1874, right after emancipation. … So as Hurricane Michael ripped the top off a 50-year-old dwelling next door, brought a tree down on Leroy’s daughter’s home and snapped nearby pine trees like pencils, the Wilsons stayed put in their brick house on Wednesday, opening the doors to neighbors whose homes were succumbing under Michael’s powerful winds.

“ ‘I wasn’t going anywhere,’ said Wilson, 74. …

“Sixty miles from the coast in Jackson County, this city of about 10,000 rarely suffers through hurricanes. Known as ‘The City of Southern Charm,’ Marianna has experienced storms that have taken down trees and power lines, but it has been largely spared the devastation regularly wrought in coastal towns. Hurricane Michael was different.

“ ‘It hit everybody hard,’ said Annell Wilson, Leroy’s wife. ‘We prayed a lot.’

“[Leroy’s son] Lamar, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said he dismissed class around 5 p.m. Wednesday after getting a text from his sister describing the devastation in his hometown and he began making frantic telephone calls to his relatives. He knew they would not leave their land.

“ ‘To be able to own several homes you built with your hands, to protect the home your mother built, that your grandfather toiled for, it’s noble,’ Lamar said.

“And in this case, dangerously noble. His sister lost her home; his brother’s house is barely habitable.

“But the little brick house protected the Wilsons and the people they took in. It lost its water pump and its shutters, and the wind drove water in under the window panes. But the structure stayed intact — and by the end of the evening, more than a dozen members of five families were seeking shelter there.

“ ‘That’s what we do. We all help each other,’ said Annell Wilson, 73, Lamar’s mother, describing how she settled her unexpected visitors and got them fed, and then stuffed towels along the windows to mop up the water that seeped in.”

More at the Washington Post, here. No word on a wolf coming down the chimney or the canny homeowner setting a boiling pot in the fireplace to welcome him, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Don’t you love it when life imitates art? (Having said that, I still urge you, “Don’t sit out a hurricane when told to evacuate.”)

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Photos: Dina Litovsky/The New Yorker
Many Amish families have been taking winter vacations for years in Florida, where the women’s volleyball game is a popular nightly event.

It’s fascinating to me how the Amish culture carries on generation after generation, an apparently calm little world in the midst of the turmoil that is America. Recently the New Yorker magazine followed a group of Amish families on their winter vacation and came back with a collection of charming photos.

Alice Gregory writes, “Each winter, for close to a century now, hundreds of Amish and Mennonite families have traveled from their homes in icy quarters of the U.S. and Canada to Pinecraft, a small, sunny neighborhood in Sarasota, Florida. Arriving on chartered buses specializing in the transportation of ‘Plain people’ from areas such as Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio, they rent modest bungalows and stay for weeks, or sometimes months, at a time. …

“Originally drawn to Pinecraft’s affordable real-estate prices and off-season farming potential, the first Amish families began coming in the mid-nineteen-twenties, with the idea of growing celery. They found the soil disappointing, but not the comparatively languid life style. Now, without barns to raise or cows to milk or scrapple to prepare, the typically stringent rules of Anabaptist life are somewhat suspended in Pinecraft. …

“Earrings, usually forbidden, can be seen glittering from beneath white bonnets, and houses are outfitted with satellite dishes. … Swimming, volleyball, and shuffleboard are encouraged; ice-cream cones are a nightly ritual.” Check out some terrific photos at the New Yorker, here.

Although I don’t know of any special vacation spot like that in New England, I do know that Amish people sometimes travel to Boston. I see family groups from time to time at South Station. And I always feel a kind of admiration for their lack of self-consciousness in settings where they must know they stand out.

The first all-female Mennonite bocce-ball game in Sarasota, Florida. The players’ husbands stand on the side to cheer.

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The street art in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a selling point for tourism. It started with unwanted tagging on buildings and evolved into murals authorized by building owners and respected by taggers.

Tampa Bay Times art critic Lennie Bennett has the backstory.

“In recent decades, murals have become a way to spruce up bare walls of buildings and to discourage graffiti. St. Petersburg has street murals in many areas but there is a concentration of them along the downtown Central Avenue corridor. To see them at their best, you need to walk through the area. Even if you travel the route regularly by car, you’ll miss many of them because they adorn the once-drab back walls facing alleys.

“An incentive for owners of the buildings, says [Florida CraftArt executive director Diane Shelly], is that they were regularly ‘tagged,’ meaning a graffiti artist would use an exterior wall as a canvas or to scrawl messages with spray paint. ‘It’s illegal and the city has a graffiti removal program,’ so city workers come out and use whatever paint is available to cover up the tags, which led to a different kind of unsightliness, she said. ‘But taggers respect art, and most won’t tag an existing mural.’ …

“Shelly commissioned Derek Donnelly to create a mural that would replace those painted-over areas and discourage future tagging. ‘A Moment to Reflect ‘was created by Donnelly and Sebastian Coolidge, another well-known street painter whose most beloved work is probably the image of a young man with elongated limbs stretching for an orange on the exterior of the clothing store Freshly Squeezed at First Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

” ‘Reflect’ is the largest of the Central Avenue murals, stretching up four floors. It depicts a businessman wearing a green tie, the color associated with CraftArt’s neighbor and sponsor of the mural, Regions Bank, discovering his creative side. ‘I think it’s the largest free-hand mural in St. Petersburg,’ Shelly says, meaning it wasn’t done using a grid method or projector. …

“Because of the murals’ growing popularity, some business owners rehire the artists to freshen up the works rather than painting over them.

“But in [the experience of Leon Bedore, or Tes One] ‘You end up learning that all murals are temporary art and not intended to stay up forever. (When painting illegally) I felt lucky to have one up for a night. A week was amazing. When an owner didn’t have one removed I thought, ‘” might be on to something if they’re keeping it up.” ‘ ”

The Tampa Bay Times article by Lennie Bennett is here. A comprehensive tour of the murals is here.

Photo: Creative Loafing

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Tim is an architect and WordPress blogger who is concerned with, among other things, how real communities develop organically. He has a strong sense that creating places top-down should not be regarded as sustainable place making.

Being a bit of a contrarian, I’d love to think of a contrary example, but so far I can’t.

Here Tim takes off on a planned community in his neck of the Florida woods.

“The problem with the Love Street / Jupiter Inlet Village project is that nobody will live there. … The planners, architects and developer of the project say the project is all about real place making.  Fortunately, we have a large amount of accepted research and knowledgeable writing on the subject of place making dating back over 40 years …

“First, 2 things need to be clear about place making – 1) It is a human phenomenon that is, therefore, very personal, varying, and not measurable; 2) ‘Real’ place making happens anywhere, and anytime there are humans present. …

“Wasteful land use in the form of a high percentage of non-places is the critical flaw with all drive-to places that claim to be urban or have high quality place making at their core. They simply do not, and they perpetuate the car-centric development pattern that exacerbates quality-of-life negatives in South Florida – traffic, loss of identity, and the replacement of real places with faux places.

“For Love Street / Jupiter Inlet Village to become the real place in claims it will be, it should do the following:

  1. Embrace the residential patterns that are still in the area, and were once far more prominent, and include residential units of a similar urban village quality.
  2. All parking should be metered, and of the on-street variety, and the parking lot should be replaced with a public green.
  3. Retail, commercial, and office space should be geared toward neighborhood uses, with the goal of replacing vehicle trips with bicycle or pedestrian trips to a very high degree.
  4. The lighthouse promenade must actually align with the lighthouse, and, thereby, solidify a framed street scape view of this landmark in perpetuity for all to share in. The promenade is presently a few degrees off, and focuses on a point well east of the lighthouse.

“Development and redevelopment projects are not inherently bad things, in fact, many developments create great pedestrian and transit oriented places that foster living, working and playing within a tight-knit community. However, developments that pretended to be great place makers, and really are not, represent a continuation of the very harmful growth patterns of the last half-century in disguise.

“Jupiter Inlet Village can be a great place, and an asset to the community, but it will not get there by pretending to be something that it is not.” More at Tim’s WordPress blog, here.

Map: https://www.jupiter.fl.us/index.aspx?NID=884

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There are people who like to cook and people who like to fish, but if they are not in the same family like John’s in-laws, the caught fish may never get eaten.

Fortunately, there are now a growing number of services that will enable you to catch your fish and eat it, too.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright describe a few at the Boston Globe.

“Fishing charters are wildly popular along the sunset coast of Florida. The Gulf Coast, from St. Pete Beach to Clearwater, has some of the best deep sea fishing in the country and plenty of days of sunshine and calm seas. It’s dubbed the ‘grouper fishing capital of the world,’ but mackerel, snapper, barracuda, tuna, dolphin, wahoo, hogfish, and more are also plentiful.

“Most charters guarantee that the boat will bring back fish, and they often include free fish cleaning and ice. But what do you do with your catch if you’re staying at a vacation resort or local hotel? These restaurants in the St. Pete Beach area will gladly prepare your keepers: You catch ’em, they’ll cook ’em.”

The reporters list these spots: Friendly Fisherman (150 John’s Pass Boardwalk, Madeira Beach, 727-391-6025, www.gofriendlyfisherman.com); Sea Critters Café in St. Pete Beach (2007 Pass-a-Grille Way, 727-360-3706, www.seacritterscafe.com); Conch Republic Grille (16699 Gulf Blvd., N. Redington, 727-320-0536, www.conchrepublicgrill.com); and Maritana Grille (3400 Gulf Blvd., 727-360-1882, www.loewshotels.com/don-cesar/dining). Descriptions of the delicious preparations here.

My husband and John have often brought back bluefish after going out on G Willie Make-It’s charter. G Willie (Bill) cleans the fish you want and sells the fish you don’t want to local restaurants.

Not everyone loves bluefish, but the first one of the year says summer has arrived.

Photo: Pamela Wright for the Boston Globe
Eating on the outside deck at Sea Critters Café, where you can get the fish you caught turned into a meal.

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Candice Frederick, of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, recently posted research by Katherine Ellington on an African American artist who was new to me.

From Ellington notes: “Augusta Savage was among [a] group of artists who came to Harlem from the Jim Crown South in search of opportunity and where her creative expression could thrive.

“My quest for Augusta Savage (1892 –1962) sculpture led me to a first-time visit to the Art and Artifacts Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. … As a young girl in the early twentieth century, Savage began shaping ducks out of red clay found in the backyard of her home in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Savage’s work gained local attention when she entered and won a prize at a local county fair, which led to community support for further study.

“In 1921, she moved to Harlem after studying at State Normal College for Colored Students (now Florida A & M University). Savage later completed a four-year program in sculpture in three years at Cooper Union. …

“In 1931, Savage … opened the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts — a fine arts training ground for over 1,500 students including many well-known Harlem Renaissance artists such as Charles Alston, Ernest Crichlow, Norman Lewis, Morgan Smith and Marvin Smith, Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence. …

“In 1934, Savage became the director of the newly established Harlem Community Art Center, after she was commissioned by the 1939 World’s Fair. Around that time she created “The Harp” as a series, but it was destroyed during the cleanup after the fair. …

“Savage’s art was often in response to the fight against racism. She used a variety of methods, shaping clay and plaster, casting bronze, and later years, carving marble and wood. In the Augusta Savage collection, there are works that illustrate themes such as nineteenth-century romanticism and African and Greek culture. As a trained portraitist, her busts include Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson and Gwendolyn Bennett.”

More here.

Photo: The New York Public Library. Image ID: 1654255
“Harp,” by Augusta Savage

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I had a wonderful weekend in Florida with a couple I hadn’t seen in decades. One woman asked the other what she would like for her birthday, and, because she felt that summers with my family had been a positive turning point in her life and because keeping touch through Christmas cards just didn’t cover the ground, she said she would like to have me come for a visit.

If you have never been a birthday present, I’m here to tell you that it is just the best. I include some pictures of our activities, but mainly we talked and talked and filled in the blanks.

May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be at your back, and may you be somebody’s birthday present someday.

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I believe that people must take responsibility for their actions, that crimes should have punishments, and that every effort should be made to protect society from danger. But I don’t think society is protected if the place of punishment makes a person who committed a crime more angry and hostile than when she did it.

That’s why I like to post about the many kinds of volunteers who work with inmates to turn their hearts to better purposes. It may not always work, but it seems worth trying.

A while back, I blogged about one friend who works with ex-offenders through an organization called OWLL (On With Living and Learning: Jobs Skills for the 21st Century).

Now another friend has written about being accepted into a volunteer program at a low-level women’s prison near her home. The way this friend writes about her orientation, I can see the whole thing.

“I had a letter telling me not to bring a cell phone, smoking paraphernalia, medications, or sharp objects, and not to wear tight clothing, open-toed shoes, dangly earrings, or anything green or orange. … About half the volunteers were people of color and half were white. About a quarter spoke to one another in Spanish. More than half were middle-aged or older. One woman was in a wheelchair. So, it was a pretty diverse group. … There was lots of impressive high-tech security. There are lots of things we’re not allowed to do, like buy things for the inmates, or bring them messages. Or–and the volunteer handbook says this explicitly–help them escape or cover up an escape attempt.” (!)

Are touchy-feely prison programs all too naïve? Well, a highly skeptical prison warden at a Florida prison where there is a dance program admits that he came to see the benefit of women inmates having more-positive ways of expressing themselves:

 

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Not sure if, as a fan of detective mysteries, I should be disppointed or delighted about a new police database in Florida.

I learned about the database from an e-mail listserv I receive at the office. It’s called Innovators Insights. Sign up here to tell the Ash Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School what sorts of public policy topics interested you, and they will e-mail Innovators Insights to you weekly with short descriptions of relevant articles from around the nation — and links to the full story.

Here’s the Florida gumshoe story (to coin a phrase).

“In Cape Coral, Florida, the police department is employing a sophisticated shoe-print database that helps investigators quickly identify what type of shoe a suspect was wearing. While shoeprints are often important in identifying a perpetrator, the traditional process of manually casting a shoeprint and searching the Internet and catalogs for the matching type of shoe can be time-consuming when expedience is of the essence. By contrast, the software houses over 24,000 shoe types and allows information like side-shots of the shoes, their manufacturer, and their color schemes to be immediately forwarded to detectives. If investigators have a suspect’s shoe, they can also compare a digital image of its sole with a shoeprint from other crime scenes and look for a match. Cape Coral police have already used the technology to arrest one offender.”

Read all about it. And no matter how many exotic and unfamiliar shoes you buy in places around the world, you better behave yourself in Coral Gables.

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