Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Morning Rain brings Barky Showers

I awoke at 6 in the morning as it was my habit to do.  I was even able to get partially dressed before Mrs Dog decided that she heard me and came to investigate. 

The pleasures of an older dog.  When they're puppies they're under foot and don't know why it is a problem.  When they're adults, you tell them they're under foot and learn not to be quite so close.  Now that she's 10 and her hearing is getting selectively worse, I'm noticing that she isn't quite as aware of what I'm doing any longer.  I can even get out of The Poang Chair and get standing before she opens her eyes.  Sleep is the number one activity.

I got out of bed, dressed, and padded my way into the Kitchen to roast a half cup of coffee beans.  Seven minutes in the roaster cum popcorn popper and I had time to feed her and grab all the gear we needed for a walk.

Finally, we were able to step outside and were greeted by a light mist of rain.  More like someone was standing on the roof and spraying a bottle of water into the air above my head.  I called to Lettie, and she decided that she didn't hear or really didn't need to hear what I was saying so I pulled her back into the door.  Inside the door is where we keep our umbrellas and this was going to be a wet walk.  We got to the corner where the 25 year old grey and maroon umbrella was opened and we walked into the progressively degrading conditions. 

By the time I rounded the corner the fourth time, I could see the sun rising over the ocean front condos, the ocean itself, and the Bahamas.  It was still raining but not so hard as I didn't take the time to close the umbrella and use it to knock two mangoes off the tree on the corner on the rental property.   The people who live there are from Minnesota, they won't mind, they don't know what good mangoes are!

I walked inside and prepared a mug of coffee, a biscuit and a chicken pattie and continued to watch as it got progressively worse.  The rain danced across my swimming pool making the little rubber duck thermometer that floats there look as if there was someone draping some gossamer sheers past it in rapid succession.  The pool lost its sheen and the water's surface became a uniform layer of grey from the droplets.

It was this time that I realized that this little storm would have the weather alert radio in Philadelphia sounding off about heavy storms and low visibility, but here in South Florida, the land of Hurricanes, nothing.

Then it began.  My little summer shower flexed its muscles.  While I had a mouth full of biscuit, chicken, and coffee, the world flashed brilliant white and the note of a giant bass drum sounded off.   The lights in the house flickered off, then on again.  My power conditioners snapped into use while the shoddy FPL infrastructure surged into the forefront of my consciousness. 

And the dog started to bark.  Barking from Mrs Dog is a rare thing.  Even when she was young she almost never barked.  I never quite understood why dogs bark at thunderstorms but it is a thing I've grown used to and accept as I have this wonderful creature living with me.   If she barks, I pay attention.  There's a reason for that.

One dog trainer I read at some time in passing said "Make Storm Time, Fun Time".  So I reached over onto the counter and found the Pumpkin Orange bottle of soap bubbles.  Now Lettie was barking for joy.  Not just one bark when the BOOM! happened, but a steady stream of baritone barks that showed she was really happy to play and take her mind off of the horrible maelstrom outside.

Not really a maelstrom, I can only imagine how she'll be when we get a hurricane...

Holding the bubble wand near my lips I blew out a stream of about 20 bubbles and she leaps for joy snapping at each and every one while jumping like a puppy.  Reminding myself to blow bubbles out away from my body, I watched her ivory teeth chomp each impending bubble as a lightning strike happened with the BOOM! and she merely went on happily chomping away at soap.

I doubt that having a dog eat soap is a good thing, but the tiny amount that she gets in from snapping at bubbles and only occasionally getting one can't be a life threatening situation, I swallowed more shampoo last night after I climbed out of the shower after using the pool.  She seems to enjoy it greatly, and its mental health benefits outweigh the little bit of soap that are in those shimmering spheres of soap that mysteriously fall from the sky.

Here we are, an hour and 45 minutes later, the storm is beginning to fade.   The sun is now higher in the sky, the Bahamas are sunny with only scattered red blobs over the radar near Freeport, over 60 miles away.  Our own rain storm will fade away into canine memory and the rainbow over Wilton Manors won't be so redundant.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death of a Mac iBook

I come to bury Mac not to praise him.

Perhaps some praise.  What you are looking at was what I did most of this weekend.  This is my Mac iBook G3.   It was made around 9 years ago and I believe that it is finally just scrap. 

This machine has been through the mill.  It started out as a laptop given to a teacher in a suburban school.  That teacher used it for a number of years and then turned it in to their tech support when they were upgraded.  Tech support decided that it was surplus some time around 2004 or 2005 and it was given to a friend.  The friend had it for a while but had an accident that I'll call "Deceleration Trauma" and that is how I ended up with it.

At that point most people would have tossed it and been done with it.  I got the little white iBook and replaced the cracked screen, upgraded the memory, and upgraded the hard disc.  I had it for about 4 years myself when I decided that I'd try to upgrade the hard disc again.  I never really used it hard, which was fine since it was underpowered for what I was doing with it.  I had installed OSX Tiger on it when a friend gave me a dead Mac and the Retail Tiger Discs that she had with it.   I couldn't raise that machine from the dead and the smell of smoke inside told me why... 

When you upgrade a laptop you have some varying degrees of success.  I don't recommend anyone attempt upgrading most components in a Mac laptop.  They use a lot of hardware that, while beautiful, is meant to be installed and never upgraded.  One Way Yellow Tape to hold down components.  My achilles heel with this machine was the cable that powered the hard drive and CD Rom.  Mylar with embedded copper wiring is not going to last many cycles of being removed and replaced.

While it may sound like I'm bemoaning a fragile machine, it is quite the opposite.  This machine was abused.  Schools are never gentle to computers.  Any laptop that falls off of a table will be damaged, some may not recover.  Once the hardware was replaced, this machine performed well enough for me to become one of my favorites. 

I am a Project Manager. That *requires* extensive knowledge of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project, Microsoft Access, Microsoft Visio.  I've got all of those and know them well.  That's work, that little Mac was a playground.  I could do things on it and not pretend that I was being productive.   It showed me that while I could think like the herd, I can also "Think Different".  It also convinced me that the next time I have to shell out for a new off the shelf laptop, the first thing I'll do is look at a Mac Book or what ever they're called at that time.

For the mean time, I'll reclaim the hard drive, memory and the Airport card from my little white buddy.  I'll also be looking for a new one on Craigslist.  It will have to be free, which means it's going to be pretty low end.  A G4 would be nice.  An Intel Based Mac Book would be perfect.  I don't use a desktop machine here, they're just too impractical in this house.

If anyone has one gathering dust... let me know.  ;-)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Windows 7 Annoyance - Shut Down or Restart

I use Windows 7 on "this" machine.  Actually I use a virtual copy of Windows XP that is an image of a PC that I retired running virtually on my copy of Windows 7 via Microsoft Virtual PC 2007... but that is a different story.

Virtualization is an interesting tool, it lets you run programs in a "sandbox" keeping the mess that sometimes happens if you surf a web site with a .RU extension (Russia) that turns out to be not entirely friendly.  

On the other hand Windows 7 has a couple of very different aspects from a visual standpoint.  There are certain things that happen in background that the operating system says to the user "Hey, Buddy, Wake Up! There's something important!". 

How does it do that?  Simple... Black the screen.  Completely.

Oh sure, it comes back with a box with choices of things to do afterwords, but that always catches my breath and makes me think "Oh Crap! Did FPL Have Another Power Pop that Killed my old Laptop"? 

I'm on a roll here, there's more to it....

I use this machine that I am on as my "big boy" computer.  It is an old laptop, about 3 or 4 years old, running Windows 7 that I upgraded from Vista (Ugh) and for the most part Windows 7 runs well on it.  Much better than Vista (Ugh) did. 

In my consulting work and my job search I beat the thing up.  I run a LOT of program windows at the same time.  For the most part, repeated programs are a web browser.  My personal preference is Firefox.  I know how to make it not show me advertisements using "adblock plus" and I highly recommend it.  I make Firefox open up as many as 60 windows at a time because it makes it much easier to automate my job search by reading a page within a tab and closing it when through. 

Needless to say, it works for me.  Once through The Daily Job Search, I typically have as many as 10 separate Firefox windows open and some of them have multiple tabs with their own web pages open.  It is a neat trick to open all your multiple email accounts in one browser window on their separate tabs, use another to research Joomla! and how to import a web site, and have a few job opportunities that you wanted to read a second time before applying.  Right now, I have seven Firefox Windows open, three windows with more than three tabs open.

There's a lot going on on this old machine.

I was going to post a picture today for the blog, and will do that tomorrow instead.  Why?  Simply because I got into the big Windows 7 Shutdown Feedback Loop. 


There are a lot of configuration settings on both Windows and Firefox.  I'm a strong fan of manually adjusting things and not letting the computer do things "automagically" for me.  When you shut down this particular machine, first I have to shut down the Virtual PC which can take about 10 minutes itself.  Then Click Start, and click on Shut Down on the Windows 7 "side" to shut down the main PC. 

Here is where it gets tricky.  Firefox is told by Windows 7 "Hey, I'm shutting down".  Firefox says Hold On, let me tell the owner of this thing something, and pops up a box saying "Do you want to Save and Quit, Quit, or Cancel". 

Obviously in this case, I almost always click "Save and Quit" since it is too much effort to bookmark every single page I have open on every single tab.  At this moment that would be 15 extra bookmarks and it is just after 8 AM on a Monday morning.  But I don't ALWAYS want to so I won't tick that box that says "Don't Prompt Me".  You don't want that because if you hit a web page with a virus, a bad piece of code, or something else that crashes your browser, when you restart the browser, you are right back where you started and in a loop.

The problem is when you miss that little window of time.  The dog barks.  The parrot is climbing down out of the cage.  You just got out of the comfy chair and went to make the second mug of coffee... what ever happens to distract you and...

You come back to a big black screen with the ghost image of your desk top and information that a program is holding up the works.  Won't you please fix it, I'll sit here patiently.

Stop being so helpful Windows.  We are Not All Idiots, Microsoft.  You're doing it wrong.


See the problem is that you have a prompt on the desktop from Firefox that is demanding to know "Do you want to save your work" and you just covered it all up with a big piece of black taffeta and are trying to act all sly and sleek about it.

I know you have focus groups to look at things and ask Is this Better Than That? like some stupid Eye Test for Operating Systems, but this was a place where you took the short yellow bus into town for your Happy Meal.

Systems are my work.  This system doesn't work (for me).  Here's the solution.  Don't cover things up!  Real basic right?  The problem is not limited to Firefox.  Any program where you are able to save your work may hold up the system from a restart and there are many times that you won't want to save.  If you open up a copy of Notepad and use it as a scratchpad intending to destroy it when through and you go to restart, you will go through exactly the same issues.   Changing to Internet Explorer is not an option since it is big, fat, and bloated and would slow me down massively in comparison to Firefox.  I almost NEVER use Internet Explorer since it slows down the computer and introduces some problems with the operating system because someone in Redmond Washington have decided that everyone needs this kludge called "IE" threaded all through your Operating System like a cancer that ends up turning it into a Single Point of Failure.

Someone up at Microsoft needs to go to their design team and say "Hey when you shut down, if there's something blocking the operating system, just pop up a window so they can get to the offending prompts".   It would be so much simpler.

There you go, it only took me 20 minutes to write this down.  I'm the project manager - you come back when it's fixed.   I'll see you on Friday.

(Yeah, I didn't think so either!)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stonewall Pictures from Last Week

Someone threw a party in town last week.  Wilton Manors and Wilton Drive hosted Stonewall Pride Celebration for 2010.  I got an invite to Commissioner Tom Green's apartment for a get together party with him and his friends including the Mayor, Gary Resnick, and some other local friends who are active in the city.

The apartment is four floors above Wilton Drive, so I managed to get the pictures from a Birds Eye View.  They are not at people's scale, but I did manage to grab a few good shots. 

Waving at us is Tom Green, the Commissioner and the Host of our party.  It's only fitting to lead off with his shot.  This is the confiscated Police Pickup Truck that we either got in a "police confiscation" or bought with the funds that were from a confiscation.

Think of that when you go out driving.  Don't become a DUI, you'll be paying for our next Truck.

Unfortunately the shot shows the back of the Mayor... Sorry, Gary, I didn't get a clear one of you but if you hear this and would like one posted send it along, I'll be happy to.


What's next are the view North and South on Wilton Drive from 50 feet up.  We have this raceway in the middle of town that we're trying to decide how to do something about it... but for the day it served as the setting for the party.  You can see here what it was like as everyone was waiting for everyone to arrive. 

 The View North toward NE 6th Avenue before the party got started...

Looking South and West-ish from the balcony, here's the view before.  We did get a good view from above.

I did manage to get a clear picture of Vice Mayor Justin Flippen here smiling in a blue shirt.  Justin you look hot!  It was 90 that day and we were all wilting by the time you got there.   It really did turn out to be "Wilting Drive" as some of the wags call our Drive.

Also there were Commissioners Ted Galatis and Scott Newton.  I didn't manage to get a picture of either but I did manage to try to get Scott to toss a handful of Mardi Gras beads up four floors.  He only made it to the second floor.  Sorry Scott, better luck next time!  

Someone had said that they were on the ground and that one of the nicest things about the festival was that people were tossing Mardi Gras beads from the balconies "Just Like New Orleans".  I'd add without the public drinking and the crush of people, but it was a nice touch.

What is a parade without some dancers and floats?  This dragon with wings was there with a coterie of dancers behind it.  Beautiful work, and as it was going down the parade route, the wings were flapping and head was reaching out as if to find a tasty dragon snack in the crowd.  

This is one of the dancers that followed the Dragon.  The person in front will give you some idea of the scale of that costume.  We were guessing that it was around 10 or 12 feet tall.  Luckily the thing was made out of a thin material, but I can imagine how tired that person was by the end of the "workout"!

Speaking of dancers, here are some cowboys dancing.  This one's for you Pat, they were square dancing all the way up the Drive and let me tell you from four floors up it was LOUD.  Country Music isn't my thing at all but they did seem to have fun there.

Here was the view at the end of the Parade looking North toward NE 6th Avenue.  The crowd had finally filled in and the rest of the day was this crowded.  90 degree heat and thousands of people.  I managed to last another hour before hiding at home in the pool for a bit and came back out after Dinner for a little.

Finally the last view - South on Wilton Drive.  The crowd was filing back toward NE 6th Avenue and the bandstand.   The Party was there, and so was I for a while.  These Festivals we have here in Wilton Manors are always well attended, well behaved people.   Always fun. 

So when is the next one?  In a couple months?  Wicked Manors for Halloween?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Truck For Sale

After all that Political Stuff, Velma sent me a cute joke.  I guess she had had enough of it.

So we have a break for the day:

Subj: truck for it!!

A sixteen year-old boy came home with a new Chevrolet Avalanche and his parents began to yell and scream, 'Where did you get that truck???!!!' He calmly told them, 'I bought it today.'

'With what money?' demanded his parents. They knew what a Chevrolet Avalanche cost.

'Well,' said the boy, 'this one cost me just fifteen dollars.' So the parents began to yell even louder. 'Who would sell a truck like that for fifteen dollars?' they said.

'It was the lady up the street,' said the boy. I don't know her name - they just moved in. She saw me ride past on my bike and asked me if I wanted to buy a Chevrolet Avalanche for fifteen dollars.'

'Oh my Goodness!,' moaned the mother, 'she must be a child abuser. Who knows what she will do next? John, you go right up there and see what's going on.' So the boy's father walked up the street to the house where the lady lived and found her out in the yard calmly planting petunias!

He introduced himself as the father of the boy to whom she had sold a new Chevrolet Avalanche for fifteen dollars and demanded to know why she did it.

'Well,' she said, 'this morning I got a phone call from my husband. (I thought he was on a business trip, but learned from a friend he had run off to Hawaii with his mistress and really doesn't intend to come back).

He claimed he was stranded and needed cash, and asked me to sell his new Chevrolet Avalanche and send him the money.

So I did.'

(Are women good or what?)

I love it!!!!!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Commission Meeting on Waste Management

During the Commission Meeting on June 23, 2010, the Contract for trash hauling and pick up with Waste Management was extended for another three years.

This was written into the contract and was the path of least resistance.  After having at least three Refuse companies come up during public comments wanting to have the contract put out for bid, and having various residents and business owners sing the praises of Waste Management, the city took this action.  To paraphrase Commissioner Ted Galatis: Nobody came up in a timely manner when the city needed an RFP.

Come back in three years. 

One of the other companies had a deal with something that I had used in Philadelphia that I truly hope we can get written into the next RFP.  I know I'll mention this to some of the Commissioners when I do some more research.  There is a process where a separate recycling bin is given to the residents.  The recycling is picked up in a large green bin, mechanically by a specialized truck just like Waste Management uses now.  The City is given a payment from the company, the residents are paid in discount coupons, and the recycling happens painlessly.  There was a payment to parties done on a basis of weight of recycling picked up at the curb.  We all had accounts that we could log into and see what we were earning - all just for doing the right thing, Recycling.   By the time I moved out of Philadelphia, I was recycling more than I was throwing out in trash on a weekly basis.  I was actively looking at the packaging of what I was buying in order to try to minimize waste and increase recycling.

This company was the Recycle Bank, and the entire city of Philadelphia were participants.  I Highly recommend this!  You can read their FAQ here.

One issue that I find troubling is that trash hauling in this city is basically a hidden tax upon the residents.  We pay a fee to the city who contracts with Waste Management for the services.  The services from what I see personally are excellent.  I've watched them pick up trash from my front room and when we have had spills I have seen the person get out of the truck and pick things up from the ground and place them in the cans.  I didn't see that level of care happen in any other city I lived in. 

I have no complaints about Waste Management as a company or their services.

My concern is that Waste Management pays back to the City approximately $360,000 per year in "franchise fees".  In round numbers that works out to approximately $28 per person paid out in commissions to the city as a hidden tax.  If you assume that households are on average a little more than two people per dwelling and that businesses are also required to use Waste Management as a franchise, I think it is reasonable to say that that number is about half - so basically every business and home owner is paying out an Average Estimate of $56 back to the city.  This really should be cut out and if the City needs that money to survive, either adjust the tax rates or cut expenses or both.

Sure, raise taxes... that will go over well, right?   Well that comes from an accounting background.  If the residents and businesses demand a service, the city will provide and do so at a fair cost.  We the citizens pay for those services with taxes.  It is all part of living in a modern representative democracy.  It also is something that should be priced correctly so that fees don't exist where they should be covered as a tax.  Probably nothing more than a philosophical difference on my part.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Commission Meeting on the Two Lane Initiative Board

The City Commission on Tuesday night had a Board proposed in New Business by Vice Mayor Justin Flippen.  This Board would be created to help the City wrap their minds around the very complex issues surrounding Wilton Manors Main Street's Two Lane Initiative.

The details of this plan are what are the most interesting.  It is the intent of the Commission to have this Board self fund via donations and grants.  It also is to reflect the complex diversity of those who will be effected by the changes to the Drive.  Since the Board is also subject to the Sunshine Laws, it will be required to actually pay a Board Secretary.

The Board hasn't been created and already is running at a deficit.

They are now drafting a resolution to create this board and the selection of the members therein, which means that the Two Lane Initiative will be delayed again.  The very soonest that this resolution will be presented will be at the next Commission meeting as a First Reading, followed by debate, and a Second Reading.  By the time the Board gets up and running, it may be Fall or Winter before anything actually happens.

The tricky part, and I do applaud the Commission at at least trying to figure out a way to do this, will be to attempt to make the Board accurately reflect the diversity of the people who will be effected by the proposed changes.

The Commission will have a seat on the Board via the City Manager, Joe Gallegos.  Wilton Manors Main Street is proposed to have a seat on the Board of their own selection.  Of the other seats on the Board, it blossomed to as many as 13 and back down to 7.  There will be an attempt to find an Architect or other Technical resource, a resident from the public at large, someone from the Wilton Manors Business Association or Chamber of Commerce, and a member from Planning and Zoning.

The situation is that since the actual selection of the members will be a very complex issue.   I don't see how they will manage to do it in this fashion unless they were to allow each Commissioner and the Mayor to select one member to the Board directly, and then to have that person be of a specific "class" such as a Technical Resource or from Planning and Zoning.  Otherwise they're going to have a large number of people who will apply for specific seats and it will be a long and drawn out affair.

This suggestion was brought up in the Commission meeting by more than one Commissioner.  Since the Commissioners all have their own views on constituency, it seems most appropriate to have specific seats filled by specific Commission appointees.   For example, Commissioner Tom Green was most interested in having an "At Large" person from the residential community on the board who does not live "directly" on the Drive.  He would be the best person to find this At Large appointee.

The Self Funding aspect is another interesting wrinkle.   The Two Lane Initiative can fund itself once it is up and running.  It is expected to create a surplus to the city of $81,000 but that is once Phase 1 has been completed.  It will cost $139,000 to get Phase 1 completed, but that will be paid off within the first year.  The intent of the Commission would be to have people on this Board who are adept at finding Grants and other Funding sources to come up with the money to actually get Phase 1 and perhaps more completed.  This is a challenge to most so your pool of individuals who are able to knock on doors and find a business or governmental entity with deep pockets who actually live in the city may not be all that great.

Just getting this Board established may be the hardest part.  The Two Lane Initiative as presented by Wilton Manors Main Street was to show a framework under which the City could progress with a project to get another 115 parking spaces at a lower price than any other and do so with a surplus.  Getting to that first Phase is a big hurdle, but finding the particular mix of people who can make that happen will be a challenge.

I go to the City Commission meetings twice a month because I am genuinely interested in the goings on in this quirky little city.   I expect to be going to this new board as well because the process is fascinating to me.  I've had my hands in the whole Two Lane Initiative process from the beginning as a Board Member on Wilton Manors Main Street.  Since the public will be allowed to be in this as well, we will also be able to give our input whether a member of Main Street or not.

As such I don't expect to be involved in this Board other than as a spectator.  The reason is that they intend to have this Board to be subject to the Sunshine Law.  I have no problem with a Board being required to be open to the public.  Back room politics have the connotation that they have because of the effect they have on people in the broadest sense of the word.  The problem is that if you are on multiple boards, one with the Sunshine Law and one or more without being under it, your effectiveness on those other boards will be limited.  You end up sending one of the people who are co-board members outside of the chambers while you are discussing these issues.

With a group that is tasked to be as creative as possible in finding solutions for the Two Line Initiative's challenges, being limited by a requirement that gags you outside of the Board's scope is a bit of overkill.

What ever your opinion is of Wilton Manors Main Street, I believe that their impact in Wilton Manors has been greatly positive and would prefer to see that group thrive as long as it remains so, to jeopardize it would be a major loss.  The City of Wilton Manors is proud to have such a strong class of Volunteer workers servicing its needs, the Mayor Gary Resnick and each and every Commissioner has said the same from the Commission Chambers on the Dais.  To limit their work would be unfortunate, whether they be Elected Official or whether they be Volunteer.

Now if we can just find those Seven People!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wilton Manors Commission Meeting - June 23, 2010

Rather a lot happened last night. 

The City has been instructed by the Commission to look into the deal that we have with Fort Lauderdale for Fire Service.  Their mayor who was once our mayor wants to raise our rates.  Ironically he was the same person, Jack Seiler, who had gotten this deal in the first place and now thinks that Wilton Manors isn't paying enough for protection.  We beg to differ and intend to actually negotiate a proper deal.  

The trash pickup deal with Waste Management has been extended for another three years.  This was written into the contract and was the path of least resistance.  I'll go into greater depth on another posting.

There will be a special election held November for Vice Mayor Justin Flippen's seat.  This is the best time for that to happen.   Justin is running to State Representative for District 92 and the election for that Primary will be in August.  If Justin wins, he will go on to run against a candidate from the republican party in November.  If Justin loses, I believe it is possible for him to run again for the unfinished term in November.  His non-revokable resignation will take effect as of November 1 so there will actually be time for him to do so.  Nothing on that has been announced, so stay tuned!

Planning and Zoning Board picked up a second alternate in Deborah Rockland.  The former holder of the position, resigned and it was moved that we select to the board the person who got the most votes in the prior elections.

The Board of Adjustments will also have new members.  Since the Board's powers were reduced and most passed onto the Planning and Zoning Board, Commissioner Tom Green made a motion to reduced the number of members from 7 to 5.  As such, another motion was made to pass those people present onto the board and select a new member, Scott Herman.  Mayor Resnick also wanted to include a long time Board member Frank Buxton who was not present as he is wheelchair bound.  All selections passed unanimously.

The Recreation Board also had elections where two current members were returned, John Fiore, and Todd De Jesus.  Scott Herman was also selected for that board as a new member.

All of the above happened in short order.  Most evenings, if you get this far on the Agenda, you are looking at being close to done.  We were on the last item and the selection proved to be one for debate.

Vice Mayor Justin Flippen proposed to create a Board to study the Two Lane Initiative as presented by Wilton Manors Main Street.  Everyone understands that this is a very complex issue and needs to be analyzed in great detail.  Justin believed that the best way to do this is via a duly appointed Board that meets under the Sunshine Law which requires it to be recorded by a Board Secretary and meet at times so that the public may be involved.  

This was another very long discussion, and I have broken out this into it's own posting for another day.

There was another discussion about parking.  The owners of the building that houses Acapulco Lindo Restaurant on the North End of the Drive have contacted the City to get the City to demolish the building and lease the land for a large 65 bay parking lot.  Ted Galatis said it well that it is not the business of the City to pay to provide for parking for the businesses.  This sort of thing should be paid for and funded by a private entity.   The cost for this project was proposed to have been paid for by the City and we would not even own the property.  Cheaper to buy the land and put up a Master Metered lot than to have to lease it.  It also seems to be against Code since all properties that are actually on the Drive are expected to have Retail or "Arts and Entertainment" oriented businesses within the A and E District. 

I'd personally prefer to see Retail there with a garage built on top by private funds.  The North End of the Drive needs parking very badly and the City intends to look into this more in the future.

Three short items that came up during closing comments:
1) The G Resort will be closing at the end of July and they intend to move forward.   This resort will be the Jewel in the Crown of their business and is expected to be quite a high end resort.
2) "Wings and Things is Moving Forward" - although no specifics were noted.
3) The Wachovia lot can be used after hours.  The hangup was insurance and indemnity.   Currently it is shared with the funeral home next door, so the details of when you can use it, how much of it is for "open parking" and so forth are not available.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wilton Manors Town Hall 2010 - Public Safety

At the Town Hall last week, Chief Perez gave a presentation on Public Safety and Noise, I'll write on the Public Safety issues here.

The city has placed crime maps on and these maps are refreshed weekly. I would like to see maps on the site in other frequencies, such as monthly and yearly.  I do know that they're generated as the officers who present to the Central Area Neighborhood Association will bring them in on paper.  CANA was trying to keep them on the website, but their links are at this point from October through December of 2008.

The city is divided for police purposes in two districts, East and West.  They will patrol the areas divided by NE 6th Avenue and the South End of Wilton Drive.  The officers that I see patrolling my neighborhood and the Drive do seem to be the same ones all the time.  Nice folks who really do care about our little City.

The facts are that burglary in the city is down.  This is attributed to increased patrol by the officers.  I have seen the same car make more passes down my street during the day, and it seems like every time I am out on the Drive walking the dog, you will see the cruisers.

On the other hand, robbery and calls for service are up.  These would be two different issues.  The Robbery are people coming in from outside and mugging people.   This kind of opportunistic crime is up due to the Republican Induced Great Depression our world economy is experiencing.  People don't have money so they are trying to take ours.  Be aware of your surroundings.  It is pretty easy to know in Wilton Manors when someone just "doesn't belong" or things "just don't look right".

Service calls are people calling into the Police department asking for anything from a real crime in progress call to a "Cat Stuck Up In A Tree" kind of thing.   I'm not really sure what would explain that statistic other than the people here being as involved in the city as we tend to be are comfortable with speaking with our officers.   We have had some important laws passed lately that changed how the quality of life was effected, such as noise ordinances, and the specific peculiarities about parking and people could be reporting and asking for service on those sorts of issues.

The pedestrians that are crossing mid-block are causing more accidents.  This has been a well known problem with Wilton Drive, and I personally have seen this happen on Andrews Avenue frequently.   The blocks here are long and people will just step out into traffic to get to the other side.  All three major North-South thoroughfares are wide and as a result it will take longer to get across. 

FDOT is willing to put in mid-block crosswalks for us when the city approves it.  This can happen with or without taking back the drive.  What would be best in this interim would be to have them put in the crosswalks and signage like is down at the beach in Ft Lauderdale on A1A.  In Florida, just like every other state, the Pedestrian does have the right of way in the crosswalks.  The signage states that you are Required to stop, merely not a suggestion!
Wilton Drive especially is a problem.  The block just south of NE 6th Avenue at the end of the Shoppes at Chic Optique seems to be a "Logical Place" for people to Jaywalk.   People are going from the bars on one side of the street to the other and I suspect that there is an urgency that is caused by a certain amount of alcohol.   The light at NE 6th and our four way crosswalk is not all THAT far away.  This will be helped if the City adopts the Two Lane Initiative as presented by Wilton Manors Main Street.  As a part of the proposed plan, the Drive will be narrowed to two lanes, there will be medians with plantings and trees, and there will also be mid block crosswalks.  While you can die being struck from a car at 20mph or 40mph, the slower expected speeds will help lower accidents.   Chief Perez did say that when a pedestrian comes out from behind a tree the driver sees a tree moving.  Don't hide behind a tree when you have the chance, it will only confuse the drivers.

In Wilton Manors, traffic enforcement is done heavily on Wilton Drive.  There are even comments on the traffic stopping websites about it.  So be it, a posted 30mph is not 45. 

Within a five week period, there were:
262 speeding violations,
25 moving violations, and
49 non-moving violations.
ticket production is up 24%

That is a lot of tickets. 

The new message board has been purchased with some of these funds, and they have been used in the past to warn drivers that traffic laws would be strictly enforced, as well as to let them know that there are events and changes due to construction. 

As for the Two Lane Initiative, Chief Perez believes that from a Law Enforcement standpoint, two lames will slow traffic down.  Chief Perez said that "two lanes would be fantastic but we need all the other pieces  to slow traffic too".  Narrowing the Drive is not a one size fits all solution but it is a significant part.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Town Hall 2010 - Take Back Wilton Drive

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the board of  Wilton Manors Main Street.  I personally believe that the Take Back the Drive Initiative is a sound one, and that there are some difficulties with it but the benefits greatly outweigh following the plan.   The plan should be considered an Endowment or an Annuity - you pay in to the plan and get back a profit assuming that the City is able to follow the plan as presented.  It is my belief that the plan can be paid off in the first year and will fund all expenses that will come from the City's ownership of Wilton Drive and all the improvements that we would make to it in the future.

You can take that as an Executive Summary as for the most part the City as presented at the Town Meeting had agreed.   The following are the notes that I had take in the meeting.  I will do my best to present them as stated, however you will see that from my personal standpoint, what presented is in alignment with my beliefs on the matter.

Take Back the Drive Initiative as presented by Dave Archecki. 

In 2006 the City went to FDOT to try to take back Wilton Drive.
Ft Lauderdale and Oakland Park did not want their portions back.  Ft Lauderdale would assume part responsibility for the bridge at the South end of the Drive and Oakland Park would assume responsibility for part of the bridge on Dixie Highway and the portion of Dixie Highway from the Bridge up to Oakland Park Boulevard.

In 2008 there was a traffic study that was received by FDOT warranting that Wilton Manors should take back the Drive as there is no reason why the State needed Wilton Drive on the roster of State Roads.  The statement was made in the presentation that since FDOT was interested in moving people and vehicles, this road did not particularly make sense of being a State Road as it did not particularly go "anywhere" and that it was in the middle of a Central Business District.

From 2007 to 2009 Ft Lauderdale and Oakland Park consulted and stalled the process by dragging their feet.  While this happened, FDOT put crosswalks in on Wilton Drive. The reason that the crosswalks were placed in front of City Hall instead of where they were originally promised was that supposedly the intersection was offset enough that having one at the South End at Tropics Bar at NE 20th St and at NE 21st Street at the Liquor Store would not meet the State's Standards for maintaining traffic flow and visibility.  At NE 6th Avenue the City put in a crosswalk which now upgrades this to four way crosswalk. 

Here is a handy map from Google Maps so that you can follow along if you want to consult it.  Those who wanted lights and crosswalks at the above intersections are acutely aware where they should have been, the rest of us may struggle with the specifics... I always have a better time of it when I have a map handy!

In January 2009 the speed limit on Wilton Drive was dropped to 30mph.  It had used to have been at 35mph.  At that time, the beginning of this current discussion of the Take Back the Drive Initiative had begun  and was rejected due to cost.  The discussion was brought back to the City by Wilton Manors Main Street to reinitiate this. 

Currently, FDOT said this week that they are willing to listen. 

The components of the Take Back the Drive Initiative are a plan that occurs in Four Phases:

Phase 1 is to stripe the Drive with paint according to DOT Regulations allowing approximately 115 new spaces and unlit crosswalk.  The quoted price of $168,000 by the presenter was incorrect, and did not reflect the quote from the painting contractor that was brought in by an RFP for $139,000.

Phase 2 would cost upwards of $2.4 Million to $4.4 Million with the addition of trees and drainage.  The comment was made that any time that you make changes to drainage, the price goes up.  As Phase 2 does not happen immediately, the costs would be amortized over the life span of the current plan of the Drive which is expected to be 15 years.  Also, the costs for Phase 3 are included in this estimate - this pushes the amount much higher however the presentation adjusts for this at the closing.

Phase 3 add hardscape to well define the crosswalks and medians, it would also maintain bike lane.  No estimate was given on this Phase's cost but most of the costs listed on phase 2 are included here.

Phase 4 adds a tree canopy which is currently prohibited by County ordinance.  There was no estimate on costs given.  In order to return the Drive to a tree covered state that was enjoyed before FDOT removed the canopy that was there in the 1980's, the City must reclaim the Drive.  "Once the Drive is ours, we can do with it what we want, but none of this can be made permanent until we own the drive".

The Parking that was proposed would be a back in parking.  This adds safety by allowing the parking car to stop traffic behind them, and back in.  It also allows the added safety of when you exit and enter the car, you are herded back toward the sidewalks by your car doors.  When you leave the parking space, you have much higher visibility because you are not looking through a mirror to depart. 

The expected life of the plan is 15 years. 
The annual cost is $36,000 for resurfacing of the roads as needed.
The annual cost for lighting and maintenance of lighting is $8,000.
Bridge maintenance would cost $30,000.
Annual cost for drainage and sidewalk maintenance is $7,500
The total Profit is approximately $81,000 per year.

The expected flow of traffic of people who used to be on the Drive was to flow to NE 15th Avenue and NE 20th St as well as other major arterials such as NE 26th St, Andrews Ave, Federal Highway, and Dixie Highway.

The sources of funding for the project are expected to be from:
Parking meters
Local bus taxes
Property taxes
Local Contributors
as well as other future funding sources.

The conclusion of the presentation was that:
Wilton Manors Main Street has done a diligent job of looking at other areas. 
Wilton Manors Main Street's Initiative has been analyzed by the City's consultant, Chen and Associates, and the finances and the plan has been shown to be financially accurate and sound.
Wilton Manors Main Street looked at how parking will fund plan.
Wilton Manors Main Street is looking to reevaluate once phase one is in effect.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stonewall Pride Wilton Manors 2010

I'll take a short break from the articles from the Town Hall.  Believe it or not I think I still have two or three long winded articles to write before I'm done.  The next one will be the City's Presentation on the Wilton Manors Main Street Two Lane Initiative, and I want to do that one right!

Today, after thrashing in bed from 2AM until 5AM I finally pulled myself out of bed for the morning dog walk around town.  I guess there really was caffeine in the Decaf Espresso I made yesterday!  Yes, Decaf Espresso.  Great stuff.  Still had caffeine!

I was standing in the bathroom making silly faces at the mirror and heard a "CLANG!" on the pavement and realized that the preparation for the 2010 Stonewall Pride Festival is proceeding a pace.  I fed Mrs Dog and left for the morning walk and noticed that everything had a sheen from the overnight showers.  The weather today will be a typical South Florida Wet Season day, 90 degrees, a chance of Thunderstorms, and brilliant sun.  That little sheen and the small "schvitz" that was hitting us will be gone once the marine layer burns off.  

It's already in the 80s so if you're coming, bring plenty of water to rehydrate.  It is traditional to hold a Gay Pride Event in June, that was when the Drag Queens of the Stonewall bar fought back the NYPD who were frankly oppressing their right to peaceful assembly (Hmm, Constitutional right?).  This is a celebration of the beginning of the modern Gay Rights movement, and there is still a lot of distance to cover.  Fascinating Wikipedia article here.

If you don't accept a group of people you have no right whatsoever to complain when they don't accept your complaints.  (Small Minded or Negative comments *WILL* be deleted, don't bother)

So with the Gays descending on Wilton Manors (and no, it isn't a Gay City, it is approximately 60% straight) along with their Straight Allies, and there are a LOT of us here, you can come to the party and enjoy the music and dancing.  After all, who doesn't like a street fair?

This is one event that I won't be volunteered, er, volunteering for.  Being very active in the political volunteer community here in Wilton Manors, I've been invited to Wilton Manors City Commissioner Tom Green for a reception at his apartment and also to the Wilton Manors Main Street opening of their new offices on the Drive at the Gables.  I'm looking forward to both! 

Thanks Tom!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Parking in Wilton Manors from Town Hall 2010

More from the Wilton Manors Town Hall meeting for 2010

Parking was presented by Bob Mays.

The situation is that people are parking in front of busineses all day long.  The people who are parking there are the same people who work in the shops and bars here on Wilton Drive.   They're the ones who come in and make sure that the city is moving along and the central business district is thriving.  After all, when the drive had no workers, it had no shops.  On the other hand, the problem is that each of these shops has limited parking, only 130 or so existing spaces on Wilton Drive.  If your waiter is parked in front of the restaurant, you can't park there to get your Pizza at Humpy's or Thai at Siam Cuisine.

Both are excellent by the way...

The city commissioned a study that recommended a comprehensive solution that resulted in Lanier Parking being brought in to manage the parking for the city on and near Wilton Drive.  Lanier suggested free off site lot for the people who work in the city at the shops and a shuttle to get them to work on time.  You will be able to park free at the GLCC or at the Church lot at NE 6th Ave and NE 26th Street.  The Green Hopper will shuttle you to the Drive for free.  Currently, this is in place.  I am not completely certain but I believe that these lots are not limited to the people who work on the drive.  The walk to the drive is not too far, and the Church lot is half way between the Drive and Scandals bar just our side of Oakland Park Blvd on NE 6th Ave.

The meters are just one part.  Old City Hall has been approved to be demolished and a parking lot will go in on that site but the format not decided.  There is a question before the City Commission asking whether or not the City should build a temporary surface lot, a surface lot that is permanent and meets all code, or a multiple level parking garage.  After having seen the plans I have to say that the most logical decision would be to build a permanent surface lot.   A temporary lot would only last 3 years and this Republican Induced Great Depression has shown no signs of ending and lately the pundits are talking about a "Double Dip".  Hold onto your hats, your property values are about to take another dive. In 3 years it is questionable whether we will have money to do this AGAIN, so lets do it right the first time.   A permanent surface lot will allow us to build a garage at a later date when the financial situation gets better and we can afford the 2 to 4 million dollars it would take.  In retrospect, a $600,000 bill for a permanent lot would be a bargain.  

Those costs are approximate and include all demolition costs if I remember correctly.

Before that happens, asbestos remediation is planned for the Old City Hall.  Any building of that era, the 1950s, will have Asbestos it seems. 

Lanier moving to a permanent office on Wilton Drive in the Gables Wilton Park within a week.  The office space has finally begun to look like it is near completion. 

Enforcement of meters begins on Monday April 21, 2010.

Ed Richardson of Lanier parking informed us of what Lanier is planning on doing.  If you want to reach him, his cell number is on a sticker that is directly on the meters.  There are currently 139 meters on the Drive and up to another 40 will be installed as soon as the locations are determined.  The Green Hopper Shuttle service starts next week.  Currently, even though people do not have to pay the meters until April 21, 2010, compliance is up to 75%. Lanier's Office at Gables Wilton Park is open as of Monday and open 7 days a week during business hours. 

The Park by Phone system is in place.  On the meters are instructions to call a phone number with your cell, enter in some codes and you can charge your parking instead of feeding the meters.  Just remember to call when you leave or else you'll continue to be charged for parking even though you're safe and snug in your bed!

The Shuttle Service is plan currently is up for some changes to better reflect how well it will be used.   If it is found that it is running at the wrong time, the Green Hopper Shuttle Service hours will be adjusted so that people can get to and from work.  The Green Hopper is an excellent service that uses neighborhood electric vehicles like a Taxi within the immediate Wilton Manors area, and service is on a tip basis.   I haven't heard whether tips will be expected during Shuttle Operation, and since the City is paying for the service, I would expect that Tipping should not be allowed.

The hours of operation for the meters are are 9AM to 3AM 7 days a week on Wilton Drive.  Hagen Park and Richardson Park's hrs will vary but have some free daytime hours.  Monday to Friday until 6PM is free at the tennis courts, and a parking pass is available for Hagen or Richardson while park open. 

The Expected revenue gross from existing parking will be $650,000, and Net $280,000 per year.  Yes, that means that the City is expecting a profit of $280,000 from the existing 130 spaces.  Hopefully if we see that money, it will be earmarked for improvements on the Drive so that it will not go into the general fund. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Broward 2035 Long Range Transport Plan

This was a presentation from the Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization done at the Wilton Manors Town Hall on Tuesday night this week.

If you look at a map of the county, it is obvious that Broward County is built up.  The area that is not built up in the actual county is either water, the Everglades National Park, or the Seminole Reservations out in the middle of the state.  What we end up having when a new development goes up is that an old one needs to come down. 

All of these people need to go places and not everyone can or wants to live next to their office.  Investment in new roads is prohibitively expensive so the county will try to concentrate on creative use of existing infrastructure.  The plan is to create gateway hubs to get into the existing transportation system.  As people begin to use that transit system, the implication is that more links can and will be built where they are needed.
Money for transit and infrastructure comes from gas taxes and federal income taxes. 

The current thought is to put buses in their own dedicated lanes.  While I am strongly in favor of buses feeding rail links I am reading that last statement and seeing a contradiction.  The county has realized that it is "prohibitively expensive" to build and widen new roads.  If you widen the existing roads, you have to pay the property owners along the main streets for the land taken away.   It may even mean that businesses will end up closing, and it will end up being commercial and industrial properties that will bear the brunt of this decision since they are on the main feeder routes like SR 7/US 441 or Oakland Park Boulevard to name just two.  Assuming that everyone agrees and that the business owners will sell off their front parking lots so you can widen Oakland Park Boulevard with another lane, dedicated to buses only, you won't necessarily stop any more people from driving the road, although some may take the buses.  The dedicated lane implies that you can't drive on it if you're in a private vehicle, I assume except to turn at an intersection. 

Another option was that there would be the use of Rapid Buses where bus has control of stop lights on main routes.  This seems like a better option to me as the buses snarl traffic as it is.  The way it would be done is that the buses would have a MIRT system that trips the emergency responder sensor system at the intersection and counts down the light faster or immediately so that the green comes sooner.  The presenter admitted that the best place to be in that case would be behind the bus if the road is clogged.

The bus routes will feed East to West to Dixie Highway and the new FEC High Speed Rail corridor that is planned.  This makes a lot of sense, buses feeding the rail corridor so that people can take the train to the stop and hop on a shuttle to get to their office down the road.  The bus routes on Oakland Park Boulevard and State Route 7 carry 4 times more people currently than the number of people who use Tri Rail on average.  The traffic on those routes are the highest volume in the transit system.  Oakland Park Boulevard with 3.2 million dollars in improvements at Andrew, Dixie Highway and Federal Highway will recieve new transportation hubs where people can cross from one mode to the other - bus route to route or train to bus for example. 

Anyone who lives in Wilton Manors knows that we live in a walkable neighborhood.  Assuming that we don't get hit by a car crossing Wilton Drive, we can get to most places in the central business district without excessive auto use.  A statistic that was stated was that Wilton Manors has one of highest proportion of pedestrians in state.  Adding the FEC light rail commuter line will certainly add to that as well as enhancing and revitalizing the businesses on Dixie Highway.  It will give us more places to walk to and continue our conversion into a textbook model of New Urbanist excellence.

In planning the transit corridors, the most important principal was to protect neighborhoods and to use transit to enhance them.  This is intended to be a systemic, long term and holistic approach, where the planning will look at where people walk within five min walk radius.  The land use plan for Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors was one of first that the planners looked at.  The land use plan is intended to encourage transit use on the Dixie corridor and the FEC.  This is a different corridor than Tri Rail which seems to serve the businesses just off of I-95.  The strategies are intended to promote transit and pedestrian oriented development.

The closing comment was "Planning preceeds future investment".  If you lay out your plan correctly, people will find it makes sense to use the area.   You won't end up with a deserted Wilton Drive or have Dixie Highway as gloomy as it is now. 

If you build it, they will come.  We will have our own field of dreams if things work out right.  We who live in Wilton Manors know it is a special place, with links everywhere we need to go.  Hopefully with vision and a lot of hard work, we can make it even better.  Luckily the Broward MPO has realized the gem we have here and are willing to help.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 in Florida

More info from the Town Hall meeting in Wilton Manors. 

I did say that I'd be continuing this in pieces.  The meeting had so much good information that to put it all out at once would be overwhelming.  That statement leads in nicely with the whole idea of the "Hometown Democracy Amendment" or "Amendment 4" that is coming up on the next elections here in Florida. 

Basically the Executive Summary is that it is a well intentioned law that went way too far. 

There was a presentation from the No on 4 Group at the meeting, and while that would seem a bit one sided since the people for the amendment were not present, the people here did ask what are the possible Pro arguments for the amendment.   After seeing the presentation, I am left wondering if there are any real reason to want to vote for this unless you feel like turning progress into its complete opposite and funding some lawyer's next S Class Mercedes Benz.

No on 4 was introduced by our own Brett Nein.  Brett is the President of the Wilton Manors Planning and Zoning board, and is in an excellent position to see what this amendment would do for decision making at the city level.

Not wanting to slight the other person on this discussion, there was a former mayor of a city in Palm Beach County who's name I am sure I got mangled, but I think it was Clarence Hampden.   I was in the back having someone yap in my ear when the name was given, if I am wrong, someone will let me know so I can give him credit.  He put forth an excellent presentation and should be credited.

What Amendment 4 will do is to say that any change to the "Local Comprehensive Plan" must be put forward to the citizens for a vote.  "Local Comprehensive Plan" has a specific definition to the law makers in Tallahassee and it is meant to describe a very broad group of issues.  Issues that can be considered a part of the scope of this Amendment would be things like Roadway Improvements, Zoning Changes, Building Schools and Hospitals, and many other issues. 

The discussion on these sorts of Zoning issues are done typically in a committee like our own Planning and Zoning Board.  If you have ever attended a meeting at Planning and Zoning (PNZ), you will understand why this amendment is an opportunity to shut down the entire decision making process.  When someone proposes a change to Zoning, the impact and scope of the change must be presented at present to PNZ. PNZ will then take these changes and analyze them in sometimes punishing details.  The example that Brett Nein had given was that of the G Resort.  Brett said that the plan summary itself was 124 pages of very specialized language that made references to existing municipal code. 

The idea is that if you have a group of experts making the decision, you will have a streamlined process.  That is the basis for the concept of "Representative Democracy" in this Republic.  You vote in "experts" and hold them accountable for their decisions.  PNZ is an Advisory Board.  They are charged to make decisions after very careful analysis and present them back to the City Commission.  All of these discussions are open to the public so that they may have input.  I attended a few of these meetings and was asked outright whether I wanted to comment on the decision of that particular day, the board solicits opinion.  This is the appropriate place to have discussion as opposed to the ballot box. 

 Amendment 4 is an unfunded mandate from the State of Florida to hold these referendum (elections).  If a question falls within the scope of the amendment, then the question must be placed on the ballot.  Holding an election costs money, and will come out of the already cash strapped city budget. 

There is another hidden problem with this amendment.  The language would result in those questions being placed on the ballot in a county-wide basis.  This means that if Wilton Manors had a change, Hollywood would get a chance to turn it down.  We would get a chance to return the favor for any other city in the county.  It is not done strictly on a city basis - as presented by those at the meeting.  I could see someone in a remote part of the county with an axe to grind saying that if anything comes up on the ballot for a specific city they will vote against it even if it doesn't effect them.

This also means the issue at hand will have to be presented to the voters.  Remember PNZ having to go through 124 pages of text describing a change to the plan here in Wilton Manors?  Now you get to read through that for every other city in the county that will be having changes. City govt will have to put though complete documentation and reports to allow people to vote. 

It will be like 'trying to fight gnats with napalm'.
It is funded by special interests lawyers, adult industry businesses and population control advocates.  This was tried in St Pete 2004 for Land Use and Comprehensive Plan amendments to allow voters input.  The result was a stagnated community, property changes not being improved, and it shut down many city improvements. 

Message ends up being delivered by those with deepest pockets.  The result was a steady decline of standard of living. and chased business away from St Pete. There will be no exception for community projects like schools and hospitals.

For us in Wilton Manors it would result in up to 15 to 20 such issues per year.  It was 4 last year in a down market.

You can find out more at the web site

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wilton Manors Town Hall Meeting 2010 - Finances

Last night was the annual Town Meeting here in Wilton Manors.  Starting at 7pm and lasting past 10, there were discussions on many topics.  There were a lot of cases where things ran from one to the next, and it seemed to me that a good job was done in getting the information across.

There were only a few cases where some of the people in the audience were confused and managed to show it by being, well, frankly clueless.  Normal where any complex issues would be presented, there are always a few people who miss a key detail and are left behind.

The majority of the issues were shown to be pretty much what I had expected them to be, no real surprises.  We don't have a sinkhole opening downtown that threatens to swallow people up like they did in Guatemala, nor are our backs against the walls. 

The financial discussion that led off the meeting bore that appraisal out. 

The situation is that the City carries some financial reserves in case of an emergency.  What was presented was that the reserves that were not set aside for a specific purpose are equal to that amount that the City normally spends in 60 days.  Those 60 days being 15% of the normal budget.

Due to the drop in revenue that was caused by the Republican Induced Great Depression we are struggling with, the City can expect a shortfall of $800,000 from its income.  The result is that the departments and their heads have all been instructed to come back with reduced budgets.  At this point they are trying to find ways not to cut people and rely on retirements to help that shortfall.

The City Budget is 13.8 million dollars.   It is required by State Law to be balanced, we can't just print money like the Feds and have it magically appear.  There were some interesting comments made about where that money is going.  Approximately 2 million of that money is going out to former employees in the form of pension payments.  Whether that is a good or bad thing to do is immaterial, but when the discussion comes up about money and pensions, these dollars are eyed at as being a payment to "nothing".  Future employees are all part of the Florida Retirement System and not subject to the old Pension system that we had set up here.  The general feeling is that we just have to wait this one out and over the years, those Pensioners will slowly stop collecting as they pass on.

The Current Budget will be set up as 44% for the Police Department, 24% for Leisure Services.  The rest of the departments that were budgeted out of the reserved General Fund comprise the rest, all of which were significantly less.  Hopefully the Police Department won't have to suffer cuts.

The thought is that with the situation as bad as it is this year, it may be worse next year.  For now the intent is to get through this year not laying any people off but they will most likely be required to take unpaid days off as a furlough here and there.

Better than I had expected financially, at least we won't have a financial meltdown in this difficult time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Home Made Pizza

Yesterday's Pizza Dough Recipe is to be used here.  Go get it started and when it has been mixed, you can start with this post.

Sort of.

Actually there's some prep worth you need to do.  Pizza is a very personal sort of food.  Everyone has their favorite set of toppings and this is mine.  Make your own up, this is how I did.

I got for toppings the following ingredients:
1 fresh red pepper diced down to 1/2 inch squares
a can of Mushrooms
1/2 of an onion sliced and diced into small pieces.
Feta Cheese as an addition to spice up the bland...
1 pound of Mozarella cheese
1 can of pizza sauce.

I use canned sauce because I can't seem to crack that recipe so it doesn't taste like spaghetti sauce.  There's a certain difference between spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce.  I've been lucky to find a good brand here, so you will have to find your own.

This will make what I grew up calling a Sicilian Pizza.  Thick crust.

I have a cookie sheet that is 12 inches wide, 17 inches deep.  I take the cookie sheet and lay down aluminum foil on top and cover it with a layer of extra virgin olive oil and dust it completely with flour.

I then take the dough that is fresh out of the bread machine (or your mixer) and roll it out so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan.  The entire cookie sheet will be covered.

I then allow this Pizza Dough to rise for two hours.  When it is done, there will be some high spots and I tend to flatten them down somewhat even.

Now your dough covers the entire sheet, has risen, and the bubbles have been popped.  If you like bubbles, then leave them alone.  Sheesh!  :)

At this point I will coat the dough in the sheet with a can of pizza sauce completely.   Once the sauce is even, I sprinkle evenly the chopped pepper, mushrooms, and onions. 

After the veg has been laid down, I cover them with a pound of Mozzarella cheese and sprinkle some Feta cheese on top to taste.   This will wake up the pizza a bit.

To bake this, I turn the oven on as hot as it will get.  Since my oven is really very inaccurate when it comes to holding temperature, I shoot for 550F and am happy when it gets nearby.  I have a pizza stone that fits in the oven to help the pizza along, but the last time I made the pizza I didn't use it.

I have found that with my oven, it takes 10 minutes to bake the pizza to a soft crust.  The exposed edges won't be too dark, although they do have a golden brown tint.  Just the way I like them. 

There's a lot of play in this recipe, you will probably have to "Learn" the recipe and see where your oven takes you.  The first time the oven goes to where I set it in this house will be when I break down and buy a new oven.

It make a deep dish pizza that serves four guys like me, big.  Your mileage will vary.

So make one and enjoy.  I'm about to warm up the leftovers right now.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pat's Pizza Dough Recipe

This is by request.  This and tomorrow's post that is.  I was chatting on Facebook about the dinner that I had made on Saturday and I got a couple folks asking me for the recipe.

This is probably the most simple recipe I have ever found for bread.  It is merely a Pizza Dough recipe.  The way I make the recipe is to toss the ingredients in order into the Bread Machine on the Dough cycle.

Yes, the bread machine.  You can actually make it in the mixer with a dough hook, or if you're brave, try it by hand.   This dough is pretty much the easiest and most predictable recipe that I have ever come across.  It came from a Cookbook that my sister had gotten from one of her friends.  I wrote down some of them on little square pieces of paper and have kept them through the last couple of years.

Add the following ingredients in order to the bread machine or mixer:

1 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons of warm water
2 Tablespoons of Oil
3 Cups of Bread Flour
1 Teaspoon of Sugar
1 Teaspoon of Salt
2 1/2 Teaspoons of Yeast

I put this on the dough cycle (takes 30 minutes) and allow it to rise for 2 hours or until it doubles in size.

When it is risen, bake it at 400 for approximately 20 minutes or until it looks done:
Golden Brown on top
Sounds Hollow when you thump it on the crust

It won't keep too long since it is fresh and there are no nasty preservatives in it. 


Variations are pretty simple.  I use a light oil like Safflower when I am going to use this for bread.  If it is to be used for Pizza Dough then I will use a very dark Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  I have also used butter instead of Oil and it turned out interesting.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Flea Market today at the Shoppes of Wilton Manors

Starting at 9 AM, the monthly flea market will begin.

This is an event that draws people from near and far and as soon as I can get my act together, I'll be going.  It is one of the benefits of living in a small city that I can walk over to the Shoppes and see my neighbors both Residential and Commercial and get caught up on some of the gossip.  There will be an interesting mix of things there from Food to Pets to Tchochkes and other things you can't live without like the furnishings for your Mid Century room in the house.

I don't have one either, the houses here are too small!

The address is 2230 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, FL 33305.  Actually that is the address of the wonderful coffee shop Java Boys and there you can find all sorts of excellent baked goods and the proprietor Nikki Rose who will be happy to greet you and make your time here in Wilton Manors a little sweeter.  If you are from out of town I did find a video that shows the inside of the place, although the sound is shot. I did not find a link to Java Boys.  I can tell you that Nikki has done an excellent job with her Husband of running the place.  I've always found the staff to be friendly and outgoing even at 630AM when I walk past there with the dog half asleep.   Me half asleep, not them or my dog...  I do recommend their Red Velvet cake and this is coming from an enthusiastic baker.

Get there early, today's going to be a hot one, 90 and sunny!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mosquitoes Overran Me

Can we build a dome over the City, pump it full of DDT?

Kill all the mosquitoes?

All I have to do is walk outside and in the wet season like now I become a pincushion.

We're still trying to get the pool and spa patched.  At this point the pool looks like it just may be holding water.  The next step for the pool other than my pretending to be a cork with a few beers and some music is to have it re-coated with Diamondbrite.  The water chemistry is stabilizing, we're clearing the slop that was left over from the reconstruction, and the pool seems like it will not have to be covered over with something permanent.

The spa as a slow leak in it.  This morning it seemed more leak than we would have liked and since we planned on emptying it into the pool and patching it, the water level didn't really matter.  The spa was then drained and I got a call from the yard asking for help.  I was to switch the flow from pool to crawly so we could get the air out of the lines and get the walls cleaned by the kreepy krawly.

Spell that how ever you would like!

I walked over to the valves and within ten seconds there were three mosquitoes happily feeding on my legs.  After cursing them and their entire DNA Pool, we turned the fan on so that it would cause a strong breeze where I was standing to get them on their way.  

It didn't work.   I was back on duty in the breeze and looked down and there was yet another of those evil blood suckers feeding on my ankle. 

If you are counting that is four bites in the span of five minutes. 

Dancing around the yard cursing mosquitoes, the Chinese Shipping Industry that brought Tiger Mosquitoes to the United States, and the lack of evil chemicals to banish them to their ancestors, I went back and helped getting the pool and spa done.  I think I managed to do three laps around the pool at a brisk walk while there was a cloud of the vermin following me. 

I am blessed.  With Sweet Blood.

This being Florida, I should be able to grow just about anything back in the hedges.   Since to keep them, we have to water the hedges themselves daily in a drip feed.  The drip feed is legal, and the hedges look well cared for and lush.  That would explain the mosquitoes.  Either you have hedges that ensure you privacy while in the pool, or you have no mosquitoes.

They feed the birds but from the quantity I see around down, or from the evidence I have on my legs, the birds need to eat more.

Now I know why people in South Florida wear long pants early in the day and late at night!  I think I'll have to be doing a shopping trip soon. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Shaker Design makes sense in Software Design

Now what on earth is he banging on about?

Yesterday Google put a background on their web page.   It was panned.  I personally thought it made thing look cluttered and less usable.  It wouldn't be my vision, my eyesight is better than 20/20.

So if they did that, what are your options.  Bing is cluttered with their picture, Yahoo is just a sloppy mess.

The best option I had found is to use the mobile Google site at which loads like the old Google did.

If you like the slop of all the information, you can get there by using iGoogle as well. iGoogle is a customizable home page with a clock, headlines, and your top searches among other things.

The big question is why do we need this?  Someone pointed out on a tech blog that most browsers have a search box in their address bar that you can use without the overhead of going to the web site.  It is more efficient to do the searches from the box, but I prefer to have gone to the search engine.  Doing so will give me the mental break of where this particular tab is for the search engine and is where my train of thought starts.

If all we are doing in a search is asking a question of a database, then why do we need all this extra ... 'stuff'?  Frankly I don't think it benefits the user.  Google in particular loads a lot of Javascript code in the background into your browser and bloats up  the amount of memory that your browser uses.  Many other sites do the same thing, you can't fault Google for doing that.  It is called "Feature Creep" in software or "Mission Creep" in the military.  The marginal way of developing software.  If I can get the report from a developer, why not add this field and then add color.  All the sudden a single page of reports is feeding a shadow system that is on the web and used for data mining.  I should know, my job at a university in the last decade was developing that system and being the systems analyst for the same.

More importantly, what are these sites doing with all that "code" in background?  I've never had an adequate explanation.  While they "say" that there is nothing wrong, it strikes me as the parody of a policeman saying "Move along, Nothing to see here!" while the building is burning down in front of you.

The worst illustration of "code bloat" in web sites is Facebook.  I have a Facebook page that I use to keep informed of my family's happenings as well as all my friends here in the City.  It can be a great way to keep in touch with the world.  The problem is that with the management's zeal in mining your data, and you know they are because you actually read their privacy statements didn't you?, they added more and more code to do the actual action of watching over your shoulder.  

Big Brother is watching, and his name is Mark Z. 

Small and light went out the window long ago.  Bloated "Jabba The Hutt" software reigns supreme at Facebook.   I wouldn't mind so much but as a Software Project Manager I am constantly asking who on earth is testing this mess and why haven't they been fired?  Pages don't load right, features simply don't work until you close your session, browser, or even reboot your PC to clear the memory.   Well ok, maybe not reboot the PC, but try telling Mom how to close the browser... all of it.  I've done enough PC Support to know that it is easier to just say "Restart the PC and try again".

I don't even consider to click on a link in Facebook because the virus writers have gotten so aggressive in there that clicking "like" in Facebook is akin to having unprotected sex.   You are bound to get a virus within a day of blind clicking, it has happened to so many of my family and friends that it is a daily occurrence.  

Since it is a web site issue, it is on all three operating systems I use on a daily basis, Windows, Linux and Mac OSX as well.

The Shakers wouldn't have a PC.  It isn't simple these days. Websites can be joyful, but not when they're frustrating you as a user experience.

While you could be saying "It's just a background so deal with it", I'm asking "What are they doing to remember what background you have and why".  You can't stop them from looking over your shoulder so minimize your risk.  You don't need a Google Bar and Bing Bar and a Yahoo Bar.  You don't need any of those at all.  You don't need to give Facebook your phone number and your affiliations.

But I bet you already have.

The next time you go to install a "free program", watch that install closely.  Choose Custom and make sure you don't add the Ask Tool Bar to your browser.  It really is a joy to be simple.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Google Backgrounds Start Today

In a word:


Surely that is three words. 

I got started using Google years ago shortly after they burst onto the scene because they were lightweight and had no added "noise" on the web page.   I am one of those computer users that want speed over form.  I want something to load fast, and I want as little extra on the page as possible.  I was a supervisor of a blind programmer and after listening to him complain about how difficult it was to use the web, I suggested Google to him and he jumped right on it and never looked back.

I'm not saying that I will stop using Google for search.  The interface is still fairly clean, there is only today the addition of a background that is behind their search box.  When I was greeted by Google today, I saw the Google Doodle of their name in white fade in and then a graphic of an abstract metal tree that made the page look less clear where to type.

Basically as an IT Project Manager, I'd have sent this back to the programming staff and said Clean This Up.  It detracted from the simplicity and ease of use that I have grown to expect.  If they insisted on having this kind of "Web 2.0" Bling, they should have added the graphic as a watermark as any typesetter would have suggested and not have it distract from the message of their product.

Luckily it is only for one day.  Tomorrow I will join some in turning the background off as it is distracting.  I may use a solid colour instead, but that will have to wait.  Like a petulant child, they insist that we have this picture in the background today to "See If You Like It". 

I don't.  I didn't on Bing.  I don't on Google.   Yahoo is a sloppy mess that I avoid except for my professional email.  

Tomorrow I'll fix this and go back to my simplistic aesthetic and have a clean interface again.

Ugly, Google, Ugly.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Vision at the Commission

Vice Mayor Justin Flippen said at the end of the meeting last night in his commentary that deciding to send a message to various county, state, and federal level politicians that the City Of Wilton Manors is against any future offshore drilling is making a statement not in what is being done but what vision you want for the future.

Obviously that is a paraphrase, Justin had a brilliant turn of phrase that I wish I had written down. 

It was in response to the Vice President of the Historical Society of Wilton Manors giving an impassioned speech about the same subject saying it is like spending money on greeting cards in a budgetary crunch and expecting them to have any impact.

There are many things that you can do when you are in a position of power but one thing you must is to have the vision to leave the place you are in charge of better than you found it.  I hear many people who are long time residents comment that Bubba's Gone and the Old Boy Network didn't work.  They usually follow up with the impression that those who are here in power at an official or volunteer level have a much clearer vision of where they want the City to go in the future.

There are things you can do and things you can't do.  The cynical would say "I have a vision problem, I can't see myself doing that".  Usually those are the people that should be patted on the head and moved on.  Last night it wasn't a question of saying "I can't see myself doing that", and there were a lot of "that" last night.  Last night was where I felt the Commission were saying "I want to do it, I can't see how, I need a way to do so".

In other words they went past the "Can" and "Can't" to the "Must". 

Must is Vision.   Must is people realizing that in order to move forward, you have to set out on a path and see it to its conclusion.  Must looks at procrastination and nudges it aside because procrastination rarely works.  Must realizes that if you don't progress you end up with a City with an open wound in the middle of it like you could fire a cannon down the business district in prime time and not hit a soul.

I personally believe, and since this is a blog I have the say here, that the Wilton Manors Main Street plan of phased development of parking on Wilton Drive is one very important aspect of the Vision.  It Must be done.  We are at a point where further development of the Drive won't happen without someone doing something about parking.   It will stagnate and the energy we have will get taken elsewhere.

Tennis courts are nice, but the citizens of the city of Wilton Manors deserve a better solution than that.   The Romans called that "Bread and Circuses".  Something to distract us from the fact that the Drive which is the economic engine behind the rebirth of Wilton Manors has hit the equilibrium point.

We Must have the Vision to proceed or we will have the Vision Problem of Decline.

I for one don't want to see Wilton Manors decline.  I don't believe that the Mayor or the Commission or the vast majority of the citizens and businessmen here do either. 

This is the fourth time that this question has come up since 2000.   When something is right, it will not go away.  It is time to act on it.  The fourth time is the charm.