Sunday, September 28, 2008

Landscaping Rant

Have you ever heard of "Ecosystem Functions"? They are the good things that nature does... the things that she usually does best when you leave her alone. Things like producing oxygen, storing and purifying water, controlling erosion, sequestering pollution and excess nutrients, supporting wildlife, etc.

When we convert land from a natural state to a developed state it loses a lot of its ability to function. But how much it loses depends on how we develop it.

1. Pure pavement and rooftop, aka "impervious surfaces," are the worst. They provide no habitat, and no ability to absorb runoff or pollution.
2. Mowed lawn or farm is the second worst. These "monocultures" of one plant species provide very little food or shelter for wild animals, and we typically poison or shoo away any animals that do try to use them. Farms and lawns can absorb some rainwater, but they usually worsen runoff pollution with their excess fertilizer, dirt, and pesticides.
3. Groomed parkland with some trees and bushes is a little better. The variety of plant species and plant structures provide some food and habitat for animals. Yet, groomed landscapes have a lot of the same problems as lawns and farms with respect to releasing excess fertilizer, dirt, and pesticides; especially if they have a lot of mowed lawn and bare ground.
4. Lush native vegetation with both trees and undergrowth is the best. It provides the best habitat for the most species, and the fully developed "sponge" of plant leaves and roots absorbs runoff pollution rather than contributing to it.

It bugs me when I see "wasted" bits of land in urban and suburban settings. I.e. wide swaths of unused pavement or lawn that could just as easily be a beneficial wild patch. Like, check out the house below:


It's got a huge ass lawn that goes all the way up to the road and the property line. No trees, no bushes, no weeds. Hot sun blaring on the exposed walls and windows, sending the AC bill through the roof. Yet some people obviously think this is the pinnacle of landscaping; total dominion over nature.

The next house is a little better. They've at least got a tree or two, and some flower beds:


They probably don't have to pay quite as much for AC, and their tree is providing some habitat and food for native birds and bugs and stuff. Yet in terms of the ecosystem functions like pollution and nutrient control they aren't doing very well. The neatly groomed lawn and raised flower beds probably take a lot of fertilizer and water, so they are consuming ecosystem goods and services rather than producing them. Also, it's probably a pain in the neck for the owners to keep the place looking so neat and tidy.

Finally we get to the place I REALLY like. You can barely see it here behind the palms and sea grapes, but it's about the same size as the other houses:


These folks have the right idea. They don't mow any more than they need to park their car and boat, and they let the rest get all wild and interesting. If the whole neighborhood was like this there would be a lot more native birds and stuff visiting, and the water quality in nearby streams, rivers, and bays would be a lot better because there would be a lot less dust and fertilizer running off the land.

I hope I can help convince some people that woods and weeds are beautiful.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

7 Windsurfers at the Fort Pierce Jetty - EPIC!

Woo hoo! Oh, man, today was sooooo good at the Fort Pierce S Jetty. And there were six other windsurfers there! That's six more than I've seen at the spot since I moved here. I guess they come out of the woodwork when it's blowing 25 knots from the NE. Since there's been a nor'easter blowing over the whole East Coast for a couple days now, the swells are really big in Florida. You can see them overwashing the N jetty behind the fisherman in the pic below.



It was still smooth in the lee of the S Jetty, though, as you can see in these pictures with the kiters. That made launching easy. Even past the jetty, where huge waves were breaking, it was slick in the valleys between the peaks.



Facing a big wave on the way out was an intense, "think fast" moment. Depending on your positioning and the shape and size of the wave you could:

1. Just sail smoothly over it.
2. Hit a steep part to launch into a (high!) jump.
3. Run downwind to avoid a scary breaking section.
4. Pinch upwind to avoid a scary breaking section.
5. Turn downwind to stay on the wave face and ride it!
6. Jibe on it and head back to shore.

On the way in you couldn't ride a wave the whole time because that would take you too far downwind, so you had to decide when to:

1. Pinch over the shoulder or
2. Plunge down the face.

If a ginormous wave started crashing just upwind, there was no choice but to run down the face. THAT was exciting, with the thundering whitewater at your heels.

There were a lot of signs of fish activity out there all day, but toward the end of the session the schools of big mullet were unavoidable. They would scatter and leap when you sailed through them, thunking against your fin and clobbering you in the shins. Several times I saw some sharky-looking fins after the mullet. It definitely improved my jibe-completion rate and hastened my waterstarts!

One of the other windsurfers out there was a nice guy named Mike who turns out to only live a couple blocks from me. Mike jumped a small wave, not realizing that there was a really big wave right behind it. The big one clobbered him and broke his mast, but he was able to swim back to shore without getting eaten.


I asked Mike to take my picture, so here's me posing randomly:


I'm starting to feel like a real Floridian now. I even got a cool, nature-themed license plate for the burgundy-beast. :)


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Good Windsurfing + Shark + Annoying Crimes

I had a nice cruise this afternoon in typical Florida conditions; a piddling seabreeze around 10 mph. What made it fun was sailing south from Jetty Park to a spot where rideable waves were breaking offshore. On the way down there I saw a bonnet-head shark (like a hammerhead but with a stubbier hammer) cruising fast just beneath the surface.

The only thing that sucked was when I got back to the park and realized some pecker-brain had stolen the sailbag and downhaul tool that I had stuffed under my car. It's annoying and ironic because those items were certainly worthless to the jackass who took them, whilst they are pretty important to me and will be a big pain in the neck to replace. The theif probably saw the shiny silver bag under the car and hoped my keys or wallet were in it. I have no idea what he thought the downhaul tool was.

Maybe the culprit was the same jerk who took my nice flip-flops from the head of the beach trail at the North Jetty last week. I hope he gets a parasitic infection that renders him blind and impotent, so that he is no longer able to steal or make more little jerks like himself.

Obama T-Shirt Fundraiser

I know not everyone who reads my blog is a democrat (ahem, Dr. Bob), but it's no secret that I'm an unabashed Obama supporter.

If you also want to see Mr. O elected, but like me you're a little too cheap or too poor to make a real campaign contribution, consider at least buying one of these $12 fundraiser t-shirts from


The money will go to helping register young voters before November. Also, you get to make a good-looking political statement by wearing the shirt. And even if Obama is defeated, and we have another four years of awful executive governance, you can still wear the shirt just to let people know it's not YOUR fault the ice caps are melting, we're at war with Iran, we're paying more taxes while the rich get richer, and teachers are telling kids Adam and Eve lived with dinosaurs just 6,000 years ago.

(Diorama at Ken Ham's apallingly stupid "Creation Museum" in Kentucky. Photo stolen from this album.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The "Treasure Coast" Windsurfing Scene

I'm starting to meet my East-Central Florida windsurfing neighbors now, at least in cyberspace. Here's what I've learned so far:

There's a yahoo email list / bulletin board called the "ECFW". It seems to cover a broad area from around Cape Canaveral down to just above West Palm Beach, as illustrated in their map of launch sites (see below).

View Larger Map

Then there's the "Treasure Coast Windsurfing" blog and bulletin board, which are run by some guys who mainly windsurf around the town of Stuart. That's not too far from me, so I'll have to go check them out soon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

No blog today, no thanks to Vista

Well, my apallingly awful brand-new Microsoft Vista laptop was crashing up a storm today. So I went to look for some tech support. Microsoft wanted to charge me $60 for it. Screw that!

After a bunch of frustrating rooting around for help, I managed to get into a cheesy online instant-messaging help session with a Gateway representative named "Lance_GWER9067". It was very slow and silent, like Lance was talking on the phone and eating a burrito and taking lots of trips to the bathroom and checking the sports scores while he "conversed" with me. And he never really did help, he just gave me a weblink to follow that had instructions on how to reinstall Windows Vista. Which I did.

The reinstallation process took 2 hours, and, of course, it didn't fix anything. But it did cause the sound on my computer to completely stop working. "No Audio Output Device is installed". Ha ha.

First thing tomorrow morning I'm taking this godforsaken piece of CRAP back to stupid Walmart and getting my dang money back. I don't know if I'll get a new computer right away, so this blog might go on hiatus.

Here's a final picture I made to express my frustrations.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why Bloggers Need to Host Their Own Pictures

When I first started this blog I often decorated it with random pictures from the web that I found through google images. Usually I linked directly to the picture at its original location, letting the other site "host" it, so that the picture wouldn't take up room in my blog storage space. I have since learned that there are some dangers associated with doing that.

1. The other site might go offline or change or something, leaving a blank X on your blog where the picture was displayed.

2. You might offend the original picture-host, causing a tense situation in which you have to take the picture off your blog and apologize.

3. You might offend the original picture-host, causing him to retaliate by secretly replacing the picture with an angry message printed over an apallingly graphic shot of a man's rectum.

Since all three of these things have now happened to me, I will be making sure to host all my own pictures for this blog from now on!

PS- Muchas gracias to Catapulting Aaron pointing out #3. I hope nobody else had their eyeballs seared by that painful image.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

North vs. South

I'm realizing more and more that Fort Pierce is awesome for watersports. Here's a picture of some kiters Tuesday at Jetty Park on the S side of the inlet near my apartment.

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Today the wind direction was different (SE instead of E) so I took the opportunity to grab an a.m. session at the State Park on the N side of the inlet. The rangers there have a flag system to warn people about aquatic dangers. This morning two reds and a purple were flying.

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The reds mean you're not supposed to go swimming, and the purple means watch out for "dangerous marine life"; i.e. the Portugese Man-O-War jellies that wash inshore when there are strong E winds.

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Well, I didn't see any PMOW's, but I did see some surfers and a kiteboarder out there, so I took the flags to be just a "guidelines". There was plenty of breeze, so I used my 5.2 sail and 87 liter board. Getting out wasn't too hard since the gently sloping beach broke the waves gradually, and the jetty smoothed out the chop.

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It was the funnest Florida windsurfing session yet. I even saw some smallish sea turtles and a mediumish shark rise up out of the face of a wave. I think the turtles were green sea turtles. Seeing them in the water this morning made reading about them during my research at work today really cool.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Florida is Pretty Cool

A week ago today I pulled out of my driveway in Gloucester Point and left Virginia behind. I was in an uneasy state of mind, melancholy about leaving a good community of friends at VIMS and around Tidewater, nursing a considerable hangover, and paranoid about crashing the 16' Penske van with my car towed behind it.


Fortunately, I avoided serious mechanical, physical, or psychological breakdown, and made it safely to my Aunt and Uncle's house in Charleston, SC that night. We saw my dear, 90-something year old Grandmama in Summerville the next morning, then I left on the second leg of the journey. By that point my spirits were lifting with good vibes from the family and increasing excitement about the trip into the unknown.

I stayed the next night with my older generation cousins in Daytona Beach. Cousin Tom is a newly retired highschool marine biology teacher. I'm hoping to do some Florida fishing and scuba diving with him sometime soon. Tom is also supportive of my windsurfing addiction; he took me to see the local shop, Sandy Point Progressive Sports, which was really nice and had gear for every water and land-based board sport imaginable, plus a bunch of kayaks and stuff. I had my eye on the ultra-wide Exocet "Cruiser" boards for my dad's re-entry into the sport.

It wasn't a bad drive from Daytona to Fort Pierce, and I soon found myself at my new doorstep, admist exotic plants and stylish stucco walls crawling with Cuban Anolis lizards.



I paid some local teenagers a couple bucks to help unload the truck, then I unhitched my car and went windsurfing / swimming in the Fort Pierce Inlet. (Zoom in on the map to check out the inlet.)

View Larger Map

The outgoing tide was against the East wind, so it was easy to zig-zag my way all the way out between the jetties and into the exciting waves of the Atlantic. There wasn't enough wind to plane except when riding a wave, but it was still fun on the Kona.

The first night at home was pretty miserable, because I was sweaty, hot and salty with no utilities hooked up yet to bathe or air condition myself. Fortunately, they had showers at the Smithsonian Marine Station (SMSFP) so I got one at work the next day. Compared to VIMS, SMSFP is very small, but the folks there are a nice, close-knit group who have welcomed me with open arms. There has been some kind of group social event every single night since I've been here!

It has been a bit chaotic around SMSFP this week, because everyone is watching the storms, wondering if we'll need to put up shutters and evacuate etc. Fortunately, all we got from Hanna was good windsurfing on Thursday in 15-20 knots from the NE. I launched from the ocean for the first time, and was suprised how easy the launch was from the lee of the jetty at Jetty Park.


These pictures were taken the next day when it wasn't windy, but it really wasn't much rougher than this even during the big wind, at least not until you got out past the end.


I rode my 114 liter freestyle / wave board with a 6.6 sail, and was the only windsurfer amongst about 10 kiters. I reckon it's cool to be different, and I don't have any immediate plans to switch sports.

Anyway, that's what's up with me lately. As usual, I'll keep posting rants, nerdly musings, and windsurfing stories as they come to me. Hurricane Ike looks like it could provide some nice sailing, as long as it stays at a safe distance.