Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Marilyn Day

My longtime friend Doug (a loyal blog reader) just lost his wife, Marilyn. She valiantly battled cancer (and multitudes of health problems over the years) but lost the war.

When I asked Doug how I could help or what I could do, he simply asked that I have a "Marilyn Day" ... a day spent with a loved one doing absolutely nothing productive except enjoying the time together.

I challenge all of you to a Marilyn Day and make the time to enjoy a day with a special loved one ... and make it an annual event!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Top 10 islands with uncanny resemblances to Garden Key

  1. Island of Misfit Toys (the island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cartoon).
  2. Gilligan's Island (a group of castaways on an uncharted, uninhabited island, complete with a dimwitted, accident-prone crewman and a condescending character reminiscent of Mr. Magoo).
  3. Fantasy Island (a seemingly island paradise riddled with oddities and bizarreness just beneath the surface).
  4. Survivor Anywhere (isolated in a remote wilderness location with strangers and given a minimal number of tools with which to survive; laden with challenges to test endurance, problem solving, teamwork, dexterity and willpower).
  5. Lord of the Flies (a group stuck on a deserted island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results).
  6. Vanuatu (a South Pacific island facing tremendous pressure on local ecosystems where freshwater and waste disposal are increasingly troublesome issues).
  7. A mysterious tropical island in the South Pacific, home of Lost (where a group of strangers are forced to work together to stay alive with survival threatened by mysterious entities).
  8. Borneo (an island that has no escape from the suffocating heat and humidity).
  9. Más a Tierra (the island where Robinson Crusoe lived, complete with captives, mutineers and more).
  10. Deliverance (oh wait, that's not an island but the plot still applies: expecting to have fun and see the glory of nature but instead, face both nature and mankind conspiring to send you through a crucible of danger and degradation).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Tower of Terror

Disclaimer: Don't tell Robin's mom about this story. (See blow-by-blow pictures of this account, except for the injury part where we were busy tending to the situation.)

The park's one regular phone line is a Radio Telephone Interconnect (RTI) system. This setup uses a radio tower and repeater to relay voice data that eventually ends up at the phone company in Key West, providing us rudimentary phone service. The system uses a solar battery array. These batteries are housed on a 60-ft Airforce tower constructed in the middle of open water 35 miles from nowhere. Periodically, these batteries need servicing. The Last Man is the lucky guy who gets to do this.

When I heard the plan for how the batteries get serviced, I pitched a fit. Not just one fit, either. I pitched 3 fits to 3 different people.

Robin and I questioned the safety of this operation. I pleaded with the boss to give us a week to get a better way lined up (like asking the Coast Guard to help or towing the small boat out with a larger boat for a base of operations). I made phone calls. All to no avail. This is my last pitch here and I'm sure someone will get in trouble for it.

The plan was to cross 35 miles of open water each way, hope the wind didn't kick up and leap from the small, bumperless boat to a metal-grated platform. Once you reach the platform, you have to tie off the boat and get all the tools, a ladder and battery water up the tower using ropes and pulleys.

Because of high seas, 3-5 ft waves and big, big swells, reaching the tower took 3 1/2 hours instead of the usual 1 1/2 hours. Once we finally reached the tower, the swells and surges at the base of the tower were 6+ feet. It's a good thing Robin is such an experienced captain who was able to be spot-on 4 solid times for the transfers. Anyone with lesser experience would have resulted in a very bad situation.

As it was, the situation was bad enough. Making the leap from the boat to the tower was gonna be tough. There is very little margin for error. Plus, there are posts waiting to impale you, rust, salt water spray and bird poop everywhere to complicate sticking the landing.

Unfortunately, one of the guys did fall. Fortunately, he did not fall into the water and get crushed between the tower base, surging water and lurching boat. He is injured and is now in Key West seeking medical attention (probably just a broken wrist).

Of course, the Park could avoid this fiasco entirely if they would simply work with the Coast Guard. Or work with anyone else who has the right equipment and training for such an operation. Or do away with this archaic system and simply spend a little money to have a second emergency satellite phone.

I am at a loss regarding who I should speak with next to avoid this dangerous situation.

Suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Top 10 things seen in the moat

(My personal, no-maintenance aquarium right off our balcony.)
  1. Nurse shark
  2. Upside-down jellyfish
  3. Mangrove snapper
  4. Moray eel
  5. Spiny lobster (giant!)
  6. Angel fish
  7. Rainbow parrot fish
  8. Turtle (Spot)
  9. Puffer fish
  10. Sergeant majors, sea cucumbers and a bunch of tropical fish I don't know the names

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The last man

A friend of mine alerted me to a recent article in Fortune Magazine by Stanley Bing that really hit home.

Titled The last man, it talks about how elevator usage rates prompt an investigation into finding a remaining lone employee. This sole employee always has too much to do because things malfunction due to lack of maintenance. And, he has the audacity and initiative to make things better.

Here at the fort, that would be Robin, the lone maintenance guy trying to fix everything that has been in a woeful state of neglect. On any given day, The Last Man never stops moving and doing, maintaining complex, jerry-rigged systems that are pushed way beyond what they were designed to do.

For example, in a typical day, potable water (drinking, showers, laundry) use is around 900 gallons. Lately, there's been a 33% increase, with usage hovering around 1,200 gallons/day. Not a very good thing for the poor reverse osmosis system that can only make about 1,000 gallons of water a day, provided the sea water salinity level is low enough.

Then there's the cistern water, used mainly for flushing toilets. Typical usage is around 300 gallons a day, about 200 flushes. Lately, there's been a 150% increase, with usage around 500+ gallons a day, about 333 flushes. Not a very good sign for a rainwater-supplied system where there hasn't been measurable rain since February 2.

Of course, all that water and waste must go somewhere. The leech fields are taking on more than 1,000 gallons daily and the poopy tank gets almost 400 lbs of sludge a month. Redoubt and Mt. St. Helen's could pale in comparison when that eruption blows!

Meanwhile, a staff of 5-6 law enforcement rangers handled a whopping 65 law enforcements incidents over a 365-day period (less than one incident a week).

Now that the internet is back and general population usage is limited right now due to bandwidth testing, I can't wait to check more of Bing's writings, like Crazy bosses and Bulls**t jobs.