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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Salisbury and Stonehenge

Just outside the city of Salisbury is the famous circle of rocks called Stonehenge. The archeologists have dated the structure back to about 3000 BC - almost exactly the same age as the Pyramids of Egypt. No one is certain what it was built for - but many theories include religious ceremonies and astronomical computers.

Having taught earth and space science for all those years - some of the ideas seem pretty contrived. There are several "henges" built throughout England - mostly during the stone age when tools consisted of deer antlers and hip bones as tools. Since the wheel was not invented yet - these 50 ton rocks had to be towed over many miles.

I taught the theory that Stonehenge was a giant astronomical calendar. It could be used to tell when seasons started - when it was time to plant crops - to get ready for rain - and the time to start soccer league. According to this theory - the heel rock lined up with the center of the henge on the Summer Solstice. Since grandson Jack was born on the Summer Solstice last year - June 20th - from now on I will refer to the heel rock as Jack's throne.

Having listened to other tourists about the attraction - I expected heavy crowds - big fences - and viewing the rocks from a football field away. Nothing was further from the truth. The amount of visitors was manageable - there was only a fence along the major highway - they allowed school groups in for free - and we walked to within maybe 40 feet of the inner circle of posts and lentils. The only thing separating me from the giant vertical rocks was a short rope fence about one foot high. If I wasn't with Lulu's school group - I probably would have vaulted the rope and had my picture taken atop the rocks like some crazed Colossus of Rhodes.

After Stonehenge - our private coach took us to downtown Salisbury to see the famous cathedral there. Built in 1220 - it is the largest cathedral in Europe. It is even more impressive sitting on a gigantic square of golf course quality grass. Although this church is 400 feet tall - it sits on a foundation just 18 inches deep. But even after almost 800 years - the steeple which is higher than a football field is long - only tilts 27 inches off center.

Lulu's class is really enjoying the field trips. With our guide and bus driver - we numbered 22. Due to traffic it took about 2 hours to get to Salisbury and we covered the 70 miles home in about the same time.

The entire Salisbury Plain is on top of a thick layer of the soft rock chalk. One can dig down through a couple inches of young soil to hit the superwhite rock. On the Mohs hardness scale of rocks - chalk comes in around 3 - on the scale of 1 - 10 - where talc is number 1 and diamond is number 10. A rock that soft can be easily carved with simple hand tools. In the area - it has been common to carve large figures into the ground - removing the soil to reveal bright white lines.

This 182 foot stick figure in the picture is the God of Fertility. It is still believed that any woman having difficulty getting pregnant will be successful after spending one night with him. This is not a place to take a first date.

Pictures -
Salisbury Cathedral
God of Fertility
Jack's Summer Solstice Throne
Stonehenge from Southeast Side
Lulu and her 5 Project LEAD Students
Harry and Lulu close on NW Side

Monday, June 29, 2009

The London Eye

Lulu's Class - FSU London Centre - Summer 2009

All is Well in Mudville - MacBook is Working Again

Monday morning in London. After 24 hours without use of my Mac - I took it to the Apple Store - about 6 blocks from our flat. I did not have an appointment at the Genius Bar but was told if I arrived at 9 AM - I would be first in line.

It could not have been easier - they never even asked if I bought the Applecare extended contract (I did). Punit Rajpara helped me out. He quickly hooked it up to an external hard drive and booted my Mac from the system on his hard drive. He did a checkup and said the motherboard was fine and the hard drive was intact. He then decided to archive my stuff - and install a new system on my Mac. It took a little over an hour - but when he was done - my Mac Book Air was functioning like new and all my files were intact. I was very happy with the degree of professionalism with which I was treated.

So Monday morning had been very good so far. I am presently sitting in the Apple theatre enjoying a lecture on using iPhoto.

This afternoon Lulu's class has a guided tour of Westminster Abbey and a ride on the London Eye ferris wheel. I will go along.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Crisis Hits - My Apple MacBook Air Will Not Boot

I am at the Apple Store - in crisis mode. My Apple MacBook Air will not start up - and Lulu and I rely on it for everything. Second guessing myself - last year we brought two computers in case this would happened. This year we were cocky - and now we are down.

This Apple store is the busiest in the world. There wasn't even a sale and 200 people waiting outside the door to get in at noon. Stores can't open until noon on Sunday here - it is the law. People actually make appointments for service before they come in - there is a line at the service bench.

Lulu uses the computer to keep in touch with all her students. I have to think of something. I am accepting any help suggestions - I will be using my Apple iPhone at McDonald's to read them.

Everhart's always have taken pride in the fact that we can think on our feet - we will see.

Yes - I did bring the system DVDs along - but did not bring the DVD drive to boot from the disks - real smart.

American Teen Oudin Upsets Number one Seed at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England -- As a tyke growing up in Marietta, Ga., Melanie Oudin would watch Venus and Serena Williams on TV and tell anyone who would listen that she was going to play at Wimbledon, too, one day.

Who knew she'd be right? And do so well, so quickly?

Making her Wimbledon debut at age 17 after getting through qualifying, the 124th-ranked Oudin joined the Williams sisters in the fourth round at the All England Club by beating former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-2 Saturday in the most startling result of the tournament's opening week.

"Was just thinking that she was any other player, and this was any other match, and I was at any other tournament - you know, not, like, on the biggest stage, at Wimbledon, playing my first top-10 player," Oudin said. "I mean, I go into every match the exact same, you know, like, no matter who I play. It's not, like, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm playing the No. 1 player in the world.'"

Note - Lulu and I were outside the fence- unable to get in - because the ticket waiting line was 1/2 mile long.

My Camera Broke - Can You Believe This Service??

My Canon G9 camera stopped powering up. It was a week before going on this trip. I only paid $150 for this used $500 Canon camera on Craigslist. Canon wanted $250 for service! I went on eBay and found a company that serviced cameras and they explained how my power up problem was common. They said they could fix it for $99 - pay shipping - and completely check the camera over. The camera did not make it back in time for the trip - but I just got this letter in my email.

Hi Harry! We were actually trying to call you in reference to this but were unsuccessful in reaching you at the number provided! There was a delay on the camera but it is all Completed and ready to go! When the technician opened the unit he believed the cover had been previously removed... In an event as such, they go through the units extremely throrough as sometimes other tech's will touch some of the boards without gloves causing issue and things as such... they just go through them a whole lot more throroughly if they believe they were previously opened! The technician found a screw was missing from inside the unit... this likely worked it's way out on it's own as we commonly see and it likely rattled around in the unit causing a short! There had been a short within the DC DC Board of the unit causing no power in the camera! Since the screw was no longer in the unit, it had to be ordered as each screw is specific to each hole... The technician noted another screw was in the wrong location and was touching an internal flex (power ribbon)... the technician looked after that at no charge and all screws were checked and torqued to Exact Canon Specification! Certain screws are to have a Lock-Tite type liquid to prevent then from coming out... Everything is completely back to Exact Canon Specification again, your Canon is performing perfectly again for you! The technician also Serviced up the camera and the Color / Focus were Computer Adjusted... Again, this puts it to Exact Canon Specification, it's ready for you to enjoy it again! We apologize for the delay but we had to order the exact screws given the circumstances! As a courtesy and to help make up for the delay, I'll increase the warranty on the "No Power Issue" from 90 Days to a Full One (1) Year at Absolutely No Charge... this does exclude damage caused by liquid and / or physical damage / neglect! If you have any questions at all or if you need any further assistance, do not even hesitate to email! You can also call us direct at (915) xxx-xxxx Remember, you have that additional coverage through us as well... It's already on it's way back through Priority Mail, thanks again!
Christina :)

I am blown away by this example of personal service. Instead - I got a chance to fall back in love with my old backup Sony W-1 camera.It is much smaller - takes great pictures and video. Did I say it is smaller?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pub Customer Visits Bar Every Night for 50 Years

We just got back from our favorite pub - the Marlborough Arms - just around the corner from our flat. We like eating there - because the food is good - it is priced for locals - and all the polished oak and ambience are what you visualize an English Pub to be.

Lulu invited her 18 students to meet there for supper and no one let us down. The place was crowded but it made room for 18 pretty librarians - no that is not an oxymoron.

There is one customer that is famous there - he shows up every night and has a special seat at the end of the bar. He has been doing that for 50 years. In the picture above you see him smiling as he meets some of the FSU library students.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Harry Blown Away by Billy Elliot

Read on to see why the above video is of such poor quality.

We were in the front row last night to see Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace - across the street from Victoria Station. There have been very few things in life that have made in laugh and cry like this wonderful play did. It took all the strength I could muster to hide my chest heaving in front of Lulu. She graciously kept her eyes turned away. There are way too many father and son feelings I have had that show up in this play. It is a bit like Field of Dreams - Rudy - and October Sky - all rolled up into one - but with a stiff British accent.

We had a fantastic view of the action. The snow from the winter scenes was all over us. You could see the scabs' blood flying by. I held my little camera at belt level to catch some of the action but it could barely see over the edge of the stage. I pointed it like going to the bathroom. If I brought it up to eye level - the ushers would have given me the bum's rush.

Lulu and I were celebrating our 38th anniversary. Due to time zones and jet lag - we were a day late. I like thinking myself a bit like Billy - but it took me 55 years to get out of my coal mining town to see a bit of the world.

Billy Elliot has been hot in the news back in the states for winning so many Tony Awards on Broadway. Our friends Wayne and Shirley spent $300 on tickets in New York City only to miss the showing due to a mixup. They ended up seeing Jersey Boys - but they have more tickets to see Billy in September. Everyone wants to see this Elton John scored musical - driving ticket prices through the roof.

The musical is set in 1984/1985 - the year of the Great Miners Strike in Britain and the year of my 50 day teachers' strike in Pennsylvania. Just as my Dad struck and his mine was closed in the 50s - Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher was successfully making an effort to break the union and eventually close the mines. Billy is a young boy being raised by his coal miner father and brother. Billy wanted to be a ballet dance - but his family thought that ballet was too feminine.

Sitting next to us in the front row was Spencer. Billy Elliot has special meaning to him. Spencer has attended every Thursday night show for the last four years! Even though he also saw the matinee a few hours before - simple math (4 years x 50 weeks) has him attending 200 shows. He just loves the show. Every now and then he would give me a nudge and show me where to look to not miss the special action. Not since Nancy's cousin attending over 100 Barry Manilow concerts have I met such a rabid fan. He was wearing his Billy Elliot shirt - carrying his Bill Elliot bag - and showing us his collection of signatures and playbills. He made the night extra special for us.

Lulu will be taking her class to see Billy Elliot on July 6th. We will be sitting in the lower balcony. I am looking forward to seeing the show from a different perspective.

"Oy dancing boy!"' "Oy Spencer!"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Harry and Lulu Do Billy Elliot - "Solidarity Forever"

Our favorite play is Billy Elliot. It is a story of the son of a coal miner that wants to be a ballet dancer. It reminds me so much of life back home in the Coal Regions of Pennsylvania - with the striking miners - brick row homes - union hall - and "scabs."

This afternoon - Lulu and I went down to the Victoria Palace to see if we could get some good seats for the play. Last year - we took Keith along and were lucky to score 3 seats in the second row from the center stage. To our surprise - we were able to get the same seats for tonight's 7:30 show.

The tickets were 25 pounds each - about $40. For some reason they call the first two rows "obstructed view." For the life me I do not know what the obstruction is. The ticket seller said they are called that because kids have a hard time seeing above the edge of the stage. Last year when we sat there - the view was fantastic. The best part to me was that the guy who sat behind us paid 80 pounds and had to look around my head.

I hope to sneak a few video clips tonight - and post them here tomorrow.

Picture - directly behind us is the Victoria Palace - home of the Billy Elliot Show. Why go to Broadway - pay 5 times as much - when you can hear real British accents - and not have to fight the crowds.

Harry and Lulu's London Flat

Our London flat is small - but it has a fantastic location right by the British Museum. It is an easy walk to the Theatre District. There is Euston Train Station just up the street and Goodge Underground Station down the street.

Florida State provides housing for the faculty as part of the package. We saw an advertisement offering apartments in the same building for 600 pounds a week - which would be about $1000. We were offered a 2 bedroom unit for 50 pounds more a week and a 3 bedroom one for 150 pounds a week. The 3 bedroom one comes with 2 bathrooms.

This year the dollar is worth quite a bit more than last year. A pound is worth $1.60 now - but last year a pound was worth $2.00. So far the difference is easily noted. We just got back from shopping at Argo - a catalog store - and bought a toaster for 4.47 pounds.

Our London Flat

Weather here is perfect - after 8 days of 100 degrees in Tallahassee. The first week here calls for 75 every day - sunny - no rain - breeze. It will be a nice change.

I like the electrical and plumbing fixtures over here - very spartan and practical. We have two very little water heaters - one in the shower and one in the kitchen. Water pipes are plastic and pencil thin. All wires are thin and 220 volts. They are not too particular about shielding them either.

Our apartment is small but has 12 feet ceilings. It is one room about 13 x 13 - a 5 x 6 kitchen - and a 6 x 6 bathroom. We pay nothing for it - FSU owns it. If we wanted a bigger flat - we would pay extra. 50 pounds a week for a 2 br - 150 pounds a week extra for 3 br 2 ba. We plan to get a 3 br 2 ba next summer so guests can come to visit.

We are on Gower Street a couple hundred yards from the British Museum.

This is our apartment. We are on the first floor - behind that sign. The sign says this was the National Institute of the Deaf at one time. Last year we were in the basement - we're movin' on up. The picture and map are from

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the Plane to London

It is 10pm we are ready to take off from Atlanta. The plane was overbooked by 15 people. They offered us $600 each plus hotel and meals - then fly tomorrow.

Lulu did not think $1200 was enough - so we are ready to go.

The only consolation is that I got this exit row seat. There is 6 feet of empty flooring in front of me. Lulu is about 4 rows behind me.

Probably tomorrow I will be kicking myself in the morning for not taking the $1200. We could have spent the dat touring Atlanta.

We are on a Boeing 767 wide body - 7 seats across.

See you when we land across the pond.

PS - From London - Now that we are safely in our apartment in London - I wish we would have taken the $1200 bump. We would have gotten here one day later - big deal.

PSS - The young lady next to me offered to trade seats with Lulu when she found out that she was 4 rows behind me - so Lulu got the 6 feet of stretch out space too.

Brandon Finds Cheaper Housing in Apartments Subsidized by his Employer

Brandon has one month left in China. He was looking for cheaper and better housing. Here is what he wrote to me -

I worked something out with my China Daily News adviser. I'll be living in the same complex they set aside for the regular employees. Employees of China Daily get room and board. They have their airline tickets paid for to come over from whatever country they are residing in. They also get plane tickets to go home for a vacation. It's not a bad deal. The complex is located within the China Daily compound.

Since I am not an employee but an intern, I have to pay rent - but only 100 yuan a night (roughly $14.50) which is a lot better than 240 yuan a night at the hotel.

I"ll send pics later. It's a nice place - bedroom, living, bathroom, kitchen and balcony. Airconditioning included, but no TV. Doesn't matter, because I don't/can't watch TV (no English channels and the BBC is blocked).

With that settled, I can get back to being a tourist. I plan on going to the Chinese Air Force museum soon. They have hundreds of plane, even a few captured from the wars with the US. Should be fun.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Traveling for Fun and Profit

We just got home from a 60 hour whirlwind trip to Providence, Rhode Island to see Drew's new home and to celebrate our grandson Jack's first birthday. We had a great time there - but the devil is in the details of the trip.

We left Tallahassee at 7 AM Friday - it was an uneventful flight. But when we got to Charlotte - the second leg of our flight was overbooked. They offered us $700 of travel vouchers - and I was really beside myself. Our entire flight cost $650 - so now we were $50 ahead of the game. We had a free weekend flight and a little profit.

We had to sit around Charlotte Airport for a couple of hours. The neatest feature of the Charlotte Airport is the white rocking chair all over for us to relax. Add on top of that there was free internet service - so the hours flew by quickly. Lulu had plenty of paperwork to catch up on - and there wasn't a better place to do it.

Just before our next plane was to takeoff - they asked for more volunteers to give up their seats. I was eager to do it again - but it would have delayed our arrival at Drew's new condo to about 10 PM. Lulu said no. I could have done this all night long. We got to our destination at about 5 PM.

The entire family made the trip for the big first birthday bash. Nancy found a bargain on Priceline of $49 a night in the Renaissance Hotel right next to the Capitol a short walk from Drew's pad. Our family ended up booking 7 rooms in this restored Masonic Temple.

Saturday was the big party. Everyone had a ball especially Jack. Later that night we all had dinner at a nice restaurant downtown - just as the gay rights parade was going by. The dinner took over 2 hours and not a peep out of Jack. Soon it was bedtime - but many of us stayed around to watch the parade action.

While Keith was still in bed at 5 AM this morning - Lulu and I caught a cab to the airport. The security line was very long but we got to our gate in time to hear them asking for volunteers to give up seats. We were on a roll. To our surprise they offered us $800 - $400 per person - to go on a later flight. Our total of free flight coupons had reached $1500 - and we had set and Everhart record. Up until now - the previous record was $1400 on 2 previous trips to Hawaii. Each time we sold those tickets on ebay because they had to be used within one year.

Before we could sit down to enjoy our Starbucks drinks and muffins - the ticket agent offered us a first class flight to Philadelphia. They were holding the gate open for us and as soon as our butts were in our seats - the plane pushed back. We were sitting in first class - seats 1A and 1B. It was around 7 AM and they were chasing us down with bottles of wine. We were hoping for a few hours of layover time back in our old Pennsylvania Homeland.

The flight to Philadelphia was short and a waste of first class tickets. As we passed over the old Spectrum in Philly on our approach - the stewardess said there was a quick plane to Charlotte. We got off one plane and right onto another at the next gate. On to Charlotte. We felt like fighter pilots doing touch and go landings.

Our adventures toned down a bit - we even got a bit of sleep as we approached the Carolina hub. As I dreamed - I had visions of airline hostesses and agents throwing travel vouchers at us. Alas - when we got to Charlotte - someone must have screwed up the wifi system because we had no free internet. I had nothing to do for 4 hours but to talk to Lulu.

Our plane to Tallahassee was small but they did not need any volunteers to give up seats. Lulu agreed that if we had a chance - we would take the vouchers to break the $2000 mark and have a legendary story to tell. It wasn't meant to be - we ended up with the score - Everhart $1500 - US Airways - $0 - and no story.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rhode Island State Capitol From Our Room

For the next year - this will be the home of Jack - Robin - and Drew.

On the hill to the right of the Capitol is Brown University where
Robin will do her doctoral internship.

Tonight we just had a gay rights parade. It went right below our window.

Jack's Official First Birthday Photo

June 20th, 2009 - Happy Birthday from Providence

We made it safely to town about 4:30 last night. Drew picked us up at the airport.

His new condo is about 400 yards from the Capitol building. Weather here is cloudy and about 65.

Jack's birthday party is about 2 PM. About 15 family members made the trip for the big event. Jack's great grandfather is here from Augusta - Jack Robinson. We saw Jack and Charlotte the minute we got off our plane because their plane was parked next to ours.

Pictures later.

Friday, June 19, 2009

On the Road Again - to See Jack on His First Birthday Tomorrow

We are in Charlotte Airport - sitting in the balcony for 4 hours - watching all the travelers roll by. We are here voluntarily - we gave up seats on our US Air flight to Providence - for $700!

We left Tallahassee at 7 AM. When we got to the gate of our flight to Providence here - we were offered $700 to give up ours seats on the next plane. They said they could get us to Providence by 10 PM or Boston by 5 PM. We took the chance. While he was writing up our $700
vouchers - two seats on the 2 PM flight to Providence opened up - and we quickly grabbed them. So we will arrive in Providence around 4:30 PM.

Keith is flying up from Washington and should arrive about the same time as us.

Jack was born on the Summer Solstice last year. Everyone is gathering for his first birthday tomorrow. His namesake - Jack Robinson - his great grandfather is flying up from Augusta with Charlotte. Robin's Mom and Dad and many of Jack's Uncles and Aunts will be there.

Jack just moved into his new condo in Providence - see "". His Mom will be doing her doctoral internship at Brown for the year. His Dad will continue working on his science grant from Syracuse.

Lulu and I will be there until Sunday morning - then we fly back to Tallahassee for two days before we head off to London - Paris - Venice- and Rome. Lulu loves teaching her summer course for FSU on the road.

We will be in the air for our 38th Wedding Anniversary on June 24th. I can't remember the last time we were home for our anniversary - but I do remember the date - it is also the birthday of my loving mother-in- law - Betty Cox.

Lulu will spend her July 12th birthday in Paris and Versailles. She will be 42 - she was married when she was 4. We do things early in the Appalachians.

Sometimes our lawyer Shirley insists the marriage wasn't legal - imagine that.

PS - Do we have to claim this on our income tax form?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brandon Walks The Great Wall of China

Written - Directed - Produced - Filmed - Edited by Brandon Taylor of Tamaqua PA

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brandon Takes a Long Walk on the Great Wall of China

Brandon Taylor - our old neighbor from Tamaqua PA - is spending the summer in China as an intern for the China Daily News. He recently received is BS in Journalism from Penn State University. Expect to see him on television as a foreign news correspondent in the future.

Here is a summary of his tour in his own words -

Everything is going great. Went to see the Great Wall today. Hiked 10km over 5 hours on the wall. it was amzing. i attached a few photos. I even bought a cool hat to block out the sun.

We took a private tour. It only cost us $45. They picked us up at our hotel, took us to the great wall (a 2.5 hour drive) let us walk from two points on the wall for 10 km and then took us to dinner. They also dropped us off close to our hotel, but paid for a taxi. It was really a great experience.

Added later -

I should also add that at every watchtower along the wall were local farmers trying to sell water, hats, shirts, soda and even beer. BEER! in 90 degree weather. There was a little old lady who followed me for about 2 km trying to sell me a book, but i didn't give in. I kept trying to tell her "Bu yao" which is "I don't want it" but she would not stop. either way, It was still great.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My Neighbor Gets a New Cadillac Every Year - and Every Year I Have My Truck Painted

When I was a school kid - I loved to collect postage stamps. There were two stamp dealers in our town. One guy - Lambert Gerber - was world famous. He made millions running auctions decades before there was an ebay. Franklin Roosevelt was a good customer of his. The other guy - Ross - had a small corner shop selling mostly cheap stuff to kids like me. Both dealers were very nice to collector kids like me. One time I asked my Dad what was the difference between the two dealers. He said, "Every year Lambert Gerber buys a new Cadillac - and every year Ross gets his Packard painted." I didn't get it at the time - Now I do.

About 4 months ago I bought a little Toyota truck for $2000. We didn't really need it - we already had 2 good cars and a Vespa scooter. I didn't need a truck - but when it came up on Craigslist at that price - I had to have it.

The truck runs great - powerful engine - smooth transmission - ice cold air - good gas mileage - nice big bench seat to hold 3 people. It had 134,000 miles on it when I got it - I am surprised that I put 2000 miles on it in 4 months just running around town. I seldom touch my newer cars. Of course my friends and neighbors love that I have a truck for them to borrow.

The other day I took the truck to Maaco - the national car painting company. Steve - the Maaco guy - said he could paint it and fix a couple rust spots for $400. I thought, "What do I have to lose." So I took it in on Friday and Monday afternoon I got a call to pick it up. Check out the pictures above. Note the Seminole Spear stripes.

When I first graduated from college - I insisted on buying a new car every year. To me - it was success - even though my lavish wheels were sponsored by a payment booklet to the bank. I always wondered why I did not have a lot of extra money. Now I am retired - everything paid for cash - and I can afford to buy a new car every year. Instead - I choose to drive a 12 year old Toyota truck - and get it painted every year.

I have looked at life from both sides now.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Drug Dealers Using Semi-Submarines to Haul Cocaine Out of Columbia

Details from the Washington Post

They remind you a bit of the Monitor of the "Merrimac and Monitor" Civil War fame. They never really go completely underwater - they skim the surface with about 98% of their bulk underwater.

They are made of fiberglass and have a big dumb diesel engine with the exhaust muffled by the water to cut down its heat footprint making it harder to be detected by instruments. The hull is designed to be "stealthy" to trick radar. It costs about $1 million to build one and they are designed for just one trip. They can carry up to 10 tons of cocaine with a street value of about $100 million - yes $100 million. At the end of the journey - the cargo is transfered and the boat is "deep-sixed."

The boats have an uncomfortable cabin for 4 - a bucket for a toilet - and sleeping space on the floor. They travel mostly at night and just float like a log during the day. If detected by the Coast Guard - they quickly pull several large plugs and the ship is sunk in 1.5 minutes. The capture turns into a rescue mission and the crew of 4 is turned over to Columbia where they are usually set free.

Future plans include radio control - so that there will be no crew to capture.

The picture shows a captured boat in Key West.

Brandon Taylor Gets "Quarantined" in China

Our good friend Brandon Taylor - a recent Penn State grad - is spending the summer interning for a China Daily Newspaper. We had the pleasure of his visit to our guest house - along with the rest of his family. Harry

by Brandon Taylor from China -

The Chinese, I've been told, are some of the friendliest people in the world, especially to foreigners. Right now, however, it may not be the best time to be non-Chinese. While the Chinese are calm and polite, one thing that sticks out as I walk down the street is the number of Chinese who cover their mouths when I pass. I'm not surprised.

News coverage would make it seem that swine flu is raging rampant in other parts of the world, with Japan reporting over 130 cases and numerous cases popping up in the United States. China, on the other hand, seems to have kept its number of incidents in the single digits. But not 24 hours after arriving in Beijing, I was made aware of the seventh case of swine flu in China.

The case was discovered in a Chinese citizen on Flight CA0982. Flight CA0982 departing from New York City. Flight CA0982 departing from New York City on May 20 at 4:20 p.m. Flight CA0982: my flight.

Swine flu incident number seven – my lucky number.

Nothing was out of the ordinary on my flight, aside from the fact that I was the only Caucasian among a sea of sitting and sleeping Asians. As I remembered it, I had been the only person to cause any disturbances, sneezing profusely after forgetting to take my allergy medicine that morning. Each sneeze brought stares from people sitting to my left and right, as well as a few head turns from the people in front of me.

Upon landing in Beijing, Chinese health officials boarded our plane, dressed predominantly in white. It reminded me of the stormtroopers boarding the rebel spaceship at the beginning of the first Star Wars movie. They even carried laser type guns, which they pointed at each passenger's head to take temperatures.

"Help me Obi Wan Kenobi!" They took my temperature, and I was allowed off the plane.

When the China Daily workers picked me up at the airport, I was told about a very loose, voluntary quarantine policy the Chinese government had put in place. All travelers were encouraged to stay in their hotels or homes for five to seven days after arriving in China, just as a precaution.

A day later, I got a phone call from another China Daily staff member. He explained to me the situation – someone on my flight had an irregular temperature and was sent to a hospital.

In my mind I began packing my bags, half expecting to be sent back to the States. Instead of sending me home, they sent me a thermometer. Twice a day I was to take my temperature and report to a China Daily staff member, who would in turn contact the Chinese government. I was practically a celebrity, but just not the way I had hoped.

Despite the precautions that prevented me from fully experiencing Beijing, I was fine with the matter. The Chinese government was just trying to protect its people from a flu that was sweeping the globe. In 2003, China encountered SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) when 774 people died and over 8,000 were infected. Chinese officials had obviously learned from any errors and made drastic corrections to prevent another outbreak.

The situation I found myself in could hardly be called a quarantine, but more extreme cases have occurred to Chinese citizens and foreigners in recent months resulting in accusations of human rights violations. While appearing to be a bit harsh, such health security measures make sense, especially when dealing with a population of 1.3 billion.

Keep in mind, China may have a rapidly growing economy, but certain areas are substantially less developed than others. An outbreak in poorer regions in China could be disastrous, as medical care may not always be readily available. Try buying Tamiflu in a region where the water is undrinkable and no one has ever heard of Wal-Mart or McDonald's. To complain bitterly about not being able to run around Beijing because of some ridiculous flu would have been all-too American of me.

The coup de grace with my swine flu run-in came after I found out that someone had misspoken about my quasi-quarantine status. Apparently, some of the hotel staff was under the impression that I was actually sick. That would explain why hotel workers came to our door wearing masks and left quickly thereafter.

So I was the allegedly sick American staying in room 423. This must mean the men in the hazmat suits would be coming soon. Well, at least I had enough dress clothing for the internship I was to have started to look decent for my close-up on CNN later that night. Or maybe I'd just go out and buy my own little white mask, just in case.

Check out blog posts "Sneeze on a Plane" and "Hello. It's the U.S. Government. Your Mom called" for more details on my experience with the swine flu.

Claude Davis to Start Taxi Service in Tamaqua and Schuylkill County AGAIN

It was 34 years ago - when I owned a small weekly newspaper in Tamaqua - that Claude Davis planned to offer taxi service. The more things change - the more they stay the same. Check out this story from the Pottsville Republican today -

A Pottsville native is preparing his case for a hearing next month on his bid to return 24-hour taxi service to Schuylkill and Carbon counties, a venture he says will honor his late father.

Claude Davis, Palatine, Ill., said he will appear at 10 a.m. July 8 in the second-floor conference room of Pottsville City Hall for a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission hearing on whether he can start his taxi service.

“This is an application for Charlie’s Yellow Cab for all of Carbon and Schuylkill counties,” Davis said Friday. “I’m pretty sure that I’ll get approval.”

He said he has lots of support for his proposed venture.

“A lot of witnesses are going to appear,” said Davis, who declined to divulge their names.

Charlie’s Yellow Cab would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, including holidays, and would make cabs available to anyone in the either county who wants a ride, Davis said. The company would have 22 cabs and six handicap-accessible vans stationed throughout the two counties for its customers, according to Davis.

“The calls are going to come into Pottsville,” he said. “They’ll be dispatched.”

The company would provide service to people who are intoxicated to allow them to avoid possible driving under the influence charges, Davis said.

“They’ll be able to get a cab,” not only for that, but for hospital, shopping, airport and other kinds of trips, Davis said.

Davis said the company’s name honors his father, Charles “Rabbits” Davis, who owned and operated a taxi in Pottsville. Claude Davis has said he promised his father when he died in 1988 that he would return to the area and operate a taxi company.

Claude Davis started driving a taxi in 1969, bought a taxi company in 1974 in Tamaqua and operated it until 1980.

Friday, June 05, 2009

NCAA Playoff - Winner Goes to College World Series

Friday at noon. Where's the crowd?

After several rain delays - the game ended 9 hours later. FSU lost 7-2. Today - the two teams play again. If FSU wins today - there is one more game tomorrow. If Arkansas wins today - they go to the College World Series.

We attended the game twice yesterday - from noon to 4:30 - then again from 7:30 to 9. I think we will watch today's game at noon on ESPNU.

Tornado Tears Roof Off School Close to Our Home

Note - this building is close to our home. I was not aware of this happening until today. The two maps show how close it was to us. Harry.


A small tornado tore off a portion of the roof at Apalachee Elementary School on Thursday morning during strong storms that hit the Tallahassee area.

Students weren't at the school at the time, but teachers and staff were there for a math workshop, said Chris Petley, a spokesman for the district. No one was injured, but debris damaged some cars in the parking lot of the school, located at 650 Trojan Trail on Tallahassee's east side.

Pieces of the roof were strewn across the property, some landing in the parking lot, trees, a retention pond and nearby Tom Brown Park.

"It sounded like a locomotive train heading straight across the top of the roof," said Principal Ross Witherspoon, who was inside when the storm hit. "Everybody was quite shocked."

The National Weather Service in Tallahassee confirmed Thursday afternoon that a small tornado packing winds of 65-70 mph caused the damage. Meteorologist Kelly Godsey said it appears the tornado touched down on the roof for perhaps only 30 seconds.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Steve Mangum Built This Electric Miata Right in His Carport in Downtown Tallahassee

The other day I received an email from Steve Mangum - my neighbor across the highway in Indian Head Acres.

Steve said, "I came across your blog in the Democrat and wanted to let you know that all-electric vehicles are closer and more affordable than you might think, providing you don't mind turning wrenches."

Saturday at 9 AM he dropped by my house with this beautiful little sports car. At first I thought it was Thomas Magnum PI the Hawaiian detective - but this guy spells his name M-A-N-G-U-M. The red convertible has no outside appearances of being electric - unless you count the "Bye Gas" vanity license plate. I hopped into the passenger seat and away we went. The car was perfectly silent. There was no starter grind - no throaty exhaust - no exhaust pipe spitting out smelly fumes.

After turning onto the highway I quickly realized that this was not the glorified golf cart I expected. A stomp on the accelerator - don't say gas pedal - pinned my head back to the leather seat restraint. The car shot off getting to 70 MPH without much effort. The Miata has its original 5 speed transmission which could be shifted from gear to gear without using the clutch - but the car could be driven all day in 3rd gear because electric motors have so much torque. The only sound was the wind whipping your hair about if you have any.

As we pulled up to many cars at the red lights on Apalachee - I had the urge to tell the driver next to me that we were in an electric car. The only giveaway would be the perfect silence while we were stopped. We easily left the others cars at the red lights with all the low end power this mute car has.

We covered a total of 15 miles - the car never exhibited a drop off in power. The 10 Sears DieHard batteries in the trunk and under the hood would provide a range of about 25 miles. There is room for a few more batteries. At $300 each - $3000 of the project cost was spent there. At least they were covered by a long warranty and could be purchased locally. The motor is under the batteries and takes up the space of about two volleyballs.

Back home on the driveway - I examined the car from stem to stern. Steve did not cut corners - the fit and finish rivals cars coming off the production line. Nothing was butchered to make the conversion. The owner said he could easily put it all back together as a gas-powered car in a couple hours. No expense was spared to buy top quality batteries - motor - controller - and other hardware.

Inside the cabin - the only thing different was a digital gauge on the console that could be toggled to read out volts - amps - watts - range - miles - and tons of other calculations. To the lay driver - all you need to know is put the key in - select forward or reverse and drive away.

Rough estimates of the cost are $13,000 and 200 hours of work. The Miata cost $4000 and the parts add another $9000 to it. If labor cost $20 an hour - which is low - it would cost $17,000 to build. Realistically it costs about 6 cents a mile to operate.

I asked Steve how his wife Rebecca felt about his tinkering. He said she is his number one fan. She said, "When Steve got the little car up and running we took a jaunt around the capitol in the middle of the night, freezing, (in our pajamas!), and laughing the entire time. (He hadn't even put the hood back on.) With support like that - bring on the next project.

This Miata is an excellent daily commuter. Steve rides it from home to his job near the Capitol. He has already built an electric bicycle and I understand that his next project may be a small truck. Rumors are - he might sell this car - to make room in the carport to build his next project vehicle.

Maybe the savior of the American auto industry lives in the innovative minds of weekend warrior dreamers like Steve. At least some people are happy with $4.00 a gallon fuel prices.

Pictures -
1 - Steve Mangum in his electric Miata.
2 - "Plug Er Up!" charging in the carport.
3 - Interior is normal except for fuel gauge.
4 - Computer toggles through volts - watts - amps - range.
5 - Under the hood are batteries - controller - motor
6 - No oil or grease to mess up this motor.
7 - Charger plug is under filler cap.
8 - "Bye Gas" get it?