Saturday, September 24

Queen's Harbour Doesn't Immediately Lower Flags for Queen's Death

The Queen of Great Britain recently died. I know because my daughter told me. And it was in my wife's news feed. And our governor said flags in Florida would be lowered to half-staff, so I wouldn't assume it was another mass shooting. But if I'd been a resident of Her Majesty's namesake neighborhood, Queen's Harbour, I may not have known, since flags there remained at full-mast (if that's the hyphenated word for it). For two full days, at least.

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in a monarchy. While I don't wish any monarch dead, I also don't really see Queen Elizabeth II as any more important than some other 96-year-old at the local nursing home. As Billy Shakespeare said, and I'm paraphrasing, monarchs return to dust just like the peasants. Eaten by worms and all that.

I guess the American peasants in Queen's Harbour are telling the British Monarchy that it's not legitimate by refusing to fly the flag at half-mast. Since we're all finally equal in death, why bother honouring the Queen at Queen's Harbour, right? I tend to agree, but I am kind of surprised. If any pretend-English-nobility neighbourhood in Jacksonville should have its American flag flying low for the old British bag, it's Queen's Harbour. Unless, of course, it was really named after Queen Isabella of Spain during the Spanish rule of Florida. Or maybe it was named for Queen Elizabeth I back when the Brits had Florida. I don't really know how old the neighbourhood is because I'm not allowed in.

Thursday, September 8

Florida Universities and Colleges for Bright Futures

I created this list of colleges and universities in Florida when I learned about Bright Futures and was trying to see if my kids could afford to win the scholarship. Living on-campus or paying local rent/transportation is not as cheap as you might imagine, and since I created this analysis in May of 2021, rent has probably gone up in most places. That said, we can assume rent has gone up proportionally, and the affordability should still be similar as a comparison. 

Rankings were also from 2020-2021. These don't tend to change drastically, but it's always possible. I went from top-ranked to lowest-ranked, since my kids were interested in the "best" colleges and universities in Florida. I'm sure most of them are fine, and if it makes sense based on rent or sports or major fields of study, I think my kids can do well at any of the campuses. 

For us in Jacksonville, room and board would be free for UNF or using Bright Futures to get two years at FSCJ. However, FSCJ is unranked. Also, my kids claim they want the college experience. Maybe your kids prefer the college experience over free rent at home. It's worth seeing what that will mean for their student loans. I don't think there will be another loan bailout for kids entering college now, so it's important to know how to manage costs. That's why I also provide a handy cost-estimator at the start of the college list. If you share rent costs with other people or choose a dorm, you can do it all a little cheaper. Even at the low $500 a month rent, however (no food), "free" Florida college will cost $24,000. Add $3,000 a year for food alone, and you're looking at $36,000 college costs if you're very budget-minded (assuming your parents were offering free room and board for comparison). Dorm estimates do include room and board, but only Gainesville was slightly under $15,000 per year as of 2021. 

Sunday, August 21

Google's Finally Killing SEO, Again

I barely bother reading articles about SEO anymore. I never got great at manipulating the system, and I've always been frustrated by the amount of real work I've put into my writing compared to SEO wizards. On top of that, I've heard for years that Google's Search was finally demoting the poorly-written, seo-heavy content that often outperforms my own articles. But one day before I read yet again that Google was defeating SEO optimization, I was sucked into reading an article that had clearly been computer-generated. Looking back on my week, I'd say more like one article a day had been either reworded or generated by some kind of SEO program. Supposedly, Google is going to fix this. Again.

I remember talking to a wealth SEO lady a few years back who sold businesses on mostly useless articles and click funnels. She was rich because Google allowed her to manipulate the searches, and she had happy clients who benefited from her SEO wizardry, while I sat there wondering why no one was even reading some of my best articles. And the ones people did read never made me any affiliate money. Of course, I've always written on what interests me rather than on what I believed could get me click funnel victims, so there's that. Still, her wealth and how she made it bothered me, with Google seemingly endorsing her techniques. Right before that business meeting, I'd read SEO was getting a crackdown on Google Search. But I'd read the same thing several years earlier, when I first tried to build my own business. Since then, I think I see more useless, computer-generated or third-party content. More click-bait as real news in my feed. More SEO millionaires.

Sometimes the best article on a subject is on some old Angelfire website written by someone who's been dead a decade. However, anyone can take that top article and rewrite it with SEO wording and photos in order to steal the top spot without any authority, personal experience, or intent to help others. Maybe the new Google Search update will finally figure out why most of us ought to be disappointed with our search results and news feeds, but I won't believe it this time any more than the other times I've heard the same rhetoric.

If a lawn care business out of Houston or an HVAC company out of Massachusetts have the best articles about why my grass is dying or whether I should buy a heat pump, I'm fine with those results, but I'd probably prefer a good local article. I know local doesn't always exist, and most HVAC companies want you to hire them rather than give free advice, but when the top articles are useless or stolen (and some good ones are buried a few pages deep), it shows that Google still has an SEO problem. One that I can only hope gets resolved.

Saturday, July 30

Jacksonville Light Boat Parade 2021 Disappointment

There are times in life when you're glad you didn't invite family to come visit you. We've had a few of those experiences in Jacksonville, our latest being the 2021 Light Boat Parade. Our first and likely last time seeing the parade, even though all the locals have told us it's a must-see.

The boat parade is one of those local traditions we'd heard about ever since we moved here. Prior holiday disappointments had included the Christmas lifeguard chairs and the 4th of July at Jax Beach. But this isn't just a chair decorating/advertising event or a drunken college party. It was one of Jacksonville's true showcase events, like the Christmas tree at The Landing. Wait, that was also a local holiday disappointment--a tree in a half-empty mall thingy filled with homeless panhandlers.

But Jacksonville is bold, and we've moved past The Landing and toward a homeless park rather than a homeless mall. I didn't check out the local vendors at the park formerly known as The Landing because I was sure word had gotten out in the homeless community that a lot of folks with cash might be there. Also, I didn't need to buy a hot tub or beach-view art work painted in someone's garage studio. 

We chose a spot on the Southbank riverwalk to view the parade. We also brought our dog, which was a mistake, as the riverwalk was mostly full when we got there. Not realizing that you're supposed to bring chairs and huge strollers to block the walkway, we sat on a curb a little ways west of the DCPS building. We got there with maybe 15 minutes to spare, but we seemed to have some of the last public seats available. We felt like we'd made it. I might have even demanded high-fives from the fam.

But then nothing happened. We sat there until the official start time and we saw one or two boats cruising back and forth to get to a presumable starting location, but no parade. The guy next to me, who wore a walkie-talkie, came to sit with his family and said there was a delay, but his communication device never provided an update, nor did he (and his job there seemed to literally be to sit with his family).

Eventually, my daughter and I headed back to the car to get water for the dog. We figured if we missed the first wave across the river, wed at least see the boats up close on our side. But we got back to our seats and still no parade. In fact, families with young ones were starting to leave for their cars when we returned. The dog was restless, the kids were restless, and the wife was disappointed. We decided to walk the riverwalk further west in order to move and maybe see some boats sooner in the eventual parade, since it starts on the north side and then meanders over to the south. 

The people who'd been sitting for more than an hour did love seeing our dog along the route, probably because they were trying to entertain themselves and their poor kids. That kind of made it a nice walk. Plus, it was cool to see all the people who wanted to participate in a well-run community event. Too bad they were all as disappointed as we'd become. 

Based on our photos, I'd say the first boats that made the route along the northbank and back to the southbank arrived around 7:30, making it an hour-and-a-half wait for us. Much more for the seat-saving folks. I later learned that someone in city government whose sole task that day was probably to have the railroad bridge in the proper position had not done the job. That person was probably sitting in the crowd with his/her family and a turned-off walkie talkie. Speaking of which, the worker who sat next to us and had his own walkie talkie did not know why there was a delay and didn't receive a single communication while he was sitting there for an hour. You'd think somebody would have got on the horn and asked if anyone knew how to fix the bridge situation.

So we sat there a long time, which probably affected our expectations and subsequent disappointment. It was a parade of drunk wealthy people just as interested in showing off their boats as any light displays. Most of the displays were half-assed, and I know because that's how I do my own Christmas lights. At least all the rich folks were having fun on their boats, and that's really the point, right?

If you're new to the area, I guess you have to try the light parade at least once. I'm sure it won't start late for you. As for us, we had to leave early because the dog and kids were restless. And the wife. Me too, really, since it felt like we'd just witnessed the first awkward attempt at a mass public event rather than a yearly tradition pumped up by all the locals.

Lest I lament without suggestions, I would recommend the Girvin Christmas light experience. And we also did a gingerbread house/ historic house tour thing that wasn't bad in some half-abandoned part of downtown (I know, that's most of downtown). The Christmas lights put on by the Shriners is gone now to make way for apartments or a shopping center, but they were also borderline ok. If you like lots and lots of white lights on really old buildings, then St. Augustine is your jam for the holidays.

Monday, July 25

Should I Support the Duval County Public Schools Referendum Version 2022?

Even though my kids were attending a private school when the last referendum for Duval Schools came a begging, I voted for it because the schools were in need of maintenance and improvements. However, two years later and now two kids in a Duval County school, I have seen ZERO facilities upgrades. My kids' school has $24 million to spend, but this was the second summer in a row without a single brick being laid for the $12 million new classrooms to get my kids out of portables. I'm not sure if I can vote for the new referendum if the district can't spend the money it currently has to make schools better.

Here's what DCPS says the new money will provide: 
"65% of the revenue would be used to supplement teacher pay, 12.5% would be used for arts and athletic programs at public schools, 12.5% would go to charter schools, and 10% would go to pay increases for district staff."

To me, it looks like a total of 75% will go to teacher or staff pay/raises. I taught in the district for a year, and I'd say it's deserved, but as a parent with two kids in core classes illegally stuffed to the gills, I'd rather see more core teachers than more pay for gym teachers. If the referendum would guarantee reduced core class sizes, I'd vote yes and maybe even work in the district again.

I'm all for arts and athletics. However, I'd again ask if that means more teams and student participation or just new art tables and uniforms. My daughter just missed making a JV team last year for a sport that cut more than a dozen freshmen and could have had a freshman team. Maybe 12.5% more money would have made that team possible, but I don't know. 

I can unequivocally say that I can't support 12.5% of my extra tax burden to fund charter schools. These schools compete for students and funding while rewarding suspect for-profit companies that mostly prove that pilfering a district's best students results in good schools.

So there you have my opinion on the 2022 DCPS tax referendum. If I knew it supported core teachers, more sports participation, and better public schools, I'd vote yes in a heartbeat. I'd like to say I trust DCPS to spend millions of dollars wisely, but the lack of transparency in how or when the last referendum money is being spent leads me to believe this money may be better off in my own pocket.

Sunday, July 24

Jax Local Ad of the Week: Milano's For Easter

Milano's is no stranger to being the local ad of the week. Its Valentine's Day ad from 2021 was a classic, but this new Easter ad is also an awesome example of ads that don't quite make sense but do make you want some Italian food. Let's see if we can identify everything odd about this photo. 

Forks and knives
Part of the fun of eating pizza is getting to shove it in your mouth with your hands. This family, however, seems to be intent on eating pizza with utensils. It's borderline child abuse to be cutting up pizza into bite-sized pieces for the kids, but it's downright un-American for Mom and Dad to be eating it that way. Do they think they're dining with the Queen of England? 

It's perfectly OK for this family to have a kid without being married. However, parents who force their child to eat pizza with a fork and knife should be prepared for all kinds of badgering from the child if they continue to live in sin. I suppose it's plausible that Mom takes her wedding ring off to eat pizza, but that would make a lot more sense if she actually used her hands to eat it.
Fresh fruit
A basket of fresh fruit is a pretty good indicator that this meal is being eaten at home rather than in the restaurant. That's sort of odd, right? If I wanted to show that I made some good food at my house, I'd show my family enjoying a meal at our kitchen table (or even at the patio picnic table we never use), but I don't think I'd show us eating our home-cooked meal at the beach. Anyhow, there's fruit, but that's not the only odd thing...

Cut fruit
The oranges in the fruit basket are CUT! Nobody has any fruit on their plates, so the assumption is that this family cuts oranges and then puts them back in the fruit basket to spill sticky orange juice all over the other fruits until morning. Or...

Speaking of orange juice, that seems to be the drink of choice. Fresh squeezed, perhaps?
I have to assume that if you were to poll a million people asking them what their favorite drink with pizza would be, exactly zero would choose orange juice. While some beers are slightly orangy in color, I can't imagine a family that forces a kid to eat pizza with utensils and keeps a basket of fresh fruit stocked is going to pour a pint of  Brew Free! Or Die Blood Orange IPA for the little girl. So they all drink orange juice or maybe orange soda with cut-up pizza.

Weird salad utensil
I know it's hard to see dimension in a photo, but the salad utensil looks like a wooden spoon turned sideways. Or a wooden spear. Neither of these utensils would be great at serving salad, which might be why no one seems to have eaten any salad. It's possible this family eats super-healthy, so it might be salad and cut oranges for dessert.

Last supper seating
Personally, I enjoy sitting across from my wife. This was especially useful when the kids were little disasters throwing food and making messes. I could watch the chaos from my relaxing spot on my side of the table. This family, however, all sit on one side of the table, like in The Last Supper by da Vinci. I guess it's an Italian thing, but Mom has to reach over her daughter to get to the fruit, while Dad had to reach over her to get to the 'za.

Whole pizza still there
Speaking of the pizza, either this family served itself from the far side of the box (which makes little sense given their seating positions), or there's a whole pizza sitting in front of them as they each eat one single piece from another box? I'll give this one the benefit of the doubt and assume they spun the pizza around after taking pieces from the side not seen in the photo, but no one really does that. Also, the kid is eating s slice of pizza that has something green (spinach?) and what look like onions. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.

Disappearing cabinets in ephereal bricks
If you look close at the background, this family meal gets really freaky. There's a fancy kitchen counter with a bottle of wine (or maybe champagne for mimosas). Then the brick backsplash. Then, right behind Dad's head, an upper cabinet exists and disappears into a brick wall. Is this brick wall in the real restaurant, implying the family is both at home and in Milano's? Are they stuck between two dimensions? Do they have a faux brick sheet hanging from the ceiling? Maybe it's some kind of empty tomb metaphor because this is an Easter ad. Wine into orange juice and extra slices of pizza. 

I can't explain it, but I also love this ad because of how complicated someone decided to make it. Honestly, I'm not sure I'll ever see another ad with this much strange going on that also looks perfectly normal on the surface. I just imagine the photo shoot filled with a bunch of artsy Gen Zers who have never had a family meal and never cook anything that can't be microwaved. This is what young people in the ad world imagine a family dinner to be, and the decisions that went into the ad reflect a society where families don't eat together or all the members are on their devices and not paying attention to what's even on the table. My family, for example, would have some napkins, parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes, but these marketing pros settled on a fruit basket.

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Thursday, July 21

Another Year, Another Pitbull Story

I think it's been about a year since I wrote my last anti-pitbull article, so it's probably good that I saw my neighbor/attack-dog owner as a reminder that I don't like pitbulls. By association, I don't really like their owners very much. If you own a pitbull, you also don't like me because my opinion is that they should be turned in like AR-15s to either be destroyed or used in special military operations.

Anyhow, I saw my neighbors new pitbull, purchased or "adopted" after his other killer dog had already attacked our dog. And the new one looks like a pitbull you'd see in an actual pit, fighting other dogs. Whereas the neighbor feigned innocence with the other dog, saying it was a mixed breed dog and not a pitbull, the new one is 100% pure-bred trashy pitbull. Every so often I see a pitbull owner who also picks up a beagle or cocker spaniel or some other scared-to-death breed in order to seem a bit more civilized, but the folks who initially pretend to own a mixed-breed, harmless dog and then go out and add a giant pitbull to the household are really special. The thinking is that your other pitbull only viciously attacked another dog once, so it makes total sense to double the chances for another attack. Or a mean dog needs a mean friend. Or that you really like your dog even if it's a menace, so you should adopt another one?

I do understand that since the average income level of pitbull owners is lower than the rest of us, it would seem to make sense to adopt your next dog from the humane society. Of course, 90% of the dogs at the Jax Humane Society are pitbulls, so there you go. I actually wondered how many times the same pitbull ends up in a humane society for adoption. I mean, the people who had the dog from a puppy decided it was too much to handle, so I can't imagine some old lady with a kind heart will figure out how to control a six-year-old killing machine.

Also, this year when we went to the veterinarian, he was nursing a hand wound that would not stop bleeding. He volunteered that he'd been bit by a pitbull. Without us asking or assuming. He didn't blame bad owners (like some people do) or unwarranted reputations. He just said some breeds are worse than others. And he was right.

Always remember that everyone who does not own a pitbull judges you if you do. That includes your homeowner's insurance company. Owning a pitbull is like ear gauging or face tattoos: it probably seems really cool until most people are scared of you.

I know, that's the whole point. You have a small paycheck or other appendage, and you're compensating. It doesn't work. Get a hella hot girlfriend or stupid big pickup truck instead. Or a jet ski or Rogaine or new false teeth. You could even adopt a kid from Bulgaria or purchase Jaguars season tickets. There are all kinds of ways to prove you have some culture and a little extra spending money, but owning a pitbull is not one of them.

If you want to see the available pitbulls for adoption, take a look here. The list includes other dogs available, but it will mostly be pitties because those are the ones that people don't want but our city refuses to send elsewhere. 

Wednesday, July 20

Tag em and Bag em, Jacksonville

Moving to Florida, I noticed that more abandoned cars littered the roadway than other places I'd lived. At first, I assumed this was a result of more tourism, more poverty, or hotter weather. However, after living here for several years, I've come to the conclusion that we've got more abandoned cars because of policy as much as any other factor, and that policy should probably be updated.

I drive the same route every day, just like many of us who commute to work. I've noticed that the same abandoned vehicle sits at the side of the highway for several days, especially if it's just parked and not in obvious distress. However, these parked vehicles represent a major crash hazard if someone needs to swerve into the shoulder. I've even seen some abandoned vehicles on I-95 that didn't fit on the tiny shoulders and ended up in the traffic lane. I've seen plenty of vehicles right at on-ramps or off-ramps, too.

 The policy seems to be to give these vehicles at least two days to be moved before they are towed away, but I'd say that they ought to be removed immediately if there's any chance an accident could be caused. And there's always that chance. The policy should be to give an abandoned vehicles owner until the next rush hour to move it or lose it. If your car breaks down at 7am, then it's got to be gone by 2pm. Or make it a blanket six hours from the time it's tagged.

Even the actual tagging of abandoned vehicles is pretty poorly done around here. Most vehicles that are well off the road or have been in an obvious accident receive an orange tag. A tag lets the rest of us drivers know the situation has been acknowledged by the authorities and we don't need to stop to help out. Every abandoned vehicle should be tagged as a courtesy to those of us who wish to be good Samaritans if needed. When I was in St Johns County on a recent weekend evening, I came across a vehicle that had run off of Highway 1 in the fog. I circled back in order to check it out (parking and exiting my own car in the fog), but no one was in the car. I later called to police department only to find out it was a known abandoned vehicle. That means I endangered myself and other drivers in the fog in order to attempt to help someone who was long gone. Yes, I could have called the sheriff from a safe location a mile away before investigating, but if someone had been injured behind the wheel, it made more sense to stop to see. And I probably wasn't the only passerby to check out the crash scene that had not been tagged to let us know there was nothing to be done. But if I was the only one who stopped, that's kind of sad and scary for those of us who might someday need someone's help. Moving cars as soon as possible, or at least tagging them, makes a lot more sense than what seems to be the current practice in Northeast Florida.

Gas Station T-shirts in Ocala, FL

My son and I had been in Ocala for a track meet, so we decided to eat downtown after the sporting event. We enjoyed the the restaurant and the art walk that was happening, but we eventually had to start the long qdrive back to Jacksonville. I used my GetUpside app to find a Shell station where I could get gas and some caffeine for the ride home. As we made a U-turn to get to our destination, we noticed a weirdly-busy Italian ice shop (Jeremiah's), but that was just the beginning of our trek into the Central Florida Twilight Zone.

The Hi Way Express gas station had seen better days. Initially, I tried the west side of the property to get gas, but those pumps had been cemented over, so I had to back in to an available pump. Since I had a 2+ hour drive, I decided to get some liquid energy after refueling the vehicle. My son was almost asleep already, so I locked him in the back seat, stressing that he honk the horn if anyone got too close. 

I entered the convenience store, and I wasn't really impressed by any particular element. It was small, and it had a small selection of drinks. I didn't even notice that some inventory went nearly up to the ceiling. I got in line behind some women looking for a specific ice cream flavor. This was humorous because no one should expect more than vanilla or chocolate at a gas station and because the frozen ice place next door probably had whatever flavor they needed. They wanted strawberry or key lime. Weird. But they were also seemingly buying their week's groceries at a gas station, so it almost makes sense.

Before I could make my purchase, another patron asked where the t-shirts were. The cashier pointed to the back wall and gestured up. He was right. T-shirts in square plastic bags all along the back wall. Black or white. The other patron, now seeing the shirts that I too had not seen earlier, began browsing. However, it didn't take him too long before he cut back in front of me to ask if they had brown t-shirts. The cashier responded that they only had black or white. No colors, including brown. Disappointed, the patron asserted that if the Hi Way Express carried brown shirts, people would buy them. At this point, the man went back to shirt shopping, leaving me to finally complete my purchase.

I couldnt help but ask the cashier why the Hi Way Express in Ocala sold t-shirts. The answer? "Because people buy them." I couldn't argue with that logic, especially while considering the other shopper currently in the store with me. I just had to wonder whether this gas-station-t-shirt-phenomenon was unique to this establishment, Ocala, or Central Florida. I've gone into lots of gas stations in Jacksonville without ever seeing anything similar. However, I have seen some Jaguars shirts and Duval Light shirts at a couple of places. Maybe plain t-shirts are sold in parts of Jacksonville where I don't tend to exit my vehicle. 

Yes, people in Ocala buy t-shirts at gas stations, but why? Does it have to do with the horse farms in the area? Maybe ranch hands use up shirts rather quickly in the Florida heat. Or lots of locals enjoy late-night tie-dyeing or silk-screening? Is the James Dean / Fonzy look? Does it have something to do with meth? And most importantly, would brown really sell as well as black or white?

If you accidentally find yourself in Ocala, buy a t-shirt at a gas station and send a photo to me. I'll try to remember to do the same next time I visit that part of the state, or if I happen to find t-shirts at a local dive gas station.

I met a guy who used to live in Ocala, and while he couldn't confirm the existence of t-shirts at various gas stations, he did tell me that in his current state of North Carolina in similar neighborhoods people buy these t-shirts to wear until they get too dirty and then toss the shirts out instead of washing them. While it's hard to believe this waste, he seemed fairly confident in the explanation. Honestly, I hope even homeless folks wash these shirts and dry then on a park bench, even without soap.

Cambridge AICE High School Exchange Program

My family was sold on Cambridge AICE for our high school choice. It's similar to AP or IB in that you can earn college credit, but it's good for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship as well. It seemed like a win-win. However, with a program (or programme for the Brits) that's used at 10,000 high schools in 160 countries, I'm surprised that there isn't an established student exchange option. I also don't think it would be too difficult to initiate.

If schools are all teaching to similar standards, then students can transfer between those schools without skipping a beat. That's kind of the point when it comes to any national standards we have. We assume that a 10th grade English, chemistry, or trigonometry class hits all the same marks. AICE requires similar standards at all of its partner schools, which means that the main challenge of a semester exchange would fall with non-AICE classes. I know it might mess up some student GPA dreams, but non-AICE classes would just have to apply to general electives. Stuff like art or gym. Maybe a study hall.

I'm not sure about AICE semester vs full-year classes, but I'd think second semester would work best for an exchange: students would have a semester with their home-area teacher and then get additional guidance from an exchange teacher, having access to resources from both instructors for what should be a very similar test. 

It's likely schools participating in the exchange could be privy to the differences in expectations and adjust to the class that's being taught and students involved. Even if it's only a few schools that offer this, it should work. For example, Fletcher High School in Jacksonville could prepare AICE teachers to teach Americans and British kids, (allowing some Brits to get a little sun and beach time in their lives). 

I guess I'm disappointed that an AICE exchange program was never really a thing, leaving Amity and other programs to do whatever they do. Honestly, even if it was just a two-week exchange, I'd still be happy to have my kids participate. But since the idea wasn't really a part of the AICE philosophy from the start, it's probably not going to happen, unless enough AICE parents and students read and share this post and call for some kind of in-person exchange. It's really kind of the point of an international curriculum.

Monday, July 11

Hilton Honors Credit Card Paying For This Year's Summer Vacation

I wasn't sure I wanted to sign up for the Hilton Honors credit card, but I also didn't want to spend typical Hilton prices to attend my son's basketball tournament, and signing up for the card took $100 off my initial stay. I was offered 80,000 or 100,000 bonus points, too, but I didn't really understand what that meant or if I'd be able to use them for anything before they expired. Anyhow, I was saving some money and I hadn't signed up for a credit card in a while, so whatevs. But then, six months later, it was time to book our summer vacation, so I checked out the points and realized I'd accumulated around 120,000 points, good for three nights at Hilton lower-end properties, and I'd have to say that's a win.

Initially, our family plan did not include heading home to Wisconsin, so we were going to use the points for one swanky night out or else two nights down in Miami or Orlando. However, since we're just staying at highway hotels, the points got stretched to three nights, still saving us around $600 on our trip. That said, once I booked the rooms, I'm pretty sure the points were used and not refundable, and our family dog will cost extra at each hotel with no option of using points to pay for the four-legged guest.

We actually used a booking loophole that made our stay a little cheaper by accident. I booked the rooms through Hilton directly in order to use my points, clicking the button to say we had a pet. Then, when given the opportunity, I booked the room I wanted away from noises that might make the dog bark. Then I chose the digital key option. Even though all three hotels initially charged my credit card, only one of the three kept a pet fee on the books. Our plan had not been to avoid paying, but apparently booking online and completely skipping the front desk might confuse employees. Anyhow, the lowest-priced pet fee is the only one of the three we paid a month after the trip, so until Hilton fixes the app so that people who check the pet button are forced to check their pets in, that's how we'll roll.

I'd like to point out that we may never stay in a Hilton hotel again, since they are mostly pricier than the La Quinta properties recommended by pet-owning relatives, and my credit card points will likely never again approach 100,000 (or have Covid-rollover extensions). While I was able to save around $700 total by opening a new credit card account, it took some effort, unlike another card offer I've recently received to get $750 cash back for just using the card for a few months.

I can't complain about this credit card or the offer, but I also can't say that I'll be using my American Express card or stay in Hilton properties exclusively from now on. That said, if used well, the Hilton Honors American Express Card offers a generous bonus for opening an account.

Friday, May 20

Does Jacksonville Get Double The Rain of Central Florida?

Total yearly rain Jax

I've heard the assertion twice (from people in The Villages) that Jacksonville gets double the rain of Central Florida. Or at least twice the opportunity for rain. It made sense to me (sort of), since we sometimes get rain that comes across the Panhandle and we also get the daily summer rain like Orlando. But is it true, or is this something realtors in The Villages tell people to keep them away from the slightly better climate (ie seasons) and actual beaches in Northeast Florida? It's a question that retirees comparing The Villages and communities in the Jacksonville area might want to take into consideration. The answer is that it's kind of true and kind of not true, but not for the reasons I'd assumed. 

My hypothesis was that Jacksonville would probably have more total rain than The Villages, partially because it would have way more total days with at least some precipitation. The reasoning here is that since we get both storms that cross the country AND daily summer rain, we'd have more rainy days, which should lead to more total rain. I found that Jacksonville, on average, has a lot more rain than The Villages (51 inches versus 42 inches). That's nine inches more rain per year. Or close to 20% more rain. So one part of my hypothesis is correct.
Total yearly rain the Villages

However (and this is kind of strange), when you look at total days that had more precipitation than 0, then Jacksonville has fewer days with measurable rain than The Villages:

Jax days with rain

days with rain in the Villages

Jacksonville generally gets 110 days with precipitation, while The Villages has 121, and it happens with one more day per month, not all at one time (like a rainy season would be). For comparison, Milwaukee (my hometown), has 124 days with some kind of precipitation, including snow, sleet, freezing rain, cold November rain, groppel, and other cold forms of water. Seattle, which is known for rain, gets 165 days of rain every year, which is nearly half of the days of the year, and way more than Jax. Phoenix, on the other hand, has 33 days with rain. 

I tried to tell if lighting strikes might indicate that Jacksonville simply gets more storms while The Villages just has more rainy days, but lightning strikes don't seem to be much different. One source I read showed Tampa as #1 in the country, Jacksonville at #9, and Orlando at #14. Since The Villages is kind of between Orlando and Tampa, its lightning strike totals ought to be somewhere in between, like Jacksonville. It's also worth noting that one online source shows Jax as the top Florida city for lightning. Also, Lakeland, Cape Coral, Hialeah, West Palm Beach, Pembroke Pines, Miami Gardens, and plenty more, have more lightning strikes than cities in other states. Basically, I don't think it matters where you live in Florida if lightning is your kryptonite. 

But the rain was surprising to me. If you're considering retirement in Florida, The Villages would be free of most hurricane activity and torrential rains, resulting in 20% less rain than in Jacksonville. However, if you want fewer total days of rain (potentially more days on the golf course or shopping at Nordstrom's), then Jacksonville might be a better fit. Also, if you want a Nordstrom's, Ethan Allen, Louis Vuitton, Dillard's, a Rolex store, or various other high-end shopping spots, then you might consider a larger metro than The Villages, though I did see there's a Costco coming soon. And if you're into the fish game arcades that some Florida counties have, we've done away with them in Duval. 

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Tuesday, May 3

Stealing From a Church and Teaching Kids That it's OK

A mom and daughter team was caught on camera stealing from a local church (Kernan and McCormick area) on 4-30-2022. Because of the age difference seen by a witness, it's assumed mother and daughter, but it could be some other relationship, like mentor/mentee. Apparently, they stole pavers surrounding a tree. The vehicle appears to be a 2017-2020 Nissan Pathfinder with Florida tags that begin with DQ (I could not verify the letters with the resolution of the image I saw). It's red with gray trim and a silver roof rack. The window tint looks dark in the photo. It's actually a nice-looking vehicle. 

On NextDoor, it was the usual array of comments to the post. Most people condemned the act, but a few had to weigh-in with comments like, "Send it to FBI to enhance the visibility of the license plate." And, "Pretty judgy group of people here. Maybe she mistakenly thought they were being tossed or had permission. But who knows right?" If that commenter had read all the posts, he would have known the answer.

Some people wanted the church to avoid involving the police and just reach out to the family "in need." Perhaps it wasn't clear that the original post was from a representative of the church, and it was confirmed that nobody was given permission to take the items. Anyhow, most people just said it was sad or wrong, with some advocating for the police to know about it.  

The matter, as far as I can tell, was never resolved. It wasn't addressed at the church or school level, even though there's a chance the family involved had some kind of connection to one of these entities. I think the church probably wanted someone in the community (via NextDoor) to admit to the crime or identify a neighbor so that it could be resolved with a stern message and without alerting church and school members to potential crime/safety issues. However, the post never uncovered a culprit, so it seems the real winners are the people who own a fairly new Nissan Pathfinder capable of hauling all kinds of free stuff from local properties. 

Not sure anyone ever found the mom and daughter team stealing from the church, but a similar incident was reported on NextDoor a few months later. Sisters, cousins, mom/daughter, or whatever. These two winners own an old Mercury Grand Marquis with a freakin Landau roof, so you know they like quality, except they apparently have to steal stones from people's front lawns in order to get the best. 

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Luthernet - Web Design for Lutheran Churches
Sitcom Life Lessons - What we've learned from sitcoms
Mancrush Fanclub - Why not?
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Wild West Allis - Every story ever told about one place
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Monday, April 25

She Used to be a Star; Now She Works in Jacksonville--Nope

For over a year, I've been seeing these clickbait stories that show a photo of Julia Stiles along with a title that she was once a star and now things are totally different. The truth is that she was a minor star who decided to finish college and therefore never became a major star, but the article title would have you believe she got on drugs, chose the wrong movies, decided to work 9 to 5, or otherwise did something to ruin her stardom. The latest iteration of this story in my "personalized" clickbait ads says that Julia Stiles used to be a star but now works in Jacksonville. 

Instead of clicking on the bait, I looked her up, though the top articles about her seemed to be on clickbait sites, anyhow. The problem is that Julia Stiles (and any former Hollywood actress you might see in a similar article) isn't working in Jacksonville. She's not down on her luck. She didn't ruin her career. She doesn't have tons of regret from something in the past. She doesn't look strangely old. She's just an actress in a successful TV series I've never heard of.

But talk about a manipulative and consistent click bait strategy. I'd been seeing fake-ish article links for months about this actress. I was able to resist because I didn't care all that much and figured it was probably gossip. However, once the algorithm (or whatever it is) added my own city to the story, I was obliged to find out if this former Hollywood starlet did, in fact, take a job at JaxPort or a local Whataburger. Alas, no. Her TV series does not film in Jax, and she does not have any appearances scheduled for the area. Sorry, guys, this particular star from your high school or college years is not working at the St Johns Town Center. 

Julia, if you're reading this, I really do hope that someday you will take a job at a local fish camp or at least retire to a house on one of our fine beaches. Not that you're old or should even consider retiring. Also, I am glad that you're not just a 9 to 5 working stiff like the rest of us. And always remember that I love the way you talk to me and how you cut your hair and the way you drive your car and when you stare and combat boots and rhyming. And laugh and cry. Blah blah blah.

Sunday, April 17

Goodwill Store at Kernan and McCormick is Either Good or Bad For Neighbors

My son and I were debating what might go in at Kernan and McCormick because I had yet to read the Jacksonville Daily Record article that would have given me the answer. Cheapo corrugated exterior with a drive-thru, but too big to be a fast food restaurant. After guessing at a funeral home or medical center, I found out that it's going to be a Goodwill Store. And I'm not sure what to think. 

The Goodwill will be our closest business (that's not a church). In some ways it's odd that Goodwill got the corner store when any one of three churches could have established a thrift store at the same corner. But I'm not sure I would have gone to my pastor (we attend one of those churches) and pushed to have a thrift store less than a mile from my house. I don't know if having this kind of store is bad or good for the hood. 

I tried to find any kind of statistical analysis of thrift stores and crime. My wife was concerned about the clientele that might shop within striking distance of our home. My kids were more worried about my wife deciding to donate all kinds of items behind their backs on the way to work. Either way, I couldn't find any proof that more crime happens when a Goodwill or other thrift store is near your house. Or if people who live close to a Goodwill donate more items than those who live further away. We know the batting average of a player at home at night in June when the dew point is above 70, but we don't know if thrift stores cause crime. 

Strip clubs seem to cause crime, at least in Jacksonville, so I'm glad the new Goodwill is not a gentlemen's establishment. I'm especially glad it's not some kind of Goodwill that transitions into a strip club after 9PM. Also, whatever those fishing game places were also brought crime. And gas stations, I think. The gas stations that are near thrift stores and wooded areas seem especially sketchy to me, but just the thrift store on its own, not so much.

Crimes might occur at places like massage parlors, tanning salons, laundromats, or other places people tend to get naked, but I didn't really research these establishments because Goodwill stores aren't massage parlors.

I guess I'm glad the Goodwill isn't a bar, even if I would probably like being able to walk to a watering hole like I could back in Milwaukee. Bars can probably cause some trouble. Liquor stores, too. Sure, you can buy a lightly-used set of wine glasses from Goodwill, but you'll have to head over to Monument to fill those glasses with booze.

If some guy named Zeke in a pickup wants to drive through my neighborhood on garbage day and take my old patio furniture before the garbage truck, I don't really mind. And if he just happens to be in the area because he also likes to hang out at Goodwill, no big deal. But if he decides to dismantle my catalytic converter from my car in my driveway, then it's a problem. 

I suppose if we had a Rolex store go in on the corner, we'd have nothing to worry about, but our local demographics don't support building a Rolex store. Which is probably my biggest concern, actually. Someone, somewhere thought that our local demographics will support a thrift store. That's kind of a reflection of who Goodwill thinks lives around me. My guess would have been a gun shop or pickup truck accessory store.

Anyhow, if you're looking for some DVDs or worn-out shoes, there will be a new store in Jacksonville for you to shop at the corner of Kernan and McCormick.

Monday, March 28

Man For Rent to do Nothing in Jacksonville

I read about the Japanese dude who rents himself out to do nothing, and I kind of want the gig here in Jacksonville. I'd heard about middle-aged men renting themselves out to give advice to youngsters, but I think I might actually be better at this doing nothing thing. In fact, I should be your first choice in renting someone who doesn't have to do anything while being somewhere with you.

The Japanese man says he'll talk when people want to chit-chat, but he's not in it for friendships. I can totally do that. I'm a good friend, a good wingman at pubs, and a good conversationalist when I'm interested in a topic, but I'm also an introvert who would rather avoid other people most of the time. I'm perfectly satisfied to stand around various places in relative silence. Sometimes, I'll sit and stare into the back yard for twenty minutes. If you want me to sit and stare into your yard with you, that's perfectly fine. I can even stare into your yard while you do laundry or watch soap operas.

Unlike other men for rent to do nothing in Jacksonville, I am perfectly capable of not doing anything. I won't mansplain at you or debate with you or try to make you a sugar baby or bff. Nope, I'm good. But if you don't want to visit the art museum or take your yacht on the Intracoastal alone, I'm the best option around. Better than an ex or that freeloading cousin from Palatka, anyhow. I'm even willing to hang out at a Jags game or some other local minor league game. I know a lot about sports, but I have no interest in local teams, so you don't have to worry about me swearing my fool head off. But I also won't go on my phone and ignore you or the game. I'll do my job, which is to do nothing.

I don't do drugs and I'm not a booze hound. I literally like any music--I used to listen to the Hmong hour in Milwaukee Sunday mornings on WMSE just because it was something different--so I'll go to any concert with you while doing nothing there. I'm artsy but not pretentious. I have more college credits than many PhDs, but you wouldn't guess it... unless we get into a deep conversation (we won't). I even speak French, but I probably won't be saying anything to you in French unless you know how to ask me a question in that language, and then it would just be to answer the question, like "Oui" or "Non." I won't try to sell you anything more than my presence, and I'm not generally embarrassed by how others look or act--I've got some stories I could tell you about that, but I won't. Most of all, I'm not going to tell you that you're doing it all wrong like your dad might do: I'm not there to do anything but be there.

I suppose there are some rules. You can't dress me up in a scary clown suit and have me frighten kids or use me as a mule for your drug transaction. Nothing illegal or immoral. No overnights to Monaco or Akron. Maybe Monaco. No dating or date-like handsy stuff, boy or girl. That's doing something, and my job would be to do nothing. That said, you can request that I smile or nod approvingly, like when I watch my kids play sports. And if you insist on doing something, you pay for all of the expenses. I'll drive if you want to pay for the gas and mileage, but I'm not coming over to help you move your sofa to your new apartment.

If you want to stop feeling lonely all alone and would rather feel lonely next to another person, I am that person. Use the contact form to hire me to do nothing with you. It'll really be something.

Friday, March 25

Jacksonville Native Calls Hometown Most Mediocre City, Unclear if That's Bad or Good

I recently met an educated Jax native who has traveled the world and lived in many locations who told he that he saw his hometown as the most mediocre city in the world. After saying it was mediocre, he detailed ways in which the city represents the median. High school graduation, household income, and the like. Looking at TIAA Stadium is a good example of mediocrity. If you've ever attended a game there, then you know what a mediocre stadium is like. You could pick and choose stats, like number of seats or screen size, but it's an overall mediocre experience. 

Mediocre is a decent word to use to describe Jacksonville's downtown experience. It's spread out, there are some homeless sections, and it's not altogether a huge destination, but it's also an inexpensive place to visit with several entertainment options. And if you count the South Bank and Five Points as part of downtown, it stacks up mediocrely with other cities of around 1 million people.

As far as schools, I'd vote for mediocre. It's not the worst but it's not very good. Police, parks, roads, sidewalks, public spaces, private partnerships, poverty, race, etc. Nothing special. Not even a tall building or orange-roofed landing to distinguish us.

I want to agree with my new acquaintance that Jacksonville is, in fact, fairly mediocre. In lots of ways. But that's not entirely bad all the time, and it's also fairly typical of large metro areas. I guess some of us would like it to become better than mediocre. Maybe someday. Until then, read articles on this website to discover ways to fix Jax.

Wednesday, March 23

Solar Ponds or Salt Ponds in Jacksonville, FL

I didn't invent the solar pond. However, I had an impression that sunlight on a pond might create energy somehow. I was right, but the salt pond doesn't exactly work the way I'd imagined (or much at all, I think). And since they serve a different purpose from our current retention ponds, it's not exactly a good fit in Jacksonville. 

The basic idea behind a solar pond is that you have a pond -- or something more like a giant in-ground swimming pool with black lining -- that's filled with three layers of water. The bottom layer is super-salt water, in that it's been salinated while boiling until it's like 20% salt. The next layer is somewhat salty, but I don't know the exact percentage. The top layer is fresh water. If the water is clear, sunlight will heat the pond, and the bottom layer, through the magic of either thermodynamics or chemistry, will heat to 170 degrees or higher. This hot water can be used to heat homes or make steam power to use less energy or something. It could help to create the heat for hot water heaters, but you can't use this weirdly-hot pond water as tap water for tubby time, partially because leaving the water in the pond and relatively undisturbed is what makes the magic happen. And it would be gross.

Because you want a clear layer of fresh water to drive the solar pond, Jacksonville's heavy rain storms on the hottest days would likely hurt efficiency. I could imagine a solar pond working in the desert or Southern California, though I assume the cool nights would have similar negative impacts. One report I saw from Iowa said that the water layers had to be replaced too often for the system to make a real economic impact. Granted, a study pond on a university campus is different from a huge lake created in the desert, but it seems the smaller-scale projects would need to be more successful before we see huge tracts of land used for the purpose of heating water.

If solar ponds could be dual-purpose, I could see them in the 904. However, our current ponds function to prevent flooding, store polluting run-off, and scare the hell out of parents with toddlers. Imagine how much scarier it would be to know that you could be boiled alive if you fell into your backyard pond. Also, oil from roads, stray soda cans from recycling carts, and organic material like grass clippings would probably all adversely affect the salt ponds. We'd also have to say goodbye to fish, turtles, and birds because I don't think anything could live in or near a solar pond, no matter how "green" it sounds.

I'm still optimistic that some other use for all of our ponds will be developed, even if salt ponds or hydroponics won't really work. Maybe something related to tides or waves or algae harvesting. Or just using the water on our lawns for irrigation.

Thursday, December 23

Duval Student Registration Still Sucks

Another year, another child having to enroll in DCPS from a private school. The website and process is so bad that it's laughable. So bad that I blocked it from my mind or it got worse from last year. Maybe some of both. But it should have been easier with one kid already in the system. It's just not. Dumb, stupid, bad. And I'm not even close to done as I write this.

If you don't have a kid already enrolled, then you can have the fun of creating your own focus account as you also try to navigate the student sign-up. I, however, had my own focus account with all the clunky information it provides, including a link to enrolling a new student, for some reason found under a documents tab.

I went through the 20+ web page document to sign my second child up. You're told at some point which documents to upload but not on the upload page, so I think I missed a couple. And I can't go back now, since I hit submit. I also don't have the auto-generated student ID because I hit submit and then navigated to my parent portal to link the account. But since I didn't copy the ID, it disappeared somewhere in the outer limits of the internet because the email confirmation did not include the ID. 
The form itself caused me to make this mistake because I had to physically choose "English" as my language three times rather than it be default. I even had to choose NA twice instead of the default N/A, which always resulted in an error. I was also told to toggle on the mailing address if it was the same as my home address, but toggling it on left it open to fill out the form. Poor instructions and a form designed by complete amateurs. And I forgot to upload a birth certificate, so I tried to add that later and was told I could not log back in and that i already had a student number associated with my kid. But I never got the number because that page disappeared. And the link to a page that might help in the email confirmation I received was a broken link. Obviously it was. So I think I'm stuck having to call an office that probably has to hand-write all the info I've already filled in the forms.

Normally, I can get something done when I finally get through to a human at DCPS, which is often better in person. But it's overall a terrible experience that probably cost us taxpayers an obscene amount of money.

I received word that I'd have to finish the registration by going in to my child's school, which, of course, is wrong. If you're transferring in and listed as an applicant (maybe moreso if trying for an accelerated program), you actually have to link the parent to student accounts at the school choice office. And why? Are there dozens of St. John's County parents trying to fake their way into DCPS? 

Not surprisingly, the school choice office was closed over the Christmas break, just before the time to register for the new year. Or just when parents of transfer students would also have off. I mean, really, how much do people in this office really do most of the year? And then when they are actually needed, they're on vacation. When I showed after the holiday, I was told (for no reason other than to be bitchy) that I hadn't put the student's current grade on the form, which was technically impossible based on the aforementioned form. I also needed my password, which I didn't have readily available, and which was not offered by the employee, in order to use their coviddy community computer kiosk to finish the link between parent and student. Obviously, it took logging in and about eight clicks in order to get to the right place. The staff also forgot to return my license to me, which was just the icing to the cake that Duval schools let's us eat.

[Update 2]
I showed up at Fletcher to sign up for AICE from a private school. Having already been accepted to AICE and Duval Schools (and dealing with the madness above) two years in a row, I still had to turn in extra copies of birth certificates and whatnot to the school.
Also, there was no parking and no contact telling all the parents we could use student lot for parking. 

Thursday, December 2

Chicago Bears Bar Jacksonville

I've met several Bears fans since I've moved to Jacksonville, and I've asked them if they have a bar to call home on game day. I know there were two Packers bars in Jax, now down to one, but fans of Smoking Jay Cutler need a local establishment in which to drown their sorrows. Even though I'm a Packers fan, I'm here to help.

Here's what you do. Drive your best BMW. The one that still has the Illinois vanity plate that reflects how refined you are. Head on over to Gates Gas Station on Moncrief Road. Be sure to drive like a FISH up Moncrief and never mind the railroad tracks. When you get to Gates Gas Station, pull in to ask for directions to the special Bears bar. Say, "So hey there, do yous guys knows where da Bears bar is at?" Keep your doors unlocked because someone might want to get in and help guide you.

If that's a little too complicated for you, I've heard really good things about the Flight 747 Liquor Store & Lounge Bar up by the airport. Lots of jetsetters along with a tangy local flavor. Just like Chicago. Or maybe Rockford. And there's an adjacent motel, just in case you want to stick around and start over at 11am after yet another painful loss and too many Lovies Lemonades.

And remember that when your next ex-QB doesn't work out, Tim Tebow lives in Jacksonville. Just saying.

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