Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Green-Eyed Click Beetle

Well that's a traditional lightning bug or firefly in the picture there. They make a cool yellow light from their tails that turns off and on, I suppose depending on how horny they are. They are found most everywhere east of the Rockies. If it would rain just a little, our bayside part of the Island would be covered in the them ... the trade-off is absolutely no mosquitos.

But what I wanted to write about was the green-eyed click beetle. I have been searching all over the web but very iittle is there (the rock band Firefly is much more common). At a little over a half inch long, they are very difficult to photograph with my prehistoric digital equipment. Let's just say that they have two neon-green eyes that glow ten times brighter than any lightning bug!

Honestly, I asked my wife to check it out and she agreed they were really cool. They have two headlights exactly like a Chevy Neon. We've had hundreds of them here for some reason. I pride myself on stealing a non-copyrighted picture, knowing the taxonomy, and learning all that kind of stuff, In this case I am totally stumped. If anyone knows of these rascals please feel free to chime in.

It turns out that the click-beetle family has quite a few relatives all over the world, maybe 3000 variants, some large enough to eat snails (Malaysia). All are carnivorous (cool!). Many have glowing eyes, or rather a patch just behind the eyes that can glow red, green, yellow or neon at night. There seems to be a feeling that some of these click beetles in Mexico can be quite poisonous ... but these local ones have been down my shirt and in my wife's hair with no apparent ill effects. We save them and blow them away downwind.

I can see why folks feel creepy about these critters, though, as they use an enzyme called Luciferase to make the light source. Maybe that's it.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sitting by the dock of the bay ...

Well my last blog entry went over like a lead balloon so here’s something for you: a condo building huge docks into the bay. We were alerted to the issue by the town building inspector, who has read our Bay Area Task Force report and wanted some comments. And sheesh, in this case the condo project had 180 foot docks that went out into the middle of Tompkins Channel, the bayside channel that runs parallel to the Island.

So I wrote a real corker, factual and all that, and not conversational like my blog, and sent it off to the US Army Corps of Engineers. Basically, the project jutted into the areas directly west of two street ends, the docks would obstruct navigation in the channel, and the project would basically ex-appropriate almost two acres of submerged public land so some wealthy condo owners could dock a boat behind their new digs.

And for all that baloney, they only have nine slips, about 20 feet wide and 20 feet long. I suppose if they only have skinny bay boats, this could be doubled, but what I’ve seen of many high-dollar condos is that many of these folks will need every inch of that berth, and probably the stern will stick out ten feet into the channel. No, Toto, we’re not talking about little ski boats with outboard engines here; we’re talking boats that cost at least a quarter million dollars for a small dog.

Why are they doing this? That is an easy question to answer. Basically the water is shallow there and the shallow water is chock full of sea grasses, which are protected by state and federal laws. So they pretty much have to dock in Tompkins Channel. To pull a dredging permit and mitigate the sea grass would cost much more money than all the extra wood used in the dock. You’d need to hire another engineer and biologist.

Why is this a bad thing? To some of us on our committee, projects like this could set a dangerous precedent, such as to use the Tompkins Channel as a parking lot for boats and basically take over the street ends and entire bayside – gated and restricted with no access.

At one time there was a grand vision that perhaps is more fitting for the commercial zone down by Louie’s up to Fisherman’s Pier, maybe expanded north and south, where a continuous boardwalk could be constructed along the bayside. It would be free for all people to walk. Shops would front the boardwalk. The gates to the finger docks where the boats are moored might be locked, but the boardwalk would be for free. Many seaside communities have done this kind of thing and it is quite a draw. Given the most excellent sunsets and fireworks here on our Island, it could be even better.

Can you imagine having a soda or a margarita or something, walking a 14-foot wide dock, and having fun? I can. Some art shops and small restaurants would be cool.

See, those properties such as the condos don’t own one single darned inch of land over the water. That is water and land owned by you, me, and everyone. However, when a private entity applies for a dock over the water, it becomes useless for the public – in fact they’ll run you off or call the cops if you get on their dock.

Honest, I would like the Aldermen and the Comprehensive Planning Committee to further examine this vision for the bayside. It could draw millions of dollars in value-added revenue. Or, this could be the largest taking of public property in many years. Thank you for your time.

What's for dinner tonight?

Some folks eat anything and everything. I used to be that way. I suppose I got a sensitive stomach over the years, which I partly blame for an extremely nervous job at the Texas environmental commission as well as drinking coffee all day long. By the time the doctors got a hold of me I had high blood pressure and corroded guts. So I’m pretty much all fixed up and have a clean bill of health except I really watch what I eat.

The more I learn about food the worse it gets - my feeling that things are way out of control. I used to love chicken and turkey … until I found out how even so called “organic” poultry is basically like eating crap. Sorry, I won’t hardly even touch the stuff anymore. My more adventuresome moments are with really good cuts of beef steak, best of all straight from the farm (OK, real chickens from the farm are pretty sweet, too).

One would think I eat all the wrong things, like lots of fresh fish from the locals. Except in the hot summer months I consume oysters like a hound. I sure if they had lobsters or crawdads (spiny lobster) down here I’d be eating enough to get iodine poisoning! I NEED more mercury! The doctor said I wasn’t getting enough, OK? Vegetables, fruits, and fish: that’s our main diet.

I’ll tell you one thing, if you eat “trans-fat” oils you’re a dead man walking. That stuff kills. It is best to stick with lard than these new wonder chemicals, which are mainly vegetable oils cooked at high heat and pressures in the presence of a metal catalyst such as platinum, palladium, or nickel. The stuff is about as bad as drinking gasoline, and is refined in a very similar manner. I meant that figuratively, understand, since hydrogenated trans-fat does reduce the “good” cholesterol and increase the “bad” cholesterol ... then kill you!

This is a sensitive subject because my wife thinks she lost loads of weight on the Atkins Diet. I think it was the healthier food, myself. The problem with the country is not the fat people but the fact that its food industry is completely whacked, and organic doesn’t even mean organic. We’re just not producing the right kind of foods. I don’t mean to diss Whole Foods and folks like that, but give me a break. I know better. So, what’s for dinner tonight?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

How to feed a seagull

Here on the Island we have thousands of resident seagulls, mainly Laughing Gulls but a fair mixture of others, including kind one with brownish feathers that my Texas bird book is completely bird-brained about. Anyway, there is an art to feeding them. First, never throw food from balconies, and they will gladly crap all over the property – many condos prohibit the practice for that very reason.

The second most common mistake is to throw chips up in the air and scream, as most kids on the beach like to do. Throwing the chips in the air and the seagull-sounding squawk makes them more aggressive and want to attack the chip-thrower, or at least do their pooh-pooh thing even more. They will attempt to steal food from each other, which is one of their nastier habits that should not be encouraged. No, no, that is not how to feed seagulls in the least, and I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it done right recently.

Our “ammo” for the afternoon was organic chips, stale low-salt cashews, and some … cooked angel hair spaghetti noodles, of all things. Yes, nothing but the best leftovers for our seagulls here, and no empty carbs from white bread and junk food.

So we had set up camp on the beach in one of those Wal-Mart cabanas with our comfortable butt-seats and coolers, and proceeded to emplace the ammo out for grazing. Simply take a handful of the “fire in the hole” stuff and place it on the beach in a pile. It’s really that simple. No throwing!

There’s always a scout so a mess of birds will show up real quick, including several kinds of sandpipers and other shorebirds. The skettie really fools them good and you never saw better table manners from a flock of birds in your life. They land and walk on over as if asking if they can partake in the table fare. Some will grab a bite and walk to the water wash it like a raccoon, bobbing their heads appreciatively. The only pecking that happens is when they attack a sick or weak bird, which is a natural instinct for them.

So by now we have a couple of fine-feathered bird friends, the daring ones that will come right up to be fed like a pigeon in the park. The occasional almond or monkey nut kind of throws them for a loop, which is rather hysterical because they try so hard to perform so mannerly for us. The sandpipers like it when we smash some stale organic chips and pour a trail in the wet sand, since the seagulls can only find the big bites and the little guys go for the tiny crumbs. Big and small, they seem to get along like a chaperoned teen party.

Good food for good friends is what I say.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fool-Proof Fish Recipe

For those of you tired of fried fish and the mess, smell, and fuss, I have a fool-proof method to cook fish. This works best for firm fish like grouper, snapper, and stuff like that. It takes no more than 5 minutes and there is no mess or stink.

Get a nice pan, not Teflon, and put in about a table spoon of olive oil. Don't get me going about olive oil, other than the super-virgin is not necessary and might be worse (I mean come on, either it's virgin or not). You will need a tight top to the pan so get ready with that. Heat the oil in the pan until it just starts smoking. It actually has to smoke a teensie bit to work right. Remember, get ready with a real tight lid and have it out ready, OK?

Now you have some 1/2-inch thick fillets or thereabouts and I chunk them up a little, like 4-5 inch squares. They're seasoned very lightly with maybe some black pepper, paprika, and whatever you like. They must be patted dry before spicing them up. Not liquid sauces or marinades, please. So throw them in the pan and burn them on each side for no more than one minute on a side.

Now you have some juice, right? I forgot to say that. Water, beer, wine, Coke, champagne, you name it you need about one to 1-1/2 shots of juice ready to go. Beer is my favorite, of course. You can add some lime to whatever you have, but the trick is to be real fast.

So hold the cover in one hand, dump the juice, and put the cover down right nicely. Get your hands the heck out of the way. It should go ballistic pretty good. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the fire, cover still on securely.

So after the pan stops talking to you, which will be obvious, open the lid and serve the goodies. It should eat almost like Angel Food Cake with a little muscle in it. I hate to say it folks but if you cooked more this way you'd be happy even eating Stingray - and it ain't fishy smelling this way, either. No fuss, no stinky oil. Wipe out the pan and you're done.

Did I mention that this is how I make Chinese pot-stickers? The steam method rocks and the little bit of oil makes it like a mini-volcano when you add a touch of water. Hehe, no more than 5 minutes, folks, and perfect every time. Enjoy!

Let's Talk Computer Geek!

I got mad at my computer the other day and for once I got to the bottom of it and fixed a makor problem. See, I don't blog for a living I have to run models and statistics and stuff for ... gosh I hate to admit it, real work. So anyhoo, my most recent virus scan update from McAfee really put me over the top, and I decided to take the bull by the horns.

What happened was that McAfee automatically gave me an upgrade with had online virus scanners, firewalls, email 'protection', and a cute little parental control program to see if I was visiting a porn site - hey, did you know that Sandy Feet runs a porn shop? The darned software told me so, and tried to lock me out!

So all this hooey and hokum was bringing my computer down to its knees. It took like 30 seconds to bring up a new program. My virtual memory zoomed into gigabytes. McAfee is really bad about memory and pagefile systems.

So I called my California geek friend, who of course is like 20 years old and already has his own database company. He said that anyone in the right mind would get rid of any big-time virus scanner like Semantec or McAfee and use something more commercial. He mentioned a free program called AVG Anti-Virus, which let me add is quite good after using it a few days.

So now I'm happy, screaming like greased lightning I've never seen on my computer. I thought I would pass that along, as it sure made my life easier. Now I can afford to piddle around the 'Net even more!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Fall Shoulder Season

Today I have a suggestion for marketing South Padre Island. It is really my wife Lori’s idea. What she said was that a bunch of her school worker friends were headed to the Island because the room rates went way down and there were some really great deals. Her point was maybe that the Island should market more to the Valley, especially the professionals 30 to 50 years old.

Last weekend was the top of the season and local folks are not exactly whining but business is definitely off but steady. "Steady" is what they're worried about.

Perhaps that’s maybe because the town isn’t advertised very well in the Rio Grande Valley. I won’t go into the slick media campaigns developed for “who’s your padre” and those nice video segments, but there could be reasons to cultivate some more local marketshare because of the rising cost of gasoline and travel – not to mention the recent airport security measures. I do not mean to be critical of the convention and visitors bureau and other Island organizations; it is just that marketing in other cities like Dallas, Houston, and outside Texas is fine but the Valley seems like a better candidate for the fall shoulder season.

So far, signature events in the post-high season are the bike rally and Sand Castle Days. However, the Island does not market itself well to those in the Valley who can be spontaneous or have special interests. For example, let’s talk birds: the fall migration has already started (reportedly with some arctic birds) and will continue to the winter. While the fall migration is not as spectacular as the “fall out” seen in the spring, the butterflies, hummers, and shore birds are much more prevalent, especially in October.

The waves are usually better, the water stays warm, and the fall is possibly the best time to visit the Island. The fishing is just beginning to get good. The crowds are not as hectic. I think this would be a great market strategy, emphasizing the fall shoulder season and the local Texas market.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On Bonfires and Porpoises, Generally

Mercifully, we don't have to complain about any huge tropical storms and knock on wood, let's keep it that way. So the news is slow except that the Middle East is imploding, not something I feel like discussing. So let me let my mind wander over to ...

Young horny male porpoises! Apparently these juveniles are about the most randy things in the world, and have actually attacked a few humans in their state of horny confusion (you can tell by the yellow flag with a question mark on it). Fortunately, they mostly screw each other and there were only one or two ... how should we say ... human/dolphin incidents ever recorded on the Island. It's a real show-stopper at a party if you ever pop the question on your friends. "Did you ever ..."

Now the surfers got into it because they use boards and I'm a body surfer, thus exposed to not only Master Randy but the sharks as well. Yeppers, they call me "Sushi Sam" or "Sushi Bait." OK, everyone needs to have their little fun ... Seal Meat Boy!

One thing that draws us together, after all this and that, is a nice bonfire on the beach. I've become quite the artist at this. No gasoline used here, you have to use newspaper and some skinny wood and two by fours to get it going. I like the small fires myself. Now these surfers, when you ask them for wood they bring truckloads of pallets, scap wood, and whatever they have blocking the driveway. To tell the truth, it is a complete blast.
Later ...

Friday, August 04, 2006

The High Season

In spite of contrary rumors, the Island is packing a great summer season this year. This weekend is extra special, with the Texas International Fishing Tournament (TIFT). If you count all the TIFT money generated in Cameron County, like beer from Wal-Mart and a few speeding tickets on Route 100, we're maybe talking 4 to 6 million bucks over three days. Not bad, considering that there's only a few thousand of the fishermen as compared to all the tourists on the Island. I still think we need an economic study to see where all those bucks are flowing, but nobody seems to be complaining at this time - they're way too busy!

Local business folks have to make their money now, because in two weeks it could be way off. I was rather worried about saying anything about the weather, by the way, as that tends to confuse people. Right now it is beautiful. A full moon will be this coming Wednesday, when some of us locals are having a small "pachanga" on the beach. That's also the day that the weather-witches say that tropical depression Chris may make a brief appearance - right now on a beeline right for us. But that also means that a few thousand surfers will be on their way because everyone knows the break down here is the best in Texas.

I don't mind a whimpy little mid-week tropical storm because it brings nice swells to surf and by the following weekend, barring any big changes, everything will be back for the "topper" of the season. The topper is always the second full weekend in August because after that, everyone decides to go back to school and work.

The prospect of a mild, mid-week storm and a wonderful & safe weekend for the topper makes me feel good, at least wishing for it. Until next time, Hola from the luckiest Island in the world.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bay Area Task Force Update

After almost a year and some delays in getting the final recommendations out, the Ad Hoc Bay Area Task Force has finally delivered the goods to Town Hall and its members. I won't comment very much on the substance except to say it was probably one of the more difficult topics one could pick as a first-timer on the Island, even with 20 years of vacation experience. The report itself is only about a dozen pages but we provided about another inch of paper so you could draw your own conclusions, too.

In our favor, Russell Judah mentioned in passing that it was a great committee report, one of the best ones yet, although he didn't agree with all of it. I can live with that. Some of it was fashioned from compromises, split votes, and so forth. But hey, I put in at least a thousand hours as the secretary dude and ... gosh I didn't even get one darn dollar to frame on the wall!

I suppose it is all over now, a moment to reflect as the Board of Aldermen contemplate all the competing things in the budget and their priorities, as most committees expire now and are re-appointed with new members or in the case of an ad hoc committee, could simply die and go away. I will miss it.

But I do want to take the opportunity to say it was fun, I learned a lot, and it was a pleasure to serve the community. I would gladly do that again. /Sam