Mount Sutro: An Electronic Periodical

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The Predominately Meteorological Appurtenance

Radar power distribution bus panel at Crew Station 5 (Navigator) aboard National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aircraft Operations Center 'Hurricane Hunters' WP-3D Orion N43RF.

Near 3256 Capital Circle Southwest, Tallahassee, Florida: 22 May 2014

part of the NOAA Hurricane Awareness Tour album


Over the past few years, I have built a number of simple tools to assist me as an emergency manager and for my own personal use. After the recent upgrades here, I also gave some of these resources a refresh. Although designed for my needs and subject to change without notice, two of these tools were recently made available here after I decided that they may be useful to others.

  • Mount Sutro Weather Dashboard

    My Firefox home page at work, this page is a collection of current and forecast weather graphics, mostly originating from the National Weather Service. Each graphic also displays a menu on mouseover containing a download link to the full-sized version and links to other relevant graphics and web pages.

  • Tallahassee Camera Mosaic

    My version of the video wall inside a traffic management center, this page shows the most recent capture from all ninety-five City of Tallahassee traffic cameras. The images are updated every few minutes, so the page refreshes itself automatically. Below each image is the name of the intersection linked to the camera's page on the city's website.

These tools are joined in the "Data Access" sidebar window by links to three outdoor weather cameras in Tallahassee (one hosted by FSU WeatherSTEM and the others by WCTV) and a battery of useful meteorological and natural event websites.

The Last Vestige of a Distant Memory

Bits of red paint among rusted nails and staples are all that remain on a wooden telephone pole from days past when a fire alarm box was mounted here.

197 Frederick Road, Tonawanda, New York: 28 June 2014

part of the Tonawanda album


Walking down the sidewalk where I first learned to ride a bicycle decades earlier, my gaze catches an object across the street. Only a moment after looking at it, a wooden telephone pole that is in no way remarkable, I am filled with that wonderful sensation of a memory being churned up from the mind's recesses. Synapses blazing, I walk closer to investigate.

Staring at the telephone pole, I see rusting nails and staples protruding from the wood as well as areas of fading red paint. The thing that I remembered is no longer present, but the flecks of red at least confirm that I am recalling things correctly. I am disappointed but not surprised, as the proliferation of newer technologies has caused the removal of fire alarm boxes from cities and towns across Western New York and nationwide.

Conceived of in Boston, Massachussets by Dr. William Channing in 1839 and built with partner Professor Moses G. Farmer of Salem, Massachussets, the fire alarm telegraph system was the first to pinpoint and communicate fire alarms in a practical manner. When the handle inside a fire alarm box was pulled, the device transmitted a Morse code style identifier that could be used by the fire department to locate the call or broadcast via diaphone.

Beyond their ease of use and necessity in the days before people had telephones — nevermind 4G smartphones with GPS — the boxes were also used in the advanced planning of fire response in that fire crews could pre-assign certain apparatus and personnel to respond to calls from specific alarm boxes based on the number and type of buildings nearby.

The fire alarm box from my childhood was removed sometime prior to September 2008, although I was not able to pinpoint the exact time without contacting the City of Tonawanda. The Buffalo News ran an article entitled "WNY communities are saying goodbye to their fire alarm boxes" on Monday, 25 February 2008 about how "the Village of Lancaster will likely become one of the last suburban municipalities to bid a fond goodbye to an American icon: the street corner fire alarm box." Their system east of Buffalo — about sixteen miles from the City of Tonawanda by car — was "officially disbanded in March 2008," the fire alarm street boxes subsequently bagged with black bin liners and then removed from telephone poles.

Perhaps somewhat confusingly, the City of Tonawanda is bordered by the Niagara River and the City of North Tonawanda to the north and the Town of Tonawanda to the west, south and east. The City of North Tonawanda removed their fire alarm box system in 2004 or 2005, while the Village of Kenmore within the Town of Tonawanda gradually removed street fire alarm boxes starting in 1981 after the town's Fire Alarm Office started "receiving and dispatching all Kenmore emergency calls."

Indeed, the Buffalo News article also notes that the Village of Depew, whose system was first activated in 1894, was to "become the sole remaining suburban holdout in Erie County relying on a fully functioning street box alarm system" after the neighboring Village of Lancaster removed theirs in March 2008. Most of the City of Buffalo's alarm boxes have been similarly dismantled, but a few were still reported to exist in February 2008.

"It's hard to let go, because it's sort of a tradition — they give you a warm, comfortable feeling. I can remember eyeing my street corner fire alarm as a boy and wondering what it would be like to pull that lever inside."

— William G. Cansdale, Jr., Village of Lancaster Mayor (1993–2012)

After Channing and Farmer invented the fire alarm telegraph system, it would go on to have an interesting history. In lieu of my own write up, I am instead presenting a historical acccount in the form of a three-page May 1902 article from Municipal Journal and Engineer magazine. Not only is this great because of its age, but more modern sources have less detailed and incorrect information. The pages are presented inline below; you can also download larger images and the entire volume of 286+ pages.

The Development of the Fire Alarm Telegraph
by H. H. Easterbrook
Municipal Journal and Engineer
Volume XII, № 5: May 1902
© 1901 C. M. Palmer: 253 Broadway, New York, New York.
Public Domain; Copyright Expired

 
 
Download Article, Page 220
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Download Entire Volume

 
 
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The Creatures of My Dreams

A curious white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawn stops to check me out while passing through our campsite on a morning forage with two others.

Near NW 115th Street, Chiefland, Florida: 11 October 2014

part of the Manatee Springs State Park album


A staple of my family camping trips, usually at one of forty-eight Florida State Parks that have a campground with in-site power and water, is our ongoing effort to see and photograph as much wildlife as possible. Most of the parks that we particularly enjoy and end up revisiting have provided us with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, although this obviously fluctuates based on season, weather and other conditions. In hindsight, my journey to Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland last October was a harbinger of our upcoming luck in this department.

At one point while driving southeast on U.S. Route 98 between Perry and Cross City, a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) swooped down out of nowhere and clutched with its talons a piece of road kill on the centerline of the highway. It took off again, just in time to clear the car in front of me, and majestically flew over the center median parallel to me for probably fifteen seconds. I was stunned for a moment, my mouth literally agape. This would be the most distant encounter of the long weekend.

For a first visit at a state park, Manatee Springs made quite an impression on us. Not only was the campsite we reserved quite nice by our standards, but we saw and got close to deer, tortoise, snakes, birds, insects and small mammals. Hopefully not to their detriment, the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) living at Manatee Springs State Park were more curious and less afraid of humans than any that I have encountered previously.

Who knows how many other times they dropped by, but small groups of two and three deer came right through our Hickory loop campground site five times on Saturday and Sunday while we were sitting around the campfire. The area around our campsite was wooded and offered a nice buffer between sites, yet the deer came remarkably close during most of their visits.

For the most part, the deer seemed content foraging for their normal diet of legumes, plants and acorns on the forest floor as they made their way through. Based on how they checked us out and got fairly close, they did however seem interested in whether or not we perhaps had something more tasty for them to eat. Cranking the cute dial up to eleven, several of the deer seemed to be fawns learning the ropes from their mothers.

I was too engrossed in the moment to notice, but in reviewing the photograph timestamps of each encounter I am surprised at the durations of the visits. Three of the meetings were about ten minutes each, while the last two were about three minutes and one minute, respectively. While the deer's friendliness was certainly a bonus for us, I unfortunately fear that it is the result of other campers or nearby residents feeding them.

A couple of the deer were even more curious and unafraid than the others. During a late afternoon visit on Sunday, one of the deer kept getting closer and closer to me. I was shooting pictures rapidly, but the shutter noise was apparently not startling to it. As it got even closer, I decided to stop taking photos and instead put my empty hand out to see what would happen. To my amazement and joy, the deer came right up and sniffed my hand. It got even closer, so close that my hand was petting its neck for a brief moment, before moving away and rejoining the others.

The park gets its name from the first-magnitude Manatee Spring, located not far from the campgrounds at the end of a crystal clear stream that flows to the Suwannee River. The spring produces an average of one-hundred million gallons of water every day and is frequented by West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) during the winter months. When the manatees are not around, the springs are a popular spot for humans to swim.

Although the deer were a particular highlight of this trip, we had many other close encounters with local fauna that I will have to document in a future article. In the meantime, the Manatee Springs State Park album contains more photographs of the friendly deer. Needless to say, we really enjoyed our time at Manatee Springs State Park and will definitely camp there again someday.