Mount Sutro: An Electronic Periodical

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The Nerodia Taxispilota of Manatee Springs Run

A brown water snake (Nerodia taxispilota) in the vegetation lining Manatee Springs Run at the headspring of Manatee Springs State Park.

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

part of the Manatee Springs State Park album


Harmless and nonvenomous, the brown water snake (Nerodia taxispilota) is one of the many species of animal that I got to experience up close during an October 2014 camping trip to Manatee Springs State Park.

They are good swimmers and good climbers. I saw several swimming in Manatee Springs Run and many could be found basking in the sun on the limbs of vegetation along the run. Near the headspring where I saw the most brown water snakes, a group of park guests were swimming about fifty feet away, completely oblivious to the herpetological wonders lurking nearby.

And just as it should be too, mankind coexisting peacefully with nature. Too many people have an illogical fear of snakes in particular and irrationally promote the killing of any snake they happen upon. Then again, it is the historically classic reaction of humankind to exterminate whatever it fears or does not understand.

Although there is nothing to fear from these creatures — unless you happen to be a small fish or frog — the Florida Museum of Natural History does share a somewhat spine-tingling cautionary note regarding the brown water snake.

"The brown water snake is a good climber and can found twenty feet up in trees, though it is most frequently seen basking on tree limbs that extend above the water. When frightened by a rapidly approaching boat, it will escape by jumping off the limb into the water. Occasionally its attempt to flee comes too late and they fall not into the water, but into the boat."

With that amusing (because you are not there in the boat) thought, canoeists take note: keep your vessels clear of tree limbs extending over the surface of Florida's waterways.

The Tillandsia Usneoides Humanoid

Moss Man sculpture made of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), chicken wire and two red safety reflectors on display near the picnic area at Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park.

Near 6239 State Road 21, Keystone Heights, Florida: 18 January 2015

part of the Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park album


While enjoying a family camping trip at Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park in Keystone Heights, I found myself face to face with a true Florida legend… the Moss Man. A large mythical creature with red, glowing eyes and a penchant for violence, Moss Man has been striking fear into children around campfires for decades.

During my encounter, Moss Man was stalking, er, greeting visitors entering the park's day use area. He is known to wander the park however and has made appearances in other locations over the years. I did not speak to any park rangers, but when asked they apparently share a friendlier version of the Moss Man tale wherein he protects our state parks.

So what is this beast of legend made of Spanish moss and why is it roaming the forests and swamps of Florida? As with any folk tale of this type, there are numerous origin stories and localized versions told. Moss Man urban legends of one kind or another likely exist throughout the southeastern states where Spanish moss grows.

In the case of Florida's Moss Man, journalist Cinnamon Bair has documented several origin stories including one told to her firsthand while camping in the Withlacoochee State Forest as a youth in the 1980s.

That story introduces us to "an Air Force fighter pilot stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa." While flying training maneuvers in the area, the plane crashed into the forest with the pilot aboard. Although he was able to escape in one piece, his flight suit was alight and melting into his skin. Dropping to the forest floor and rolling about in agony, Spanish moss was infused into his searing flesh. In a craze from the experience, the pilot's eyes turned glowing red with rage and he left his former life behind to live in the forest and stalk wayward campers.

Another tale describes the Moss Man as a murderer who had escaped from a local prison. Injured by dogs and barbed wire during his escape, the prisoner eluded his captors in the forest where "he collapsed into a heap of moss and slept for several days without waking." Upon finally waking up, the man discovered that "the moss had taken root in his many injuries" and so off he went, continuing his violent rages as a creature of the woods.

The final version that Bair recounts is the story of a hiker who fell into an abandoned war era foxhole and broke his leg. Somehow able to survive alone, the hiker endured intolerable hardships while still hoping that someone would finally come to his aid. By the time his injuries healed on their own, moss had grown over his body. He finally left the foxhole in a rage and "stalks the woods to this day, seeking out revenge against all campers since no one came to help him."

There are, of course, additional tales such as the Moss Man of Red Reef Park in Boca Raton and the Moss Man of Mississippi. Regardless of the rationalization or adaptation, the common thread of a moss-covered and rage-filled entity is generally found. As new generations of campers and scouts experience campfire storytelling, the myth of the Moss Man — and those of his brethren the skunk ape, crackleback rattlegators, swampbillies and spectral pirates[1] — will live on in local culture.

Beyond the Moss Man of myth and legend, there are numerous other examples of people and things identified by that appellation. Paul T. Selle (1908–1996), owner of Vego-Hair Manufacturing Company of Gainesville, Florida was known as the Moss Man. From the 1930s to 1965, Selle earned his nickname by offering what was at the time "a valuable commodity used as stuffing for fine furniture, automobile seats and bedding."[2]

There is also Ken Russell of Batesville, Mississippi whose company Mostly Mosses "uses wild mosses to cover containers and baskets for floral arrangements" and "wholesales many moss covered items to florists all over the country." Russell, who calls himself the Moss Man, says that he has "an innate feeling about where [moss] will be" and that his "mother says [he] can smell it" when scouting in wooded areas. Russell sees moss as more than just decoration in his topiaries, wreaths and other creations. "Your mood changes positively when you see it," he said.[3]

Two additional examples are also worthy of note. Wide receiver Santana Moss, who caught the attention of the National Football League while at the University of Miami and went on to play for the New York Jets and Washington Redskins, has a "Moss Man" tattoo on his left biceps. It is apparently "anything but showy," appropriate given Moss' soft-spoken voice and relatively short stature.[4]

Finally, comedian Dave Berry reminds us that in the 1980s, Moss Man was a toy from the popular He-Man series of action figures. "And we have to explain that no, you can't put Moss Man in the water, because his moss will come off," he wrote in 1985. "And then we have to discuss how we know this, how we would presume to know more about Moss Man than a four-year-old child, and anyway what would be so awful about having Moss Man lose his moss?"[5]

  1. Jackson, Tom. "It's All Right To Be Afraid Of The Park"
    The Tampa Tribune, 25 October 2007: Tampa, Florida (Pasco, Page 1)

  2. Powers, Ormund. "Moss Grows Deep As A Valuable Commodity In Lake County's History"
    The Orlando Sentinel, 14 February 1996: Orlando, Florida (Lake, Page 3)

  3. Gang, Christine Arpe. "A Moss Garden Soothes The Soul And The Soles"
    The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News, 11 April 1999: Stuart, Florida (At Home, Page G12)

  4. Pope, Edwin. "Moss Is Boss Despite His Size"
    The Miami Herald, 04 October 1998: Miami, Florida (Sports, Page 1C)

  5. Berry, Dave. "Best Performance By The Near Dead"
    The Miami Herald, 24 March 1985: Miami, Florida (Tropic, Page 7)

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
Download Article, Page 221
Download Article, Page 222
Download Entire Volume

 
 
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31.13 MB

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.

The Facing of Tempests of Dust

Looking up at Sutro Tower (1972) two days before a full moon from the path around Summit Reservoir (1954).

Near 1 La Avanzada Street, San Francisco, California: 25 January 2013

part of the Summit Reservoir album


In the nearly two decades before 2013 when I used shared web hosting services, I could not have imagined using my monthly data transfer allocation. My last shared hosting account came with a quota of eighteen gigabytes. I am now looking back on that with amusement, for my virtual private server transmitted 483% more than that in just fifteen hours earlier this week.

I do not regularly check the statistics for individual sites, instead focusing on the server-wide loads, data transfer and general performance. I was however curious to see the result of having reached out to some friends and contacts by email and Twitter about the new version of sutrotower.org on Sunday, 08 March 2015.

I was a bit surprised and honored to discover that one such contact, journalist Alexis C. Madrigal, included sutrotower.org as one of five items in the Fusion "Real Future" newsletter on Monday, 09 March 2015. Indeed, I just now noticed that one of my photographs is also featured in the header image of that newsletter.

With the resultant surge in traffic over a few days, I was pleased that my work had paid off. Beyond the piece in Fusion, I was also amused to see that SomaFM founder Rusty Hodge posted links on Twitter and Facebook, while another post on Twitter turned out to be from the chief information officer for Red Hat. This server runs CentOS, a distriubution of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Checking on things after work on Tuesday, 10 March 2015, I figured that was that. Those most interested had gotten their Sutro Tower fix and, although I never really think of such things, the content had reached a broader audience.

The following evening, I was performing some routine server maintenance when the load monitor at the top of the screen caught my attention. The one, five and fifteen minute load averages were all showing figures above one, which although still low is unusually high for my system, except when recompiling Apache or something similar. Investigating further, I discovered that there was also a spike in network traffic. Apparently, that was not that after all.

The source turned out to be a post made to Hacker News, a social links site not dissimilar from Reddit. I am not familiar with it, but it seems to be rather popular. Over the course of about fifteen hours, sutrotower.org transferred twice as much data than my entire server and all its hosted websites did during the six month period from September 2014 to February 2015. That is about 105 gigabytes and fifty-two gigabytes, respectively.

It is important to note that the new design's larger photographs are of course larger in file size, thus more data is transferred per visit than before. However, it was the approximately 20,000 visitors that came to sutrotower.org via Hacker News and its seemingly endless network of volunteer redistributors that provided the resultant spike.

In the end, I am really glad that this happened after my effort to improve overall site efficiency. The events of this week would rank as low when compared to the once-infamous Slashdot effect, but I am not sure how my old code would have handled the sudden influx of requests generated.

Actually, I am fairly certain it would not have performed very well at all.