Mount Sutro: An Electronic Periodical

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The Florida Caverns Trip

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Photo Credit: David July — Large formations within the Florida Caverns State Park caves as seen on the guided tour, Marianna, Florida, 12 December 2009 It had been raining lightly for several hours when 0830 EST rolled around and Claire arrived for our trip to Florida Caverns State Park, 3345 Caverns Road, Marianna, Florida. The drive on Interstate 10 was uneventful though there were a few spots of heavy rain. Taking Exit 142, we had a chance to see quaint downtown Marianna before arriving at the park.
See the accompanying photograph gallery.
Like most Florida State Parks there is an entrance fee ($5.00) that allows unlimited entry and exit for the day. Since I had forgotten to take the time zone change into consideration, we were parked and walking up to the visitor center gift shop to purchase cave tour tickets only minutes after 0900 CST. The rain was steady but light enough to walk around and enjoy the nearby wooded area. A sign described this area as a former Native American village, the caves providing clay for pottery and shelter against weather and attack. We purchased our tickets ($8.00), browsed the gift shop and wandered around outside a bit before Park Ranger Frank was along to begin our tour through the cave at 0930 CST. Due to our accidentally perfect timing, Claire and I were the only visitors on the first tour which made for a particularly excellent experience for us. Instead of the typical 45 minute walk-through with twenty-five other people, Frank was able to leisurely take us through the various sections, highlighting formations and providing historical as well as scientific context throughout. Lasting over 60 minutes, the tour was relaxingly paced, thorough and fulfilling. Frank even showed us some of the best places from which to photograph certain formations.
The original 494 acres of park land was purchased by Dr. J.C. Patterson in 1935. He had hoped to develop the area into a state park when the discovery of the caves was made. Florida Caverns was established as Florida's seventh state park on 11 October 1935. Since the Great Depression was taking a toll on the local economy, Patterson envisioned a Luray Caverns style attraction to boost the area and in 1938 development of the Tour Cave and park amenities began. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp SP-12 worked for four years as the "gopher gang" on this New Deal era project constructing visitor paths, adding the entrance and exit stairways, installing electric lighting, cutting additional passageways and building the visitor center. The park opened to the public in 1942.
The tour's route can vary due to the rising and falling water table. Claire and I were surprised to learn just how high the water levels can get inside certain cavern rooms, but we were fortunate that the main paths were all clear today. Signs of the past days rain were visible in the drops flowing down stalactites onto stalagmites and in pools forming throughout. After walking back to the visitor center and thanking Frank for the great tour, we took his suggestion and went upstairs to look at the exhibits and watch a few short films about the park's history and ecosystem. Although we were also interested in wandering around the rest of the park, we decided to come back in a few months when it is not cold and raining. On that trip we will hike the trails, check out the river and other activities, not to mention take the cave tour again for fun—and hopefully improved pictures. Ready for lunch, we drove around the section of Marianna we had not yet seen but found no restaurants of interest. Having seen it earlier on the drive in, we decided to check out San Marcos Mexican Grill, 4867 West Side Plaza. It was a nice lunch for a reasonable price. I ate the chile relleno, enchilada, beans and rice ($7.85) and Claire had something similar sans chile relleno. We enjoyed our food and then got back on the road, this time taking local roads instead of the interstate. I had planned to drive US 90 all the way east to Tallahassee, but later realized we were on CR 71 heading south. The route we ended up on took us through Altha, then Ocheesee Landing via CR 274, which turned into CR 286 and eventually deposited us at I-10. At that point it seemed silly to try to find US 90, so we decided to simply head back. Besides, we will have the opportunity to take US 90 when we return to Florida Caverns in a few months.
Day Trips with Claire Smith The Georgia Plantation | The Florida Caverns Trip
The Big Bend Photo Trip Photographs  Pebble Hill Plantation | Florida Caverns State Park
Tallahassee Antiques Museum | Big Bend Photo Trip | October Day Out
Photo Credit: David July

The Photograph Gallery

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Photo Credit: David July — The Washington Monument and the Capitol beyond as seen from the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., 07 September 2009 I have maintained a photograph gallery in some form on my website since November 2002. While I was happy with its appearance and how it integrated with the rest of the site, it was not the repository I had originally envisioned. Deciding it was time for a change, I started uploading my photograph collection to Flickr on 11 November 2009. Although this move is not made casually, I am willing to sacrifice the tight integration in exchange for logistical benefits like unlimited disk space and data transfer—two items for which I had been spending additional money. Despite my move away from it, I continue to recommend Coppermine Gallery as an excellent application with strong theme support for custom image galleries. As of this update (29 November 2009), I have uploaded all my pictures into sets organized inside six collections: Road Trip Series, Japan Trip Series, Vacation Series, City Tour Series, Friends & Family and Salmagundi. Some of the sets still need titles and descriptions which will be added as time permits, while other test shots, duplicates and bad pictures will be removed. The Gallery Feed will keep you apprised of new additions. If you are not already a member of Flickr, I encourage you to create an account so you can post comments, add contacts, select favorites and, as a contact of mine, add notes, tags, and people to my pictures.
Photo Credit: David July

The Moving Picture Show

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Photo Credit: David July — The new and old Seven Mile Bridges of US 1 east of Key West, Vaca Key, Florida, 12 November 2008

Three weeks ago, I received an invitation from Edelman public relations to attend the grand opening of the new IMAX-branded digital projection theatre at AMC Tallahassee Mall 20. As I was previously unaware of this joint venture and it sounded interesting, I accepted and was reserved two complimentary seats. In selecting Saturday, 19 September 2009, the second day of operations, I was able to obtain tickets to two shows, Space Station (2002) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), both in IMAX 3D but the former being privately screened before the theatre opened.

Parking next to the entrance and walking into the mall at a yawn-inducing 0745, Omar and I are not completely sure what to expect. I was sent a press release that covered the basics, but I decided to wait until after the screenings to investigate more. As soon as the main gate retracted, we proceeded with the other guests to the converted Theatre 19, received extremely durable 3D glasses—not like those flimsy paper red and blue film ones—and found the seats with "reserved" signs on them.

After a brief introduction by the theatre's general manager, our first taste of the experience came when a few of the trailers were in 3D including the green band rating cards that preceded them. The previews for Where the Wild Things Are, A Christmas Carol and Avatar were all visually impressive and increased our anticipation of the feature presentation.

Photo Credit: IMAX Corporation — Space Station 3D movie posterSpace Station 3D, presented by NASA and Lockheed Martin, is the story of the International Space Station's history, the people behind it and how international cooperation is essential to its mission and daily operation. Competently narrated by Tom Cruise, the film takes you on an adventure with incredibly awesome and moving imagery encompassing all aspects of the ISS program including the launch, docking and landing of the Space Shuttle, the launch of a crew replacement and cargo rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, training simulations and, of course, plenty of construction and typical activities aboard the ever-growing station.

To say I was blown away by Space Station is an understatement. The amount of visual detail in this first-ever IMAX 3D space film is astounding. I found myself not always focusing on the action because of the opportunity to look around and notice small details like how the on-board amateur radio is a standard HT model mounted to the bulkhead or that the crew uses ThinkPad notebooks, a logical choice in my professional opinion. And if this was not impressive enough, all the 65 mm filming that took place in orbit 220 miles above Earth was done by the astronauts and cosmonauts, who added special training in 3D camera operations, cinematography and light/sound engineering to their already immense list of duties and responsibilities.

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Animation — Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3D movie posterAfter a brief intermission and trip to the snack bar for an excessively priced beverage, it was on to movie number two. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3D is a film adaptation of the 1978 children's book of the same title written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett. The movie tells the story of Flint Lockwood, a young and historically unsuccessful inventor living with his widowed father on the small Atlantic island of Swallow Falls. Wanting to help the community, Lockwood invents a machine to convert water to food that initially functions as designed. After the device is rocketed into the sky by another Flint flub, Swallow Falls begins to experience food-based weather phenomenon that Flint is able to control, leading to the island's re-branding as Chewandswallow, a tourist attraction and cruise ship port for those who like to eat.

Hilarity ensues, moral tales are told and cartoony but professionally-rendered characters seem to reach out into the theatre, all while holding an adult's attention with clever puns and jokes likely to go over the heads of the intended audience. The 2.35:1 presentation is bright with vivid colors, nicely showing off the work of ArnoldSony Pictures Animation's proprietary software—and IMAX DMR (digital re-mastering). Being unfamiliar with the book, I cannot speak to the similarities or differences between it and the movie (apparently it is quite different), but for a kiddie flick I thoroughly enjoyed it. The well-behaved audience certainly did not hurt.

Photo Credit: IMAX Corporation — Clockwise: The IMAX logo, new auditorium configuration, dual digital projectors, IMAX lens

If you have ever been to a classic design IMAX theatre as found at many science and history museums, you are familiar with the basic setup: screens ranging in size from 51′ x 37′ to 117′ x 96′, booming high-quality audio and cinematic offerings different from those typically found at Hollywood movie theatres. This is the template by which the new multiplex design IMAX theatre was created, complete with custom tailored modifications to convert existing, variably sized standard auditoriums.

The multiplex design features IMAX's digital 2D and 3D dual-projection system (~$500,000 each), although all IMAX movies are still filmed on traditional large format 65–75 mm film. As part of IMAX's "immersive patented theatre geometry," the classic screen is replaced by a larger, specially treated and slightly curved one positioned closer to the audience to maximize the field of view. These new screens range in size from 47′ x 24′ to 74′ x 46′ depending on the location. A powerful laser-aligned digital audio system with tuned proportional point source loudspeakers is also installed along with acoustically treated reverberation-cancelling walls. Finally, each location is equipped with a special cleaning system and enough 3D glasses to have one set worn by guests while the other set is being washed.

I was impressed with the overall experience, enjoying both films and the new theatre as a whole, though Space Station wins the top prize for audience immersion, excitement and eliciting a strong emotional response. What can I say? I love the space program.

Photo Credit: Challenger Learning Center — The IMAX auditorium and logo of the Challenger Learning Center, Tallahassee, Florida

Since 2003, Tallahassee has enjoyed the classic design IMAX at the Challenger Learning Center. I wondered if the city could support two similar venues like this. IMAX thinks so, telling Mount Sutro by e-mail that "[they] believe the Tallahassee market can support more than one IMAX theatre and ultimately see an increasing interest from consumers in The IMAX Experience." So what will ultimately drive consumers? As I see it, there are five prime factors of consideration.

Film selection — The digital films are interchangeable however, "the number of films and frequency of screenings depends on the film and its distributor," says IMAX. The classic arrangement appears to be maintained when comparing the films currently showing at each Tallahassee IMAX, with the AMC offering one Hollywood movie and the Challenger Learning Center offering three to five educational films in addition to one Hollywood movie. Looking ahead, this does not look to change significantly.

Presentation Size — Depending on what films are offered at each, the opportunity exists to opt for the larger classic IMAX over the multiplex conversion. For Hollywood movies, Challenger is a second-run theatre so films first shown at AMC's IMAX may appear 6–10 weeks later. This is the case with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the upcoming Where the Wild Things Are. For comparison, AMC's IMAX screen is as wide as the Challenger's is tall.

Availability/Showtimes — AMC is scheduling showtimes five or six times per day. Films at Challenger are shown twice daily, with a third showing sometimes scheduled on Friday and/or Saturday.

Location — Both facilities are centrally located. The Challenger Learning Center at Kleman Plaza, 200 South Duval Street, is only a few minutes away from the Capitol (400 South Monroe Street) on foot, while the AMC Tallahassee Mall 20 sits just three miles north at 2415 North Monroe Street. Parking at the mall is ample, though visitors to Challenger will need to use metered street parking or the Kleman Plaza parking garage, both of which sometimes charge a fee.

Price — Moviegoers at AMC will pay an additional $4.00 on top of the $4.75 to $9.50 general admission price for a grand total of $8.75 to $13.50 per person. Challenger patrons will pay between $6.00 and $8.00 per person, adding $1.00 if the presentation is feature-length (i.e. Hollywood films).

Only time will tell which of these factors will prove more important to the Tallahassee community. The results of a recent Nielsen study commissioned by IMAX indicate "there was no meaningful difference in satisfaction levels between classic design and multiplex design IMAX locations." As another indicator of success, IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond points out that "IMAX did 15% of Star Trek's total domestic box office [...] on only 138 screens," up from 12% and 10% for earlier films. In March 2008, IMAX went on to sign a similar deal with Regal Cinemas and announced plans with RACIMEC to expand IMAX's presence in Central and South America.

The new IMAX sign on the wall outside AMC's Theatre 19, 2415 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, Florida, 19 September 2009

The success of these efforts is of particular importance to IMAX, who has been working to recover from several financial fallouts. Initially experiencing steady growth in 1995–2000, the company had to re-examine itself when stock prices plummeted in September–October 2000 and again, one year later, when the stock nearly bottomed out ($0.59) on 21 September 2001. Prices eventually improved but continued to fluctuate in the following years. When word spread the company's accounting practices were being questioned by the SEC in August 2006, a 41% loss resulted. The deals of 2007 were thought of as "transformational" by IMAX, part of a strategy designed to help turn things around financially. Understanding I am no economist, recent data suggests the plan is working. The closing price of IMAX stock has been at or above $9.00 forty-two of the past fifty trading days, a milestone considering the last time the stock was above $9.00 was 750 trading days earlier on 09 August 2006, the day before the SEC review was announced.

Even with things seemingly improving for IMAX, the past year has not been without some controversy. In May 2009, moviegoers on the internet reacted to confusion over the anticipated size of the new IMAX screens. Most frequently cited is comedian/actor Aziz Ansari's obscenity-laced diatribe and follow-up, no doubt somewhat embellished for dramatic flair, recounting his trip to see Star Trek. After paying an additional $5.00, Ansari was incensed to find his assigned auditorium was not a classic IMAX but instead the new multiplex design.

In response to the row, IMAX's Gelfond said that despite every indication sales are up, "[they're] going to do something about disclosing information [...] it's just a matter of how and where." Gelfond also stresses that size is not all that matters in IMAX, pointing to the digital re-mastering technology and other features of their "immersive movie experience." All the same, Gelfond reports they have added clarification to their website's theatre locator and will soon provide box offices with a sign or brochure.

I find it implausible people would hear the phrase "IMAX at AMC" and immediately assume a behemoth size screen awaits them. Classic IMAX auditoriums are huge and custom built with the large format in mind; a traditional movie theatre would have to undergo major construction to match. It was in fact the first thing I said to Omar when he asked me about the screening beforehand. "I'm honestly not sure what to expect," I told him. "There's certainly no huge IMAX screen anywhere at AMC 20." On the other hand, I have learned never to assume an audience will comprehend anything not explicitly stated in simple terms. To that end, I do understand those who have asked for more transparency but find false any claims IMAX or AMC misled the public.

In conclusion, I had a great time at AMC's IMAX and plan to return for A Christmas Carol 3D after it opens on 06 November 2009. Regardless of the price or screen size, I am happy to have an additional choice when going to the movies.

Special thanks to Nicholas Wolaver and Evita Broughton of Edelman for the invitation to the screening and arranging my Q&A with IMAX.

Photo Credit: David July
Original Photo Credit: IMAX Corporation
Original Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Animation
Original Photo Credit: IMAX Corporation
Original Photo Credit: Challenger Learning Center
Original Photo Credit: David July

The Barbering Program

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My step father's barbering skills have once again received attention by the local press. A recent article in the West Orange Times features Ross Nichelson and the new barbering program he started teaching at Westside Tech.
Westside Tech opens barbering program By Edith Mosley Thursday, 28 May 2009 Westside Tech announced it has opened a complete barbering program. The 1,200-hour program has open registration, is now accepting students and will be open for the summer. "We need more trained barbers to meet the need of the Central Florida public," said Ross Nichelson, Westside Tech instructor. "After all, from the first haircut as a toddler, through our teens, to the polished cuts worn by business men and women, our hair styles mark our changing ideas and visions. Pair our technical skills with listening to our customers, asking the right questions and coming up with a result that makes everyone happy, and it's a great way to earn a living." Westside Tech opens barbering program, by Edith Mosley, The West Orange Times 5B, 2009-05-28The barbering program covers cutting, shaping, trimming and tapering hair using clippers, scissors, comb and blowout gun. Hair contouring, using a razor on temple and neck, is taught. Additional skills like lathering the face, trimming moustaches, shaving beards and massaging face, neck or scalp are mastered. "Most of the skills found in the cosmetology field are included in this program," said Nichelson. "The legal differences in Florida between the programs are that cosmetologists may not use a razor against the skin, so shaving is out. On the other hand, barbers cannot do acrylic nails." Students must pass the Florida State Barber Board exam for licensure before working in the field. Preparation for the exam is included in the course curriculum. Students attending class full time can complete the 1,200-hour program in one year. "There are two ways to go for licensure," Nichelson said. "A regular licensure requires mastery of all of the competencies. However, a person may seek a restricted licensure, limiting the services he or she may deliver. That's a little shorter program." Nichelson has owned his own barber shop in Winter Park since 1986. He serves as a State Barber Board examiner for Florida and hopes one day to sit as a member of the board. Financial assistance might be available for full time attendance. Visit Westside Tech's campus at 955 E. Story Road in Winter Garden, or call 407-905-2000 for more information.

Westside Tech is a vocational division of Orange County Public Schools with a wide selection of job preparation and academic programs for adult and secondary students. Ross' barbering program is a part of Westside's Human Services section, which also includes courses for cosmetologists, facials/skin care specialists and manicurists/pedicurists. Ross' last mention in the news came in the form of a delightful commentary published in 2003 by the Orlando Sentinel. When not instructing at Westside Tech or giving his trademark flattops at Joe's B.S., Ross enjoys woodworking, classic tools and travel.
Photo Credit: West Orange Times

The Perfect Gift

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Photo Credit: David July — Tommy's Joynt neon sign, 1101 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, 22 May 2009 I wanted to visit with Mom last Saturday to talk about my recent vacation to San Francisco, show her my photographs and most importantly give her a gift I bought. She suggested meeting in Ocala, partly to save each of us some mileage and to give me the opportunity to dine at Ipanema Brazilian Steak House. It was really nice (more about the restaurant below), but the part I had been looking forward to was giving Mom her present. While in San Francisco, I was keeping my eyes open to anything that could make a nice, personal gift. Close to the end of my time there, I was walking through Noe Valley and finally saw a shop with potential. Chocolate Covered, 4069 24th Street, has a vast assortment of chocolates, retro lunch boxes and the focus of my interest, metal tins covered with Japanese Washi paper and a street sign photograph applied to the lid using Cyanotype photo processing (see Cyanotypes and Chocolate: a Match Made in San Francisco). There is a tin for nearly every local street so I could not find Twin Peaks, a tin to match my sign, without assistance.
Photo Credit: David July — Twin Peaks street sign tin from Chocolate Covered Sweets and Gifts, San Francisco
I did notice a small selection of local business signs, so after he found Twin Peaks for me, I asked shop owner Jack Epstein if he had a tin with the Tommy's Joynt restaurant sign on it. Open since 1947, Tommy's Joynt is a San Francisco institution I have enjoyed eating at on each of my now four visits to the city, twice on this trip. You can see the building and sign in my photographs here. Jack said he had been meaning to go there to photograph the sign but had not yet done so. After I took out my camera and showed him the picture I had taken days earlier, Jack told me it was perfect and to go around the corner to Walgreens and make a print. With a print, he could make a tin like the others by the next afternoon. In exchange for paying for the print and waving the typical customization fee, I would give him the print to use to make more tins. The tin turned out beautifully as you can see. I bought two (one for myself) and the gift went over as expected, quite well. I am proud to invite you to visit Chocolate Covered Sweets and Gifts to see or buy the Jack Epstein Japanese paper tin featuring my photograph of the Tommy's Joynt neon sign, not to mention sample the sweets and browse the other gifts. Photo Credit: David July — My Tommy's Joynt photograph on a tin from Chocolate Covered Sweets and Gifts, San Francisco UPDATE 2013-03-23: During my recent visit I stopped by Chocolate Covered and the tin with my photo is still available. Jack told me it will be there "forever" and that when one is purchased, another is produced. When you enter the shop, immediately look right; it is high on the wall in front. Let me know if you see or buy one!
Located at 2023 South Pine Avenue, Ipanema Brazilian Steak House, a Churrascaria, serves food in the contemporary Rodizio style. Servers circle the dining room each with a long skewer of a particular food, offering their selection if you have your two-sided coaster turned to the "please, sir, can I have some more" side. They had pork, sirloin, prime rib, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, flank steak, chicken, lamb, sausage and pineapple all cooked over an open-flame of Brazilian mineral coals. Since some of the food could be messy to serve in this format, the silverware selection includes tongs so you can assist while the meat server carves. There is also a salad bar with various side dishes like mashed potatoes and vegetables, but because of the quantity and quality of the food brought to the table, I did not try anything else. All the beef products were delicious though I did not try the flank steak, or "shoe leather steak" as Mom calls it. The sausage was good, I did not like the lamb and the pineapple was incredibly wonderful. Mom said the garlic-mashed potatoes are great as well. It was surprisingly good overall and I would go there again even at $36.95 per person. Since it was too hot (the high was 96, heat index 100+) to hang out at a park as planned, we decided to grab a booth in the bar area of a local Chili's restaurant instead. We had a few beverages and looked at my vacation pictures while talking and catching-up. It was a great visit.
Photo Credit: David July Photo Credit: David July Photo Credit: David July