Guardianship in Florida: Legalized Robbery and Exploitation of the Elderly and Disabled!

I picked up a copy of today’s St. Petersburg Times (Thursday, 20 August 2009) only to find an article in the B section which broke my heart. It is the story of a woman who was stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease who had a trust drawn up earlier and amended it so that she can live out her last days at home. I know, it is very heart breaking when your loved one has a terminal illness such as Alzheimer’s and you want to provide the best possible so that when the time comes that your loved one passes away, at least your loved one got his or her wishes.

I urge you to please read this blog entry word for word.

According to the St. Petersburg Times article written by none other than Drew Harwell (who, by the way, wrote the article on how dangerous the Interstate 375 ramp is), Carol Kinnear owned a multi-million dollar home out on Clearwater Beach where she wanted to live out her last days. After all, when the home that you lived in happens to be the home you grew up in or lived there a long time, it takes on a special meaning not only for you but for your relatives as well.

However, Carol’s relatives wanted to make sure that the estate was preserved. As such, papers were filed for a member of the family to become Carol’s legal guardian; however, once the court approved the guardianship the legal guardian for Carol was not any of her relatives – instead, it turned out to be total strangers. According to the Times article, Carol’s legal guardian – a professional legal guardian – had her removed from her home and taken to a facility, all against Carol’s wishes. To make matters worse, Carol’s legal guardian even barred her relatives from even seeing her.

Unfortunately, Florida’s guardianship laws do allow for legalized robbery and exploitation of an elderly or disabled person, especially when a professional legal guardian comes into play. Learning back from my days when I was going for my Legal Assisting degree at Hillsborough Community College, I learned the process of guardianship in a class called Wills, Trusts and Probate.

A guardianship starts when the papers are filed in the Probate Court starting with a petition to the court explaining why a person should have a legal guardian. Next, a committee of experts examines the person that is the subject of guardianship – called a ward – and reports back to the court with a recommendation as to whether guardianship is recommended and if that is the case, who the legal guardian should be.

The process of getting someone declared legally incompetent from what I understand is rather very easy. Too easy, in my opinion. An attorney can intervene during the process and recommend that a professional guardian be appointed, against the wishes of the ward and his or her family. This is where guardianship can get ugly here.

Once the ward is declared incompetent and a guardian is appointed, practically all of the ward’s civil liberties are completely stripped: The right to vote, the ability to hold a driver’s license, the ability to own property, and so on. If a professional guardian as in the case of Carol Kinnear comes into play, it means that a total stranger is in charge of everything.

During a guardianship, papers are required to be filed with the court including an accounting of the assets of the ward both initially and every year. Moreover, if a professional guardian is involved the guardian has to be bonded as well. Unfortunately, papers can be falsified while at the same time a professional guardian is out there misusing the assets of the ward. To make matters worse, a professional guardian can also have the ward committed to an institution, all against the family’s wishes.

This is what I see: A professional guardian who is supposed to look after the best interest of his or her ward actually misappropriates the ward’s assets to the professional guardian’s own benefit, such as paying the monthly mortgage among other things. Next, the professional guardian has the ward committed to an institution at some unknown place and at the same time keeps the ward’s relatives away; who knows what kind of treatment the ward is getting: Abuse? Neglect?

In short, guardianship – especially when a total stranger is appointed as a professional guardian – is actually a license granted by the court to steal a ward’s assets and to have the ward locked away and put out of sight of the ward’s immediate family. Here in Pinellas County from what I understand, there is little to no oversight of professional guardians when engaged in their duties.

However, there are alternatives to guardianship out there that may be a better choice for your loved one. I won’t get into any detail here, but the best way to explore these alternatives is to discuss them with your attorney.

Unfortunately, Florida’s guardianship laws make it easier than you think to get someone declared incompetent. Once you get involved with guardianship, it is essentially permanent and when a total stranger is in complete charge of your loved one’s affairs, the end result can be disastrous.

Take Me Out To The … Ball Game?

Baseball, our American national pastime. There are two important songs that are associated with the sound of “play ball!”, first being The Star-Spangled Banner which everyone knows that it’s our national anthem played as a part of pre-game ceremonies and second being Take Me Out To The Ball Game, played in the middle of the 7th Inning and is known as the “7th Inning Stretch” (or, in Tampa Bay Rays speak, the “7th Inning Squeeze”).

From time to time, either one of these songs of baseball somehow get botched up when performed in front of a stadium type audience. Remember back on 25 July 1990 in San Diego at a San Diego Padres game and Roseanne Barr’s performance of our national anthem? In my opinion, it is the most botched up performance of our national anthem to date and is well remembered.

What about Take Me Out To The Ball Game? Doesn’t that sometimes get botched up as well?

If you have been to Tropicana Field here in St. Petersburg on Saturday, 13 June 2009 when the Tampa Bay Rays took on the Washington Nationals, you probably noticed something out of the ordinary. First, the national anthem was performed properly by Miss St. Petersburg (which was a part of City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County employees appreciation night and it was advertised), albeit the harmonics were a little distorted but did not get anyone’s attention, in my opinion.

What happened during the 7th Inning Squeeze surprised me.

Someone was invited to sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame over in the area where the piano musician plays right next to Section 203. The performance was … well, the most botched up and unintelligible rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame I have ever heard, especially in all the Tampa Bay Rays games I have attended over the years at Tropicana Field.

That brought back memories of Roseanne Barr and the way she botched up our national anthem in San Diego many years ago, even before there was a Tampa Bay Rays here in St. Petersburg. However, I believe a botched up version of Take Me Out To The Ball Game would somehow make it onto one of the sports networks like ESPN, quoting one fan who was next to me at the Rays-Nationals game at Tropicana Field.

On the flip side of the coin, I believe a botched up version of The Star-Spangled Banner sung at a Rays pre-game at Tropicana Field would get much more media attention, first locally with Bay News 9 and the other Tampa Bay area media outlets and the potential to make national news on CNN and MSNBC. Wouldn’t you think so?

Now if you were at the Rays-Nationals game at Tropicana Field on Saturday, 13 June 2009 and stayed through the middle of the 7th Inning and tried to sing along to Take Me Out To The Ball Game but you couldn’t somehow, I would like to hear from you.

And by the way, the Rays won 8-3. LET’S GO RAYS!

Are you ready for the DTV switch?

We’re a few days away from Friday, 12 June 2009. After all, that will be a day in history not only for television in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area but everywhere else in the United States as the technology used to provide you with over the air television signals for over 50 years, analog TV, will cease to exist. However, it will be the dawn of a new era in television broadcasting, and that will be digital television, or DTV for short.

I have an informative web page over at my web site that explains to you what the DTV switch is all about and whether you may be affected. However, here are some important things you will need to know:

If you receive your TV programs by antenna and you already own a DTV converter box or a new TV set that receives DTV programming, on Friday, 12 June 2009 you will want to rescan your channels as TV stations will more than likely move to their permanent channels as the digital feeds were being broadcasted temporarily on another channel.

If you still own an older TV set and still have not made the switch, you have choices when it comes to DTV: Purchase of a converter box, purchase of a new TV which incorporates the DTV tuner, or subscription to a cable TV service (such as Bright House Networks for those in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area).

Some low-power TV stations will remain broadcasting in the analog format; an example in St. Petersburg is the TV station operated by the City of St. Petersburg, WSPF-TV which operates on Channel 35. If you are using a DTV converter box for off the air signals, most DTV converter boxes feature an analog pass-through so that you can still view the low-power stations that have not transitioned to digital TV.

On the other hand, if you are connected to cable TV (such as Bright House Networks in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area) you do not have to do anything – you should be good to go! As a safeguard, be sure to check with your cable TV provider. The same thing goes for those of you that watch TV by way of satellite – your satellite provider will handle the conversion for you; again check with your satellite provider as a safeguard.

Don’t forget: Friday, 12 June 2009 is the day the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, along with the rest of America, makes the switch to DTV. If you are watching TV in the analog format, once the switch is done your analog TV will go dark if you have not taken action.

Now I would like to hear what you are doing to prepare for the big DTV switch.

Failed the Florida FCAT Test? You have options!

In the next few weeks high school graduation will be around the corner for those of you who have children graduating from high school. After all, your child went through four years of hard coursework in order to earn those good grades (and the credits that go with these grades) and both you and your child should be proud of the four years of great accomplishment.

Unfortunately, high school seniors that are on track to graduation with the good grades and everything else have one major hurdle to cross, and that is the Florida FCAT test. Florida is one of those states that do not reward highest student achievement through academics; high school students can excel academically but cannot pass the FCAT test for some reason.

The bad news for those high school students who excel academically yet failed every sitting of the FCAT test since 10th Grade receive recognition for their work at graduation. Unfortunately, that recognition is nothing more than a Certificate of Completion from your child’s high school; a Certificate of Completion is not a High School Diploma which can make the difference when your child goes into the world outside of high school.

If you are the parent of a high school senior and you receive notice from your school that your child is going to get a Certificate of Completion due to failing the last FCAT test, do not be disappointed. Instead you and your child have options to get that coveted piece of paper that your child worked very hard for the past four years.

One increasingly popular option is to transfer your child’s high school credits to a private high school out of state. There is a private high school located in Lewiston, Maine which is called North Atlantic Regional Schools, abbreviated NARS for short. It’s mostly targeted towards homeschoolers, but they know how it feels for your child who excels academically in the four year public high school setting yet cannot graduate because of a state mandated test such as the FCAT. NARS has a wonderful website where you can learn more about pursuing this valuable option for your child.

A side note: If you pursue the NARS (or any other private high school) route, always obtain a copy of your child’s high school transcript. You can get this from your child’s high school for a nominal fee; the copy you will get will more than likely be an unofficial copy which is great for review by you and your child. The official version is the one that your school will send directly to which private school you select, even it it’s NARS in Maine.

Another option is to take the tests of General Educational Development, commonly known as the GED test. While the GED test is an equivalent of a High School Diploma, according to the NARS website a GED diploma can raise red flags for your child post-high school: It could mean to a potential college or employer that there were significant problems in high school; it could also send a red flag that your child was in a treatment center or detention facility. While a GED diploma is an easy way out it brings along significant social stigma that goes with having a GED diploma. This is why a High School Diploma is a lot better because it carries a lot of prestige for your child.

If your child’s high school guidance counselor even suggests that your child who excels academically take the GED all because of a failed FCAT through the 12th Grade, think again. Do your research and check out the NARS website.

Another option would be to see if your child can use his or her SAT or ACT test scores, especially if your child took the SAT or ACT tests for college admission earlier in the school year. If your child has equivalent scores on the SAT or ACT – which the Florida Department of Education calls Concordant Scores – your child can still graduate from high school with a High School Diploma using the passing SAT or ACT scores your child earned. But there is one catch: In order to use this option your child must have failed every opportunity for the FCAT test between the 10th Grade and graduation. However, there is a brighter side: Think of your child’s passing SAT or ACT scores as an insurance policy against a non-received High School Diploma due to a failed FCAT.

I also encourage you to please read my topic on why Florida should abolish the FCAT test altogether over at my website. After all, FCAT is nothing more than a time waster for Florida’s high schools, and teachers can have more time teaching the subjects they were qualified to teach. Students would also get a quality education that you and I as taxpayers in the great State of Florida pay for, not have to go to school to study for a state mandated test. Besides, the FCAT breeds nothing more than increased test anxiety in our students, among other things.

And you know what drives the FCAT in Florida? A federal law enacted in 2002 called the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states that want to receive federal education monies to have a statewide student assessment test in place. This is much like the days when states had to have speed limits at 55 mph or lose interstate highway money.

On the Florida level, I am all for total abolition of the FCAT test and to have it replaced by meaningful end of course exams which demonstrate mastery of the subject involved, such as English Composition or Algebra. Further, on the federal level I am for the substantial – if not complete – repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 as that federal law infringes on states’ rights. After all, education of our children is and should continue to be the responsibility of the states rather than the federal government telling the states what to do as far as education is concerned.

Television End of Day Sign Offs

Remember back to the old days when our TV selections were limited to the big three networks – NBC, ABC and CBS – the local PBS affiliate and the independent TV station? Here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, before there was Bright House Networks and Bay News 9 (even before there was cable TV in the first place) our selections were limited to 3, 8, 10, 13, 16 and 44 with an outdoor antenna.

Back in the pre-cable days all of the broadcast stations in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area did not operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contrast this with the world of television we live in today, 500+ channels of programming on your digital cable box with the time – normally when the station would sign off for the day – filled with nothing but boring infomercials, program length commercials heavily touting stuff that I personally would not spend my hard earned money on.

The typical sign off routine would be an announcement that the TV station is ending its broadcast activities for the day, followed by the locations of the main studios and transmitter location. Before the advent of VCRs and DVRs some stations – including WTVT FOX 13 here in Tampa – would run a disclaimer that programs are for home viewing only and that no commercial use is permitted. After that, viewers are given a postal address in which to send comments or suggestions regarding station operations and/or programming. Finally, the national anthem is played and then about a minute of color bars plus tone and then the transmitter carrier is turned off.

It should also be noted here that some television stations, just before signing off for the day, run a one minute daily devotional either produced locally or nationally. WTSP, known as 10 Connects here in St. Petersburg, used to run a daily devotional at the start of and at the end of the broadcast day back in its days as an ABC affiliate.

Now that we sometimes miss the old days of when TV stations sign off for the day, you are wondering how TV stations in other parts of the world sign off at the end of their broadcast day. Even though we have TV stations that are now 24/7/365, only a handful do sign off, either nightly as part of the broadcast day or for about a half hour once a week in order to perform transmitter adjustments.

I recently came across a blog that is dedicated to television sign offs from not only here in the United States but around the world as well. It is called The Television Close Down and Start Up Blog, and it hosts a growing collection of sign off and sign on routines from television stations not only here in the United States but from all over the world.

Here is a sampler of what you will find over at The Television Close Down and Start Up Blog:

XETV Channel 6, San Diego: There are two videos, one from its days as a FOX affiliate and another from its present day as a CW affiliate. While the station serves the San Diego area, the transmitter is located across the international border in Tijuana, hence the Mexican call letters. What makes their sign on and sign off so unique is that the Mexican National Anthem (El Himno Nacional Mexicano) is played first, followed by the American National Anthem (The Star-Spangled Banner); as the station is based in Tijuana the playing of the Mexican National Anthem is mandatory per Mexican law. After both national anthems are played then the sign on information is read, first in English and then in Spanish; the sign on information is identical to other American television stations except that the licensing authority is that of the Mexican Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes) rather than the Federal Communications Commission that regulates American radio and television stations.

JOEX, Channel 10, Tokyo, Japan: This is the flagship station of a Japanese TV news network, All-Nippon News Network. What makes this sign off unique is that Japan’s Emergency Alert System – similar to the Emergency Alert System we are accustomed to here in the United States – is tested right after the sign off announcement is complete. By comparison, Japan’s Emergency Alert System consists of a tone (known as “the pips”) played three times followed by an announcement explaining the test, while America’s Emergency Alert System consists of three long data tones, followed by the two-tone test signal of the old Emergency Broadcast System (only used for a required monthly test or if an actual emergency message is to follow), and three short data tones signaling the end of the test. After all, the Japanese know how to test their emergency system without alarming the general public by doing it only at night and at the end of a broadcast day; here in America I don’t know why broadcast stations have to break into the afternoon soap operas or why ER reruns on TNT have to be interrupted for these tests.

I can’t list them all here, but you will have a great time watching these television sign off videos from around the world over at The Television Close Down and Start Up Blog. To get there, simply click on this link or you can click on the link to the Television Close Down and Start Up Blog from my Links of Interest page over at By the way, the blog owner of The Television Close Down and Start Up Blog updates on Wednesdays and Saturdays with new sign off and sign on videos.

Four Steps to Voting in Pinellas County on Election Day

Election Day is just a few days away!

With 2008 being a year we elect a new President of the United States as well as a sizeable number of state and local officials, not to mention the amendments to the Florida Constitution. As you probably know, Florida allows early voting or voting absentee by mail because it helps alleviate congestion at the polls on Election Day.

Now we got Election Day – 4 November 2008 – just around the corner I imagine the polls will be crowded with people like you and I exercising our rights as an American citizen: The right to vote. In Pinellas County there are four steps to the voting process and you can do your part to make the voting experience go smooth for you.

Most important step:

Bring a picture and signature identification to the polls on Election Day! Doing so will help with a smooth voting experience and help you get in and out of the polling place in the shortest time possible. According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, the following is acceptable picture and signature ID at the polls:

Florida Driver License
Florida Identification Card
United States Passport
Debit or credit card
Student or Military ID
Retirement Center ID
Neighborhood Association ID
Public Assistance ID

Note that if your photo ID does not have a signature, another ID bearing your signature has to be presented. Many years ago, the Supervisor of Elections used to issue Voter Identification cards; today this is not the case as the cards issued are now Voter Information cards.

If you do not have any ID on you when you go the polls, you can still vote. However, you will have to vote on a provisional ballot which will be evaluated by the Canvassing Board to determine voter eligibility. Having your ID with you is the best – a Florida Driver License, Florida Identification Card or United States Passport is the best.

Now that you have your required photo and signature ID with you, let’s go to the polls and cast your vote!

The Pinellas County Four-Step at the polls:

Let’s go through the four steps of voting a ballot at the polls in Pinellas County on Election Day! Once you arrive at the polls, you will be greeted at the front door by a poll worker whose job is to maintain order in the polling place. The poll worker will direct you to the table to begin Step 1.

Step 1: This is the voter check in station. Here you will show the poll worker your ID and prove that your address is correct. If everything is OK then you will be directed to sign the precinct register in the space provided. After that the poll worker will give you a yellow ticket to take to Step 2.

Step 2: This is where you will receive your ballot. On the yellow ticket you received in Step 1, check to see that everything is accurate. If so, sign the yellow ticket in the space provided and fill in the oval. Hand in the ticket to the poll worker who will exchange it for your ballot, a black ballpoint pen and a secrecy envelope. Proceed with all three items to Step 3.

Step 3: Step on over to any one of the empty voting booths and complete your ballot. Make sure that you completely fill in the oval next to your selection with the black ballpoint pen provided to you in Step 2. If you make a mistake – no problem, just see the poll worker back at Step 2 for a replacement ballot. When you are finished, review your selections on your ballot and, when you are ready, proceed on to Step 4 to wrap up the voting process.

Step 4: This is the optical scanner machine where you will feed in your ballot. A poll worker is stationed at this step to assist you in using the optical scanner. What you will do is to feed in your ballot into the slot on the optical scanner. If your ballot is marked correctly, the optical scanner will take your ballot, record your votes and deposit it in a locked and secured ballot box.

Once your ballot is successfully accepted, return the secrecy envelope and the black ballpoint pen you were given in Step 2 to the poll worker.

If you run into any difficulties, by all means ask the poll worker for help.

REMEMBER: Make your ballot selections very carefully! Once your ballot is fed into the optical scanner and it is accepted and your votes recorded, YOUR BALLOT CANNOT BE RETRIEVED!

Finally, collect your “I Voted” sticker from the poll worker as you exit. Now you have completed the Pinellas County Four-Step and you can be proud of yourself!

How About Them Rays!

The year was 1998. The place was Tropicana Field, right here in St. Petersburg.

I was just ready to get my second Associate in Science degree in Legal Assisting. I had all the courses completed and I was taking an extra Legal Assisting related class on a non-credit basis to round out my schedule now that I was on my way to graduation.

Meanwhile, on a sunny day in St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Rays – which was formerly known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays – began their inaugural season at Tropicana Field. While it was sunny outside, it was a cool 72 degrees inside Tropicana Field, which would make for a great game of baseball. The Rays took on the Detroit Tigers on 31 March 1998 before a sellout crowd of 45,369.

The first ten years of the Rays were anything but. We were basically the laughing stock of the American League East: Finishing last in the season, practically low attendance at Tropicana Field (save for a very miniscule number of near-sellout games), and more losses than wins season after season, not to mention fan dissatisfaction when Vince Naimoli was at the ownership helm.

Ten years later. The year is 2008.

Instead of being the laughing stock of the American League East, our Rays made a complete turnaround. We were winning more games than ever this season and we have had many sellout games. In fact, more than a handful of next to sellout games than past seasons.

We made it to the American League Divisional Series and we managed to beat the Chicago White Sox. We made it to the American League Championship Series and we managed to beat the Boston Red Sox – after seven games. After all, Boston was not going to let go of their defending World Series champion title without a fight. Until the very end at the seventh game on Sunday, 19 October 2008.

Now we made it. The Tampa Bay Rays – long known as the laughing stock of the American League East – is now going to the World Series!

You got that right. The Rays going to the World Series for the first time! I can’t believe it before my own eyes: I was watching Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at home on my widescreen HDTV when – in the top of the 9th Inning – the Red Sox’s Jed Lowrie hit a ground ball to Rays Second Baseman Akinori Iwamura. Once Akinori (or “Aki” for short) stepped on 2nd Base to make that final out history was being made right in front of my eyes on TV. Believe me, here is one Rays fan that was very excited!

There are plenty of things I feel that made the World Series possible for the Tampa Bay Rays. One important item of interest was the day when the word “Devil” was dropped from our team’s name and the uniform and logo was changed. Remember when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the laughing stock of the NFL for years? They changed their uniform and got rid of that “Bucco Bruce” logo that used to be part of the Buccaneers since 1977. And the reward for the Buccaneers? The Bucs are the 2003 Super Bowl champions!

There are more things I feel too that played an important role in the Rays going from the worst to the first. First, the change in managers when Joe Maddon was named the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays back in December 2005 replacing Lou Piniella. Second, when Stuart Sternberg bought into the Rays’ ownership group in 2004 he took a faltering team and basically rebuilt it from the ground up including improvements to Tropicana Field as well as revitalizing the fan experience.

2006 was really the turnaround year for the Rays when attendance began to increase resulting in sellout crowds. 2006 also saw the introduction of the “cowbell” which we Rays fans know by heart now.

Then to 2008 and that (almost!) championship season! The Rays did anything and everything to bring in the crowds to Tropicana Field, especially on Saturdays throughout the regular 2008 Baseball season when the Rays hosted a concert series when we had a home game. The Rays brought in the hottest acts in town including Latin superstar Gilberto Santa Rosa, among other things.

Now we have a baseball team right here in St. Petersburg – a Tampa Bay Rays we can now be proud of. And with the World Series being played right here in St. Petersburg (Games 1 and 2 and possible Games 6 and 7), St. Petersburg has finally earned its place on the map. Just don’t forget, the Tampa Bay Rays play right here in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field, on the corner of Interstate 275 and its Exit 22, Interstate 175. If any announcer on TV says that the Rays are from Tampa, that announcer did not get a lesson in geography yet.

St. Petersburg celebrates the Rays!

And one more item: Tropicana Field is a great stadium for baseball. Why move to another venue when Tropicana Field is just good enough? Downtown St. Petersburg is a great place for baseball, and Tropicana Field is the perfect place for it.

On another note: I know that tickets for the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field are hot commodities and practically the only way is to either go on to and purchase tickets (but be prepared to pay a steep premium!) or be one of the lucky few to be selected to purchase tickets from the Rays if you entered your name for the postseason ticket opportunity. If you do plan on going to any game of the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field, I would like to know if you were successful in getting tickets at a reasonable price.

I personally congratulate the Tampa Bay Rays for the best season – that championship season – ever in 2008!


Major updates to!

If you have logged in to starting today (Saturday, 27 September 2008) you may have noticed some updates I have made to the site. Here are the details of the updates I have made to

In the Roadtrips category:

I visited the Los Angeles area a little over a year ago over Labor Day weekend 2007 and I brought you photos and much more from that trip. A highlight of this trip is the side excursion to San Diego and across the Mexican border into Tijuana. I recently noticed pages of broken links to the pictures in days 3, 4 and 5 and I have fixed them; turns out I added a preceding zero to the day number when I had it set up otherwise (for example, I had it set up as “Day1” and when I coded the web page to make the links I typed in “Day01” – just a little web design reminder to check your work as you go along for any typos you may make!). But days 3, 4 and 5 have been fixed and the picture links have been brought in line with days 1 and 2.

After a few years here on it was time to retire the Baltimore and Washington roadtrips I made in 2005 and 2006. Like the other roadtrips I have made in the past my server space is limited and I can’t show all the roadtrips I have made since premiered in 2000.

In the Interesting Topics category:

In my Christmas 2007 and New Year 2008 post on the Edward Ringwald Blog one of the items I have mentioned was a discussion on one of Florida’s draconian laws, specifically Florida’s trespassing laws and how it is applied in a discriminatory manner when it comes to commercial public places. So, I spent the first half of 2008 crafting a white paper on why Florida’s trespassing laws are a recipe for discrimination and abuse of power. This is a must read for everyone, especially Florida residents, and you should read it word for word.

Another topic I have posted is about the Florida FCAT exam. For you parents of K-12 students out there the FCAT test is a required rite of passage, especially in the 10th grade of high school as this decides whether your child gets a high school diploma or not. I feel that the FCAT test needs to be done away with completely and replaced by meaningful end of course exams that truly reflect what was learned; doing so would put some meaningful education back into Florida’s public schools rather than the FCAT song and dance your children learn presently.

In the Drawbridges of the Pinellas Beaches category:

As we St. Petersburg and Pinellas County residents know the new span of the Johns Pass Bridge is complete and open to traffic. The new bridge is much more beautiful and more attractive than its 1971 northbound counterpart. What makes it so unique for you motorists out there is that the new bridge is concrete all the way across; you will not have to dread the monotonous sound of the steel grid deck which is the case with many of Pinellas County’s other drawbridges.

This is the second new drawbridge to be built with the movable span being a concrete deck. The first new drawbridge to get a concrete deck on the movable span was the new Treasure Island Causeway which opened in 2007.

If you haven’t been by the Johns Pass Bridge lately, you owe it to yourself to take a ride across the new span. If you drive south from Madeira Beach to Treasure Island, when you drive across it has the look and feel of Interstate 275 because of the emergency breakdown shoulder on the right lane. However, this is a new bridge carrying Gulf Blvd. (FL 699) across a body of water created by a hurricane way back in 1848. In fact, you should take a stroll across the new Johns Pass Bridge as it features a much wider sidewalk and observation decks on either side of the movable span; you can even get up close and personal as the drawbridge lifts and the tall boats go by.

The new Johns Pass Bridge is actually the new southbound span that will eventually carry southbound Gulf Blvd. (FL 699) traffic. Presently the new bridge carries two-way traffic while the 1971 northbound span is demolished and a new northbound span is constructed. In fact, I paid a visit to the new Johns Pass Bridge recently and the old steel grid decks have already been taken down. The new northbound span of the Johns Pass Bridge is scheduled to open around 2010.

I have added newer photos of the Johns Pass Bridge showing the construction and opening of the new southbound span for your viewing enjoyment.

In the overall category:

A security deterrent has been added to all pages on the site. If you attempt to right click anywhere on any page including any links you will get a pop-up message. I have tested this out on a few pages with good results and I have decided to apply this security feature site-wide.

I have had a few incidents with MySpace users who either (1) right click on a link to find out the exact URL for an image so that it can be copied onto a user’s MySpace page or (2) worse yet, download the image and then re-upload the image into MySpace. It is true: To download an image you can right click on the link and click on “Save Target As”; indicate where you want the file saved and you are in business.

However, and my sister site,, are hosted on shared web servers where I pay a monthly fee for. Part of that monthly fee is for bandwidth; if I go over my monthly bandwidth allotment my web hosting provider charges me for this. My pictures I have posted are my own creation and I don’t like to say this, but I cannot have users from MySpace or any other similar site going around and sapping my bandwidth. In other words, my pictures are there for your viewing pleasure and not for downloading and posting or hyperlinking to your MySpace page. Besides, and are copyrighted.

This same security deterrent will be also applied to when it gets a major update somewhere down the road. But it takes time, especially if you want to do things right.

Hopefully you will like the changes I have made to recently. Let me know what you think of the changes I have made.

Laptop Computer Miseries!

I know, it’s been a while since I last made an entry to any of my blogs as well as my websites. However, just after the 4th of July holiday my trusty laptop computer – basically the web design nerve center of both and – began acting sluggish. A couple of days later for no apparent reason, when I turned on my laptop it began to report that there are corrupted Windows system files (the files that enable your computer to work) among other things which prevented my laptop from starting up properly as it should. Once I got my laptop going (finally!) I immediately backed up all the files on my laptop – which contains my work on both and including revamping work I was doing on – onto a portable hard drive.

Once that was done, it was off to the Geek Squad located inside Best Buy on North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, just north of Interstate 275’s Exit 41. The Geek Squad technicians – called “agents” – took a good look at my laptop and it indeed required service. Luckily, my laptop was covered under a service plan I purchased at the same time I purchased my laptop in December 2006 thanks to a wonderful Best Buy sales associate. Ironically, that was the same sales associate who helped me when I purchased my nephew’s laptop when he graduated from high school several months later!

So, out goes the paperwork that the Geek Squad needed to check in my laptop for service. With an in-store turnaround of one week at the time, that meant I would be without my laptop and I would have to be dependent on my two desktop computers I have at home for a while, if not longer. That’s right, no laptop.

One week passed. Geek Squad called me and informed me that there were hardware issues that could not be resolved in the store such as the memory modules, among other things. In short, my laptop had to be sent out to Geek Squad Central for repair. That meant another two weeks without my laptop – ouch!

Welcome to the world of life without my laptop computer.

Things would be a little tougher without my trusty laptop: No checking my email, no working on my websites – I was without my laptop while it was in the hands of the Geek Squad. But I managed to sell a couple of items on eBay using my desktop computer at home. At least that’s what backup computers are for.

All of this while my laptop was shipped out of state for repair.

Another two weeks have gone by without any word on how my laptop is doing. So, I pay a visit to the Geek Squad over at Best Buy one Saturday afternoon while I am out and about to check on its status. You can check the status of your computer repair at Geek Squad online, but it only gives you little information. However, since I was in the vicinity of Best Buy on Dale Mabry and Interstate 275 I stopped by.

Some good news came out of my visit to the Geek Squad:

The good news was that Geek Squad Central found nothing serious with the hardware part of my laptop, which was a relief. The memory modules were OK and the Windows system files were repaired in order to get the laptop working.

Now the bad news:

Due to file corruption issues within the system files of Windows XP, Geek Squad strongly suggested that I reinstall Windows completely from the restore DVDs. Geek Squad offered to do it for me, but I rather save the money for an upcoming trip by doing the Windows restoration by myself. Unfortunately, the extended service plan does not cover software repair, only hardware repair.

So, my laptop was on its way back from Geek Squad Central to Tampa. Wait practically an extra week to allow for UPS to deliver.

I got the telephone call when I got home from work that I was expecting: It was the Geek Squad saying that my laptop was ready to be picked up. In other words, after almost a month without my laptop it was time to be reunited once more.

It was simple as hopping into my car and making the short drive on Interstate 275 to Exit 41 (the Dale Mabry exit) and to Best Buy. I was excited to get my laptop back, minus some difficulty with a Geek Squad agent who was not interested in rendering good customer service when I picked up my laptop (I spoke to the manager about what happened and it was resolved to my satisfaction). Once I had my trusty laptop back in my hands I took it back home.

The next day it was time to reinstall Windows XP using a format and reinstall method to ensure that all the Windows system files are good as intact. But I made sure that I backed up all of my data files – including my website files – before doing so.

I spent practically all Saturday afternoon performing a clean reinstall of Windows XP using the recovery DVDs that I had. By late Saturday night after plenty of laptop restarts and uninstalling unneeded software (as well as installing the software I use) my laptop was back in business. Just restore all the data files and I am good to go, which I have done.

I got to admit, the Geek Squad did the best job possible in identifying what went wrong with my trusty laptop and even took the time to send it out for evaluation and repair. Now I can work on my websites once again.

Without the miseries, of course.

Sometimes Close To Home School is not the case

If you live in St. Petersburg, Clearwater or anywhere else in Pinellas County and you have children going to public school you know already about the new student assignment plan that will take effect as of the 2008-2009 school year. Since 2000 school assignment in Pinellas County public schools was based on the choice model in which parents chose a school from among so many schools within a given area. For instance, middle schools had three different areas and high schools are one area, being countywide. As a parent, you got to choose the school you want your child to go to. That’s fair enough.

All that is going to change.

After much heated public debate and so many public hearings, the Pinellas County School District adopted a new student assignment plan effective as of the 2008-2009 school year. The intent of this plan is directed by a set of guiding principles, and one of them is to have students attend a school closest to their home. Another item in the guiding principles is that the Pinellas County School District saves money on transportation costs, as it costs quite a sum of money to operate the District’s so many school buses throughout Pinellas County.

Just recently the finalized attendance zone maps were released for middle and high schools; attendance zone maps for the elementary schools have been released but we’ll get to that later. I had a look at these attendance zone maps and, while a school may indeed be close to home, for many that school around the corner which could be a close to home school for you is not your assigned school.

Take Windward Pointe as an example.

Located in the far northeast reaches of the Gandy area of St. Petersburg at 4th Street North and 115th Avenue North, Windward Pointe is a 308-unit condominium complex. It was initially constructed in the early 1970’s as an apartment complex and the second phase was constructed around 1979. Two years later, in 1981 the apartment complex was converted into condominium living units and assumed the current Windward Pointe name. Its location is ideal to Tampa International Airport and Tampa via a direct connection on 4th Street North to Interstate 275 as well as St. Petersburg via 4th Street North south to Gandy Boulevard and beyond. The Carillon Office Park, home to numerous well known St. Petersburg companies, is located nearby and makes a quick commute for Windward Pointe residents who work there.

If you have children who live at Windward Pointe who go to school, you think that Meadowlawn Middle School (4.97 miles) and Northeast High School (5.45 miles) are the closest schools for your child. Under the Choice model Northeast High was accessible to you as there is one attendance area for high schools and that is countywide; however, for middle school Meadowlawn is not accessible to you because it is located in Middle School Attendance Area A. Instead, Windward Pointe is located in Middle School Attendance Area B and you could only choose from the following middle schools: Morgan Fitzgerald, Largo, Madeira Beach, Osceola, Pinellas Park or Seminole.

You got that right. None of these middle schools are in St. Petersburg. Under the Choice model your child has to travel a great distance to one of these middle schools; for example, Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School is 9.02 miles from Windward Pointe.

With the Close To Home Model coming in the 2008-2009 school year your choices for middle and high school are very limited. Again, you think that Northeast High School and Meadowlawn Middle School will become Close To Home schools for you: Think again.

Under the Close To Home Model if you live in Windward Pointe your children are going to be bussed to schools which are further than Northeast High or Meadowlawn Middle. So, your children that are entering the 6th Grade in 2008-2009 will be bussed to Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School (a distance of 9.02 miles) and those entering the 9th Grade in 2008-2009 will be bussed to Pinellas Park High School (a distance of 9.16 miles). Again, none of these schools are in St. Petersburg: Your children are going to be bussed to Largo because that’s where the two schools are located. Both schools are located on 118th Avenue North just east of 66th Street North.

Now if you are wondering where you would live to have your children attend Meadowlawn Middle and Northeast High Schools: The dividing line for middle and high schools is none other than Gandy Boulevard. That means those living south of Gandy Boulevard in the far northeast area of St. Petersburg can attend Meadowlawn and Northeast, while those north of Gandy Boulevard have practically no choice but to be bussed to Morgan Fitzgerald and Pinellas Park. Unless, of course, you get your child into one of the magnet programs offered at the schools or try to get into the school you want during the open enrollment period which I believe will be in August 2008 before the new school year starts.

In my opinion, the Pinellas County School District has done quite a disservice to the residents of Windward Pointe as well as the rest of the far northeast St. Petersburg area north of Gandy Boulevard as far as middle and high school assignments are concerned. Why?

First, the school assignments are a clear violation of the District’s Guiding Principles when the Close To Home Model was adopted. Not only will be a major expense to the District when it comes to transporting these students to these too distant schools, students on board the school buses will be mixed in with the morning and evening commutes. That means too much transit time when our children can participate in after school activities and/or to get homework done.

Second, Windward Pointe along with the rest of the immediate far northeast area of St. Petersburg loses its identity as a St. Petersburg community. Personally, I believe your children should go to school in the community that you live in. If you live in St. Petersburg, your children should be going to St. Petersburg area schools, not shipped off to Pinellas Park or Largo. This can also have the potential to drive property values downward, especially in an already depressed real estate market.

Why will it affect the real estate market as far as Windward Pointe is concerned? Families with children depend on quality education from our public schools; after all, all Pinellas County property owners have to pay taxes to the Pinellas County School District whether you have children going to school or not. People ask as part of the neighborhood evaluation process in buying a home what schools their children will have to go to. Once it is learned that children are going to have to be bussed to a distant school as opposed to the nearest school people will more than likely think twice before buying into a neighborhood.

Now for the flip side of the Close To Home coin: Elementary schools. How does that fare for which elementary school your child will be going to, especially if your child is starting school for the first time or just moved in. After all, Pinellas County has so many elementary schools.

Let’s look at the elementary school assignment, again from a Windward Pointe perspective like we did with middle and high school assignments. You may be surprised.

You will be pleased to know that your assigned elementary school is a close to home school and located in St. Petersburg. That elementary school is Sawgrass Lake Elementary School, which is located on 77th Avenue North just west of 16th Street North. At least in elementary school your children will not be bussed to a distant school outside of St. Petersburg and somewhere in the far reaches of Pinellas County.

My recommendation would be for the Pinellas County School District to go back and revisit their middle and high school close to home school assignment maps. Perhaps the boundary line for middle and high schools ought to be redrawn so that it follows Interstate 275 all the way to the Howard Frankland Bridge. I feel it is the people who live west of Interstate 275 and north of Gandy Boulevard – which is the Carillon and Feather Sound areas – that Morgan Fitzgerald and Pinellas Park should really be their close to home schools and those east of Interstate 275 and north of Gandy Boulevard should be assigned to Meadowlawn and Northeast as their close to home middle and high schools respectively.

There’s a related article in the St. Petersburg Times where a Palm Harbor mother was hoping to send her daughter to a close to home school, Palm Harbor University High School. However, it turns out that her daughter will have to be bussed to Tarpon Springs High School, which is much further away. You can read this article just by clicking on this link.

Now I want your reaction to the Pinellas County School District’s Close To Home school assignment plan.