Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cruising Weekend

With CE doing a semester-long overseas college stint in Korea and WT well-ensconced in Gainesville to work with his professor in preparation for Grad school in the coming Spring, Wify and I are having a rare time of being a two-some, just like a pair of newly-wed, at least in spirit.

Now, how does a pair of “newly-wed” spend their weekend? Well, ours is not a good, may not even be credible at all, example. But this is what we did.

Yesterday was spent on visiting WT at Gainesville, what else? Today, we decided to cruise around town. We took I-275 toward downtown, but swang by Tampa Bay Park, wanting to revisit the water lily pond located by the side of M.L. King Jr. Blvd. I pass by it every working day and know that the sprouting season is on.

The first inkling of something was not right when our digital camera failed to respond when the on switch was pressed. And I guessed it right, I forgot to reload the batteries. We always remove the batteries when the camera is not in use, to prevent power leakage from the non-chargeable variety that we have been using. So we found a CVS store not far down the road on Dale Mabry. And it was back to the Park again.

We managed to shoot a few scenes around where we parked and were moving across the road to the pond when somebody called us from a distance. It was a security guard in a buggy. Well, the place is a private property after all, and we needed the approval from the property owner even to be on the premises. On our defense, the place is a business park and not gated, and we were here the last time around with no incident. However, we did miss a sign by the road side that says cars will be towed. So all we ended up with to show for the visit are the photos below, before we were asked to leave.

Some nice reflections from the office glass facade at Tampa Bay Park. There is the white cloud (top panel), and there is the Tampa Bay Bucaneers' (NFL team) Flag (bottom panel, left). Then there are the reed plants just being themselves, abiding by the wind, and some low-level palms.

Wify standing in front of the reed plant community.

Wify by the railing, and there is the Bucaneers' flag again, fluttering in the wind; but this is no reflection.

Yellow flowers, the same kind that abounds in Malaysia, as Wify intoned.

It was around lunch time, and we decided to cruise along Dale Mabry looking for a lunch place. And we found the Golden Phoenix Restaurant, offering Vietnamese and HongKong cuisine. Wify had seafood noodle, and me, golden beach fried rice. Plus three servings of the dim sum, two marked in blue circles in the dim sum menu below (stuffed eggplant and steamed spareribs) and a third, a tofu (similar to the Yong Tau Foo in Malaysia) dish that is not on the menu (the full menu can be found here).

The front of the Golden Phoenix Restaurant located at 8199 N. Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33614.

The dim sum menu showing our choices for the lunch dessert in blue circles (stuffed eggplant and steamed spareribs).

The ambience was great, the service top-notched, and the food, tasty. We left behind a handsome tip, at least by our standard. Then it was some grocery shopping followed by some routine home-bound activities like me blogging (with the College Football SEC Preview on TV on the same time) and Wify catching up with the world's ongoing through Internet, followed by a brief nap and later, painting. Then it's the beginning of another work week.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My way, the highway

One of the 5C's that are the aspirations of the yuppies is Car, or automobile as it is better known here. Not for its utility value though, but as a status symbol. However, for the majority of us who works 9 to 5, car is a necessity of sort, at least in a city like Tampa, not large enough to support its own Mass Rail Transit; and sufficiently sprawling for the other public transport modes to be stretched to their limits. Car ownership is also encouraged by its relatively low price, and further egged on by the similarly low-priced gasoline.

Driving in US in general is facilitated by the well laid-out road network, practically reaching every nook and corner. Public free car-parks are aplenty (except the downtown which we avoid), so is road courtesy bountiful, making it a real pleasure to drive on the road. At the same time, there is no log jam that afflicts big cities, other than the frequent crawls during rush hours and the occasional grid-lock during heaving downpour. But you learn to avoid these foreseeable trouble spots, and plan your trip around them.

I used to be the only driver in our family, faithfully ferrying anyone who needed a ride. Then CY got her driver license and car, but she is too far away to cause any dent on my driving load. Then this summer, it was WT's turn. And he got through on his second try, though the abortive first attempt was not exactly his fault.

Here's what I gathered from WT and the tester after the fact as we were waiting in the office. WT had just gone around the carpark next to the RMV office, with the tester on his side. Then while he was planning to move out of the carpark for the road test, a truck came out of nowhere and cut him off, missing him by half a foot (based on the distance between the tester's two open palms when he was relating to us the circumstances of WT's failing grade back in the office). The tester actually had to ask WT to stop the car to avoid a clash; and that was enough ground for failing the road test. But he assured me that WT definitely had the right of way. However, he does need to be more observant, which is the essence of defensive driving. Having the right of way does not mean accidents will not happen as we have no control over how others will behave on the road. The next day, we received the thumb up sign from another tester who administered the road test. Now I have somebody to share my driving duty.

However, before WT can measure up to that onerous task, he needed to develop his driving repertoire further, which includes being highway-worthy, driving-wise. So both of us drove in tandem to Gainesville last weekend. We debated whether he should lead or not. The pros: he could drive at his own pace. The cons: he might not be able to react if the front driver behaves erratically. With me in front, at least he knows I will have him on my rear mirror at all times. As for the pros, I have driven long enough, including many times as the lead car, to know how to maintain a pace that is comfortable to those who follow as well as making sure the distance between us is safe. So it was no contest at all: I had to lead.

So for the next 120 miles or so, most of them on Interstate 75, we hogged the inner lane, keeping at a constant speed of 60-65 mph, i.e., a notch under the posted speed limit. Well, frankly, I had never been overtaken by so many cars in one trip. But I persevered, looking more frequently at my rear mirror than through the front wind screen.

Yes, that's what we did, dutifully, though not to Tijuana Flats.

We stopped at the first rest area without any incident, thinking that it might do a lot of good to WT's jitters after his maiden drive on the Interstate for about 40miles. If he had any, he didn't show. Just cool and calm.

At the first rest area. Mr. Cool and Calm with his even cooler Mom, spotting the large wrap-around of a pair of sun-glasses.

After finding nothing was amiss, we rejoined the interstate, but not before telling WT to watch out for traffic joining the Interstate from the right since we were on the inner lane. “If the car is slightly ahead, slow down and let him merge,” I instructed.

We decided to skip the second rest area coming up at about the half-way point and continued. The next test was when the northbound Interstate that we were on joins the Florida Turnpike from Miami where we came in from the left. If we were to stay in the inner lane as planned, we needed to navigate across three lanes. Fortunately, there was a break in the traffic flow from Miami and we were able to do that with no car to our right.

When we were approaching the third and last rest area, which is practically just out-of-town from Gainesville, I was preparing to only stop at our destination when I caught something in my rear mirror. WT's car suddenly veered off to the roadside and then it was steered back, but luckily no over-steering, which many novice drivers are prone to do. I tell you, my heart just got a jolt. And I slowed down and led him to the rest area not far ahead, speculating that perhaps he almost feel asleep at the wheels, which could be the result of the initial adrenaline rush and sustained intensity during the drive.

When confronted, he nonchalantly attributed that to trying to adjust the radio dial. I told him in no uncertain terms, don't ever do that again. Even for experienced driver like me who can at least keep one eye on the road, it's also a No-No. A car moving at 60mph is moving at about 27m a second. That is, in a split second, the car has already moved ahead by 20 some meters, more than enough to end up in the road-side ditch, and worse still, smash into the front car if the front driver decides to slow down.

Once I had a burst front tire when it grated the road-side curb while I was adjusting my rear-view mirror. And the bursting motion propelled the wheel hub cover into the air, across a fence, and landed in the lawn behind it, rather harmlessly. Though I was able to control the car, now wobbling along with one wheel on the flat, it was a frightful experience. So many things could have gone wrong. I could have careened toward an on-coming car, the flung hub could have hit somebody …

So WT make it through his first maiden trek on the Interstate. I'm sure he will have many many more of that now that he has his own car. And I hope he will remember what he learned on this very first trip of his. Yes, remind me to tell him about the burst tire episode.

Actually, this was taken today, the different dresses obviously a giveaway. Yes, we drove to Gainesville again and had lunch with WT at Merlion, which serves a nice vegan menu.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Glimpses of Nature and the Built Environment

While we cannot forestall development for the sake of progress, we certainly do not need, and cannot afford anyway, to let development frittle away the riches of nature. I have tried to catch the juxtaposition of these built and the natural environments, sometimes in a rather comical way by chance, on film of course.

I have picked a dozen or so of these images, and rendered each of them with captions that would, hopefully, evoke in you a sense of nostalgia, deja vu, comic relief, or some other sentiments that just missed me totally.

Captioning is an artform the timeliness, the relevance, and the poignancy of which seems to grow with the age of caption dabblers as our experiential base expands with our constant wrestling with life's many challenges. Certainly reading and travelling widely would infuse perspectives that will escape even the most astute of the home-bound observers. In this respect, I would very much like to hear from you your own renditions as a sharing adventure. Let the fun begin.

Bouquets of clouds drifting toward my home ... This is the starting lyrics of a popular Chinese children song that we sang while in elementary school. Those were care-free rustic days ...

A climb to nowhere or a giant white hat?

Boy, it's difficult to find anythng to eat on this hard surface.

"No argument there, pal. But what about that stuff by your side? Don't they look yummy?" (in reply to the birdie above)

Hooray, the light beacon.

Watch out, giant light bulb in front.

Hanging loose.

Control Tower to pilot: Follow the skylight to get out of the storm cloud. Oops, scratch that, the light is out. In that case, use human pilot.

Giant earth-bound arms in sync. Result: beautiful sunset.

Giant earth-bounds arms at odd. Result: Storm brewing.

(Development =) Prosperity and Leafless trees (=renewal).

The way I see it. You have two choices. Go down the ladder or the chute. Which is it going to be?

Camouflage, of the avian kind.

What are you gawking at? At least I'm more real than that guy hanging on the top right, though only one guy (yours truly) shoots at me.

Yes, ladies, I can jump.

Don't mess with my watch.

Broken wings.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Marie Selby Gardens: Communion with Nature

After several days of sort of technical blogging on SEO in succession, it's time to take a breather and to infuse some levity or leisure moments into my blog for a change. Let's see, flipping through our digital photo album, my eyes settled on the sub-folder labeled Selby Gardens. And my memory drifted back, though it was not that long ago that we visited the Selby Gardens located at Sarasoto. It was a comfortable hour-long drive, and the exhibits therein blending the splendor of the floral kingdom with the natural bay-side ambience was well-worth the paid admission, and more.

The full name is Marie Selby Gardens. The tagline on its website refers to "a tropical oasis nestled on the bayfront of Sarasota, Florida" and "where fun is in full bloom". Opened in 1975, the Gardens now occupies a bay fringe tract of 13 acres. Guided by the vision that "the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is the leader in the study, conservation, and display of epiphytes and their canopy habitats", the Gardens hosts the best collection of epiphytes in the world. A throng of 180,000 visitors visit the Gardens on an annual basis where they marvel at the beautiful horticultural displays and learn from its offerings of educational programs as well. The Gardens maintains a plant collection numbering more than 20,000 greenhouse plants, plus thousands more in the outdoor gardens.

And we are glad that we decided to undertake this trip, primarily on wify's urging after I defaulted on my ferrying duty several times, and took away with us "a better understanding and greater appreciation of the natural world and the challenges it faces," as what the website promises.

Here then are the unforgetable sights of the Selby Gardens, as my lens captured them.

Right at the entrance.

Reaching out.

Catch me not.

Long tongues.


Drooping ribbons.

Color me pink.

Rafts in the air.

Horticulture in a saucer, Japanese style.

Petite beauty, all the way from Malaysia (click image to read the plaque).

The butterfly effect, in poetic expression.

The ripple effect, cast across the koi pond.

The epitome of relaxation.

The joy of carefree bare-foot saunter.

Serenity amidst the hustle and bustle where impermanence rules.

Unde the Bodhi tree, at the seat of enlightenment.

The Bodhi leave, cascading in wisdom.

The bay bridge framed by the Bodhi leaves, while the bench beckons.

V-J Day, but in Sarasota.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Power of Keywords

Keywords form the gist of Chapter 5 of Michael Miller's The Complete Idiot's Guide to SEO, immediately following Content.

If Content is viewed as a wheel in motion, ferrying you to places, then keywords would be the spokes that radiate out from the center hub. They are essential for motion, but one can readily observe that the number of spokes is just adequate for the purpose at hand: too few and the wheel will become rickety; too many it makes a solid wheel, lacking the spatial mix that renders it attractive.

Of course coming up with a list of relevant, and hopefully highly searchable, words is just the beginning. But it's a huge beginning. You would think that coming up with the list is intuitive. After all we do this everyday, looking up stuff online.

Long before these web search keywords come into vogue, the academic community is already using the system in printed journals for the ease of indexing and sourcing relevant journal articles. Drive along an urban road, you can see giant billboards of an advertisement, feasting your eyes with countless keywords that could practically last a life time. However, this mental imprints do not stay long in the mind, or they are quickly shoved off to the deep recesses of the memory bank, being pushed into oblivion by new arrivals.

Hence, the keyword trackers or research tools that will do the memorizing, and also prompting, for you. They are supposedly based on what users actually type in the query box. They can also do the reverse by back-tracing to the original search terms if you want to know how successful articles were searched.

Once the proper list of keywords is up, the next step, which requires more planning, is their insertion into the webpage at just the right dosage: having too many leads to keyword stuffing, a definite No-No that can even disbar you from the search engine fraternity; having too few diminishes the impact and severely limiting the prospect of being taken seriously.

Hence, keyword density, a concept borrowed from the measure of the amount of material within a specified volume, in this case, applied in the two-dimensional sense represented by a surface area. Recommended densities in this respect can vary from 5% to 20%, depending on the length of the page. Obviously a longer page with a higher percentage of keywords sprinkled throughout may still be readable compared to a shorter page but strewn with the same percentage of keywords.

Then there are placement locations to consider. Michael Miller recommends at least once in the preamble/introduction and another time in the concluding paragraph. Another way is to partition the page into sections with headings, which are then legitimately colonized by the keywords.

Whatever the techniques, ultimately, it's still the human reader who will be the arbiter of whether the page is a forced concoction arranged to suit the keywords or it is a enjoyable read, regardless of whether it is ranked high or not.

That said, one can also argue that if the page is not ranked high in the first place, chances are it would not be read. Therefore, in addition to appealing to the human eye, the page also needs to be searchbot-friendly, in a way pandering to their set ways of sniffing. And this is most efficiently, and effectively as well, done through optimizing the HTML tags, the subject of Chapter 6 of Michael Miller's book.

That prospect led me down the memory lane, going back to the mid-1990s when I took some introductory courses in HTML codes, and even experimented with my own off-line personal journal, complete with photos interspersed between the HTML tags. It will be a long overdue refresher course of sort.