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Date of Issue: April 27, 2006

Sandscript

New red tide robots, mystery conference coming in June

There's a new arrow in the quiver of ammunition for the war on red tide.

Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota and Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg are preparing to release three free-ranging submersibles this summer in the Gulf of Mexico to hunt down red tide blooms. The goal is to locate the fish-killing algae before it blooms and begins to release its toxic chemicals and identify the conditions that caused the red tide to bloom in the first place.

The robot-controlled torpedo-shaped mini-subs will track offshore waters of Southwest Florida, taking water samples and transmitting the data to shore-based scientists for analysis. If red tide is detected, boats will be deployed to take further readings.

Scientists hope that early detection of red tide will provide clues to why the blooms occur. There have also been laboratory tests done on small samples of the algae that have eliminated the toxic effects of the bloom, and the hope is that if a bloom is small enough it can be hammered down before it gets big.

The submersibles are the newest addition to the red tide data-collection process by scientists. Also in action are spotter airplanes, regular water-sampling stations and satellite imagery.

Red tide is found in the water almost all the time. For reasons still debated by researchers, the algae begins to multiply, or bloom, and can cover miles and miles of water. The toxic chemicals released in blooms can kill fish and other marine life, like manatees and dolphins, and can cause respiratory distress in humans as red tide drifts close to shore.

Although most blooms are of short duration, 2005 saw almost a year-long outbreak that plagued Southwest Florida and the state's Panhandle region.

There has been debate among scientists in recent years over the impact manmade chemicals have in the creation of red tide outbreaks. Some researchers believe nutrient runoff from land in the form of fertilizers and other chemicals exacerbate the outbreaks; others state the science to substantiate those claims doesn't back up the belief.

 

Glittery puzzle

Price of gold topped $600 an ounce not too long ago, the first time it's been that high in 25 years.

I also paid $3.08 a gallon late last week for premium gas.

Remember the oil embargo in the early 1970s, and the price of gold going to $2,000 an ounce? Are we looking at the same silliness again?

Could be, as some gold commodity traders predict that the precious metal could top $1,000 an ounce before things settle down.

The reason for the mention of gold and gas is a weird comment an investment buddy of mine told me months and months ago when we were talking about the usual inanities. He'd been studying gold and fuel prices, going back more than 100 years, and found that the price per ounce has generally reflected the cost of a man's high-quality suit.

When we were talking months ago, gold was hovering around $350 per ounce, and he told me - since I'm not much of a suit-wearing guy - that you couldn't get even a halfway decent suit for that price. Look for $500 or $600 for gold pretty soon, he advised, since that mimics the cost of an OK suit.

So I made some calls, and found that men's suit prices today at discount stores are in the $200-$500 range, but that $600 is a pretty good mark if you want to look sharp.

And if you want to look really spiffy, $800 or $1,000 for a suit is also in line with current prices.

Weird stuff, eh?

 

Big boats, er, ships

Here's something for those of us suffering from big-yacht envy: The country's fourth-largest private vessel is undergoing some cleaning and repairs in St. Petersburg.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, the Tatoosh will be at the Port of St. Petersburg for another week or so. It's 301 feet long, reportedly cost $100 million, and is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He also owns the Portland Trail Blazers, as all National Basketball Association fans probably know.

Another of Allen's boats, the Meduse, this one a paltry 199 feet in length, anchored off Anna Maria Island in 1997 and created quite a stir among boaters, who kept circling the boat to catch a glimpse of the crystal chandeliers and other goodies aboard.

The Tatoosh is alleged to have five decks, a swimming pool, a French limestone fireplace and comes equipped with a 40-foot sailboat, 40-foot speedboat and two helicopters.

Oh, and Allen also has the No. 2 big-U.S. boat, the Octopus, which stretches to 414 feet in length.

 

'Mystery Florida' writing, reading conference set June 2-3"Mystery Florida: A Conference To Die For," is scheduled for June 2-3, in Sarasota.

The event is for readers, writers and friends of the Florida mystery novel genre, and will feature an intimate gathering of some of the finest of the Sunshine State's writers.

Featured authors scheduled to appear include:

James O. Born, ("Escape Clause," "Walking Money,"); Tom Corcoran, ("Air Dance Iguana," "Mango Opera,"); Tim Dorsey, ("Big Bamboo," "Florida Roadkill"); Stuart Kaminsky, ("Behind the Mystery," "Vengeance"); Jonathan King, ("A Killing Night," "Blue Edge of Midnight"); Christine Kling, ("Bitter End," "Surface Tension"); Bob Morris, ("Jamaica Me Dead," "Bahamarama"); Barbara Parker, ("Suspicion of Madness," "Suspicion of Innocence"); James Swain, ("Mr. Lucky," "Grift Sense"); and Randy Wayne White, ("Dark Light," "Sanibel Flats").

The event will also feature representatives from "Crime Scene Sarasota," who will offer insights into the forensic work involved in their work to solve crimes, and law enforcement officers who have been involved in breaking some of the biggest cases in the state's history - all located in Sarasota.

"Mystery Florida: A Conference To Die For" will begin on Wednesday, May 31, with a cocktail party featuring Swain, a master of magic, card tricks and gambling. The Swain Soiree is open to the public and free of charge, and his books will be available for sale and signing.

The conference proper will begin on Friday, June 2, with the "Mystery Mingle," which will host the featured authors and other Florida writers for book signings and informal conversation. This event is also open to the public and free.

"Mystery Florida" will continue on Saturday, June 3, with panel discussions and a luncheon. Lunch that day will feature a tribute to John D. MacDonald, the dean of Sarasota - and perhaps Florida - mystery writers, hosted by noted MacDonald historian Cal Branche.

All events will be held at the Holiday Inn Lido Beach, 233 Ben Franklin Drive, Sarasota.

Conference registration is $99 per person, and includes cocktails at the Friday night event, continental breakfast and lunch Saturday.

Patron tickets are available at $500 per couple and include all the conference activities plus a private dinner with the authors Saturday.

The conference is sponsored in part by Circle Books of St. Armands Circle and the Sarasota County Film Commission.

Further information is available at mysteryflorida.com. Checks may be made payable to Mystery Florida, Inc., and mailed to 478 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota FL 34236.

Hope to see you there!

 

Sandscript factoid

The red tide-seeking torpedoes are battery powered and have a range of more than 930 miles per charge. Traveling at a whopping 1/2 mph, they can stay out in the Gulf for about a month and they can dive to depths of more than 650 feet. Cool, huh?

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