Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina takes out the Superdome

After getting mauled by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' Superdome, the last refuge for more than 20,000 residents, now needs to be evacuated because of the unchecked flooding in the city (see "Governor: Everyone must leave New Orleans."). Check out this aerial view of the Superdome roof damage courtesy The Seattle Times and Getty Images.

While officials with the NFL and the New Orleans Saints fret about whether or not the damage will affect the teams' regular season home-opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 18, I can't help but think about the thousands of high school and college fields that may have been ruined by the hurricane. There's no way to quantify the value of safe and playable athletic fields to kids, parents, schools and communities. For one thing, kids who are playing in organized sports are not getting in trouble.

Right now, the federal and state emergency authorities are battling to take care of the people who are stranded in the emergency. So there's not much the rest of us can do except pray for the safety of the emergency workers and the residents.

But perhaps those of us who have dodged the natural disaster bullet this time can take thought now for what we might be able to offer after the emergency is over.

Do you belong to a state or regional landscaping or sports turf association that might organize a volunteer work day to help restore athletic fields? Can your company donate products or services to such an effort? If you hear of a project like this in the coming months, be sure and contact us so we can give it coverage in our e-mail newsletters, LM Week in Review and Athletic Turf News.

—Lynne Brakeman

Monday, August 29, 2005

Energy picture not pretty

When I handed the pizza delivery guy a buck for a $10 pizza, he made an expression like I had tried to slip a week-old cow pie into his hand. Then I looked out and I saw what he was driving — looked like a '78 Buick. A big hunk of a car. In a flash it dawned on me what was going on. It probably cost him more than a buck's worth of gas to get that pizza to my front door. And he knew it. He was losing money delivering pizzas!

OK, I guess I'm the serious one on this editorial staff. Maybe that's because I think I've seen this scenario play out before. What I'm talking about is the cost of energy. My memory isn't so bad that I don't remember the '70s oil squeeze and the long lines at the gas pumps. We followed up that lovely few months with a stretch of some pretty horrific inflation. Folks, I don't want to sound like the voice of doom but the rising cost of energy (everything from the fuel that runs our cars and machinery to home heating oil and natural gas) is suggesting to me that we better keep our financial houses in order and our eyes open. When energy costs more, just about everything else is going to cost more.

— Ron Hall

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lawnmower heaven

My lawnmower died on me.

It was a slow and painful death for the old boy. Though reliable for many years, this summer he started to fall apart. Black, acrid smoke billowed from the engine, the wheels treads came apart, and the drive belt would pop off frequently. And once he got started, I couldn’t stop, because the engine would flood and I wasn’t sure when he would get back going again.

This became a problem because my dog likes to chase around the lawnmower, and though she never really gets that close (she just barks and growls at it from a distance) I’d occasionally have to stop before she put herself in front of my path.

This week, I gave the starter cord a yank and the engine gave a final wheeze before proclaiming, in lawnmower speak, “I give up. I’m done.” I tried to resuscitate him with a few more yanks of the starting cord, but it was clear he was gone. A small black cloud of smoke dissipating in the air symbolized his soul going to lawnmower heaven.

So now, just about one month after starting here at Landscape Management, I’m faced with a difficult decision, one that will put everything I’ve learned so far to the test. What lawnmower to buy?

Well, it’s not really that big of a deal. I have a pretty tiny yard. But what this decision makes me realize is how difficult it is for professionals in the mowing industry to pick which mower is right for them. I’ll spend maybe 15 minutes per week with the mower I buy, even less often in dry, hot summers like this one. But for professionals, they will spend 8-12 hours per day, 6-7 days per week on their mowers. The mowers they pick could help make or break their business.

Fortunately, in the September issue of Landscape Management, we will be looking at buying the right mower for your property. So in case anyone out there is facing a similar question to mine, although probably on a larger scale, this article should answer your questions. Keep an eye out for it.

As for me, I think I’ve figured out the best way to pick my mower. I’m going to bring my dog to the store with me. The one she barks at the most is the one I’ll buy.

— Mike Seuffert

Thursday, August 25, 2005

No more annoying ring tones!!

OK! Here's some real "news you can use."

Researchers at MIT have come up with The Cellular Squirrel (left). This cuddly looking squirrel is actually an Autonomous Interactive Intermediary (AII). It uses artificial intelligence to analyze your cell phone calls and alerts you by waving its arms, wagging its head and blinking its eyes. You can whisper to it to take a message, or you can talk to the caller by talking right to the squirrel.

No more embarrassing ringtones during client meetings! The squirrel is both cute and high-tech! Clients will see you as both warm and fuzzy and "wired."

The Cellular Squirrel was built by MIT researcher Stefan Marti for his dissertation. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like you can buy one on ... yet!

Check out The Cellular Squirrel Web site for pictures of its insides and videos of the cellullar squirrel in action. There's also a BBC article: "Squirrel helps with mobile calls."

—Lynne Brakeman

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In cities all around us ...

I was on a plane recently (big surprise there) and in one of the in-flight magazines I came across an article profiling a Texas- and California-based landscape architect named James Burnett. He recently designed an urban landscape for a new residential building development in Chicago called The Park at Lakeshore East. It's got dog parks, walking paths, water gardens, you name it. Urban landscaping intrigues me. At first I think about all the creative apartment dwellers in big cities like NYC that have developed ways to "landscape" their balconies and fire escapes, rigging together all sorts of pots to hang off the railing. Now all the major cities have caught on and come up with amazingly cool urban landscape plans for shopping avenues, public parks and new housing. The processes involved in truly progressive urban planning are interesting and it's great to see landscaping as part of those plans. I wonder how long it will take before urban landscaping is a necessity in every city, even the not-so-nice ones? I know it would make a big difference.

— Stephanie Ricca

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cell phones and traffic don't mix

I do a lot of driving and I also (like just about every other human on the planet) use a cell phone. Yep, I sometimes make or take calls on my cell phone when I'm driving . . . but not when I'm in traffic. It's dangerous, dangerous, dangerous. I know; I've had a couple of close calls and I've learned my lesson. Yet, every day I get some moron tailgating me on a busy highway and when he or she finally whizzes by me at 10 mph over the posted speed limit, as often as not they're yakking on a cell phone. Who can do two things well at the same time? The operative word here is "well". So when we're driving let's drive. And when we want to talk on the phone, and especially when we're in traffic, let's pull over and concentrate on that.

— Ron Hall

Friday, August 19, 2005

Crazy fuel prices

I keep wondering how high fuel prices will have to go before people really start to change their driving and fuel-use habits. Does gasoline and diesel have to get to $3 or maybe $4 a gallon before we get serious about eliminating unnecessary travel and say adios to jobs that don’t pay? Here’s my small contribution: I mow my tiny mid-town lawn with human power, an 18-inch reel mower that I bought from a vendor at EXPO a couple of years ago. I don’t think it’ll work for many of you commercial cutters; at least I hope it doesn’t come to that. If you can stand some depressing news about fuel prices.

— Ron Hall