Little blue shed of Rockport, TX made famous by storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski

Rockport-blue-shed

Yes! It’s the blue shed made famous around the world by storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski on August 24, 2017 as he broadcast the ferocious arrival of Hurricane Harvey from one of the car wash bays.

While a fury of building materials bounced and rolled by in the camera’s view as nearby buildings were torn to shreds, the LITTLE BLUE SHED stood firm and steady, suffering only minor abrasions as its witness to battle.

Rockport-blue-shed-2
My sister lives in Rockport and she took this picture once it was safe to return back to town – about three weeks after being evacuated the day Harvey made landfall.

Update: I went to Rockport October 7 – 12, 2017 to help my family with roof repairs. I had to take my picture with the blue shed.

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Get the background and hear live account from Jeff himself in this video clip from Fox 26 posted to YouTube by Meteorologist John Dawson:

Sadly, the Rockport community has a long road to recovery ahead of it. Here are some pics of the devastation that remains more than six weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit.

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Update as of December 2019

The car wash is back in action. It’s back to 100% functional and management has changed the name to Little Blue Shed Car Wash. Check out the updated pics below.

Ironman Arizona 2014 slideshow


by Paul Fiarkoski

I was so enamored with the Ironman competition after my first experience as a spectator in 2013, that I had to go back for more this year. For the unitiated, an Ironman Triathlon is consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

This year’s edition was noticeably cooler than 2013 and it appeared to affect the athletes, especially in the swim to bike transition. Many of them looked like frozen penguins after shucking off their wet suits. I was happy to hear that many of the finishers were from my old stomping grounds in the Denver-Boulder area of Colorado.

2014 Ironman Competition – Tempe, AZ

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In case you’re wondering, like my wife is, whether I have my sights set on doing the Ironman of my own some day, the answer for now is an emphatic “No”. The run portion would be the death of me. 🙂 My personal fitness goal is to hike 12 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and up the other side, then back to wear I started, sometime before my 50th birthday – October of 2017.

Until then, I hope you enjoy the slideshow above and posts from my various hikes.

Remembering Phoenix Deluge Day 2014


At about 2:30 a.m. on September 8, 2014 I was awakened from my sleep by the sounds of hurricane force wind and horizontal rainfall pounding against the side of the house. By the strobe produced by periodic flashes of lightning, I was able to see the palm trees arched in a leeward direction through our second level bedroom picture window. Once I realized it was just rain, I went back to sleep. An hour later the sounds woke me again, although this time they were louder and more intense.

My inner weather geek had to see this awesome spectacle of nature, so I sprung from bed and slipped downstairs. When I looked out the back patio door, I was shocked to see the water line about 4 inches from the door. Initially, I squeegeed some of the water to the edge of the patio until I realized water was beginning to flow from the side yard onto the patio. Repeated flashes of lightning revealed that our pool was close to overflowing if the rainfall continued at this rate. (And it did continue for a few more hours.) That would mean even more water coming toward the patio door. To avert that potential issue, I plugged in a sump pump and ran the water to our front yard via garden hose. Later I would realize just how important that move was when I discovered many of our friends and neighbors are dealing with water damage inside their homes.

As daylight came around, I could see that between both sides of our house and the stucco walls that enclose our property was 2″ to 3″ of standing water. My concern shifted to whether water would seep into our house from the sides. Thankfully, we had enough breaks in the rain throughout the morning to allow water to percolate into the ground. Once I was comfortable that we were not going to get flooded, I turned on the news to see what was going on around the metro.

Local TV stations showed numerous video clips of motorists stalled in standing water throughout the city. We’ve come to expect such displays of Darwinism during monsoon season, but usually car floodings take place in out of the way places involving some knucklehead trying to drive through a flooded wash. The scenes on my TV showed dozens of people stuck in water up to their car windows in the middle of Interstate 10 – the city’s primary artery for east-west travelers.

Video: Morning commuters on I-10 stuck in flash flood

There was more unforgettable footage including:

  • The lower two-thirds of our church’s auditorium was flooded
  • Water rose all the way to the rim of a 10-foot basketball hoop in a Mesa community
  • Some guy cruised around his neighborhood on a Jet Ski in Gilbert
  • Another guy piloted a radio controlled boat around the cul de sac
  • First responders helped carry babies to safety from their parents’ cars stuck in a daycare parking lot
  • A 911 call from an elderly man captured his panic moments before his bride drowned in a flooded wash

I didn’t think to snap any pics of the high water at our house, but thankfully one of the local TV stations published this slideshow of images from around the area.

During one newscast I watched, they reported that the September 8,  2014 rainfall was the greatest amount ever measured in one day. (Most cities around the metro received between 4 and 6 inches and records go back about 75 years.) Additionally, the one-day total was more than double the total of rain received over the prior 9 months. We don’t get a lot of rain in Phoenix, but when we do it can really leave a lasting impression.

3 reasons why MLB Opening Day should NOT be a national holiday


I have seen numerous pleas by Major League Baseball on social media asking fans to sign a petition that would make Opening Day a national holiday. As much as I love baseball, there are three good reasons why I feel opening day should not be a national holiday.

1.  Ballpark attendance will not increase

Ask any fan of their city’s Major League Baseball team what the biggest challenge is with Opening Day and they will tell you it is getting tickets. Most MLB teams require fans to sign up on a waiting list about six months before the regular season begins in hopes that their name will be drawn from the lottery to buy tickets for opening day.

In other words, every team that has a solid fan base is currently selling out their stadium on Opening Day. Sold out is sold out, and declaring a national holiday won’t change that.

2.  Viewership will not increase

In most MLB markets the local media creates more hype and it generates greater anticipation around Opening Day than any other game during the year. Of course, there is at least one local station in each market that is likely to broadcast the game. So many of the people who were unable to buy tickets will be watching on TV. Even if they are working, in this day of cable sports TV and digital recorder’s most real fans can watch the game at their convenience after work.

3.  More people will suffer than benefit
In America, a national holiday usually means that federal offices, banks and in many cases schools will be closed. While it seems that this may be a benefit to Major League Baseball since more people are free from other distractions to focus on the nation’s pastime, my hunch is that more people will be affected negatively than will benefit. Think of the people that you know that work at any of the institutions that normally close on national holidays and how their income is affected when they cannot work. And think of how many business transactions cannot take place when banks are closed. Now you see what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong. I love baseball and I wish I could be off every year on Opening Day to take part in the festivities. However, we should keep in mind as a people that Major League Baseball is a business and they will continue to do just fine without Opening Day being declared a national holiday. Our government should not declare a holiday for the benefit of one industry at the expense of the general population.

Play ball!

The case for drones


Now wait, before you get all worked up about the title of this article, take note I’m not advocating drone strikes. In fact, I’m not even a big fan of drones that could carry out strikes.

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No civilian killing drones

The purpose of this post is to leverage a hot topic in the news today to raise awareness of the cool, relatively inexpensive micro-drones that you and I can own and operate.

I was first made aware of such drones when a Facebook friend of mine posted a video taken by his drone that was purchased for a few hundred dollars. I was amazed with the simplicity and high-quality resolution. In essence, we’re talking about a remote controlled helicopter with a built in video camera.

I didn’t run out and buy a drone right away, but believe me it’s something I think about often. My interest turned to near obsession when I searched YouTube for videos taken by individuals with drones. Here are a few examples:

Should you take the time to see what these micro-drones can do, I’m sure you’ll agree there are limitless applications. Envision a roofing contractor giving you a video bid on a roof repair without the use of a ladder. Think of the golf course superintendent who could survey the course with a quick fly-by. How about search crews looking for a lost hiker?

Parrot Drone
Drones like this one have plenty of positive potential in today’s world.

Ya, there are also the issued of people with bad intentions such as peeping Toms that could misuse them, but that’s where paintball guns take on a new purpose.

Hey, let’s not take life so seriously. Of course no government should be able to use drones to wipe out it’s own citizens. But wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all had our own personal drone?

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Would you take action to save a life if company rules prohibit it?


Today I heard the story about a nursing home worker in California who called 911 to request help for a patient who was unconscious. When the 911 operator urged the caller to administer CPR and offered guidance on how to do it, she refused on the grounds that her employer’s rule prohibit it. The patient later died and the employer went on record saying she did the right thing.

This case reminded me of a moral dilemma I found myself in in 2012. Without giving too many details, I was reprimanded for calling someone who expressed the need for help on Facebook. The corporate line was that if something bad had happened to the poster after my contact with him, our corporation might be held liable.

Well, excuse me for being human! As it turned out, the man was very grateful for my call and I suffered no consequences other than a verbal warning from my superior. However, I really began to question the mission of my (former) employer that appeared to have put profits before people.

So, I open the dilemma up to you for consideration: Would you deliberately break a rule of your employer if it potentially meant saving another person’s life?

Update: It turns out the nurse who refuse to perform CPR did so because the patient had a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order on file with the facility. Would that change how you would respond?

You want baseball? You can’t handle the baseball!


About this time last year, when I was living in Colorado, I proclaimed to my Facebook friends, “One of these years I’m going to go to Phoenix for a couple weeks and attend as many MLB spring games as I can. Just not this year.”

At the time I had never been to the Phoenix area and we had not yet discussed moving here. (Another post for another time.) That was also before I realized just how much baseball action takes place in Arizona. Every spring thousands of people flock to the Phoenix area for to catch glimpses of their favorite players up close during Major League Baseball Spring Training. It turns out Spring Training is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

In the past five years or so, I have become a fan of the complete game – the players, the stats, the rules (written and unwritten), the coaches, the umps, the fans, the reporters, the stadiums. I love it all – minus paid parking. I study in the off-season by reading biographies, magazines and geeky books like “Watching Baseball Smarter.”

So this year I’m committed to taking in as much baseball in person as I can. Back in January I mapped out what the spring would look like on a calendar. I started with the MLB Spring Training calendar – six or more games per day from the end of February through March. On top of those games, I overlaid the World Baseball Classic, then Arizona State and University of Arizona games, plus a baseball experience like no other.

Photo of vintage base ball game at Warren Field, Bisbee, AZ
Vintage Base Ball Tournament at Warren Field in Bisbee, AZ. Photo courtesy of Friends of Warren Ballpark.

Would you believe the oldest active baseball stadium in the U.S. is also in Arizona? Yes, even older than Boston’s Fenway Park. Had to book a family trip to Bisbee in April. We’ll catch one day of the Copper City Classic Vintage “Base Ball” tournament on Saturday. They play by 1860 rules in old school uniforms and the umps wear beanies and bow ties.

On our way home Sunday, we’ll stop in Tucson to watch the defending national champion (2012) Arizona Wildcats play the Cal Bears – a 2011 College World Series team – in another classic ballpark: Hi Corbett.

I took in my first Spring Training game with my teenage daughter this past Sunday. It was windy and cold and she wanted to leave early. I coaxed and coddled her to stay through six innings. Day two of my 2013 baseball binge is today: day one of the four-day round robin Coca Cola Classic Tournament in Surprise featuring ASU, Arkansas, Gonzaga and Pacific.

As if plotting out all the baseball games going on isn’t challenge enough, I need to work in my full-time job and my part-time role as taxi driver for the kiddos, plus their sporting and school events and the occasional family meal.

I’m not sure how I’ll handle all this baseball but I’m going to give it a try.

The impact of political party on personal tax rates


by @PaulFiarkoski

The Washington Post headline for January 1, 2012 read “Senate overwhelmingly passes ‘fiscal cliff’ deal.” This after President Obama cut short his Christmas vacation with the family in Hawaii to fly back to Washington negotiate a deal with Speaker Boehner.

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Image credit: Fox2now.com – St. Louis, MO

With all the talk recently about the fiscal cliff and how President Obama’s plan would surely send the U.S. into a double-dip recession (the first dip having occurred 2008-09), I got to wondering about how my own tax situation had been impacted by the decisions of Washington in recent years.

It’s hard to know what the truth is with all the sound bites we hear in the news, so I did what made the most sense to me and looked back at the tax returns I have filed jointly with my wife for the past several years.

Our effective tax rates for 2004 through 2011

Year     Rate       Pres         Senate control
2004    6.68%     Bush        Republicans
2005    5.43%     Bush        Republicans
2006    9.37%     Bush        Republicans
2007    8.02%     Bush        Republicans
2008    6.46%     Bush        Democrats
2009    6.46%    Obama        Democrats
2010    7.46%    Obama        Democrats
2011    8.45%    Obama        Democrats

I was a little surprised by what I found. Our highest effective tax rate (9.37%) was in 2006. I did a little more digging found that the Republican Party not only occupied the Whitehouse (George W. Bush) but also controlled the Senate at that time.

During this time period our gross income increased by 16%. Neither my wife nor I changed employers or moved. Our dependent (children) count remained constant too.

The takeaway for me is that Republicans aren’t as true to their claims of being the tax reduction party as they would like the American public to believe. During the Bush presidency, our effective tax rate rose nearly 3% from 2004 to 2006 before it began to drop in 2008 in response to all of the stimuli designed to head off a recession. (Note: we went into a recession anyway.)

During the Obama years, our tax rate increased from Bush’s last year in office; however, as of our 2011 tax return we’re still not back to the peak rate of 9.37% tax rate we were paying in 2006 under Bush and a Republican controlled Senate.

Don’t take my word for it. Look up your own tax returns and see what the impact has been for you.