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02/07/2006

Large Screws and Tiny Fish

I’m posting this from Marco Island, Florida, where we’ve spent
our Februaries for the past 14 years or so. It seems that most
people either love Florida or hate Florida. Judging from the huge
new developments going up on our drive here from the Fort
Myers airport, the balance definitely favors the love category.
This year we weren’t sure what to expect since Marco was hit
dead center by category 3 hurricane Wilma only three months
ago. Thankfully, everything appears pretty much as it was when
we left last year. Luckily for Marco, the storm surge was
miniscule compared to the one that accompanied Katrina.

This is not to say that Marco did not have its problems. Over the
years, we’ve rented units in two different condo developments.
This year we’re in a third development that fronts on the very
wide beach (it takes me about 5 minutes to reach the water once I
set foot on sand). At a Super Bowl party on Sunday, we heard
tales of Wilma’s effects in our new abode. Workers had just
finished installing new carpeting three days before Wilma’s
arrival. Of course, Wilma brought water into the building on the
new carpeting. Our unit is on the third floor and I naturally
assumed that the damage was confined to the ground floor. Not
so. The building has a stairwell that somehow funneled the
heavy rain accompanying Wilma into the upper floors, which
suffered more water intrusion than the ground floor.

When we first came to Marco, we spent about 7 years renting a
unit in a condo building on Collier Boulevard, a divided 4-lane
road. The big hotels such as the Marriott, Hilton and Radisson
are on the beachfront side of Collier. Our building was on the
other side, across the road from high-rise condo buildings. I had
expected that our former unit would have been shielded
somewhat by those high-rises. I didn’t know that the roof of one
of them had a roof covered with gravel. When those 130-mile-
an-hour winds came through, they picked up the gravel and flung
the stones like bullets across the road into our former building,
tearing through screens and shattering windows. Some 29 units
in the building were condemned. This morning we drove onto
the grounds of that building and found things looking normal so I
presume all or most of the units have been repaired.

Most of the tales here deal with loss of trees, loss of power, roof
damage, loss of the screened cages around the pools and broken
sliding glass doors. Blue tarpaulins cover portions of the roofs
on a number of homes. One of the problems is that the roofers,
screeners and glass people are so busy that I’ve heard estimates
of 8 months to a year before some damage will be repaired. If
you’re a roofer, you shouldn’t lack for work in Florida.

I was pleased to find Marco’s beautiful beach here unscathed by
Wilma. Longtime readers will know that I usually rhapsodize
about my early predawn morning walks on the beach, pelicans
skimming over the water and other topics of a marine nature.
I’ve had some difficulty rousing myself early enough to beat
dawn this year. Some very impressive thunderstorms killed one
day’s walk. I notice the TV weather people here now have “live”
maps showing lightning strikes as they happen well as areas in
which the upper level winds are spinning. As I recall, Florida is
the state with the most lightning strikes and places close to the
top in tornadoes.

Back to the beach, the most impressive thing I’ve seen so far was
an unusually high number of jellyfish, perhaps 20 of them,
washed up on the beach one morning. The other days, none!
I’m concerned that I’ve only seen a handful of pelicans and other
shore birds. In keeping with the marine atmosphere here, let’s
turn to a fish. I won’t mention the details of my reaction to a pan
seared seafood cake on my second day here. Rather let’s talk
about the discovery of what is reported to be the tiniest
vertebrate, an animal with a backbone. Brian Trumbore alerted
me to a January 25 New York Times article by Mark Henderson
on the tiny little critter, Paedocypris progenetica. Paedo is a
member of the carp family that lives in the peat swamps of
Indonesia; it was discovered in Sumatra by a team led by Ralf
Britz of the Natural History Museum in London.

The adult female Paedo is only 7.9 millimeters, or a whisker
more than 0.3 inch long, while the adult male only spans 8.6
millimeters, not even 0.4 inch. Its size is not the only thing
impressive about Paedo. Its peat swamp habitat is quite acidic, a
hundred times more so than rainwater, according to the Times
article. (I find it interesting that rainwater is used for
comparison. In an ideal world I should think rainwater would be
borderline acidic, made so by the carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere. Today, not only is there more CO2 but sulfur
oxides play a role.) Paedo is also transparent and the male has
overly large fins that seem adapted to grasping. The conjecture
is that the male uses those in dalliances with the female. If
you’re wondering what the smallest mammal is, it’s Kitt’s hog-
nosed bat at 29 millimeters, about the size of a bumblebee.

Some readers may remember that our stay in Marco last year was
marred by extensive work involving jackhammering and
grinding to get at reinforcing metal rods (rebars) in the concrete
on our deck and others. The rods were corroded by water
penetrating through the concrete. An article by Jeremy Cox in
the February 6 Naples Daily News deals with a major marine
problem involving concrete and Marco resident Jim
Timmerman’s condemned 80-foot-long seawall. According to
the article, Marco Island, although only about 4 miles wide by 6
miles long, is loaded with canals and seawalls that, laid end to
end, would stretch some 120 miles. Well, Timmerman’s seawall
developed a large crack that a marine contractor proposed to fix
by installing a new seawall, a process that would have also
required digging up the lawn and removing a dock and boatlift at
a cost of $200,000! This was back in 2002.

Well, Timmerman was not the sort of person who takes such an
estimate lying down. He recalled that telephone poles are
anchored to the ground by sturdy wires that are fastened to the
ground with large screws. Why couldn’t wayward seawall
panels be fastened to the shore with screws? Although
Timmerman had served in the Merchant Marines, he had no
expertise in seawall engineering and got in touch with engineer
Martin Pinckney, another Marco resident. Together, they came
up with a screw and a U.S. patent and Timmerman started up a
company, the Dynamic Seawall Maintenance System. The screw
is a big one, 12 feet long with three helixes resembling
doughnuts that serve to grab onto the dirt and keeping the screw
in place.

Inventor Timmerman’s company has now furnished these hefty
screws for fixing up seawalls on 20 properties on Marco Island.
The installation process involves drilling holes in the deficient
seawalls from the water side, with one screw every 10 feet along
the seawall. Approaching from the water eliminates the need for
any digging up of lawns and such. The fact that the screws must
be stainless steel and special skills are required to carry out the
operation boosts the cost of installation to at least $1,200 per
screw. I calculate that Timmerman’s original 80-foot problem
cost him roughly $10 K versus the original estimated $200 K –
not a negligible saving.

Ironically, the same contractor who condemned Timmerman’s
seawall in 2002 is the only contractor licensed to install
Timmerman’s screws. If this seawall preservation method stands
the test of time, one can imagine those screws being installed
along shorelines all over the country, perhaps the world? Who
would have thought that this idyllic little island could be a hotbed
of technological innovation?

Allen F. Bortrum



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Dr. Bortrum

02/07/2006

Large Screws and Tiny Fish

I’m posting this from Marco Island, Florida, where we’ve spent
our Februaries for the past 14 years or so. It seems that most
people either love Florida or hate Florida. Judging from the huge
new developments going up on our drive here from the Fort
Myers airport, the balance definitely favors the love category.
This year we weren’t sure what to expect since Marco was hit
dead center by category 3 hurricane Wilma only three months
ago. Thankfully, everything appears pretty much as it was when
we left last year. Luckily for Marco, the storm surge was
miniscule compared to the one that accompanied Katrina.

This is not to say that Marco did not have its problems. Over the
years, we’ve rented units in two different condo developments.
This year we’re in a third development that fronts on the very
wide beach (it takes me about 5 minutes to reach the water once I
set foot on sand). At a Super Bowl party on Sunday, we heard
tales of Wilma’s effects in our new abode. Workers had just
finished installing new carpeting three days before Wilma’s
arrival. Of course, Wilma brought water into the building on the
new carpeting. Our unit is on the third floor and I naturally
assumed that the damage was confined to the ground floor. Not
so. The building has a stairwell that somehow funneled the
heavy rain accompanying Wilma into the upper floors, which
suffered more water intrusion than the ground floor.

When we first came to Marco, we spent about 7 years renting a
unit in a condo building on Collier Boulevard, a divided 4-lane
road. The big hotels such as the Marriott, Hilton and Radisson
are on the beachfront side of Collier. Our building was on the
other side, across the road from high-rise condo buildings. I had
expected that our former unit would have been shielded
somewhat by those high-rises. I didn’t know that the roof of one
of them had a roof covered with gravel. When those 130-mile-
an-hour winds came through, they picked up the gravel and flung
the stones like bullets across the road into our former building,
tearing through screens and shattering windows. Some 29 units
in the building were condemned. This morning we drove onto
the grounds of that building and found things looking normal so I
presume all or most of the units have been repaired.

Most of the tales here deal with loss of trees, loss of power, roof
damage, loss of the screened cages around the pools and broken
sliding glass doors. Blue tarpaulins cover portions of the roofs
on a number of homes. One of the problems is that the roofers,
screeners and glass people are so busy that I’ve heard estimates
of 8 months to a year before some damage will be repaired. If
you’re a roofer, you shouldn’t lack for work in Florida.

I was pleased to find Marco’s beautiful beach here unscathed by
Wilma. Longtime readers will know that I usually rhapsodize
about my early predawn morning walks on the beach, pelicans
skimming over the water and other topics of a marine nature.
I’ve had some difficulty rousing myself early enough to beat
dawn this year. Some very impressive thunderstorms killed one
day’s walk. I notice the TV weather people here now have “live”
maps showing lightning strikes as they happen well as areas in
which the upper level winds are spinning. As I recall, Florida is
the state with the most lightning strikes and places close to the
top in tornadoes.

Back to the beach, the most impressive thing I’ve seen so far was
an unusually high number of jellyfish, perhaps 20 of them,
washed up on the beach one morning. The other days, none!
I’m concerned that I’ve only seen a handful of pelicans and other
shore birds. In keeping with the marine atmosphere here, let’s
turn to a fish. I won’t mention the details of my reaction to a pan
seared seafood cake on my second day here. Rather let’s talk
about the discovery of what is reported to be the tiniest
vertebrate, an animal with a backbone. Brian Trumbore alerted
me to a January 25 New York Times article by Mark Henderson
on the tiny little critter, Paedocypris progenetica. Paedo is a
member of the carp family that lives in the peat swamps of
Indonesia; it was discovered in Sumatra by a team led by Ralf
Britz of the Natural History Museum in London.

The adult female Paedo is only 7.9 millimeters, or a whisker
more than 0.3 inch long, while the adult male only spans 8.6
millimeters, not even 0.4 inch. Its size is not the only thing
impressive about Paedo. Its peat swamp habitat is quite acidic, a
hundred times more so than rainwater, according to the Times
article. (I find it interesting that rainwater is used for
comparison. In an ideal world I should think rainwater would be
borderline acidic, made so by the carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere. Today, not only is there more CO2 but sulfur
oxides play a role.) Paedo is also transparent and the male has
overly large fins that seem adapted to grasping. The conjecture
is that the male uses those in dalliances with the female. If
you’re wondering what the smallest mammal is, it’s Kitt’s hog-
nosed bat at 29 millimeters, about the size of a bumblebee.

Some readers may remember that our stay in Marco last year was
marred by extensive work involving jackhammering and
grinding to get at reinforcing metal rods (rebars) in the concrete
on our deck and others. The rods were corroded by water
penetrating through the concrete. An article by Jeremy Cox in
the February 6 Naples Daily News deals with a major marine
problem involving concrete and Marco resident Jim
Timmerman’s condemned 80-foot-long seawall. According to
the article, Marco Island, although only about 4 miles wide by 6
miles long, is loaded with canals and seawalls that, laid end to
end, would stretch some 120 miles. Well, Timmerman’s seawall
developed a large crack that a marine contractor proposed to fix
by installing a new seawall, a process that would have also
required digging up the lawn and removing a dock and boatlift at
a cost of $200,000! This was back in 2002.

Well, Timmerman was not the sort of person who takes such an
estimate lying down. He recalled that telephone poles are
anchored to the ground by sturdy wires that are fastened to the
ground with large screws. Why couldn’t wayward seawall
panels be fastened to the shore with screws? Although
Timmerman had served in the Merchant Marines, he had no
expertise in seawall engineering and got in touch with engineer
Martin Pinckney, another Marco resident. Together, they came
up with a screw and a U.S. patent and Timmerman started up a
company, the Dynamic Seawall Maintenance System. The screw
is a big one, 12 feet long with three helixes resembling
doughnuts that serve to grab onto the dirt and keeping the screw
in place.

Inventor Timmerman’s company has now furnished these hefty
screws for fixing up seawalls on 20 properties on Marco Island.
The installation process involves drilling holes in the deficient
seawalls from the water side, with one screw every 10 feet along
the seawall. Approaching from the water eliminates the need for
any digging up of lawns and such. The fact that the screws must
be stainless steel and special skills are required to carry out the
operation boosts the cost of installation to at least $1,200 per
screw. I calculate that Timmerman’s original 80-foot problem
cost him roughly $10 K versus the original estimated $200 K –
not a negligible saving.

Ironically, the same contractor who condemned Timmerman’s
seawall in 2002 is the only contractor licensed to install
Timmerman’s screws. If this seawall preservation method stands
the test of time, one can imagine those screws being installed
along shorelines all over the country, perhaps the world? Who
would have thought that this idyllic little island could be a hotbed
of technological innovation?

Allen F. Bortrum