Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 6 – Table Rock

We saved our longest hike for last. Perhaps the most well-known and scenic hike in the area near our cabin is Table Rock Trail. This leads to the top of a mountain and then, just past the summit, to a beautiful overlook. Despite the trail being well-worn and marked with red blazes, we actually lost the trail twice on the way up and had to backtrack a little bit each time to find the main trail (marked in the map below). The hike is a good one with some pretty rugged, steep terrain at times.

The view from the overlook is quite impressive:

Per my watch, the hike was 6.79 miles round trip with 2,439 feet of elevation gain. With a stop at the overlook of about 30 minutes to eat some fruit and snacks, it took us just under 4 hours.

Toren ended up doing an advert for Nature Valley on the overlook:

Here are a few videos from the hike:

This is one of the small waterfalls you pass early on the hike.
This is another small waterfall right at the beginning of the hike.

We headed back to the cabin and continued our movie marathon, finishing The Hobbit series and beginning The Lord of the Rings series, each of which is almost 4 hours long. We only got through part of the first one but were committed to finish them during our South Carolina trip.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 5 – Falls Creek Waterfalls

Our friends left early in the morning so it was just the three of us again. We opted for a hike to another waterfall – Falls Creek Waterfalls. It’s not the best name, but the waterfalls were, again, quite beautiful. Some of the trip reports for this hike suggested the trail was quite steep and challenging. That is an accurate portrayal of parts of the trail. If you’re not in good shape and willing to traverse some rugged and steep terrain, you shouldn’t attempt this trail. Even so, most of the trail was of an easy grade.

Here’s the route:

The round trip distance was 2.46 miles with 1,114 feet of elevation gain.

Here is a video of the upper falls:

Here’s a photosphere of the upper falls:

And here’s a photosphere of the lower falls:

Even though this hike was a decent workout, the hike was relatively short. We decided as a result to stop by a roadside hike on our way back to the cabin, the Wildcat Wayside Nature Trail. Meh. Probably a mistake. There is a cute little waterfall right by the side of the road maybe 50 feet from where you park. There were kids playing here as there is a nice, shallow pool below the waterfall. But this was the most scenic element of the hike. We ended up following the roughly 1-mile nature trail. It was fine. It eventually reaches a cliff face that had a trickle of water coming down it. Perhaps during a rainstorm there would be a decent volume of water coming down the cliff face making another waterfall. But it really was a trickle dripping down into a small puddle and about half a dozen young kids were playing in that puddle. The trail is pretty level and not at all rugged except for one spot where you have to work your way over some roots. So, if you’re looking for a nice, easy trail, this is the one for you.

After our hike, we headed back to the cabin, cleaned up, had a nice lunch, then began what would turn into a fairly epic movie marathon. We watched the first two movies in The Hobbit series. I have extended versions of all of these, so each movie is at least three hours long. We got through two of them the first day we started it, with a good game in between them.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 4 – Rainbow Falls

Following the same pattern, we got up fairly early to do another hike – Rainbow Falls. This one was in the Jones Gap State Park, which does require a $6 parking fee per person (kids and seniors are less). The hike was to Rainbow Falls. Here’s the route:

Per my watch, the route was 5.01 miles round trip with just under 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s a fairly rugged trail at times but quite a pleasant hike and the waterfalls at the top were very pretty. Here is a photosphere showing the falls:

We didn’t stay very long because the forecast called for rain in the early afternoon. We got a little sprinkle on our way down but it was quite light.

Here are a couple videos of the falls:

These are the upper falls at Rainbow Falls.
One of the lower falls at Rainbow Falls in Jones Gap State Park.

The bottom part of the trail is the main trail in Jones Gap State Park, which follows a very scenic river:

After the hike, we headed back to the cabin, cleaned up, and then followed your daily routine – eat, play games, and relax. We ended the night with Deadpool 2!

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 3 – Twin Falls Trail

With our friends from North Carolina joining us, we headed out for our second hike – Twin Falls Trail on Reedy Cove Creek. This one was a little weird as it isn’t part of a state park, so the parking for the beginning of the trail was really just a pull out on the side of a road with room for about 3 cars is all.

The trail was pretty well-maintained and included some nice elevation gain, which was great coming from Florida where the only elevation gain we have involves stairs and buildings! The trail ends at the upper falls of a two-stage set of waterfalls. The upper falls aren’t very large but they are elongated and quite beautiful. Here are some videos of the upper falls:

The upper falls on Twin Falls Trail
The upper falls in slow motion

Just below these is the main waterfall, which is probably 70 to 100 feet tall. We were able to very careful work our way to the top and sit there and enjoy the view while we had a snack. Getting to the top of the falls where we were is a bit treacherous and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who isn’t sure-footed. A small slip and you’d be in trouble quickly there.

While we were at the top of the falls we saw people at the bottom who were swimming in the pool. We thought it might be nice to see the falls from the bottom and even tried a side trail off the one we had followed but it didn’t lead to the bottom of the falls. I marked that on the map. I spent some time bushwacking off that side trail to see if I could connect to the other trail but ran into two creeks and actually fell into one. It wasn’t easy hiking and I didn’t want to make everyone else have to work their way through brush, so we ended up just heading out. Here’s the hike:

The hike was about 3 miles and took us about 2 hours, but with a solid 30 minutes or so enjoying the views at the top (and another 20 minutes wandering off the trail). The total elevation gain was about 1,000 feet.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and playing games. Just before bed, we decided to watch a movie. The choice we came to was Deadpool, which is always fun!

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 2 – Raven Rock Loop Trail

The plan was to do a hike every morning while it was cooler, then head back to the cabin and relax, playing games, watching movies, cooking, and chatting. We also had some friends who live in North Carolina who were going to visit for a couple of days.

Our first hike was the Raven Rock Loop Trail, which is a nice ~4 mile hike that extends the Keowee-Toxaway Natural Bridge trail to Lake Keowee. There are some small waterfalls on the Natural Bridge trail. Past that, it’s a nice hike up and down some hills and down to the lake, but no additional waterfalls. Here’s our route:

Here is a short clip of the waterfall:

And another short clip of the bubbling little brook:

Our total distance on the hike was 4.53 miles and it took us just over 2 hours.

After the hike, we headed back to the cabin, got cleaned up, then made a list of food. I headed into the nearest town to buy the food while Debi and Toren got everything ready for our friend and her kids. I arrived back at the cabin just before they did. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening chatting, playing games, and cooking.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 1

Since March 2020, we have been cooped up pretty consistently thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have gone out to shop and exercise, but that’s about it. After nearly 5 months of hardly leaving the house, we were getting a little antsy. We eventually came up with a trip that we thought would work well given the current situation and the emphasis on physical distancing – a road trip to the mountainous region of South Carolina where we could go hiking and still stay physically distanced from people.

We found an amazing cabin (really a home) in Pickens that wasn’t all that expensive to rent for a week on AirBnB and I spent a few days looking at hikes in the nearby area. We also spent some time thinking about what we wanted to eat, what else we were going to do, and the trip itself.

August 7th

We left Tampa fairly early on the 7th. Since we drove my Tesla, we had to map out superchargers to make it to the cabin but it worked out well. We traveled from Tampa to Jacksonville and hugged the coast to avoid Atlanta, which has the worst traffic. We ended up stopping three times to charge, though we could have made it with just two stops. We had lunch during one of the stops. We arrived around 6:30 pm and brought enough food that we were able to get settled in the cabin and make dinner, then go to bed.

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Kubuntu – Audio CD Ripping

I mostly buy digital audio these days. My preferred source is bandcamp as they provide files in FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). However, I ended up buying a CD recently (Last Night’s Fun by Scartaglen) as there wasn’t a digital download available and, in the process, I realized that there are lots of options for ripping the audio from a CD on Linux and quite the process to get the files ripped, tagged, properly named, and stored in my library. This is my attempt to summarize my process.

Format/Codec

First, you need to decide in what format you want the audio from the CD. As noted, I prefer FLAC these days. Given how relatively inexpensive storage is, I no longer need to scrimp on space for the most part. If space was an issue, ripping the files to mp3 format at, say, 192 kbps at a variable bit rate would probably be the optimum balance between decent quality and small size. But I prefer the best quality sound with no real regard for the size of the resulting files. It helps that I store all my music on a dedicated file server that runs Plex. That solves two problems: I have lots of space and Plex will transcode the files if I ever need that done (if, for example, I want to store the music on my phone and want it in a different format). So, my preferred file format is FLAC. (Another option is OGG, but I find not as many audio players work as well with OGG.)

There is another issue that I recently ran into: single audio files with cue sheets. Typically, people want their audio in individual files for each song. However, if you want to accurately represent an audio CD, the best approach to do this is to rip the audio as a single file with a corresponding cue sheet. The cue sheet keeps an exact record of the tracks from the CD. With the resulting two files, the audio CD can be recreated and burned back to a CD. I have no real intention of burning the audio back to a CD (I want everything digital so I can store it on my file server), but it’s good to know about this option. Typically, those who opt for this approach use one of two formats, .flac or .ape, for storing the audio and .cue for storing the timing of the tracks. The .ape format is a proprietary format, however, so it is definitely not my preferred approach.

As a quick illustration for how file format is related to size, I ripped my demonstration CD, Last Night’s Fun by Scartaglen into a single FLAC file and a single mp3 file (at 192 kbps using a variable bit rate) and put the resulting files into the same folder so you can see the size difference:

As you can see, the FLAC rip resulted in a file that was 222.9 MB compared to the mp3 file that is only 49.4 MB. The FLAC file is about 4.5 times the size of the mp3 file. A higher-quality mp3 rip at 320 kbps at a constant bit rate resulted in a 54.8 MB file. A pretty good estimate would be that the FLAC format is going to be somewhere between 3 to 5 times the size of an mp3 file. Thus, if space is an issue but you want good quality, ripping your music to the highest quality mp3 (320 kbps) is probably your best option. If space isn’t an issue and you care more about quality, FLAC is the way to go.

NOTE: I also ripped the disc to OGG and the file size was 38 MB.

Ripping Software

First, if you’re planning on ripping to FLAC on Linux, you’ll need to install FLAC. It is not installed in most distributions by default. This can be done easily from the terminal:

sudo apt-get install flac

Without FLAC installed, the software below won’t be able to rip to FLAC.

K3b

K3b is installed in Kubuntu 20.04 by default and is, IMO, a good interface for working with CDs and DVDs. When I inserted my demonstration CD into my drive, Kubuntu gave me the option of opening the disk in K3b. When I did, K3b automatically recognized the CD, grabbed the information from a CDDB, and immediately gave me options for ripping the CD:

When you click on “Start Ripping,” you get a new window:

In this new window, you have a bunch of options. You can change the format (Filetype). With the FLAC codec installed, the options listed are: WAVE, Ogg-Vorbis, MPEG1 Layer III (mp3), Mp3 (LAME), or Flac. You can obviously change the Target Folder as well. K3b also gives you the option of creating an m3u playlist and the option “Create single file” with “Write cue file” which is where you could create the single file and cue file from the CD as noted above. There are also options for changing the naming structure and, under the Advanced tab, options for how many times you want to retry reading the CD tracks. K3b is pretty fully featured and works for well for ripping audio CDs.

Clementine

My preferred music player in Linux is Clementine. I have used a number of music players over the years (e.g., Banshee, Rhythmbox, Amarok), but Clementine has the best combination of features while still being easy to use. Clementine is in the repositories and can easily be installed via synaptic or the terminal:

sudo apt-get install clementine

Clementine also has the ability to rip audio CDs. Once your CD is inserted, click on Tools -> Rip audio CD:

You’ll get this window, which is similar to the ripping window in K3b:

If the information is available in a CDDB, Clementine will pull that information in (as it did for my demonstration CD). You then have a bunch of options for the Audio format: FLAC, M4A, MP3, Ogg Flac, Ogg Opus, Ogg Speex, Ogg Vorbis, Wav, and Windows Media Audio. The settings for each of these can be adjusted in the “Options” box. One clear advantage of Clementine over K3b is that you can readily edit the titles of the tracks. Another advantage of Clementine over K3b is that you could import the files directly into your music library.

Ripping from a Cue Sheet

Another scenario I have run into on Linux is having a single file for the audio from a CD with a corresponding .cue sheet (the file is typically in the FLAC format, but I have also run into this in .ape format). I used to immediately turn to Flacon, a GUI that helped rip the single file into individual tracks. However, I have had mixed success with Flacon working lately (as of Kubuntu 20.04, I couldn’t get it to work). Never fear, of course, because Flacon is really just a GUI for tools that can be used in the terminal.

To split a single FLAC file with a corresponding .cue sheet into the individual tracks, you’ll need to install “shntool“:

sudo apt-get install shntool

(NOTE: It’s also a good idea to install the suggested packages, “cuetools,” “sox,” and “wavpack” but not required.) Assuming you have already installed “flac” as described above, ripping a single FLAC file into the individual tracks is fairly straightforward. The easiest way is to navigate to the folder where you have the FLAC file (e.g., “audiofile.flac”) and the cue sheet (e.g., “audiofile.cue”). Then use the following command at the terminal:

shnsplit -f audiofile.cue -o flac audiofile.flac 

Breaking the command down, “shnsplit” calls the program “shnsplit” which is part of the “shntool” package. The “-f” tells the program to show detailed format information. The first file is the cue sheet. The “-o” indicates that you are going to specify the output file format extension. After the “-o” is the target file format “flac” and the last file is the single FLAC file that you want to split.

Here’s a screenshot of me rippling the single FLAC file from my demonstration CD into individual FLAC files:

If you happen to run into a single audio file in the .ape format, shntool probably won’t be able to read it so the above command won’t work. However, a simple workaround is to convert the file to flac format using ffmpeg, which can read it. Here’s the command you could use from the terminal:

ffmpeg -i audiofile.ape audiofile.flac

That command will call ffmpeg (which you probably have installed) and convert the .ape file into a .flac file which can then be split using the command above (assuming you have a corresponding cue sheet).

Tagging Software

Let’s say I have successfully ripped my files into my desired format and now I want to tag them. There are a number of software packages that can do this, but my preferred software is Picard by MusicBrainz. Picard is open source, which is awesome, but it also interfaces with the MusicBrainz website and pulls in information that way, which means your files will get robust tagging information. If you pull in all the information from MusicBrainz, not only will the artist and album be tagged, but so to will lots of additional information, depending on how much was entered into the database by whoever added the album in the first place. (NOTE: Clementine also interfaced with MusicBrainz but this broke in 3.1. Once it broke, I started using Picard directly and now I realized that it has a lot more features than Clementine’s implementation, so I just use Picard. However, you could try doing this in Clementine as well.)

Again, I’ll use my demonstration CD to illustrate how this is done. I ripped the tracks into individual FLAC files above. Those tracks are completely devoid of tags – whatever software I use to try to play them won’t know what the audio files are. The screenshot below illustrates this. I used MediaInfo (a gui for pulling information from audio and video files in Linux) to pull available information from the file. It shows the format and length but provides no information about the artist or album, which it would if the file had tags.

We’ll use Picard to find the album and add all the tags. First, of course, install Picard:

sudo apt-get install picard

Open the program. Now, since my files have no tag information, I’m going to click on Add Files (you can also add a folder with subfolders, which then has Picard run through multiple audio files, a great feature if you are tagging multiple albums at the same time).

You’ll get a new window where you can select the audio files you want to add. Select them and then click “Open.”

If the files have existing tags, Picard will do its best to group the tracks together and may even associate the files with the corresponding albums. In my case, it simply puts the files into the “Unclustered” category:

Since I pulled them all in from the same folder, I can select the tracks and then click on the “Cluster” button in the toolbar and Picard will cluster the files.

Clustering is a first step toward find the corresponding album information. Once they are grouped together, they will show up in the Cluster category:

Without any tag information, Picard is unlikely to find the corresponding album if you select the cluster and then click on “Lookup.” If there was some tag information in the files, that might be enough for Picard to find the corresponding albums, so you could just select the album and then click on “Lookup.” In this case, that won’t work. So, I’m going to use a different approach. If you right-click on the cluster, you can select “Search for similar albums.”

This gives you a window where you can enter search terms to try to find the corresponding album in the Music Brainz database. Based on the limited information it has, it will try to find a corresponding album automatically. But it likely won’t find it because there are no tags, so there is virtually no information available. Generally, I have found that I have better luck finding albums if I use the album title first followed by the artist, like this “Last Night’s Fun Scartaglen” then hit enter:

Once you find the correct album, select it and then click on “Load into Picard” at the bottom of the window.

Once you do that, the album will move to the right side of the screen. If all of the tracks are included and Picard is able to align them with the corresponding information it has from the database, the CD icon will turn gold. If there is a little red dot on the CD, that means Picard has tag information that can be saved to the individual tracks.

Click on the album and then click the “Save” button in the toolbar and the tag information will be saved to the files.

You can track the progress as tracks will turn green once the information has been successfully added to the tags.

You can also set up Picard to modify the file names when it saves information to the files. Click on “Options” then click the checkmark next to “Rename Files.”

I typically let Clementine rename my files when I import them into my Music library, so I don’t worry about this with Picard, but it is a nice option. Finally, here’s that same Mediainfo box with the tagged file showing that information about the artist and track is now included in the file:

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LibreOffice – How To Change Icons to a Darker Theme

I prefer darker themes for my desktop environment (Kubuntu 20.04) and browser (Brave). For the most part, this isn’t a problem, but it does cause an issue with some applications, including LibreOffice (6.4.4.2).

One of the first things I do when I install Kubuntu is switch my desktop environment from the default theme (System Settings -> Global Theme), Breeze, which is a lighter theme, to Breeze Dark. You can see the differences in the screenshots below:

This is the Breeze theme that is the default in Kubuntu 20.04
This is the Breeze Dark theme that I typically use in Kubuntu.

The problem is with the icon set in LibreOffice. With the default Breeze theme, the icons are very visible and work great:

These are the default icons in LibreOffice 6.4.4.2 in Kubuntu 20.04 with the default Breeze theme.

The problem comes when I switch the theme to Breeze Dark. Here is how the default Breeze icons look in LibreOffice when I switch the theme:

The default icon set, Breeze, in LibreOffice when the Kubuntu Global Theme is switched to Breeze Dark.

Perhaps it’s just my aging eyes, but those icons are very difficult for me to see. The solution is quite simple, though finding it is always hard for me to remember (thus this tutorial). All you need to do is switch the icon set in LibreOffice. There are several icon sets for dark themes that come pre-packaged with the standard version of LibreOffice that ships with Kubuntu and is in the repositories. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.

In LibreOffice, go to Tools -> Options:

You’ll get this window. You want the third option down under “LibreOffice”, “View”:

Right at the top of this window you can see “Icon style.” That’s the setting you want to change. If you click on the drop down arrow, you’ll see six or so options. Two are specifically for dark themes, Breeze (SVG + dark) and Breeze (dark). Either of those will work:

I typically choose Breeze (SVG + dark). Select the dark theme you want, then click on OK and you’ll get a new icon set in LibreOffice that works much better for dark themes:

These icons are much more visible to my aging eyes.

Et voila! I can now see the icons in the LibreOffice toolbars.

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go vote sign

Hillsborough County, FL – Fall 2020 Primay

In researching candidates for elections, I have taken to posting links to the information I find on my website to help others. Note, I’m a registered Democrat only so I can vote in the Democrat primaries. I would prefer to be considered an Independent voter as I vote by the candidate, not by party. Here’s what I’ve found…

Update 07-27-2020: The Tampa Bay Times has put together a nice voter information guide that is pretty comprehensive. It doesn’t include links to candidates’ websites, but provides a fair amount of information. I’ve been wishing for something like this for a long time. I highly recommend it.

Update 08-20-2020: I have crossed out those who lost in the primary. I will start a new page for the general election.

Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller

Tampa Bay Times article on the race. Tampa Bay Times on Stuart entering the race.

Kevin Beckner

Party: Democrat
Background Information: Hillsborough County Commissioner from 2008 to 2016; Executive Director of the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board (hears appeals of employee discipline and termination); CSB was abolished in 2019; BA in Criminal Justice from Indiana University; Indiana Law Enforcement Academy degree in 1990; (hypes his credentials by referencing a Harvard Leadership program that isn’t anything meaningful); financial planner by profession
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Twitter,
Endorsements: lots of labor unions,

Cindy Stuart

Party: Democrat
Background Information: Hillsborough County School Board member from District 3; has a degree in business from Florida International University; worked in insurance before running for the school board
Endorsements: outgoing clerk, Pat Frank (possibly because Beckner ran against her in an earlier campaign)
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Twitter, Facebook,

Tax Collector

Tampa Bay Times endorsed Nancy C. Millan. Tampa Bay Times article on April Griffin entering the race.

April Griffin

Party: Democrat
Background: Served on the Hillsborough County School Board for 3 terms; was chair of Hillsborough County School Board twice; BA in Organizational Studies from Eckerd College; Hillsborough County native; owns a software development company
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Nancy C. Millan

Party: Democrat
Background: Has worked for the tax collector’s office for decades (31 years), rising through the ranks; served on a number of boards, including the Board of Trinity School for Children from 2005-2008 (full disclosure – my son attended Trinity School for Children from about 2012 until 2020);
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Personal Commentary: I received a flyer for Nancy Millan that was riddled with typos. That lack of detail bothers me. Millan is also purchasing ads on Google’s search engine. The Tax Collector’s website, hillstax.org, does use Cloudfare to protect against DDOS attacks, though the settings for the protection wouldn’t let me access the website, so someone set it up wrong.

Board of County Commissioners District 3

Tampa Bay Times story on Rick Fernandez entering the race. Tampa Bay Times endorsed Thomas Scott.

Ricardo “Rick” Fernandez

Party: Democrat
Background: Hillsborough County native (born in District 3); Navy veteran; Lawyer and former Tampa Heights Civic Association president; currently a career coach and recruiter for law firms;
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: Twitter, LinkedIn

Gwen Myers

Party: Democrat
Background: Tampa native; graduate of FAMU; worked for Hillsborough County for 25 years; now retired; served on a variety of local boards (e.g., Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Council;
Endorsements: County Commissioner Pat Kemp among others
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Personal Commentary: Likes the color green. Platform seems to be focused on public transit.

Frank Reddick

Party: Democrat
Background: Hillsborough County native; graduated from Paine College in Augusta, GA; served on Tampa City Council for 8 years; President and CEO of Sickle Cell Association, served on lots of local boards
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website

Thomas Scott

Party: Democrat
Background: native of Macon, Georgia; graduate of UNF – degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology; has an MA in Biblical Studies from the Assembly of God Theological Seminary; Army veteran; moved to Tampa in 1980 to be a pastor (22nd Street Church of God); served as Hillsborough County Commissioner from 1996 to 2006; served on Tampa City Council from 2007 to 2011; was appointed by Rick Scott to the State of Florida Elections Commission in 2015
Endorsements: Chad Chronister – Hillsborough County Sheriff; Les Miller – Hillsborough County Commissioner District 3 (who he would be replacing); Tampa Bay Times
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Personal Commentary: He sent a flyer in the mail.

Sky U. White

Party: Democrat
Background: Hillsborough County native; nurse; community organizer; owns REVIVED magazine; served on a lot of boards
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Personal Commentary: Youngest candidate (per her website); most progressive candidate as well; probably the only candidate who would bring fresh ideas to the Hillsborough County Commission.

Before considering candidates for the various court benches, you should check out the Judicial Candidate Forum video and information hosted by the North Tampa Bar Association.

Circuit Judge, 13th Judicial Circuit Group 9

Tampa Bay Times endorsed John Schifino.

Kelly Ayers

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: BS in Journalism and Communication from University of Florida; law degree from Stetson; practicing law for 26 years; owns three law firms; visiting professor at USF; editor of Stetson Law Journal
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: She misspelled Communication (she put an “s” on the end) – personal pet peeve;
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website,

John Schifino

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: father was a lawyer; lived in Tampa for a long time; on a number of boards;
Endorsements: Firefighter unions; Janet Cruz; Bob Buckhorn; Tampa Bay Times
Personal Commentary: Not much about his views on his website; sent a flyer
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Facebook, LinkedIn

Circuit Judge, 13th Judicial Circuit Group 19

Tampa Bay Times endorsed Michael J. Scionti.

Ashley Ivanov

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: from Charleston, SC; graduated from The George Washington University; probate and estate planning attorney; admitted to bar in Florida in 2015; founded her own firm in 2018; limited experience; clerked for the federal government; volunteers with her church in Brandon
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary:
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website

Michael J. Scionti

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: Tampa native; served as a state representative, army officer, US diplomat; originally elected in 2014;
Endorsements: Tampa Bay Times
Personal Commentary: He has a Wikipedia page!
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Wikipedia

Circuit Judge, 13th Judicial Circuit Group 30

Tampa Bay Times recommends Helene Daniel.

Danny Alvarez

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: BA in Journalism from University of Florida; family is from Cuba; played sports in college and was in the ROTC; admitted to Florida Bar in 2008; Army infantry officer; worked for Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office since 2017 as a special projects manager and communications chief; motivational speaker
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: I have never trusted anyone who calls themselves a “motivational speaker”. “His family escaped communist Cuba” – phrasing from his website strongly suggests very conservative views.
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Facebook, Instagram

Helene Daniel

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: born in France; admitted to Florida Bar in 1986; experience with family law, juvenile law, and insurance; AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbell
Endorsements: Tampa Bay Times, La Gaceta
Personal Commentary: Loves her dogs
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn

Circuit Judge, 13th Judicial Circuit Group 31

Tampa Bay Times endorsed Greg Green.

Scott Bonavita

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: born in Glen Falls, NY; moved to Tampa at 9; Gaither High School graduate; played soccer; attended the University of Tampa to play soccer (full disclosure, I’m a professor at UT) then left to pursue a career with the Rowdies – only played one game for the Rowdies; BA in Psychology from USF; JD from St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami; former prosecutor; owned his own firm since 2012; handles business law; certified court mediator; emphasizes he is a single father; is also a personal trainer and teaches CrossFit
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: really proud of his son
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Facebook, Instagram, Law Firm

Gary Dolgin

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: Florida native; lived in Tampa since he was 2; attended Emory University; law degree from University of Florida; admitted to Florida Bar in 1990; was an assistant state attorney and public defender; owned his own firm focusing on family law since 1993; board-certified in his field; author of a book on family law; volunteers regularly; member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: Seems like the most humble candidate.
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website,

Greg Green

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: Tampa native; played basketball and football at Chamberlain High; got his law degree in 1999; worked as an assistant state attorney; his current law practice focuses on divorce and child custody cases; volunteer flag football coach at Robinson High School; biblical counselor at the Crossing Church;
Endorsements: various firefighter unions; Tampa Bay Times
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Facebook

Circuit Judge, 13th Judicial Circuit Group 39

Tampa Bay Times endorsed Steven Scott Stephens.

Wendy Joy DePaul

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: graduated from FSU and Stetson University College of Law; admitted to the Florida Bar in 1997; has a CPA; managing partner of a law firm; practice is a mix of family law, bankruptcy, and foreclosure; provides free legal assistance to the poor; active with her congregation
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: loves dogs
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website,

Steven Scott Stephens

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: incumbent – has been a judge for 15 years; was appointed in 2005 by Jeb Bush; has a PhD in business as well as advanced degrees in computer science and engineering; former faculty member at USF, UT, and Stetson University; published author on trial court and family law
Endorsements: Tampa Bay Times
Personal Commentary: Who gives their kid the same first name as their last name?; He has ads on Google; Definitely playing up the fact that he is the incumbent.
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website;

County Court Judge Group 7

Tampa Bay Times endorsed Bill Yanger.

Nancy L. Jacobs

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: from Miami; University of Florida for undergraduate degree; JD from University of Miami; former Hillsborough prosecutor; owned her own firm since 1993 handing family law, criminal defense, and estates; provides free legal services on behalf of veterans, animal welfare groups, and youth organizations
Endorsements: a number of judges and attorneys
Personal Commentary: rescues dogs
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Facebook

Monique Scott

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: BA in Criminology and Psychology from USF; former Tampa police officer (left for health reasons) and public school teacher; worked as an assistant state attorney; accident attorney; volunteers with epilepsy groups; married to a chiropractor
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary:
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Franchi Law firm

Rickey “Rick” Silverman

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: from New York; grew up in a blue-collar family; first practiced in Miami then moved to Tampa (in 1995); wife has a PhD in Microbiology; top-rated traffic attorney;
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary:
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website,

Bill Yanger

Background: Admitted to Florida Bar in 1989; admitted to Texas bar in 1986; graduate of Jesuit High School; went to University of Florida for undergrad; South Texas College of Law for law degree; founder of Yanger Law Group; works on complex business litigation; former Chair of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce; Board of Fellows member at the University of Tampa (full disclosure, I am a professor at the University of Tampa); Presbyterian – goes to Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church
Endorsements: local firefighters unions, Tampa City Council members Guido Maniscalco, Charlie Miranda, and Luis Viera; Tampa Bay Times
Personal Commentary: He drives a truck, per his flyer he circulated (seems important to him).
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Judicial Candidate Forum responses
Websites: election website, Facebook, Instagram

School Board Member District 1

The Tampa Bay Times recently announced their endorsements for School Board in Hillsborough County. Good Tampa Bay Times article with information on the candidates in this race.

Nadia Combs

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: BA in Social Studies Education and MA in Educational Leadership from USF; taught in Japan; taught in Hillsborough County Schools for 10 years; founded a company in 2005 as part of the Supplemental Education Services – provides free tutoring to students in Hillsborough County; opened Brighton Learning tutoring center in 2014
Endorsements: Tampa Bay Times
Personal Commentary:
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Brighton Learning

Steve Cona

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: Tampa native; Bachelor’s from USF; CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter; on the Board of Trustees of Hillsborough Community College; platform is to improve Florida’s skilled labor force; incumbent
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: Platform is three-fold: fiscal accountability, school security, and addressing maintenance problems in schools. Raised almost 10 times as much money as all the other candidates combined. Pretty telling that the Tampa Bay Times didn’t endorse him as the incumbent.
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website,

Ben “Floridaman” Greene

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: No website. Not a lot of information about him.
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: Appears to be running a protest campaign. Was thrown out of a School Board meeting. Here’s a video of him talking to the School Board.
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites:

Bill Person

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: Retired educator in Hillsborough County; Vietnam War veteran
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: Not much about him available.
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: LinkedIn

School Board Member District 7

Tampa Bay Times article about the candidates in this race.

Lynn Gray

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: worked for over 20 years as a teacher in Tampa; incumbent on the school board; platform – healthier kids (healthier foods and recess); more support for students; improved literacy
Endorsements: Tampa Bay Times
Personal Commentary:
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Sally A. Harris

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: South Tampa native; owner of Circle C Ranch Academy – early care and education company; focus is on safety, discipline, and management
Endorsements:
Personal Commentary: She seems to care more about policing the kids than educating them.
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website

Jeffery Alex James Johnson

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: From Jacksonville, FL; has degrees from Warner University (private Christian university) and St. Thomas Christian University (fake online university with no accreditation) – the degrees are all highly suspect; runs a Girls Summit; works as a Senior Manager of Neighborhood Initiatives for United Way Suncoast
Endorsements: County Commissioner Les Miller; State Representatives Wengay Newton and Dianne Hart
Personal Commentary: If he isn’t knowledgeable enough to know that a doctorate from an online diploma mill with no accreditation isn’t a real degree, he has no business being on the school board. Website is filled with typos. (I try not to endorse candidates on this page, but I oppose this candidate.)
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Angela Schroden

Party: nonpartisan race
Background: Tampa native; lives on Davis Islands; EdD from USF; literacy consultant and adjunct professor at USF in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies; volunteers at Hyde Park United Methodist Church and South Tampa Community Bible Study; worked in Hillsborough County Schools for 15 years
Endorsements: local teachers and principals
Personal Commentary:
Finances (per voterfocus.com)
Websites: election website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

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Richard Bartlett’s claimed COVID-19 cure – A Skeptical Response

A family member sent me this video interviewing Richard Bartlett, MD, a family practice doctor in Odessa, TX. In the video, Dr. Bartlett claims to have found the cure for COVID-19 – an inhaled steroid, Budesonide. Here is my response to my family member:

TL:DR version: This guy’s claims are not credible and his proposed treatment does not have sufficient evidence to support it.

Here’s the long version of my response:

In the sciences, responsible scholars are unwilling to make any claims, let alone really bold claims, until other scholars have verified their claims. You may recall the cold fusion debacle at the University of Utah in the 1980s in which Stanley Pons claimed (with Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton) that he had discovered cold fusion. He was forced to retract those claims when no other scientists could replicate his research. Basically, it is highly irresponsible (and, in a pandemic it is reckless, unethical, and dishonest) to make claims that have not been tested, verified, and validated by other experts. As I watched the video, a number of red flags popped up for me. I will detail them in turn. But, before I do, I will note one thing that makes this claim seem almost credible.

The current evidence we have suggests that two drugs may help people with COVID-19, dexamethasone and Remdesivir. Dexamethasone is a steroid and it has been shown to help but is absolutely not a cure for everyone who takes it. It cuts the risk of death by about a third for patients on ventilators (it cuts the risk of death by about a fifth for those on oxygen). Remdesivir is NOT a steroid. It is an antiviral that interferes with the production of viral RNA (as opposed to DNA). Thus, it could seem credible that inhaled steroids like Budesonide would be effective, especially since our early understanding of COVID-19 was that it was a respiratory virus. This also seems plausible because COVID-19 is often contracted by breathing in particles from infected individuals into the lungs where the virus is able to infect cells. However, more research has revealed that COVID-19 spreads to other parts of the body and causes damage in other locations (e.g., kidneys, cardiovascular system, etc.). Thus, the claim that inhaled steroids works seems plausible. But just because something “seems” plausible doesn’t mean it actually works.

UPDATE 7/20/2020: A new study suggests inhaling interferon beta may reduce the risk of developing severe disease from COVID-19 by as much as 79%. However, appropriate caution about the results is warranted as the study has not been peer-reviewed, has a small sample size, and needs replication. This study is a good illustration of how research should be done, in contrast to Dr. Bartlett’s claims.

Now, on to the red flags… 

Red Flags

As I watched the interview, a number of very serious problems surfaced. Here they are in detail.

1) The most outlandish problem with Dr. Richard Bartlett’s interview was that he was claiming things that are demonstrably untrue. He suggested that the very low death rates in Taiwan, Japan, and Iceland (among other countries) are due to the medical experts in those countries using inhaled steroids. That is demonstrably false. Iceland, for instance, closed all of its borders, tracked down every single case of COVID-19, isolated them, and eventually, stopped the virus. They also force anyone coming into the country to quarantine for two weeks – everyone! You can read about their efforts here. Similar approaches were taken in Taiwan, New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea. None of these countries attribute their low death rates to the use of inhaled steroids to treat patients. They used contact tracing and quarantine to minimize the number of cases. Dr. Bartlett is being dishonest and misrepresenting the facts when he claims that these countries used inhaled steroids to treat these patients when there is no evidence to support his claims. This was a major red flag suggesting he is being dishonest.

2) When Dr. Bartlett was asked how many patients he had treated, he didn’t give a direct answer. A scientist with compelling evidence would know exactly what their sample size is. I have published dozens of research articles and I make it very clear in all of them what my sample size is. Sample sizes are a component of any research study because other researchers need to know the basics of the research design so they can replicate it. Instead, he just keeps saying that he’s treated lots of people and has had a 100% success rate. He provides no more information about the patients: How severe were these cases (we know COVID-19 cases vary in severity)? How old were they? What other comorbidities did they have? He provides no additional information in a credible format. These are serious red flags to me.

3) As noted above, responsible scientists submit their research for publication before they make claims, particularly bold claims. Dr. Bartlett’s evidence is entirely “anecdotal,” which is to say he has no real evidence at all. Unless he has kept detailed records for every single patient he has treated with clear information about their diagnosis with COVID-19, the length of time they had the disease before they were treated, other medical interventions involved, all underlying comorbidities, and can rule out all other possible medical interventions that would have helped, and can aggregate that information into a clear pattern of success, he would not be able to publish these claims. Stories are powerful. We like them. And we find them convincing. But scientists don’t find them compelling. We want evidence. Lots of it. And we need to have it verified, ideally by 2 or more experts. Dr. Bartlett’s claims are extraordinary. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. He provides none.

4) These claims have all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory. The video was posted on July 3rd. If this was the cure, major news outlets around the world would have picked this up. So far, none of them are touching this. Conspiracy theorists will point to this and say that it is evidence that there is a conspiracy against Dr. Bartlett. But that is the problem with conspiracy theorists – when something does happen, it supports their conspiracy; and when nothing happens, it also supports their conspiracy. It’s virtually impossible to convince conspiracy theorists that they are wrong because all the evidence, including the absence of evidence, is seen to support their conspiracy. Yet, doesn’t it seem far more reasonable to conclude that, if someone had found a cure nearly two weeks ago that every major news source on the planet would have put this on the front page or made this the headline in their broadcasts? Only a conspiracy theorist would look at the lack of media coverage and see a conspiracy to hide a cure. 

5) Dr. Richard Bartlett has not, to my knowledge, ever published a single research article in the scientific literature. There is one Richard Bartlett with a user profile on Google Scholar – a law professor at the University of Western Australia (who, no doubt, is going to be pissed that someone with his same name is going to get a lot of negative publicity). There are some other “R Bartletts” who have published research, but those individuals do not appear to be Dr. Richard Bartlett from Texas. So you can see the Google Scholar profile for an actual scholar, here is my Google Scholar profile. The nice thing about Google Scholar is that it is publicly accessible. There are other ways to find research by scholars, but they are behind paywalls and the public cannot see them. But Google Scholar makes it quite easy to see whether someone is a recognized scholar. Dr. Richard Bartlett is not. Our most basic criteria for determining whether someone is an expert in the sciences is to see if they have published research in their stated area of expertise. In this case, Dr. Bartlett should have published research in medicine related journals, particularly on the uses of inhaled steroids or on the treatment of viral respiratory infections. He has not. He is NOT an expert. Just because he is a medical doctor does not mean he is an expert on these topics. There are lots of MDs who push treatments that are completely ineffective and even harmful

So, those are the red flags. I did some additional digging on this topic and here’s what I found:

a) I found two review articles by actual experts on the efficacy of inhaled steroids for treating COVID-19 (article 1 and article 2). Neither claim this is the cure for COVID-19. Here is the summary from one of those studies, “At present, there is no evidence as to whether pre-morbid use or continued administration of ICS [inhaled corticosteroids] is a factor for adverse or beneficial outcomes in acute respiratory infections due to coronavirus.”

b) Further digging by a local news channel called Dr. Bartlett’s claims into question as well. 

So, the long answer to your question is: Dr. Bartlett is, at a minimum, not being honest (as detailed above). He is also being irresponsible in making claims that have not been verified with peer-review. He is not an expert on respiratory infections or inhaled steroids. He is dishonest about his claims and evasive with his answers. The scientific literature does not support his claims, though responsible scientists admit that more research is needed.

My verdict: There is no compelling evidence that Dr. Bartlett has found “THE CURE” for COVID-19. Maybe this will help; maybe not. The only way to know for certain is to conduct rigorous clinical trials.

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