Ever have one of those weeks where you just want to tear everything into pieces, light it all on fire and toss it into the air just for the sake of an inflammatory celebration of hypocrisy? Well, if you've been paying attention to the heated developments surrounding the citizen-driven earned sick time measure – which, in and of itself, seems like minor ancient history compared to the monstrous anthill Orange County government finds itself in now in its wake – you're lucky if you haven't already lit your hands on fire, too.
In short, the initiative was effectively silenced on Sept. 18 following a series of legal filings, hilarious filibusters, flower bombing and backroom secrecy, leaving us standing there with our jaws agape and drooling. Did the chambers of commerce really just prove that reasonably democratic local government doesn't matter so long as there is some pressure to be applied? Is the takeaway that government shouldn't be meddling in the lives of others, especially those who wear suits? Was, as Mayor Teresa Jacobs claimed, the language of the initiative too confusing? We can't even tell anymore. It's all just white noise. This, dear readers, is precisely the breaking point at which we find ourselves looking at Airstreams and considering the notion of "going off the grid," literally. You can do that, right?
Well, not really. At least not in Orange County, anyway. Since October 2011, environmentally conscious electric motorcyclist Terry Hershner has been engaging in a sustainability experiment at a lakefront property on Lake Jessamine. The project has drawn the attention of UCF enviros IDEAS (Intellectual Decisions for Environmental Awareness Solutions) and, at least according to Hershner, the Orlando Utilities Commission, which has consulted with him and his sustainable brethren on the placement of the region's electric-vehicle charging stations. "I'm one of the only people that uses those charging stations," he says. "They know I'm off the grid, and they're excited about it." In fact, says Hershner, he's traveled 10,000 miles on his motorcycle in the last year and it has only cost him $7 in electricity.
Enter the problem. Hershner's residence – which has a convoluted backstory that involves a $500,000 lakefront property that was in the middle of being gutted when the housing bubble burst and was later sold as a short sale – is not presently hooked up to OUC's power grid nor its water source. Why? Because Hershner doesn't really believe in the polluted, war-mongering stuff.
A self-described expert in solar panels (he uses them to power his computers and to cook) and wind power, Hershner has been steadily making a name for as somebody who is walking the walk to match the "green" talk of both the city and county governments. He doesn't think he should have to pay the $300 deposit and minimum $15 charge that OUC would mandate, since he's making his own power and capturing rainwater to support his own lifestyle. "They shouldn't be able to force something on you," he says. "That would be like telling everybody that, 'For your own health, you have to smoke a cigarette.'"
The code enforcement folks at the county (and, apparently, the neighbors) disagree. Last week, Hershner received two citations from Orange County: one for his collection of biodiesel-ready Mercedes on the lot, the other for "failing to be hooked up to power and water," according to county spokesman Steve Triggs. The code cited is 108.1.3, or "Structure unfit for human occupancy," a violation that Hershner worries could see him paying $1,000 a day in fines or exiting the property.
For now, Hershner is exploring his options – he's been offered legal representation, he says; also, the county does offer an option for a waiver from the code – and, as of the time of this writing, was planning a clean-up for the property on Sept. 23 and a discussion of what to do next.
"I would love to talk to somebody with legitimate opposition," he says, noting that no children or elderly people reside on the property. "Every person should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as long as you don't infringe on other people's rights to do the same."
Speaking of not infringing on people's lives – in this case, literally – there's a local organization in town that's promoting technology that it says could have helped prevent the movie theater shootings that killed 12 people in August in Aurora, Colo.
Michael Shulman, director of development of the Emerging Growth Institute, an Orlando nonprofit incubator that helps tech companies develop and share their products, says his organization and a Virginia lab have partnered on a product called Weapon Detect, a simple alarm system that could alert security teams when someone with a loaded gun is about to enter a building. The technology, Shulman says, is triggered when it senses the chemical signature of the primer that drives the "explosive aspect" of a bullet. Unlike a metal detector, Shulman says Weapon Detect can detect that chemical trace as far away as 720 meters.
"As soon as somebody is within 720 meters, that gives you an awful lot of time to get down there," he says. "The key is not to set off an alarm while the guy with the machine gun is standing there. The idea is that you know before he's there, you notify your security, and then they can apprehend before anything happens."
Shulman, who has a sort of nerdy-scientist mien about him (though he says he's in the promotion and development side of things, not the scientific side), recently brought a prototype Weapon Detect with him for a demonstration at Happytown HQ. It looked like a smoke alarm mounted on a trash can. Shulman says the developers realized that it had to be smaller and easily hidden from view, so the newer Weapon Detect model looks more like a typical smoke alarm. It can be mounted inconspicuously in a doorway and wired to send a signal to security without alerting the public that anything is happening – in other words, it's designed to keep people from panicking and a gunman from knowing he's been detected as he's about to enter a public place with a loaded weapon. And "loaded weapon" is the keyword here – unlike less sophisticated weapon-detection systems, a gun without a bullet will not set off the Weapon Detect sensor. Only the ammunition will trigger the alarm.
Shulman says he thought that movie theaters and sports arenas would have been banging down the Emerging Growth Institute's door to get at the gadget, which can be installed inexpensively – Shulman estimates that a system could cost a theater between $2,000 and $10,000, depending on how many doorways it wants to keep tabs on. But so far, most of the interest has not been from U.S. companies and venues. It's been from the Middle East.
"Someone from the United Arab Emirates called and said, 'I'll give you $5 million for it,'" Shulman says. "The majority of their interest has been from foreign countries, like the interest from this sheik from the UAE. They all have these huge homes with these golden faucets. So they want the security."