Wirecutter posts about his first chemistry set and how he built the mother of all stink bombs. Something similar happened to me when I was a kid. My parents had given me a chemistry set, and the experiments that came with the kit were deemed too boring by me.

One of the chemicals was labelled “DANGER: DO NOT MIX WITH ACID.” Well, being an inquisitive sort of lad, I decided to mix it with acid. Hiding in the bathroom, I mixed it with one of the containers of acid. As soon as I did, copious amounts of blue-green smoke began issuing from the test tube. It looked like I had rubbed the lamp with the genie inside.

I panicked. My bathroom had a door that led to the outside, and I rushed out there, quickly dug a hole, and shoved the test tube inside, burying it where my parents would never notice what I had done.

Until my parents moved out of that house some eight years later, my father could never get grass to grow in that spot. That bald spot in the lawn drove him nuts.

I didn’t tell either of my parents what had happened until I related the story at my father’s funeral, 17 years ago. My mother found the story to be uproariously funny, telling me that he tried everything to get grass to grow in that spot, but nothing ever worked. Even sod placed on that spot would wither and die within days.

I wish I knew the name of that chemical. It is a great weed killer. The people who live there now probably have cancer.


Posting has suffered here as of late. The posts are shorter and not so prolific. The reason for that is that I finally have grown tired of my diversity hire of a boss and have been taking steps to transfer to a different department. I have been working for both departments lately: 3 twelve hour shifts for my home department, and 2 twelve hour shifts per week in my soon to be new department. I hope that I will be released from the old department in the next several weeks, which will give me some more time off.

The road to this has been long. I was hired to work from 7a to 7p for 3 twelve hour shifts per week. I was to supervise the unit, write the monthly work schedule, and generally make sure that screw ups weren’t being made. It was a new position created because mistakes were made in the unit that resulted in the death of a patient, and I would answer directly to the department head. They told me when they hired me that my qualifications greatly exceeded those required for the position, and I was hired at what they claimed was the top of the scale for the position.

The unit was falling apart. Of the 14 employees, 9 of them were gone in the first three months I was there, resulting in me working 5 and 6 twelve hour days per week for the three months it took to hire replacements. So I spent last summer working 60 to 80 hour weeks. I was told during that time that I would not be writing the monthly schedule.

In August, they tried to hire another supervisor to split duties with me. He didn’t meet the minimum requirements for the position, but they were hiring him for $12K more than I was making. I was livid and expressed my displeasure. I even did my own background check on him, and discovered that he had been arrested three months before for punching an Orlando cop. The wound up not hiring him.

Then in October, annual evaluation time came, and mine said that I had missed the quarterly staff meeting, and that I was not doing my job because I was not writing the schedule (that they had told me not to write). That quarterly meeting I missed? I missed it because it was being held on my only day off, sandwiched between a 6 day workweek and a five day workweek. Even 132 hours worked in 12 days wasn’t enough. They wanted more.

So November came and they hired another new supervisor to split duties with me, and she also wasn’t qualified for the position, so they had to rewrite the job description in order to accommodate her. Her pay was equal to mine.

Beginning the week of December, they changed my working hours to be 11a to 11p, while also cutting my hours an bonuses. Now my take home pay was lower by about $15k.

Then I was told that the new supervisor would be writing the schedules. Guess who is now getting her choice of what days she wants to work, and guess who is working the leftover days? So I began looking to see what I could do. I was prepared to quit and see if I would be eligible for unemployment, since they had cut my pay and changed my hours so drastically.

Instead, a department head that I had been working with all throughout the COVID outbreak in August asked me why I was wasting my talents where I was. She said that I could work some OT in her department, and once my original department head releases me, I could work for her.I could additionally set my own work days. For now, that means temporarily working 5 days a week, but I get all sorts of bonuses and OT for it.

So that’s where I am. Buried in work, and waiting for my original department to release me. Hopefully another couple of weeks, and I can take it easier. A little.

For now, I can bank away a few thousand a month extra. Today is my only day off this week.


So I told you I am considering taking a swing at doing my taxes this year. I begin this tax season by getting my forms together and reviewing last year’s return. Still haven’t made my decision.

My tax return for last year, counting all schedules and miscellaneous forms, was 21 pages long. As far as backup, there were four 1099’s, a pair of W-2’s, a P&L statement for the business, and a form 5498. The statement from my stock broker was 11 pages long.

This year, there will be five 1099’s, four W-2s, the P&L statement (which I still haven’t finished), and the 5498. I also won’t get the stockbroker statement until after February 15. I do know I had about two thirds as much in capital gains as 2020, but thanks to some carryover losses that I can no longer take advantage of, I will wind up owing more capital gains taxes than I did last year.

For today, I think that I will be completing the P&L statement for the year. Joy. I would have to do that, whether or not I use an accountant.

Tis the season

I received all of my tax forms this week, save my broker’s statement from ETrade. Those don’t go out until February 15. They are gonna suck, because I had some significant capital gains this year.

Thus begins the worst time of the year: tax season. I need to close the 2021 books on my businesses, then begin the process of figuring out how much money I owe the IRS.

My wife and I both have jobs. I collect a pension. Between us, we own 4 businesses. We have interest and investment income. In years past, I have paid a CPA. My wife wants me to try to do our taxes myself and save the $600 a year we were paying her. I’m going to give it a try.

Analog Fire Control

When I was in the Navy, the ship that I was on had a 48 inch diameter carbon arc searchlight on it. The searchlight worked by taking what was essentially two welding rods, pressing them together, and maintaining an electrical arc in order to create a searchlight beam that was bright enough to be seen for miles. In fact, by shining that light at a cloud, it was possible to send Morse code signals to other ships over the horizon.

When my ship was built in the mid 70’s, these lights weren’t made any longer, and the one that was on my ship had been salvaged from a WW2 era destroyer that had been decommissioned. Built in the days before electronics, the system that ran this searchlight was incredibly complicated. It was an analog power supply that ran on a system of motors and gears, with lenses focusing beams of light on various parts of the system that turned motors on and off, pushing the rods closer together, or pulling them apart, as needed to maintain the light beam. A technical manual for a 24 inch example can be found here.

By the time I reported aboard the ship, the light no longer worked and no one knew how to fix it. At one point as a young E-4, I took an interest in this searchlight and decided to get it working. I made a project out of it. I found a manual in the ship’s tech library, brought the control unit down, and spent several weeks rebuilding it. When we finally got the thing lit, it was amazingly bright. The light hadn’t worked in years, and I didn’t get so much as an “attaboy” for getting it working. Nowadays, it seems like you would get a Navy Achievement Medal for fixing that thing.

I tell you this as a setup and explanation of where I got this interest in how early electrical engineers solved problems that seem easy today using electronics. The focus today is on the Ford Mark I fire control system.

The Navy needed a way to calculate the elevation and deflection of Naval guns so as to put shells on target. This was no trivial exercise in math. Both the target and the gun platform were likely moving, the target might even be airborne, the platform might be rocking in heavy seas. Different shells were of different weights and ballistic coefficients. Or you might want to put a starburst shell 50 feet over the target for illumination. Ranges were sometimes 30 or more miles away. All of these factors required math in three axes in order to be overcome: direction, distance, and elevation. Enter the Ford fire control computer.

A frigate might have one. Destroyers had two, allowing multiple batteries to engage different targets. An Iowa class battleship had four of them. They were accurate enough that this computer was still in use until the battleships were retired in the mid 90s. 50 years old is not bad for an analog computer living in the age of transistors.

Check out this video on how the system worked to direct the secondary batteries on the 5 inch guns of the battleship New Jersey.

What can be done today with a laptop computer took an entire room of switches and a 3,000 pound box filled with motors, switches, relays, and gears. It was bulky, heavy, and more complicated than a box full of Swiss watches, but it worked. It worked quite well, in fact.

I consider myself lucky to have worked on that searchlight. It was one of the most interesting projects that I have ever taken on.


Fedex changed the world of shipping. They came up with the idea that everything would be taken to a regional hub, sorted, and then sent back out. So wanting to send a package from Orlando to Miami could result in the package going to Atlanta before being sorted and sent back out to Miami.

Even though it seems counter intuitive, it is actually faster and more efficient to do it that way. I fully understand that.

However, I don’t understand what is happening right now. I ordered a tablet computer on Monday.

  • It shipped via USPS two day air on Monday evening from Pineville, North Carolina.
  • Six hours later, it arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Twelve hours later, it arrived in Jacksonville, FL.
  • Nine hours after that, it arrived in New Castle, Delaware
  • From there, it went to Wilmington, Delaware.
  • Another 13 hours, and it arrived in Philadelphia.
  • Twelve hours later, it left Philadelphia.
  • Now, six hours after it was last seen, and two days after it was shipped, no one appears to know where it is.

This is the tenth package that has disappeared for me in the past two and a half months.

I can’t even blame the train robbery in California for this one.

Credit Card

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis remember my credit card problem. If not, let’s recap:

  • In October, I found a charge on my credit card for $340. It was from Google advertising.
  • I promptly disputed it.
  • Three months later, the CC company told me that they investigated the charge and determined it was valid
  • The reason for that determination was that the vendor had provided documentation.
  • I asked for a copy of this documentation.

In the meantime, I was not happy with the support I was getting from the credit card company, Barclay bank, so I decided to apply for a card from another bank. I figured that with a credit score of 815, I could get any card I wanted. I was correct. I got a cash back card with a large credit limit and even more favorable terms than the one I was using.

I recently got a call from Barclay’s management team. They decided that the charge was not authorized after all, and told me that the charge would be credited back to the card. When I asked the manager where the documentation was that I requested, the caller danced around it and made vague noises without actually admitting what I already knew: they don’t have any documentation.

Taking the charge off was too little, too late. My new card came in the mail today and I will be taking my business elsewhere. Of course I won’t cancel the card. I will simply stick it in a drawer and stop using it. That way it stays as a positive tradeline on my credit report.


As I sit and type this on Monday morning, my thermometer says that it is 28 degrees outside, making this our first freeze of the year. To tell the truth, I was beginning to think that Florida had decided not to participate in winter this year. In a typical year, we have usually had our first freeze some time in December.

A Central Florida winter isn’t like winters anywhere else. In winter here, we will get a frost or a freeze, but the temperature usually only stays below freezing until the sun comes up. The temperatures during the day will get to the 50’s or so, then will drop back down as soon as the sun sets. This will last for two or three days, then we are right back to daytime highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. This cycle will repeat three or four times from mid December to about mid February, then the spring thunderstorm season begins.

Not this year. We have been in the 80s during the day, and the mid sixties at night. No frost, no cold. No cold weather until last week, when it dropped to 34 degrees on Monday morning, and our first below freezing this morning.

I remember when I was a kid, we once had a solid three days that temperatures stayed below freezing. My brother and I were amazed that a bucket of water left outside froze. We had never seen ice that wasn’t in the freezer before. I only saw snow twice before I joined the Navy: once in New Orleans when I was three, and once when we went to visit our cousins in Tennessee.

It isn’t climate change. It’s just weather. Four years ago, we had a snow storm around lunchtime, and even though the snow didn’t accumulate, the kids loved it. Next winter won’t be as warm.

I-95 Goes North *and* South

Because we are so depleted by COVID positive employees having to stay home, I had to work a 16 hour shift yesterday (the most we can work under hospital policy) and I got off work at 3 am. I get 8 hours off (the least we can get under hospital policy) and I go back for another 12 hours. That isn’t the point of this post.

For the last several hours of the shift, I worked with a pair of women that I have never worked with before. Both of them are from New York City. They spent the last two hours of the shift comparing New York City to Florida. This is what I heard:

  • The people here are (and I quote) “Backwards, backwoods hicks”
  • The schools in Florida are awful and don’t teach anything. They can’t understand why the schools don’t teach anything. NYC schools are SO much more advanced
  • You can’t get good Chinese food, Pizza, or baked goods here
  • One complained that the stores here didn’t carry her specific brand of orange juice that she liked.
  • There isn’t much to do here. It’s boring
  • The shopping here stinks.
  • They pay here is low, and employers expect everyone to get by on peanuts
  • They both said they spent their first two years here crying nightly because this place is so awful.

Here is my answer to all of that:

You took Interstate 95 going south to get here. Did you know that the same highway goes north as well? You can always go back. I’m sure, with it being so great and all, you would be much happier.

Here is some advice to those of my readers who would want to move from places in the north to places in the south:

  • The people who live here don’t appreciate being called backwards, backwoods, hicks, or any other names. Your new neighbors won’t like you much if you denigrate them.
  • The schools in NYC aren’t any better. Actually, Florida and New York schools are fairly comparable.
  • The food here is fine, just made how we like it, and not how you like it. Just like you don’t prefer the Chinese and pizza here, I can’t find good biscuits and gravy, Bar B Que, or fried chicken in NYC.
  • This is Florida. There are dozens of orange juice brands here. Many are locally produced. I’m sure that one of them is to your liking.
  • There is plenty to do here. Florida is a popular tourist destination.
  • Have you heard of Amazon? Besides, how can people in NYC shop? Haven’t you been locked down for two years?
  • The pay is lower than NYC, but taxes and the cost of living are much higher. Here in Florida, you don’t have to pay $3,000 a month for a one bedroom apartment. We also don’t have to pay 15% state and city income taxes.
  • If you really are miserable, go back where you came from, but stop trying to make here like there. You left there for a reason.

This is the attitude that people from New York City are famous for. It’s why most of the people in the rest of the country don’t like New Yorkers. You are arrogant, loud mouthed, and insulting. If that is your attitude, STAY IN NEW YORK.

Rant over.