Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Fire in the Spacecraft!"

I missed this yesterday while messing about with other things. January 27, 1967, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in the Apollo 1 cabin in a fire that started during a plugs-out test. The cause of the fire was never conclusively identified, but was likely caused by a number of construction and design flaws combined with flawed operating procedures. I don't remember the fire, most likely because I was only two years old at the time and would have been shielded from something so horrifying by my parents even if I had been older. I of course have vivid memories of Challenger and Columbia and can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing at the time. But I know Apollo 1 from second hand accounts, books, old news footage, and of course the audio recording. I'm sure copies of that can be easily found on the internet. Personally, I have no desire to listen while three men first struggle for their lives, then asphyxiate, all while on fire. Your tastes may vary....

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kitchen Goddess

I've been spending a lot of time lately in the kitchen. I made a couple stabs at making bread. The first attempt was an Amish white bread recipe I found at It was actually edible, much to my surprise. I'd forgotten how dense most homemade bread is; anything we didn't each could have been used as a door stop. In the closeup, you can see I need to work on my mixing and kneading technique.

The scorch marks on the top were due to me trying to bake them in the toaster oven. The bread got too tall and touched the top heating element. Guess I have to use the big oven for bread. We've also been messing around with a pizza dough recipe as well. No photos of that, but it is quick and easy, and reminds me a lot of the pizza dough from one of my college jobs.

Today it was sourdough bread (I cheated and just grabbed a box mix at Walmart) and no-bake cookies from my mom's recipe. The cookies are for a care package that will get sent to Debbie's niece, who is away for her freshman year in college. The cookies turned out good, although they taste different than I remember, but I haven't had my mom's no-bakes in a long time. Maybe the pallet forgets? My bread mixing and kneading were a bit better this time around, but you could still use the stuff as a boat anchor.

But yea; I'm now a Kitchen Goddess. (Can you tell I've had three days off in a row?)

We went out exploring some a couple weeks ago. There is a park very close to us that featured a couple of the tallest trees in Florida. They weren't as impressive as they once were; both were sheared off by a hurricane in the 1920's. Then about a week after we were there, the tallest one named The Senator, caught fire and burned down to a five-foot stump. The forestry people still haven't determined the cause, but are fairly certain it was not arson. Anyway, here is what they looked like:

The Senator


There seem to be dozens of little state parks around here, hidden behind strip malls and hemmed in by subdivisions. They can be tough to find sometimes. This one seems to be used mostly as a place for people to dump their vehicle and take off on bikes down the local bike path that goes through the middle of the park. I understand there used to be a gift shop and all the usual tourist-trap stuff before The Mouse sucked all the tourists away from Seminole County. No way a couple trees and a small zoo could compete with Wally World.

I'm still more or less in a holding pattern waiting to hear from the IRS. I ordered up my software and some other materials, but The Tax Geek is still not full blown reality, although I've been trying to keep the blog alive. I moved the blog from GoDaddy to Blogger; GoDaddy was just too primitive and quirky. Maybe it's just that I'm used to Blogger, but I kept running into roadblocks on GoDaddy and finally decided that I'd rather have a tool I can use instead of one that I constantly fight with. Unfortunately, GoDaddy doesn't give refunds, so it was a rather costly experiment.

In the meantime, I'm still plugging away at the library. I can already see that this won't last long. I expected the normal sort of bureaucratic idiocy that defines any government operation, but Seminole County has bred some very special idiots indeed. Good thing I can just wander off into the stacks and be forgotten for hours at a time. I do know one thing; if you want to find waste and fraud in government, start with county government. As a percentage of their budget, I'm certain there is more to find at the local level than the federal or even the state, which are under constant scrutiny.

Debbie is in the middle of her busy season. She is never sure from one day to the next when she will be getting out of work. I've been riding both ways to and from the library when I get out at 5pm even though it's still a bit more dusk than I'd like by the time I get home. Now that we're past the winter solstice, I have a bit more light every day, it gives me a chance to have dinner at least mostly ready when Debbie makes it home, and Debbie doesn't have to worry about me being stuck at the library if she has to stay late. At least the payoff for all the crazy is some big checks. Woohoo!

If you have an account at Fidelity and you wonder what all those fees you pay go to, here is the answer:

A bit of background: this was a 401K left over from some previous job. So much of the money had been lost that the balance fell below what was allowed to be left in the account. Somehow in the process of closing the 401K, a penny was left in the account, which Fidelity spent accounting and auditing time, check stock, and postage to send to us. They didn't catch their mistake until after the first of the year, which makes me wonder if they will actually be dumb enough to send another 1099-R for a penny. They have already sent two statements, first showing the $.01 balance in the account, then showing the $.01 being disbursed from the account. In addition to sending us the $.01 check. Holy. Crap.

Flickr and Facebook are still on trial. Oddly, Flickr, which I've had much longer and have been a much more frequent user of, is currently in a more precarious position. I haven't logged onto Flickr in several months and I can't think for the life of me why I would. I'm not uploading new photos, I've stopped following any of my contacts, and I've canceled out of all the groups I was in. The only thing left to do is just close the dang account and be done with it already. Meanwhile, I've been on Facebook a number of times in the last week, keeping up with a tragedy involving some old friends up in northern Michigan, making FB far more valuable to us at the present moment. [Aside: This is one of those times when being a long way away really sucks.] No decisions yet on either, but I'll likely pull the plug on one of them before the end of the month.

That's probably enough for now. I have some work to do on the IRS site and I should make a post over at The Tax Geek. Later.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blast from the Sun

Our Sun throws itself a little hissy fit:

and we get to see things like this:


Monday, January 23, 2012


One problem with bicycle commuting is that we have these little teeny tiny bugs that fly in little swarms in random places. They're too small to see until I ride through the swarm with my mouth open and get a bit of protein along the way. I've gotten sort of used to that as it happens once or twice each way. Today on the way home I got a little bigger meal. I didn't see what it was, but my first thought was, "God, I hope that wasn't a fly fresh off some dog's steaming pile."

Yea, that's pretty much all I got.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Beautiful Day Off

This is our last day off together this month --- and we are heading to Disney World!

With the schedules and Ric being sick around the holidays, we did not make it to DW during the Christmas season to take pictures. :-( This year -- no matter what -- we are going after the decorations are up and checking out each park and some of the hotels.

Cool this morning -- but suppose to warm up to the upper 70's -- great day for trekking around at Disney World.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Medical Misadventures

I went to the local ghetto clinic a couple weeks ago for two reasons: one, I had picked up some sort of nasty sinus/upper respiratory infection that I just couldn't shake, and two, my ghetto "doctor" isn't capable of doing simple math and had screwed up one of my prescriptions. This is nothing new, of course. The ghetto clinic has a history with us of screwing up prescriptions, ignoring the main reason for a visit in favor of focusing on trivialities, losing things, and just generally being incompetent.

But my latest visit really takes the cake. It may be my last visit if I can find an actual doctor somewhere in the area that is taking new, uninsured patients. I expect that to be an impossible quest, but that is a whole 'nother post.

The ghetto clinic has been in the process of a major, multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded, remodel since we moved here. The remodel is now complete. It is a disaster. The lobby is completely nonfunctional, not to mention a HIPAA nightmare. My visit starts at 8:45am (appointment time is 9:00am) standing in a queue to sign in. There is no place for the queue that doesn't block the entrance, the door to the ghetto pharmacy, the hallway back to the waiting area or all of the above when everyone without a previous appointment bum-rushes the front counter when the ghetto clinic first opens. Arguments over who's next are common and it is impossible to have the HIPAA-mandated privacy when speaking with the person at the front counter.

Once I had run that little gauntlet (it is now 9:15am), I was told to have a seat in one of the dozen chairs in the lobby, which are already filled up and in any case would mean putting my face at ass-level with the mob at the front counter. So I stand leaning against the wall where I have an unobstructed view of the computer monitors displaying other patients' medical and financial information, and listening in on the conversations regarding patients' medical history and finances. Whoever designed the space needs to be beaten to death with a copy of the HIPAA law. I watch as several employees walk away from their computer terminals without locking them or blanking the screen. It's also obvious that there are massive computer system problems with a lone IT guy running around putting out fires.

At 9:40am, a woman who must have formerly been employed in a fish market screams out my name indicating it's now my turn to have my medical history and financial information on display for the benefit of everyone in the lobby. The only person unable to see the computer screen is me. I sit down then wait for a full five minutes of typing and mouse clicking before the person acknowledges that I exist. The "conversation" goes something like this:

Medical Person: Are you Richard Frost?
Me: Yes.
(Several minutes of typing and mousing.)
Medical Person: Is Debbie still your emergency contact?
Me: Yes.
(Several more minutes of typing and mousing.)
Medical Person: Is [redacted] still your main phone number?
Me: Yes.
(Several more minutes of typing and mousing.)
Medical Person: Is [redacted] still your secondary phone number?
Me: Yes
(Several more minutes of typing and mousing.)
Medical Person: Today's visit will cost you $20.

I hand over my credit card, she swipes it and hands it back followed by several MORE minutes of typing and mousing. Finally she hands me my receipt and points me to the waiting room. She manages to complete the entire 20-minute process without once making eye contact.

It is now 10:00am; it has taken me an hour and a quarter just to get to the waiting room. Fortunately, my butt didn't even hit the chair before another female ex-fish merchant screams out my name. While she takes my vitals, I get a running commentary about how slow reception is due to the new computer system not working and how the medical staff are all standing around waiting for patients to trickle back. As she leaves the exam room, she practically collides with the "doctor" coming in, making for a novel experience: no secondary wait while sitting in the exam room. The "doctor" takes a quick listen to my lungs and prescribes antibiotics then asks what else I need. I tell him I need my prescriptions fixed because he obviously failed math in college. He responds by pulling up my old lab results and regaling me with how perfect everything is except my blood sugar.

Um, duh? We've already had this discussion. How about rewriting my prescriptions correctly? He goes on about how I need to "take control" of my diabetes. I tell him I would love to except his ghetto pharmacy is withholding my insulin forcing me to ration what little I can get out of them. I then get a lecture about how I have it all wrong and what nice people work in the ghetto pharmacy. He must be thinking of a different ghetto pharmacy than the one in the ghetto clinic, but I just inform him that we will agree to disagree on that point and can he please just correct the prescriptions he screwed up?

Finally, I escape. Sort of. At least that whole thing was the shortest part of my adventure so far at a mere ten minutes. He sent off the corrected scripts for my regular meds to Walgreen's, but I had to get my antibiotic at the ghetto pharmacy to get the Poor Person Price. So I go into the pharmacy to stand in line to turn in my prescription. Why my prescription can be sent electronically to Walgreens ten miles away, but I have to queue to turn in a paper script to the ghetto pharmacy in the same building is not explained. Must be a feature of the new computer system. Anyway. The ghetto pharmacy is another space with no place to queue, so it ends up being a mob blocking the door into the pharmacy. I turn in my script, then sit to wait with my face in the asses of people waiting to turn in their scripts. An hour later (it's now 11:15am), I get called up to the counter to pay $10 for an empty bag with instructions to have a seat because the pharmacist needs to speak to me. Holy frackin' crap. So back to the face-ass position for another 45 minutes. After enduring a five-minute explanation of how a Z-Pack works, I finally make the dash to my car. It is 12:05pm.

But the fun isn't over yet. I go to Walgreens to pick up my other prescriptions only to find out that my asshat "doctor" has yet-again screwed up the same prescription. I ask the pharmacist if she can please call over the ghetto clinic and fix it. She says she'll take care of it. A couple days later, I get an e-mail saying my prescription is in, but the count is still wrong. I head over to Walgreens to see what in bloody hell is up now. The answer: My ghetto "doctor" is holding my prescription hostage because he wants me to come in and do my labs. My labs aren't due until May. But what the hell; it only costs me $15 (the rest being billed to the taxpayers) and it's not like I have anything better to do than spend hours and hours standing in line at the ghetto clinic. I'm just another one of those poors after all.

And the elites wonder why poor people routinely go nuts on "service providers".

Friday, January 13, 2012


Friday the 13th is on a Friday this month!

SEE Part III Complete

I completed the third and final section of the SEE. Even as I type this, my application to practice before the IRS is winging its way to the Department of Treasury. With that out of the way, I can finally focus on something other than test prep.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Old Age

I forgot to clear out the Past Reading list at the beginning of the year. Senior Moments (tm) can really sneak up on you. Anyway, we read 129 books in 2011. That was on the low side probably because of the whole tax thing taking time away from my reading. Debbie kept up her end of things, but I've been seriously slacking. But my last test is Friday, so I will be doing some major catch-up with the to-be-read pile.

Friday, January 06, 2012

More Crazy People

Isle of Man TT: motorcycles at 200+ mph:

I love that there are both crazy people and video cameras in our world.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Don't ya?!

I hate when it is my day off and I can't sleep in! It would have been nice today since it is still cold down here in Florida (39 degrees now) to keep snuggled up in a nice warm bed. But no! I woke up around 730a and just couldn't fall back to sleep. After tossing/turning and punching the pillow; I decided to give up and just get up.

Work has been busy since the day after Christmas. With the new rules about no working off the clock and only up to 1hr OT per day, it is kinda hard for me to get caught up. I can only do so much in a day and I am lucky to have several repeat clients and referrals of those clients. I still have some emails from after New Years to research and respond to. Hopefully they all understand this is now busy season and be patient for me.

Ric is still sick --- sinus infection and coughing (hacking up his lung) since Christmas. He finally has a Dr's appt tomorrow am -- we will see what the "ghetto clinic" has to say and give him to help. I know he has not been sleeping good for awhile. Most nights he is sleeping upright on the reclining loveseat --- or, at least dozing on and off between coughing fits.

Well---time to find something for breakfast and decide what I want to do today at home. Maybe start making some birthday/anniversary cards or go shopping to spend my Christmas money or clean the bathroom (probably not this one!) or book our flights home to Michigan for the Wiklanski family reunion. (Yep, we are coming to Michigan twice in 2012 -- Vargason and Wiklanski family reunion times)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!!

It's 2012 and I'm actually sitting in the exact same spot as last year. It feels kind of good to be able to say that. As expected when you don't relocate to another part of the country, it doesn't seem like we really did all that much over the last year other than work and keep our heads down. The year didn't totally suck like the last couple; staying in one place has at least allowed us to catch our breath financially. We know we don't want to make this place permanent, but it will serve its purpose in spite of the drug dealers, human traffickers, incompetent office people, and whichever of our neighbors has really noisy sex every night with their bedroom window open.

The 2011 tax season for me ended up going pretty much as one would expect working in a ghetto tax office. I won't be back even if they call, and I seriously doubt they will. I had planned on becoming an Enrolled Agent and opening my own office when lightening struck and I ended up with a paying job at the library where I've been volunteering. I love the pretty colors Plans make when they explode on contact with Reality. I'm still working on the Enrolled Agent thing with my final test scheduled for Friday the 13th (yes, I enjoy tempting fate), but for now, renting office space is off the table. While part time, at least the library job is predictable and as permanent as any job can be considered these days; something I haven't had in over five years.

Debbie is still working at the same job, for now at least. The owners' actions over the last year smell like desperation to me; the business model is a pure race to the bottom similar to what happened with car dealerships a decade or so ago. The internet removes middle men by reducing what they can add to the price of whatever they are selling to zero. The days when you can simply wet your beak without adding perceivable value are long gone. I just hope these guys figure that out, for their sake and for ours.

I've stopped following news and markets (highly recommended, by the way), so I don't have any deep insights into the world. In general terms, the US stock market ended 2011 almost exactly where it ended 2010. I'm sure people made money, especially the brokers who get a cut of every transaction regardless, but retail investors made nothing, just like anyone with money in the bank. The places where one can earn the requisite 8% yield that will allow us all to retire at 55 into a life of golf and 4pm dining grow fewer by the day. The rest of the economy still seems stuck at slow idle with no movement in real unemployment, housing, retail. Early reports are that Christmas shopping was up over 4%, but that seems to be the case every year. I'm not convinced that any increase, assuming it isn't a complete fabrication, isn't being more than offset by decreases at other times of the year, just like increases in online shopping are coming at the expense of physical stores. And if that figure isn't adjusted for inflation, Christmas sales were either flat or down 2% or so (depending which inflation figures you believe).

The real story of 2011, which will continue into 2012, is the slow-motion train wreck formerly known as the European Union. If nothing else, we'll get to see how long the politicians there and here in the United States can keep the plates spinning before it all comes crashing down. While hardly the Mayan Apocalypse, it will prove interesting from a number of perspectives, not least of which is the complete evaporation of whatever confidence is left in governments. I seem to recall the US getting sucked into some sort of kerfuffle in Europe the last time the people there lost faith in their leaders.

2011 will also be noted for what didn't happen: no one is yet in prison for the massive fraud engineered at the nation's too-big-to-fail banks and investment houses. Matt Taibbi is about the only person to keep hammering home that, contrary to what our president insists, much of the grift that lead up to the financial crisis was not legal. Certainly, many of the dirty deals that put multi-million dollar bonuses into the pockets of Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, et al were legal (the primary reason no one in the middle class should be in the stock market), but many were old-school pump-and-dump scams that have been illegal for decades. Maybe someone should check in on the Obama Justice Department and make sure they haven't committed mass suicide and gone off to live with the Space Brothers.

2011 also saw the last launch of Americans from American soil. Like the loss of the Saturn V, the capability will never be recovered. In the meantime, we hitch rides from our former sworn enemies to a destination that serves no real purpose. On the upside, Cassini is still returning drop-dead gorgeous images from the Saturn system, Opportunity is still chugging away doing science, and an all-new probe, Curiosity, is on its way to Mars.

I won't make any predictions for 2012 other than these: The economy in general will continue to sputter along making a small number of people wealthier than anyone ever in the history of the human race. Meanwhile, the rest of us who don't have politicians on our personal payroll will watch the slow erosion of our standard of living. And speaking of the Mayan Apocalypse, John Michael Greer has suggested that we call December 21, 2012 Nothing Happened Day. I think it's pretty safe to assume that the day everyone expects the world to end on will be the most extraordinarily ordinary day anyone can remember. The universe has a sick sense of humor.

I think I'm going to cut this off here and watch the House marathon. Everyone have a happy/productive/sexually satisfying (that's mostly for our noisy neighbors)/whatever-kind-of-year-you-want 2012!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my family and friends!

Make it a great year!