Mixsonian

Jobs

Working at University of Soils Department
April 1971-1974

My next job was at the University of Florida IFAS Soils Department.  I don't remember the details of how I got this job but it had something do with one of my friends Chip Eno who lived one street over from us.  Chip Eno's father was the chairman of the IFAS Soils department.  The "IFAS" stands for the  "Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences" which had  grants from some of the large paper companies.

I really found this job interesting as I worked on a laboratory doing various lab work on soil analysis relating to the soils of Florida and the growth of pine trees which there are large farms in Florida owned  by paper companies.  One of the grad students who worked there was name Josie who was from India.  (his full name was about 23 letters long so we just called him Josie).  He and I got to be friends and most every day we would go to the University Student Center for lunch we would play ping pong.  He was really good so it was more him beating me and teaching me how to play.

Most of the larger departments at the university had to have various staff to support the research.  One such guy was the electronics technician  Ed McMurty.  Ed was much older then I, probably in his mid thirties.  Electronics being one of my long time hobbies I use to hang out in his shop.  He would show me the projects he was working on for the professors and grad students taking time to explain them to me in detail.  We were always scheming about something.  One time I came up with the idea of making a bike theft alarm.  Being there were many bikes on the campus I thought we could make some money selling them.  We came up with a small box with a tilt switch that would set off a loud alarm if disturbed.  Although it worked it really turned out not to be practical.

Ed and I often would to out to lunch together or with the department secretary Marsha.    One day on the way back from lunch Ed and Marsha pulled out a joint and asked if I wanted to smoke some.  Well I never had smoked pot before but I said yes.  I was like wow, wow, WOW,  WOW!! as I'm sure my eyes got bigger and bigger.  When we got back I went to the lab and threw up in the sink.  My boss came over and I said I wasn't feeling too good and went home "sick". 

Marsha the secretary was 5-6 years older then I but I really had a crush on her.  One time I went over to her house on a weekend and knocked on the door.  She invited me in and we talked for bit, smoked a joint and she put in the record by Emerson Lake & Palmer and played "Lucky Man".  It was the first time I had heard it and I like loved it.  She then took me back to her bed room and we sat on the bed.  I was like in heaven, I thought I was going to get lucky when the door bell rang and she went to answer it.  It was some older man friend of hers who came by to ask her if she wanted to go out.  She yes, and said good bye to me and I left.  Oh well, it would be a couple more years for my first.  Lucky Man is still one of my all time favorite songs.

There was a few months during this time in which the grant money ran out so they had to "lay me off".  I wasn't sure what to do so I spent every day at the university computing center writing APL programs (see story here).  I did this just about every day for several months when one day a grad student in the Soils department came up to me and asked if I wanted to work for him. He had a grant and needed someone to write statistical programs to analyze his thesis data. He had been trying to do it but wasn't being very successful at it. I said yes and this is how I once again worked for the Soils department.

The grad student's research subject was the effect of  the micro nutrient element boron on the growth of pine trees (used by the paper companies).  So for the next year or so I ran soil analysis to detect boron.  This was a many step process in which I took pine needles, turned them to ash in an oven then added several types of acid, using a dye and titrating them to determine the parts per million of boron.  I ran hundreds of samples over many months.  On several occasions I would travel out to the pine tree fields and take samples.  They also had 20 foot holes around the pine fields and I would take a neutron detector on a long cable and lower it every foot down the holes to measure the amount of water in the soil. 

In the end the grad student finished his work and published his thesis only to find in the end that boron really had no measurable effect on the growth of pine trees.  The grad student then with his wife and child moved to south Florida where he worked for a paper company.  I heard a few years later he committed suicide.

Those years of working in the Soils department were some of the best years ever.

Larry 9/1/2008

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