Week of 15 June 2009
Update: Friday, 19 June 2009 08:34 -0500
been very busy for the last couple of months. As a result posts here
have been somewhat sporadic and often short. A lot of people have
emailed me to ask what's going on, and I figured it was about time to
Since April, I've been working on building out the Maker Shed science section.
Right now, it's mainly kits, and most of those are for kids. We're
about to begin ramping things up, with the goal of eventually making
the Maker Shed science section a one-stop source for DIY
science enthusiasts, home school science, and so on. We'll grow
from the current couple of dozen SKUs to scores of SKUs to
hundreds of SKUs
to (eventually) probably a couple of thousand SKUs. We'll carry a lot
of kits--not just toys, but kits for serious science--as well as a slew
of individual items--chemicals, glassware, microscopes, etc. etc. All
of those products will be tied to
freely-available online content, written by me, and eventually
perhaps by other writers. We'll also be doing lots of related
So, I have been and will continue to be extremely busy.
I'm writing bid specs on a bunch of individual items and kits,
reorganizing the web site and shopping
cart stuff, writing the associated documentation, writing, doing, and
shooting videos, and so on. You'll start to see some changes on the
MAKE blog and in Maker Shed before long.
Yesterday, I sent a request for bid on 150+ chemicals, indicators, and
microscope staining solution out to bidders. Today, I've about gone
cross-eyed from studying wholesale catalogs, price lists, and spec
sheets all day long, in the course of starting to put together a
massive spreadsheet with items, quantities, and prices on a bunch of
glassware, plastic ware, lab hardware, and so on.
One of things
I was concerned about is order quantities for initial stocking up of
the Maker Shed science room. I can make some educated guesses, of
course, but we'll have no real idea which items are popular and which
will just sit in inventory for weeks or months until we actually start
to sell the stuff. So, on the one hand, I don't want to order a bunch
of stuff that won't sell quickly, but, on the other hand, I want to
have more than a one-day supply in stock to start with. There's also
the issue of quantity price breaks.
Fortunately, the wholesalers
generally make it pretty easy to strike a happy medium. For example,
they may offer a decent price on a carton of 24 Erlenmeyer flasks. They
may offer the same flask in a case of 192, and eventually we may order
in that kind of volume. But the price per flask in a case of 192 is
generally only a few cents less than the price per flask in a carton of
24, so there's no major downside to ordering just one or two cartons of
24 rather than a case quantity.
One thing that's been impressed
upon me is the stark difference in cost/pricing of US-made versus
Chinese-made items. For example, a pound of US-made rubber stoppers may
have a retail price of $45, while a pound of nearly identical
Chinese-made rubber stoppers may have a retail price of $15. The
quality of the US-made stoppers may be marginally better, but not
enough better to justify paying three times as much.
The same is
true of glassware, where name-brand (Pyrex, Kimax) US-made stuff may
cost two or three times as much as Chinese- or Indian-made Bomex or
Borosil brands. And those off-shore brands are often associated with
well-known US brand names. For example, the Indian Borosil glass is
made in a factory that was designed, built, and operated in association
with Dow-Corning (Pyrex). The same is true of Bomex, which is
associated with Kimble Glass (Kimax).
I confess that if I were
going to use glassware under strenuous conditions (dry distillations,
operating under pressure or vacuum, etc.), I'd feel more secure with
the name-brand US stuff. (Of course, under those conditions I'd use a
blast shield no matter what.) But for routine use, the off-shore brands
are perfectly usable and a lot cheaper. So that's what I've been
I saw a strange headline in the paper this morning. Apparently, the FDA
is investigating complaints that the homeopathic cold "remedy"
Zicam has caused at least 130 people to lose their sense of smell. My
first thought was that this was bogus. Homeopathic "remedies" are
extremely dilute solutions of various drugs. And when I say "extremely
dilute", I mean so dilute that in many cases the probability is less
than 0.5 that even one molecule of the drug in question will be present
in the dose. (Homeopaths believe, with no scientific evidence, that
these extreme dilutions somehow modify the properties of the water
itself.) So, if there's no scientific basis for believing that these
homeopathic solutions could possibly have any beneficial effect, the
converse is also true. At such high dilutions, they couldn't be any
more damaging than pure water.
As it turns out, however, those
extreme dilutions apply only to the so-called active ingredients. These
homeopathic remedies may also include much higher concentrations of
other compounds. In the case of Zicam, it apparently is 2% with regard
to zinc gluconate. I don't know anything about the toxicity (or lack
thereof) of zinc gluconate, but it's certainly not outside the realm of
possibility that spraying a 2% solution of some compound up your nose
could damage your sense of smell.
The FDA is charged with making
sure that ethical and OTC drugs are safe and effective. But apparently
there's a gigantic loophole for drugs sold as "homeopathic", which are
not subject to FDA jurisdiction. It's bad enough that homeopathic drug
companies can sell what amounts to pure water at high prices and claim
health benefits for it without having any scientific evidence to verify
those claims. It's much worse that they can sell potentially dangerous
treatments to unsuspecting consumers without any FDA oversight.
actually have a nasal sprayer of a homeopathic "drug" around here
somewhere. IIRC, it's supposedly for treating allergies. Barbara bought
it for me at Walgreens or CVS, not realizing what it was. When I looked
at the label, it took me a moment to realize that what she'd bought was
essentially a bottle of pure water. I was angered at being defrauded,
but I'd already opened the package, so instead of returning it to the
drugstore I just tossed it in my desk drawer.
At least this
Zicam problem may have a beneficial effect, if it encourages Congress
to make homeopathic drugs subject to FDA jurisdiction. This is a $200
million/year industry that shouldn't exist. Perhaps Congress and the
FDA can put these people out of business.
Moron alert. When someone posts a review of one of our books on the
O'Reilly web site, it automatically generates an email to me to inform
me that a new review has been posted. I got this this morning:
Subject: I WOULD LIKE A REFUND!!!!!!!!PLEASE!!!!!!!!
DID'NT LIKE THIS BOOK AT ALL.... I BOUGHT THIS BOOK AT BARNES AND NOBLE
BOOKSTORE AND THOUGHT THE INFORMATION LISTED WOULD WALK ME THROUGH OR
AT LEAST SHOW ME IN STEPS HOW TO REPAIR AND UPGRADE MY PC. THIS BOOK
JUST GIVES YOU NAMES OF GOOD PRODUCTS/MANUFACTURES AND WHEN YOU SHOULD
DO WHAT. BUT YOU NEVER TELL "HOW" TO DO SOMETHING!! I AM A DIS
SATISFIED CUSTOMER AND WOULD LOVE A REFUND. DON'T BE MAD JUST
ACKNOWLEDGE AND SATISFY A WASN'T FOR ME CUSTOMER. I SHOULD COME
ABOARD THE WRITING TEAM. AT LEAST ON THE HANDS ON AND HOW TO
I haven't looked at the book
recently, but I'm pretty sure we covered the stuff he claims we failed
to cover. And, if he bought the book at B&N, why wouldn't he take
it back there for a refund? As to his request to become a co-author, I
don't think his writing is quite up to O'Reilly standards.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by