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Week of 9 August 2010


Latest Update: Saturday, 14 August 2010 13:33 -0400

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Monday, 9 August 2010
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11:45 - I'm working heads-down on the microchemistry kits. There are a million details to deal with, and I decided the most efficient way to do that is to put together a prototype kit that contains everything I think I want to include in the kits. I'll then write up, perform, and photograph the lab sessions using only the prototype kit. I'll do the sessions on the kitchen table, just as most kit users will do them. That way, I'll find out what I forget to include, and what I included that I didn't need to include.

This week, I plan to order enough equipment to put together the first 24 kits, subject to any changes I discover while writing up and performing the lab sessions. I chose 24 kits because lab equipment wholesalers often package items by the dozen or multiples (sometimes, large multiples like 288 or 576), and I want to have some samples available for reviewers. When I go into actual production, I'll probably do batches of 40 or 80 kits at a time. For competitive reasons, I'm targeting a selling price of $125 (plus shipping), so that's $5,000 or $10,000 worth of kits per pass.

I also need to set up a work area for packing and shipping and make up some special equipment. For example, just for the first 24 kits, I'll need to fill probably 600 to 720 30 mL polyethylene dropper bottles with 25 mL each of various chemical solutions. That obviously needs to be set up to minimize the time and effort required. So I plan to make filling boards, each of which will be one or two thicknesses of 3/4" plywood with a 5X8 array of holes the diameter of the bottles on 2" centers. I'll also make up filling scoops by trimming 35mm film cans to contain 25.5 mL. Racking up 40 empty bottles, each with a 50mm funnel, will take only a couple minutes, and filling and capping the bottles only a few minutes more. I'll then rinse the bottles to remove any possible external chemical residues and set them aside to dry before labeling them.

Of course, 25.5 mL is an inconvenient number. One liter provides 40 aliquots of 25 mL each, but 40 aliquots of 25.5 mL totals 1,020 mL. They don't make 1,020 mL volumetric flasks, so I'll make my own by filling 1,000 mL volumetric flasks to the line, using a graduated pipette to add 20.00 mL to the flask, and using masking tape to produce a new index line at 1,020 mL. Or I may do the same, but make up 2,000 mL at a time. That doesn't take any longer than making up 1,000 mL. Come to think of it, I may just make up 2 liters in the volumetric flask and then add 20 mL of distilled water once I transfer the solution to a storage bottle. These are all dilute solutions, so the volumes are essentially additive.

As to selling the kits, I'm still thinking about it, but I've tentatively decided to use eBay via their fixed price option. It's not cheap, but it's a whole lot cheaper in money and my time than trying to do it all myself.



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Tuesday, 10 August 2010
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Wednesday, 11 August 2010
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09:33 - Things have been a bit hectic around here. I should have realized that my wholesale vendors wouldn't sell to me unless I could provide them with tax ID, resale number, etc. To get those numbers, I have to get my LLC set up first. So I've moved getting incorporated up my to-do list. The earliest my advisor is available to meet is next week, so I won't be able to place preliminary orders this week after all. Boy, I hate the government. All they do is make things more complicated and expensive.

Barbara called yesterday afternoon on her way from work to the gym to say that her Trooper almost didn't start. That also happened a month or so ago, so I put the battery on the charger. Oddly, it showed the battery was almost fully charged already, and ran only 10 or 15 minutes before it shut off. But after that, the Trooper cranked normally and continued to do so until yesterday. We had mentioned the problem a couple of weeks ago to our neighbor Steve, who until recently managed our nearest Merchant's auto service place. He said it was probably the starter failing. So Barbara bagged the gym and headed straight for Merchant's, who sure enough told her she needed a new starter. The current one was replaced in 2004, 37,000 miles ago.

Time-Warner Cable is scheduled to install their VoIP service today. The guy is supposed to show up sometime between 11:30 and 13:00. It will be a relief to have reliable phone service again. The Phone Power service is now dropping dead 5 to 8 times a day, with a power reset required each time to fix the problem.

I'll harass the cable guy--as I do every time I see a TWC representative, even when I'm just walking the dog--about the gross asymmetry of their cable Internet service. We typically get about 10 Mb/s downstream and about 0.4 Mb/s upstream, or about a 25:1 ratio. These days, with millions of people uploading videos to YouTube and social networking sites, that's simply ridiculous. It would cost TWC very little to upgrade from asymmetric 10/0.4 to symmetric 10/10. Winston-Salem is already covered completely by a fiber loop with lots of dark fiber. With minor equipment upgrades, they could offer 20/20 or 30/30 service. I just wish we had some real competition here. If we did, TWC would be providing 30/30 for less than what we're paying now.


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Thursday, 12 August 2010
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16:29 - Dinner with Paul and Mary last night. I asked their and Barbara's advice about something I've been thinking about for a long time. Every time I see Kim, she tells me about the hassles of the college application process.

When I was 17, forty years ago, things were a lot simpler. I took the SAT my junior year to practice and my senior year for score, so to speak. There weren't any SAT prep courses, books, or other stuff. One just took the SAT and waited to find out one's score. With my SAT scores in hand, I looked at five or six schools I thought might be good choices, visited a couple with my dad just to see them in person, and then applied to all of them. I don't think I even talked to a guidance counselor. All of the schools I applied to accepted me. None of them really cared much about extracurricular activities. The only club I belonged to was Future Criminals of America, which my best friend and I formed and limited the membership to just us.

Nowadays, preparing to apply to colleges is like Operation Overlord. These kids are spending every spare minute working on college application stuff. Not just their senior year, either. They start in middle school nowadays. I'm not making this up. Kim is working full days every day helping Jasmine research schools, fill out forms and on and on, and has been doing so for a year. The other night, we watched an episode of Everwood that covered this very topic. After listening to Kim's war stories about the whole process, watching that episode really brought it home.

And I've been reading a lot of disturbing articles about the value of a college education, or lack thereof. A kid spends four years in college, sometimes pursuing a worthless credential such as a degree in history or journalism. After wasting four years, the kid comes out with enough debt to buy a nice house around here, and with no job prospects. And if he does get a job, it'll probably be outsourced before long.

I told Barbara, Mary, and Paul that if I had a son or daughter nearing college age, I would probably advise him or her to consider other alternatives. You know the old joke about the neurosurgeon whose toilet stops up on a weekend. He calls the 24-hour plumber, knowing he'll be charged weekend rates. So, the plumber shows up, fixes the problem in five minutes, and presents the neurosurgeon with a bill for $300. "Three hundred dollars!", yells the neurosurgeon. "That's $3,600 an hour! I'm a neurosurgeon, and *I* don't make $3,600 an hour!" The plumber shrugs and says, "Neither did I, back when I was a neurosurgeon." Well, there's a lot of truth in that old joke.

If I had a college age daughter, regardless of how smart she was or how academically gifted, I'd offer her the choice. If she wanted to go to college, fine. But if she was willing to consider becoming a plumber or an electrician or an auto mechanic, I'd point out the advantages. After a short training course, she can start her real life immediately instead of spending four years pursuing a degree that might well be of little or no economic benefit to her. Instead of coming out of college with a huge debt load, she can be earning money all during those four years. By the time she would have graduated college and started a possibly unsuccessful job search, she'd be an experienced journeyman plumber, or possibly even a master plumber. Something that can't be outsourced.

And, during that whole four years, I'd be putting money in the bank that would otherwise have been going toward her college education. At the end of four years, instead of having the equivalent of a home mortgage in debt, she'd have considerable money in the bank, which she could then use to set up her own business.

Jasmine has told me several times that she really wants to have her own business. So I told Paul, Mary, and Barbara what I was thinking, and that I was thinking of mentioning it to Kim. They all advised me not to say a word, because they thought I might really offend Kim. That she might infer that I thought Jasmine wasn't good enough to succeed in college. So I really, really thought about that. When I think something is right, but those three tell me I'm really wrong I have to consider their viewpoints seriously. And I did. And I concluded that since I really would offer this choice to my own son or daughter, even if he or she was the class valedictorian and got a 2,400 on the SAT, it was worth the risk to mention it to Kim.

Kim is a smart woman. Kim knows how highly I value Jasmine and that I would never do anything to hurt Jas. So, when I ran into Kim this morning, I gulped and told her what I'd been thinking, half expecting that I'd offend her and have to apologize and grovel. Kim not only wasn't offended, she agreed with me enthusiastically. She's been reading those same articles about the value of a college education, or the lack thereof. She's extremely concerned that Jas will end up spending four years in college and come out with a degree in business or something else that doesn't really qualify her to do anything. Kim's concerned about outsourcing. She's concerned about good jobs disappearing from the US. In short, she's concerned about Jas's future. But Kim has been so focused on the whole getting Jas into college thing that she hasn't taken time to look at the bigger picture. Maybe college isn't where Jas needs to be. Maybe it is. But it's at least worth considering the options.

Jas is a bright kid, and, probably just as important, she's a very hard worker. If Jas decides to have her own business, she'll learn what she needs to know as she goes along. When she needs to set up accounting for her business, she'll probably take an accounting course to learn the basics, and then hire an accountant to do the actual work. One way or another, Jas will succeed.


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Friday, 13 August 2010
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Saturday, 14 August 2010
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13:33 - Barbara and I just got back from delivering our old analog 27" Panasonic TV to her parents. We swapped it out for their old 20" TV, also a Panasonic. It sits in a very small den, where her parents watch it from about four feet away. Even that close, the 20" screen was a bit small for Barbara's 88-year-old father. The 27" is enough larger that he can see it clearly. Our old TV was manufactured nine years ago this month, just before 9/11. Their old 20" model was a year older. I explained to them that the 27" model might run for years or might drop dead tomorrow. I also told her dad about the advantages of a flat-panel HDTV, but he seems happy with the old 27" analog unit. We carried away their old TV and dropped it at the Goodwill trailer.

The microchemistry kits I'm putting together are going to require lots of bottles, so I've been looking into what's available and pricing. I didn't have much luck finding anything local, so I started checking the web. One vendor in Idaho has an excellent selection and good prices. Just to give an idea of pricing, a one-ounce HDPE bottle (2-7/8" tall by 1-3/8" diameter; presumably actually 30 mL) without cap sells for $0.09 each in case quantities. That's $162 for a case of 1,800 bottles, which is enough bottles for 50 to 90 kits, depending on the kit type. Numerous cap options are available, but a PP cap with PE liner runs $0.06 each for quantity 1 to 7,999, or $0.04 each in a case of 8,000. That's a reasonable price, assuming that the shipping cost isn't outrageous. If it is, I'll pay more for the product and buy them locally to eliminate shipping costs.


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Sunday, 15 August 2010
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