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Week of 30 August 2010


Latest Update: Sunday, 5 September 2010 10:36 -0400

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Monday, 30 August 2010
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10:39 - I have a lot on the schedule this week, including incorporating The Home Scientist LLC, applying for tax-exempt and other ID numbers, and placing some initial orders with wholesalers for lab equipment. We had our friend Pat Rowe over for pizza Friday evening, and one of the suggestions she made was that we make Barbara 51% owner of the corporate stock. That way, if we ever want to apply for an SBA loan we'll be able to do so as a woman/minority-owned business.

I'm building a prototype kit now. It's an iterative process. Write up and do a lab session, add any necessary additional components to the kit, write up another lab session, discover that I could make one item do double duty in this and an earlier lab session, remove item that is now not needed for earlier lab session and rewrite that lab session. Rinse and repeat. The ideal is to make each item useful for many lab sessions, to minimize the total number of items needed and thereby the reduce the cost to kit buyers. I'm sure I won't make that goal. There will be quite a few items that are used in only one lab. Still, where making one item serve for two or more labs is practical without harming the usefulness of the lab, I'll do that.

Once I've completely prototyped the kit and checked and re-checked it, I'll make up the first batch of two or three dozen kits and start selling them. The one aspect that I'll have to learn from experience is how seasonal kit sales will be. I suspect there'll be a huge bump just before the start of the autumn semester and a smaller bump before the start of the winter/spring semester, with only a trickle of sales the rest of the year. Obviously, I want to minimize working capital requirements, which means I'll probably do some sort of pre-order arrangement for those peak times. Which also means that wholesale vendor lead times could kill me, so I'll need to develop a second, third, and fourth source for each kit component.


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Tuesday, 31 August 2010
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09:34 - Someone asked for my take on the recent court ruling forbidding NIH from funding further stem cell research. This article summarizes things pretty well. Stem cell reasearch holds massive promise, not just to treat currently untreatable conditions, but to provide actual cures. Turn our scientists loose, and it's likely that we'll see some incredible breakthroughs in medicine. Not immediately, but sooner than anyone might reasonably expect. Eventually, stem cell research may well lead to things that are currently in the realm of science fiction, such as growing replacement organs. But none of this will happen if research funding is cut off, as it is now.

My take is that the judge had no real alternative to ruling as he did. The law is wrong, terribly wrong, but the judge was obligated to rule according to the law. Congress needs to repeal this utterly stupid, irrational, destructive law, which is supported almost exclusively by fundamentalist religious nutters who believe excess embryos from fertility clinics are actually human babies. These people have the right to hold whatever irrational beliefs they choose, but they don't have the right to enforce their irrationality on the rest of us.


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Wednesday, 1 September 2010
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10:43 - We've watched the first three seasons of Everwood, and series 4 isn't out on DVD yet. As I mentioned, the writing is merely very good rather than excellent. The plots are frequently contrived, and many of the characterizations are unrealistic, to say the least. As I've said to Barbara, no teenage boy in the history of the entire planet has even come close to the characterizations of the teenage boys on this program. They're idealized versions of what teenage girls wish teenage boys were. In reality, a teenage boy has all the sensitivity of a panzer division, and is equally single-minded in pursuing his goal.

Interestingly, this is the first series I ever remember enjoying while utterly despising the lead character. Every time Dr. Andrew Brown appears in a scene, I want to punch his face. His character is a superb neurosurgeon, but a poor excuse for a human being. Fortunately, the series is chock-full of adorable girls and women, which makes it watchable for me. It's a shame the series was canceled through incompetence at the time WB merged with UPN. According to Wikipedia:

Everwood was canceled in favor of a new show, Runaway, which Dawn Ostroff then canceled after only three episodes had been shown, and for a new season of 7th Heaven, which had just had its series finale. Ostroff ignored the fact that the one-time spike to seven million viewers for the series finale of 7th Heaven had been because it was the final episode, and thus passed on Everwood with its average of four million viewers (which would have put it in the top 5 CW ratings for the following year). 

In fact, incompetence seems to be the rule with network programmers. Just look at what they've done to Joss Whedon's shows. Firefly, as just one example, should have run for years. Instead, Fox ran just 11 episodes of the 14 that were made, and they ran them out of order at that. Many of the great, long-running series of the past would never get off the ground today. The concept of allowing a program to find its audience seems to have disappeared.

Cancel bad shows after a short run, sure. If the critics pan it, it's probably best killed off, and quickly, even if the initial ratings are reasonably good. Those ratings will plummet once people realize how bad the program is. Or maybe they won't, nowadays. There's a lot of complete and utter trash that's high in the ratings.

But if the critics love a program and that program hasn't yet found an audience, give it a chance. Run it for at least a full season of 22 to 26 episodes, if not for two or three seasons. None of this 13-episode order crap. Commit to it. Don't move it around the schedule constantly or stick it in a death slot. Good programming deserves a real chance to succeed. Of course, the network dweebs are too busy looking at short-term financials to realize they're discarding a goose that may turn out to lay golden eggs. Thirty years ago, even twenty, at least some network programmers understood that.

And, please, release each season on DVD before the next season begins airing.


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Thursday, 2 September 2010
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12:25 - I'm so busy that I'm hard pressed to come up with much to write about here. I'm not paying much attention to the news, nor to other web sites, even the ones I usually visit regularly. All day long, I write or work in the lab. In the evenings, we read or watch videos. That doesn't leave me with much to write about.

As it turns out, I'm not filing paperwork to incorporate this week. A couple of weeks ago, North Carolina approved a new form of LLC called an L3C. To my layman's eye, this looks to be a better match for what I want to do than a standard LLC would be, but before I file paperwork to incorporate as an L3C I want to talk to someone who knows more about it than I do.


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Friday, 3 September 2010
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07:49 - A couple of times over the last few years I've thought about buying a Roku box for Netflix streaming. I never did it, because I'd look at our Netflix queue and see that almost none of the things we watch were available for streaming. The other day, I was looking at our queue and noticed that maybe a third of the titles were available for streaming. So I thought again about ordering a Roku box. So I started reading reviews and articles about Roku and doing other research.

One of the things I learned is that Roku was founded by the same guy who founded Replay TV, an early competitor of TiVo, and that he named the company Roku because it was the sixth company he'd founded and Roku was Japanese for six. I just started to laugh.

You know how people make fun of the Japanese for having trouble with L's and R's? Well, back about 35 years ago I knew a Japanese girl. Well, a girl of Japanese ancestry. She was born in this country, and I suspect her parents and grandparents were as well. At any rate, in addition to speaking unaccented American English, she spoke fluent Japanese, and she taught me some useful phrases. One of the first things she taught me was to count to ten in Japanese. What she taught me, spelled phonetically, was: ee'-chee, nee, sawn, she, go, loe'-ku, see'-chee, hotch'-ee, koo, joo. So now you know. "Roku" is actually pronounced "Loe'-koo".


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Saturday, 4 September 2010
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00:00 -



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Sunday, 5 September 2010
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10:10 - We're taking it easy over the holiday weekend. Barbara's Trooper is having some work done on it, including replacing the timing belt, water pump, and power steering hose. Incredibly, just that hose costs $197. I told Barbara the next vehicle we buy will be a Model T. She objected to having to turn a crank to start it, so I told her maybe we'd go for a Model A with an electric starter. Alternatively, we know a guy with a fully restored 1951 Packard who's willing to trade it for Malcolm.

I spent an hour or so on the phone Friday with the USPS, talking about hazardous materials shipping. I'd called their general 800 number, and they referred me to a local number. Coincidentally, their expert on hazardous materials shipping, Beth Carty, works out of the Greensboro, NC center. The rules for shipping small quantities of hazardous materials are incredibly complicated, with different rules for individual chemicals, concentrations, weights or volumes, supplemental packaging, and so on. I have to get it all correct, because the last thing in the world I want is the postal inspectors coming after me.

During the conversation, Beth mentioned that they'd need an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for each hazardous material I planned to include in the kits. I'd intended to produce an MSDS for each chemical, but not until later. Now I have to get that done sooner so that I can get formal approval for the kits. The problem is, I'm not entirely sure which chemicals I'll be including in the kits, and I won't be until I finish writing up and running the lab sessions. So, in addition to doing MSDSs for the 15 or 20 chemicals I'm pretty sure I'll be using, I'll also do MSDSs for a dozen or more I'm not sure about. Oh, well.

Like all MSDSs, mine will ridiculously alarmist. For example, I'll probably include 30 mL of 1 molar acetic acid, which is technically a hazardous material. It's considered a corrosive. Remember that the next time you have oil and vinegar dressing on your salad, because that vinegar is actually about 0.8 molar acetic acid. I'll also be including some granular silicon dioxide, another hazardous material for which the MSDS is pretty horrifying. If silicon dioxide comes into contact with your skin, for example, you're supposed to flush it with water for several minutes. Silicon dioxide may be toxic to the lungs and upper respiratory tract, and repeated or prolonged exposure may produce target organs damage. Silicon dioxide is ordinary sand. I'm also including a 30 mL bottle of distilled water, another hazardous material with a pretty horrifying MSDS. Ironically, if you allow distilled water to contact your skin, you're supposed to flush it for several minutes with, wait for it, water. I am not making this up.



10:36 - Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention. During our conversation, Beth mentioned that an on-line retailer had contacted her to make sure that the Thames & Kosmos C3000 chemistry kit could be mailed. As it turned out, it can't, because it includes zinc powder and sulfur powder, both of which are prohibited, with no waivers for ORM-D or small quantity exemptions. Those kits are simply not legal to ship by USPS. Since UPS and FedEx hazardous materials shipping rules are also based on DOT requirements and are very similar to USPS rules, it's very likely that all of those on-line resellers who ship the C3000 by whatever means are breaking the law.


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