Wednesday, 16 April 2014

11:36 - The USPS Click-N-Ship website is still not accepting payments. I’ve done everything I can think of on my end. I’ve tried using two different browsers on two computers. I’ve cleared the cache and cookies. I’ve tried paying with three different credit cards, all of which are good and none of which worked, and I’ve tried paying via PayPal. No dice. The USPS website simply refuses to accept payments. I even created a new USPS Click-N-Ship account in Barbara’s name. It does the same thing. I’ve emailed USPS and gotten no response. I’ve called them repeatedly and spent long times on hold before finally giving up and trying again later.

As it turns out, I am able to ship some kits by using the PayPal shipping feature, but it’s less than ideal. It provides only some USPS Priority Mail options. The only two useful ones are the USPS PM Large Flat-Rate Box and the straight distance/weight Priority Mail option. Notably absent are the Regional-Rate Box options, and we use RR boxes for about 90% of our kit shipments. I just used the distance/weight PayPal PM option to ship a kit to Florida in a regional-rate box B. That would have cost $8.10 in postage if the RR box option was available with PayPal. It isn’t, so I shipped via the standard PM distance/weight rate, which was $8.55. The extra $0.45 on this shipment isn’t too bad, but that’s because it’s a nearby destination. The RR box B rate is the same as the 4-pound distance/weight PM rate, but our kits range from 5 to 7 pounds. The one I just shipped was at the 5-pound rate, but the differential increases rapidly with each extra pound and each additional zone. A typical kit is going to cost me several dollars extra to ship via PayPal’s USPS PM option relative to the USPS price for a RR box. But at least I can ship the kits. The problem is that PayPal has no International PM option. I’ve had a kit sitting waiting to ship to Denmark since Monday, and no way to generate postage for it.

As I was fuming about this problem yesterday, I had a scary thought. This is happening now, during a very slow time for kit sales. What if it happened in July, August, or September, when we might be shipping 50 or 100 kits a week? Right now, the problem is annoying; if it happened in August, it’d be disastrous. I simply can’t afford to take that risk.

So yesterday I looked again at UPS and FedEx. I set up a UPS account, and I intend to get set up to begin shipping via UPS Ground. (Air isn’t an option at this point because of UPS restrictions on hazardous chemicals.)

Comparing shipping costs between USPS and UPS is complicated. USPS provides free boxes. With UPS, I have to buy boxes, which cost around $1/each delivered. For our typical kits, which weigh 5 to 7 pounds, USPS Regional Rate costs from $6.16 for nearby zones to $14.42 for zone 7. For zone 8, we use Large Flat-Rate Boxes, which cost $15.80, versus $16.28 for a RR box B to zone 8, including Alaska and Hawaii. UPS Ground costs $7.30 to $11.61 for similar distance/weight, except that shipments to Alaska or Hawaii cost from $34.36 to $45.76. None of those include the numerous surcharges that UPS applies, including fees for picking up from or delivering to a residence, delivery area surcharges, package tracking surcharges, fuel surcharges, etc. etc. And UPS also charges to pick up the packages here, which costs $10 to $20 per week.

Just eyeballing things, my impression is that UPS will cost considerably more than USPS for shipments to the lower 48 states, and for 2 to 5 day delivery times versus 1 to 3 day for USPS. For shipments to Alaska and Hawaii, there’s no contest. USPS charges $15.80, while UPS will cost at least $40 and probably $50, $60, or more. International shipments are even worse. A kit that costs us $50 to ship via USPS Priority Mail International will cost two to three times that much via UPS. And that doesn’t count the very high customs brokerage fees that UPS charges and USPS doesn’t.

You know what? I just talked myself out of using UPS. Costs much more, slower deliveries, more hassles. Worst case, even when the USPS website isn’t working properly I can use PayPay to ship via USPS Priority Mail distance/weight or flat rate, at least to US addresses.

Posted in business | 13 Comments

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

09:58 - With the taxes done and off, at least I can get back to my real work. Or I could, if the USPS Click-and-Ship website would let me print postage labels. I have kits sitting here ready to go, if only I could print postage for them. What is it about government websites? One would think that the disastrous roll-out of the Obamacare website would have made USPS think twice about the website “upgrade” they did earlier this year, but apparently not. I have this mental image of rooms full of government website developers, all wearing kamikaze headbands.

Kit sales are extremely slow. In fact, kit revenues for the month to date are less than half the amount of the purchase orders I’ve issued this month. I’m beginning to feel like the Maytag repairman. I suspect kit sales will pick up now that tax day has passed. They did in 2012 and 2013.

Posted in science kits | 13 Comments

Monday, 14 April 2014

12:12 - The taxes are complete and in the mail, so I don’t have to bother about them for another year. Well, except for the big estimated tax checks I have to write every quarter. Everything would be so much better if government at all levels operated like a charity, and had to depend on purely voluntary contributions. And those contributions should be earmarkable, so that I could, for example, allocate X percent of my check to the fire department, Y amount to garbage collection, Z amount to the libraries, and so on. Of course, I could instead decide to support free-market alternatives to any or all of those, as could anyone else.

Barbara and Frances took their mom to a doctor appointment this morning. The doctor specifically asked that both of them be present. As expected, the news isn’t good. They did a DNR for Sankie. Barbara and Frances intend to keep Sankie at the Creekside independent-living facility as long as possible, paying for a caregiver to be present around the clock. The doctor is contacting Hospice to arrange for their palliative care folks to visit Sankie at home to keep her comfortable. At this point, there’s nothing anyone can do to fix Sankie’s problems. Barbara and Frances will move Sankie to Hospice when the time comes. As Barbara said, that could be 6 months, 6 weeks, 6 days, or 6 hours. No one knows, although I’d be very surprised if it’s as long as six months.

Posted in Barbara, personal | 25 Comments

Sunday, 13 April 2014

08:52 - Barbara is cleaning house this morning. She plans to watch golf this afternoon, and wanted some kit stuff to work on while she did that. So I’ll have her cutting, packing, and labeling fabric swatches for forensic kits. That’s 90 each of six different fabrics, or 540 total envelopes.

I’ve finished our taxes, so I’ll get them packaged up and ready to go into the mail tomorrow.

Posted in personal, science kits | 11 Comments

Saturday, 12 April 2014

11:00 - Barbara is off to the supermarket and I’m doing laundry. Before we could do that we had to unpack and check in a shipment from one of our vendors in order to clear a path to the washer/dryer and Barbara’s car. This shipment takes us back up to comfortable inventory levels on a lot of components: 200 more boxes of flat microscope slides, 45 dozen 6″ rulers, 30 dozen 100 mL graduated cylinders, 40 dozen test tube brushes, and similar numbers of several other items.

Barbara took her mom out to dinner last night. She said Sankie is doing a bit better. Not a lot, but at least not any worse.

13:36 - You know those stories (many confirmed) about light bulbs that have been burning steadily for 100 years or more? Well, I have a similar situation with one of my calculators. I’ve printed the state and federal tax forms, but before I send them off I always double/triple-check my math. For this final check, I’m using my HP-12C calculator, which I bought in 1983 when I started on my MBA from Wake Forest University’s Babcock School. I used it very heavily then and for some time thereafter, although in recent years it’s mostly sat in a desk drawer. But the odd thing is that the batteries I installed when I bought it 30 years ago are still in there, and still working fine. The original and only set.

Posted in Barbara, science kits, technology | 44 Comments

Friday, 11 April 2014

08:17 - Yesterday was one of those days when nothing goes right. I tried to print our federal tax forms duplexed. The printer sat there with the receiving data LED blinking for about four or five minutes and then just did nothing. I checked the print queue. There was nothing in the queue and the printer status showed ready. So I sent the job again. Same deal. So I sent the job to the other laser printer. Same deal. So I tried sending it non-duplexed to the first printer. Again, five minutes of waiting and then the job just disappeared with nothing printed. So I tried printing just the first page. Again, I waited five minutes or so with the receiving data LED blinking. This time, the printer actually printed a page but when I looked at it it was just a box with a data overflow error.

So I called Barbara at work and asked if she could print the forms there if I emailed them to her. I did that, and she sent them off to her printer. The printer spat them out, but when she looked at them they were just the blank forms, with none of our data filled in. Okay, obviously the problem was okular, the PDF reader supplied with Linux Mint. So I installed Acrobat Reader on my computer and called up the completed 1040 form. No user data were visible in the fields, so I started over using Acrobat Reader to fill in the blank 1040 form. I saved the form and sent it to the printer, where it printed normally. Geez.

By this time it was almost 5:00. I checked my email and found a message from AmEx alerting me to suspicious charges on my card. So I called them and learned that someone had tried to put a $2,700 charge on my card at Best Buy. I told them that I hadn’t made that charge, along with a couple of others that had been made that day. They said they’d refused those charges anyway, but my card had been compromised (yet again…) and so they were voiding it and sending me a new one.

I decided to bag work for the day. Barbara got home from the gym and we had dinner. Then Frances called about 8:30 to say that she’d gotten a message about the tests that the doctor had done Monday on their mom. Sankie has a Streptococcus pyogenes (hemolytic streptococcus) infection, and the doctor had phoned in a prescription, presumably for penicillin. Frances had already had a long day, and wondered if she could wait until this morning to pick up the prescription rather than going to the pharmacy to pick it up and take it over to her mother immediately. I told her that, given her mom’s very frail physical condition and the potential severe risks of an S. pyogenes infection, she really should get her mom on the antibiotic as soon as possible. So Frances drove over to the 24-hour pharmacy to pick up the prescription and take it to her mother. She called back a little while later to say that the doctor had phoned the prescription in to the wrong pharmacy, one that was already closed. So she’s headed over to that pharmacy this morning and then delivering the prescription to her mom. At this point, I’m thinking about applying for a DEA number so that I can write my own damned prescriptions.

Posted in personal | 33 Comments

Thursday, 10 April 2014

08:14 - I’ve finished our federal income tax return. I haven’t done the state forms yet, but they’re based on federal taxes with some adjustments so it’s a simple matter to complete them.

I see that another high school kid went berserk, this time in the Pittsburgh area. This time, the weapons of choice were knives rather than guns. I’m expecting calls for stricter knife control.

I finished watching season six of Heartland yesterday just in time for Barbara and I to start binge-watching season seven, the last episode of which airs this coming Sunday. Toward the end of season six one of the main characters, Georgie, age 11, has to deal with one of her classmates who is a mean girl. The mean girl theme recurs through many of the series we watch, and I conclude that once a mean girl, always a mean girl.

Barbara’s mother is having to deal with mean girls of her own age right now. I was stunned when Barbara told me why her mother hesitates to go down for meals. Sankie is shaky and sometimes has trouble eating without dropping food. Apparently, some mean girls (AKA vicious old bitches) at the facility make fun of her difficulties. This isn’t something Sankie is making up. Her caregiver confirms it.

I told Barbara that, although I normally go out of my way to be polite and non-threatening to little old ladies, I’d be happy to make an exception in this case if she wants someone to scare the shit out of these old bitches.

09:09 - I mentioned some time ago that Elemental Scientific had been sold to another company, which planned to continue doing business as Elemental Scientific. So this morning I got email from the new Elemental Scientific announcing a 20% off sale. I visited the site, intending to stock up on some chemicals. Unfortunately, I immediately noticed that the new company had significantly increased its chemical prices, to the point where 20% off isn’t much of a deal, if any.

Posted in news, personal | 37 Comments

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

08:04 - Other than bottles and a couple other items, we now have pretty much everything we need in-hand or on-order to build large batches of science kits. I’ll get orders cut today for two of the remaining items, a liter of cassia oil and a couple kilos of sodium dithionite.

Posted in science kits | 20 Comments

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

09:49 - Spring seems finally to have arrived in Winston-Salem. All the plants are in bloom or in bud, and everything is covered with pollen. Highs for the next week are in the mid-60′s to low 70′s (19 to 21 C), with lows in the 40′s and 50′s (7 to 12 C). No rain in the forecast.

I’m still working on taxes. It’s not that they take so long to finish. I could probably complete them in one long day working straight through. But I can deal with this crap for only a couple hours at a time.

Barbara’s mom is not doing at all well, either physically or mentally. She and Frances have decided to keep Sankie in her apartment at the independent-living facility as long as the facility is willing to allow her to stay there. They’re paying for a caregiver to be with Sankie 24X7. That costs more than moving her to an assisted-living/nursing facility, but Barbara and Frances believe that Sankie can’t survive on her own in a room. Her dementia is getting worse, and she’s terrified at night. Physically, she’s in very bad shape and getting worse. She needs someone with her at all times.

Posted in Barbara, personal | 4 Comments

Monday, 7 April 2014

07:49 - It is pouring down outside, which is supposed to continue through mid-evening. I hope it doesn’t wash away the grass seed and fertilizer that Barbara put down yesterday.

Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. I think it was the smallest Costco run we’d ever done. We ended up with less stuff total than we usually end up with for each of us.

I’m still working on taxes.

Posted in personal | 2 Comments