Saturday, 21 January 2017

09:44 – It was 46F (8C) and dampish when I took Colin out this morning. More of the same to come, with rain and possible thunderstorms moving in later today and tomorrow.

I see that Trump has now officially been coronated King, and that protests and demonstrations have ensued. Not riots, you understand, even though those peaceful protesters and demonstrators are burning cars, throwing bricks and paving stones at police and innocent bystanders, and so on. Whatever happened to reading the Riot Act? As Larry Niven says, “Don’t throw shit at an armed man. Don’t stand next to someone who’s throwing shit at an armed man.”

If you need a gun or guns, now is a very good time to buy what you need. Gun makers built up large inventories before the election, expecting a Clinton victory and ensuing panic purchases. None of that materialized, so now the gun makers are selling their excess inventory near cost.

Barbara found a pinto bean recipe she wanted to try, so I just put a pound of pinto beans in to soak overnight. The Walmart Great Value pinto beans, incidentally, are remarkably clean. We didn’t find a single piece of gravel or rotted bean in the whole pound.

I’m pretty much booked solid this weekend doing administrative stuff: ordering items for science kits, doing my sales tax return, creating MSDSs, working on federal and state income taxes, and so on. I won’t get it all done this weekend, but I need to get started on it.

Posted in personal | 6 Comments

Friday, 20 January 2017

09:35 – It was 43F (6C) and drizzling when I took Colin out this morning. The next few days are to be more of the same.

Barbara and I got quite a bit of kit stuff done yesterday, with more today and over the weekend. We’re in pretty good shape right now on finished goods inventory for this time of year. As we build subassemblies and kits, we’re doing an eyeball inventory, noting down stuff we’re short of. I need to get some of that stuff on order.

Trump’s coronation is today. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised that he’s still alive. Enemies of the powers that be have a habit of dying unexpectedly. It’ll be interesting to see what Trump actually does during his first week as king. He promised a lot, almost none of which he’ll be able to deliver even if he has the complete cooperation of Congress and Supreme Court, which he won’t.

His three major promises–to eliminate ObamaCare, to expel illegal aliens, and to bring back the jobs that have been lost–are all impossible to fulfill. The first because the public, including his supporters, will not accept what it will take to eliminate ACA, most particularly allowing health insurance companies to exclude pre-existing conditions; you can’t buy fire insurance if your house is already on fire. The second because the public simply will not accept what it would take to secure our borders and expel those who are already here illegally. And the third, as I’ve said repeatedly for years, because we are now in the early stages of a jobless economy. The vast majority of ordinary people have no skills that are worth paying much for, and with increasing automation that’s not going to change.

Trump is stuck between Scylla and Charybdis on all of these issues and more. Even with the best of intentions, which I don’t concede he has, and with the complete support of the rest of the government, which he doesn’t have, there’s not much he can do. People are going to be dissatisfied with Trump’s results, and not just the progs. Trump’s base will be just as upset with what he does and doesn’t do. Trump has put himself in a position where no one will accept excuses for his failures, which will be legion.

He talks a good game, but ultimately money talks and bullshit walks. I wish him the best, but I’ll be very surprised if he accomplishes any of his stated goals. So I’ll pick up my guitar and play.

As the theme music for the TV series Justified says, “Long Hard Times To Come”. Keep prepping.

Posted in personal, politics, science kits | 78 Comments

Thursday, 19 January 2017

11:01 – It was 34.4F (1.3C) when I took Colin out this morning. He decided to go off on a mole-hunting expedition. We have lots of moles in our yard. Maybe we should get an outdoor cat. I assume they eat moles.

Yesterday, MTD kit revenue exceeded 100% of January 2016 revenue. Of course, 1/16 revenue was only about 65% of 1/15 revenue, so we still have ways to go to match 1/15. But with 12 days left to do it, I suspect we’ll make it.

Yesterday, I asked Lori, our USPS carrier, if she was still prepping or if Trump’s win had allayed her concerns. She said she’d not done much prepping recently, but not because she thought Trump as president meant happy days were here again. She’s just been very busy with life. She works full-time for USPS, and has a second full-time job running her cattle ranch.

Months ago, we were talking about possible serious emergencies. Lori said she felt pretty well prepared for most things, but that what worried her was that she and her daughter, 18, were on their own in a house with no nearby neighbors. I told Lori that if things ever got untenable at her place, she and Casey were welcome over here. She said that she hoped they never needed to take us up on that offer, but it was comforting to know they could stay with us if it became necessary. And, of course, she said that if the situation were reversed Barbara and I were welcome to stay at her place for however long it was necessary.

Yesterday, I told Lori I was working on a draft of a PA novel and gave her a 30-second summary of the plot. I told her that I planned to use her and her daughter as significant characters, and that I’d need her knowledge of farming and a lot of other things that she knew and I didn’t. She said to call or email her any time, and that she didn’t mind being pestered.

I’ll strive for realism in the novel, assuming it turns out I can actually write fiction. Last night, I was reading Peter Lovesey’s latest Peter Diamond police procedural when I came across the kind of minor error that I want to avoid. The detectives believed there was critical evidence on a digital camera’s memory card, but it turned out that the card was unreadable because of water damage. I knew that was crap, because years ago I accidentally ran a USB memory stick through a full washer cycle and then dried it on high. When was putting away the clean clothes, I found the memory stick in my jeans’ pocket. I figured it was probably deader than King Tut, but it turned out to have survived the experience without losing even a byte of data. So, Lovesey’s assumption was a reasonable one, but still ans assumption, and one that turned out to be bogus. An avoidable error.

Similarly, Franklin Horton’s most recent book has an alcoholic character who’s reduced to drinking Lysol. Franklin describes in painful detail what happens when the character chugs a shot of the diluted Lysol, which got me to thinking. We didn’t have any lemon-flavored Lysol, so I couldn’t reproduce the scene exactly, but we do keep a spray bottle of the diluted original-flavored Lysol on the kitchen counter, so I poured a shot of it, swished it around my mouth, spit it out, and rinsed with several changes of water.

I emailed Franklin to tell him the results of my test. In short, the Lysol just had a distinct chemical taste. Not disgusting, but not something one would drink by choice. I’ve tasted OTC medications that were worse. I told Franklin that the immediate effects of drinking diluted Lysol would probably be less dramatic than chugging 80-proof liquor.

Franklin’s reply started, “Boy, you ARE a scientist.” He said he almost sprayed his coffee out through his nose. But that’s the level of accuracy I strive for, whether I’m writing non-fiction or fiction. Obviously, I won’t always get it right, but there’s no excuse for making avoidable errors.

Posted in Lori, personal, science kits, writing | 66 Comments

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

09:55 – Barbara is off to the gym. It was 48.4F (9C) when I took Colin out this morning, but we’re back to having a stiff breeze with high wind gusts, so it felt a lot colder than yesterday morning.

I saw an article yesterday that listed the ten windiest big cities during 2016. Winston-Salem was #8 on that list. But that list only included major cities. Here in Sparta, our winds make Winston-Salem’s look calm. In the mountain passes around here–we call them “gaps”–cars, pickups, and even tractor-trailers are often literally blown off the roads by wind gusts that are often 60 MPH (100 KPH) or more, sometimes even 90 MPH. This would be a good location to install a small wind turbine system, because calm days are few and far between. I don’t plan to do that because it’s very expensive and requires too much maintenance. Solar is a better bet for us.

With a couple weeks left in the month, we’re at about 94% of revenue for January 2015. Science kits have been flying off the shelves, but that could stop at any time. Sales usually drop dead in late January or early February, after people have ordered kits for the Winter semester. We’re in good shape for now on kits, with what we need to build more of them on the fly, if needed.

I finished the copy-edit pass on the draft manuscript of Franklin Horton’s latest Borrowed World series book and got it off to him yesterday. He emailed me last night to say he’d gone through my suggestions, and intended to have a final manuscript finished by the end of the week. It won’t be long after that before he has it up on Amazon. I’ll announce that here for anyone who wants to buy a copy.

And I started drafting a PA novel of my own, just to see if I could do it. It’s just chapter fragments right now, but I’m up to about 11,000 words. I think it reads well, but I’m going to send Franklin a copy to see what he thinks. If he thinks I can write fiction, I’ll probably finish it up and self-publish it. I’m cranking out about 1,000 words per hour, which means if I work heads-down on it I could finish a first draft of a 100,000 word novel in about three weeks.

WordPress is giving me fits. When I started using it in mid-2011, I checked the box to tell it to accept comments only from readers who had a previously-approved comment. That worked fine until two or three weeks ago, when WordPress for some reason took a sudden dislike to three of my frequent commenters, Ray Thompson, Cowboy Slim, and ech. Since then, WP has held every one of their comments for moderation and I’ve had to approve them one by one. So this morning, I unchecked the box that tells WP to hold unapproved commenters’ comments for moderation. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, if you spot a spam comment that slipped through, please let me know.

Posted in personal, science kits, writing | 72 Comments

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

10:07 – The weather is still spring-like, with overnight lows in the mid- to high-40’s F (6C to 9C) and daytime highs in the mid- to high-50’s F (13C to 15C). It was 48F (9C) when I got up this morning, gray and damp. This is to continue for the next two or three days, followed by a warming trend. My guess is that by the end of the month we’ll be back to cold weather and frozen precipitation.

Colin turns six years old next month, and I’m just now getting him trained to come when I call him. All along, he’s responded to voice commands, but only if there’s not something more interesting to do. In that case, he just turns his ears off and does what he wants to do. I need him to drop everything and come reliably when he’s called, mainly because some of the drivers out on the road really haul ass.

Barbara and I spent most of yesterday working on science kits. We got a batch of new ones packed up and ready to go, and shipped several of those. Work continues on science kits this week so that we can get a reasonable level of finished-goods inventory on all types.

We’re running out of things to watch on TV. The root of the problem is that our preferences are far different from the norm. New stuff tends to focus on things we’re not interested in watching: zombies, serial-killers, angst-ridden millennial dramas, and so on. And diversity, which disgusts me.

Oh, not diversity in casting. I don’t care if there are characters who are black, oriental, female, gay, religious, etc. etc., as long as they’re reasonably proportionally represented. What disturbs me is this idea that all “cultures” are equally valid and equally important. That’s bullshit, and I don’t care to watch inferior cultures being represented as equal to (and usually superior to) Western European culture. They’re not, they never have been, and they never will be.

So we watch a lot of British series, but mainly the older stuff. From before the BBC became painfully PC, starting in the early 90’s and getting ridiculously intrusive a decade or so ago. We don’t need progressive propaganda with our entertainment, which rules out about 90% of the series made in the last decade or more.

10:37 – Right after I posted the last entry, I got email from a woman who wants to get started prepping. Nothing unusual there, except that she voted for Clinton rather than Trump, and is afraid that Trump is going to cause the end of the world as she knows it. She’s self-aware enough to understand that preppers overwhelmingly supported Trump and generally have a low opinion of Clinton supporters, and assumes that she won’t be welcome in prepper circles.

I told her that wasn’t true, at least for most preppers. Yes, most of us despise Clinton, but many of us, including me, aren’t all that much happier with Trump. I don’t doubt that many of my friends and acquaintances voted for Clinton, not because they actually supported her, but for the same reason that many of us voted for Trump: that we thought we were voting for the candidate who would be less hideous than the alternative.

So I suggested that she start by going back and reading my earlier posts that are flagged with Jen, Brittany, Jason and Jessica, and Cassie. That should at least get her started.

Posted in personal, science kits | 60 Comments

Monday, 16 January 2017

09:19 – Happy MLK day to any of my readers who celebrate it. It’s a normal workday for us.

The weather continues spring-like. It was 43F (6C) when I got up this morning, gray and damp with heavy fog, but not raining. We’re to have more of the same for the next few days.

We got enough made up yesterday of everything we need to build another smallish batch of chemistry kits, enough to fill four or five outstanding orders and have another several remaining. We’ll build forensic kits next, and then back to build more chemistry kits. At this time of year, I don’t want to get too much inventory built up, because it’ll just sit on the shelves. January sales are usually pretty decent. A lot of homeschoolers are ordering for the spring semester, as are a lot of schools and universities. Come February, sales will drop off severely. It’s our worst month. Some years, we sell barely a dozen kits the whole month.

And I see from the front-page headline in the morning paper that ObamaCare is about to be replaced by TrumpCare, AKA “Insurance for All”. I was kind of hoping it would instead be “Insurance for anyone who wants it and can pay for it”.

If Trump gets what he wants, the biggest losers are likely to be the pharmaceutical companies, for whom the gravy train may be coming to an end. For decades, Americans have been paying much, much more for pharmaceuticals than citizens of any other country, often ten times as much or more. That’s because other countries, including the EU and Canada, negotiate fiercely with pharma companies, particularly American ones. The gloves are off. Even many of our allies negotiate with American drug companies under the threat of ignoring their patents and producing their drugs locally.

Trump says that Medicare and Medicaid (and, presumably, TrumpCare) will no longer pay what the drug companies ask. Instead they’ll take advantage of their volume-purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for drugs. American consumers will no longer be the goose that lays the golden eggs. If you own any stock in pharma companies, now may be a good time to sell it.

Pharma companies have been abusing these sweetheart deals for decades. If and when they go away, Big Pharma will be hurting badly. All or nearly all of their profits come out of American pockets, most of that from American taxpayers. If Trump also cracks down on patent abuses, which have been rampant, he essentially kills drug development by US pharma companies. Not that that would necessarily be a bad thing.

Over the last 30 years or so, most of the “new” drugs that have been developed have been, at best, minor improvements on existing drugs. Things like reduced dosage frequencies or minor changes to formulations that allow the pharmas to obtain new patents on what amount to existing drugs. As far as actual new and useful drugs, there haven’t been many, nor are there likely to be many if things continue as they are. Pharma companies have gone from being developers of new and useful drugs to managing their existing portfolios to maximize revenue. Like most people, I have little sympathy for them. The hugely increased price of things like epinephrine injectors and synthetic insulin pretty much sums up the state of things. Nothing new, other than ridiculously increased prices.

Posted in personal, politics, science kits | 109 Comments

Sunday, 15 January 2016

09:34 – It’s back to spring-like weather. It was 52F (11C) when I got up this morning, gray and damp but not raining.

We’re building science kits today and tomorrow. We’re in decent shape on biology kits, but down to one on forensic kits and -2 on chemistry kits. Bulk orders Thursday wiped out our stock on both of those. Oh, well. USPS doesn’t run Monday, and we’ll have plenty of time to get kits built to fill outstanding orders. Yesterday, we finished making up chemicals for a custom order from a state distance learning program, so we’ll get that boxed up today and ready to ship Tuesday.

Email overnight from Cassie, another new prepper. She had told me earlier that she and her husband are mid- to late-20’s. She works as a supermarket checker, and her husband has his own plumbing business. Friday, he cut his dominant hand badly while working on a job. The ER doc glued and stitched it back together again, and said he’ll recover fully, but for the next week or two he’ll be very limited in what he can do. He can still supervise work and approve it, but otherwise he’ll have to depend entirely on his assistant to do the actual wrench-turning. He’ll still be able to get work done, but everything will take longer. That means their income will take a significant hit over the next couple of weeks, and he may have to farm out some jobs to the other local plumber. They won’t be hurting financially, because between her pay check, his (smaller) pay check, and what they have saved, they can meet routine expenses without any problem. But, as Cassie says, it’s a comfort to know that they can eat from their stored food, cutting their grocery bill down to nothing. She cooked dinner last night from their deep pantry, and intends to keep doing so until her husband is fully recovered. As she said, this is a good excuse to get more experience cooking from LTS, and it just goes to prove that their preps aren’t just for an end-of-the-world scenario.

Posted in Cassie, personal, science kits | 42 Comments

Saturday, 14 January 2016

10:01 – It was 19 degrees colder this morning than yesterday morning, 37F (3C) versus 56F, with drizzle and fog. It’s to be like this for the next several days.

Lynn from B&T Tire called late yesterday afternoon. The Trooper was fixed and ready to pick up. It was a lower radiator hose. It had come loose from a clamp and come up against the power-steering belt, which cut a long slice into it. Lynn asked if the truck was overheating. I told him I’d been keeping an eye on it and it was behaving just as normal. It comes up to temperature pretty quickly after it’s started, and never gets above about a third of the way up the temp gauge. He was surprised, since he said there was only about a quart of coolant left in the system. He drained that, flushed the system, and pressure-tested it at 13PSIG for half an hour or so with nary a drip. So it’s good to go.

There was a first yesterday in the US, and not in a good way. A 70-year-old woman in Nevada died of a bacterial infection that was resistant to all 26 antibiotics that are approved for human use in this country. FTA:

Then you get sick, your immune system is down, and you take antibiotics for an infection. The antibiotics kill everything but the resistant bacteria, which have by now collected all the resistance genes and no competition. That’s how you get a pan-resistant infection.

The danger isn’t just that a single pan-resistant bacteria emerges and terrorizes the world. It’s that pan-resistant bacteria can keep emerging independently. The nightmare might go away, only to come back somewhere else.

We’re fast approaching the end of the antibiotic era of human history. If things continue as they are, antibiotics will continue becoming less effective overall, and more PDR bacterial pathogens will continue to emerge. Within a few more years, at most a couple of decades, antibiotics will become essentially useless.

Scientists are working on alternatives, including nanoscale machines that are essentially microscopic hunter-killer submarines. They’re programmed to seek out and destroy specific bacterial pathogens. Eventually, they’ll be programmable on-the-fly to the infectious microorganism affecting a particular patient. But that’s probably a decade or two away.

In the meantime, I suspect humanity’s best bet will be bacteriophage viruses, which are genetically engineered to target specific pathogens. The Soviets and now the Russians have been working on bacteriophages for decades, and have had some successes.

Ultimately, the answer isn’t going to be developing new classes of antibiotics that depend on chemical mechanisms to destroy pathogenic bacteria; it’ll be on methods to selectively destroy them physically. It’s like the difference between a housefly becoming immune to chemical pesticides versus becoming immune to a flyswatter. The former happens continually; the latter isn’t going to happen.

10:50 – I just got back from picking up the Trooper at B&T Tire. The total was $110.69. In Winston-Salem, it would probably have been two or three times that.

Posted in personal, science | 50 Comments

Friday, 13 January 2017

09:53 – Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month.

We awoke this morning to a gray, dreary, spring-like day. When I took Colin out, it was 56F (13C) and drizzling. Colin is delighted that Barbara is home again. She called me yesterday just as she was leaving Winston. I drove the Trooper over to B&T Tire to drop it off with Lynn, who’s going to check the radiator and hoses to figure out why it’s leaking. A few minutes after I handed Lynn the key, Barbara pulled into the parking lot to pick me up.

On the way home, we stopped at Lowes to pick up some groceries, and then at the Dr. Grabow factory. It had been 20 years or more since I’d bought a new pipe. Other than a couple I got when I first started smoking a pipe–long since retired–most of my pipes are mid-range to high-end. None of them were cheap. For example, even 20+ years ago, I paid $300+ each for my Dunhill ODA pipes, and nearly as much for the other big-name brands. At that time, even the most expensive Dr. Grabow pipes were $8 or $10 each. Pipe connoisseurs sneered at them as “drugstore pipes”.

But what I discovered over the years was that there wasn’t any discernible difference in smoking quality between a $400 pipe and a a $75 pipe. They were all pipes. The only difference was that the expensive pipes used top-quality brier, while the cheaper ones used brier that needed fill to patch the gaps in the surface. A chunk of brier large enough for a pipe that’s perfect might cost $150, while a chunk with minor flaws/fills might sell for $20. I didn’t care about the appearance, so I stopped paying premium prices for perfect pipes. So I picked up a new pipe at the Dr. Grabow factory yesterday. It was in the most expensive group they had, retail-priced at $58, but available from the factory store for $40. I smoked it yesterday and this morning. It smokes as well as my expensive pipes. I’ll probably pick up another one or two of these cheap pipes and retire some of my oldest ones.

We got a bulk order for chemistry kits yesterday afternoon from a state university. Those are stacked awaiting pickup out in the foyer. That order wiped out our entire chemistry kit inventory, so we’ll be building another batch over the weekend. We also have another bulk custom order from a state distance-learning program for 30 each of some custom chemicals that we package for them, so that goes on the schedule for this weekend as well.

I finished the copy-edit pass on Franklin Horton’s latest Borrowed World PA novel. That got me to wondering again if I could write PA fiction, so I spent a couple hours yesterday working on a sample chapter. Writing fiction is very different from what I’m used to. Writing non-fiction, I spend probably 90% of my “writing” time looking things up, experimentally verifying things, and so on. Writing fiction, I can just sit down and write. It flows. What I don’t know is whether I can plot, write narrative, write dialog, and so on. I asked Franklin if he’d mind looking over a sample chapter once I finished it and give my his honest opinion about whether I could write fiction. He said he’d be happy to do so.

Posted in personal, science kits, writing | 56 Comments

Thursday, 12 January 2017

09:11 – Things are really warming up. It was 48.2F (9C) when I took Colin out this morning. Nearly all of the snow has disappeared. The driveway is completely clear, although still wet, and only a few patches of snow remain in the shady areas. When she gets home, I’m going to tell Barbara that I shoveled all the snow off the drive and swept off the entire 1.5-acre yard. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Colin and I are doing fine. He misses Barbara, but he’s behaving pretty well with her gone. We had a frozen beef pot-pie for dinner last night, followed by doughnuts for our evening snack.

Barbara just called. She’s getting ready to head over to get a haircut, followed by lunch with a friend, running a few errands including a stop at Costco, and then head back home. I asked her to add a couple of three-pound #10 cans of Kirkland ground coffee to her list.

I finished Franklin Horton’s book four in his Borrowed World series last night, reading just for flow. I’m also about 60% through the copy-edit pass. Most of what I’ve flagged is trivial–typos, missing or double words, a couple instances of characters changing names, lie/lay/laid issues, and so on. Franklin is also one of very, very few authors for whom I have to keep a dictionary handy. For example, I’d never seen “cabbage” used as a verb, but sure enough it turns out to be a synonym for “steal”.

If I were to make one substantive criticism of Franklin’s work, it would be from personal preference. His dystopian novels are dystopic in spades. They can be painful to read. Kind of like a Russian comedy: at the end, everyone dies horribly. Franklin does not have a very high opinion of humanity in general. Even most of his protagonists are not very nice people. But Franklin is, first and foremost, a story-teller. His writing makes you want to keep turning pages.

Posted in personal | 50 Comments