09:35 - Thanks to reader L. Daniel Rosa, who sent me the following link:
This is not a toy. It’s a serious instrument, albeit one the size of a standard microscope slide and a cost of only $0.50. They’re calling for 10,000 volunteer beta testers, each of whom will use the microscope to do something of their choice and write up a short lab session, protocol, or whatever. These will be winnowed and combined into an open-source biology/microscopy manual. I’m going to submit an application to be a beta tester as soon as I post this. I’d encourage any of my readers with any interest at all in microscopy or citizen science to do the same.
09:15 - Dentist visit yesterday, to get my fangs cleaned and sharpened. And I’ve come down with a bad cold, which is unusual for me. I’m going to spend some time today making up some of the solutions to fill bottles that Barbara has labeled.
09:53 - Barbara filled and labeled close to a thousand vials yesterday, with sulfadimethoxine, penicillin G potassium, activated charcoal, and so on. I even did a few myself. Our goal is to head into the busy summer and autumn months with plenty of component inventory on hand.
Barbara’s sister’s birthday is today. She’s meeting Frances and their mom for dinner. I’ll have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watch Heartland reruns. I’ll finish season four today on Netflix streaming and probably get started on season five on DVD. CBC is broadcasting the final six episodes of season seven over the next six weeks, which gives me those six weeks to get through the 36 episodes of seasons five and six before we burn season seven to disc and start watching it. The season seven DVD set will probably be released in September or thereabouts. I just checked Amazon.ca to see if it was available for pre-order. Not yet. And still no word on whether there’ll be a season eight. I can’t imagine that there won’t be, but CBC plays things pretty close to their vest. If CBC does decide not to renew, I plan to contact the series producers to suggest getting a Kickstarter project going to crowd-fund season eight. I suspect the series isn’t all that expensive to produce.
12:12 - We just finished cutting up branches that had fallen during the ice storm the other day from a large pine in our backyard. While doing that, I noticed that our Sven saw needs a new blade. Fortunately, Barbara had two 24″ bow saws, which worked fine.
Barbara will work on labeling and filling containers this afternoon while she watches her shows (the ones I can’t stand, such as Private Practice–and anything else from Shonda Rhimes– Flashpoint, and so on. I’ve noticed that all of them have a lot of shouting to make up for the fact that the scripts suck). And I just noticed something about the medical drama series Off the Map. I expected to like it because it starred Caroline Dhavernas, another Canadian actress whom I adore, and who starred in the short-lived series Wonderfalls. Unfortunately, Off the Map was simply terrible. There aren’t words to convey how bad it was. And I just noticed that you-know-who was involved in it. Shonda Rhimes. Everything she touches turns to shit.
10:47 - Yesterday turned into a major mess, with ice taking down lots of trees and leaving more than 100,000 homes and businesses in our area without power. Our lights flicked a couple times, but otherwise we’re fine. There’s still a lot of white stuff on the ground, but the high today is to be in the mid-60′s F (~ 18C), so it’ll melt off pretty quickly. USPS didn’t run in our neighborhood yesterday. I hope they deliver today. Neither cloudless days nor moderate temperatures nor gentle breezes stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Barbara spent most of the day yesterday filling and labeling vials. In the past, we’d typically make up 30 or 60 complete sets of chemicals for biology kits or chemistry kits, or whatever, just enough to keep up with demand. Now that we’re building serious inventory, I have her doing bigger numbers of one chemical at a time. For example, among other things yesterday she did 210 vials of gum Arabic for biology kits. I’d have had her do twice that number, but we ran out of gum Arabic. Which reminds me that I’d better order more 5 mL PP RIA vials and caps. We’re down to only around 2,000 of them in stock. Not to mention that I need to order another kilo each of sulfadimethoxine, penicillin G potassium, and several other components.
09:28 - We got nailed by a winter storm overnight, which continues today. There’s a lot of sleet and ice on the ground. More than 100,000 homes and businesses locally are without power. Barbara thought about going in to work, but she’s decided just to take the day off.
I’ve decided to be completely arbitrary about foreign shipments. On Tuesday, I got a query from Germany asking about buying multiple kits and combining shipments to save postage. I told him we’d be happy to ship the kits to him. On Wednesday, I got a query from a teacher at an international school in a very poor Western African country. He wanted to buy a bunch of chemistry kits. I turned him down, simply because I’m not comfortable shipping to that country, or indeed to any other third-world country. The risk is simply too high. Yesterday, I got a query from a guy in Denmark who wants to buy a biology kit. I told him we’d be happy to ship to him. What it all comes down to is that I trust the customs and postal services in first-world countries, but not those in poorer countries.
Speaking of biology kits, we’re down to under 15 in stock, so we’d better get started on building more.
08:03 - This is getting old. The forecast is for freezing rain this evening and overnight.
From the news reports, it appears that Bitcoin is imploding, with exchanges collapsing and questionable deaths and disappearances among those running the exchanges. Given how much governments, all governments, hate the idea of a monetary system that is outside their control, I have to wonder how much of the trouble is a result of governments working behind the scenes to destroy Bitcoin. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but this all does seem a bit convenient for governments, who are now trumpeting “we told you so”.
Science kit sales continue to be slow, given the time of year, but are still running at double last year’s rate. I’m still building subassemblies for inventory.
11:37 - I was just on eBay looking for a rather obscure chemical that my regular vendors are out of stock on. While I was there, I realized that I’m getting low on iodine, so I searched for iodine acs crystals. I ended up ordering 250 grams of ACS reagent iodine crystals for $39.99 plus $5.99 shipping. That was a pleasant surprise. I went back and looked for the last iodine PO, and found that I’d paid nearly $100 including shipping for 250 grams. We don’t use all that much iodine–maybe 500 grams per year–but nearly every kit we ship includes a 30 mL bottle of dilute Lugol’s iodine, and several of the other solutions in various kits also require iodine. Given that iodine is a DEA List I chemical, I’m always concerned I’ll have trouble getting it. So far, I haven’t, but I like to keep a reasonable amount in stock.
A couple of years ago, I would have hesitated to order from that vendor, who is shipping the product from China. Nowadays, I don’t worry about it at all. I’ve ordered scores of things from Chinese vendors over the last couple years, both on eBay and on Amazon.com. Every order has arrived–although some of them took a couple of months–and every shipment has been correct.
09:02 - Barbara said the drive to work was messy yesterday morning, but by afternoon the streets were generally clear and dry. It never did get far enough above freezing to melt off the sleet and ice, but I guess the sunny, breezy day caused the frozen stuff to sublimate. Now the forecast is calling for more winter weather either tomorrow or Friday, depending on which forecast you believe. This has been the harshest winter since I moved to Winston-Salem in 1980. It seems we’ve had frozen stuff on the ground more days this winter than we normally have over the course of five years or more.
I’m currently making up chemicals for international kits, which got me thinking about international shipments. Until now, we’ve been shipping to any country that USPS will allow us to generate a postage label for. So far, there haven’t been any major problems, but shipping internationally exposes us to a great deal of risk. Frankly, I don’t trust the postal systems in many countries, and if they don’t deliver we’re on the hook for the cost of the kit and the postage, which is significant.
So I’ve decided to limit international shipments to the ABC countries: Australia, Britain, and Canada. The vast majority of our foreign shipments go to those countries, and the vast majority of that majority go to Canada. So, in fact, I may decide to limit shipments to the US and Canada only. Doing that would eliminate maybe 3% of our business, but there’s more risk associated with that 3% than the other 97% combined.
09:27 - The sleet and ice indeed moved in sooner than expected yesterday. Rather than arriving late evening and overnight, the sleet arrived by noon. By early afternoon, everything was covered in a blanket of white. By late afternoon, it was snowing heavily. Barbara said a lot of people at her office left very early. She stuck around until about 4:30 and then headed home. The morning paper says there were nearly 100 accidents in Forsyth County yesterday, most resulting from the icy streets. The high today is to be above freezing, but not by much. Barbara took the Trooper to work again this morning, and plans to make her regular gym visit on the way home.
I’m working on kit stuff today.
11:04 - We made it up to 72F (22C) yesterday. Right now, it’s windy with a cold rain and the temperature just over freezing. Tonight, we’re to have sleet and freezing drizzle and a low of 14F (-10C). Barbara drove the Trooper this morning, just in case the sleet and ice moves in sooner than expected.
Work on science kits continues. Things are slow this time of year. We’re shipping only one kit or so per day right now, but things should start picking up later in the month and into April. I’m still working on the manual for the earth science kit, which we hope to start shipping this summer.
Following the mauling death of a 3-year-old local girl by a Pit Bull, the lead article in the paper this morning was about Pit Bulls. It was surprisingly even-handed, pointing out that dog-bite fatalities are extremely rare, something like 25 per year in the US. In other words, the probability of being killed by a dog attack is roughly the same as being killed by a lightning strike. Pit Bulls do account for a high percentage of dog-bite fatalities, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Very few fatal Pit Bull attacks are committed by socialized family pets. Unfortunately, Pit Bulls are one of the breeds most likely to be trained to be vicious, and many or most Pit Bull attacks are by dogs that have been intentionally tormented and abused to make them mean. As the article points out, Pit Bulls were formerly considered among the safest breeds with infants and small children, and were known as “nursemaid’s dogs”. I would never leave a small child unsupervised with any dog other than a fully-socialized family pet, but I’d not worry any more about a Pit Bull than any other breed.
Pit Bulls weren’t bred to attack people. The converse, in fact. They were bred to attack other dogs in pit fights but never under any circumstances to attack a person. Otherwise, their handlers wouldn’t have dared risk handling a dog that had been injured in a fight. Of course, that also means that Pit Bulls cannot be trusted around other dogs, particularly in a male-on-male situation. That’s why I’m very cautious about Pit Bulls when I’m out with Colin.