08:02 - Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month.
If last year is any indication, we expect to see pretty heavy kit sales this coming week. We’re down to only 16 of the BK01 biology kits in stock, eight of the CK01A chemistry kits, and zero of the FK01A forensic science kits. Today and over the weekend, we’ll build six more of the forensic kits–which is all we have components ready for–and build subasssemblies for another dozen. I can use those to build more forensic kits on-the-fly if we run out of finished kits. We’ll also build a couple dozen more chemistry kits and, if we have time, build a batch of subassemblies for more biology kits.
14:21 - Good grief. I see on the CNN and FoxNews websites that there’s apparently a big brouhaha taking place over the skin colors of Jesus and Santa Claus. In the interest of sanity prevailing, I must point out that both of these characters are imaginary. They exist only in lies told to children and other credulous people. There is absolutely zero evidence that either of them ever existed. What kind of moron gets upset over the skin colors of his imaginary friends?
08:23 - Netflix Instant is obviously under pressure from Amazon and other video streaming vendors. Netflix is having to pay much more for the rights to stream programming, and it’s really starting to show in their selection of new titles. For the last few months, I’ve noticed that their new material is heavily skewed towards material from Korea and other Pacific Rim countries. For at least the last three months, their “Recently added in TV Shows” category has been more than half Korean and other dubbed material. I’m sure they get this stuff for almost nothing, and I’m equally sure that almost none of their subscribers have any interest at all in watching it. It’s simply a cheap and cheesy way of padding their catalog. Even so, at eight bucks a month Netflix streaming continues to offer incredible bang for the buck.
I’m not sure what’s going on with kit sales to foreign customers. Over the past year our sales have been steadily about 95% domestic, with nearly all of the remainder going to Canadian customers. Lately, 15% to 20% of sales have been to customers outside the US, with Canadians, Australians, and Brits about evenly split.
I read an interesting report yesterday about generosity by nation. The generosity in question was not foreign aid, but individual generosity, measured not only in monetary contributions but in willingness to help others, contribute time and work, and so on. The PDF included a table of the top 10 over the past five years. Positions 1 through 6 were held by the US, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and the UK. It’s probably not a coincidence that all of these are English-speaking countries.
09:46 - Congratulations to John Farrell Kuhns, whose Heirloom Chemistry Set Kickstarter project has nearly reached four times its original $30,000 goal. That’s with only a month gone and two weeks remaining.
Several people have asked me why I’m supporting and promoting a competitor’s project. The short answer is that I don’t really consider John to be a competitor. We focus on different markets. But even if John were our competitor, I’d still support his project because I think it’s important that kids have as many good options as possible for getting involved with hands-on science.
07:58 - UPS showed up yesterday with two cases of 15 mL centrifuge tubes, a case of 50 mL centrifuge tubes, a case of test tubes, and a case of 24-well reaction plates. Those were the only items we lacked for building more kits, and with what we have on hand, that’s enough for another 120+ kits.
I just had Colin out for his morning sniff. Every morning, as soon as he finishes his breakfast, he insists on going out and sniffing the front yard thoroughly, presumably to discover what had been out there overnight. I’ve often thought we should have trained him as a tracking dog. He’d have been an excellent one. Border Collies are often used for tracking and search & rescue. Their noses aren’t quite as sensitive as a bloodhound’s, but sensitive enough. BCs are also much, much smarter than bloodhounds and are capable of independent action.
09:39 - I’ll be working on kit stuff all day.
09:23 - The Christmas rush has started. We’ve shipped six kits so far this morning, and we’re likely to remain busy right up through Monday the 23rd. USPS does an all-out push for Christmas. They treat Priority Mail 2- and 3-day packages like Express Mail if that’s what it takes to get them delivered by Christmas. They even deliver anything that looks like it may be a gift on Christmas morning if necessary.
We’re going to be pressed to keep up, not just with getting kits shipped, but with getting more built to meet demand. I went through our component inventory yesterday and had Barbara labeling and filling bottles of stuff we were very short on. We now have enough of everything in stock to build another two dozen each of the biology and chemistry kits, in addition to what’s already in finished-goods inventory. We will have enough components to build another dozen or so forensic science kits once the polarizing filters arrive. But I’m going to be busier than the proverbial one-armed violinist.
16:26 - Wow. The first seven days of the month were pretty slow, but today was hectic. Put it this way: if we ship as many kits per day for the next two days as we did today, we’ll exceed total December 2012 kit sales–units and revenue–in only three days. That’s assuming that we can build enough kits fast enough to meet demand.
08:34 - The forecasts claim we’ll have freezing rain on and off all day, with temperatures hovering right around freezing. We were planning to do a Costco run this afternoon, but there’s nothing we need urgently. We’ll just stay in today and work on kit stuff.
10:49 - Somewhere around here, I have a storage bin that contains (according to my inventory records) 40 polarizing filters, enough for 20 pairs. I need those for the forensic science kits, but I can’t find them. So I just ordered a hundred more. I’m sure the others will turn up at some point.
09:25 - A date that will live in infamy.
Barbara is off running errands this morning. I’m doing laundry. I just shipped another forensic science kit, so our top priority kit-wise this weekend is to build another couple dozen sets of subassemblies for the forensic kits.
One of my long-time regular email correspondents who lives in Edmonton emailed me to say that their high yesterday was -24C (-11F), not counting wind chill. I also note that, probably not a coincidence, Heartland wrapped shooting season seven yesterday. It films in a Calgary studio, with location shooting in the High River/Okotoks/Millarsville area south and southwest of Calgary, so the temperatures generally aren’t as cold as Edmonton, but even so. It’d be hard to film if your cast, crew, and horses are frozen solid.
09:27 - Our high today is to be 72F (22C), but then the colder weather returns. Yesterday, the forecasters were calling for Sunday to be freezing rain all day, but they’ve now changed that to just cold rain. Of course, they’re also saying the high Sunday is to be 34F (1C) and the low 33F (0.5C). They don’t have to be wrong on the temperature by much for us to have a real mess.
We’re now in good shape on biology and chemistry kits, but forensic science kits are running low. We’re down to four in stock, which could disappear quickly. The problem is sodium dithionite, which we’re completely out of. Back in early September, I tried to order enough for another 60 or 70 kits, but our regular supplier was backordered, and their regular supplier was also backordered. The only vendors I could find that had it in stock were selling reagent-grade stuff, typically a 100 g bottle for $60 or more. Since each kit contains a 25-gram bottle, that’s a non-starter. Even the technical/practical grade stuff isn’t cheap, and it’s more than sufficient for what we use it for. So I backordered a couple of kilos of the stuff with our regular supplier. They shipped it out the day before Thanksgiving, and it should arrive shortly.
14:05 - Random shuffle just brought up the original studio version of Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, which gets my vote as the best rock-n-roll track ever made.
I still remember the first time I ever heard it, in the summer of ’65, when I was 12. I was listening to WKST, the local AM station. (Back then, FM radios were rare, and mostly owned by audiophiles.) The opening riffs got my attention, and I sat enthralled listening to it. The longer I listened, the more I liked it. The local record store didn’t have it in stock, so I started keeping the radio on low so I could hear it when they played it again. A few days later, I was in the car with my mom when it came on again. I turned up the volume and told her she had to listen to it. She did, but was unimpressed. Her only comment was that whoever that was sure couldn’t sing. I kept checking the record store, and eventually got the two-sided 45, which I played to death. I wish I still had it.
08:35 - Our stock of chemistry kits is getting perilously low, so I’ll take some time today to build more.
I knew this month was going to be difficult for Barbara. It’s her first birthday and her first Christmas without her dad, and she worries about her mom. Things are also hectic at work for her at the moment, so she’s under a lot of stress on all fronts. I wish I could think of something to do to ease things for her.
10:25 - When a person I respect suggests something, I pay attention. When two people I respect independently suggest the same thing, I really pay attention. So, 18 months ago at my father-in-law’s 90th birthday party, I was chatting with Mary Chervenak about future science kits. Mary suggested we do a biotechnology kit–protein and DNA extraction, digestion, and electrophoresis; DNA transformation into E. coli; bacteriophage propagation; DNA transfection into eukaryotic cells; and so on. Lately, I’ve been talking to Todd Rider, who’s senior scientist at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and on the advisory board for the S.P.A.R.K. competition that we’re entering this month. Todd suggested the same thing Mary had. So I think we’re going to do a biotechnology kit, in addition to or instead of an AP Biology kit. We’ll face some real challenges putting such a kit or kits together, but all of those involve keeping the kit(s) affordable. I’d like to be able to start shipping these kits next year, but it will probably be 2015.