Biology book

I’m still working heads-down on the biology book. I wasn’t happy with the original structure, so I’m reorganizing it and moving stuff around, rewriting some stuff, and writing new stuff.

It’s times like this that I really envy fiction writers. They don’t have to work within the constraints that we non-fiction writers do. They can just make stuff up, and as long as it’s believable that’s all that matters. If a book runs too long, they can just cut stuff out; if it runs too short, they can just add some scenes. We non-fiction writers have to get everything right, and we have to fit everything in that belongs there.

I remember years ago at a mystery conference sitting down with Peter Robinson. When I told him that I wrote non-fiction, he said he could never do that because it would be too hard to get everything right. I told him that I’d never written fiction, but I thought it would be more difficult than writing fiction. Nowadays, I’m coming around to his point of view.

RBT: A Space Oddity

Okay, I admit it. I’m definitely odd in some respects. Barbara commented on one of them last night, and threatened to post about it, so I’d better get my side of the story in first.

You know those novels that have italicized sections, often at the beginning of a chapter, but sometimes in the body of the chapter? I never read the italic sections. Never. And I haven’t done for at least 30 years. I remember reading Niven’s and Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer back in 1979, and I remember skipping the italicized sections even then.

The only italicized text I’ll read is short sections like a book title or a foreign word or phrase. If the italicized part is longer than a phrase, I just skip it.

I was reading a mystery novel last night that Barbara had just finished reading. I commented about how much I disliked italics, and she pointed out that if I skipped them I’d be missing important parts of the story. I told her, smugly, that I’d already figured out who the killer was when I was less than halfway through the book, and without reading the italics.

Tax fairness

Obama and the Democrats seem determined to raise taxes even further, while the Republicans refuse to budge on new taxes unless they’re offset by reduced taxes elsewhere. I have a modest suggestion. As things stand, fully half of Americans pay no income taxes whatsoever. In fact, many pay a negative tax, because tax credits offset any taxes due, resulting in a “refund” of taxes they never paid.

So, how about we remove the personal exemptions and standard deduction, and begin taxing that untaxed 50%. At the same time, we can reduce the tax rate to reduce the taxes due from middle-class taxpayers by an amount sufficient to offset the loss of the personal exemptions and standard deduction. That would make the Democrats happy, because we’d be increasing taxes, but it would also make the Republicans happy because those tax increases would be completely offset by tax reductions elsewhere.

We can then get to reducing the deficit. I suggest a 100% reduction in deficit spending the first year and every year that follows. Economic growth should then allow us to begin cutting down the existing debt.


Real inflation

One thing I noticed in creating POs and placing orders for science kit components is that we’re experiencing serious inflation. Dollar-wise, most of my orders are to wholesalers, which generally post a price list for a calendar year and then honor those prices all year long. (I wonder how much longer that’ll last).Those orders reflected zero inflation, but of course the reality is that I’m overpaying early in the year and underpaying late in the year.

But for some smaller items it doesn’t make sense to set up an account with a wholesaler. For example, I order Sharpie markers by the dozen from a retailer. Since my last order, the price has increased from $8.76 per dozen to $8.92. That’s only about 2%, but other items are considerably higher. For example, the last time I ordered composition books from Costco, I paid $1.26 each. This time, they were $1.33 each, or a 5.6% increase.

And a lot of vendors are playing games with quantity discounts. For example, last time I ordered three dozen of one item at $0.60 each. The price dropped to $0.50 each on quantity eight dozen, and $0.40 each on quantity 50 dozen. Now, the same item is priced at $0.70 each for under eight dozen, $0.60 each for eight dozen or more, and $0.50 each for 100 dozen or more. I ordered eight dozen this time at $0.60 each, so technically the price remained the same. (Oddly, this time the shipping was actually one cent less, even through I was ordering eight dozen instead of three dozen.) But the reality is that if I’d ordered the same number, my price would have increased from $0.60 to $0.70 each, or about 16.7%.

I’m told that food prices are rising even faster, but Barbara and I don’t track those.


Ordering for more kits

As we headed for the post office this morning to ship more kits, Barbara pointed out that I’d better get off my butt and get more components ordered. So that’s what I’ve been doing this morning, ordering components for five dozen more kits.

Well, five dozen in terms of most components. In some cases, I’m buying enough for many more. For example, I just ordered $106 worth of 650 mg sodium bicarbonate tablets and 500 mg vitamin C tablets, which is enough for probably 150 kits. What the heck.¬† A $99+ order got me free shipping, and I’m going to need the stuff anyway.

As of now, we’re shipping four or five kits a week, which is actually a lot more than I expected at this point. Early summer is a dead time for science kit orders, and we’ve just started to get the word out. For most people, such kits aren’t impulse purchases. They need to think about it for a while, determine how it’ll fit into their curriculum, and so on. I expect the pace to pick up in mid- to late August and continue at a higher level through September and well into October. I don’t want to have to backorder, but on the other hand I don’t want to be covered up in components and assembled kits. Five dozen at a time, we can handle.

What really scares me is knowing that when the home biology book is published, we’re going to get a flood of orders for the biology kit, probably a couple hundred or more in the first couple of weeks, and possibly 100 a week or more for quite some time. I’ll talk to Barbara about that, but right now I’m thinking about pre-building at least 100 biology kits and keeping components in stock for a couple hundred more. There are obviously inventory storage and working capital issues, although fortunately nothing in the kits will have a short shelf life.

Lab day

I need to schedule a lab day or two, but I keep putting it off. That’s because this won’t be lab work in the good sense–running experiments–but in the bad sense, making up solutions and other boring routine stuff. I mean, it’s pretty hard to get excited about making up a liter of 100X Chalkley’s medium concentrate or aceto-orcein stain. But it has to be done.

Which of course is why science kits are such a wonderful thing for homeschoolers. Sure, they could make up all the stuff they needed, or buy it piecemeal, but either of those is both time-consuming and very expensive relative to just purchasing a kit that contains what they need.

But it doesn’t matter, because the EU is doomed…

I confess to some small satisfaction in having been absolutely right about what was happening and would happen since I started posting about the collapse of the EU and the Euro more than a year ago. Of course, my satisfaction is tempered by the fact that we’re facing a world-wide disaster, and the fact that the US will do much better than other nations is of little comfort because in absolute terms we’re going to be hurting badly.

Incidentally, a few minutes ago I came across a very smart woman (obviously, she’s a genius because she agrees completely with me).

The countdown has already begun.

Finally, a solution to the Euro crisis

The Europeans have come up with a solution to the Euro crisis: threaten S&P and Moody’s. After all, if no one is allowed to point out that the emperor has no clothes, who’s going to notice?

Meanwhile, everyone with any sense is dumping Greek and now Portuguese debt as fast as they can. Hint to traders: now is the time to dump all of your Icelandic, Irish, Italian, and Spanish bonds, assuming you can find anyone foolish enough to buy them. Fools are quickly becoming harder to find. If someone offered me that junk at $0.10 on the dollar, I’d flee screaming.

To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, Greece, which is about the size and population of Ohio, is now close to $600 billion in debt. But the situation is actually much worse than those figures indicate. Ohio has a robust economy. Greece has no economy to speak of, and no prospect of developing one. Think of Greece as Ohio with a Soviet-style economy and you won’t be far off the mark. And Portugal, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, and Spain aren’t much better.

People are now talking about “partial default” and “temporary default”. There’s nothing partial or temporary about it. We’re looking at default default. One morning in the not-too-distant future, we’ll awaken to news that the dominoes are toppling and the Euro has gone down the tubes. Count on it.

Young American tennis players

I periodically despair about the state of tennis in the US. For decades, we regularly produced a crop of world-class players, from¬† Tilden and Vines and Budge and Kramer to Schroeder and Riggs and Gonzalez and Trabert to Ashe and Smith and Connors and McEnroe and Agassi and Sampras. And that’s just the men.

But for the last ten years or more we haven’t had any truly first-rate players on the pro tour. The best we can come up with are players like Roddick and the Williams sisters, decent players but not true greats. So I’m always glad to see up-and-coming young players like Kiah.

The video is from about a year ago, when she was still 15. She has several other videos posted, showing her serving and so on. Watching her play, I’d guess she’d play about even with most fair-to-middling 15-year-old male tennis players–those good enough to make the tennis team at a large high school–although that’ll change over the next couple of years, as the boys continue to get faster and stronger, while she doesn’t. If I’d played her when I was 15, I certainly wouldn’t have taken the match lightly. I’d probably have beaten her four matches in five, and maybe even five in five, but this girl has enough tools to be dangerous.

I hope there are a whole lot more like her out there.