Wednesday, 17 August 2011

08:37 – The results of the Merkel-Sarkozy summit are in, and they’re exactly what I predicted. Nothing whatsoever. Merkel and Sarkozy issued a statement expressing their joint determination to do whatever it takes to defend the Euro, as long as it doesn’t involve them spending any money. No Eurobonds, no expansion of the pathetically small bailout fund, nothing. Business as usual, in other words.

Oh, come to think of it, they did propose that all 17 Eurozone nations be required to amend their constitutions to include a balanced budget amendment and cede their national sovereignty to Germany, which would in turn agree to make the trains run on time. And, in a sop to hard-pressed European banks, all of which are bankrupt by any normal definition of that word, they also proposed a Tobin tax on financial transactions, which would merely drive economic activity out of the Eurozone. Fortunately, actually implementing anything they proposed will take years, by which time the Euro will be only a distant memory. In effect, Angie and Nick sat around discussing which hors d’oeuvres to serve at their next dinner party while their house burned down around them.


I spend some time yesterday looking into prepared slides to include in the kit for the biology book. There are two alternative, neither of them good. First, I can buy prepared slides sourced from China or India. Some of these are actually quite good, and they can be priced at only a couple bucks each on average. The problem is figuring out exactly what they are. I can’t buy slides from the companies in China and India that actually make the slides. I have to buy from US distributors, who have no clue what the slides actually are. If I’m lucky, they’ll specify the genus and species of the specimen or the type of section. If I’m very lucky, they’ll specify the genus and species of the specimen and the type of section. If I’m extremely lucky, they’ll specify both of those and the type of staining.

And it’s nearly impossible to ensure that a sample slide I look at will be representative of the actual slide when I order it in bulk. For example, yesterday I asked a distributor rep if I ordered a slide set from them if it would have the exact same slides that I could order from them individually in bulk. She said yes, but then added, “But sometimes they’re dyed different colors.” Arrrghhh.

The alternative would be to order slides from the one US company that still produces them. Those slides are absolutely gorgeous. I’ve seen examples. And, rather than the two or three word description common with Chinese and Indian prepared slides, their descriptions often run a paragraph, giving details about the exact species, histology and sectioning method used, and staining protocol. The problem is, those slides sell for $6 or $7 to $25 each. A set of 25 slides could easily run $250 or $300. That’s far, far outside the budget of most home schoolers, who see apparently similar sets advertised for $50 or $60.

Unless I can find a reliable source of inexpensive prepared slides, I suspect that what I’m going to end up doing is ordering inexpensive prepared slides in bulk and then checking each individual slide before adding it to a set. For example, if I’m putting together 100 sets of 25 slides, one of which is Amoeba proteus, I’ll order 100 Amoeba proteus slides and run each of them through my microscope to verify that it’s usable. I can probably verify 100 slides per hour, which means that 100 sets of 25 slides will require 25 hours of my time just to verify the slides.

Actually, it may not be that bad. I used the A. proteus example because I once saw a Chinese prepared slide that was allegedly A. proteus but had no amoeba under the coverslip. For most specimens, that won’t be a problem. I can simply view one slide and if it’s acceptable the others will also be acceptable. But for “feature” slides, such as a slide showing specifically a particular stage of meiosis, I’d need to check each slide.

16 thoughts on “Wednesday, 17 August 2011”

  1. Is there any chance you could get a discount on the American made slides if you buy directly from the manufacturer and perhaps work out some agreement to include their catalog in your kits and to list them as your preferred supplier in all of the related literature? You may try speaking to someone in their sales/marketing department about it. Just an idea.

  2. Also, you could just contract with some broke biology undergrads (no short supply of them) to make slides for you and pay them $x per slide (assuming it meets quality standards). Stick a notice on the bulletin board in the student union and insist they be a third or fourth year science major.

  3. Even at a discount for the American slides, I doubt it would come down enough to serve the homeschooling population. I doubt most homeschoolers (myself included) would be willing to spend much more than $50-$60 for slides, particularly after factoring the cost of having to buy a microscope too. We did high school bio two years ago, and I would imagine I spent around $150 total for biology that year.

  4. I concur with Marie, that would tip the price point beyond the scope of most homeschoolers, though sharing is nice. I know the group in my city would be willing to pool their resources. Perhaps an option to sell multiple books to a group, bundled with one set of slides, could be a possibility? That way the group can buy one microscope and set of slides and share it around, just like in a “real” school. Then sell it on to the next generation.

  5. Is the point of these slides to give students practice with the microscope or to have students see particular specimens? If the latter, would it work to include only a core number of necessary slides — and supplement these with online/print images?

  6. Yep, I’m currently making up a web page for the biology kits. I’ll offer them in four variants: BK01 (no prepared slides); BK01A (a basic set of 25 slides); BK01B (with both the basic set and an extended set of 25 additional slides); and BK01C (with a comprehensive set of 100 slides). I’ll also offer the prepared slide sets separately, so that someone who has a BK01 kit can upgrade it to the BK01A, BK01B, or BK01C kit, and someone who has the BK01A kit can upgrade it to the BK01B.

    Because prepared slides are a significant investment for most home schoolers, and because a prepared slide set if treated properly is good forever, I’m also going to set up a program whereby I’ll list those who have used slide sets for sale and try to match them up with people who’d like to buy a used prepared set of slides. (Obviously, I’ll assume no liability; this will be private sale from one person to another, and I cannot control the condition of a used slide set.)

    Off the top of my head, I’d guess the Slide Set C would sell for $225 new. In good used condition, it’d be worth roughly 90% of the original price, say $200. So, someone could buy the set for $225 and then the next year resell it for $200, either locally or via the program I set up. They’d actually be out of pocket only $25 plus shipping cost for having the use of that set for one year. Of course, when that used set was again resold, it’d also sell for $200, leaving the net cost at zero plus shipping cost. That $25 is basically the price someone would pay for starting with a new set.

  7. Is the point of these slides to give students practice with the microscope or to have students see particular specimens? If the latter, would it work to include only a core number of necessary slides — and supplement these with online/print images?

    The latter. They’ll be preparing many of their own slides via simple wet-mounts. The issue is that histology is difficult for home schoolers. It requires a microtome and a significant investment of time, both in learning how to do it and in actually doing it. It’s much simpler (and cheaper, unless you’re willing to spend many hours preparing lots of different slides and counting your time as $0 per hour) to use prepared slides for many of the sessions.

    I am including images in the book, and the kit will include a disc with high-res color copies of all the images used in the book, plus others that there’s not room for in the book. The problem is that looking at images is very different from actually viewing specimens with a microscope. Particularly at medium and high magnification, depth of field becomes a huge issue. Unless I use stacking software like my astronomer friends do to make the entire image sharp, parts will always be out of focus. For example, at 400X you might focus on one cell structure component and find that another is quite fuzzy. When you’re actually looking at a slide, you can simply touch up the focus with the fine focus knob. When you’re looking at an image, what you see is what you get.

  8. I don’t think I or most people would want to pay 90% for something used when I can get a new set for 100%. When I was at uni it was typical to buy second hand books at an exchange for 75% and sell them back at n66.6%, and even those figure would be optimistic for something that can’t easily be examined before purchase.

  9. Well, as I said, I won’t get into what is really a private transaction between two customers. Books wear out. People fold the pages and write in them. A used book is worth less than a new book. Slide sets don’t wear out. Unless a slide is damaged, a used set is just as good as a new set. The 90% is what I’d ask or be willing to pay. In effect, that 10% covers the hassle and minor risk of going with a used set.

  10. When the opportunity has presented itself, I have paid 90% for used curriculum as opposed to 100% for new. If I can manage that with several subjects on my list, I can practically pay for one other item on my list with what I have saved. Most homeschooling families that I know are one income families who are very skilled at trying to bargain shop for their curriculum.

    The different slide packages make good sense to me. I can see a homeschooling co-op investing in the slide set C for a group of kids to use.

  11. How about keeping the price of each slide set the same and offer a buy back program? That way you can insure that each used set is complete before offering it for resale. The buy back program could be 67% of the purchase price, less a (punitive) cost per replacement slide. And the sender pays the shipping cost to return the set.

  12. I try to keep homeschooling realities constantly in mind, and one of those, as you say, is that many homeschool families are single-income. I do everything I can to keep costs down without compromising the educational value.

    I can certainly see a homeschool co-op buying sets of these slides and then renting them out to families on one-year terms for 15% of the set cost. They recoup the cost after seven years, and can continue renting the set out for years thereafter. Of course, breakage is going to be an issue, but replacing the occasional broken slide shouldn’t be too costly.

  13. How about keeping the price of each slide set the same and offer a buy back program? That way you can insure that each used set is complete before offering it for resale. The buy back program could be 67% of the purchase price, less a (punitive) cost per replacement slide. And the sender pays the shipping cost to return the set.

    I thought about that, but I really don’t think I want to get involved at that level. Part of the problem is that, for now at least, it’s just Barbara and me, and our time is limited.

  14. I can certainly appreciate the time constraints!

    I am reminded that notes written in the margin of a text book was used to great effect in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

  15. I see no reason why you would want to get involved in a buyback program, even if you had the time. Homeschoolers have all kinds of places online where they go to buy/sell/trade curriculum and resources.

  16. I was thinking he would be buying back already checked and confirmed slides, rather than relying on unreliable foreign suppliers, which seems a benefit to me. Of course, you are correct that the HS crowd has it’s own back channels already in place.

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