Saturday, 31 March 2012

09:18 – I’m taking a day off writing today to get some work done on the new batch of chemistry kits.


11:17 – Barbara says it’s time to replace the deck. I’m sure she’s right, since the deck was built with the house in 1968 with pressure-treated wood, and hasn’t had much maintenance since then. Yesterday, one of the sides fell off. Hmmm.

So, after Tax Day, I’m going to start researching options. We already know we don’t want pressure-treated wood. We want something that’s as low-maintenance as possible, like vinyl or composite. We also know that we don’t want or need a new deck as large as the old one. We seldom entertain, and when we do it’s usually just one or at most two other couples. We need room for a gas grill, a small table, and four to six chairs. Barbara and I just went out with the tape measure, and we decided a deck 13 or 14 feet (~ 4 meters) by 8 or 9 feet (~ 2.5 meters) would suffice.

I do want to have room for one special feature: a pivoting trap door in the floor above a tank of piranha, with a squirrel feeder positioned such that a squirrel would have to step on the pivoting trap door to reach the feeder. We have squirrels year-round, so the piranha starving to death won’t be an issue.

Friday, 30 March 2012

08:03 – The EU must think everyone else is stupid. Fekter announced today that the EU is boosting its “firewall” to $1 trillion+. The problem is, that’s a complete lie. The EU hasn’t boosted anything. The size of the “firewall” hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that the EU is now using accounting smoke-and-mirrors to make its nominal €500 billion look like €800 billion. They even added in the €110 billion from the first Greek bailout. All this in an attempt to convince markets that a real firewall exists and, more importantly, to convince the IMF (read, the US) to contribute an additional $1 trillion to bailing out the euro. Fortunately, the G20 in general and the US in particular aren’t going to fall for this cynical attempt to shift EU debts onto other countries’ taxpayers. And the sad truth is that that “€500 billion” fund actually has maybe 1% of that amount available. The remainder is essentially IOUs, promises to pay by countries that, other than Germany and Finland, can’t pay their own bills. This will not end well.


Work on the forensics book continues, as does work on a new batch of chemistry kits.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

08:02 – Spain is on strike today, protesting against further budget cuts demanded by the EU. The Spanish economy is moribund, with an unemployment rate of about 25% and youth unemployment running more than 50%. Those numbers are comparable to the US during the worst of the Great Depression, and for Spain things are only going to get worse. And even at that Spain is in great shape compared to Portugal. Both will inevitably require bailing out sooner rather than later, and the likelihood of Germany being willing to fund a real bailout is next to nothing.

The euro crisis hasn’t been in the news much lately, but that doesn’t mean the crisis has been solved, or even that things are getting better. They aren’t. They’re getting immeasurably worse. The EU has been applying extremely expensive band-aids to the problem, but eventually the EU is going to run out of money for these band-aids. In the last few months, the ECB under Draghi has poured a trillion euros down the rathole with its long-term refinancing operation (LTRO). That was intended to improve liquidity and encourage banks to lend money again. It hasn’t worked out that way. Consumers and businesses still can’t get loans from those banks, which are running scared. Instead, the banks are attempting to boost their balance sheets and income statements by borrowing lots of very cheap money from the ECB and using it to buy high-yield sovereign debt. That in turn has, very temporarily, driven down yields on the sovereign bonds issued by troubled EU economies. When reality sets in, which should be any moment now, everyone will realize that things are worse than ever.


12:28 – How could I have forgotten? Happy 101st birthday to “Old Slabsides“, which despite its age is still the best fighting pistol ever invented, period.

The US supposedly replaced the M1911A1 as its standard service pistol in the 80’s, but in fact that never really happened. The only service members who use the replacement piece of junk (at least voluntarily) are the ones who pretty much carry the pistol for show and will never need it (or so they hope). The folks who actually use pistols regularly to shoot bad guys still prefer the .45 ACP M1911A1, because it can actually be trusted to fire when one pulls the trigger, and because the .45 ACP is, as it has always been, a decisive man-stopper–effective about 19 times in 20 according to real data. The current service pistol uses the garbage 9mm round, which is a very poor man stopper–effective about 10 times in 20 according to real data. Just what any soldier wants: shoot someone and flip a coin to see if he falls over. It’s no coincidence that the SEALs, Marine Recon, and so on–the guys at the sharp end–carry a .45 ACP pistol whenever possible, and most of them prefer the M1911A1.

I’m trying to think of any other example of a weapon that was introduced that long ago, is still produced, and is still the best weapon in its class. I can’t think of a single military example. The Winchester Model 12 pump-action shotgun was used in the trenches in WWI, but was no longer military issue before I was born. It ceased mass production in 1963 and continued in limited production until a few years ago.

At any rate, congratulations to John Moses Browning and the M1911 pistol he invented. One hundred and one years, and still champeen.


12:42 – Oh, my. I see that “Greece plans to open concentration camps” in an attempt to stop the rioting by penning up illegal immigrants. Good luck with that. Illegal immigrants are the least of Greece’s problems. Most of the rioters are Greek citizens who have already been pushed beyond endurance. Expect to see widespread major rioting in Portugal, Spain, and Italy before too much longer. I wonder if they’ll also build concentration camps.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

08:10 – More information is starting to come to light about the Trayvon Martin shooting. The media has been portraying this as a big, armed, white, fascist vigilante shooting down a small black boy armed only with a bag of snacks who was minding his own business. But according to the police report, things were a bit different than the way the media has been painting it. First, the community where the shooting occurred is one of the most crime-ridden and dangerous places in America. Second, that “little boy” was 6’3″ tall. Third, several eyewitnesses told police the same story: that Martin punched Zimmerman, who is actually Hispanic, to the ground, jumped on him, and started beating Zimmerman’s head against the sidewalk. In light of that, it’s not surprising that the cops didn’t charge Zimmerman. It sounds to me like they should have given him a community service medal.


We made a good start yesterday on another batch of 30 chemistry kits. We’re down to less than a dozen in inventory. This is the slowest time of year but that’s still uncomfortably low.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

08:43 – Barbara had a carry-over vacation day that she had to take or lose, so she’s taking it today. She’s doing some farming work out in the yard and we’ll work on building more chemistry kits later.


I must admit that I’m not following the ObamaCare thing closely, figuring that it’s all politics and it’ll work out however the politicians decide it’ll work out. Whichever way it works out, I suspect a lot of people are going to be unhappy, including those who think they’ll be happy with one outcome or another. I suspect, no matter how the individual mandate thing unfolds, a lot of people who now have insurance through their jobs are going to find that they no longer do. But the real killer is going to be the pre-existing conditions thing. Forcing insurers to cover pre-existing conditions means that what they’re selling is no longer insurance by any reasonable definition. And, I will point out something that I’ve seen no one else point out: age is a pre-existing condition. Wait for the lawsuits. And the physicians and insurers declaring bankruptcy. Family-care physicians are hanging on by their fingernails right now. ObamaCare is going to put a lot more of them out of business.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

09:12 – We made a lot of progress on the first batch of biology kits yesterday. We’re making up the final subassembly, the non-hazardous chemicals, today, and we should have the first batch of finished biology kits in inventory and ready to ship by 1 April. If necessary, we could actually assemble and ship a few kits starting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we’re working on the re-write of the forensic science book, and prototyping a forensic science kit as we go along. We’re shooting to have the forensic science book and kits ready to roll by August, in time for the autumn semester. After that, it’ll probably be physics or earth science, although AP Chemistry and AP Biology are also on the waiting list, as is environmental science. Eventually, we want to have labs for all of the high-school sciences covered in both standard/honors and AP forms.


11:20 – The biology landing page and the BK01 biology kit ordering page are now live. You can actually order a kit right now, if you want to, although despite what it says on the order page it’ll be a week before we’re actually ready to start shipping kits in volume. Still, if anyone just can’t wait to get their hands on a kit, go ahead and order it. We’ll build it and ship it as soon as possible.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

08:50 – I finished the QC2 review on the biology book and sent off my comments to the production editor. We’re finished with this book. It goes to the printer on 3 April. Barbara and I are doing final preparation on the biology kits this weekend, and will start assembling finished kits next weekend. And I just got email from my editor yesterday asking about image(s) for the cover of the forensics book, which they’re fast-tracking.


My new cell phone showed up yesterday. I put it on the charger, but I haven’t yet activated it. It’s a cute little clamshell unit. It reminds me of my first cell phone more than 20 years ago, a Motorola clamshell model, although of course the new one is a lot smaller.

I have about had it with DreamHost, which had yet another major outage yesterday. Their promise of 99.9% uptime has become a sick joke. This is about the fourth major outage so far this year. As always, they claim that only one small datacenter was affected and that only a small percentage of their customers were affected. By some coincidence, every time they have have an outage, I’m one of that small percentage of affected customers, as is everyone else I know who uses Dream Host. The major outages would be bad enough, but even when their service is working it’s often so slow as to be almost unusable. My annual renewal is coming up soon, and I think I’m going to move to another hosting company, probably webhostinghub.com.

Friday, 23 March 2012

08:10 – O’Reilly sent me the QC2 pass of the biology book yesterday, so I’m doing a detailed read-through to try to catch any remaining errors. If history is any guide, I’ll catch all but one of them. Then, when the printed copies of the book show up, I’ll flip open the book randomly to one page, where that one remaining error will jump out at me.


We’re just about ready to start final assembly on the first batch of biology kits. I’m creating the biology landing page and the biology kit ordering page now. Both of those will be live before the book hits the stores, which Amazon is now saying will be 2 May rather than 22 April. We’ll see.


According to an article in the newspaper this morning, North Carolina is about to get slightly larger, at the expense of South Carolina. Apparently, the border was set back in Colonial days, when surveyors marked the line specified by the King of England by cutting slashes in tree bark with hatchets. They apparently did a pretty decent job, but were slightly off in the area around Charlotte. The actual border, per the King’s specifications, has now been mapped with GPS, and it turns out that 93 property owners who thought all of their properties were in South Carolina now find that parts or all of their properties are in fact in North Carolina. One mini-mart owner is being forced to close down his business because North Carolina gas prices are about 30 cents a gallon higher than South Carolina prices, and because he made most of his profit by selling fireworks, which are illegal in North Carolina. Other property owners potentially face changes such as being in a different area code or having to change suppliers for electricity, natural gas, and even which school district their children will have to attend. The two state legislatures are cooperating to minimize the impact of such changes by grandfathering in the current status.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

08:47 – Arrrrghhh! Leakage is the bane of anyone who ships liquids. I was making up the bags of hazardous chemicals for the biology kits the other day. There are seven of those. I’d distributed 30 sets of the first six to plastic bags. When I was about to add the seventh, Sudan III stain, I immediately noticed that the bag that contained 60 filled, sealed, and labeled 15 mL dropper bottles of Sudan III stain had liquid in the bag that had leaked from one or more of the sealed bottles. Ruh-roh.

The problem is that that stain is made up with a 50/50 mixture of 70% isopropanol and acetone. Both have low viscosity, and both are difficult to keep in a sealed bottle. The combination of the two was apparently too much for the dropper bottle cap, and several of the bottles had leaked. Dropper bottles are inherently more leak-prone than bottles with standard screw caps, so I immediately filled, capped, and taped a bottle of Sudan III stain using a standard PP cap with a PE liner. That bottle is standing on its cap right now. I’ll give it several days to leak. If it lasts until next week with no leaks, I’ll assume that that cap is good enough to prevent leaks during storage and shipping.

In fact, I’m seriously considering abandoning the use of dropper bottles entirely and shifting to using standard screw caps exclusively in all of our kits.