Saturday, 30 June 2012

08:13 – My sketchy inventory system has let me down. We were planning to assemble 30 chemistry kits this weekend, but as it turns out we’ll assemble only six. The problem is that I thought I had 36 of the 250 mL glass beakers in stock, but I actually had only six. The other 30 went into the last batch of 30 chemistry kits but somehow never got deducted from inventory. So it seems we’re destined to continue using the OMGWO (Oh-My-God-We’re-Out) inventory system.

Not that that’s a major problem. In fact, it’s kind of an informal JIT (Just-In-Time) inventory system. I ordered another 12 cases of beakers (144 total) yesterday, and they should arrive this coming week. We’ll still assemble the 30 chemistry kits this weekend. It’s just that only six of them will move to the finished goods area to await shipping, with two dozen remaining in the final assembly area awaiting beakers. We’ll finish assembling those this coming week, and start on a new batch of 30 chemistry kits.

Friday, 29 June 2012

08:24 – The news stories from the EU Summit-of-the-Month report that Merkel has backed down. Nothing could be further from the truth. With regard to the only thing that matters–Germany paying everyone else’s bills–Merkel hasn’t yielded a centimeter. The EUrocrats have simply spun a couple of minor decisions to appear major. All they’re about is allowing the leaders of Spain, Italy, and France to save face. Nothing has changed. There’s been a minor decrease in Spanish and Italian bond yields, but that’s unlikely to last long. The euro comes out of this conference no better off than it was going in, and probably worse. As always with the EU, it’s Videri Quam Esse.

I just issued a big purchase order for kit components to one of our three major wholesalers. I’ll get the other two issued today. Which means this weekend we need to get the piles of boxes that are currently stacked in the library downstairs to make room for the new piles of boxes that’ll be showing up soon.

17:29 – Even the columnists for The Telegraph, who are usually quick to see through the EUrocrats’ smoke and mirrors, are missing the point entirely this time. The so-called agreement they reached does not guarantee Spain and Italy anything. Everyone is talking as though Spain and Italy can now draw on EFSF/ESM funds to recapitalize their banks without those loans showing up on sovereign balance sheets and without implementing austerity measures. That’s wrong. Germany retains the absolute right to veto any such disbursements, and will do so unless Spain and Italy comply with previously-agreed conditions. Neither country can meet those conditions, which are economically and politically infeasible. In other words, Spain and Italy both walked away from the conference claiming that they’d gotten what they demanded. They did no such thing.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

10:40 – We’re still working on building science kits, which is going to be my life for at least the next three months or so. We’re down to about five chemistry kits from the last batch of 30, but we’ll finish a new batch of 30 this weekend. Then we’ll immediately start on yet another new batch of 30.

I had been making up chemicals in one- and two-liter bottles. One liter is sufficient for 60 kits for chemicals that we supply in 15 mL bottles, and two liters sufficient for 60 kits for chemicals that we supply 30 mL. I made up the chemicals in small batches to ensure freshness. But now that we’re shipping more kits, I’m going to make up two liters rather than one and four liters rather than two. That’s sufficient for 120 kits with some to spare. It takes little more time to make up twice as much, and time is becoming an issue.

Actually, rather than make up two two-liter bottles, I’ll probably make up 3.8 liters in old gallon orange juice containers. Those have recycling codes of 2 (HDPE) and 7 (Other), so I’ll need to test them with some of the more corrosive chemicals we make up, such as 6 M hydrochloric acid and 6 M sodium hydroxide. I know, I know. In general it’s a horrible practice to make up hazardous chemicals in old food containers, but there’s no one with access to our work areas who’s likely to mistake a gallon of hydrochloric acid for a gallon of orange juice.

We’ll also be building Barbara’s new system this weekend. The Intel D2700MUD motherboard/processor showed up Monday and the Crucial 4 GB memory kit yesterday. We’ll use her existing hard drive and put everything in an Antec Sonata Designer case. This will be a very simple, low-power, quiet system. I don’t think we’ll bother to install an optical drive, since Barbara doesn’t use the one she has in her current system. We’ll just hook up a DVD writer long enough to install Linux and restore her data from disc.

I was going to order a new hard drive for Barbara’s new system. The one in her current system is an old 750 GB Seagate Barracuda. But it passes an intense disk test, so we’ll keep it for now. Speaking of Seagate, I think we’re finished with them for a while. We’ve had numerous premature failures of Seagate hard drives, including just yesterday a hard failure of a 2 TB Barracuda that had less than 100 hours of use. Hard as in rattled loudly when powered up. These things seem to go in phases. Years ago, we used both Seagate and Western Digital drives and had about the same experience with both. Then WD had a horrible run for at least a couple of years, when I wouldn’t touch one of their drives on a bet. For the last several years, WD drives have been much more reliable and Seagate drives appear to be in a bad spell. I have an unused 3 TB Barracuda that I intended to use as the primary drive in my new system (Barbara’s old system), and I’ll probably still do that. But I’ll keep a close eye on it. If I need to replace it, I’ll probably go with a Western Digital Caviar Green.

14:47 – I just ordered another 5,000 15 mL and 30 mL bottles and caps. It occurred to me that many of our wholesalers routinely post price increases as of the first of January and July, so I figured I’d better take some time now to get some purchase orders issued. I was actually going to order about twice as many bottles and caps, but the things take up a lot of space, which is in short supply right now. With the bottles already in stock, this order gives us enough bottles to make up about 60 more each of the biology, chemistry, and forensics kits. Now I need to get orders placed today and tomorrow with some of my other wholesalers for other kit components.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

07:40 – I just started reading An Unmarked Grave: A Bess Crawford Mystery. It’s set during WWI. Bess is a British nurse serving in France. She could be my grandmother, literally.

My father’s mother was born in 1893. She trained as a nurse, and joined the US Army when we declared war on Germany. At the time, women were allowed to serve in the US Army only as nurses, and all US Army nurses were women. Age 24, she went to France and spent the rest of the war caring for wounded and ill US soldiers. She survived the flu epidemic. That’s all I know. I don’t know if she served at a field hospital or a base hospital in Paris, or both. She never talked about it. Nor did my father, who may himself not have known.

In fact, grandma wasn’t much for telling stories about the past, period. The only one I remember was the one about December 7th, 1941, when she said she was literally almost lynched as a German spy. She’d hung a quilt over the railing to air it out. Unfortunately, the quilt (which we still have) was white with a pattern of large red swastikas. At the time, my grandmother and other quilters still thought of the swastika as an obscure Indian symbol. Even so, grandma had some quick talking to do to calm down her outraged neighbors. Someone had reported it to the police, who came out to interview her. I think I remember my dad saying that she also got a visit from the FBI. She must have satisfied everyone, because she wasn’t arrested. They let her keep the quilt, which she packed away for 20 or 30 years.

13:05 – We just got an order for seven chemistry kits, which is the most we’ve sold to a single buyer. I think the previous record was four. That order takes us down to eight chemistry kits in stock, with another 30 nearly ready to assemble. I had planned to do 30 forensics kits as the next batch, but I think we’d better do 30 more chemistry kits next instead. Given that we don’t expect orders to peak until August/September, it looks as though we’ll sell a lot of kits this year. Now, the only problem will be keeping up with the orders. We’re still shipping the same day for orders we receive before 11:00 a.m. our time, but that’s likely to start slipping soon.

I’m also placing purchase orders for larger numbers than I’d have believed just a few months ago. Yesterday, I ordered a case of 216 9V batteries and 4,000 coin envelopes. Chemicals that I had been ordering 100 g at a time I’m now ordering 500 g or a kilo at a time. By necessity, I’m spreading out, with raw materials, components, subassemblies, and finished inventory stacked all over the place. Fortunately, Barbara has a sense of humor about it. At least so far.

16:14 – Oh, yeah. With regard to the failed two-day EU summit that commences tomorrow, don’t even bother reading the news articles. The two sides’ positions are already set in concrete, and they’re entirely irreconcilable. France, Italy, and Spain demand that Germany pay their bills, but refuse to give Germany any control over how its money is to be spent. Germany, personified by the new Iron Lady, Angela Merkel, says that’ll happen over her dead body. And she means it. There’s really not any reason to hold this summit. If Germany does not give France, Italy, and Spain what they’re demanding, the three of them collapse, Italy and Spain sooner and France a bit later. If Merkel tries to give them what they want, she’ll be overruled at home, if not crucified. She’d certainly lose the election next year. And, even if somehow Germany agreed to pay all the bills, that simply means Germany will be dragged down with the rest. It’s not going to happen. Everyone knows it’s not going to happen. And yet everyone talks about this summit as though there’s actually even the slightest hope of anything being accomplished. Cloud-cuckoo land indeed.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

08:29 – We just signed a contract to replace the deck. The contractor is booked for the next couple of months, so work isn’t to start until late August.

We finished watching series five of Heartland last night, which brings us up to date. Series six premiers on September 23rd on CBC, which means it won’t be available on DVD until September of 2013. Barbara is going on a week-long bus tour this autumn. She hates to re-watch things, so I’ll take advantage of her absence to have a Heartland Marathon and re-watch all 85 episodes.

I got email this morning from a customer who just received a chemistry kit yesterday. The 250 mL glass beaker was cracked, so I emailed him back and said a replacement would go out today. I can’t be upset at the USPS. So far, fewer than 1% of the kits we’ve shipped have been damaged in transit, and that’s a pretty good record.

Monday, 25 June 2012

07:49 – The Roku box is happy with its new hard-wired Ethernet connection, and our Netflix streaming is working again. It’ll be interesting to see if the wired Ethernet connection prevents the occasional drops that occurred with the wireless connection. Our WiFi environment is pretty cluttered anyway.

We continue to build kit inventory for the rush that commences in August. My goal is to have at least 60 each of the biology, chemistry, and forensics kits assembled and ready to ship in August, with the components for 60 to 90 more of each kit queued up.

13:16 – Wow. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me when the MSM gets something completely, utterly wrong, but this one did. I saw the headline first: Prominent atheist blogger converts to Catholicism

I knew it wasn’t me. I’m certainly an atheist blogger, but few people would call me “prominent”. So I wondered, who could it be? Not PZ, surely? Not Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne or Hemant Mehta or Greta Christina or ZOMGitsCriss, or any of the dozens of other Gnu Atheist bloggers I know. Who could it possibly be? So I clicked to read the article. I would certainly recognize the names of the top 100 atheist bloggers, and probably nearly all of the top 1,000.

As it turns out, this “prominent” atheist blogger is a woman named Leah Libresco. I had never heard of her until that moment. She has been blogging for only two years. She has, as far as I know, written no books about atheism, nor been a speaker at any atheist/secularist/skeptic convention, nor been an officer or spokesperson for any atheist/secular/skeptic organization. I’d guess her blog probably gets fewer visitors than my current blog, and certainly fewer than my old blog got back in the days when I commonly got 10,000 visitors on a good day. Nothing against Ms. Libresco. I don’t know her and have never read anything she’s written. But to call her “prominent” goes beyond exaggeration.

Obviously, the only significant thing about this is that someone somewhere has given up atheism to become religious. No surprise there. Religious people become atheists and vice versa. No one denies that. The only significant thing about this is that atheists convert to being religious believers much less frequently than the converse, probably by 1000 to 1. But the MSM makes it seem as though there’s some significance in the decision of an obscure atheist blogger to join the RC church.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

09:56 – With our Netflix streaming not working, we’ve spent the last couple of weeks watching DVDs from Netflix and Seasons 4 and 5 of Heartland. We have five episodes of the latter remaining, and then we’ll be up to date. Season 6 is currently in production.

Apparently, there was some doubt about whether Season 6 would be made. I’m not sure why. The program is both excellent and highly-rated. And it stars Amber Marshall, which is sufficient to make anything worth watching. I’d watch Amber if she were reading the Code of Federal Regulations.

A huge Quack of Triumph just resounded through the house. (Lions roar in triumph; Linuxes quack.) Barbara and I finished the cable run from my office to the Roku box in the den, fishing the cable through a hole up into my office that was already crammed with other cables. There’s something like a mile (1.6 kilometers) of Cat 3, 4, 5, and 5e UTP cable runs in our house, so adding a 50-foot Cat 5e run shouldn’t have been a big deal. And it wouldn’t have been, if the holes weren’t already crammed full.

At any rate, the Roku box immediately connected and we now have Netflix streaming video again. I haven’t stapled the cable to the joists yet. We’ll fish cable back and forth until we have the right amount of slack at each end, and then secure it with staples.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

08:54 – I see that Sandusky has been convicted of raping children and is awaiting sentencing. He may spend the rest of his life in prison, which isn’t enough.

Meanwhile, I saw an article on CNN the other day that argued that pedophiles can’t help being pedophiles. They’re born that way. And I agree, just as heterosexuals can’t help being heterosexual and homosexuals can’t help being homosexual. Pedophiles are hard-wired from birth to be sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. There’s no way to change that. But we as a society can demand that pedophiles not act on their attractions, and penalize them if they do so. Hanging, drawing, and quartering seems about right to me. Having sex with children–and by “children” I mean people who have not yet reached puberty–is beyond the pale. Children cannot consent, and having sex with someone who does not consent is by definition rape.

One thing we could do to help prevent pedophiles from having sex with children is relax the ridiculous restrictions on “child porn”. Ban actual child porn, that which involves actual children having actual sex, fine. But right now, fake child porn is penalized just as heavily as real child porn. Drawings of children engaging in sex acts or CGI simulations are just as illegal as actual images or video. Legalize “child porn” that doesn’t involve actual children and you give pedophiles an opportunity for a fantasy sex life that in most cases would substitute for the real thing.

Friday, 22 June 2012

07:50 – I had one of those days yesterday that was, as Pournelle says, eaten by locusts. At the end of the day, I’d worked hard all day but felt as though I hadn’t accomplished much.

In retrospect, though, I guess I actually did accomplish a fair amount. It was just that it was a bunch of small stuff. I processed orders and shipped a couple of kits, answered in detail several queries about kits, did more research on shipping to Canada, reviewed the Preface for the forensics book, did final assembly of a dozen chemistry kits to add to inventory, made up boxes and started assembly on a new batch of 30 chemistry kits, downloaded and burned the current version of Linux Mint, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Speaking of Linux Mint, I really have to do something about my main office system. It’s quite elderly, although still fast. (It’s an Intel Core2 Quad Q9650.) But it’s running Ubuntu 9.04, which hasn’t been supported for a long time. This system was scheduled for replacement 18 months ago, but I never got around to it. Barbara’s old system failed, and the only system we had available at the time was the six-core Core i7-980X box that we built as the Extreme System for the 3rd edition of Building the Perfect PC. That one that was to be my new system, but she’s using it now. Meanwhile, my den system has also failed. That was the mini-ITX system we built for the book, and I need to do something about it as well.

So I think I’ll order a replacement Intel Atom motherboard/processor for the den system, rebuild it, and convert it to Barbara’s system. (She mainly does web browsing and email on that system, so the six-core system she’s using now is gross overkill.) I’ll then do a quick refurb on Barbara’s current system and convert it to my new main office system and retire the current one to stand-by status. To replace the den system, I’ll just build a microtower system with a low-power processor.

11:04 – I just ordered an Intel D2700MUD Atom motherboard/processor combo and a 2GBx2 Crucial memory kit for it. I wasn’t about to order anything ever again from NewEgg, so I searched Amazon didn’t stock that board, but several of their vendors did. I decided to order from PC Rush, which had a large number of excellent reviews. Their price, including free shipping, was $85.55.

I added the item to my cart and then searched the PC Rush storefront for compatible memory. Compared to NewEgg’s search system, Amazon’s sucks. I wasn’t able to find any compatible memory on the Amazon PC Rush storefront. Or perhaps I could have, if I’d been willing to scroll through 300 pages of items from that storefront. So I Googled PC Rush, went to their site, and added the BOXD2700MUD to my cart. Then I went over to the Crucial website and used their configurator to search for compatible memory for that board. It returned only one hit, on the CT2KIT25664BC1067 2GBx2 kit, for $29.99 with free shipping. So I went back to the PC Rush site, which also had that kit, but for $36. I added it to my cart anyway, figuring it was worth the $6 difference to have to place only one order. But when I added that memory kit to my cart (which already contained the motherboard with free shipping), my shipping cost went to $16 for ground shipping. Geez. So I deleted the memory kit from my cart and submitted the order for the motherboard only. It took me about two minutes to order the memory kit on the Crucial site, and saved me $22.

My first thought was to install this motherboard and memory in my mini-ITX den system, but I think instead I may install it in a new Antec Sonata or other micro-tower case–I have plenty of those sitting around–and put it in Barbara’s office to replace that six-core system. The Atom is much, much slower than the Core i7 she has now, but she probably won’t even notice the difference using the system for web browsing and email. I, on the other hand, need as much CPU as possible for doing stuff like video production. I’ll just pull her hard drive from the big system and put it in the new one. Then, with a quick upgrade to the current Linux Mint, she’ll be good to go. I’ll do a quick clean/re-furb on the six-core system, put in a 3 TB drive (which has been sitting on my desk for months now), and rebuild my main system. My current system will go under the desk, not plugged into anything, and sit there moldering in case I need an emergency replacement. Then I’ll probably order another D2700MUD and memory for it and use those to upgrade my den system.

14:07 – With the exception of Angela Merkel, eurozone “leaders” are delusional. Here’s yet another example. At today’s summit of the Big Four (Germany, France, Italy, and Spain) leaders, those leaders spent their time discussing a “growth pact”. The summit was followed by a press conference. A typical headline is something like “Europe’s Big Four Agree €130 billion stimulus package, 1% of EU GNP”. All hail the €130 billion growth package. The problem is, it’s not a €130 billion package; it’s a €10 billion package. That is, only €10 billion is “new money”. The rest is imaginary–leveraging that €10 billion to €60 billion using accounting smoke and mirrors and demonstrably false assumptions–or money that’s already been spoken for and allocated. The eurozone leaders, including unfortunately Merkel, seem convinced that the markets are stupid. The markets will shrug this off, just as they shrugged off the so-called €100 billion Spanish bailout, which hasn’t even been requested yet, let alone approved, let alone paid.

Meanwhile, we keep seeing articles about Merkel coming under pressure. Merkel is not under any pressure. There’s nothing the EU, the IMF, the US, or anyone else can do to force her to pay the outstanding debts of the rest of the eurozone. Her voters across the political spectrum don’t want her to do it. She doesn’t want to do it. She’s not going to do it. Even if she were inclined to do it, the German constitution prohibits her from doing it. And even if she ignored her own convictions and the German constitution, German citizens would crucify her if she did it, perhaps literally. It’s just not going to happen. And yet it’s the only hope for the eurozone, which is why everyone keeps talking about it as though there’s even the tiniest probability of it occurring.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

10:01 – Monday, I got an order for a chemistry kit and a biology kit from a woman in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. That’s by no means the first order I’ve gotten from Canada–not to mention a hundred or more serious queries–and I did what I always do: sent email expressing regrets that we can’t ship to Canada and refunded the money.

But I’m getting really tired of disappointing Canadian homeschoolers, so I’ve been trying since then to figure out how to get kits shipped to Canada. Here’s the message I sent to her this morning.

Hi, Marika

Well, I’ve spent about 12 hours looking into shipping to Canada, and here’s what I’ve determined.

1. Both FedEx and UPS say that they’ll ship our kits to Canadian addresses. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it would be extremely costly to do so. Just as one example, FedEx will pay the Canadian authorities any sales tax due, but will then charge you that amount of tax plus an $88 brokerage fee. That’s not including the actual shipping charges, which aren’t cheap. Geez.

The worse news is that neither I nor you would actually know how much it costs ahead of time. For example, if FedEx attempts to deliver and you’re not home to sign for the package, they’ll make redelivery attempts, charging you (IIRC) $16 for each attempt. Unbelievable, but essentially UPS and FedEx expect us to write them what amounts to a blank check, with them telling us after the package is delivered how much it ended up costing. That’s obviously unacceptable for either of us.

2. Right now, we ship kits to US addresses using USPS Priority Mail flat-rate and regional-rate boxes. The USPS will also deliver the Priority Mail large flat-rate box (which is big enough to contain one kit) to any Canadian address. That would end up costing you $40 additional, i.e. $200 total for the CK01A chemistry kit and $210 for the BK01 biology kit.

The issue is that the kits contain hazardous materials. We ship to US addresses under the 49 CFR 173.4 small quantity exemption, which redefines small amounts (less than 30 mL or 30 g) of hazardous materials as non-hazardous if they are packed according to very specific requirements. But 173.4 is a US-only exemption.

I talked in great detail with a USPS support representative. She told me that there shouldn’t be any problem shipping the kits to Canada, but obviously she can’t speak for Canada Post. The USPS has a page for Canada that lists prohibitions and restrictions

and it appears to me (and to the USPS support rep) that our kits qualify for shipping to Canada. I tried calling Canada Post and ended up bouncing around their system for a while. The most I was able to get was “it should be okay”.

So, I guess the upshot is that we can ship you these kits with no problem as far as the USPS is concerned. However, what happens at the border with the Canadian postal/customs/sales tax authorities is completely outside our control. I asked the USPS support rep how this would work, and she said that I can just ship the box normally with a postage label with your address on it. Six to 10 days later, Canada post should deliver it and present you with a bill for any customs duties or sales tax due.

This whole thing makes me nervous and I certainly understand if it makes you nervous too. If you want to give it a shot, I suggest ordering just one kit to start with. We’ll run a postage label and customs form, stick them on the box, and ship it. If you want to proceed this way, let me know and I’ll figure out how to arrange payment.