Friday, 31 August 2012

09:05 – Barbara is taking a well-deserved personal day. She left at oh-dark-thirty to meet her friend Bonnie and drive up to a flea market in Hillsville, Virginia. The deck guys are supposed to finish up today. It’ll be nice to have some peace and quiet around here. The saws and nail guns make it hard to concentrate.

Now that we’re officially in-stock and shipping forensic science kits, Barbara suggested that I take it easy today. I may do that, although I’m already thinking about our next science kit and may start preliminary work on it. In one year, we’ve gone from having just the chemistry kit to having chemistry, biology, and forensic science kits. I’d like to have a fourth kit available by the end of this year, and a fifth by next summer. I’m not sure yet what they’ll be.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

07:41 – Barbara is taking today and tomorrow off work to give her a five-day weekend. We’ll get a dozen or so forensic science kits boxed up today and ready to ship tomorrow. That’ll cover outstanding back-orders and give us a reserve of built kits. We’ll build the remainder of the first batch of 30 over the next week. Then it’ll be back to building a new batch of biology kits, our stock of which is getting smaller. And then more chemistry kits.

The deck guys worked only until noon yesterday, by which time they’d torn down and removed the old deck and put in footings for the new columns. Those have to be inspected before they can frame out the deck. They should finish the project tomorrow.


12:16 – I just updated the forensic science kit page to say that we’re now in-stock and shipping. That’s true in the sense that we’ll have kits available tomorrow, which is the earliest we could ship anyway. We’ll ship outstanding backorders tomorrow and will be ready to ship any orders received from now on.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

09:18 – We’re having our deck replaced. Yesterday, a truck showed up with the framing lumber. This morning, the work crew showed up to tear down the old deck. We had just under five inches (~12.5 cm) of rain last night, but our back yard is on a grade so it’s drained well enough for them to start work.

We’re nearly ready to start shipping forensic science kits. I have a couple more chemicals to bottle and then we’ll start building subassemblies. Until we get all of the subassemblies ready to go, we won’t know what size box we’ll need. I’m sure everything will fit in a USPS Priority Mail large flat-rate box, but I’m hoping it’ll fit a PM regional rate box instead. If so, that’ll cut our postage costs by an average of maybe $3.

I’d intended to drop our wired phone service and go 100% cell. But thinking about it this morning, I decided to sign up for a third-party VoIP service. I looked at Vonage, but I decided to reactivate our service with PhonePower, which we had before we went to TWC VoIP service. PhonePower service was great for a few months, but then it started hanging unpredictably. I think the problem was the terminal adapter. The one we had back then had to be on the local side of the router. The TA we’re getting this time sits between the cable modem and the router, so there shouldn’t be any problems with hangs.


16:39 – When we’re making up chemicals for kits, I invariably save the most obnoxious chemicals for last. This time was no exception. I just finished making up a batch of Kastle-Meyer reagent, which is used as a presumptive blood test. Actually, K-M reagent isn’t as obnoxious as some. It has no odor. The obnoxious part is having to reflux a 40% potassium hydroxide solution, which literally eats glass.

I originally intended to make up a 2-liter batch, but I decided one liter was sufficient for this pass. That’s enough for 30 forensic science kits, which is the batch size we have in progress. So I halved the recipe, transferring 500 mL of DI water to a 2 L Erlenmeyer flask, dissolving 200 g of potassium hydroxide in the water, adding 20 g of phenolphthalein powder and 200 g of zinc powder, and then refluxing it for an hour or so, until the bright pink solution turned colorless. That’s cooling down now. When it’s at room temperature, I’ll make it up to 1 L with 70% ethanol and bottle it. Some sources say that K-M reagent is good for months stored in a sealed bottle, or years if it’s refrigerated. My experience has been better than that. I have some K-M reagent I made up in 2007. It’s been stored at room temperature, and it still works the same way it always did.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

08:15 – Today was the day we intended to start shipping forensic science kits. We’re not going to make that deadline, but we will be shipping them by this Friday, the 31st.

I got an email this morning, apparently from Time-Warner Cable, saying that our account was past-due and that if we didn’t pay the balance they’d discontinue service. So I called their support number and bounced around through the menu system. It sounded like our account was current, but just in case I decided to wait on hold to talk to an agent. She told me that that notice was legitimate but should never have been sent. Apparently, when Barbara wrote a check to TWC earlier this month, she wrote it for $0.01 less than the actual amount of the bill. The customer service woman said not to worry about it, that they’d just tack the $0.01 onto our next bill. Fine.

But while I was bouncing around the menu tree, I’d chosen the option to check our account balance. It told me we were current, but mentioned that we had a promotional deal that was due to expire soon. When I spoke to the customer service woman, I asked about that. We’re currently paying $36/month for TWC VoIP telephone service, which I think is outrageous enough. That deal expires the end of this month, and they’ll start charging us $45/month. So, while Barbara was getting dressed to go to work, I walked back and suggested that we drop our land-line service, as so many of our friends and acquaintances have. She said that was fine with her. With her parents’ health issues over the last several months, she’s gotten used to depending on her cell phone anyway. I told her we’d just move our phone chargers back to our nightstands and leave our cell phones on 24 hours.


Monday, 27 August 2012

07:45 – We’re working hard to get the first batch of forensic science kits ready to ship this week. Much remains to be done, but we’ll have a batch ready to ship later this week.


13:21 – Geez. After nearly melting a PET bottle a few days ago, you’d think I’d learn. Apparently not. I was making up Herzberg’s Stain this morning, using the saturated zinc chloride solution I made up a few days ago.

The instructions call for 125 mL of an iodine/iodide solution made up by dissolving 52.5 g of potassium iodide in 50 mL of water, adding 2.5 g of iodine crystals, swirling until they dissolve, and then making up the solution to 125 mL with water. That solution is mixed with 250 mL of saturated zinc chloride. So I carefully measured that amount of the zinc chloride solution and transferred it to a PET bottle. I then added the 125 mL of IKI solution with swirling. Of course, the solution immediately started heating up. Duh. So I quickly poured it into a polypropylene beaker and covered it with a watch glass so that it could cool down. Geez.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

08:07 – Barbara returned mid-afternoon yesterday from the visit to one of the retirement facilities she and her sister had short-listed. The good news is that her parents loved the place and are excited about moving in. This is the facility that has one unit dedicated as guest/trial quarters. The actual unit her parents would be moving into isn’t ready for occupancy yet, so the facility manager suggested that her parents could move temporarily into the guest unit while the unit they’ll actually occupy is being cleaned up and painted. The monthly cost is a bit more than their monthly income, but VA will pay a portion of that cost and they do have savings and other assets, including their house, which will offset the difference. Barbara is going to talk to the VA Monday to find out exactly how much they’ll pay toward the monthly cost, but it looks doable. Now the trick is to get things rolling before Barbara’s parents have second thoughts or another medical emergency occurs.

While we were walking Colin last night, he stood and urinated for about a solid minute. Barbara commented about the strong smell of his urine and wondered if he had a urinary tract infection. He’s been acting a bit strangely for the last week or so, including having accidents (solid, not liquid) in the house. That’s one possible symptom of a UTI. UTIs in dogs can be very subtle, so I decided to start him on amoxicillin immediately. I gave him 1,000 mg as a loading dose last night. When he urinated this morning there was no strong odor, which suggests the amoxicillin has already knocked down the infection. We’ll give him 500 mg tid for the next few days, and then I’ll do a microscopic examination of his urine and an occult blood test. If that’s clear, we’ll assume the amoxicillin is working and continue it 500 mg bid for a couple more weeks. Then I’ll do a urine culture, just to make sure.

We’re making good progress on the first batch of 30 forensic science kits, and should be able to start shipping them by the end of the month.


15:47 – I decided to boost Colin to 750 mg tid. Years ago, I treated another of our dogs for some sort of infection. I followed the canine recommendations of the Merck Veterinary Manual, which IIRC were 5 to 7.5 mg/kg amoxicillin bid. The infection did not clear up, and when we took the dog to see Sue Stephens, our vet, she said that dosage was very low. So I looked elsewhere for the amoxicillin dosage for canine UTIs, and came up with a range of 10 to 25 mg/kg bid. For Colin, at about 32 kilos, that’d be 320 to 800 mg bid. So, although 500 mg is well within that range, I decided to go nearer the upper end. In fact, Colin tolerates a 1,000 mg dose without any problem, so I decided to go with 750 mg tid for the first couple of days and then 750 mg bid for the remainder of the two weeks or so.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

10:41 – Barbara just headed over to meet her sister and parents at one of the retirement facilities on the short list. Barbara’s mom is doing much better. The doctor prescribed antibiotics for the UTI and Xanax for her panic attacks. The combination has worked very well. Barbara says her mom is now back to normal and is actually excited about moving to an independent living facility. Frankly, I hope they like the one they’re visiting today enough to sign up for it. Barbara’s parents really need to be in such a facility, and it’d be best to get things rolling before anything else happens.

Yesterday was a first. We’ve sold kits to customers in nearly all the 50 states, but yesterday we sold the first one to a customer in Puerto Rico. It started with a query email asking if we could sell kits to someone in Puerto Rico. I replied that I thought so but I wasn’t sure, and asked the woman to send me her address so that I could try running a dummy postage label and make sure the USPS would accept the package. She replied that she had three possible shipping addresses. The first was her home address, but she said they’d had problems in their neighborhood with the mailman leaving a package on the porch and someone stealing it. So that was out. Her second address was her work address, which was the US Federal Courthouse. I could just imagine what might happen if we shipped a box full of chemical bottles to a federal building, so that was obviously out. Fortunately, she has a PO box, which the USPS happily delivers to, so that’s where we shipped it.

We also added yet another country to our list of disappointed would-be customers. I got a query asking if we could ship a biology kit to Switzerland, and was forced to tell the man that we couldn’t. That makes more than 20 countries now.

We’re full speed ahead on building forensic science kits. My original goal was to be shipping them by August 28th, which was originally the date the book was to be published, but it looks like that may slip a bit. We’re accepting pre-orders on the web site, where we say that the kits will ship in “late August”, and I’m determined to start shipping on or before 31 August to meet that promise. We still have a lot of work remaining, but we should have at least enough kits finished by the 31st to ship outstanding pre-orders, with at least a few in reserve.


13:51 – Wow. NYPD cops got into a shootout with a man who’d just murdered another man by shooting him five times. The two NYPD cops fired 17 shots and managed to hit 10 people, of whom nine were innocent bystanders. NYPD says there’s nothing else the cops could have done. Really? I thought cops were trained to avoid firing their weapons when there were innocent bystanders in the line of fire unless the criminal was about to fire on those bystanders. I wasn’t there, and I realize that at times it may be unavoidable to fire when there’s risk of hitting an innocent bystander, but hitting nine(!) innocent bystanders in an eight-second shootout seems a bit excessive. Assuming each cop fired roughly half of the 17 rounds, that’s about one round per second each. That’s not quite Timed Fire, but it’s certainly leisurely. Fortunately, none of the innocent bystanders who were shot suffered life-threatening injuries.

Friday, 24 August 2012

07:58 – Big article on the front page of the paper this morning about that moron politician’s comments about women who are raped being unlikely to get pregnant. The article throws lots of numbers around. The problem is, all of those numbers are so soft that they’re pretty much useless. No one knows how many forcible rapes actually occur, or even how to define the term “forcible rape”. No one knows how many pregnancies result. And the one number all of the parties seem to take as a given seems ridiculously high to me: that a woman who has sexual intercourse, forced or voluntary, has a 5% chance of becoming pregnant.

So I did a little thought experiment. The population of Winston-Salem is roughly a quarter million, 50% of whom are female, or roughly 125,000. Assume that one third of those women are sexually active, or roughly 42,000, and assume that each of them has sexual intercourse once a week. Obviously, the frequency varies. Women in their 20’s may average having intercourse several times a week, ones in their 30’s once or twice a week, ones in their 40’s once a month, and so on. But once a week on average seems reasonable. That means sexual intercourse occurs in Winston-Salem 42,000 times a week, or 6,000 times a day. By the assumptions made in the article, 300 babies a day would be conceived in Winston-Salem.

Obviously, that’s not the case, and it’s because the assumptions made in that article are simplistic. First, most women in their prime child-bearing years use birth control, often pills or a patch, so they’re very unlikely to be impregnated during intercourse, forced or voluntary. Second, the age of the woman is a huge factor. Women’s fertility peaks in the decade between their late teens and late 20’s, and then begins to decline rapidly. Third, of course, although most pregnant women continue having intercourse during their pregnancies, any woman who is already pregnant has zero chance of being impregnated.

It makes a lot more sense to look at the big picture. US women, on average, bear about 2 children over the whole course of their child-bearing years. Although there are obviously exceptions at both ends, call that ages 14 to 44. During that time, these women have sexual intercourse hundreds to thousands of times. Again, call it an average of once a week, or about 1,500 times over those 30 years. So, 1,500 intercourses result in two pregnancies, or a rate of 2/1,500 or about 0.133%. Not 5%.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

07:17 – It’s never good when the phone rings before 6:00 a.m. Barbara’s mom called this morning to say that she couldn’t breathe or stand up and that she’d called 911. Barbara called her sister, who lives much closer to their parents, and Frances said she’d head over to their parents’ house immediately to meet 911. Barbara jumped in the shower, got dressed, packed a bag, and headed for the hospital. She’ll have to stay with her dad tonight if her mom is admitted to the hospital, because they won’t let him stay alone at night.

This is how it’s been for months now for Barbara and her sister. A medical emergency followed by a couple days of normality, if they’re lucky, followed by another medical emergency. The level of stress on their parents is unimaginable, but it’s no picnic for Barbara and Frances, either. This simply can’t go on.


11:48 – Barbara called a while ago to say that the hospital hadn’t admitted her mother. Frances was taking their parents to their home while Barbara made a drugstore run to get prescriptions filled. Apparently, her mother has a UTI. The doctor also prescribed Xanax for anxiety. Barbara’s mom is terrified that Barbara’s dad is going to die. Her mom can’t sleep because she’s afraid that Dutch will die with her asleep.

Actually, that’s not an unreasonable fear. Dutch is, after all, 90 years old and has some serious health problems. Barbara’s mom is terrified that her husband will die before she does. Considering that she’s several years younger than Dutch and in better health, that’s of course more likely to happen than the converse. Barbara’s mom just can’t accept the fact that, awake or asleep, there’s not a thing she can do about it. If she were a doctor, there would still be nothing she could do about it. And so Barbara’s mom is putting herself under even more stress and suffering panic attacks.

Unfortunately, if it happens as Barbara’s mom fears it will, the survivor’s guilt will be devastating. I watched it happen, years ago. Back in the mid-70’s, I moved in with my girlfriend, who was renting the upstairs of a house owned by a young widow. She was a nurse, and had been married to a doctor who suffered from a congenital heart problem. One evening, they fell asleep in the den, he in his recliner, and she sitting on the floor leaning against his legs. When she woke up, he was dead. He was in his early 30’s and she was in her late 20’s. To make matters even worse, she was a cardiac-care nurse. She was left with an infant girl and a devastating guilt that she’d slept through her husband’s death. This despite the fact that her husband’s doctor and all her other doctor friends told her the same thing. There wasn’t a damned thing she could have done if she’d been awake. There wasn’t a damned thing she could have done if she’d been a cardiac surgeon in a fully-equipped operating room. It wasn’t her fault. She understood that on an intellectual level, but emotionally she felt responsible for his death. Almost 40 years later, I suspect she still does.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

09:51 – Barbara’s dad visited one of the retirement facilities yesterday and loved it. They keep one unit available for prospective residents to stay in overnight to see how they like the place. I suspect Barbara’s parents may give that a try.

It’s official. Greek living standards have already gone into the toilet, and are going to get worse. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said, “Greek living standards have declined over the last three years by approximately 35%. A return to the drachma would immediately lower it by at least another 70%.” So, a 35% decline takes them from 100% down to 65%. A further 70% decline takes them from 65% to 19.5%. Samaras is an optimist. Their living standards are going to plummet whether they return to the drachma or remain in the euro.


12:27 – Duh. I’m currently making up Herzberg’s stain for the forensic science kits. It’s a rather involved process. I’d made up only a small amount when we were writing the book, but now I wanted to make up enough for at least 200 kits. (The stain is stable for years, but each batch differs slightly in its characteristics, so I wanted to make up a big batch to start with.) So I scaled things up a bit, which often comes to grief.

The first step is to make up a saturated solution of zinc chloride. Zinc chloride is extremely soluble in water. One liter of water will dissolve more than four kilos of anhydrous zinc chloride, producing about 2.5 liters of saturated zinc chloride solution with a specific gravity just over 2.0 g/L. Of course, zinc chloride is deliquescent, which means that standard trade material can be anything from truly anhydrous to a syrupy liquid. In practical terms, that means you don’t bother weighing out the solid zinc chloride; you just keep adding it to the liquid until some remains undissolved in the container.

So I started with 250 mL of distilled water, expecting to end up with about 625 mL of saturated solution, or about 1.25 kilos worth. I have some 1.5 liter PET wide-mouth bottles, which seemed ideal for mixing the stuff up. I even checked chemical resistance and found that PET was resistant to solid zinc chloride and saturated solutions of it. So I started by transferring the roughly 400 g of zinc chloride that remained in an open 500 g bottle to the 1.5 liter PET bottle, adding 250 mL of water, and swirling.

My first clue that I’d overlooked something was the steam condensing on the upper interior surface of the 1.5 L bottle. Ruh-roh. PET is indeed resistant to zinc chloride solutions. What it isn’t particularly resistant to is heat. Of course, I’d neglected to look up the heat of solution for zinc chloride, which turns out to be significant. It seemed possible that the solution would actually come to a boil. The bottle was softening as I watched it, deforming visibly. So I quickly poured the solution into a large polypropylene beaker. (I’d previously checked chemical resistance and found that in addition to PET, LDPE, HDPE, and PP are completely resistant to zinc chloride solutions.) PP is autoclavable, which means it can easily withstand the temperature of boiling water. It’s not possible under standard pressure for even a saturated solution of zinc chloride to boil above the softening/melting point of PP, so I knew the PP would be fine. Right now, I’m waiting for the solution to cool down before I add more zinc chloride. Now I know to use an ice bath.