Sunday, 30 September 2012

11:33 – I’ve been working this morning on switching out Barbara’s system. It’s beginning to look as if the problem in the den was the display all the time. I’d squirreled away my old den Atom system, intending to scavenge it for parts. This morning, I took it into Barbara’s office, backed up and disconnected her old system, and reconnected the old Atom system. It fired right up, running Ubuntu 11.10. It’s in the process right now of upgrading itself to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, after which I’ll install Kubuntu desktop. The current Ubuntu interface is simply hateful. Then I’ll order a new display and run the new Atom system as my den system.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

09:18 – I’ve just been reading the results of the Spanish bank “stress test”, which concludes that under the “adverse scenario” Spanish banks may need a bailout to the tune of up to €60 billion. The problem, as with all of the past “stress tests”, is that the “baseline scenario” is simply ridiculous and the “adverse scenario” is in fact the rosiest possible scenario. Here’s their explanation of their scenarios.

The adverse scenario was deemed by the Steering Committee to be appropriately conservative, both relative to the past 30 years of Spanish macroeconomic indicators (the economic scenario being three standard deviations away from long-term average for the three years of the exercise), as well as relative to adverse scenarios used in recent stress tests in peer jurisdictions (e.g. the EBA Europe-wide stress tests and the US CCAR). Moreover, the adverse scenario included a third year of recessionary conditions, unlike the two-year period commonly seen in other stress tests. (See Appendix: Macroeconomic scenarios for further analysis).

The reality is that perhaps €150 billion is about the best they can possibly hope for, and €250 billion or more is certainly not out of the question. Imagine that for the last 30 seconds a bicyclist has been riding along on more-or-less level ground, with small ups and downs. That’s the source of the historical data for their scenario. But a couple seconds ago, that bicyclist drove off a cliff, and he’s still falling. What they should have done was use historical data for only the past two or three years. Instead, they buried that recent, more significant data, with 28 years’ of long-term averages. Geez.

13:10 – Uh-oh. Barbara’s over at her parents’ old house cleaning things out. I just took Colin for a walk down the corner and back in drizzling rain. On our way home, I spotted what I thought was a kid’s bracelet or necklace in the middle of the street. Upon closer examination, I concluded that it was a dead juvenile Carolina Flatsnake (Snakus flattus carolinensis). I need to remember to mention that to Barbara before we walk Colin again after she gets home. I’d hate for her to be surprised.

I just shipped the last two biology kits we had in stock, along with two chemistry kits. Two customers each ordered one of each kit. We still have a dozen chemistry kits in stock and half a dozen more biology kits and 15 chemistry kits downstairs ready to pack up, which means I really need to get to work on making more of the biology kits.

16:10 – Three cheers for Whitney Kropp, the teenage girl in Michigan who was the victim of what the MSM describes as a “prank”. In fact, it was a vicious attempt to cause her pain, an unpopular student whom a bunch of punks decided as a “joke” to elect to the homecoming court. When she found out that they were making fun of her, she considered killing herself. Some prank. Instead, she decided to show them they were picking on the wrong girl. When the story hit the news, Whitney found overwhelming public support. Local businesses and the public, local and remote, donated funds or services to buy her a prom gown and accessories and treat her to a makeover. She attended the coronation surrounded by cheering fans.

And what I can’t figure out is why these vicious children were making fun of her appearance. No, she’s not drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s certainly a reasonably attractive teenage girl. What is their problem?

Kudos also to her date. I suspect there were a lot of guys lined up to be her escort. And I hope those punk kids realize what miserable excuses for human beings they are.

Friday, 28 September 2012

09:04 – I’m still hard at work on the documentation for the life science kit.

It’s easy to understand why so many Border Collies end up in rescue, often at about the age Colin is now. For the last few months, Colin has been breaking house training, always in the hall bathroom. As a puppy, he decided that because his humans used the hall bathroom, he should as well. We finally broke him of that, and for many months he was reliably house-trained. Now he’s back to his old habits. Fortunately, the bathroom floor is ceramic tile, so it’s actually easier to clean up in there than it is to clean up outside. Still, this is unacceptable.

It’s not a matter of us missing signals or expecting him to hold it too long. When we go outside, that’s the last thing on his mind. He wants to sniff. He wants to play. He wants to stare at anything remotely interesting, including people standing two blocks away. He wants to play stick and tug on the leash. He wants to do anything except what he’s out there for. I think he’s holding it intentionally until he gets back inside.

This morning, for example, I took him outside at about 0645. He sniffed around a bit, peed a couple of times, and then headed for the door. He did his usual morning routine, including licking the milk out of Barbara’s cereal bowl. Then I took him outside again and walked him around the yard for several minutes, encouraging him to do something. Nothing. We came back in because he didn’t want to miss Barbara leaving for work. Within a minute of us coming back in, he’d shit in the bathroom. Barbara yelled at him and told him he was a bad dog for doing that in the house. I cleaned up. Then, a few minutes after Barbara left for work, I walked him up and down the street, encouraging him to do something. Nothing. All he wanted to do was sniff and play tug-of-war with the leash. I finally brought him back in. Within literally two minutes, he’d shit on the bathroom floor. I hate to do it, but I think I’m going to have a chat with him about what happens to dogs who shit on the floor. They’re expelled from the pack.

11:11 – Boy, can Brother ever make things come out even. The last time I was printing a bunch of container labels for the science kits, the black toner cartridge ran out on my Brother color laser printer. So I ordered a replacement black cartridge, along with replacements for the cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges. I installed the black toner and printed one page. Everything worked fine. Then this morning I started to do a real print run. The printer printed one page of labels and then the Data fault light came on. Sure enough, the display was telling me the color cartridges were out of toner and needed to be replaced. Not just one of the color cartridges, you understand. All of them. The display specifically said to replace the cyan, magenta, and yellow cartridges. How did they manage to make all four cartridges run out of toner within a space of two or three pages?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

09:37 – The riots in Athens (which the Greek government describes as “peaceful protests”) were apparently on a larger scale than most of the MSM is reporting. The Greek government estimated that 70,000 “protesters” gathered in Athens alone. The strike leaders estimated 200,000. So, based on the likelihood that both estimates are biased, I’d guess there were probably about 135,000 Greeks taking to the streets in Athens, peacefully protesting by throwing bricks and firebombs at the cops. Meanwhile, in Spain it looks like Rajoy won’t be able to hold power much longer–perhaps not even the rest of this month–and there are rumblings from senior military figures. A coup d’état is by no means out of the question, particularly if, as they have announced they intend to do, Catalonia holds the referendum on independence that the Spanish government has forbidden. And the northern tier countries have announced that there won’t be any bank bailouts for existing bad debts, which really puts Spain behind the eight ball. The eurozone is coming apart at the seams.

15:03 – I’m just back from the dentist, and I see that, as expected, Spain has released its budget for next year. It’s a joke, also as expected. But almost no one gets the joke, it seems. Next year, Spain proposes to reduce the budget DEFICIT. Not the debt, you understand. The deficit. In other words, next year Spain plans to spend more than it takes in, again, just not as much more as they did this year.

That’s not going to help. The only way out of this mess for Spain or indeed any of the other countries with large debt piles, which is to say essentially all of them, is to spend less than they take in. Much less. What Spain should have announced was that it intended to reduce the DEBT by 10% next year and every year after that until it was retired completely. Instead, they announced that they plan to increase the debt next year, and presumably every year after that. Let me know how that works out. What’s that old saying about what to do when you find yourself in a hole?

Meanwhile, Berlusconi, who at least has more sense than the eurocrats, said publicly that Germany leaving the euro would be no bad thing. No kidding. No bad thing for Germany, at any rate. The real reason Germany is still in the euro is that it’s hoping to get out without it costing them anything more than they’ve already wasted on it. That’s not going to happen. The best Germany can hope for now is to get out as cheaply as possible. That’s not going to be cheap. But it will be a lot cheaper than staying in. What Germany still doesn’t get is that a promise to pay is not the same as payment. Right now, Germany wants to keep its exports to the southern tier at a high level to avoid unemployment and other undesirable economic consequences at home. But all those Mercedes-Benzes they’ve “sold” and continue to “sell” to the southern tier for what amounts to IOUs might just as well have been given away.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

08:28 – Thanks to the kindness of a reader, I now have a legal copy of Windows 7 Home Premium. I attempted to install it on the new Atom system in the den yesterday afternoon, and the system behaved exactly as it had when I attempted to install several flavors of Linux. What’s worse is that it’s behaving exactly as the old Atom system was behaving. With the old system, I thought at first that the problem was the video drivers in the new releases of Linux. I then concluded that it was a hardware problem. I then replaced the system, which behaved the same way. I then attempted to install Windows 7, which behaved the same way. I now conclude that the problem is either the display, although I’ve never seen a display behave like this, or perhaps the cable, although I’ve used both analog and digital cables. The next step is to connect the old system to the TV and see if it works. If so, I’ll replace the display and cables and end up with two functional Atom systems, one for Barbara’s office and one for the den.

As we approach the end of September, kit sales are definitely getting more sporadic. Some days, we ship three or four kits, other days one or two, and some days none at all. The next couple of months are likely to be slow, averaging one or two kits a day. Things will pick up again in early December, as people start ordering kits for Christmas and the beginning of the second semester. Then around mid-January they’ll drop off again and remain slow through about April, when they’ll start to pick up again. We’ll ship a lot of kits in June and then be covered up with orders again in July and August and into September.

I want to have two more kits available for 2013, which means I need to take advantage of these slower periods to get the kits and associated manuals complete. My goal is to complete the Life Science (grade 7) kit and documentation in October and November and be ready to start shipping kits in early December. That gives me mid-January through April to do the Physical Science (grade 8) kit and documentation and have them ready for summer shipments.

Ideally, I’d like to have a third middle-school kit–Earth and Space Science–also available next year, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I simply won’t have time to write the documentation and design and produce the kits and still get everything else done.

11:54 – Wow. If the riots in Spain were bad, the ones now going on in Greece are catastrophic. Various reports put the figures at 50,000 to 100,000 Athenians rioting in support of the general strike. I’m actually surprised that the Greek government has been able to field as many riot police as they have. The sympathies of most of those police officers must be with the rioters. And those police are facing desperate people armed with Molotov cocktails. It may not happen this time, but with Greece facing almost daily protests and riots, sooner or later the cops are going to respond with lethal force. Greece is already effectively ungovernable. Once the government starts shooting protesters, there’s no way back. And the Greek people have not yet begun to experience the level of suffering that they’re inevitably going to face. They’re throwing firebombs now. What are they going to do when the money completely runs out? We’re looking at the beginning of what is likely to become a bloody civil war.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

08:09 – With autumn arriving in Winston-Salem, there’s a little Jap in the air. Our overnight lows have been in the mid-40’s (~ 7C). We aren’t running the furnace yet, so during the day it’s getting down to the mid-60’s (~ 18C) indoors. We generally don’t switch over the whole-house system from cooling to heating until mid- to late-October, instead using the natural gas logs in the den on chillier evenings.

We ran out of chemistry kits yesterday, when I shipped the last one in stock, along with a couple of biology kits. Fortunately, we had another 30 chemistry kits in progress, with 15 of them requiring only boxing up. We’re in good shape on forensic science kits, but we’re down to a dozen or so biology kits, so building another 30 biology kits will be next on the to-do list. That and building the first batch of life science kits, once I’ve actually finished writing the lab manual for life science.

10:35 – Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d planned to vote for Gary Johnson. Then OFD got me to thinking that maybe I shouldn’t vote at all. Well, I’ve made my final decision. Pat Condell for President.

Monday, 24 September 2012

09:48 – Last night I mentioned to Barbara the idea of moving up to the Montana/Alberta border area when she’s ready to retire. I was a bit surprised that she not only didn’t reject the idea, but was actually enthusiastic about it. I guess that makes us both a bit weird. Although it’s starting to change, most people still retire southwards to warmer weather. We both want to retire northwards to colder weather. Well, not that I’ll ever actually retire. But the idea of severe winters doesn’t deter either of us in the least. That’s what snowblowers and 4WD and wood/coal stoves are for. In a few years, we’ll probably take a few weeks off and drive up to look around. Or more likely take the train and rent a car. It’s close to a 5,000 mile (8,000 km) round trip.

I mentioned some of the downsides: the area is very lightly populated, so there won’t be much in the way of cultural resources and other facilities common in more heavily-populated areas. It might well be a two hour or more drive to the nearest Costco. She pointed out that we’d seriously considered moving to New Hampshire back in 2000, but the showstopper was the lack of broadband Internet access anywhere we wanted to live. I suspect that won’t be a problem nowadays. Even many small, remote towns have broadband, often from a choice of two or three providers. Actually moving our stuff that far would be a major hassle, but it’s doable if we decide to do it.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

08:29 – Barbara arrived home yesterday afternoon. She called when she was about half an hour out, so I left the front door open so that Colin could lie there at the door and watch for her. Eventually, I heard frenzied barking, immediately followed by the sound of the door opening and Barbara’s voice. He’d watched her arrive and stand out at the curb talking to Marcy for several minutes without saying a word. It was only when she actually got to the door that he started barking. He does that with the mailman and UPS guy, too. Lying in wait to pounce. He scared the crap out of the FexEx guy the first time he did that.

I started writing lab sessions for the life science kit yesterday. The one I decided to write first, which will actually be in the four or fifth lab chapter, is about observing osmosis and plasmolysis in plant and animal cells in hypotonic, isotonic, and hypertonic saline solutions. I’m using a red onion as a source of plant cells. I’d originally intended to use a smear of ground beef as a source of animal cells, but while I was giving Colin a pill the other day I had what may be a better idea. Barbara buys containers of very thinly-sliced lunch meat at the supermarket. I’m going to try using that.

11:39 – Border Collies have some truly bizarre quirks. Colin loves sticks, which is normal. When we return from a walk, he’ll often grab a stick and indicate that he’s ready to run around in circles like crazy. He often maintains a 2- or 3-minute mile pace for several minutes, until he’s gotten at least a couple miles of running and I finally get dizzy from turning around and around.

The only problem is the sticks. After he finishes running, Colin often comes in coughing and choking from the bark and wood chips he’s swallowed. So a week or so ago, I decided to make him some running sticks. I got an old broom from Barbara and we cut the broomstick into convenient lengths. The first trial didn’t go well. As I was getting the leash connected, Colin completely ignored the running stick. We went out the front door, and he continued to ignore it. I held it up to him and said, “Stick!” He put his ears back. I tossed it out onto the front walk, where it made the ringing sound of dried hardwood. That scared him. He finally approached the running stick, very cautiously, and sniffed it. I threw it a few feet into the yard, he chased it, stood looking down at, and then turned and walked away. Hmm.

After some effort, I finally convinced him that the running stick was not his enemy. He finally picked it up and carried it down the street. As usual, he dropped the stick when he noticed something more interesting. He did pick it up on our way back to the house. So, we’re standing in the front yard with him holding the stick. I said my usual to get him started, “Let’s run around like crazy in circles!” He took off at a slow trot, did half a circle, dropped the running stick, and looked at me, expecting me to pick it up and throw it for him. Apparently, he decided that the running stick is a toy-to-be-thrown rather than a stick-to-be-run-with.

So I tried to convince him otherwise, over many sessions over several days. I keep repeating “Stick!” hoping that he’ll change his mind. At this point, he’ll pick it up and run in circles with it, but only very half-heartedly. I’m lucky if he’ll do two full circles at a slow trot, versus 50 or 100 running dead out with a “real” stick. Geez.

I am at my wit’s end trying to get my new den system to run Linux, any Linux. I’ve tried Ubuntu, Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, and several other distros. I’ve even tried Fedora. I’ve actually had Linux Mint up and running twice for most of an evening each time. I disabled the screensaver and power saving mode and everything appears to be fine. Then the next morning there’s no video. This is driving me nuts. Normally, I’d figure there was a hardware problem, but I’ve run into this before. This is definitely a problem with Linux video drivers or some other software.

Just to rule out hardware problems, I actually considered installing Windows. The trouble is, the latest version I have is XP, which I don’t think would install on this hardware. Some time ago, someone offered to send me a Windows 7 disc and activation key, saying he had a group of keys and plenty to spare. The trouble is, I can’t remember who made that offer. If he reads this and is still willing to mail me a disc and activation key, please let me know.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

08:22 – Barbara is due back this afternoon or early evening. Colin and I can’t wait.

With only about six weeks left until the election, the EU is doing its part to help re-elect Obama. The IMF, the EU, and the ECB (the so-called Troika) were to have announced their decision about more bailout money for Greece next month. Instead, they’re delaying the announcement until after the US elections, which makes it abundantly clear what their decision is going to be. They’re going to cut off Greece, letting it go down the toilet, and they’re afraid that the inevitable economic earthquake would damage Obama’s chances. I hope that their cynical attempt to influence US elections fails miserably and that the euro collapses just in time for the election. I’d rather see the eurozone collapse entirely than see Obama re-elected. Not that O’Bomney would be much better.

I decided to expand the basic set of prepared microscope slides for the Life Science kit from 10 to 25 slides and make the slide set optional. That’ll lower the base price of the Life Science kit and avoid forcing people who already have some or all of the necessary slides to purchase something they already have. I’ll also make that slide set an option with the biology kits. I issued a PO yesterday for the first batch of 25 prepared slides. We’ll get the prepared slides in bulk and have to assemble the sets ourselves.

Friday, 21 September 2012

08:49 – Barbara’s been gone two days now, and Colin is taking it pretty well. At night, he’s taking advantage of her absence by stretching out full length on her side of the bed–with his head on her pillow, yet–instead of having to curl up in a little dog ball at the end of the bed. Still, he’ll be happy when she returns home tomorrow, as will I. I made it through seven episodes of Heartland last night, S4E17 and 18 through S5E5. That leaves 13 episodes of S5 and S6E1 remaining, which I won’t get through before Barbara returns.

I finally took the time to install a DVD writer in the new system sitting in the den. I’d used a borrowed optical drive to install Ubuntu on that system. It appeared to work fine, until power-saving kicked in, at which point I could no longer get any video even after a cold start. So last night I installed a new Samsung optical drive I’d gotten from and installed Linux Mint. Everything went as expected, and I immediately turned off power-saving mode. I used the system all evening, and finally decided to re-enable power saving to kill power to the display after 10 minutes. I watched the clock ticking down. At 10 minutes, sure enough, power saving kicked in and cut power to the display. I moved the mouse, and the screen came up normally. Success. Then, this morning, I moved the mouse again. The video was dead. So when I have a moment, I’ll try restarting the system. If it comes up, I’ll disable power saving entirely. There’s something going on with Linux power saving and this Intel Atom motherboard, but I’m not sure what. Worst case, I’ll just manually power the display on and off as needed.

I’m working on a core set of prepared microscope slides for the Life Science kit. I think we’ll include that core Slide Set A with the kit. It’ll be 10 top-priority slides of specimens that are difficult to prepare at home, things like onion root-tip mitosis, cross-sections of monocot and dicot stems, and so on. Then, as an option, we’ll offer another 10 or 20 slides as Slide Set B, which’ll include second-priority slides.