Friday, 30 November 2012

08:49 – What is this crap with adults beating infants and small children? There was another one in the paper this morning, this one from Mt. Airy. Fortunately, the kid survived, this time. The mother, 24, and her boyfriend, 20, (not the child’s father) were charged with felony child abuse. I just don’t understand this. Normal people protect children, any child, let alone their own. A normal woman will fight and willingly die to protect her child. What kind of mutant pseudo-human creature injures or kills its own child? The mother and her boyfriend are in jail and will probably go to prison, but that’s just not enough. It seems to me that a more fitting punishment would be to surround them with people with clubs and have them beaten to death. I have a baseball bat right here, and I’d be happy to lend a hand.

I should finish the first draft of the manual for the new simplified CK01B chemistry kit today. Then I’ll make at least one quick clean-up pass through it. We actually have a small batch of the kits themselves in stock. The one backordered item we need to build 100 more is supposed to be shipping to us today. I’d planned to start shipping these kits as of 1 December, and it looks like we’ll just about make that deadline.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

07:34 – Front page article in the newspaper this morning about a young local couple that are in the running for Parents of the Year. They’re both 20 years old. He was playing video games at 5:00 a.m. when their 2-week-old baby disturbed him. So he did what any father would do; picked her up by the neck and punched her to death. The woman, like all mothers, paid close attention to her new baby. Around 2:00 in the afternoon, she finally got around to checking on the baby and found her dead. Before calling 911, the two of them discussed their options. Among those were hiding the body, claiming the baby had been kidnapped, and fleeing to the mountains. He’s charged with first-degree murder; she with accessory after the fact. No word on what’s happened to their 15-month-old son, who presumably is in the care of social services.

Work continues on the new science kits.

11:20 – It seems that the Bank of England has finally realized that the Big Four UK banks are sitting on a boatload of PIIGS sovereign, bank, and corporate debt, something like $250 billion total. Because they don’t mark to market, these banks are carrying that $250 billion at book value on their P&L statements, when in reality it’s worth significantly less. Sir Mervyn King, the outgoing Governor of the BoE suggests that these four banks require recapitalization to the tune of $50 billion or so. I don’t think that’s going to be enough. In the long run, $250 billion is closer to the correct number.

And, speaking of the long run, the BoE has an interesting graphic in its latest Financial Stability Report. Based on CDS premiums, they estimate a 5-year probability of default for various EU countries. Greece, of course, has a 5-year probability of default of > 100% (I know, but that’s what the numbers say…), so it isn’t even present on the graphic. Portugal is currently around 60%, Ireland and Spain about 40%, Italy around 30%, and France 15%. I think these numbers are low, because they don’t take into account the domino effect; when Greece finally collapses, investors’ attention immediately shifts to the next weakest country, causing it to collapse, and then on and on until the whole row of dominoes falls. My gut reaction is that the probability of France defaulting within five years is probably in the 80% to 90% range, with the others correspondingly higher. There’s only so long that the inevitable collapse of the euro can be staved off with smoke and mirrors. I have to admit that Merkel is doing a good job of that so far, but the tools she has available are about used up.

15:45 – As I knew it would when the latest Greek deal was announced a couple of days ago, it’s falling apart already. The IMF is really getting tired of empty promises and bogus economic forecasts. As should be obvious to anyone, Greece has absolutely zero chance of ever paying back that $400 billion mountain of debt. If the EC/IMF/ECB were using sane accounting practices, they’d already have written off all of it. As things stand now, all of the Greek debt held by the EC/ECB is effectively uncollectable. The IMF, recognizing that even as senior creditor, it is unlikely to be able to collect more than a small fraction of what is owed to it, even if the eurozone debt-holders get nothing, the IMF is determined not to throw good money after bad. And Holland and Finland feel pretty much the same way. They know that the money they previously lent is lost, and they’re not about to take any more of a hit by lending still more.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

08:10 – The house diagonally across the street from us has been vacant for more than a year. Barbara mentioned last weekend that she’d seen a young couple looking at it with the real estate agent and then returning on their own to shoot some pictures. I ran into the real estate agent yesterday while I was walking Colin. He says the young couple has the house under contract. Of course, nowadays that’s no guarantee, but it looks like there’s a good chance it’ll soon be occupied again.

I just had Colin out in the front yard and saw the woman who lives across the street out in her front yard with her dog. Thinking she’d be pleased, I told her that the house next to hers was under contract to the young couple that Barbara had seen looking at it over the weekend. Her only response was, “I hope they’re not black.” Geez. I never have any idea what to say to comments like that. I almost replied, “No, Barbara said that they’re both nice young white men.” Presumably she dislikes gays as much as she dislikes blacks. So I just told her I didn’t know what color they were and asked her what difference it made.

I swear that the people who write many TV series must have science dictionaries on their desks. When they’re writing a scene that involves science, they must just flip the dictionary open to a random page, stick their finger down, and use that word. How else to explain nonsensical dialog that contains apparently random strings of sciency words? On one episode of Rizzoli and Isles, the pathologist (Isles) was explaining something to the detective (Rizzoli) about a death and said (with a straight face) that something had interfered with telophase. Eh? She never did explain whether she was talking about telophase in meiosis or telophase in mitosis. Why don’t the producers of these series hire a scientist–any scientist–to tell them when their plots and dialog make zero sense?

Barbara is going out to dinner tonight with a friend and then to a Celtic music performance. That means it’s wild women and parties for me. Either that, or I’ll watch Heartland reruns.

11:29 – Angela Merkel says she’s very optimistic that the eurozone crisis will be solved in her lifetime. Merkel is 58. The average life expectancy in Germany is 80. Allow me to translate what she really means: “I’m very confident that the eurozone will not collapse until after I am reelected next autumn.”

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

08:44 – More smoke and mirrors on the Greek bailout. Essentially, the EU and ECB (but not the IMF) have agreed to take a huge loss on their outstanding loans to Greece, but not by an explicit writedown of those debts. Instead, the EU/ECB are taking that loss in the form of extended maturities, reduced interest rates, and rebates that allow the actual debt to be reduced significantly while the nominal value remains the same. In other words, Greece will default, again, but the EU/ECB can (falsely) claim not to have written off any of the debt. So they’ve kicked the can down the road yet again, ensuring that Merkel can be re-elected before any of her voters notice that they’ve been royally screwed.

The ChromeBook arrived yesterday. I fired it up briefly and then put it on the charger. I’m still considering what exactly to do with it. For the time being at least it’ll be running ChromeOS, although I haven’t ruled out installing Linux on it. One way or another, it’ll be Barbara’s personal system. She’s already using the Chrome browser on her Linux desktop, so that won’t be a problem. But she’s running standard Linux applications for other things: Korganizer/Kontact/Kmail for mail and calendar, LibreOffice for documents and spreadsheets, and so on. I’m not entirely sure that Barbara is ready to be migrated to web-based apps for those things. Or that I want to migrate her email to gmail. I mistrust the cloud, and I’m not delighted at the idea of Google seeing (and storing) everything we do.

I got snail-mail yesterday from a company called MuniServices, saying that they were working on behalf of the City of Winston-Salem to identify businesses that didn’t have a business license. So I called the city offices this morning to ask why I needed a business license for Winston-Salem since my business was buying and selling on the Internet; that I worked out of my home and had no business premises; that I didn’t meet customers at home or at their locations; that I had no business signage or vehicular traffic at my home, and so on. I said that if I needed a business license, there must be literally a thousand eBay sellers in Winston-Salem that also needed one. The woman I was speaking with jumped in to interrupt me, saying that I didn’t need a business license and that she’d send email to MuniServices to let them know that.

14:21 – UPS just showed up with six cartons of bottles and caps, something like 7,000 of the things. At first, I was going to do what I usually do, which is move the boxes off the front porch and into the library, off the foyer. But then, not being a rookie at this being-married thing, I had second thoughts. Barbara just finished putting up the Saturnalia tree and otherwise decorating the library, so she probably wouldn’t be best pleased if she came home to find the room filled with boxes. So I asked the UPS woman if she’d mind rolling the boxes down around back. She did so, and even put them in the garage for me. So now the worst thing Barbara will notice when she gets home is a large stack of boxes next to where she parks.

Monday, 26 November 2012

09:13 – Our overnight low was 31.0F (-0.6C), not much under freezing, but enough to make sure that any bugs that somehow survived the previous night froze to death unless they were deep underground.

A lot of people scoffed at my comment that Windows is on its way out. All you need to do to verify that that’s true is go look at some screenshots of Windows 8. This is not an OS intended for desktops and notebooks. Microsoft must be fully aware that the Windows franchise is nearing its end. They’re trying to reposition Windows as an OS for mobile devices as well as traditional PCs, kind of the “Windows Everywhere” redux. It’s not going to work any better this time than it did the last time. If Microsoft is smart, they’ll realize that Windows is the past. They need to get their real cash cows–Office and Outlook–ported to run on Linux, Chrome, Android, and all the other Linux-like OSs. They haven’t done that so far because they’re convinced that Windows and Office support each other. That’s true so far, but the big danger is that the world will leave both behind. What Microsoft should really be aiming at is corporations continuing to run Exchange Server as a backend for Outlook running everywhere. Trying to keep the OS business is likely to cost them both the OS and app business.

I thought November would be a very slow month for science kit sales, and so it’s turned out. Still, slow is relative. In November 2011, we shipped maybe half a dozen kits total. In November 2012, we’ll ship four or five times that number. Of course, we now have three different kits available, versus only one last year. Still, my master plan, such as it is, had us shipping twice as many kits in 2012 as in 2011, and twice as many kits in 2013 as in 2012. It doesn’t look like either of those goals will be difficult to meet. In fact, we’ve already far exceeded our goal for 2012. We plan to add at least two and possibly three new kits for 2013, which should help us make the 2013 goal.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

08:47 – Our overnight low was 27.4F (-2.6C), which is the first hard freeze we’ve had this season. The high today is to be only 50F (10C). That’s pretty chilly for around here.

I just checked tracking on the ChromeBook I ordered a few days ago, which should arrive tomorrow. Remember when the “Year of Linux” was a running joke? No more. MS Windows is now a niche operating system. Linux and Linux-like operating systems now dominate personal computing devices, from ChromeBooks and MacBooks to iPads and other tablets to smartphones to Kindles and other ereaders. Microsoft is quickly fading into insignificance, and from what I see Windows 8 isn’t going to change that. If anything, Windows 8 is likely to accelerate the shift.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

09:43 – Barbara and I finally started watching Reven∞e last night on Netflix streaming. Apparently, it’s a retelling of an original story by some French guy named Al Dumbass. It stars Emily VanCamp, whom I adore only slightly less than I adore Amber Marshall. As I commented to Barbara, Emily is adorable even when her character is doing absolutely vicious things. And the series is decent, too.

Changes often have unforeseen implications. Barbara is playing Saturnalia music while she decorates the tree, and I just realized a big implication of the Hostess bankruptcy. No more Ding Dongs Merrily on High.

I’m still working on the manual for the new CK01B chemistry kit.

10:53 – It’s that time of year again, when I start planning how to nail Santa on his annual run. I’ve decided to go back to basics this year. Instead of high-tech weapons, I’m just going to use my Remington sniper rifle, loaded with 7.62×51 API rounds. I figure if I nail Rudolph, the team leader, the rest of the team and the sleigh will pile up behind him. Then the loot is all mine.

Incidentally, the rifle is a Model 788, which Remington produced to compete with inexpensive models from its competitors, and positioned as an entry-level rifle relative to its flagship Model 700. I bought mine used back in the 70’s from a friend. I bought it just as a cheap knock-around 7.62×51. At the time, people sneered at it as a cheap piece of junk.

But then I learned something interesting when several of my friends took their expensive Model 70’s and Model 700’s out to a range to shoot groups at 300 yards from a bench rest. I expected it to be all over the paper, but that cheap 788 shot under 1/2 MOA groups with factory ammo. (In other words, at 300 yards, the 788 was shooting 1.5″ groups.) At the time, I thought I must have been lucky enough to get the most accurate 788 ever made, but I later found out that mine was nothing out of the ordinary. All of those cheap 788’s were extremely accurate, not just for a cheap rifle, but period.

14:02 – By popular request, Barbara shot an image of me in full Christmas Eve camouflage, holding the 788.

I thought about mounting a scope, but I decided that if I make the shot I’ll have to do so at 50 yards or less, probably from a prone position behind our neighbors’ chimney. At that range, open sights are superior. At the rate that damned sleigh moves, I probably wouldn’t be able to pick it up in a scope, let alone make the shot.

Friday, 23 November 2012

08:23 – Barbara is off to visit the craft fair with her friend Bonnie and Bonnie’s sister. Late this afternoon, she’s going to meet her sister and sister’s husband at her parents’ old house and haul some stuff back here. It’s a normal work day for me.

I canceled the disc part of our Netflix membership yesterday. After seven months, the only discs left in our queue are ones we really don’t care much about. Stuff that I’d stuck in there because it looked like it might be interesting. We’ve been doing the six-months-on/six-months-off thing with discs for a couple of years now. After six months without, they might have some discs we really want to watch. In the interim, we’ll just watch streaming.

Speaking of streaming, I noticed that the Roku box gives interesting hints about what might soon be coming up on Netflix streaming. For example, for a year or more Netflix streaming has had only the first 45 episodes of Heartland: all of series one and two and the first 14 of 18 episodes in series three. A week or so ago, the main titles screen on Roku changed to show Heartland as having 67 episodes available rather than 45. That’d be all 13 episodes of series one and all 18 episodes each of series two, three, and four. Same deal on Army Wives, which Barbara likes. The Roku main titles screen changed from showing 81 episodes available–all of series one through five–to 104 episodes, suggesting that all 23 episodes of series six are likely to be available soon. We knew that series six, part one (13 episodes) would release streaming on 18 December, but apparently Netflix has signed to carry the ten episodes of series six, part two as well.

Today I’m building the first small batch of one of the two new science kits. It’s the CK01B Chemistry Kit, a simplified, less expensive version of the current CK01A kit. I’m also getting ready to build a small initial batch of the second, the LK01 Life Science Kit. We’ll go into full production of both new kits on or around 1 December, once full shipments of all the necessary components arrive here.

09:48 – I just ran the numbers, and Netflix must be delighted that I dropped the DVD service. In seven months, Netflix sent us a total of 62 discs for a total cost to us of $55.93, not including tax. That’s $0.90 per disc, which is less than their cost of postage. When you consider that we also watch a lot of streaming video, we’re the Customers from Hell as far as Netflix is concerned.

Every time I contact Netflix customer support, I beg them to increase the monthly price for streaming. At least double it, to $16/month, and tripling or quadrupling it would be better. That’d give them the money to get more stuff streaming and get it sooner. They wouldn’t lose many customers, when you consider how much cable TV costs, and they could soon wind down their disc rental business. They could do direct deals with the companies that actually produce network TV shows and cut the networks out of the picture entirely. They could even eventually get into streaming sports and other live events, which’d kill cable TV.

10:53 – I just read an article about baby-boomers being the first generation to retire while in debt. The article included the following statement:

According to the report The Plastic Safety Net by public policy organization Demos, Millennial’s (those born after 1980) average credit card debt is $2,982. For those 65+, the average credit card debt is $9,283—and that amount could continue to rise as they age since they have fallen into the trap of financing their lives on credit cards.

But what does that really mean? Barbara and I have been married for 29 years, and every month we’ve had a balance due on our credit cards, which we’ve paid in full every month. So, does this statement refer to current account balances or to overdue balances? There’s a big difference. We have “fallen into the trap of financing [our] lives on credit cards” but we pay off that balance every month. Does that count?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

09:01 – Barbara is leaving late this morning to meet her parents and sister to spend the day celebrating Thanksgiving. I’m not much for holidays, and certainly not religious holidays, so today is just another work day for me. Barbara will bring me food when she returns this evening, I hope not including any turkey. It’s not that I dislike the taste of turkey so much as that I think it’s a bad idea to eat something so stupid that it can literally drown while drinking because it forgets to take its head out of the water.

I ran out of chromatography paper envelopes while I was building kits yesterday, so Barbara is going to label and stuff another 60 of those before she leaves. That gives me enough to finish building 30 each of the chemistry kits and biology kits, as well as some prototypes of the two new kits. I also have a case of glass Petri dishes that’ll be in one of the new kits. We have to figure out how to package those so they can survive shipping. I know we’ll use bubble-wrap; I’m just not sure yet which type or how much.

Barbara has been encouraging me to get a tablet. I’ve hesitated because I really prefer something with a real keyboard. I’d been thinking about buying a ChromeBook, so yesterday I went ahead and ordered one from Google. I’ll probably give it to Barbara, but I may use it from time to time.

11:45 – In designing science kits, I end up doing all kinds of little experiments that have nothing directly to do with the lab sessions covered by the kits. I’m doing one of those today.

One of the new kits I’m designing right now is the LK01 Life Science Kit. Life Science is basically middle-school biology, a simplified version of a first-year high school biology course. One of the classic experiments that’s covered at both levels is antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Our full biology kit includes four antibiotics: amoxicillin capsules, chlortetracycline and sulfadimethoxine powder, and neomycin liquid. But to simplify things for 7th and 8th graders and to keep the cost of the kit down, I decided that the LK01 kit would include three antibiotic test papers–amoxicillin, neomycin, and sulfadimethoxine–rather than the actual antibiotics.

I’m going to make the antibiotic test papers myself, by soaking letter-size sheets of chromatography paper in solutions of the antibiotics. But I need to have at least an approximate idea of the concentrations of the antibiotics in micrograms per square centimeter. To do that, I need to know how much liquid one sheet (about 600 square centimeters) of chromatography paper will absorb. Knowing that, I can calculate how concentrated the antibiotic solutions need to be. So, to determine that factor, I’ll weigh a sheet of dry chromatography paper, soak it in water, reweigh it, and determine how much liquid it absorbs. I don’t expect a lot of variability, but I’ll do several sheets just to get a reasonable idea of how much actual variation there’ll be.

But I can’t simply use blank sheets of chromatography paper. The test papers included in the kit will be roughly 4 by 5 centimeter pieces, so I need to pre-print each sheet with “amoxicillin” or whatever in tiny little print. That may affect the absorbency, so it has to be taken into account.

14:06 – Well, it is a national holiday, so I’ve decided to take the rest of the afternoon off and watch Heartland re-runs. I only have 1.5 episodes left on Netflix streaming, so it’s time to fish out the boxed set of series three to watch the four remaining episodes in series three and then start series four on disc.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

08:33 – The EU finance ministers met all night, but couldn’t agree on giving any more money to Greece. It might help if they stopped referring to these disbursements as “loans” and started referring to them as what they really are. Gifts. Meanwhile, there’s another EU summit starting, this one concerning the EU budget. As you might expect, this one is also divided along the norther-tier/southern-tier line, with the northern tier wanting to economize and the southern tier, lead by France, chanting gimme, gimme, gimme.

The euro is already toast, of course, but what we’re seeing here is the EU itself beginning to fracture. Cameron is trying desperately to keep the UK in the EU while appeasing the euroskeptics among his own Tories and in the rapidly-growing UKIP. But a majority of Brits already favor leaving the EU, and a referendum on continued EU membership can’t be far in the future. Cameron’s efforts are misguided anyway. The only part of the EU that benefits the UK is the common market, and the UK needn’t be in the EU to remain in the common market. And even if the EU were foolish enough to refuse Britain membership in the common market without membership in the EU, the economic impact on the UK would be minimal. Reduced trade with the EU might be a percentage point or two, but no more. And without the taxes associated with EU membership, nor the ridiculous level of regulation that goes with EU membership, nor the social welfare costs incurred because of EU-mandated open borders, the UK would actually be much better off. And the UK is by no means the only northern-tier EU nation that is beginning to realize that the math for EU membership doesn’t add up.

It’s about time. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has formally recommended that birth control pills be made available over-the-counter, something that should have been done 20 years ago, if not 30. Now they need to get to work on approving other drugs for OTC availability, including marijuana, oxycodone, heroin, and cocaine. Everything, in fact, except antibiotics. And while they’re at it, they should consider placing acetaminophen on Schedule I in recognition of the fact that it’s the most dangerous drug in common usage.

Work continues on building chemistry kits and biology kits for inventory. I’m also putting together a small initial run of two new kits, maybe half a dozen or so of each. I’d build more of the new kits now, but one of the components common to both is on backorder. I’m supposed to be getting a case of a hundred of those in a couple weeks.

13:10 – I just got email from WSU saying that Colin is homozygous normal with respect to the MDR1 gene. That means we don’t have to worry about giving him ivermectin-based heartworm medications, as well as a slew of other medications. We’re very relieved.

14:46 – Greece is pissed. It says it’s met all the requirements for the next aid tranche. (It hasn’t, of course; it hasn’t even come close to meeting all the requirements it agreed to before the first bailout a couple of years ago. In fact, it hasn’t even tried to do what it agreed to do.) The EU knows that Greece hasn’t met all of the requirements. Greece will promise anything to get more money and then simply not do what it promised. But EU spokesmen have had very nice things to say about how hard Greece is trying. Not that that’s bought Greece anything. Even if the tranche is approved, none of it will actually benefit Greece. It won’t even be under Greek control. The Troika controls disbursements from the bail-out funds, and all of those disbursements go to pay off creditors, mostly other eurozone governments and banks.

What I don’t understand is why Greece continues to participate in this charade. If I were the Greek government, I’d tell the eurocrats to get stuffed. I’d default on all outstanding debts and return to the drachma. Yes, that means that no one will lend any money to Greece in the forseeable future. So what? No one is lending them any money now. And, yes, it means that Greece will be doomed to at least a decade of absolute poverty and suffering, and probably two decades. Again, so what? They’re doomed now no matter what they do. And continuing as they are will simply make that suffering last longer. At least if they were free of the euro they’d be able to recover, albeit very slowly. Greece will never be a wealthy country. In fact, it will never be even a middle-class country. But this single-minded focus on staying in the EU and euro is foolish and against Greece’s own interests.

So if I were Greece, my goal would be not just a complete default, but a disorderly complete default. If I were going down, I’d want to take the entire EU with me, most particularly Germany. And, even more particularly, Angela Merkel, whom the Greeks almost universally hate. Hate with a passion. Their comparing her to Hitler was not exaggerating how they feel. And defaulting would doom Merkel politically.