Monday, 31 December 2012

07:33 – The Democrats and Republicans are still locked in a struggle at the top of Reichenbach Falls. I’m hoping that the Democrats are Moriarty and the Republicans Holmes, but I’m afraid they’re both going over the edge this time. Well, not afraid, really. I still think they’ll come to an agreement, but only to keep the old tax rates for middle-class taxpayers and perhaps to keep milk prices from doubling. And even that level of agreement may take another month or more, although I’m sure the tax rates will apply retroactively.

Housecleaning continues. Barbara has already gotten a lot done, and we’ll get more done today and tomorrow. Today we’re starting on the Augean Stables, AKA my office.


10:04 – After only a couple of hours, we’ve already cleaned up the floor of my office and the top of my main desk. Next up is my secondary desk or perhaps my tertiary desk.

Oh, and after finding purchase orders, invoices, packing lists, and assorted other paperwork scattered in piles all over my office, Barbara has decreed that from now on she’s taking over responsibility for all paperwork. In my defense, I keep copies of POs on my computer, and I’ve never been late paying an invoice. I just treat the paper itself with disdain. At least I do keep all of it.


14:22 – My office is about 90% clean. I still need to clean off my secondary desk and do a bit more on my tertiary desk. While we were cleaning my office, Barbara found an easter egg: five spare 30-round AR-15/Mini-14 magazines that I’d forgotten I had. Maybe I should see if a DC TV station wants to interview me.

And our business year is officially over. We just shipped our final science kit of 2012. Like the first kit of the year we shipped back in January, this one was a CK01AG chemistry kit.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

10:00 – Housecleaning continues. Barbara is happy with progress, so I’m happy.

I just read an article on CNN that said about two-thirds of the lower 48 states are covered in snow. We just barely missed out on that over the last few days. We had a couple inches (5 cm) of rain and high temperatures not much above freezing. A few degrees lower, and we might have had half a meter of snow. Or, more likely around here, freezing rain. At the moment, it’s 34F (1C) with a stiff breeze.

We finished watching series six of Army Wives last night on Netflix streaming. It’s a paean to the US military, which is fine as far as it goes. It depicts the real sacrifices made by members of our armed forces and their families. What it never does is question why in the first place our politicians send our young men and women off to risk their lives in places we have no business getting involved in.

I have nothing but the deepest respect for members of our military and what they do. I have nothing but the deepest contempt for the politicians who send them off to do those things. As I’ve suggested before, what we need to do is create a new battalion, with Obama and Biden as CO and XO and all 535 members of congress as the grunts. Give them all M4’s, deploy them to a firebase in Afghanistan, and send them out on patrols to deal with “insurgents” and IEDs. See how long it takes for them to decide that there’s no compelling reason for US forces to be deployed there. Bastards.


Saturday, 29 December 2012

09:49 – Housecleaning continues this morning. Barbara just started on the den, which meant I had to get everything off my end table. That’s more of a job than it might sound. I also took down the old ceiling fan. Barbara’s just fired up her Floor Ferrari®. Dogs and people are scattering frantically to avoid being vacuumed up.

We’re still shipping science kits, two so far today. I’d guess we’ll receive and ship another three to five kit orders by end-of-year on Monday afternoon. One of the kits I shipped today went to Anchorage, Alaska. I was surprised to see that USPS estimated Wednesday delivery. That’s only two business days.


Friday, 28 December 2012

08:36 – I finally ordered a bottle-top dispenser yesterday from one of my wholesalers. Also called auto-burettes, these are basically pumps that sit on top of reservoir bottles and deliver an accurate volume of liquid with each stroke of the pump.

I thought about ordering one some time ago, but decided not to. They cost about $200 each, but the real reason I hesitated was that we were filling only 30 bottles at a time. Having to stop every 30 bottles to tear down and clean out the dispenser before refilling it with the next chemical just wasn’t worth the hassle. Filling 60, 90, or more bottles at a time probably makes the setup/cleanup time worthwhile.

The model I ordered can be set to deliver 2.5 mL to 30 mL per stroke, in 0.5 mL increments. It’s accurate to ±0.5%. The working surfaces are Teflon-coated, and it handles a wide range of viscosities accurately. It’s designed for production use all day long every day, so it should be durable. We’ll see how it works out.


09:53 – Barbara announced this morning that she wanted a new ceiling fan in the den. I thought we’d installed the one that’s in there now, but she tells me it was there when we bought the house back in 1987. In the past, I might have thought about driving out to Home Depot to see what they had available, but this time the thought never crossed my mind. I looked up ceiling fans on Amazon and ordered one. Total time, five minutes, if that.

Amazon is rapidly becoming what Sears Roebuck was a hundred years ago: the first choice of retailer for a large percentage of the public. I wonder how long it’ll be until they have a real competitor. Sears blew it, as did all of the other big box brick-and-mortar retailers. Sears still has a chance, but I don’t think they’ll take it. To do so, they’d have to recognize that on-line can’t coexist with brick-and-mortar. It has to be one or the other. Sears would have to close down its physical stores and shift entirely to the web. They’d have to expand their product lines hugely to match or beat Amazon. And they’d have to bring up their own equivalent of AWS. On the plus side, they already have a distribution network and warehouse infrastructure at least as good as Amazon’s. But I doubt that anyone at Sears will admit that after more than 100 years their brick-and-mortar retailing operation is as dead as every other B&M retailing operation, and act accordingly.


12:17 – I just finished running 2,200+ labels, which is 60 sets of chemistry kit bottle labels. That’s 1,440 15 mL bottles, 660 30 mL bottles, and 180 30 mL widemouth bottles. Once Barbara gets all those bottles labeled, we’ll run a batch of 60 biology kit labels and then 60 forensic kit labels, and then another 60 chemistry kit labels. Given the number and mix of kits we sold in 2012, I want to start the busy season in July with 300 to 400 kits worth of chemical bottles ready to roll, so we’ll be doing lots of labels and bottles between now and July.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

08:02 – With only four days left, it looks likely that we’ll go over the “fiscal cliff”. My bet is that congress will extend the Bush-era tax rates for the middle class, while allowing the other tax increases and spending “cuts” to occur, except perhaps extended unemployment benefits. The core problem, out-of-control spending on social programs and the military, won’t be addressed. As we’ve seen in Europe, politicians are quite capable of ignoring unpleasant realities for years or decades on end, if that’s what it takes to continue getting them re-elected.


09:19 – We met our goal of selling 250 science kits for CY 2012. The goal for CY 2013 is 500 kits, which I think we’ll be able to do. Of course, the bulk of those will sell in the second half of the year. The first four months of the year will be slow, and we’ll use that time to prepare for the pickup in sales volume that starts in April/May and then turns into the rush in July through October.

Barbara has more time available during the winter months because she’s not doing yard work. So, starting the first of the year, we’ll be labeling bottles and envelopes, thousands and thousands of them, and putting together subassemblies for the various kits. We’ll start with a first pass of 60 to 90 sets of each. Once those are complete, we’ll do another batch of 60 to 90, and keep repeating that until we run out of time.

Many of the chemicals in the kits are stable indefinitely, so we’ll also fill those bottles ahead of time. Some chemicals are stable for years rather than decades, so we’ll hold off on filling those until closer to the time they’re needed. Overall, my goal is to have as much work done as possible by the first of July to allow us to assemble 300 kits on-the-fly in addition to having 100 or so kits ready to ship.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

07:28 – Thanks to Lynn McGuire for the link to the following image.

As usual, xkcd gets the science right. The purple stain in the first panel is Hucker’s crystal violet, the primary stain used in Gram staining, and all of the presents are stained purple. The pink stain in the second panel is safranin O, used as the Gram counterstain. All of the presents have had the purple stain washed away, and are pink, indicating that these are Gram Negative presents.


09:20 – It appears that we won’t get much in the way of severe weather. As of yesterday morning, the forecasters were calling for heavy thunderstorms and possible tornadoes around here today, but now they’ve downgraded that to heavy rain and stiff winds. It’s about 39F and raining now, with wind gusts to around 25 MPH, but it seems likely that’s the worst we’ll get.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

08:51 – Happy solstice/christmas/hanukkah/festivus/kwanzaa or whatever to any of my readers who celebrate a holiday around this time of year. Barbara is heading over to her parents’ new place for the day. Colin and I will take the day off and have a Heartland marathon. Well, I’ll watch Heartland while Colin pesters me relentlessly to throw the ball.

Netflix streaming here died about 7:00 yesterday evening when AWS collapsed. I was finally able to get it working again a few minutes ago. This is the second or third major outage in the last six months, which should serve as yet another warning to anyone foolish enough to use cloud-based services for any mission critical applications.


09:31 – I did get this shot last night of a reindeer up on the roof. Sorry it’s so blurry, but those things move fast.

colin-reindeer

Monday, 24 December 2012

08:19 – The lead story in the paper this morning is about the investigation of UNC academic fraud led by former governor Jim Martin. As the article headline suggests, the “investigation” was more a whitewash than anything else. One paragraph from the article sums things up pretty well:

“He did the who, what, where, I guess, but he never answered the why,” Willingham said. “He had the opportunity to expose that, and I think intentionally he chose not to do it because I don’t think he wanted to expose the corruption of the NCAA and the athletic program.”


13:34 – As I was packing up kits today, the wipe-down blade broke off my tape dispenser. The dispenser actually works fine without the wipe-down blade–all I do is brush down the tape with the back of my hand, which I do anyway–but I decided I’d better order a replacement anyway. The dispenser is a U-Line H-150, which they sent me for free the last time I ordered a case of packing tape, so U-Line was the only source for the part. So I ordered a pack of three replacement wipe-down blades for $6 and a pack of a dozen spare blades for $12. Given that I’m still using the original blade with no problems after more than 30 long rolls of tape, that dozen will probably be a life-time supply. While I was at it, I figured I’d better get some more packing tape. The prices at office supply stores and Amazon are pretty outrageous, so I decided just to order another case of U-Line tape. So I now have about 3.8 kilometers of 5 cm packing tape on the way. Oh, yeah. And another free H-150 tape dispenser.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

08:26 – The lead story in the paper this morning is about the Winston-Salem Gun & Knife show, which is currently running. It’s an annual two-day event, running from Saturday morning through Sunday afternoon. The all-time record attendance was several years ago, when 6,400 people attended. As of 11:00 a.m. yesterday, 2,500 people had already attended, so it seems likely they’ll shatter the attendance record this year.

I do wish our politicians would repeal the Gun Control Act of 1968, which made mail-order gun sales illegal. That way, people wouldn’t have to drive all the way to a gun show to buy guns. They could just order them on-line from Amazon or eBay. While they’re at it, they should repeal the National Firearms Act of 1934, which put controls on automatic weapons, sawn-off shotguns, silencers, and destructive devices. Both are unConstitutional, and in their absence we could simply order anything we needed on Amazon. The first things I’d order would be a couple of G3’s, a small supply of Stingers, and a few RPG antitank missiles.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

09:04 – As I expected, kit sales have fallen off a cliff. None overnight or so far today. If last year is any indication, we’ll probably sell half a dozen kits during the last week of the year, and that’ll be it until the New Year.

Barbara is off until next Wednesday and then most of that week. She’s starting this morning on her Deep Clean, beginning with the finished area downstairs. Last week, we donated a sofa and table/chairs to a moving company that transports used furniture to people who need it, freeing up some space downstairs. Barbara will vacuum the floors, walls, and ceiling in the areas that are currently open, we’ll move furniture into those areas, and then she’ll vacuum the newly freed-up areas. After a couple of iterations, we should have the whole area clean and the furniture where it’s supposed to be.


11:04 – Barbara is making a lot of progress in the finished area of the basement. Out in the garage area, I just used the last new 4-foot fluorescent tube I had in stock to replace a flickering one. Three or four of the six 4-foot tubes in my lab are starting very slowly now, so I need to re-stock on fluorescent tubes soon. I was expecting replacing all ten in the basement and six in my lab to be an expensive project. The last time I bought a fluorescent tube was probably three or four years ago, when I replaced the 2-foot 20W tube in the kitchen. At the time, I though the price was outrageous, something like $12 for that one tube. But I just checked the Home Depot web site, which sells 10-packs of 4-foot 40W 2300+ lumen 6500K tubes for $25 or $30. Now the only problem will be disposing of the old tubes, which can’t just be thrown in the trash.