Thursday, 6 December 2012

07:57 – The great jazz musician Dave Brubeck has died, one day short of his 92nd birthday. Even those who don’t recognize his name and never listen to jazz will instantly recognize his most famous piece, Take Five, an amazingly complex and subtle piece of music.

I spent some time yesterday filling and capping 30 sets of bottles for chemistry kits. As usual, I saved the malodorous ones for last. As I was about to start filling the 6 M acetic acid bottles, I realized that I didn’t have any 6 M acetic acid made up, and I was fresh out of the glacial acetic acid that I dilute to 6 M. In a case of accidental just-in-time inventory management, as I was pondering what to do next, UPS showed up with some glacial acetic acid. So this weekend we’ll have everything we need to assemble another 15 of each of the chemistry kits.

There was some activity yesterday afternoon at the house diagonally across the street, the one that’s been vacant for a year or more and is now under contract. I talked to the buyers’ agent, who said that a nice young couple was buying the house and that they were scheduled to close on 21 December. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that everything works out for them. We haven’t met them yet, but it’ll be nice to have the place occupied again.

With Saturnalia rapidly approaching, I really need some gift ideas for Barbara. So far, the only ideas I have are a bottle of glacial acetic acid and a stud finder. Well, really only a bottle of glacial acetic acid. When I mentioned the stud finder to Barbara, she stole it as an idea for something she could give me. We’re both pretty hard to buy gifts for.

09:12 – I was just shipping orders we’d gotten yesterday afternoon and overnight. One of those was an SK01 prepared slides set. We prepackage those in USPS Priority Mail small flat-rate boxes. Those are about the size of a VHS tape and cost $5.15 in postage, no matter where in the US they’re going. This one is going to Tennessee, and as I was running the postage label I noticed that I could substitute a USPS PM Regional-Rate Box A for only one cent more in postage. What the heck? So I stuffed the RRBA full of crumpled newspaper padding, added the small FR box, and shipped it off for $5.16.

I’m just finishing up my last pound of Cornell & Diehl pipe tobacco. It’s a clone of Dunhill 965. I’ve been smoking it for maybe 20 years now, ordering five pounds at a time. That lasts me six months or so. When I first ordered the C&D 965, I think I paid something like $8.50 a pound. It’s now up near $50, so I decided to check around to see what else was available. I found another well-established supplier that sells their own 965 clone for about $30 a pound, so I ordered five pounds. Rather than individual pound bags, this supplier ships five pounds in one large bag, so I’ll need to split it up into gallon ziplock bags before I stick it in the freezer.

And my tobacco pouch has died. I bought it more than 25 years ago, when I first started smoking a pipe. The lining went first, years ago. But now the leather itself is actually developing holes, and tobacco is leaking out when I roll it up. I was looking around for a temporary substitute when I realized that we buy ziplock bags by the hundreds at Costco to use in kits. So my new tobacco pouch is a quart ziplock, which so far seems to be working pretty well. I had to laugh the other day when I thought about what the cops would have thought 40 years ago if they’d caught me with this field-expedient tobacco pouch. Of course, back then, with my long hair, slouch hat, and purse, it was easy to mistake me for a long-haired hippie freak, although I wasn’t. Nowadays, I look more like a solid, law-abiding citizen, although I’m not.

11:41 – With regard to “reshoring” of manufacturing, here’s another data point. Apple has announced that, after a hiatus of 20 years, they will again be producing Macs in the US. And they’re by no means alone. Many, many small- and medium-size businesses that formerly had their products produced in China and elsewhere have begun manufacturing in the US again. A combination of many factors is driving this phenomenon. First, China’s cost advantage has largely disappeared with increases in Chinese wages and shipping costs. Second, time-to-market issues are becoming increasingly important, and making products in the US allows much more timely shipment of new and modified products, often weeks and sometimes months. Third, China is notorious for shoddy QC. It’s a cultural thing. If you don’t keep your eye on them every second, they’ll let things slide to see just how much (or little) they can get away with. Fourth, IP issues have always been a concern. Those companies that have their products produced in China often find rip-off versions, often manufactured in the same plants, swamping their own genuine products in the market.

Nor is it just China. US companies are increasingly withdrawing their manufacturing ties with India and Central and South American factories, finding that the lower costs are largely illusory and the drawbacks are very real. I expect that eventually manufacturing of even lower-tech products like furniture and textiles will return to the US. Along with tobacco, furniture and textiles used to be the three pillars of the North Carolina economy. All are gone now, or pale shadows of their former selves. But I think furniture and textiles will be coming back. They won’t employ as many people as they did then, as automation takes its toll on head-count, but over the next ten years or so I expect we’ll see the return of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs to North Carolina. Not to mention the migration of jobs from other states to North Carolina, which is extremely business friendly. That’s assuming that the labor unions don’t prevail on their buddy Obama to make it illegal to move businesses to right-to-work states, as they’re already attempting to do.

12:49 – I just read a headline that belongs in my collection of “Headlines that convey no new information”: “Italian Government on the Brink of Collapse”. Since when, in living memory, has the Italian government not been on the brink of collapse? Certainly not in my lifetime. Italian governments have always made banana republics look stable and long-lasting.