Friday, 21 December 2012

07:55 – Believe it or not, we’re still getting kit orders as of this morning, presumably from people who want the kits in time for Christmas. We’ll ship those today and even tomorrow, and just keep our fingers crossed that they arrive in time. We also had several emails overnight from people wanting to know if they could buy gift certificates and have them delivered by email, which we’re not set up to do.

Today, other than processing orders and shipping kits, I’ll be working on the manual for the LK01 Life Science Kit. Tomorrow we get started on Barbara’s Deep Clean, beginning with the basement and working our way up.

13:38 – I see that the NRA has finally spoken on the Connecticut school massacre. The NRA proposes putting an armed police officer in every school. That’s better than nothing, but certainly inferior to the proposals to allow teachers, administrators, and other adults to carry firearms on school property.

The main problem, especially if the cops are in uniform, is that a would-be shooter could easily identify the cop and simply kill him or her first. That’s not an issue with teachers carrying concealed. The other problem for cost and other issues is that we’d be lucky to have one cop on site at each school. That means the school would have a single-point defense. If/when that cop goes down, as is likely to happen, the school is again defenseless. Finally, what kind of cops would be assigned to school duty? I suspect school duty would be treated as a good place to put cops near retirement, those with physical disabilities, those who can’t hack being street cops any more, and so on.

Also, the sad truth is that most cops are really rotten shots, both in absolute terms and relative to the average civilian who carries concealed. I know. I’ve shot with enough cops that I soon ceased being surprised at what terrible shots they were. It’s only to be expected. Unless they also shoot as a hobby, the only time most cops fire a pistol is during once- or twice-a-year qualifying. And, believe me, the standard required to qualify is ridiculously low in most departments: usually one box of ammunition (if that) at short, known range on well-lit, high-contrast targets, using only the dominant hand. And even at that many departments don’t even require the qualifier to keep all shots on the paper. Not a tenth of the cops I’ve shot with could come close to meeting what Jeff Cooper described as minimum competence.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

07:32 – In the wake of large-scale disasters like the Connecticut school shooting, it’s easy to forget that smaller-scale disasters claim our children every day. The paper this morning reports that an 11-year-old local boy was struck and killed by an SUV at a school bus stop. His parents are surely as devastated as the parents in Connecticut.

In other local news, a former high school band director has been convicted on 65 counts of having sex with a student. He was 25 years old when these incidents occurred, from August 2008 through the end of that school year. She was a high school senior. Nothing in the article leads me to believe that the relationship was anything other than fully consensual. The age of consent in North Carolina is 16, so the relationship would have been completely legal had it not been for the fact that he was a school employee and she a student. Again, I think a “no fucking the students” rule is perfectly appropriate for school teachers, but this should be a matter of contract law, not criminal law. Fire the guy, fine. Make sure he can never work in a school again, fine. But don’t imprison the guy and brand him a sex offender.

On the good news side of the ledger, Herbalife has committed to taking over the old Dell plant in Forsyth County and creating 500 highly-paid manufacturing and technical jobs. Winston-Salem was in competition with other cities, all of which are in right-to-work states.

We’re back in stock on all of our science kits.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

07:55 – The newspapers are still running articles and editorials about the Connecticut school shooting, most of them demanding that the government Do Something. That’s understandable, and it’s not politically motivated. All they want, all anyone wants, is to do what’s necessary to make sure this never happens again. It’s not a liberal vs. conservative issue or a Democrat versus Republican issue or an anti-gun versus pro-gun issue. It’s a human issue. No one, no matter what his politics, wants ever again to see headlines about US school children being slaughtered.

The problem is, there’s nothing that can be done to stop lunatics from trying to slaughter schoolchildren. Nothing. More gun control laws won’t help, even slightly. More mental health programs won’t help, even slightly. Of course, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that there’s nothing that can be done. They desperately want to believe that new laws can stop the slaughter. They can’t.

Current laws establish schools as predator-friendly zones, places where a would-be shooter is guaranteed to face no armed opposition. Ordinary people are compelled by law to be unarmed and defenseless in schools. Of course, a would-be mass shooter is also breaking the law when he carries his weapons into a school, but somehow I don’t think that enters into his calculations.

So, if we can’t stop would-be mass murderers from making the attempt, what can we do to at least minimize the damage? The most we can hope for is that such lunatics can be stopped in their tracks. The police can’t do that. As the old saying goes, when seconds count the cops are only minutes away. The only people who are in a position to stop such outrages in their tracks are ordinary people who are willing and able to take extraordinary action: the school teachers and administrators who are already on site. But in order to do that, they must have the tools they need. We’ve already seen what happens when unarmed teachers and administrators go up against an armed intruder. They die valiantly, trying to save the children, and the shooter continues shooting those children.

The obvious answer is to get rid of the laws that prohibit firearms on school campuses. Allow any adult to be armed on school grounds. Offer training programs to school teachers and administrators and encourage them to carry their personal weapons while they’re on school grounds. Some percentage of them will choose to do so, and as a result of that the school will be a much safer place. Is it an ideal solution? No. There is no ideal solution, but it’s the best available solution. And I see that Texas is taking steps to make this happen. Good for Texas. Now the other 49 states need to follow Texas’s lead.

08:54 – Well, that’s it. We’re officially out of both biology kits and chemistry kits. I’ve left the web pages for the kits showing that they’re both still in stock because I’m building a dozen more of each today.

10:47 – Okay, we’re back in stock on the CK01A chemistry kits. Now to assemble some BK01 biology kits.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

08:04 – With a week left until Christmas, today is likely to be a relatively heavy day for kit orders. We’ve already shipped two chemistry kits this morning to fill overnight orders, and I expect we’ll have several more orders today.

I spent some time yesterday prototyping an LK01 Life Science Kit, to make sure it’d fit in the box we intend to use for shipping. It does, with a bit of room to spare. The kit contents aren’t finalized yet and won’t be until I finish writing the manual, but any changes shouldn’t affect it fitting in the box.

08:45 – The doorbell rang just as I was getting ready to take Colin out. It was Danny Hughes, our mailman, ringing to pick up the two science kits I had ready. This time of year, the mail and package volume is so high that they make two rounds of their routes per day instead of one. Otherwise, all the mail wouldn’t fit on the truck. On the first round, they deliver packages and pick up any outgoing mail and packages from addresses that get a delivery. Second round is normal delivery and pickup.

As I handed Danny the boxes, I mentioned that I was telling people to allow an extra day for delivery, but I was still afraid I was going to disappoint a kid whose kit hadn’t arrived by Christmas. Danny said the whole USPS goes all out to get packages delivered in time for Christmas. Next Monday, they’ll be working a lot of overtime, making multiple runs, and trying their best to get anything that even looks like it might be a Christmas gift delivered. They’ll even have people out delivering last-minute packages on Christmas morning.

13:16 – Ruh-roh. As of now, we’re down to the number of chemistry kits you can count on one finger. Fortunately, we’re in better shape on biology kits. We have twice as many of those in stock. I’m almost afraid to check my email, in case there’re orders waiting. I guess I’d better go assemble more kits.

Monday, 17 December 2012

08:03 – Crunch week, and we’re down to single-digit numbers on finished-goods inventory of all our science kits. Fortunately, we have all of the components on hand to build more of all of them on-the-fly, which we’ll do so that we can continue shipping kits right up until the last possible moment for Christmas delivery. The USPS doesn’t guarantee delivery times on Priority Mail. It’s usually one to three business days, but that may slide a day or so with the Christmas rush. Any kit we ship by Wednesday should make it to any US destination by Christmas Eve, but anything after that is iffy, particularly if it’s headed west of the Mississippi.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

08:31 – In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, I wonder how many more parents have decided to pull their kids out of public school and homeschool them. Parents homeschool for many reasons, but the safety of their children is certainly an important factor for many of them.

A lunatic shooting up the place is by no means the only danger to students. Such incidents grab the world’s attention, but they are extremely rare. As someone commented in a newspaper article this morning, the probability of a child being a victim in a mass school shooting is considerably lower than the probability of that child being killed by a lightning strike. What’s unfortunately commonplace, even in “good” schools, is children being bullied, beaten up, extorted, threatened by gangs, and exposed to alcohol and drugs. Is it any wonder that more and more parents are choosing to homeschool their kids?

Saturday, 15 December 2012

08:37 – My favorite quote so far about the school shooting yesterday came from a police spokesman, who said that the shooter “may have suffered from a personality disorder.” Ya think? Most people would agree that a young man who shoots and kills his mother and then drives to the school where she taught and shoots down 20 kindergarten kids in cold blood is not quite right, to say the least.

Naturally enough, there is already a clamor for the government to Do Something. The problem is, there’s nothing that can be done to stop lunatics from going berserk. We might just as well demand that the government prevent tornadoes or earthquakes. Well, since essentially all of these mass murderers are young men, I suppose we might imprison all young men until they’re older men, but there are some practical difficulties with that idea, not to mention Constitutional ones. One thing is sure: more gun control laws aren’t going to help.

Well, there is one thing that would definitely significantly reduce the number and severity of these outrages. Allow ordinary people who choose to do so to carry firearms, openly or concealed, without requiring any permit, testing, or other restrictions. Anyone, anywhere, anytime. Any firearm. That way, when the wolf shows up, there will always be at least a few sheepdogs mixed in with the flock of sheep. And save harmless from any criminal or civil penalties any person who, in such a situation, stands up to the wolf.

12:55 – From one of the comments, here’s a sight you won’t see in the USA, more’s the pity.


It’s an Israeli schoolteacher, doing her job. It literally brings tears to my eyes, thinking about those women who sacrificed their lives trying to protect those children yesterday. They had only their bare hands and their bodies, so they used what they had and died trying. If only each of those classrooms had been equipped with a loaded assault rifle for emergencies. Or even a deer rifle. They might have had a fighting chance, and we might not have had 20 dead children and six dead teachers.

Friday, 14 December 2012

07:11 – I read an article on CNN yesterday that compared the cost structures of major brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy and Wal*Mart with Amazon. The thrust of the article is that local retailers are hampered by a grossly inferior business model, which is a point I’ve been making since back when Amazon was losing money. There’s simply no way local retailers can survive, other than those few types of retailers like supermarkets and pharmacies and gun stores that have some insuperable advantage over web-based retailers.

That made me think of the other day when I bought a Saturnalia gift for Barbara. Now, I’ve never liked shopping. Hell, I don’t think I’ve set foot in Hanes Mall for at least 10 years. Even in the days before the web, I almost never bought locally. Barbara would give me a Bean or Lands’ End catalog with the items she wanted marked, I’d call the 800 number, and that was that. But for the last decade or more, I’ve done nearly all of my shopping on-line. This time, Barbara just sent me links on Amazon for a couple items and said that either one would be fine. So I clicked the links, clicked the add-to-cart button, and ordered the item. Barbara had also mentioned that her parents’ answering machine was borked, so I searched for an appropriate answering machine/cordless phone combo, added it to my cart, and ordered it. It never even occurred to me to get in the truck and drive to some local retailer.

We continue to build and ship science kits.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

07:28 – Only eight days left until the end of the world, and Barbara and I haven’t even started to make preparations. Oh, well. Another year, another apocalypse. When the world ended last year, we didn’t even notice. I did move Army Wives to the top of our Netflix streaming queue. Series six releases on the 18th. Barbara enjoys that series, so we’ll have to get it watched before the world ends on the 21st.

We continue to build and ship science kits.

14:08 – Fareed Zakaria actually gets it: Should America try to be like Scandinavia?

I’ve mentioned this “free ride” problem many times before. For the last six decades or more, Americans have carried the rest of the world. For sixty years, for example, we’ve paid the vast bulk of the defense budget for all of Europe, not to mention the Pacific Rim. America out-innovates the rest of the world put together, and the rest of the world uses those innovations, most of which were paid for by US taxpayers, while paying little or nothing for them. Americans pay the overwhelming majority of costs to develop new drugs, including those developed by big pharma companies in other countries. In addition to American taxpayers heavily subsidizing research, directly and indirectly, Americans also pay much higher prices for the drugs that result from that research. Even our friends and allies, including the UK and Canada, pay little or nothing more than the production costs of those drugs, with their national health services threatening to ignore patents and produce the drugs themselves if drug companies don’t sell to them at cost. The US has contributed trillions of dollars in foreign aid, direct and indirect, with no return. There is no balance here. That’s why I’ve suggested, only half in jest, that the IRS should begin collecting income taxes from every country on earth. One percent of GDP is reasonable, and at that they’d still be getting a hell of a deal.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

09:58 – I’m still working on building subassemblies for chemistry kits, but I’m also going to try to devote some time today to working on the documentation for the LK01 Life Science Kit, which we intend to start shipping in Q1 of 2013. I’ll also continue working on the reorganization of the upstairs and downstairs work areas.

I’m also going to play around with packaging of glass Petri dishes for the LK01 kit. The BK01 Biology Kit includes a sleeve of sterile plastic Petri dishes. That wasn’t an option for the LK01 kit because it has to fit in the smaller USPS Priority Mail Regional Rate Box A rather than the RRBB we use for the BK01. A sleeve actually fits the RRBA, but it doesn’t leave much room for anything else. So we had to go to glass Petri dishes. I actually prefer those because they can be sterilized in the oven and used indefinitely, but shipping glass is always an issue and Petri dishes are particularly fragile. We’ll wrap them in bubble wrap and tape them. But I need to figure out what kind of bubble wrap to use and do some drop-testing.

10:47 – While I was walking Colin yesterday, I had a long chat with Brian, who’s Steve’s son and Heather’s stepson. I asked him about his plans to join the Navy. He said those were on hold. He’d scored very well in the entrance exam, high enough to guarantee him his choice of specialty. But he said he was deferring his Navy plans in favor of going to work with his father, who’s a master mechanic at Merchant’s Tire and Auto, where we take our cars.

Brian is a bright kid, and he’s fully aware that getting a college degree is no guarantee of employment in this economy. On the other hand, becoming a skilled auto mechanic–or a skilled anything–is about as close to a guarantee as exists. Even more important to Brian is that he really loves fixing things. He commented that he wasn’t considering this only because mechanics make good money, but because he didn’t want to spend his life doing something he didn’t enjoy just to make money. As I said, he’s a bright kid.

12:58 – I see that Redbox/Verizon plan to introduce a streaming service to compete with Netflix. At $8/month, they’re matching Netflix. It’d be interesting to see what they have that Netflix doesn’t, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to use it. The supported devices list is pretty small, and I didn’t see the Roku box among them. At this point, it’s mostly mobile devices and a few smart TVs and Blu-Ray players. Still, if Redbox/Verizon expects this thing to fly, they’d better get it available on at least the major media boxes and game consoles that Netflix supports.

I’d be very surprised if Redbox Instant has anything near the selection of Netflix streaming, at least initially. Still, Verizon isn’t short on cash and connections, so it may expand the selection pretty quickly. At $8/month, we’ll probably sign up for it even just as a supplement to Netflix, assuming it’ll work on the Roku. There is supposed to be a free one-month trial.

14:08 – Hmmm. I just discovered that our new CK01B chemistry kit is not the only product with that number.