Tuesday, 11 December 2012

08:27 – We’re shipping science kits, mostly chemistry kits of both types, at a rate of two, three, four a day now.

While we were walking Colin last night, we stopped to talk to our neighbors Steve and Heather about their ongoing struggle with Bank of America. Their home is now in pre-foreclosure, whatever that means. A year or more ago, at BoA’s instigation, they did some sort of adjustment to their mortgage with BoA. They didn’t call it a refinance, but it sounded similar. At any rate, they ended up paying $50/month less than they had been paying. They did that for almost a year, thinking everything was fine. BoA said nothing to them for 11 months. Then they got a notice from BoA telling them they were in default on their mortgage and that BoA was foreclosing. Steve and Heather have no debt to speak of other than the mortgage, and offered to pay the $50/month for the 11 months that BoA claimed they’d been in arrears. BoA said no deal. They were going to foreclose. So now there’s a big mess.

12:03 – Geez, as I’m working to build more science kits, they’re selling out from under me. One biology kit and three chemistry kits so far this morning.

Monday, 10 December 2012

09:49 – Costco run and dinner yesterday with Mary and Paul.

For a short time back in the 60’s, I was a ham radio operator. One of the informal awards was WAS, worked-all-states. We’re nearing that now with our science kits. We just shipped a biology kit, a chemistry kit, and a slide set to Hawaii, which makes it 47 states so far. The only ones still missing are Wyoming, Rhode Island, and Idaho. We’ve also shipped kits to six of the Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. By this time next year, I suspect we’ll have shipped to all states and all provinces.

12:36 – What I really want to be doing right now is designing, running, and writing up lab sessions for the LK01 Life Science Kit. What I’m doing instead is building chemistry kits, which are selling at a good clip. We’re currently down to only seven of the CK01A chemistry kits in inventory, so I’m spending today building subassemblies for another couple of dozen.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

08:42 – We made a lot of progress yesterday getting the inventory/workroom cleared out and organized. The shelves are up, and there’s stuff stacked on them. It’s not properly organized yet, but it’s up off the floor and it won’t be difficult to get it arranged. We still have to move furniture downstairs today and move a work table upstairs, but we’ll get that done.

The lead article in the paper this morning was about one of the most annoying aspects of our society: taxpayers taking the risks and losses while corporations reap the profits. Of course, the article didn’t state it that way. Instead, it praised Wake Forest University scientists who’ve come up with a new lighting technology that may generate half a billion dollars a year in patent licensing revenue. As I’ve said many times before, there needs to be a simple rule: any university or individual researcher that accepts federal research funding cannot benefit financially from the results of that research. The rewards from that research should flow to the people who paid for it. The taxpayers. It’s not a new idea. Any scientist working for a corporation signs a document that grants the corporation all rights to that scientist’s work.

11:47 – All of the furniture we needed to move is moved. I emptied out drawers and cleared the tops of the dressers totally without ruth. Barbara was probably shocked. I’m sure she was pleased. At one point, she shouted “I’m so happy!” She’s not used to me throwing anything out. As a side benefit of all this discarding, I found not one but two unused tobacco pouches. So now the inventory/workroom is pretty well cleared out. All that remains is to get stuff up on the shelves and organized.

We used three boxes: keep, trash/recycling and Goodwill. A lot of stuff that I almost trashed ended up in the Goodwill box–obsolescent/obsolete motherboards, memory, processors, PATA optical drives and cables, video cards, and so on. But then I realized that Goodwill builds/rebuilds computers for people who can’t afford current models, so some of this stuff might actually be useful to them.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

08:23 – Every time I think we’re going to run out of good stuff to watch on Netflix streaming, we find another new series or three. We’re now well into Rescue Me, which has first-rate writing. Barbara likes it, but finds it a bit intense, so she asked me to find something else to alternate with it. Yesterday, I came across Wild at Heart, a British series about a veterinarian and his family who relocate from Bristol to South Africa. We watched a couple of episodes of it last night, and Barbara gives it her seal of approval.

I’m still using the panic-level inventory method, but “panic level” varies by time of year. Back in the July through September crazy time, I started to get nervous if the finished goods inventory of chemistry kits fell below a couple dozen, and got seriously worried when it hit about 15. Of course, back then we were routinely shipping three to six chemistry kits a day. December is much slower, but as of this morning we’re down to four of the CK01A kits in stock. Four might last a week, but more likely it’s only a two or three days’ supply. Fortunately, we have everything we need to quickly assemble another half dozen, but after that the well runs dry. So one of our tasks this weekend is to put together another 60 each of the small parts bags and solids bags for the CK01 kits.

15:38 – Barbara and I just finished putting up six 6-foot 1×12 shelves in the inventory/work room, three on each side of the room. It’s amazing how much floor space we cleared. We store a lot of small components in shoebox-size plastic boxes. We put up the shelves with two feet of vertical separation, which allows stacking those boxes four high. There’s room for nine or ten per shelf horizontally, so all told we have room for 200+ of those boxes. Plus the room under the bottom shelves, where we’ll store stuff like cases of empty bottles and so on.

Until this morning, there were two dressers and two chests of drawers in that room. We moved one of the chests of drawers downstairs into the finished area today, and we’ll move one more of each tomorrow, leaving only the one dresser upon which I stack finished goods inventory ready to ship. We’ll also move a work table up from downstairs to use as a small assembly area. The main goal of all this was to do what was necessary so Barbara could have her kitchen table back permanently, which she will as of tomorrow.

15:51 – Okay, this is interesting in a perverse kind of way. Netflix has emailed me exactly twice to tell me that new seasons were available streaming for series that we’d been watching. The first time, it was Grey’s Anatomy, which I’d rated one star. Just a few minutes ago, they emailed me to say that season 7 of Bones was available. I’d rated Bones–you guessed it–one star. One star as in “Hated It”.

Actually, to be fair, I originally rated Bones three or four stars, but that was only for the first series or two. Even then, I found it annoying in some respects, particularly the imaginary science and occasional meaningless sciency jargon. That and the fact that they had each of their Ph.D. characters doing jobs that in reality would be distributed among several Ph.D.’s in different specialties, not to mention a bunch of technicians. But, okay, I can understand they have to do some bogus stuff to make the program flow and keep the cast size manageable. But as the seasons progressed, the science got more and more imaginary and the plots made less and less sense. So somewhere around series three I dropped my rating to one star. So, of course Netflix just had to tell me that there were new episodes available of a series I’d rated one star. Geez. What’s worse is that we’ll probably watch them. Double geez.

Friday, 7 December 2012

07:56 – I see that Michigan has joined the ranks of the right-to-work states. Not surprisingly, the unions are crying foul. As of now, Michigan is one of the most heavily unionized states, with 17.5% of the workforce belonging to unions. I expect that to change quickly, now that paying union dues is voluntary. On the one hand, this is very good news for both employers and employees in Michigan. On the other, I’m kind of sorry to see Michigan join the ranks of free states because it puts them in competition with North Carolina for new manufacturing facilities.

Other than the subassemblies we plan to build this weekend, we’re in pretty good shape on kit inventory, so I’m going to take some time today to work on the LK01 Life Science Kit. I already have a pretty good idea of what will be in the kit, but I haven’t written the manual yet. As I do that, I’ll modify the kit contents to add stuff I didn’t yet realize I’d need and remove stuff that turns out not to be needed. In addition to providing what’s needed to do the lab sessions in the manual I’m writing, I’d also like the kit to be usable with other life science lab manuals and to provide the key components necessary to do a subset of the labs in the biology book. That means there’ll be a lot of juggling going on before the thing is finalized.

10:07 – Interesting. As of this morning, we’ve shipped more kits in the first week of this month than we shipped in all of December 2011, and early December is not a peak period. In November, a very slow month, we shipped about three times as many kits as we did in November 2011, and in October (which is the end of the first-semester rush) nearly eight times as many kits as we did in October 2011. Of course, in 2011 we had only the one chemistry kit and now we have several different kits. Still, we plan to introduce at least a couple more new kits in 2013, so I’m hoping those multipliers hold up or increase in 2013. If so, we’ll easily blow through our initial goal of 500 total kits in 2013.

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.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

07:35 – We started watching Rescue Me on Netflix streaming last night. The writing so far is excellent, and it has a good cast. The Big Three have always been a staple of American TV drama series: cops, doctors, and lawyers. I’m surprised there aren’t more fire department shows. I guess they’re more costly to shoot. Barbara likes this one, although she says it’s a “guy show”.

We got a chemistry kit order yesterday from a woman in Canada, who wanted to order the US version of the kit and have it shipped to a US address. Figuring she was visiting friends in the US, I told her the kit should arrive Saturday, and asked if she’d still be there then. No problem, she said, she’d just drive down and pick it up when it arrived. As it turns out, it’s only a three-block drive.

I built a dozen of the new chemistry kits yesterday. I would have built more, but I had only a dozen of one of the subassemblies shared between the two chemistry kits. We’ll build 60 more of those subassemblies this weekend.

11:48 – The question needs to be asked: Is Europe Suicidal?

That eurozone countries would even consider the idea of abdicating sovereignty to the EU Supreme Soviet in Brussels makes that a reasonable question. That Britain would even consider remaining a member of the EU with such a kamikaze club in prospect suggests that Cameron has been ingesting hallucinogens. What Cameron should be doing as quickly as possible is withdrawing unilaterally from all EU ties other than the common market. At the same time, he should be strengthening ties with the US and Canada, including applying for membership in NAFTA. Geopolitically and culturally, UK interests align with those of North America, not Europe.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

08:19 – Barbara and I finished watching series 13 of Midsomer Murders on Netflix streaming last night. Availability of this series on Netflix has been very strange. For a long time, they had series one through ten. Then some time ago, they extended that to series one through twelve, so we watched series 11 and 12. Then, for a few months, they had only series 11 and 12 available, with series one through ten gone missing.

08:23 – I hate WordPress. I just wrote a long post and published it. When I clicked the Publish icon, WordPress popped up the login screen. So I logged in, called up the draft post, and published it. What I didn’t notice was that WordPress had lost all but the first paragraph. It apparently logged me out between the time that it autosaved that paragraph and the time I tried to publish. So that post is gone. I tried using the browser back button to get it back, but no dice. I really hate WordPress.

Monday, 3 December 2012

07:43 – Well, that’s interesting. I put up the main page for the CK01B chemistry kits on Saturday, but haven’t done any other promotion or announcement and we’re already getting orders for it. I hope those back-ordered test tube racks arrive today so we can build another couple dozen quickly.

10:56 – Wow. Talk about hazardous materials. This article reports that a Louisiana company is facing criminal charges for illegally storing three kilotons of nitrocellulose. The headline characterizes the nitrocellulose as “explosive”, which may or may not be true in the sense that that implies “high explosive”. Whether or not nitrocellulose can detonate depends on the degree of nitration and other factors. But one thing is certain: at a minimum, nitrocellulose burns very, very fast, so this is “explosive” at least to the same extent that black powder is explosive. I can’t believe anyone would store 6 million pounds of the stuff anywhere near a town, but this company apparently did.

12:41 – If you ever doubted that Fran├žois Hollande is a moron, here’s proof: French president’s plan to write off homework draws criticism. With Hollande and others like him “managing” the euro crisis, it’s no wonder that things have gone from worse to horrible, with no good end in sight. For that matter, this pretty much sums up what’s wrong with France in general: a gigantic, hideously expensive, intrusive government that attempts to dictate all aspects of people’s lives. Stalin would have been proud.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

08:12 – Happy Birthday to Barbara. She turns twenty-thirty-eight today. She’s off this morning to have brunch with her parents. We’ll go out to dinner tonight. It’s hard to believe, but we’ve now been together for more than half of our lives.

We finished the first series of Reven8e on Netflix streaming last night. Barbara commented that it was one of the best series she’d ever seen. Oddly, although Emily VanCamp is both the narrator and lead character of the series, she receives only second billing.