Monday, 18 February 2013

10:01 – I told Barbara yesterday morning that the change in her demeanor was profound following her and her sister’s decision that they would no longer attempt to parent-sit nights. She’s shed a very heavy burden, and it’s obvious just looking at her. She’s smiling and laughing again. She and Frances will continue to see their parents frequently to take them to doctors’ appointments and so on, but they’ve laid down the law to their parents, telling them that they, their parents, are now responsible for watching over each other at night. If something happens to Sankie, Dutch will be there to summon assistance, and vice-versa. There’s no need for Barbara and Frances to put their lives on hold just so one of them will be there every night on the off chance that something bad will happen.

Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. We decided that once the weather improved a bit we’d head out to shoot some clays. It’s been a long time for all of us. As I said to Paul, we shouldn’t put this off much longer. We need to Become One with Obama. Before we do that, I’m going to buy a 12-gauge 870 pump shotgun in open cylinder choke for myself and maybe a 20-gauge 870 pump for Barbara, assuming I can find any for sale. Walmart is out of stock at every store within a 50 mile radius. Paul suggested that Barbara might want to try Mary’s 20-gauge 870 pump before we decided between 12 and 20 gauge for Barbara. My concern isn’t with light clay loads, which Barbara could easily handle in 12 gauge. My concern is that a 12-gauge with magnum buckshot or slug loads is more weapon than just about any woman can handle comfortably. For that matter, it’s too much gun for many men. Free recoil is roughly twice that of a .30-06 rifle, which very few women can use comfortably for more than a couple rounds at a time. What I may do is take along a few magnum buckshot loads to the clays range and let Barbara try shooting them. My guess is that she’ll decide a 20-gauge would be plenty.

Lab day today. I need to make up a bunch of different solutions for the biology kits. All of those on my current to-do list are completely stable, so I planned to make up a bunch of each. For solutions that are used only in the biology kits, I’d intended to make up enough of each for about 125 kits, which is to say two liters for solutions we supply in 15 mL bottles and four liters for ones we supply in 30 mL bottles. Unfortunately, I’m low-stock on some of the required chemicals. For example, I’m down to about 15 g of eosin Y sodium, which is only 1.5 liters worth. I have 100 g on order, so I may just wait until it arrives. For solutions that are used in both the biology kits and the life science kits, of which eosin Y is one, I’d intended to make up about 250 kits worth, four L of those that we supply in 15 mL bottles and eight liters of those that are in 30 mL bottles.


Sunday, 17 February 2013

09:23 – Barbara and Frances called it quits last night. Frances stayed with their parents last night, but that was the final night. They’ve decided that their parents don’t need them there at night; their mom simply desperately wants them there 24 hours. Barbara and Frances are now convinced that their mom is simply acting out to make sure they won’t leave her alone with Dutch. Barbara’s friend Marcie cares for older people, and they’re hiring her to visit their parents as needed to help their parents during the day.

Even with everything that’s been going on, we’ve made progress on kit stuff. We now have everything needed to build another batch of 60 chemistry kits, and much of what we need for another batch of biology kits. Once we finish that, we’ll start labeling yet another batch of bottles for 60 chemistry kits, then bottles for biology kits again, and so on. My goal is to start the busy period in early July with components on hand that will allow us to quickly assemble at least 240 chemistry kits, 120 biology kits, 120 life science kits, and 60 forensics kits.

One thing I’d thought about but hadn’t fully realized the implications of is that our bin system is breaking down. It’s one thing to have bins, each with, say, 30 filled bottles of the chemical and another 30 labeled but unfilled bottles. It’s quite another to have to store, say, 120 filled bottles and another 120 unfilled. The current bins aren’t big enough, and there’s not enough shelf space to substitute bins four times the size. Same thing with storage for made-up solutions. Until now, I’ve been using a mixture of one- and two-liter bottles. I might, for example, have made up one liter of iodine solution, which is sufficient for about kit 30 bottles. Now I’m making the stuff up four liters at a time. And then there’s the matter of storing finished kits to await shipment. The current storage area has room for 60 kits, but certainly not four or five times that many.

That leaves two options, neither of which Barbara is crazy about. First, I could use the finished area downstairs. Second, I could park my Trooper outdoors, at the end of the drive, and build floor-to-ceiling shelves in the vacated area. On balance, given the level of sales I expect this year, I think we can make it through 2013 without any major changes. But if our growth rate continues, we’re probably going to have to rent space in 2014.


Saturday, 16 February 2013

08:20 – It’s spitting snow as I write this. Barbara is coming home this morning. Frances will be covering tonight at their parents, and they’ll discuss whether their parents can get along without one of them starting Sunday night. I hope so, because Barbara and Frances both need their lives back.

I labeled and capped 63 125 mL bottles of the fertilizer concentrate yesterday, to go with the dozen bottles I already had in stock. I may just go ahead and make up another 75 bottles, which’d give me enough for 150 biology kits. The solution is completely stable, so shelf life isn’t an issue. As with many of the solutions in our kits, we add 1 mL/L of 10% thymol solution as a preservative. Thymol at 100 mg/L inhibits growth of molds and bacteria.

I also discovered that the Vita Grow Part C powder (pure monopotassium phosphate) had doubled in price since I ordered it less than a year ago, from $18 for four pounds to $36. That means that for about the same cost, I can just make up the fertilizer A concentrate from reagent grade phosphoric acid and potassium hydroxide. It’s also quicker. I can just dilute 149.3 mL of concentrated phosphoric acid to about 3.5 L, dissolve 224.3 g of potassium hydroxide in that dilute acid solution, make it up to 4 L, and the solution is complete.


Friday, 15 February 2013

08:27 – No word from Barbara last night, which I’m hoping means her parents passed a quiet evening and night. She’s taken the day off work today. This morning she’s taking her dad to look at battery-powered scooters. This afternoon, she’s taking her mom to see the psychiatrist that her mom used to see. He does outpatient work here in Winston-Salem, but is associated with a hospital in Thomasville. Barbara said she and her sister decided to get his appraisal of her mom’s condition and then just do whatever he recommends, including possibly admitting their mom to the hospital in Thomasville. They won’t consider putting her back in the psych unit at Forsyth Memorial Hospital, where she and they had horrible experiences. The downside is that Thomasville is a 1.5 hour round trip, so visiting their mom would be more problematic, if indeed visits are even allowed.

I am extremely disappointed in Netflix streaming. Things have been pretty grim around here, so last night I decided to watch a comedy just for some light relief. I noticed that the BBC comedy Coupling was available streaming. We’d watched it several years ago on DVD, so I decided to fire it up and watch it again. I remembered it as one of the funniest programs we’d ever watched.

So I watched the first episode of series one, and it just didn’t seem right. I wrote that off to the program just getting started, and thought it must have gotten better further into the series. So I started to watch episode two, and quickly realized that some ham-handed hack had edited the episode, bleeping out words like “shit” and even cutting entire scenes. The uncut original would probably get a PG in the US. Netflix has thousands of hours of other material with stronger language and more nudity, so I was at a loss to understand why they’d butchered Coupling.

I checked the Netflix web page for Coupling, and found that Netflix had edited the episodes down from 29 minutes to 23 minutes. There were lots of reviewers commenting about the butchered editing and Bowdlerization. So I went back to our archives in search of the DVDs. Series 1 was all on one DVD, and there was a slip of paper in the sleeve saying that I’d given that disc to Mary. So I started watching series 2, which was as brilliant as I’d remembered it. Laugh-out-loud funny. I shudder to think how bad the edited version would have been.

The moral here is that if you want to watch Coupling, which you should, don’t watch the Netflix streaming version. Get the DVDs. Oh, and don’t bother watching series 4. Series 1 through 3 are brilliant. In series 4, the actor who played Jeff left and his replacement was a very poor substitute.


10:39 – Barbara just made a flying visit home for some clothes and then headed back over to her parents’ place. Last night went well. Her dad is doing fine and her mom is doing better. Barbara said she may even come home tonight and leave her parents on their own for the night.

I’ve finished making up 60 sets of chemicals for the chemistry kits, and today I start making up chemicals for another batch of biology kits.


12:15 – I just made up eight liters (2+ gallons) of Fertilizer Part A, which at 125 mL per kit is sufficient for 64 biology kits. I’m always entertained by making up this solution. Most of the solutions I make up use reagent-grade chemicals weighed on an analytical balance and dissolved in DI water. That would be gross overkill for this fertilizer concentrate, which I make up with technical-grade or fertilizer-grade chemicals, weighed on a shipping scale to the nearest gram and dissolved in tap water.

This solution is a mixture of potassium hydrogen phosphate and potassium dihydrogen phospate. The mixture is calculated to provide the correct amounts of potassium and phosphate after dilution, while maintaining the pH in the proper range. I get the first chemical in four-pound (~ 2 kilo) jars from soapgoods.com. The second is VitaGrow Giant Bloom Part C, which is available in four-pound boxes from any garden supplies vendor.

When I made up the first batch of this solution last May, I wondered why VitaGrow added blue-green dye to the otherwise colorless potassium dihydrogen phospate powder. I assumed they did it just so the fertilizer solution would be a pretty pale blue-green color. But as it turned out, having the solution colored works better for us because it’s much easier to see the level on the 125 mL polypropylene bottles as we’re filling them. So I made a note in my consolidated chemical makeup instructions document that if in the future I used a different source for potassium dihydrogen phosphate I should add a few drops of blue/green food coloring to the solution.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

08:51 – Barbara had to leave work yesterday afternoon and head over to her parents’ apartment because her mom was very upset. Frances got over there in time to relieve Barbara so that Barbara could go to dinner with her friends as planned, albeit a little late. Barbara then headed back over to her parents’ apartment. She and Frances eventually got their mom calmed down enough for Barbara to come back home to spend the night. They have a sitter coming in to cover today and then Barbara has duty tonight and all day tomorrow.

Sankie’s main doctor tells them that it’s essential that Barbara’s mom and dad remain together rather than separating them and putting Sankie in a mental facility. I’m sure he’s right that that’s best for Sankie, but I’m afraid the stress on Barbara, Frances, and Dutch is going to be more than they can handle. From what Barbara has said of her mother’s behavior–confusion, sun-downing, paranoia, repeating things over and over and over, forgetting recent events while remembering those from years or decades ago, and so on–it’s pretty clear than Sankie is suffering from moderate senile dementia. That’s particularly bad because it means Sankie may not understand what Barbara and Frances are telling her, and even if she does she may well forget about it.

Barbara and Frances told their parents last night that they (Barbara and Frances) are both near the breaking point, that they (Barbara and Frances) can’t continue to do this day after day and night after night, and that it’s essential that their parents co-operate if they want to remain together at their apartment. They have hired a company’s services to put someone in the apartment with their parents during the day, but their parents are going to have to get along by themselves at night. If that works out, great. If it doesn’t, they’re going to have to move their mother to a mental care facility.

Barbara said she’d stay with her parents tonight and tomorrow night, with Frances on duty Saturday night and then Barbara again for Sunday night. After that, their parents would be on their own nights. If something happens at night, they have pull chains to summon someone from the facility to help them. They also have fell-and-can’t-get-up pendants that call 911 directly. I suggested to Barbara that she talk to Frances about making tonight the last night, and leaving their parents on their own from Friday night on. That way, if an early crisis is going to occur, it’d probably be over the weekend, when it’s easier for Barbara and Frances to deal with it.


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

08:15 – Barbara’s mom is home and seems to be doing okay. Frances stayed with them last night and will also stay with them tonight so that Barbara can go out to dinner with friends. Today, they have a home aide coming in to spend the day with them. Then Barbara will stay with them tomorrow night, all day Friday, and Friday night. Barbara and Frances are hoping that by the weekend their parents will be able to get along at night without one of them there.

Science kit sales have slacked off a bit, but are still running at several times the rate of a year ago. Two orders for chemistry kits came in overnight, which takes us down to half a dozen or so in stock. Those should take us through at least the weekend, when I’ll start building another batch of 30. Fortunately, we’re still in good shape on biology and forensics kits, although we do need to get bottles labeled and filled for the biology kits.


15:33 – I don’t usually bother reading stuff like this, but I read this opinion piece about the long-term unemployed all the way through. Like most leftish opinion pieces, this one shows prima facie that the author isn’t capable of thinking things through. He actually believes that Obama’s plan to boost the minimum wage is good news for the poor and long-term unemployed. In fact, it’s a catastrophe.

As late as 2007, the federal minimum wage was $5.15/hour. Even that was too high, pricing many would-be workers out of the market. It’s now $7.25/hour, which has caused a catastrophic rise in unemployment among the poor and low/no-skilled. And Obama wants to boost it to $9.00? As someone once said, the minimum wage doesn’t guarantee anyone a job at that hourly rate; all it does is guarantee that you can’t legally work for a lower hourly rate. And the upshot of the latest increases in the minimum wage have shown that beyond question. If Obama gets his wish, the effect will be more of the same. More unemployed poor people. More long-term unemployment. More people homeless or on welfare. With friends like Obama, the poor don’t need enemies.

And the other thing that annoys me is that most such articles mention that a family of four whose wage-earner is paid minimum wage is below the poverty line. So what? They never mention that a family of four with two wage-earners who each are paid minimum wage is well above the poverty line. And that’s the calculation they should really be making. If mom and dad both work for minimum wage, they can support those two kids at a lower middle-class standard of living. And what about single moms? Well, how about they share an apartment, which takes them both, with their children, to a lower middle-class standard of living.

If Obama were really concerned about the poor and long-term unemployed, he’d be pushing to eliminate the minimum wage, or at least reduce it to the $5.15/hour level that prevailed in 2007. By pushing to raise it from its already ridiculously high level, he’s dooming millions of low/no-skill people to permanent unemployment. He’s also dooming their children to being permanent members of the underclass.

And he’s making jobs disappear permanently. Most current minimum wage jobs are easily automated. The business decision is often whether it’s cheaper to pay a cheap person or make the capital investment to automate that job. And once that job is automated it’s gone forever. One day in the not-too-distant future, you may walk into McDonalds and find the only employees are the manager and his dog. Everything else is automated.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

08:21 – Happy Darwin Day, and happy birthday to Colin, who’s two years old today. In fact, over the weekend I suggested to Barbara that we change Colin’s name to Darwin, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

Barbara’s heading over to the hospital this afternoon to pick up her mom and take her home. She and Frances have been scrambling to get day-time care lined up. The doctor suggested that they have someone there with Sankie during the day as well as at night for at least a while because they’re afraid she won’t be able to cope physically with things until she’s recovered a bit more. Barbara is not optimistic, expecting another crisis will occur soon with her mom, her dad, or both. I think they both need to be moved to a skilled-care facility. Independent-living or even assisted-living is simply no longer appropriate for them.


16:23 – I spoke to Barbara a few minutes ago. Her mom is now home and seems to be doing as well as could be expected. She’s still physically frail, which is to be expected at her age and coming off a 16-day hospital stay. Mentally, it’s a mixed bag. Barbara says she remembers things like the year they moved into their house, 50 years or so ago. But she’s confused about why she was in the hospital. I told Barbara to give her a day or two to get used to being home before she worries too much about her mom’s mental state. It’s never easy being in the hospital, let alone for someone Sankie’s age. The aide they’re hiring to day-sit was over there when I talked to Barbara. Barbara vaguely recognized her. It turns out that Barbara went to elementary, junior high, and high school with her.

Monday, 11 February 2013

07:50 – North Carolina is one of several states that are apparently in the early stages of revolting against the federal government. Every day, it seems, the front page of the paper has another article about one way or another that North Carolina is refusing to cooperate with the feds. We’re opting out of the expansion of Medicaid. As of July 1st, we’re reducing the duration and amount of unemployment benefits significantly, thereby becoming ineligible for the federal extended unemployment benefits program. And some local sheriffs and police chiefs have already said that they won’t cooperate with Obama’s proposed new gun control laws, because they are sworn to uphold the state and federal Constitutions. It wouldn’t surprise me if North Carolina followed Virginia, Utah and several other states in seriously considering introducing a silver- or gold-based state currency. And I’m hearing rumbles about some states considering declaring their residents exempt from paying all federal taxes. This could get interesting.


10:55 – I see the pope is going to abdicate at the end of this month. Media reports say this is the first time a pope has resigned since 1415, but in fact Gregory XII didn’t resign; he was pretty much fired from his pope job and demoted to bishop. IIRC, the RCC was then popeless until after GXII died. It seems to me that this is a great opportunity for the RCC to just wrap things up. Don’t bother electing another pope. Just let things wind down. Sell off all the assets and donate the proceeds to the current RCC members pro rata.


11:55 – I just finished filling 200+ 15 mL bottles with 1% phenolphthalein in IPA. It’s a lot quicker and easier to do that with the bottle-top dispenser rather than manually. The problem with manual filling is that the viscosity of IPA is low enough that it’s difficult to pour into the small opening of a 15 mL bottle without having it run down the sides of the bottle. The only problem with using the bottle-top dispenser is that phenolphthalein is extremely insoluble in water, so cleanup is a bit more involved than usual. Fortunately, phenolphthalein is soluble in basic solutions, so I’ll do multiple passes with a washing soda (sodium carbonate) solution, followed by a dozen passes of tap water, followed by a couple passes of DI water. The involved cleanup is why I did 200+ bottles in one run.

Next up is turmeric reagent, which is a solution of curcumin in IPA. It’s even more of a bitch to clean up, because it stains everything bright yellow, including even glass. For that one, I’ll start with a couple passes of IPA to get most of the staining gone. Curcumin is slightly soluble in sulfuric acid (about 1%), so I’ll follow the IPA wash with a dilute sulfuric acid wash to dissolve whatever curcumin remains. Several rinses in tap water and then DI water should finish the job.


15:25 – An hour or so ago I was surprised to get a call from Barbara’s mom. She was confused, thinking Barbara would be at home. I told her Barbara was at work and that I’d call her and have her return her mom’s call. So, a few minutes ago, Barbara called to say that her mom is going to be released at 2:00 tomorrow afternoon. That throws Barbara’s and Frances’s week into confusion, because the doctor wanted them to have someone with Sankie 24 hours a day. And that doesn’t include Dutch, apparently. So Barbara is going to pick up her mom tomorrow afternoon, take her home, and wait until Frances can get there. I’m not sure what they’ll do after that.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

08:18 – Someone may have to have a word with the new neighbors. Well, with one of the new neighbors. There have actually been three houses sold on our block in the last couple months. The ones one house to the left of the house directly across the street from us are fine, as are the ones three houses to the right of the house across the street from us. It’s the ones two houses to the right of the house across the street that are the problem.

They moved in a couple of weeks ago. The owner is a young man, but he has three or four of his friends living there with him. That’s illegal in itself. This neighborhood is zoned R6, which means single-family dwellings. That means only close family members are allowed to live together. No one objects to modern families. For example, Steve and Heather live in the house across the street and two to the left of us. They aren’t married, and their four kids (three of his, one of hers) live with them. Fine. For all intents and purposes they’re a family. But this new guy is running what amounts to a rooming house.

And he’s really getting off on the wrong foot. If the four or five of them were just living there quietly probably no one would object. But they had a party Wednesday evening and had 20 or 30 cars parked up and down the street for most of the block. Okay, most of the neighbors probably figured they were having a moving-in/housewarming party. Again, no big deal. But then last night, three days later, they had another party with 20 or 30 cars parked up and down the block. If they keep doing that, someone is going to call the city to complain and the owner is going to find himself cited for running a rooming house.


11:29 – Barbara is home until she leaves for work tomorrow. She has dad-sitting duty MWF nights this week. Frances took their dad to visit their mom yesterday and said Sankie was doing a lot better. Of course, that was during the day and it’s usually in the evenings and at night that she has the problems. Sankie has been in the hospital for two weeks as of yesterday. It looks as if they may release her Friday, which is the last day of her antibiotic course. The doctor said she could go home any time and continue the antibiotic at home, but Barbara and Frances want to leave her in the hospital until Friday while they get some things lined up. Barbara is taking Friday off work anyway, so it’d be a good day to get Sankie home. That way, Barbara is there anyway and between her and Frances they can cover the weekend 24 hours a day if needed. I did suggest to Barbara that she and Frances remove all knives, scissors, and other sharp objects as well as club-like objects before they take their mother home to their apartment. I don’t think either Dutch or Sankie is likely to become suicidal or homicidal, but better safe than sorry.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

07:49 – Barbara had the night off. She and Colin are back in the bedroom now, having a lie-in. She’s dad-sitting tonight, and will be off-duty again tomorrow night.

It should be an ordinary Saturday for us until Barbara leaves this afternoon to head over to her parents’ apartment. I’ll do laundry and work on science kits. Barbara plans to do some yardwork, and maybe label some empty bottles and seal some filled ones this afternoon while she watches something on Netflix streaming.