Friday, 8 February 2013

07:49 – Another one-dog night. We dodged the proverbial bullet. It rained for hours last evening, and the temperatures were barely above freezing.

I’ve been making up chemicals for the chemistry kits, doing raw-materials inventory as I do so. Yesterday, I put together an order for several hundred dollars worth of chemicals from Elemental Scientific. A gallon of reagent-grade glacial acetic acid, a gallon of reagent-grade n-butanol, two pounds of this, five pounds of that. When I clicked on the button to check out, there was a drop-down list that forced a choice of one of three options for payment: call-in, fax-in, or mail-in. I chose call-in.

I called to give them my credit card number, and spoke to Wade Van Ryzin, the owner. I asked him what was going on, and he said they were in the midst of changing credit-card processors and hadn’t yet gotten the API for the new processor set up on their web site. So I gave him my credit card number and, as usual, we started chatting about this and that. I finally remembered to ask Wade something I’d been meaning for years to ask him. Why does Elemental continue to package chemicals in traditional measures–ounces, pounds, pints, and so on–rather than grams and milliliters? Wade laughed and said they were asked that question all the time. The answer? He said that they’d have to re-do all of their labels, thousands of them, and that doing so would require devoting someone’s attention full-time for a month or more.

Barbara made a flying visit home last night to have dinner before heading over to her parents’ apartment to dad-sit overnight. She’s off-duty tonight, with Frances covering, and then back on-duty Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I asked about getting someone to stay with him nights, and Barbara said she and Frances were talking about it. The problem is that Dutch wants Barbara or Frances to stay with him because he’s afraid that a hired sitter will steal him blind while he’s asleep. I told Barbara that she and Frances need to make her dad understand that the two of them can’t do this indefinitely, and that if he wants someone staying with him it’s going to have to be someone hired from an agency.

11:28 – It all makes sense now. Barbara just told me that the IV antibiotic they have her mother on is levofloxacin, a 3G fluoroquinolone. Here’s some of what Wikipedia has to say about CNS ADRs with levofloxacin:

Fluoroquinolones can induce a wide range of serious adverse psychiatric effects. These reactions may manifest as extreme anxiety, panic attacks, depression, anhedonia, cognitive dysfunction (or brain fog), depersonalization, paranoia, hallucinations, toxic psychosis, seizures, tremors, taste perversions, abnormal dreams, chronic insomnia, vertigo, delirium, suicidal thoughts, and usually involves all five senses. For some people the symptoms resolve relatively soon after discontinuing the fluoroquinolone; for others, in the case of a neurotoxic effect, symptomatology may persist for months or even years after discontinuation. Fluoroquinolones are associated with a significant number of serious psychiatric events.

These side-effects are distressingly common with this drug, and are much more likely to manifest in older people. When you consider that Barbara’s mom is 85 years old and was mentally frail to begin with, it’s not surprising that she’s completely lost it while being treated with this drug. When I told Barbara that I was shocked that they were treating her mom with this drug, particularly in a hospital environment where MRSA is endemic, she said that Sankie is allergic to penicillins and sulfas. I realize that they have to choose a drug that is effective. Still, the one they’re using is hideously dangerous, even within the fluoroquinolone group. I can only assume that cipro or one of the other less risky fluoroquinolones wasn’t effective against her infection. Or at least I hope that’s why they decided to use levofloxacin.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

07:26 – Things with Barbara’s mom have gone completely to hell. She’s now refusing to eat and announced yesterday that she was writing her last will and testament. Barbara and Frances decided last night that they will no longer visit their mother as long as she’s in her current mental state. Visiting does their mother no good–in fact, it makes things worse–and it simply tears up Barbara and Frances. And, as Barbara said last night, her father doesn’t need to be seeing their mom like this.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

08:06 – Barbara made a flying visit home last night for dinner and a quick visit before heading over to spend the night with her dad. Her mom is no better and probably worse. She’s still in the hospital and seems likely to remain there at least through this week. There’s been no improvement in her mental condition, which may or may not be a result of the IV antibiotic they have her on for the lung infection. She’s still not eating and is sleeping only because they’ve increased the dosage of the drugs they give her in the evening. Barbara, her sister, and her dad are increasingly concerned that Sankie won’t snap out of it this time. My worry is that even if she does get back to normal and they send her home, the stress of trying to deal with Dutch’s condition will put her right back in the hospital within days.

The stress on Barbara and Frances, and of course their dad, is simply unbearable. Barbara and Frances are spelling each other, taking turns spending the night with their dad, but even that doesn’t help much. When Barbara is off-duty, she’s still spending a lot of time on the phone with Frances and the doctors, talking about what’s going on and making decisions about what’s to be done. The same is true for Frances when she’s off-duty. Neither one of them gets any real break.

09:55 – The USPS just announced that it will end Saturday delivery of first-class and lower mail starting in August. They’ll continue Saturday delivery of Express Mail and Priority Mail. Of course, Congress is supposed to have to approve such changes, but it sounds to me as though the USPS is going to do this whether Congress likes it or not.

I think this change is long overdue. USPS says it’ll save them about $2 billion a year, and few people will be adversely affected by the absence of Saturday delivery. In fact, I think it’s long past time for the USPS to tell Congress to go pound sand. USPS is, in theory, a private business, and it should start behaving like one. All of the financial problems the USPS has been having are directly attributable to Congressional meddling. USPS has hundreds if not thousands of post offices and other facilities that should have been closed long ago. They remain open because Congress won’t allow them to close them despite the fact that it make no business sense to keep them open. And Congress won’t allow USPS to close these facilities because voters object. USPS should be operating as an NGO (essentially, a non-profit), with its original goal of delivering the mail while breaking even. In fact, absent governmental meddling, that’s exactly what USPS is doing now.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

09:30 – Barbara’s mom and dad are doing about the same. Instead of heading directly over to her parents’ apartment after work today, Barbara’s going to go to the gym and then come home for dinner before heading over to dad-sit.

I filled a few hundred bottles yesterday, using the bottle-top dispenser. That’s basically a pump that sits on top of a reservoir bottle. The body of the pump has a slider that’s calibrated from 2.5 mL to 30 mL in 0.5 mL increments. To fill a bottle, you just place the mouth of the bottle over the dispenser tip, slide the pump body all the way up and then press it all the way down. It takes about five seconds to fill a 15 mL bottle and a bit longer for a 30 mL. The reservoir bottle is one liter (the largest they had), which is enough for 60+ 15 mL bottles or 30+ 30 mL bottles.

I’m doing batches of 60 or 90 bottles at a time, so I sometimes need to refill the reservoir with the same solution during a run. That takes 30 seconds or so. Cleanup during a changeover to a new chemical is faster than I feared it might be. I just rinse the reservoir bottle and dispenser under running tap water, put the supply tube into a beaker of tap water and pump 10 or 12 passes of tap water through the dispenser, and then repeat with a couple passes of distilled water.

The batch of bottles we’re currently working on is sufficient for 60 more chemistry kits and 30 more biology kits. After we finish this pass, I think I’m going to bump that up to batches of 120 chemistry kits and 60 biology kits. I’m also going to bump up the size of the chemical solutions we make up. Right now, I’m doing one liter at a time of the solutions that go into 15 mL bottles and two liters of the solutions that go into 30 mL bottles. That’s sufficient for 60+ sets of each. Other than solutions with relatively limited shelf lives, after this batch I’m going to start making up four liters at a time of the solutions for 15 mL bottles and eight liters of the solutions for 30 mL bottles, which is sufficient for 250 sets of each.

10:49 – I see that the Catholic hospital in Colorado that had made the unusual argument that a fetus is not a person has now backtracked and is admitting that a fetus is a person under Catholic doctrine. They were being sued for the wrongful death of a pregnant woman and her twin fetuses and had claimed that the two fetuses were not people under Colorado law. Now they’re saying that they were “morally wrong” to claim the fetuses were not people, which presumably means they plan to continue arguing that in the eyes of the law there is only one wrongful death at issue.

And some articles are now claiming that that image of Obama shooting skeet is a fake. Fake or not, it really doesn’t matter. I don’t think anyone really believes that Obama is a shooter.

From the image, if he’s shooting skeet it would appear that he’s shooting a sitting clay. (The shotgun is in full recoil, which even with the ported barrel and light skeet loads means it must have been about level when he pulled the trigger.) I suspect it would be more accurate to say that this image is of Obama shooting at skeet, because I doubt he’s ever actually hit one. If indeed this isn’t the only round Obama has ever fired in his life.

So I have a challenge for Mr. Obama. As Barbara, Paul, and Mary can attest, I pretty much suck at shooting clays, at least with a shotgun, so if Obama is actually a skeet shooter my challenge should be trivially easy for him to win. The deal is, Obama gets his shotgun and 25 rounds of skeet shells. He shoots a round and we total how many he breaks. Then I get my Colt Combat Commander and 25 rounds of hardball. I shoot a round and we total how many I break. If Obama breaks more than I do, he gets to claim to be a shooter. What could be fairer than that?

I should say that I actually tried shooting clays with my .45 back 35 years ago or so. I used a box of 50 rounds and IIRC broke half a dozen clays, for a success rate of 12%. Some of the guys I was shooting with did better than that, but they were using higher-velocity rounds.

12:56 – I just got off the phone with PayPal support. I was starting to get concerned about a couple of things. First, the from: line of the payment-received emails that PayPay sends me had changed. Until the end of January or thereabouts, they were in the form:

“” <>

For the last several days, they’ve been in the form:

John Doe via PayPal <>

My second concern was a change in withdrawals. I regularly sweep our PayPal balance into our corporate bank account, at least daily and sometimes two or three times a day. Until now, as soon as I did a transfer I’d get an email immediately from PayPal noting the details of the transfer. For the last few days, I haven’t been getting those confirmation emails, so I began to wonder if I’d been hacked.

As it turns out, there’s no problem. Mallory at PayPal support said they’d changed the way they format the from: line on payment-received emails to cut down on fraud attempts. And she said not to worry about the lack of confirmation emails for transfers from PayPal to our bank account. Apparently, they’ve been having some kind of issue getting those emails sent.

Monday, 4 February 2013

07:32 – Barbara is back on dad-sitting duty this evening and tomorrow evening. Ordinarily, that’d mean Colin and I wouldn’t see her again until Wednesday after work, but she’s decided to come back here after work Tuesday, have dinner, and then head over to her dad’s place to spend the night. The hospital is still running tests and otherwise trying to figure out exactly what’s wrong with her mom, but it seems likely she’ll be in the hospital for at least a few more days.

Barbara got a bunch of bottles labeled over the weekend, so among other things I’ll be filling bottles this week. Despite all the upheaval, we’re still in reasonably good supply on finished inventory of all the science kits, with more abuilding.

08:11 – I see that it’s been confirmed by DNA testing that the skeleton found under that British parking lot is in fact the remains of King Richard III. Furthermore, from the photo in the news article I saw, it appears that King Richard had been decapitated, lending credence to the idea that Richard III was in fact killed accidentally by Lord Edmund Plantagenet and succeeded by King Richard IV.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

09:24 – Barbara’s mom is doing a bit better. Frances stayed with their dad last night and will tonight, so Barbara has a couple days at home off dad-sitting duty. She’s covering Monday and Tuesday nights.

Paul Jones stopped by yesterday to borrow a laser collimator. We talked about having dinner, and Paul mentioned that he and Mary had plans for yesterday evening and tonight. When I mentioned that to Barbara, she said they were probably having or going to a super bowl party today. I, of course, hadn’t realized that today is the super bowl thing.

Netflix sent me email yesterday to announce availability of their remake of House of Cards. We watched and liked the British version years ago, so I added it to our queue. Now I see there are all kinds of on-line articles about Netflix’s “$100 million gamble” and about how Reed Hastings is determined to have Netflix become more like HBO faster than HBO can become more like Netflix. We’ll see. Hasting is flying in the face of conventional wisdom by releasing all 13 episodes of the first season at once, catering to so-called “binge watchers”, rather than stringing them out as HBO would. But Hastings is a very smart guy, and he’s determined to transition Netflix from a content-delivery company to a content-creation and -delivery company. I think he’ll succeed.

Work continues on building more science kits. Barbara got a bunch of bottles labeled yesterday and will do more today. She’ll finish up the bottles for the next batch of 60 chemistry kits and get started on the next batch of bottles for biology kits. This coming week, I’ll be filling bottles.

And I see that Minnesota and Florida are in a spat because Minnesota is trying to tax Florida residents as though they were Minnesota residents. The rule has always been that if one lives in a state for more than half a year, one is a resident of that state for that year. If you spend six months and a day in State A and five months and 29 days in State B, you are legally a resident of State A. There are minor exceptions for military personnel and so on, but that’s always been the rule. Now Minnesota is trying to tax people whose legal residence is in Florida but who take long vacations in Minnesota, the so-called snowbirds. Florida is encouraging the snowbirds just to move to Florida full-time.

Differential state taxes have always been an issue. I grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, which is about 10 miles from the Ohio state line. When I was young, I remember my parents driving over to Youngstown, Ohio to buy major items like furniture. They’d have them delivered by truck. Because Pennsylvania charged sales taxes on these items and Ohio didn’t, they’d end up paying significantly less. We have the same situation in North Carolina near the Virginia border. Gasoline taxes are lower in Virginia, so it’s almost impossible for a gas station to stay in business near the border. Everyone drives over into Virginia to fill up. And the recent to-do over Phil Mickelson moving out of California to avoid state income taxes is yet another example, as is Amazon’s ongoing battle with states that are trying to force it to charge sales taxes, as is the “smuggling” of cigarettes from low-tax states like Virginia and North Carolina to high-tax states like New York.

The obvious solution is for all states to eliminate income, sales, and excise taxes, putting everyone on a level playing field. If we must have taxes, let’s return to what the Founding Fathers intended: import duties and a per capita tax. Period. I’d suggest $500/person to the city/county, $50/person to the state, and $5/person to the feds. That’s a federal budget of $1.5 billion/year, which should be plenty for them to do everything they should be doing.

12:19 – I’m cutting purchase orders for science kit components. It’s interesting. Back when we started building kits in mid-2011, I was typically issuing POs for 30 kits’ worth of components at a time. Then I started doing 60 kits’ worth, and then 120 kits’ worth. I’m now cutting POs for 250 kits’ worth or more at a crack. That’s likely to be the limit, though, simply because of our limited storage space.

I still have no good idea of how many kits we’ll sell this year. Right now, we’re maintaining roughly a kit per day, which annualizes to 350+ total kits for the year. But that ignores seasonality. In the July, August, September period, we should sell literally 10 or more times the number of kits per month that we sell in slow months. January and February are slow months. Our goal for 2012, our first full year in operation, was 250 total kits, which we easily beat. Our goal for this year was 500 kits, but unless the current run rate is an anomaly we’re looking at easily 1,000 kits for the year, if not more. We may end up having to rent space sooner than I’d planned.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

08:47 – Last night, things took a major turn for the worse with Barbara’s mom. Barbara headed over to her parents’ apartment straight from work. I thought she was going to have dinner with her dad and then visit her mom in the hospital. Visiting hours end at 7:00 p.m., so around 8:00 I called the apartment and got the answering machine. I thought that was odd, but I figured Barbara would call when she had a moment.

She finally called around 9:00, almost in tears. She, her dad, and her sister were still at the hospital, which had somehow lost her mom. They finally found Sankie, wandering around undressed. They’d moved her to another room, but had not moved her clothes and other personal possessions with her. So then they had an encounter with a very nasty nurse, who told them visiting hours were over and they had to leave without seeing Sankie, even though it was the hospital’s fault that she’d been missing during official visiting hours. Barbara, of course, hit the roof and started working her way up the chain of command. She eventually got to speak with Sankie’s doctor, who asked her if she knew the name of this bitch nurse. Barbara told him, and he said, “Ah, that explains it.” I hope that means they’re going to fire that nurse’s ass.

Sankie is in very bad shape mentally. Barbara said that she just kept repeating over and over that she wanted to die or that she was going to die. She even told them that she was going to die in the next five minutes.

When Barbara called at 9:00 she was just on her way out of the hospital with her dad and sister. Neither she nor her dad had eaten since lunch, so they stopped on the way back to the apartment to grab a quick meal. Barbara called around 10:30, still very upset. She said they’d all talked it over and thought that Sankie had decided to die because she didn’t want to outlive Dutch. That actually makes sense. For weeks now, Sankie has been trying desperately to keep Dutch from dying. She’s now apparently decided that’s not going to work, so she’s shifted to Plan B. If she can’t keep Dutch alive, she’ll just die first. In her current mental and physical state, I’m afraid she’s going to get her wish. Elderly people who lose their will to live often don’t last long, particularly if they’re seriously ill on top of that.

Barbara, Frances, and Dutch, of course, are going through hell. I’m afraid that Barbara and Frances in particular are close to breaking down completely. Short of them just writing off their mom, which neither of them would even consider, I’m afraid that Sankie is going to end up dragging both of them down with her.

Friday, 1 February 2013

07:26 – Barbara spent last night at home. She’s spending tonight with her dad, and then her sister is covering Saturday and Sunday nights, with Barbara back on duty next Monday and Tuesday nights, if necessary. We’re hoping her mom will be back at home by next week.

I’m still working on science kits. We’re in pretty good shape right now, with roughly 40 kits in stock. I’m trying to get 60 more chemistry kits ready to assemble, followed by 60 more biology kits, followed by 60 life science kits.

08:24 – I’m off to sit in the den, watch Heartland re-runs, and label bottles. Thousands of them. Barbara usually does the bottle labeling on weekends while she watches stuff on Netflix streaming, but she’s been pretty busy with her parents lately so I’ll try to take up some of the slack.