Friday, 31 May 2013

07:53 – Barbara’s dad was doing very well when I visited him yesterday, acting almost like his old self. I took him the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich he’d requested, along with a small cup of strawberry ice cream, both of which he ate. The Hospice representative stopped by later, and told Barbara that Dutch was exactly where he needed to be for the time being. Barbara’s friend Marcy stopped over yesterday afternoon to visit as well. I’ll run over there today to return the clothes I washed yesterday, and Frances and Al plan to visit Dutch this afternoon. Barbara may also stop to see Dutch on her way home from work, and plans to go over for a longer visit tomorrow. So, overall Dutch is getting plenty of visitors. It’s not much, but we hope it’ll help keep his spirits up. Being stuck in a nursing home is no fun at all, even one as good as the Brian Center.

I met yesterday afternoon with Abby Esterly, and wrote her a retainer check to get her started on doing a logo for the business and a hand-out sheet. I told her that I was the client from hell because I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know when I see it. I again encouraged Abby to focus all of her efforts on building her own business rather than beat her head against the wall trying to find a job in the film/animation industry. That’s what she’s trained to do, but there are simply no jobs available and not likely to be. At age 26, Abby is part of the new Lost Generation, coming into the job market just as the job market has collapsed, with no prospect of any significant improvement any time soon, if ever. But Abby is smart, talented, and hard-working, which still counts for something. I told her that there is no security, other than what she makes for herself. And she has all the tools necessary to do that.

Barbara and I are about three quarters of the way through series six of Heartland, which we’ll probably finish this weekend. They just finished shooting the first two episodes of series seven, so it’ll be almost a year before we can start binge-watching series seven. So, once we finish series six, I’ll go back and start again at series one episode one and watch my way through the whole six seasons again at least once and probably twice while I wait for series seven.

16:08 – Stuff like this really pisses me off: Smoke? Overweight? New regulations could raise your insurance rates

And here’s the problem in one sentence: “Smokers, of course, run up more health care bills than non-smokers.” The only problem is, that’s utterly wrong, as is grouping “smokers” without differentiating between cigarette smokers and others.

Cigarette smokers tend to die young and quickly from causes like heart attacks. Few of them make it to 80, which is when the real health-care costs start to kick in. My father-in-law, who is a non-smoker, is almost 91 years old. I have no doubt that in the last year Dutch has consumed more health care resources (and costs) than he did in the previous 90 years combined. It’s end-of-life care that is costly, and people who don’t smoke cigarettes both live longer and consume more resources for much longer than those cigarette smokers, most of whom died quickly years before they reached 80.

Any honest actuary will tell you that cigarette smokers incur higher health-care costs than non-smokers, but there’s a key gotcha concealed in that statement. In the past, insurance companies could drop coverage on people who became seriously ill, and deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. So, while their policies were still in effect, cigarette smokers did indeed cost the insurance companies more, so those smokers accordingly paid higher premiums. With Obamacare, it’s a whole different ballgame. Now, everyone is eligible for coverage regardless of their health or pre-existing conditions. So the insurance companies will be stuck paying the bills. As that actuary who he’d rather have a policy on: a cigarette smoker who will probably die of a heart attack, with their only costs an emergency room visit and possibly a day or two of ICU, or a non-smoker, who is going to be in and out of the hospital as he ages, and eventually in more than out. There’s simply no contest. The non-smoker is going to cost much, much more than the smoker possibly can.

Then there’s the problem of lumping in cigarette smokers with pipe smokers, like me. That honest actuary will tell you that pipe smokers on average outlive not just cigarette smokers, but NON-SMOKERS. It’s not that pipe smoking is particularly good for your health, but pipe smokers are self-selected Type B personalities. We tend not to get excited, and we tend not to die of the stress-related problems that kill a lot of those non-smoking Type A personalities. Before political-correctness, pipe smokers were rated for life insurance the same as non-smokers. For that matter, people who smoked half a pack of cigarettes a day or less were also rated as non-smokers. That’s because the actuaries knew that life expectancy was the same for non-smokers, pipe smokers, and those who smoked half a pack a day or less of cigarettes. That’s still true, although you’ll have to do quite a bit of digging to discover the kind of raw data that establishes it. It’s also true that the general health of pipe smokers is statistically indistinguishable from that of non-smokers, and insurance companies used to write health insurance policies at the same rates for pipe smokers and light cigarette smokers as for non-smokers.

So why is Obamacare going to charge smokers 50% higher rates than non-smokers. They should be giving smokers a discount. And the higher premiums also apply to those who are “overweight”, which is just as outrageous. The problem there is that people who are of so-called “normal weight” actually have higher morbidity and mortality than those who are the next step up, so-called “overweight”. That speaks volumes: being “overweight” means you’re healthier and less likely to die than if you’re “normal weight”. That makes one wonder who defines “normal weight” and, uh, what they’ve been smoking.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

08:30 – I didn’t quite finish the 30 biology kits yesterday. I have 30 shipping boxes arrayed on the work tables downstairs, each box filled with all of the required items, but I haven’t yet gotten the shipping boxes packed and sealed. I’ll finish that today and get started on filling bottles for the new batch of 30 forensics kits. That, and figuring out what we’re short of for a new batch of 60 chemistry kits.

One of the unfortunate realities of the business ramping up is that we end up with more and more working capital sunk in inventory, both finished goods and raw materials. I saw that coming from the first, and I was determined to fund that inventory from working cash flow, which we’ve done. The result, of course, is that we’re not taking much money out of the business. Instead, we end up with $1,000 worth of thermometers in stock, $2,000 worth of bottles, several thousand dollars worth of microscope slides, and on and on. That’s okay, for now. In fact, I’d much rather have funds in the form of hard assets rather than money in the bank. Money loses value constantly, while hard assets appreciate. And, as we begin drawing down inventory levels over the peak summer months, that inventory gets converted to cash.

The other unfortunate reality is that as volumes increase we become less cost-efficient. For example, I just got a partial shipment of some backordered items yesterday. Shipping on that small backorder was about 30% of the item cost. In the past, we would have combined orders and waited until the whole order was ready to ship before having it shipped, thereby saving on shipping costs. Now that we’re doing higher volumes, that’s impractical. One item may be the showstopper that’s holding up assembling a batch of kits, and we have neither the room nor the time to wait. So that item gets shipped by itself, which boosts our overall shipping costs. Still, we’re doing pretty well at keeping things reasonable. We’ve not yet had to resort to anything faster than ground shipping. For example, that order of bottles and caps I placed earlier this week included free ground shipping. If I’d needed expedited shipping, that would have increased our cost by about $1,000.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

08:35 – We’re down to a dozen or so finished biology kits in stock, so today I plan to do final assembly on 30 more. If the month-on-month trends compared to last year hold up, we should ship between 65 and 110 total kits in June, between 100 and 160 in July, between 160 and 260 in August, and between 115 and 190 in September, so we have our work cut out for us. At least those 12,000+ bottles and caps I ordered yesterday will be enough to get us started.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

10:04 – I’m cutting several purchase orders this morning for stuff like thousands of bottles and caps, 500 test tube racks, several chemicals, and so on. We’re not quite there yet, but by this time next year we may well be ordering some stuff in pallet quantities and getting those deliveries by motor freight rather than UPS.

Today I’m building biology kits, and may have time to get started on a new batch of forensics kits as well.

Monday, 27 May 2013

08:17 – It’s Memorial Day here in the U.S., the day set aside to remember those who sacrificed themselves to protect our freedom. Although the official purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country, let’s also remember all of those brave men and women, living and dead, who through the years have put their lives on the line to protect all of us. As we have our cookouts and family get-togethers today, let’s all take a moment to think about our troops in the Middle East and elsewhere, who can’t be with their families. And let’s have a thought, not just today but every day of the year, for them and the sacrifices they are making and have made.

Barbara is doing some work around the house and yard this morning before she heads over to visit her dad. This afternoon, she’ll help me with kit stuff. We’ll assemble 30 of the regulated chemicals bags for biology kits, 30 of the non-regulated chemicals bags, and 60 small parts bags. If we have time, we’ll get started on final assembly of 30 biology kits. After that, we’ll start on 30 more forensics kits and then 60 more chemistry kits.

Barbara finally took pity on me last night. We’d watched one 90-minute episode of the British series Vera on Netflix streaming the other night, and were part way through the second episode last night when Barbara suggested we bag it. The problem was that I had no clue what was going on because I could understand only a small fraction of the dialog. Some of the characters might as well have been speaking Martian. We watch a lot of British TV, and normally neither of us has any problem understanding the accents, but this series badly needs subtitles for US viewers. And probably for some British viewers as well.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

09:19 – I wanted a nice, peaceful, relaxing diversion for Barbara, so we finally started watching series six of Heartland last night. I was surprised that she wanted to watch all three episodes on the disc. Usually, she prefers to mix it up, with episodes from two or three series over an evening.

As most people who follow the series know, Ty and Amy don’t get married in series six. This is getting ridiculous. They’ve been a couple since series one, but have been constantly breaking up and getting back together. Enough is enough; they need to marry those two kids off.

I emailed Heather Conkie, one of the four executive producers, to suggest that she really, really needs to get Ty and Amy married early in series seven. If nothing else, the fact that Amber Marshall is now Amber Marshall Turner should introduce a sense of urgency. Amber, like her character Amy, is an Earth Mother in waiting–both the actress and the character nurture every living creature in sight–and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Amber decided to get started quickly on having a family. So, unless they want to be shooting Amy from the shoulders up, it’s past time to get her character married off.

We now have everything we need on hand to build another 30 biology kits, and much of what we need for 30 more beyond that. Today, we’ll start on getting things together for another 30/60 forensics kits and another 60/120 chemistry kits.

10:59 – Urk. I was just thinking it was time to order some more iodine crystals. I’d ordered 250 g a year ago from an eBay vendor, and Googled his company name to find the web site again to order more.

Unfortunately, I’ll need to find another source of iodine. The guy I bought from a year ago is in a world of trouble with the feds, not just for possession and sale of List I chemicals, but on charges of firearms possession by a felon and possession for resale of controlled-substances. I’ve never heard a word from the feds, and don’t expect to. No one who planned to manufacture methamphetamine would be buying a quarter kilogram of iodine crystals; they’d want the stuff in large amounts. I’m just glad that I reconsidered my order before placing it. Originally, I’d intended to buy a kilogram, which might have raised some red flags.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

10:18 – Barbara is trying hard to keep things as normal as possible despite her dad’s condition. She refuses to go over to the nursing home and just sit there all day watching him die. I think that’s the best decision. Dutch is sleeping most of the time anyway, and when he’s awake he’s often so confused that it’s difficult to hold any kind of conversation with him. Barbara wants to remember her dad as he was, not as he is now. At our age, she’s been lucky to have him around all of her life, and in pretty good shape until recently. And, like me, she’s been lucky enough to live locally to her parents rather than living across the country and being able to see them only once or twice a year.

So at this point, the emphasis is going to shift to doing what she can for her mom, to help her get past the inevitable loss of her husband of almost 70 years. In fact, Barbara and Frances are heading over to their mom’s apartment today to do some stuff and then take her out to dinner.

During her four-day weekend, Barbara is also getting some stuff done around the house and yard, and helping me build new batches of science kits. I haven’t booked the 20 kits we sold earlier this week to a small private school, and won’t until we receive the check and it clears. Even so, we’ve already done three times the business so far this month that we did in May 2012, and kit sales continue to accelerate.

Friday, 24 May 2013

08:09 – Barbara’s dad is back at Brian Center. Barbara called me yesterday about 12:25 to let me know he had left the hospital and was on his way. I stopped at Harris-Teeter on the way over to pick up a six-pack of Pepsi and a couple cans of sliced Mandarin oranges for Dutch, which he’d requested. Then I spent an hour or so talking with his new roommate and his sister while I waited for Dutch to arrive.

The privacy curtain was drawn between the two beds, and as I was talking to the sister a woman on the other side of the curtain asked, “Who is that speaking?” I told her my name and that I was Dutch’s son-in-law. She replied that I had a beautiful voice and asked if I was on the radio. For some reason, people frequently ask me that.

After Dutch finally arrived, I visited him for a while and then headed back home. As I was walking to my truck, I saw one of the nurses, Jodi, coming in the opposite direction. Over the time Dutch has been at Brian Center, I kept thinking that she looked familiar. She’s far too young to have been there when my mom was there 10 years ago, but I kept thinking I must know her from somewhere. So I finally asked, “Do I know you?” She stopped and said she’d been thinking she knew me too. We talked for a while about where we might have met, but we couldn’t come up with any explanation.

Barbara is taking today off to give herself a four-day weekend, so we’ll be doing kit stuff over the next few days. I got another query yesterday from someone who wants to buy multiple forensics kits for a class, so we need to get another batch of those in progress as well.

11:08 – Barbara and I started watching Switched at Birth on Netflix streaming. We’ve watched only two or three episodes so far, but the cast and writing are both very good.

The story centers on two high-school girls who were, uh, switched at birth. In the first episode we discover how they find out it had happened, and I thought that was interesting because in one of the biology book lab sessions, we warned strongly about just such an event. That lab session was on using PTC to track the tasting and non-tasting alleles within a family group. In the program, one of the girls was doing a biology lab that determined her blood type. She soon discovered that genetically she couldn’t be the child of her supposed parents. Same concept, different alleles.

One of the girls is deaf. Given her speech patterns, I was very surprised to learn that the actress is actually capable of speaking like a hearing person, but intentionally assumed a “deaf accent” for the role. She grew up hearing, and didn’t start to experience hearing problems until she was 20 years old, about five years before she started work on this series.

It’s interesting for me to watch a series that features deaf people and deaf issues, because I had some experience with deaf people when I was at RIT in the mid-70’s. RIT is home to NTID (the National Technical Institute for the Deaf), and roughly half of the students I regularly associated with were deaf.

The series does portray the ability to lipread as both more common and more successful than was my experience at RIT. One evening, I walked into the lounge and found the TV tuned to Carson’s monologue with the sound off. There were a dozen or more students sitting with their backs to the TV, and one student standing facing the TV and interpreting the monologue in ASL. Thinking that any deaf person could learn to lipread, I asked her later. She explained that many/most deaf people couldn’t lipread at all, and that the ability to do so varied greatly even among those who had some ability. She was among the best lipreaders she knew, and said that even she often missed things or interpreted them incorrectly. That was why she sometimes paused while interpreting when she was uncertain about what was being said and wanted to wait for context before interpreting something.

I started to learn ASL, beginning of course with the most important things: swear words, how to proposition a girl, ask for a beer and so on. As I told Barbara, in my experience deaf people have better-than-averages senses of humor, and some of them are absolutely wicked. I remember sitting around with a group of girls while I was trying to learn to sign. With completely straight faces, they attempted and eventually succeeded in convincing me that, when signing, deaf people had regional accents just like hearing people. They said they could always tell when someone was from the deep South by the accent of their signing. I sat there trying to figure out how that could be true, and eventually decided that it must just be that local ways of signing used slightly different gestures. Once they finally had me convinced, they looked at each other and started to laugh. I finally realized I’d been had by experts. And that was just the first of many examples of the wicked senses of humor that many of my deaf friends had.

13:35 – I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it. Barbara was filling several hundred RIA (radioimmunoassay) vials this morning. She was working at the kitchen table because she was filling obnoxious ones, like black fingerprint powder and activated charcoal, which put up clouds of filthy black dust. She was filling them using a pointy scoop, when it struck me. This would be an ideal application for a powder measure. Fill up the reservoir with the stuff being filled, hold the mouth of the tube under the dispensing spout, throw a lever, and you’re finished loading that tube. Just like handloading ammunition. The powder even resembles gun powder, and the mouth of the vial is the same size as a .44 or .45 case. I can’t believe it took me that long to think of it. It’s not like I haven’t sat at a reloading bench and filled tens of thousands of cartridge cases with powder using just such a powder measure.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

07:27 – Barbara’s dad will be released from the hospital today and return to the Brian Center. I was surprised yesterday when Don, our UPS guy, endorsed the Brian Center. He mentioned that he hadn’t seen me over there for a couple of days. I hadn’t realized that the Brian Center was on his route, but he said he’d seen me over there every day until the last couple of days. I told him that Barbara’s dad had been over there, but had been in the hospital for a couple of days. Don said he’d been delivering there for 10 years or more and knew just about all of the staff. He has a very high opinion of the place.

Barbara says they’re getting Hospice and the palliative care group from the hospital involved in managing her dad’s care. Dutch is in both congestive heart failure and kidney failure. The next time there’s a crisis, which could be in a day or a week or two, rather than transport Dutch to the hospital they’ll transport him directly to Hospice, assuming there’s a room available. There’s nothing that can be done to fix Dutch’s problems, so at this point the goal is to keep him as comfortable as possible. Heroic measures would simply extend his suffering. Barbara is very happy with the palliative-care doctor who’s now managing her dad’s care, and trusts her advice about how best to proceed.

10:26 – I just talked to Barbara, who asked me to pick up a six-pack of Pepsi and a couple cans of Mandarin oranges for her dad. He’s not eating much, so Barbara and Frances are trying to figure out what might temp him to eat a bit more. Dutch knows he’s going back to Brian Center today, and he’s not happy about it. He apparently likes it at the hospital, where he has a nice single room and gets constant attention.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

07:29 – Barbara’s dad is likely to be released back to the Brian Center in the next couple of days. Brian Center called Barbara yesterday to ask if she wanted them to hold his room. She told them yes, even though they’ll have to pay something like $275/day themselves to hold the room. (Obviously, Medicare isn’t going to pay for Dutch to be two places at once.) Barbara was concerned that otherwise Brian Center wouldn’t have a room available when her dad was discharged and he’d end up somewhere else that wasn’t very good.

We had an all-time record for kit orders yesterday, with 21. Of course, 20 of those were to one customer, a small private school. Still, that means that through the first five months of 2013 our kit sales and revenues are more than 50% of the total for 2012. And in 2012, we did only about 10% of the year’s business in the first five months. So of course we’re desperately trying to get more kits built in time for the summer rush.

16:35 – Geez. Colin just scared the shit, almost literally, out of the replacement mail carrier. The front door was open, with just the glass storm door between him and the mail carrier. Colin acts like a berserker when someone approaches the door. Fangs, snarling, loud barks, ramming into the glass, and so on. I’m not even slightly afraid of dogs, but given Colin’s threat display I sure wouldn’t want to mess with him. A pissed-off dog that weighs 80 or 85 pounds is no joke. Of course, if I’d opened the door and let him out, he would have made a big fuss over the mail lady, licking her hand and so on.

But I yelled at him to shut up and then opened the door and went out. The mail lady summed up her feelings pretty well. She asked me, “Are there just the two of them?”