Month: June 2013

Sunday, 30 June 2013

09:13 – I spent three hours at Frances’ house yesterday getting the new computer and printer working. Or kind of working. I hate Microsoft, and I particularly hate Windows 8. It’s a terrible product, truly terrible. It sets a new standard for terrible. I am just trying to imagine what it would have been like for someone like Frances–an ordinary civilian–to go down to Costco, bring home a Windows 8 computer, and get it working. She couldn’t have done it. I could barely do it, and what I managed to get done is not acceptable. At least I got Firefox, Thunderbird, and Skype installed and working, and she can now print. I understand that Windows 8.1 is imminent and will be a free upgrade to Windows 8. If it brings back the Start button and the desktop, that’s all I ask. The current version is unusable. I’ll upgrade her to 8.1 as soon as possible.

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Saturday, 29 June 2013

08:53 – We have nearly all the chemicals and other components we need to make up another batch of 30 forensic science kits, so that’s what we’ll be doing this weekend, among other things. We also have most of what we need to put together another batch of 90 chemistry kits, so we’ll be working on that as well. And then another batch of 60 or 90 biology kits.

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Friday, 28 June 2013

09:53 – I try not to pay attention to the economic news nowadays. It’s just too depressing. Europe is beyond salvaging, with the PIIGS in worse shape than ever, France going quickly down the tubes, and even Germany starting to show cracks in its foundation. The UK isn’t much better off, and would now be a basket case had it been foolish enough to join the euro. We’re watching as China and the rest of the BRICS implode, and Japan under Abenomics has lit a fuze that will almost certainly lead to the destruction of its economy.

Among major first-world nations, only the English-speaking trio of the US, Canada, and Australia seem likely to get through this mess, albeit not unscathed, and it’s no thanks to their politicians. And I have my doubts even about Australia, which has allowed itself to become far too closely linked to China’s tanking economy. Ah, well. As I’ve said before, the US and Canada can produce everything we need, so I think it’s unlikely that things will get really bad here. As for the rest of the world, I fear that the next five to ten years will see increasing poverty, rioting, revolutions, and wars. And there’s not a thing we can do about it other than get used to a lower standard of living and isolate ourselves as much as possible from the rest of the world.

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Thursday, 27 June 2013

08:40 – It’s been a week since Barbara’s dad died, and things are gradually returning to some semblance of normal. Barbara went out to dinner with a couple of her friends from the library last night. Colin and I stayed home and watched Heartland re-runs.

I got another kit order from the UK yesterday, the second this week. I always explain that we can ship kits only within the US and then refund their entire payment. We take a $0.30 loss on each refund, but it’s not worth trying to explain to the would-be buyer why we’re refunding them $0.30 less than their original payment.

I’ve actually thought about using Bongo to handle foreign shipments, but it’s unclear to me how (or if) that would work since our kits include materials that the IATA defines as dangerous goods for shipping purposes. If it worked, it’d be ideal. I could simply accept orders as usual and ship kits as usual to Bongo’s Connecticut facility. They would then forward the package to the buyer in whatever country, charging the buyer for the shipping and handling fees and taking care of all the customs stuff.

We’re also getting an increasing number of queries and orders from schools, public and private, as well as virtual schools and distance-learning programs. I got us set up yesterday as an approved vendor for a virtual school program run by a small-town school system that supports 200 to 300 distance-learning families. The interesting thing about this arrangement is that the school system coordinates things, but which curricula/kits to use is up to the individual families. Each family decides which curricula/kits they want to use, and lets the school system know. The school system then orders and pays for the materials, which are shipped to them. On a specified day, the families all show up at the school to pick up their materials. So at this point I have no idea of how many kits we’ll sell to that group. It could be 20 or 30, or 2 or 3, or even none at all.

Work continues on building more science kits.

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

09:55 – I ended up filling those 150 bottles of glycerol yesterday, along with several hundred other bottles. Today I’ll make up more chemicals for the forensic kits and fill a bunch more bottles.

Meanwhile, Obama seems determined to prove that the country cannot survive eight years of Bush followed by eight years of him. Incredibly, his latest idiocy is a War on Coal. Given that we and other animals exhale carbon dioxide, I’m expecting Obama’s next move to be a War on Breathing. At this point, the best we can hope for is that the Republicans take majorities in both houses in the 2014 elections and do their best to gridlock government entirely. That, and repeal ObamaCare before it destroys our entire health-care system.

Actually, I wish our Founding Fathers had borrowed one more idea from Republican Rome. Any Tribune of the Plebs could stop any proposed action or law simply by standing up and announcing, “Veto” (“I forbid”). There was no appeal or override of a veto. Once a Tribune of the Plebs vetoed something, it was off the table. If a law was already in effect, a veto voided it. The Founding Fathers should have given the same veto power to every member of the House of Representatives, which is (or should have been) our College of the Tribunes of the Plebs.

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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

09:44 – Cops consider eyewitness identifications suspect, and particularly suspect if the man in question has a beard. Here’s a good example of why. When I saw the front page of the newspaper this morning, my first thought was, “Why is there a picture of my friend Paul Jones on the front page?” When I showed it to Barbara, she also thought it was Paul.

It’s not Paul, of course, but it sure looks like him. If I’d seen the picture without having the caption for context, it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind that it wasn’t Paul.

I just shipped a forensic science kit this morning, and realized that I’m down to only two remaining in stock. Urk. I’d been working on chemistry kits, but it’s time to build a batch of 30 more forensic science kits.

15:47 – I’m filling glycerol bottles. Very slowly. They’re 15 mL narrow-mouth bottles, the same ones we use by the thousands for other solutions. But glycerol is very viscous. So much so that it’s almost impossible to fill these bottles manually from a beaker or whatever, because the glycerol tends to form a bubble on the mouth of the bottle and then glop over down the side. The last time I filled glycerol bottles, I used my automatic dispenser pump, figuring things would go a lot faster. They didn’t, because it takes so long to fill and empty the dispenser for each bottle. With normal solutions, a quick upstroke fills the cavity and a quick downstroke pumps the liquid into the bottle. It takes maybe three or fours seconds total for each bottle, including handling. But glycerol is so viscous that the upstroke and downstroke take literally 20 seconds or more each.

So I had a cunning plan. Glycerol viscosity varies with temperature. At about 18C (chilly room temperature), glycerol freezes, so when I’m filling bottles at, say, 24C, the glycerol isn’t far above its freezing temperature and is still quite syrupy. But I had Barbara label 150 15 mL bottles for me anyway because I was convinced I had a solution for the problem. I was going to warm the glycerol up to 50 or 55C (hot tap water temperature), where I expected it to run almost like water. Alas, I must have read the temperature/viscosity chart wrong, because even at 50+C this glycerol is still quite thick. I think I’ll boost the water bath temperature up to maybe 60C and see if that helps. I don’t want to go much higher, both because I’m handling the bottles with bare hands and because I’m afraid that capping warm bottles will cause them to deform as the air within them cools and contracts.

I thought about changing to 30 mL narrow-mouth bottles for the next batch, even though I’d still fill them only to 15 mL. But then I had a better idea. I’m going to use 30 mL wide-mouth pharma packer bottles next time and fill them manually from a beaker. 15 mL of glycerol masses just under 19 g, so I’ll just eyeball the fill level and have Barbara sitting next to me with a scale. Anything at 19 g or more, she’ll just cap. Under 19 g, she’ll give it back to me to add more. That should be about as fast as using the dispenser to fill bottles with normal solutions.

I mentioned last week that I’d ordered a Cyber-Power desktop PC from Costco. It arrived today. I plan to get it set up this weekend for Frances and Al. The problem is, it runs Windows 8, which I’ve never even seen. The PC included a “free” download init key for Kaspersky Internet Security 2013, but I have no idea if I should install this or something else. Doesn’t Microsoft include its own security/AV package? Please, Windows Gurus, tell me what to do. Frances does pretty typical stuff with her PC: email (Thunderbird), web browsing (Firefox), Skype, and so on, so installing apps shouldn’t be a problem. But this is Windows 8 (rather than 8.1), which IIRC has a sucky interface, missing even the Start button. Is there an option to use the Windows 7 interface? What should I do? Help.

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Monday, 24 June 2013

10:16 – Barbara went back to work this morning, although she’d used only two days of the five days’ funeral leave she had available. She said she just couldn’t afford to miss any more work with everything that’s going on there. In addition to her usual duties, they’re in process of training for the changeover to a new “paperless office” system, and Barbara doesn’t want to fall behind on learning that.

Today will be a tough day for Colin. He’s had Barbara home more than usual for the last couple of weeks, so he’ll have to get used to having just boring old me around during the day. This morning, I heard Colin barking. Nothing unusual about that, but the barking usually occurs either near the front door or from back in our bedroom, where Colin lies on the bed and looks out the window for things to bark at. This time, the barking sounded like it was coming from the hallway. So I got up and walked out to the hall, where I saw the rear half of Colin sticking of of Barbara’s office. He was bounce-barking and growling, obviously at something in Barbara’s office. The mystery was solved when I walked back and looked in the door. Barbara had brought home the poster-size picture of Dutch from the memorial service, and stood it up against the bookshelves on the far side of her office. Colin apparently thought the picture of Dutch was an intruder.

Science kit sales this month have been much lower than I expected. As Barbara said, in one sense that’s a good thing, because we’ve been otherwise occupied. I suspect the slowdown in sales is just a blip. As I told Barbara, last month we had a four-day stretch with no kit orders at all. The following day, we sold seven kits to seven different customers. And June is part of our historically slow time anyway. The first six months of 2012 accounted for something like 17% of the year’s total business. So we’re still filling bottles and making up subassemblies like mad to build stock for the coming rush.

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Sunday, 23 June 2013

09:33 – The memorial service for Dutch took place yesterday.

To most people’s way of thinking, Dutch is gone, except perhaps in some mystical religious sense. I don’t think of things that way, and haven’t for a very long time. I think of people as a part of a Tree of Life. Not the Tree with branches that represent mammals, birds, and so on. A human tree. I think of humans not as individual organisms, but as parts of a single organism that can be thought of as a gigantic, immortal tree. We’re all leaves and branches on that tree. New branches and leaves sprout constantly, as old ones age, wither and die. But the tree abides.

There’s nothing mystical about any of this; I’m speaking literally. Looking at the big picture, humanity is one organism, in the same way that a stand of aspens is one organism. The pieces that made up Dutch’s genome still exist, just as they existed before meiosis and homologous recombination stirred them up to create Dutch’s genome. And Dutch’s genome, like all of our genomes, is simply a minor variation on the generic Human Genome.

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Saturday, 22 June 2013

08:20 – Wow. Yesterday I heard about flooding in southern Alberta, which I think of as a semi-arid climate. But I didn’t realize just how bad the flooding is. At least three dead, and billions in property damage. The image below is of a street in High River, Alberta, a real town that stands in for the fictional town of Hudson in the TV series Heartland and is currently under a mandatory evacuation order. (That’s Maggie’s Diner from Heartland in the middle of the row of buildings.)

high-river-alberta-floodingOur thoughts and best wishes to our Canadian friends in Calgary, High River, and the rest of the affected areas in southern Alberta.

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Friday, 21 June 2013

08:02 – Thanks to everyone who posted or emailed condolence messages. Barbara, Frances, and Sankie are all doing well. As hard as it is to lose Dutch, the worst part of it was watching him suffer, knowing that there was no hope for recovery. So now he’s at peace. We’ll all miss Dutch a lot, but now our lives can return to some semblance of normality. No more waiting for that middle-of-the-night phone call. No more dropping everything and rushing over to the nursing home or Hospice to stand vigil. Barbara actually got a full night’s sleep last night, the first in a long, long time.

10:10 – Barbara is out running errands this morning. Yesterday, she mentioned to me that the unlock function on the keyless-entry remote for her Chevy HHR was working only intermittently. She’d replaced the battery recently and the lock function works fine, so obviously there’s a physical problem with the unlock button on the remote. The car is still under warranty, so I called the Chevy dealership this morning. The guy I talked to said she could just stop by, no need for an appointment. So Barbara drove over there first thing, only to be told that the remote wasn’t covered under warranty. They wanted her to pay $100, so she called me. I told her that was bullshit, and heard her tell the guy at the Chevy place that I’d told her not to do it. She told me he then said he’d check into it and see if he could get it covered under warranty. Yeah, right. A few minutes later she called back and told me that the guy had discovered that it was in fact covered under warranty. Geez.

When it comes to trying to get customers to pay themselves for work that’s covered under warranty, some car dealerships are slime. I told Barbara I could get a new OEM Chevy-branded remote on for less than $20. Of course, programming it requires special equipment that only a Chevy dealership or an automotive locksmith has access to. I’m told that programming the remote takes about 12 seconds, literally, and that most dealerships will do it for free as a courtesy. I think I’ll buy one of those Chevy-branded remotes on Amazon as a spare and see if I can get one of the local Chevy dealerships to program it for me at little or no cost.

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