Friday, 30 August 2013

12:37 – It’s funny. Shippers used to have two primary complaints against the USPS. First, that they didn’t offer day-specific delivery for Priority Mail. USPS merely said that typical delivery times were one to three business days. The second complaint, probably more important to most shippers, was that USPS tracking was pathetic. You basically got two data points: when it left your local post office and when it arrived at the destination. Nothing in the middle.

As far as the first point, I’ve been keeping track informally of the last 500 packages we’ve shipped. All but one of them arrive on the estimated day and in many cases the day before. For example, when I ship a package to a major west coast city on Saturday, the estimate is always two business days. But about 90% of the time, the package actually arrives Monday. Oh, yeah. The one exception was a package a shipped to a remote village in Alaska. USPS estimated three business days, but it took four. I suspect UPS or FedEx wouldn’t even have accepted this package for delivery, because the delivery address was something like 400 miles from the nearest small town. I guarantee you that package went on a bush plane for delivery. So, the day-specific thing is pretty much a non-issue, and has been for years.

As far as the second point, USPS has been updating their technology. Delivery staff have carried scanners for quite a while, but until recently they operated in off-line batch mode. Now the delivery staff have a bluetooth/cell link between their scanners and the USPS servers. When our mailman picks up and scans a package, I can check a minute or two later and it’s already showing up as accepted. USPS deployed this nationwide in late July, and now they proudly boast that every package gets scanned up to 11 times. And that’s the truth. I can now follow a package every step of the way from my front door to the recipients’. The only bad thing about that is that I now get up to 11 separate e-mails for each package I ship. Some mornings I have three or four full screens of email from USPS.


Thursday, 29 August 2013

12:21 – AEP has this to say about the collapsing BRICS economies: Emerging market rout is too big for the Fed to ignore: The US Federal Reserve has told Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe to drop dead.

It’s not, you know. Too big to ignore, that is. No matter how this plays out, the world’s economy is going to take a big hit. It’s the Fed’s responsibility to minimize the effect on the US economy, and the hell with Brazil, India, China, and the rest. And, although the Fed has made pretty much nothing but mistakes for the last several years, in this case they’re making the best of a horrible situation by winding down so-called Quantitative Easing while there’s still at least a glimmer of a hope that it’s not too late. Too late for the US, that is. It’s already too late for the eurozone, and the BRICS are toast. Brazil is already a walking dead man, with India and China not far behind. They all hoped to avoid the so-called “middle income trap”. None of them managed to do so, and now they’ll pay the price. And a heavy price it’s going to be.


Work continues on building and shipping science kits. This month is shaping up well, at roughly twice the revenue of August 2012. That’s been helped along by a couple of large bulk orders, but even without those we’re doing pretty well.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

12:06 – We shipped more chemistry kits this morning, so we’re now down into single figures on CK01A inventory. Fortunately, we also just shipped the remainder of the virtual school AP chemistry kits, so that frees up my time to get more chemistry kits built.

It’s looking pretty certain that we’re about to attack Syria, again putting our troops in harm’s way for no discernible purpose or benefit. So I’ve come up with a modest proposal: put the names in a hat of every politician from Obama on down who supports deploying our troops abroad. Each time one of our troops is maimed, draw a name from that hat and maim that politician. Each time one of our troops is killed, draw a name and kill that politician. It’s only fair. If they support putting our troops in harm’s way, they should have to take the same risks. If my proposal is implemented, I predict that US forces will soon no longer be deployed abroad. In fact, I predict they’ll leave skid marks as they depart for home.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

08:08 – This time of year, it always seems as though I just get well into one task when I need to put that on hold and deal with an emergency somewhere else. This week, I’m trying to get 40 AP chemistry consumables kits built for the second half of the virtual school order so that I can ship those by Friday. But yesterday we shipped five of the CK01A chemistry kits, taking our remaining inventory of those down to a dozen. I really need to get more of those built as well.


11:52 – Reading all the news articles about the pending US attack on Syria reminds me of Airplane! the movie.

Ted Striker: My orders came through. My squadron ships out tomorrow. We’re bombing the storage depots at Daiquiri at 1800 hours. We’re coming in from the north, below their radar.

Elaine Dickinson: When will you be back?

Ted Striker: I can’t tell you that. It’s classified.

Monday, 26 August 2013

09:20 – Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday.

As Barbara will tell you, I tend to spread like kudzu. I presently have kit components stacked in the kitchen, den, dining room, library/living room, workroom, my office, the downstairs finished area, and the downstairs unfinished area. My stuff just spreads. And that’s just the science kit stuff. We also keep stored water, probably something like 300 or 400 liters, in 2- and 3-liter soda bottles, crammed into every free space downstairs. So before our Costco run yesterday, I suggested to Barbara that we replace that stored water with bottled water from Costco, which should be more space-efficient to store. She buys it anyway, in cases of 35 500 mL bottles which translates to 17.5 liters per case or 8.5 two-liter soda bottles. So I told her that for every two cases of bottled water we buy we can empty and recycle 17 two-liter bottles. She was delighted. I figure that once we get up to 20 cases of bottled water, all the 2- and 3-liter soda bottles will be gone.

So, just as we got to the checkout line at Costo, they opened another register. Paul and I got in that line with their cart, with Barbara and Mary right behind us with our cart. After Paul and I got checked out, we were standing watching our stuff being loaded back onto our cart and I commented to Paul that although the math told me it was true, those two cases of bottled water just didn’t look like the equivalent of 17 two-liter bottles in terms of cubic. He agreed with me but, as he said, when the math says one thing and your intuition says another, the math is always right. Assuming you do good math.

At dinner, we were talking about allergies. Mary has terrible allergies to dogs, cats, horses, and presumably other mammals. So bad that it’s possible that they’d be life-threatening without antihistamines. She has to get herself all drugged up on antihistamines before she can even ride over to Costco in our SUV. And this season has been horrible for allergies. I go years without taking an allergy pill, but lately I’ve been taking a loratadine (Claritan) every evening because my eyes have been itching and burning so badly. Given the constant rain for the last two or three months, I suspect it’s mold spores.

And Colin has been suffering badly as well. Barbara has been giving him diphenhydramine, which doesn’t seem to help much. I’d been meaning to check on loratadine in canines, and I finally did it after we got home. I turns out that loratadine is generally safe in canines, with a usual dosage of 0.5 mg/kg once a day, so Barbara gave Colin a 10 mg loratadine tablet this morning. That’s a light dose; for his body weight he should be getting 15 to 17 mg, but we wanted to start out easy. She gave it to him about 7:00 this morning. At 8:15 he was still scratching, but we’ll give it a chance.

One thing I didn’t realize is that the effectiveness of different classes of antihistamines varies widely in dogs, even more so than in people. One class or one specific drug may be completely ineffective and another very effective. So, if the loratadine works, great. If not, we’ll try chlorpheniramine maleate or one of the others.

Work on science kits continues. I’m trying to finish up the virtual school AP chemistry kits in the next couple of days. Today, I need to get the batch of pH 7.0 buffer standardized and dry some stuff to constant mass.


Sunday, 25 August 2013

10:17 – Yesterday we made up 60 small parts bags for the biology kits. Today we’ll make up a batch of small parts bags for the chemistry kits. We’re in better shape on chemistry kits than biology kits, so this coming week I’ll start making up chemicals for another batch of 60 biology kits. We also now have everything we need in stock for the remaining kits for the virtual school AP chemistry order, so I’ll work on those. I’d like to get them shipped by Friday. And I’m also still trying to get migrated over to the new computer, which is now running Linux Mint 15 KDE.

I’ve mentioned that Barbara and I are watching the TV series One Tree Hill. One of the teenage characters, Brooke, has an eye for clothes design. She decides to sell her clothes on-line, and gets a geek friend to set her up an e-commerce site. So I’m watching this developing train wreck, knowing what’s about to happen. Sure enough, they bring up the e-commerce site and orders start flooding in. The only problem is that Brooke is getting ten times as many orders as she can fulfill. “Make it stop!”, she tells her geek friend. That’s a situation I never want to find us in, so I’ve avoided doing any advertising or promotion. Selling 50 or 100 kits a month is one thing. We can deal with that. Selling 50 or 100 kits a week is another thing entirely.

But we are going to start promoting in 2014. I have Abby working on a logo and hand-out sheet. Most homeschool conventions give goody bags to attendees. Conventions typically offer vendors of homeschool products the opportunity to have their hand-out sheets included in those bags for $80 to $100 per thousand. We’ll start small, having maybe 5,000 hand-out sheets printed and getting them distributed at four or five conventions. Our goal for 2014 is to sell 1,000 kits. We’ll see what happens.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

09:04 – It was brought home again to me yesterday that different people use the same word to mean different things. The first time I remember particularly noticing this was when I worked summers during college on a road crew. We were using a high-lift (front-end loader) to fill a 10-ton dump truck with aggregate for road fill. These were chunks of rock that averaged bigger than your fist, and the foreman referred to them as “gravel”. I’d always thought of gravel as pea-size pieces, but as it turned out the foreman was using the word correctly.

One of the items I need for the AP chemistry kits I’m doing for the state virtual school distance-learning program was spec’d as “calcium carbonate (marble chips), 2 g vial”. I decided to provide a full 30 mL wide-mouth bottle because they’re much quicker to fill than a vial and the material is cheap, so I ordered 2.5 kilos of “marble chips” from one of my regular vendors. But those “chips” are actually what I’d call “chunks”, averaging maybe 3 cm. I’m not about to stand there with a sledge-hammer breaking rocks so I’ll just buy some smaller marble chips locally, which is what I should have done in the first place.

I also made up a batch of pH 7.0 buffer yesterday, for calibrating pH meters. A 100 mL bottle of this is another of the items I need for the virtual school order. This stuff is available commercially, but a small bottle typically costs $7 to $15. That’s because the commercial stuff is intended for calibrating high-end pH meters, those with accuracy of 0.01 pH or even 0.001 pH. It’s made with extreme precision and each batch is assayed to give precise pH values at various temperatures. The students will be using inexpensive pH meters with accuracy of 0.2 pH. I haven’t calibrated the batch I made up, but I’ll shoot for something in the pH 6.98 to 7.02 range at 21C.


Friday, 23 August 2013

08:55 – Time-Warner Cable just raised the stakes in its month-long dispute with CBS. TWC now offers a free set of rabbit ears to any TWC subscriber in areas that are affected by the CBS blackout.

I really wish that TWC, Comcast, and the other cable TV companies would start playing hardball with the networks and affiliates, whose demands for high payments to allow the cable TV companies to carry their free OTA signals is nothing but a money grab. The cable TV companies should simply tell ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC that in future they will pay zero to carry those signals. If the networks and affiliates don’t agree, fine. The cable TV companies will simply drop their signals. Given that something like 85% of the population watches those signals on cable TV, will the networks and affiliates really be willing to risk losing 85% of their audiences? I don’t think so. As to subscribers, TWC has the right answer. Give them a free set of rabbit ears.


We’re still building and shipping science kits, anything from two or three a day to five or six a day. We’ve already exceeded last year’s total sales, with more than a week left in August. Not to mention September through December, which last year accounted for about 48% of the total year’s sales. We’re getting low on the subassemblies we need to build more chemistry and biology kits, so this weekend we’ll do a batch of 60 or 90 biology small parts bags and 120 chemistry small parts bags.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

07:58 – The main headline in this morning’s paper was N.C. students not as ‘college ready’ as peers

The results from spring 2012 are in. The average score of North Carolina public high school juniors taking the ACT dropped from 21.9 the previous year, which was a full point above the national average, to 18.7, which was dead last. In fairness, the article did point out that this drop was expected, and why. In 2011, only about 20% of public high school juniors took the test; in 2012 100% of the juniors were required to take it. Obviously, the average is going to be much lower if you test all students than if you test only the top quintile.

The article also pointed out that white and Asian students have higher average scores than black, Hispanic, and American Indian students, but it failed to draw the obvious conclusion. Comparisons between states are meaningless unless those results are normed to take into account both the percentage of students who take the test and the racial makeup of the tested population. States whose students are primarily white and Asian are going to have better averages than states with significant percentages of black, Hispanic, or American Indian students.

Less obviously, the percentage of students in a given state who are home-schooled has a disproportionate effect on average public high school test scores. Home schooled students are, on average, much brighter than public school students. There’s self-selection going on. Homeschooling drains the best students from public schools. I don’t have the data at hand, but I’d be willing to bet that if homeschooled students from across the US were grouped and treated as a separate state, their average scores would put them not just first of all states, but far, far above whichever state ranked second.

Most colleges and universities now recognize the reality that homeschool students are the best of the best. Only a few years ago, many colleges were leery of homeschool students because they lacked public school transcripts. Now, many colleges and universities, including many of the most prestigious, are actively recruiting homeschool students.


13:49 – Oh, yeah. A couple of very important things about homeschooling and standardized test scores that I forgot to mention in my earlier post. First, students who’ve been homeschooled for only a year typically average 59th percentile on test scores. Students who’ve been homeschooled for several years or longer typically average 90th to 93rd percentile. Second, for homeschooled students, racial disparities in standardized test scores begin narrowing quickly even after only one year of homeschooling. After two or more years of homeschooling, racial disparities in standardized test scores essentially disappear. That is a truly damning indictment of public school systems.